Isaiah 53

(sermon note: 03-15 sermon note)

Who has believed what we have heard?
  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
  and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
  nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
  a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
  he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
  and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
  struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
  crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
  and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
  we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
  the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
  yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
  and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
  so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
  Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
  stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
  and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
  and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
  he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
  Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
  The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
  and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
  and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
  and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
  and made intercession for the transgressor.


Last week we began our Lenten series exploring the unusual title that John the Baptist gave Jesus very early in his ministry: the Lamb of God. It certainly wasn’t a title typically paired with other familiar titles of his day like Lord or Messiah. At least with those titles there is a degree of power or importance. Lambs aren’t typically regarded as powerful or important creatures. Sure, this particular lamb is somewhat special in that it is a so-called “lamb of God” but lambs in general are pretty powerless, unimportant creatures. In fact, lambs are pretty vulnerable and helpless creatures all around. It almost seems cruel to consider using them as sacrifices at all. I mean, who is a lamb going to hurt other than itself or maybe other lambs? I get that that’s probably the point of using them as sacrifices. Because they are so harmless, killing lambs is particularly good at pulling on God’s heartstrings. God will be more apt to show mercy and compassion in exchange for such heinous killings. And we heard how John lifted up his title for Jesus to a people that were familiar with the Levitical laws on sacrifice. The powerless lamb is an ideal candidate to fulfill the law’s requirement for a sacrifice to be unblemished. What better creature is there than a lamb to serve as an unblemished sacrifice? Lambs hurt no one! Of course they’ll appease God’s wrath!

Well, this week we dig a little further on how Jesus’ role as the Lamb of God, as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, fulfills the wisdom of prophecies of old. In our reading for this evening, we heard the fourth and final passages from Isaiah known as the “servant poems” or “suffering servant” songs. Isaiah first introduced the suffering servant song in ch. 42 followed up by passages in chapters 49 and 50. Here in ch. 53 we get the most developed song. And as we listen to it, it’s hard not to imagine the prophet was speaking directly of Jesus himself. We hear “he was despised and rejected by others” and “he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases”…”he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” We hear these words and immediately think of Jesus, yes? Guess what, Isaiah wrote these words 600-700 years before Jesus even came on the scene! In fact, Jesus was familiar with these words. Jesus was simply putting into action the words of prophets like Isaiah. He was fulfilling the characters they created! 

And what a character Isaiah had created! “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” It’s one thing to be led to your death kicking and screaming. It’s almost expected! But to be led there maintaining your silence? There’s conviction in that…resolution…humility. Few animals would go silently into their impending death. Jesus is not like other animals. Fully mortal yet fully divine as well. Perhaps it’s his divine nature that allows him to go into death so quietly, so resolutely. As God, he knew what to expect in death. He knew death isn’t an ending but rather a beginning. He knew death is a transformation into new life. It’s no wonder he went into it so unafraid! Death is just another part of life. Everything living eventually dies. And if he can be so unafraid of it, then so can we. We can serve each other knowing that in doing so we just might suffer. And that’s okay! Jesus suffered to serve us, we most definitely can suffer to serve him and each other. Jesus embodied the character that Isaiah had created so long ago and gave us a role model to follow. 

Jesus is the true Lamb of God. The lamb that died convicted of the gift he gave to the rest of us. He sacrificed himself so that we might live fearlessly and joyfully. His sacrifice is what Luther quaintly referred to as the happy exchange. We exchanged our sins for his forgiveness. We can’t help but be happy for what we gave up and for what we received. Poor Jesus sure didn’t get anything good out of the exchange! But you know what, he’s okay with it. He knows his death had a purpose. Heck, his LIFE had a purpose! Anyone who can’t appreciate either his life or his death is, well, pretty cold and ungrateful. Let us not fall into such dismal existence. Let us rejoice for the Lamb of God! Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.