Well mercifully, it looks like the winter that seemed as if it would never end, has finally come to an end. We’ve had some warms days and the trees are flowering. The baseball season has begun and before you know it school will be out and we will be thinking about summer.
It won’t be all that long before we start to see and hear the hype about this coming summer’s movies. The internet and tv will be filled with ads, commercials, and entertainment news pieces describing the movies as the industry tries to get the public interested in coming to the theater.
Last summer, much of the hype was focused upon the movie “The Lone Ranger.” The classic western hero would be featured in a big budget movie that had cost $215 million dollars. It was being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer who is known for his action movie hits and was starring Johnny Depp who had tremendous success in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Disney was behind the movie, and that meant there was a big marketing campaign going on to promote it – a campaign that probably cost around $100 million dollars. I knew that this marketing campaign was making some serious noise because just before The Lone Ranger came out Legos released a series of sets related to the movie.
The Lone Ranger was hyped and in the news. And then when the movie was actually released … it bombed. It was bad. Critics panned the movie and Depp’s borderline offensive portrayal of Tonto. The public agreed as the movie only made $89 million in the United States. It did go on to make $171 million in the international market, but even with this it is estimated that Disney lost $160 to $190 million dollars on The Lone Ranger. The movie sounded great … until people actually saw it.
We find the same contrast in our Old Testament lesson for Good Friday. In the previous chapters, God has been speaking about his Servant and how he will bring salvation to Israel. This action by God has been described a mighty and powerful. Yet when the Servant actually appears, he doesn’t look anything like the hype.
In our text, Isaiah writing in the eighth century B.C. is addressing the situation that would exist in the sixth century. Because of Judah’s unfaithfulness to God, Yahweh would use the Babylonian empire as the instrument of his judgment. They would conquer Judah and take the nation into exile in Babylon.
However, the message in this section of Isaiah is one of hope. God was going to be bring his people back to the land of Israel. Through Isaiah, God says that he is going to use Cyrus to free Judah. God would bring judgment on the Babylonians by his instrument Cyrus and return his people. And this is exactly what happened. In 539 B.C. the Persian king Cyrus defeated the Babylonians and in 538 he issued an edict that allowed the people of God to return.
Bringing the people back to the land of Israel was one thing. But dealing with the sin that had caused the exile was another matter altogether. For this, Yahweh was going to send his servant. As Isaiah had written in chapter 42, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
This Servant was bringing God’s salvation. Just before our text the prophet writes, “How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The Lord was going to act in a mighty way – he was going to reveal his saving arm. Immediately before our text we hear, “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
The hype about this Servant was great … and then in our text he actually shows up. Isaiah writes, “As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” The Servant – God’s saving arm - doesn’t look mighty and powerful. Instead, he looks terrible. In fact it seems impossible to believe what Yahweh had claimed about him. Our text says, “Who has believed what he has heard from us? 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, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Isaiah tells us that the Servant was despised. This is not describing an emotional reaction. Instead it tells us that he was rejected as worthless. And this is exactly what we see in the Gospel lesson for Good Friday. Jesus Christ is the Servant that Isaiah is describing. God demonstrated this to be true when at his baptism in the Jordan the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus and the Father spoke words from Isaiah chapter 42 as he said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
But today we see him mocked and scourged and crucified. He has been judged as worthless – not worthy of life itself. He has been judged as worthless – not worthy of being treated with human decency. Instead he is humiliated and powerless. The powerful have shredded his flesh with a whip. They have taken his clothes. They have nailed him to a cross. They have hoisted him into the air naked and left him there to die a slow and painful death with the taunting sign above his head, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
We see a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. We see a man who knows pain and sickness. But Isaiah tells us that there is more here than meets the eye. Yes, Jesus is in the midst of grief and sorrows. But in fact, they are our grief and sorrows, not his. In our text Isaiah emphatically asserts, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”
The death of Jesus on the cross appears to be worthless and pointless, like so many other crucified by Rome – sometimes thousands at a time. It appears that God is striking and afflicting Jesus. But Isaiah reveals to us the mystery of what is really happening. God is striking and afflicting Jesus in our place. Jesus receives this treatment for us.
Isaiah tells us, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Jesus is on the cross because of our transgressions. He is there because of our iniquities. He is there because of our sin.
And, how we do sin. Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” We do our own thing. We do what we want to do. It doesn’t matter what God has said about it. It doesn’t matter how it affects others. If it helps us; if it makes life easier; if it feels good, we do it. As Martin Luther emphasized, we are curved in on ourselves.
Now our world says this is great, and you and I want things to be this way, but it simply won’t fly with the holy and just God. And guess what? He gets the last word. On the day of judgment his word determines what is true and what will happen. And his word says that sinners who sin cannot exist in his presence. Instead, they are judged as guilty. They are damned to hell.
Yet the wonder of the Gospel is that God does not desire this. And so he, the holy and just God has acted to be just and be the one who justifies the sinner – who declares the sinner not guilty. He sent the Son of God into the world as the righteous and holy One who did no violence and in whose mouth there was no deceit. God the Father laid the sin of all people upon him. He laid your sins upon him. And he judged Jesus in your place. He condemned Jesus in your place. He damned Jesus in your place.
Because Jesus Christ loves the Father, and because he loves you he willingly took on this role. Isaiah says, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” On this day, we solemnly remember this fact. We remember that Jesus bore our sins and died in our place.
And because Jesus Christ did this for us, everything has changed. In our text Isaiah says, “The righteous One, my Servant will make many to be accounted righteous.” Isaiah says that the righteous One, the Servant will cause many to be justified. That is what he has done for you. By bearing your sins and receiving God’s judgment in your place he has given you forgiveness. He has made you righteous. Because of Jesus Christ, at the judgment of the Last Day you will be declared not guilty; righteous; a saint. By his chastisement you have received peace. St. Paul put it this way, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
The Gospel lesson tonight ends with Jesus dead and buried in a tomb. It ends with Jesus utterly crushed for our iniquities. That’s what Good Friday is about. But our text from Isaiah points beyond the tomb. It directs us to what we will begin to celebrate tomorrow night. We hear it at the beginning of our text when Isaiah says: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” High and lifted up – those are the same words used by Isaiah in chapter six to describe Yahweh on the throne when the prophet sees God in the temple
We hear it at the end of our text when we learn that the Servant will be satisfied. And then Isaiah goes on to say, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah says that you are forgiven and justified. And you have hope because tonight is not the end of the story.