Today we begin Holy Week–the week in which we remember and reflect upon Jesus’ final week of His earthly ministry. It ends with His betrayal and trial, His condemnation, His untold agony of suffering on the cross forsaken by God and man, His death and burial. But, of course, Holy Week doesn’t end it all. There’s next Sunday–Easter, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as Victor over sin, death, devil and hell! But Holy Week is the heart and core of Jesus’ saving work. His birth in Bethlehem culminates with the cross. All His preaching and miracles point us to the cross and that the One suffering and dying there is not just an ordinary man but the One on the cross is the true God, the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He is the God-man and the one and only Savior of the world.
Jesus’ summarized Holy Week a short time before when He said to His disciples [Lk 18.31ff.]: Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. Notice–all these events of Holy Week have already been foretold by OT prophets. God had said that they would happen and so they would happen/ they will be accomplished. And then Jesus gets very specific: For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. And they will scourge Him and put Him to death. And that’s exactly what we see happening beginning on Maundy Thursday and culminating on Good Friday. That’s Holy Week! And then later, after His resurrection, Jesus told the disciples [Lk. 24.44]: all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. And then He continues: Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer –that’s Holy Week–and to rise from the dead the third day–that’s Easter. For there to be Easter, there had to be Holy Week.
But Holy Week certainly didn’t begin sounding like Jesus would be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. And they will scourge Him and put Him to death. Because, what do we have today? –Palm Sunday! Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem. Jesus enters Jerusalem as King and as Savior. We read from the Gospel: the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! This was not just the 12 but the whole multitude of the disciples. They had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead; they had seen His mighty works. They recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, the King who comes in the name of the Lord. To be sure many had wrong notions about the Messiah being some sort of great political leader but at least they recognized Jesus as the Messiah and King.
What a far cry from the Good Friday crowd that shouted [Jn 19.15]: “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” But what a comfort and encouragement Jesus received on Palm Sunday! How that must have helped strengthen Him for the events of the upcoming week. Yes, He knew all that was before Him but here, on Palm Sunday, He was given a glimpse of His ultimate victory and triumph: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! He was given a glimpse of His Kingdom, the Church, recognizing Him as the Savior/ Messiah and praising Him for His saving work. This is the praise of faith and this is the praise that belongs to Jesus now and into all eternity.
As we now specifically turn to our text for today. It is from a very fascinating portion of Isaiah. It is part of what is called a “Servant Song.” Isaiah records 7 of these “Servant Songs”. These are words spoken by the Servant of the Lord/ the Messiah/ the Preincarnate Christ that Isaiah is blessed to hear and record centuries before the events unfold. What makes these Servant Songs so interesting is that they give us insight into what Jesus is thinking during the time of and leading up to His suffering and death; they are a glimpse into the mind of Christ. When we read the Passion accounts, we are seeing outward events; but what is in the mind of Christ? That’s where these Servant Songs come in! How could Jesus endure all that He did? –He says in the Servant Song recorded by Isaiah: For the Lord GOd will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint. Or, like Jesus says during His earthly ministry [Jn 10.18], no one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself–we then hear Him say in the Servant Song of our text: I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard. –Jesus willingly giving Himself into shame, suffering and death!
Isaiah records the words of Jesus: The Lord GOd has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary… What is really interesting here is that this is said at the very beginning of the Song: I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. This is the fruit of Jesus’ suffering– He, through His word, can and does give great comfort to/ gives rest to those who are weary, that is, those with beaten, broken and contrite hearts; those who are weary from carrying the burden of their sin and guilt. Here Jesus gives the forgiveness of sin to the penitent. This forgiveness of sin is all the result of His suffering and death. And this is why Jesus came into the world and what He had His gaze fixed on all during His life on earth, and especially during that first Holy Week–our forgiveness; that through His holy word and sacrament He could come to us and speak that word of forgiveness and give us that forgiveness and gather us into His Church. That’s why Jesus invites us [Mt. 11.28]: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. When you hear the word of absolution the pastor speaks, when you receive Jesus’ body and blood in the holy Sacrament, that is Jesus speak[ing] a word in season to him who is weary. There, trusting in that word of Jesus, is your comfort and strength. What Jesus always had before Him and what kept Him going was being able to bring us the forgiveness of sin; in the midst of His great suffering, especially at the end of Holy Week, He was looking forward to His continued work as the perfect Prophet: to speak and to give the forgiveness of sin to the sorrowful heart wearied with its sin and guilt.
What a glorious comfort we have! The word of forgiveness that Jesus speaks to us in His word and Sacraments is perfect. It is not just a wish or possibility but when Jesus says “it is forgiven,” it is forgiven. Because Who is it that speaks and gives us that forgiveness? –The very God Himself, who brought about that forgiveness. Listen again to the first words Jesus speaks in our text: The Lord GOd has given Me the tongue of the learned that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. Jesus is the great prophet, the prophet par excellence because He is God Himself. What He says, is! His word of forgiveness stands–that very forgiveness He won by His life, suffering and death; and that very forgiveness that was always before His eyes as the fruit of all His suffering and death. What a glorious comfort to us who are weary because of our sin and guilt!
There’s also a lesson for us too as we strive to live holy lives. It’s this: The Lord GOd has given Me the tongue of the learned. The learned are those who have been taught. Let that be us! Let us sit and be instructed by the Lord. Let Him be the teacher and we the student. Instead of us telling the Lord how things should be or getting frustrated when we don’t understand the Lord’s working, let us sit in silence before Him and His word and be diligent in prayer and studying Scripture. When we sit in silence and are taught by the Lord, then we can also speak the word of the Lord to others; then we can bring Christ’s word to those around us whose sin and guilt weary them; then Jesus can speak through us and give them rest.
Our text continues as Jesus says of the Father: He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. The Lord GOd has opened My ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. What do we learn of Jesus here? –His perfect obedience! This is part and parcel of His saving work. Jesus gladly and willingly obeyed. This obedience was a constant for Jesus. Morning by morning He awakens My ear to hear as the learned so Jesus, taught by God, has a perfect understanding of the Lord’s will and what does He do? –He yields to the Lord’s will; He yields glad obedience! What a huge contrast there is between Jesus, the Servant of the Lord/ the perfect Prophet/ the perfect High Priest and us. That difference is obedience. We do not yield the obedience God demands/ expects of us. He awakens our ear to hear and to do His holy will, but so often we do not. We do our own will; we follow our old sinful nature; we place ourselves number one and not the Lord and His will. What great cause we have to examine heart and conscience these waning days of Lent! May we recognize and repent of our disobedience to the Lord.
But that’s why Jesus is the great High Priest. As our great High Priest, He offered Himself as the perfect, once for all sacrifice for sin. His sacrifice of Himself on the cross was perfect because He Himself was sinless! His perfect obedience atones for our disobedience. He obeyed where we do not; He remained perfect, without sin, where we sin. Jesus’ perfect obedience marked His whole mission: to bless and help the ones suffering and afflicted by sin–you and me. Because Jesus perfectly obeyed, He could offer that perfect sacrifice for sin so that now in Him our sins are forgiven and He gives us His perfect holy righteousness.
Especially with the events of Good Friday we see that indeed Jesus did offer that perfect obedience, that He listened to God His Father with a cheerful, willing, glad obedience. Jesus listened and was perfectly without sin. Our text: And I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. Jesus never turned His back on God and the task He was given. Look at Jesus’ inner disposition as He says: I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. Jesus did not turn back even when His soul was sorrowful to death and His human nature was trembling with the severity of the afflictions. Instead, what did Jesus do? He prayed to His Father, Not My will, but Yours be done! And just how perfectly aligned His will was to the Father’s, just how perfectly non rebellious/ sinless Jesus is, He gives examples: I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. Notice: Jesus acts; He’s in control. To go through such merciless disrespect and contempt and yet not sin but to accept them in divine humility/ to have such meekness and lack of revenge could only be done by One who was without sin and without a rebellious spirit. Only such a One could be the holy perfect High Priest offering Himself the perfect sacrifice for sin.
How could He go through such, for us, unbearable treatment? What were His inward thoughts as He was going through these events, particularly of Holy Week? For the Lord God will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know I will not be ashamed. He looked to His Father for help and knew He would not be disappointed. He would help Him. That’s why Jesus could endure the horrid events of Good Friday. He knew He would be preserved in obedience, in patience and holy will. He could meet it all with the conquering power of His unflinching will. He knew He would be vindicated: the greater the reproach and shame that was heaped on Him, the greater His glory. And on the third day He, the perfect prophet and perfect High priest, will rise again. INJ