[Note: This homily, drawn from Isaiah 53:1-12, was preached in chapel at the International Center of the LCMS on Friday, March 6, 2015. + Herbert Mueller, LCMS First Vice President]

It is almost as though Isaiah was there, in the background, watching the events unfold that Friday morning on Calvary. In some mysterious way, Isaiah, by the Holy Spirit, can see it all happen, and write it down 700 years before hand.

  • Despised and rejected by men — as they mocked him, “if you are the Christ, come down from the cross!”
  • A man of sorrows — as the women on the Via Dolorosa were weeping for Him.
  • Despised, we esteemed Him not — as the world insults or ignores Him.
  • Oppression and judgment carried Him away — at the farce called a trial before Caiaphas, then Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again.
  • He is cut off from the land of the living.
  • They made His grave with the wicked, and a rich man — as they buried Him in Joseph’s tomb.
  • Though He had done no violence — as Pilate washed His hands of Him.
  • Numbered with the transgressors — crucified between two thieves, but He prays, “Father forgive them…”
  • He poured out His soul in death and bore the sin of many — as He said, “no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18).

So many details. So much that Isaiah wrote down ahead of time. There can be no doubt that this is true prophecy. No one went back and wrote this into Isaiah after the fact. In 1947 they discovered the Qumran Scrolls, with an almost complete copy of Isaiah, a copy made 200 years before Christ, containing these exact words.

God gives Isaiah the privilege to stand, together with all believers, at the foot of the cross. It is holy ground. Indeed, as we watch, we cannot help but think of our sins.

We put Him there.

We despised Him. We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. He was wounded for OUR transgressions. We are the sheep gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way.

“Who has believed what they heard from us?” Isaiah asked. Who is the suffering servant of the Lord? Who will it be? They must have wondered at Isaiah’s time.

Like the Ethiopian Eunuch, on his way back to his Queen, when the Spirit told Philip the Evangelist to join his chariot, Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I,” he replied, “unless someone guides me.”

And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this (from Isaiah 53): “Like a sheep that was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this? About himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35)

For what this Scripture reveals in Christ is much MORE than simply the details of prophecy ahead of time. God moves Isaiah to lay out the WHY. Notice the interplay of HE and WE, and HIS and OURS, as I read this portion again:

  • Surely HE has borne OUR griefs, and carried OUR sorrows.
  • Yet WE esteemed HIM stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.
  • But HE was wounded for OUR transgressions.
  • HE was crushed for OUR iniquities.
  • Upon HIM was the punishment that brought US peace.
  • With HIS stripes WE are healed.
  • All WE like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

This is where our wonder and amazement increase beyond measure. All OUR sins are on HIM. He was oppressed. He was afflicted — FOR US.
But here is the greatest wonder of all! Isaiah says:

“It was the WILL of the LORD to crush Him. He, [the LORD God Himself,] has put Him to grief!” (Isaiah 53:10)

Now picture Jesus in Gethsemane. He knows this prophecy. He knows what it means. “Yet not my will,” he prays to the Father, “but Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42).

THIS is the great good news Philip spoke, the Good News we now proclaim, this great exchange that happens with Jesus.

Luther writes of this passage: “He was punished for the sake of our peace. Note the wonderful exchange. One man sins, another pays the penalty. One deserves peace, the other has peace. The one who should have peace, has punishment, while the one who should be punished has peace. … This is the supreme and chief article of faith, that our sins, placed on Christ, are not ours any longer; and again, the peace is not Christ’s, but Christ makes it ours.” (American Edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, p. 225).

And so it is. “By His knowledge, shall the righteous One, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, for He shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11).

Isaiah shows us our sins, not on us, but put on Christ. So we are called to turn away from self, and to be carried over to Christ, “because he poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors, for he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12).

Yes, this text is holy ground for us …

  • And we are filled with penitent sorrow for our part: we put Christ on the cross.
  • But by the Spirit of God we have humble gratitude that the Lord laid all our sins on Him, that He was wounded for us, that with His stripes we are healed.

Even when you don’t feel it! Hold this Word close.

In the name of Jesus — Amen.