God’s Suffering Servant

Many years ago, before mankind walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name means “The Lord is My Salvation,” but we simply call him Isaiah. He wrote approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ, so he is a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Micah. His audience was the people of Judah and Jerusalem. He warned them of their impending judgement.  His book is sixty-six chapter long, so many consider him the greatest writing prophet. Those chapters can be divided into two sections. Chapters one thru thirty-nine deal with judgment. Chapters forty thru sixty-six deal with comfort. Our reading comes from the second section. It is called God’s suffering servant. Twenty-seven hundred years later, we understand that suffering servant to be Jesus.

The scripture reads like a timeline of Jesus’ life. Verse two tells us he was born in the line of Jesse, the father of King David. That is confirmed in the first chapter of Matthew. Physically, there is nothing special about Jesus. Politically, there is nothing special about Jesus. It is spiritually that Jesus is different from the rest of us. Did you know, according to the United Nations, 385,000 babies are born a day in our world. I have no clue how many babies have been born in the history of this world. However, I do know the baby Jesus was different from the rest. He was the very incarnation of God. In other words, Jesus was God in human form. His biological mother was Mary. Joseph played the role of his earthly father, but he was only his stepfather. Jesus’ biological father was God. That uniqueness was not obvious at first. Only Anna and Simeon recognize his uniqueness. (Luke 2:22-40). Everyone loves a baby and Jesus did what all healthy babies do, he grew up.

According to the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is twelve years-old he gets separated from Mary and Joseph. They had been to Jerusalem for the annual Passover. The time came for everyone to return home. Jesus is old enough to have some independence. They traveled in groups for companionship and protection. They had traveled some distance when it was discovered Jesus was missing. A first century “amber alert” went out, but no one had seen Jesus. The frantic parents return to Jerusalem. Three days later they found Jesus sitting in the temple listening to the teachers and asking questions. The scriptures say everyone was amazed at his understanding.

When Jesus is thirty years old, he goes out to the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by John. The crowd is thick, because it was a sinner’s baptism, and everyone was a sinner. The baptizer recognized Jesus and his uniqueness. He is uncomfortable baptizing Jesus. After all, it was a sinner’s baptism and Jesus had not committed a single sin. Jesus encourages him to do it and God reminds the world Jesus is his son. Once completed, Jesus is taken to the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. It is really no contest. Jesus wins, the angels attend to him, and his earthly ministry begins. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus would have made a great United Methodist minister. His ministry lasted three years. However, the ministry does not end because Jesus was not effective. Jesus’ ministry ended because Jesus was too affective. He did nothing wrong. He loved everyone. He cared for the forgotten and treated everyone with dignity and respect. He healed the blind and the lame. He confronted and defeated demons. He taught people how to live and gave people hope, because they longed to hear about the Kingdom of God. The people responded to Jesus and great crowds followed him. That was the problem. The great crowds bothered the orthodox leaders of his day. They had too much to lose. Jesus had to die. You know the story.

It all began on Palm Sunday. Masses gather for the annual Passover. When Jesus arrived, the people were shoulder to shoulder. The number of people is not in question. The only question is why they cheered for Jesus. Some wanted Jesus to lead a political revolution. They had grown tired of foreign rule. Some wanted Jesus to heal a sick or maimed loved one. Some wanted to see Jesus was he was trending. Very few were there because they understood the eternal impact of Jesus. That crowd confirmed the orthodox leader’s fears. They were threatened by Jesus’ popularity. A lesser man would have retreated, but not Jesus. He attacked! He went to the temple court and disrupted their profitable business practices. He cursed the fig tree, the symbol of Israel. It was the only thing Jesus ever cursed. Jesus challenged the orthodox leaders of the faith and they retaliated. They looked for the weakest link and found him, Judas Iscariot. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and the dominos began to fall. Jesus was arrested after supper on Thursday evening. He was tried twice. First by his own people, who lacked the power to execute him. Second, he was tried before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilot, who had the power to execute him. He used that power to send Jesus to the cross because he wanted to appease the crowd. Surrounded by two common criminals, one on his right and the other his left, Jesus died on a Roman instrument of execution, a cross. His death is hard to imagine because his death was hard to watch. There is no other way to say it.

Jesus, the incarnation of God, was dead. The life that began in the manger thirty-three years earlier was over. Mary must have been staggered with emotions. She had to face that horrible hour alone. She must have missed Joseph, long gone. Now Jesus was gone too. The same eyes who saw the face of God in the manger saw the son of God die. Can I state the obvious? Parents should never outlive their child. It was hard for Mary to accept, but Jesus’s death was part of God’s plan of salvation for the world. Here is a question you must answer. Why did Jesus have to die? There are many reasons why Jesus had to die. However, let me give you just three for you to consider.

Jesus died to give eternal life to whoever believed in him. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not parish but have eternal life.” In the Christian faith, we believe Jesus is our only hope of salvation. If you do not believe in Jesus, then the fires of hell are waiting for you. If you have never accepted Jesus into your heart, then do not wait. Death is a heartbeat away. Jesus had to die!

Jesus died to save you from the curse of the law. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming cursed for us.” If you believe your salvation can be earned, then you are a fool. Your only hope of salvation is Jesus. His sinlessness made him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. His sinlessness made him the perfect sacrifice for your sins. Never forget, we are saved by grace and by grace alone. Jesus had to die!

Jesus died to end religion and bring us to a personal relation with God. Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with God. That is why the faith must live in your heart. None of the other world religions can make such a boast. Do you remember what the scriptures say? Jesus torn the veil at the temple from top to bottom, so we can have a personal relationship with God. Jesus had to die!

There is an old preaching story that has been circulating for years. I first heard it in the hills of the Bluegrass State. The story is about a young curious boy, who loved his father. Every day he asked his father if he could go to work with him. Every day, the father turned him down. Yet, every day he still asked his father, and, in time, the father agreed. The boy was thrilled, but the father warned him it was going to be long day for him, and he had to stay out of the way. The father was the bridge operator for the local railroad. The bridge remained up until the train came filled with passengers. When the train arrived, the father would pull the levers to lower the bridge. When the father and son, arrive at the bridge station, the son studied everything in detail. The father did his best to explain how everything worked. The father was right, it was a long day for the little boy. In time, the father got busy, and the little boy got bored. When the time came to lower the bridge, the train blew its whistle. The father grabbed the lever to lower the bridge and glanced back at his son. There was only one problem. The boy was not him the office! The father looked out the window and looked at the bridge. There in the cogs of the bridge was his son. The father was in a no-win situation. If he pulled the lever to lower the bridge, then he would kill his son. If he did not pull the lever to lower the bridge, then he would kill the passengers on the train. What would you do? Would you pull the lever to save the passengers, killing his son? Would you save the boy, killing the passengers? Let there be no doubt about it. God pulled the lever on Good Friday. Jesus died, so we could live. May we never question the depth of God’s love. The story ends with the father crying. He had just killed his son. With tears running down his face, he watched the passengers crossing the bridge. Most waved and smiled at him because they did know the sacrifice, he made for them. It has been said, we are not saved by what we do, we are saved by what Christ has done.

The Ultimate Disappointment

The Mackenzie River is Canada’s largest river system. It runs through vast sections of its barren Northwest Territory and empties into the Arctic Circle. It was named after a Canadian explorer, Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820). He lived near the end of the eighteenth century and longed to lead an expedition across Canada to the Pacific Ocean. His incredible journey was completed in 1793, 11 years before Lewis and Clark. That was his second attempt. His first attempt ended in failure in 1789. The first attempt failed because the group traveled on the Mackenzie River. They hoped it would empty into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, it turned north. History tells us the original group was devastated. In his diary, Mackenzie himself, called the river that now carries his name, The River of Disappointment.

Have you ever experienced disappointment? Have you ever been disappointed in your spouse? Have you have been disappointed in your children? Have you ever been disappointed in your parents? Have you ever been disappointed in your friends? Has anyone here ever been disappointed in the government? Have you ever been disappointed in your church? Have you ever been disappointed in your pastor? Have you ever been disappointed in yourself? You can admit it. From time to time, we all do it. You turn your critical eyes inward, and you don’t like what you see. You are not alone. Some of the greatest people in the history of the world have been disappointed in themselves. Consider these names with me. We consider them great:

          Did you know, Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC) conquered Persia, but broke down and wept in disappointment because his troops were too exhausted to push on to India?

          Did you know, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), the father of modern international law, knew disappointment? Near the end, he said, “I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life.”

          Did you know, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), sixth President of the U.S., knew disappointment? In his diary he wrote, “My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations, and in ceaseless rejected prayers. I hope I did something beneficial for my species.”

          Did you know, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) wrote words that continue to delight and enrich our lives, and yet he knew disappointment? He wrote these words for his own headstone, “Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much.”

          Did you know, Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), who opened Africa and established an empire, knew disappointment? His last words were, “So little done, so much to do.”

          In 1858, the Illinois legislature–using an obscure statute–sent Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) to the U.S. Senate instead of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), although Lincoln had won the popular vote. When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

You are not the first person, and ours is not the first generation to experience disappointment. It is one of those things that links one generation to the next. However, this evening’s scripture lesson is not just about being disappointed. Our scripture lesson is about the ultimate disappointment, death! If you are ready to look at this evening’s scripture lesson say, “Amen!”

We find ourselves this evening in the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew. Much has already happened. The events of that first Palm Sunday, just days earlier, seem like years ago. The cheering crowd has disappeared, replaced by a grieving handful. The picture is not pretty. Jesus is being executed. In my station in life, I have witnessed many die. It’s always hard. No matter how prepared we might be, the end is shocking. The person goes from being a human being to a corpse, in a matter of seconds. Each time, I’m reminded of the fragility of life. It was no different for Jesus. The young man, full of life earlier in the day is now gone; he is now just another rotting corpse. The eyewitnesses of his execution are not just disappointed, they are devastated. We visit the death of Jesus annually, but it never changes. The death of Jesus is shocking. It must have been hard to witness. Today, Good Friday, we are forced to answer this question:

Why was the death of Jesus necessary? There isn’t a single answer. There are several answers. Let me give you just three. Each one is a reminder.

          1. The death of Jesus reminds us of the ugliness of sin! Our world has demoted sin. Many believe they can earn their salvation. That is simply not true. We are saved by grace, because we are all sinners. (Romans 3:23)

          2. The death of Jesus reminds us that the eternal is more important than the temporary! Jesus’ hours of agony on the cross made the opportunity of eternal life possible.

          3. The death of Jesus reminds us of God’s great commitment to us! The people that love you the most, have sacrificed the most. Jesus sacrificed it all.

The theological reasons behind Jesus’ death cannot replace the sting of his death. After all, death is the ultimate disappointment. If death makes you uncomfortable, say, “Amen!” There is no way to observe Good Friday without accepting the death of Jesus.

Years ago, it became of tradition to worship on Good Friday at a local cemetery. A mausoleum inthe middle of a cemetery is a good place to be on Good Friday. After all, Jesus was dead. For me, the first year was the most uncomfortable. It was new, so I came out in the middle of the afternoon to just settle. The weather was perfect for Good Friday. It was cold, and the rain could not have been any harder. I stood at the back door and watched the rain come down in buckets. I was thinking about the death of Jesus, and I was humbled. I was completely alone, except for an elderly woman. She wasn’t inside, she was outside, holding an umbrella, standing next to freshly dug grave. I didn’t know her story, and yet I did know her story. Her long-time husband had died, and she came to visit him. The rain and the thunder could not mask her crying. Listen to what I am about to say. She wasn’t just crying. She was wailing. Her heart was broken; the love of her life was gone. She wasn’t just disappointed; she was devastated. For a second, I thought about going out to comfort her, but she needed to be alone. With nothing else to do, I watched her grieve. Then, it hit me. It was Good Friday and she was crying over the death of a loved one, just like Jesus’ loved ones cried for him.

It is Good Friday. How many tears have you shed for Jesus today? How much do you really love Jesus? After all, Jesus is dead, and death is the ultimate disappointment. C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) once said, “It costs God nothing, as far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills, cost him crucifixion.” May God bless us as we make this spiritual pilgrimage together.