The Suffering Servant, Isaiah 50:4-9, Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of this, the holiest of weeks of the Church Year. Palm Sunday really has a dual focus. On the one hand, it is a day of joy and gladness, as we mingle our “hosannas” with those crowds who first welcomed Israel’s coming King. On the other hand, sorrow is mixed with joy, because we know Palm Sunday’s road leads to our King’s humiliating death at the hand of His foes.
On the one hand, Jesus’ entry into the holy city is that of a king in victory march. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. On the other hand, His victory march leads to His shameful defeat at the hand of His enemies.
But who is King Jesus anyway? What kind of a king is He? And what has He come to do? We look at Him, and we see a strange king, no doubt, a lowly king. Lowly He rides. Humble, mounted on a donkey. What kind of king comes riding in like this?
But Jesus is not like other kings. Jesus hasn’t come to conquer any nations, to ascend any golden thrones, to live and reign as the mighty ruler of some spectacular earthly kingdom. He’s come to die. Jesus hasn’t come to be served, but to serve, to give His life as a ransom for many. This is who He is: the Father’s humble Servant, on a mission.
And that mission is to die. So lowly He comes; obedient He comes; humble He comes, with His face set toward the cross, our Servant-King, trusting that His Father will deliver Him from His foes. Who is Jesus? He is the Father’s Servant, come to do His will. He’s headed to the cross. And now, there’s no looking back.
He is a king, but what exactly is the nature of His kingdom? How does He reign? Palm Sunday shows us He is not like other kings. Humble, yes, He leaves the heaven of His Father and divests Himself of all earthly glory. He takes the form of a servant and is born in the likeness of men.
Here is where our Old Testament Reading comes in: the Book of Isaiah has four Servant Songs about the Messiah. They are found in chapter 42 [1–9], chapter 49 [1–13], chapter 50 [4–11], and chapter 52 [13–53:12].
Today’s reading is the third Servant Song. The Servant who speaks in this third Servant Song is the same Servant whom we see riding into Jerusalem to humble Himself unto death, even death on a cross, trusting perfectly that His Father in Heaven will vindicate Him because He is righteous.
And vindicate Him the Father does, exalting Him to His right hand in glory forever and, with Him, every baptized child who trusts in His all-sufficient sacrifice. And so the great point-counterpoint of Palm Sunday meets in a wonderful paradox for our salvation: His humility is His glory and our victory.
Jesus, the Servant who suffered for you, sustains you. He invites the weary to come to Him. Jesus makes your burden light and the yoke easy by assuring you that your sins have been atoned for by His blood. You have been forgiven.
And now, the word of our Lord continues to sustain you and me. Even though we are often weary as we journey through this life. Corona virus aside, Children are dying in our communities, of drug overdoses and suicides. Families are falling apart. The political system seems to be completely broken down. Hundreds of children die each day in places like Syria and Yemen. Terrorists are bombing subways. Even closer to home we experience sickness, death of a loved one, trouble in the family, divorce, failure, loneliness, loss of job, unfulfilled dreams and goodness knows what else.
The sun is always shining, but sometimes we can’t see it for days because of cloudy weather. God’s love and promises are always there for us, but we don’t always realize this because we are overwhelmed with problems. In fact, we can’t seem to see anything else but our problems. We are just so tired and weary.
The greatest burdens we carry are our sin and the resulting guilt. We are spiritually weary. That can cause us to wondering if God has really forgiven us, if He really does still love us.
The Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ, speaks in the first person. Up to this point, we’ve heard only once that the Servant will suffer. The third Servant Song elaborates on the Servant’s suffering and explains that the Servant will suffer because He is obedient to God.
This is His relationship to God the Father: the Father sends, He is sent. On Palm Sunday, Christ is that Servant who sets His face toward the holy city, riding confidently to His death in obedience to the will of His Father. It is the will of God to crush Him, because He gives His life as an offering for your sin, for my sin, for the sin of the world.
With remarkable brevity, Isaiah summarizes the whole life and ministry of God’s Servant in six verses. We hear that God’s Servant learns (v 4b), He teaches (v 4a), He is obedient (v 5), He prepares to contend with His adversary (v 8), He suffers (v 6), and He is confident in His vindication (v 8).
We learn of His resolve. He sets His face like flint. He will not be deterred from His mission. Satan has tempted, Peter has argued, in the garden we even see Jesus’ own internal desire to live battling against this plan. But He is utterly resolved. He will not turn aside from His appointed task.
We learn of His obedience. The prophet notes that the Servant listens, hears, and obeys. He is not rebellious, He is not self-motivated, but He is following a directive which has been handed down to Him from God.
We learn of His humility. The task set before Him is one in which He is ridiculed and shamefully treated. He is not merely doing a difficult thing, but He is treated shamefully for it. Yet, He does not hide His face from the spitting or turn His cheek from those who pull out His beard. He gives His back to the lash.
And most helpful for you and me, we learn of His hope. Jesus hopes, He expects something from God. Though it looks like He is utterly cast down, a loser, treated not as an obedient son but a common criminal, He places His trust and hope in God. He knows God is on His side.
This Servant goes forth to preach and to die. That is the ministry of Jesus summed up, and it is the purpose of His coming among us. Why does our God come lowly into Jerusalem, seated on a donkey’s colt? To contend with our adversary, the devil, in obedience to His Father’s will, to suffer, and to die. That is the “why” of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. It is describing Jesus in His passion.
As we try to look more like Him, increasingly these attributes should also describe us. Our ears are taught, our lives are conformed, our faces are set like flint as we face Heaven and will not be detoured from our appointed task, either by threats or hardship, nakedness, famine, sword, or other peril or pestilence. All this, is the great and mighty hope which has come to us in Christ.
There would be earlier times when the religious leaders desired to arrest Jesus and put Him to death, but it does not happen because His hour had not yet come. But, after earnestly praying in the Garden of Gethsemane that if it was His Father’s will, Jesus then declares to His disciples: “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mt 26:45). Now it was God’s time, the hour.
Both the entire Old Testament and the New Testament, in fact all of human history centers on that hour, the ninth hour on Good Friday, three in the afternoon, when Jesus died.
His death was preceded by three hours of eerie and unexplainable darkness, a sign of God’s judgment and wrath over sin. Then at the ninth hour, the hour when the Lamb was slaughtered at the temple, when all that was prophesied was fulfilled, Jesus yielded up His spirit. No one took His life from Him, but He gave up His life of His own accord.
The death of Jesus on Good Friday fulfills prophecy and is the climax of our Lord’s earthly ministry. This event was the culmination of history. But, not only is the hour of Christ’s death the center and focus of all the Scriptures and all history, but the hour of Christ’s death is the hour of your salvation.
At that hour, the Lamb of God shed His blood and offered His life as the sacrifice for your sin. Your perfect Passover lamb has been sacrificed. All your iniquities were placed on Him. Good Friday is your day of atonement as Christ offered Himself as your substitute.
But you know that’s not the end of the story. On the third day, at an early hour, the angel of the Lord will roll back the stone from the tomb where Jesus was placed. And the purpose of our Lord’s death was revealed: to save those who were condemned to die eternally.
And now, since He died and rose again, an hour is coming when your body will be raised from death and you will enter with Him into the life that never ends.
The hour we commemorate Jesus’ death is soon at hand. He enters Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt, His eyes fixed on the cross. In the coming days, we walk the way of sorrows with Him to the very hour of His death, confident that, the moment He yields up His spirit, is the hour of our salvation.
The true Suffering Servant is the one we see on Palm Sunday, riding into Jerusalem in humbleness on the colt of a donkey. He is the Suffering Servant, who goes forward to Golgotha in obedience to His Father’s plan of redemption. It is for us sinful servants that Jesus obediently goes forth to die.
Yet the true Servant is also the risen Servant, who is present here to serve us with His perfect obedience. Because of His Divine Service, we are no longer servants of ourselves and servants of sin, but we are transformed into servants in His likeness. We are freed from servitude to sin in order to serve God and our neighbor.
Whatever is causing your weariness at this moment in life, you have a Father who loves you and will cause all to work for your good.
Do you doubt the love of God? Look at the cross. Rest assured that the very words of your Savior will sustain you, words of love and forgiveness and salvation. Are you weary? Look to Jesus: He will sustain you. Amen.