SERMON FOR HOLY COMMUNION ON GOOD FRIDAY, APRIL 14TH, 2017
Text: First Lesson: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
Count Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was born into one of Europe’s leading families in the year 1700, and he grew up in an atmosphere of prayer, Bible-reading, and hymn-singing. He excelled in school, and seemed to have all the qualities for national leadership. After finishing his university studies at Wittenberg, Germany, Zinzendorf embarked on a grand tour of Europe, attending lectures and visiting museums, palaces, and universities.
It was while visiting the art museum at Dusseldorf that the young count had a deeply moving experience that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Seeing Domenico Feti’s Ecce Homo (“Behold, the Man”), a portrait of the thorn-crowned Jesus, and reading the inscription below it – “I Did This For Thee! What Hast Thou Done For Me?” Zinzendorf said to himself, “I have loved Him for a long time, but I have never actually done anything for Him. From now on, I will do whatever He leads me to do.”
His life was never the same again, and he went on to found a spiritual community on his property, Herrnhut, which provided hundreds of Moravian missionaries over the next decades and sparked the modern missionary movement.
So that we may serve our Lord with great devotion, we need a deeper appreciation of the high cost of our salvation, which for Jesus entailed rejection, contempt, persecution and death on a cross.
ISAIAH 52:13 – 53-9
Our First Lesson this evening is a prediction of the sufferings of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ and his exaltation. The passage starts with the prediction of the Messiah being lifted very high in honor, his name extolled and praised. The resurrection, ascension and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ to God’s throne is here foretold. But this high honor above all kings, lords, and all authority does not come without its price. Admittedly, the Jews expected the Messiah to hold this highest position of authority as God’s representative ruler. But this passage signifies that such honor comes with a high price. The very next verse paints a great contrast – a human visage marred more than any man and a form, or body disfigured by torture, as our Lord’s body was lacerated by the cruel scourging before the crucifixion, his head wounded by blows and by the crown of thorns. But the prediction goes on to conclude that it is through this torturous death, the marring of his visage and body, people of many nations will be purified, and kings receive revelation.
The Messiah, or Christ, the prophet goes on to describe, is “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. These words do not reflect the popular devotion of the crowds who followed our Lord in his public ministry, but rather the murderous calls of the chief priests, religious rulers and crowds in our Lord’s trial before Pontius Pilate. The sorrows and griefs known and felt by our Lord were manifold – he was misunderstood by many, abandoned in the Garden of Gethsemane by his disciples, betrayed by one of the Twelve, arrested as a common criminal, charged falsely with blasphemy, persecuted and beaten, mocked and scourged, and finally crucified with two criminals.
The prophet Isaiah acknowledges the guilt of the nation and of the world in this, when he says, “We hid our faces from him, and esteemed him not.”
But in all this, the prophet adds, the Messiah “hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” though we thought it was God who afflicted him and struck him. More than this, the Messiah was “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities,” and “by his stripes, we are healed.”
What the prophet is saying can be understood as the Messiah representing all mankind in taking upon himself our sorrows, griefs, sicknesses and sins, or as the Messiah substituting his life and death for the death that all human beings should suffer as God’s judgment on their sin. Whichever way we understand it, we Christians who have been baptized into Christ, and hence into his death and resurrection, have so much to be thankful for this Good Friday and always.
All human beings need the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ’s death on a cross. The prophet makes the judgment, which is re-affirmed so many times by Holy Scripture, that all people have sinned and become selfish; he says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” To bring us back from our own way to God’s way, from our selfishness, to God’s love, the LORD “hath laid on him the iniquity of us all”. He is indeed “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Our Lord’s silence before his accusers and judges is predicted in this well-known passage about the lamb brought to the slaughter and the sheep before her shearers.
This Passion, this premature death, was suffered by our Lord to make atonement for the sins of God’s people, Jew and Gentile. Many will be justified, or made righteous, by his death. But now that we have been saved by our Lord’s death on the cross, how devotedly we should live as his servants on earth! Now that we have received, are receiving, and will receive, so great a salvation and deliverance from sin, hell, death and bondage, how obediently we must love him! How grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ are you for so great a salvation, and how will you express your love and gratitude? What kind of a life will you live in His love and service?