Sunday, 25 March 2012

The suffering servant

Lent 5 year B Sermon 
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He took up our pain and bore our suffering.

What you just heard is one of the great prophesies of Scripture. No words could more powerfully articulate the fact of Atonement…at…one…ment. Humanity reconciled to God

And the only form of service… for Isaiah’s suffering servant
…is to suffer.

Slide words
The servants work
is to bear our grief and be bruised for our healing.

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In the religion of the ancient Hebrews…the sacrificial system bore witness…to humanities deepest fears…
and longings and here in this prophesy… the word sacrifice appears for the first time…linked with a Messianic vision

May be the suffering servant is merely a personification
of the nation of Israel… only image and metaphor…
or perhaps as I believe…it’s the greatest prophesy in history … as Isaiah dreams of a redeeming saviour…a Messiah …like none imagined…a servant who will suffer and die because of human sin…and whose suffering…
will only be understood… after his death… when the servant sees his offspring… and the good that comes from them.

And we believe it don’t we…that we are forgiven and healed. We acknowledge as sin…the harm we’ve done and do…
on purpose…against God or God’s children…including ourselves
New slide reveals on the word
The Christian word for that… is conviction

And if we are sorry…we feel remorse and even shame…
the word for that is contrition.

And when we decide with God’s help… never to repeat it…when we turn from it…that is repentance.

We hear the word of forgiveness in First John 1:9
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If we confess our sins God who is faithful and just… will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But how does that work if we hang on to the guilt?
When we really believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
But for some reason we still… carry round
a burden of guilt and shame. What’s going on? [Pause]

Makarora slide
Well I was asking myself the same question recently… during a two day retreat… to savour some silence in the presence of God.  I went with no agenda… praying only that God would reveal God’s will for me… during that time.

As I read my Bible prayed and rested I became intensely aware of feelings of guilt rising in me around issues of parenting… The teenage years were hard to get through…
 These feelings were familiar to me
I’d carried them round for 20 years or more…like a great load of wood on my back…
Even though …today my adult daughter and I have a wonderful loving relationship…and I have complete faith in God’s forgiveness and mercy through Jesus. So I asked God

Why…. does the burden of guilt still feel so heavy?

And do you know… what answer… came back to me?

Because you have never asked me to lift it off you…
You insisted on continuing to carry it …
and you can’t put it down by yourself. [pause]

Now I’ll be honest with you…I’ve always felt a bit wary
of metaphors for sin that involve concepts like weights
but a line from an old hymn just kept coming back to me…
the weight of sin laid on him there…and Jesus words to Peter the night he was betrayed…unless you let me wash you …

At first I resisted…thinking…
Jesus you’ve got enough to worry about …
I don’t want to burden you…I’ve got to carry this myself…

And suddenly I could see just how ridiculous that was…
how contrary to Jesus bearing the cost of God’s love for us on the cross… and still now as risen saviour

 So I asked Jesus… to lift off the burden of guilt from me…

And in my mind’s eye… the great weight I’d carried
was lifted up by Jesus. And when I asked…
what he was going to do with it … Jesus replied…
that’s none of your business...And right there and then…
I understood my part… in the cross of Christ…
You know at times it seems the greatest distance in the world is the seventeen inches between our head and our heart.

We may know God’s will in our heads, but our some part of our life remains unchanged.  But when God’s will becomes our hearts desire… then we must let God serve us…
as God wills.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us Jesus’ suffering was
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to fulfil what was spoken through the servant song of the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

In the great prophesy of Isaiah we are made to understand that some human grief and sorrow…
are afflictions that arise from the harm we do to ourselves and to others

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and also in the prophesy… are spoken the deepest word of all … it is the will of our creator God…to lay upon his servant the crushing burden of human suffering and sin.

Here in both Isaiah and in Matthew…is the Hebrew word for disease…and in this we see the harm we do… is both…
the sickness and the sorrow… which most afflicts humanity.  And the word used for the Servant’s
taking our burden on His shoulders…implies not only the taking of it… but bearing away… the heavy load.

And make no mistake…Isaiah’s suffering servant
feels the weight of affliction that He takes away.
Jesus believed his vocation was to take the mantle of Israel upon himself…a calling bound up inextricably…
with suffering. And were we to apply Isaiah’s prophesy to Jesus suffering …there’s no escaping
the very pain he endures because of our us…stands in direct proportion… to His power to end our suffering.

And in this we see in Jesus… the highest most sacrificial example of how we ought to love. As a great 19th century biblical scholar reflected… ‘Whoever would lighten another’s load… must stoop his own shoulders to carry it.’

In Isaiah’s sad dream…the reason for the Servant’s willing and silent suffering is our wrongdoing. No matter how trivial or how grave… He bears the consequence of sins He did not commit…and that my friends is the cost of salvation…
of healing our broken relationship with God…
the cost bourn by God on the cross.

Were we standing with the disciples at the foot of the cross, faith in God’s kindness and mercy could scarcely survive. But read in the light of Isaiah’s prophecy, our understanding rises… to be faith in the atoning sacrifice
of Him who was wounded there for our transgressions.

And as I found on my retreat in Makarora
for me to be completely free…. it had to be.

Yet through this suffering and death …
Isaiah tells us there is hope for the prophet also dreams the suffering servant will see benefit of his suffering after he dies. When the very knowledge of his sacrifice will restore many into right relationship with God and one another.
Slide words
When knowledge of him will justify many.

We express our faith in this… every time we share the bread and the wine together as a congregation.
Every time we remember Jesus’ words;

Slide words
This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The work of the suffering servant…the work we so closely examine as Easter approaches…that work…

is the kindness and mercy of our God. That work is salvation.

Let us reflect on this as we listen. And if anything has touched you in this message and there’s a burden of guilt you have yet to put in Jesus hands…I encourage you to do it now.

The kindness of our God lyrics with MP3

Please stand and join me in our confession of faith adopted by the last General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

footnote: I am grateful to 

Expositions of Holy Scripture: Isaiah and Jeremiah

Author:MacLaren, Alexander (1826-1910)