Sometimes as we are getting ready in the morning, Amy and I will have the TV on as we listen to a show like Good Morning America. I listen, not so much to learn about the news, but instead to get a feel for what is happening in our culture. The stories they run and the way they talk about them gives some pretty good insight into what is happening in popular culture.
At times we have it on when they cut away to the local news segment. Many of the news pieces tend to be depressing because they are about fatal accidents or crimes in the region. There is always a story about yet another drug bust; or about the trial or conviction of a murderer or armed robber or sex offender. As they are talking about the person they almost always show a mug shot of the individual.
Now mug shots are not the most flattering form of photography. They even rank behind driver’s license photos. After all, the goal is not to take a flattering picture of the person they are going to share with others. And of course, the circumstances of the photo being taken are not conducive to getting a person to look their best. The person has been arrested and faces the possibility of imprisonment. He or she is not happy and looks like it. The circumstances of being apprehended often mean a person is disheveled and isn’t wearing the clothes you would normally put on for a portrait to be taken. Put all of this together and in mugs shot people look really bad.
In the Old Testament lesson for Good Friday, the prophet Isaiah tells us about the Servant of the Lord. And like one of those mug shots on TV, the picture he describes looks bad - really bad. Isaiah begins by saying, “As many were astonished at you-- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” From the start the description we receive of the Servant is one that portrays an unpleasant appearance.
And then the prophet goes on to say, “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.” It sounds like the image in one of those mug shots.
This Servant is certainly nothing to look at. In fact, after a glance we would turn away and think nothing of him. But then, Isaiah says something shocking – something that turns everything upside down. He tells us, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”; the prophet says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.”
We begin to realize that when we look at the pathetic appearance of the Servant, what we are really seeing is ourselves. He looks bad, because we look that bad. Isaiah doesn’t pull any punches. He tells it like it is. He 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 have all gone astray. We have all gone on our own way. That describes you. It describes how you put yourself before God and before your family and friends. It describes how you find it easy to hate and to hurt others and be petty; how you enjoy hearing and sharing gossip even thought it harms someone else’s reputation.
Tonight, Good Friday, we ponder the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. In our Gospel lesson we see Jesus Christ hanging on a cross. You could not find a more pathetic looking figure. Bloodied from scourging with a crown of thorns thrust upon his head, he hangs there helpless, gasping for breath as he slowly suffocates.
Yet to look at him is to look at yourself. It is to look at your sin receiving God’s judgment. It is to look at yourself because he is there on the cross in your place. Isaiah says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
God the Father put Jesus there on the cross for you. He did it because of his great love for you. This day has been the goal all along. Earlier in chapter forty two Isaiah wrote, “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.” At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River the Spirit of God descended upon him. He was anointed with the Spirit as the Servant of the Lord.
Isaiah says that the Servant “had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth.” Jesus Christ, who had no sin, submitted to a baptism of repentance because by that baptism he took on the role of the Servant. He submitted to a baptism of repentance in order to take your sin upon himself; in order to take your place on the cross.
Jesus went to the cross because God is a holy, just and wrathful God. He is holy – set apart – and the sinner cannot exist in his presence. He is just – violations of his divine law demand punishment and this is what he does. He is wrathful. Sin evokes his righteous anger and he destroys sinners by his judgment.
That is why Jesus is on the cross for you. He is there in your place because God is holy, just and wrathful, and you are a sinner. Isaiah tells us, “Yet it was the will of the Yahweh to crush him; he has put him to grief.”
Jesus Christ received God’s judgment against your sin. He was the sacrifice given to take away your sin – to make atonement for you. For God is holy, just and wrathful. But note what the prophet says, “It was the will of Yahweh to crush him.” Jesus is not on the cross because he was some guy caught at the wrong place and the wrong time. He is there because he was present at exactly the right place and the right time. He was there exactly as God’s Word in the Old Testament said it would be.
He was there because God is also loving, merciful and gracious. He is loving – he cares about your well being. He is merciful – he does not want you to be judged. He is gracious – he gives you what you don’t deserve. When Jesus Christ died on the cross as the sacrifice for our sin, God’s holiness, justice and wrath met his love, mercy and grace – and none of them were denied. God was true to his own character as he acted to save you.
That is why Isaiah can say, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Because of Jesus the righteous Servant of the Lord, you have been justified. You have been declared innocent, not guilty. Jesus bore your iniquities and received God’s judgment against them.
In the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion we learn that in the three hours leading up to the death of Jesus, there was darkness over the land. At the moment of his death there was an earthquake. These things are end time signs. They signaled that what was happening on Good Friday was something that was connected with the judgment of the Last Day. On Good Friday, God poured out his Last Day judgment against your sin. The just God judges sin, and he did to his Son in your place.
But because your sin has already been judged in Christ, it means that the Last Day holds no punishment for you. St. Paul told the Romans that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There will be a judgment. Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” But because of Christ’s death in your place, you already know the verdict. It is innocent; not guilty; righteous. That is a status that you already have now. That’s why Paul said, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You have heard the words of Isaiah 53 many, many times. It is a text that is quoted again and again by the New Testament. You know the cadence: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
But as we consider this text tonight, we must also remember how it begins: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” The Old Testament lesson focuses on the saving death of Servant of the Lord. He is without a doubt, the suffering Servant. But it does so from the perspective that this Servant of the Lord is victorious. He is high and lifted up; he is exalted because of what he is done.
And we need to pay attention to how the text ends, for here too we learn that for Jesus Christ the Servant of the Lord, Good Friday cannot be the end. The final words of our text describe the Servant in victory. God’s prophet tells us, “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 makes it clear that the story of the Servant does not end with death. On Good Friday, Jesus died at three in the afternoon. Before sundown he was buried – a first day. Tomorrow his body will rest in a tomb – a second day. At sundown tomorrow night it will be the beginning of a third day.