Sermon 9.16.18 Pentecost 17

Isaiah 50:4-10                                                                                                                                                                                          9/16/18
Pentecost 17                                                                                                                                                                          Rev. Kenneth Frey
 
Isaiah 50:4-10 The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.  He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.  I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.  Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.  He who vindicates me is near.  Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other!  Who is my accuser?  Let him confront me!  It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.  Who will condemn me?  They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.  10 Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?  Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.
 
Jesus provides comfort in suffering
1.  In Jesus’ determination to suffer
2.  May we find comfort in our suffering
 
It was a family camping trip in the mountains.  The two girls were down by the creek.  Suddenly, a violent rumbling sound.  A flash flood came down the canyon.  Then silence.  Dead silence.  What a terrible day for the mom and dad – losing their two daughters in an instant.
Suffering comes in many forms:  death, disease, disability, depression, disappointment, doubt.  In addition, loss of friends, financial woes, missed opportunities, unrewarded effort – the shallowness of life can leave us wallowing in pain, not knowing which way to turn.  Who of us hasn’t experienced feelings of hopelessness, futility and rejection?  And what about the times when others attack our faith in Jesus?   We’ve all been there.  What do we do?  Isaiah directs us to Jesus.  Jesus provides comfort in suffering.
We find comfort in the way that Jesus was determined to suffer for us.  The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.  He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.    This is one of the many servant prophecies of Isaiah.  The servant foretold in these prophecies is, of course, Jesus.  He was never rebellious.  He was never disobedient.  Read through the gospel accounts of his trial and crucifixion.  Pilate and Herod were both at pains to find evidence that would warrant the death penalty.  The one criminal on the cross said to the other one, “This man has done nothing wrong.”  Even the Roman soldier testified that Jesus was a righteous man.  Jesus was perfectly obedience.
Such willing obedience can only flow from love.  A servant might obey his master out of fear or with the hope of reward.  But that’s not obedience freely given.  It’s forced by threat or reward like a stubborn donkey that obeys because of a stick to his back or a carrot in front.  Only love could move a Savior to such loving obedience to his Father’s will and to endure all that he did for us. 
He said, I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.   If you were carrying a heavy load, after a while you would get tired.  What would you like to hear at that time?  That someone else is taking over.  Someone else is carrying the heavy load.  God said the wages of sin is death, suffering and pain.   Jesus took that load from us and carried it himself.  He suffered the beating, the mocking, the spitting.
If someone spit on you, what would you do?  You would back off or cover your face.  What does our text say?  He did not hide his face from mocking and spitting.  And he did it willingly.  He wasn’t forced to take it.  He wasn’t reluctantly going through with it.  He stepped in and took it all on purpose.  He was willingly treated like a criminal.  He was willingly treated like a nobody.  He was willingly rejected and suffered disgrace.   
Paul Gerhardt said it well in the Lent hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” (CW 100) when he had Jesus say, “Yes, Father, yes, most willingly I’ll bear what you command me.  My will conforms to your decree; I’ll do what you have asked me.”  What love for his Father!  How willingly he suffers!  How willingly he endures all!  So great is his love of the Father.  So great is his love for us!
There is no reason for that.  There is nothing in us to attract his love.  Just the opposite.  Everything about our natural condition repulses his love and rightly earns us his hatred.  Even as a cute, cuddly newborn, our inherited filth was a stench in his holy nostrils and we’ve only piled up more garbage since then.
But he loved us anyway and suffered disgrace for us.  Look at his life and his ministry.  He had a large following because of his miracles, but after he preached, many stopped following him.  Doesn’t sound like a very good pastor, does he?  When he was arrested, his friends fled in fear.  Doesn’t sound like much of a leader, does he?  He was put to death before he reached the age of 40 and what really did he accomplish?  What did he build?  How much money did he make?  How many world leaders did he meet?  His life appeared to be one big failure. 
But Isaiah prophesied He who vindicates me is near.  Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other!  Who is my accuser?  Let him confront me!  It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.  Who will condemn me?  The Lord would vindicate him.  That’s what the resurrection is all about.  By Jesus’ resurrection, God is declaring that Jesus did all that needed to be done for our salvation.  The Apostle Paul said, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)
We deserve to have our inmost thoughts and sins revealed for what they are.  We deserve to have our hypocrisy and self-righteousness exposed.  We deserve to be a laughingstock before the world.  But Jesus became the laughingstock.  He was laughed at, mocked, spit on and beaten in our place and by his resurrection the Father declare us justified, not guilty.
That is our comfort when we face suffering.  Isaiah promised, It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.  Who will condemn me?  They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.  Are you wearing the same clothes you wore 20 years ago?  No, clothes wear out.  All the enemies of the church do the same.  The history of the church bears that out.  The Roman Empire tried to stomp out Christianity at its beginning but where is the Roman Empire now?  Muslim invaders tried to overtake Christian Europe.  They were relegated to the desert.  Soviet communism tried to destroy Christianity in Russia and that government collapsed.  Chinese communism has been persecuting the church for years, but the church in China is growing faster than ever.  Yes, all the enemies of the church will wear out like a garment.
We see that not only in church history but in our lives as well.  Isaiah encourages us, Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?  Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.  What darkness are you going through now?  Blood clots?  Cancer?  A child struggling at school?  Problems in your marriage?  Lost a job?  Those problems will wear out like a garment.  As Jesus suffered disgrace for us and in the end ascended to glory, so we too will end up wearing the victor’s crown.  The Apostle Paul applied these verses to us in his letter to the Romans.  He wrote, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one.” (Romans 8:32-34)
Like Jesus we can endure the condemnation of the world and the disgrace of the cross because we know that we are declared righteous in God’s sight through the blood of Jesus.  In the court of the world we are condemned as a nuisance or, worse, a handicap to progress.  But in God’s court – the only one that really matters – we are declared righteous, holy, saints and kings. 
Kings, who like the King of Kings, are called to embrace the cross.  Jesus said in our gospel lesson today, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:35)  This is such a prominent feature in the call to discipleship that I am surprised there are people who think that if we follow Christ our lives will exempt from suffering.  Suffering is part of being a Christian in a sin-filled world.  Like Jesus, whatever cross you are asked to carry, embrace it willingly and gladly. 
But it get’s discouraging, doesn’t it?  It can be exhausting to swim upstream day after day.  We can get weary going against the grain all the time.  We face a major temptation living in this culture to just give up and go with the majority.  When the cross get’s heavy and discouragement weighs us down, when all seems dark, listen to Isaiah:  Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. 
We can rely on him because he promises, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:37-39)
Jesus gives us comfort in our suffering.