[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.
Rev. Mark Wood, Director of Witness & Outreach/Revitalization for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Office of National Mission, preached a striking homily on Thursday morning in the regular chapel service at the International Center. The text is Isaiah 52:1-7. A synopsis is included below, and if you click on the audio player below, you will be able to hear the message. May God bless your hearing of His Word! + Herbert Mueller
If the Lord were to ask you what part of your body you’d like for Him to make beautiful, you’d probably have a ready answer. Our world presses its own standards of beauty onto us and we are quick to embrace them. We want beautiful faces for all to see our beauty, beautiful hair to appear youthful, beautiful breasts to be alluring, and beautiful abs to convey our fitness and strength. But God chooses something better for us; He gives us beautiful feet.
Our feet are beautiful because Christ has fitted them with His Gospel of peace. But what makes having beautiful feet so important? In the first place He has given us beautiful feet to stand. As the people of God in the world, we must endure many difficulties, hardships, and even persecutions. The Lord gives us the feet to stand in the face of these things. But we are called to do more than stand; we are called to go. With our beautiful feet we carry the Gospel of Peace to our broken and dying world. As we go, our feet are reflections of the most beautiful of feet, the feet of Jesus.
The beautiful feet of Jesus are feet of flesh that brought God’s love into our world. They are dusty feet that walked the paths that we walk and experienced all of the hardships, troubles, and temptations that we experience. They are feet washed by the tears of one who had used her beautiful body in ugly ways welcoming those tears and washing them away. His beautiful feet are feet that served, even serving in the lowly way of washing others’ feet. Above all, His feet carried the Cross to Calvary and were pierced for our transgressions. The blood that flowed from the beautiful feet of Jesus has taken away the ugliness of all of your sins.
Your feet have been made beautiful to carry the Good News of Jesus to those who are perishing because they either do not know the Name of the Lord or they despise it. They may take you near or far. You may be shod with snow boots, flip-flops, or go barefoot in the places God has chosen for you. Wherever your beautiful feet go and whatever you may experience in those places, you can be certain that you will stand because your God reigns. Rejoice, be glad, be confident; God has given you beautiful feet.
A STATEMENT FROM THE COUNCIL OF PRESIDENTS
[Note: Meeting February 9-13, the members of the Council of Presidents (35 district presidents, 6 vice presidents and the president of Synod) adopted the following statement as a document which “speaks to the church on behalf of the COP.”]
A STATEMENT OF ASSURANCE REGARDING ECCLESIASTICAL SUPERVISION
“Sanctify them by Your truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
In response to recently expressed concerns over maintaining sound doctrine in our synod as well as our need to follow the prescribed process for ecclesiastical supervision in our synod’s bylaws, we the Council of Presidents (comprised of the synodical president, vice presidents, and 35 district presidents of the LCMS), offer the following assurances:
- We remain committed to the authority of the inspired, inerrant Scriptures as the only source and norm for our doctrine and practice and the Lutheran Confessions as a true exposition of the Scriptures. That commitment includes our solid affirmation of our Synod’s stances on such Biblical teachings as these:
- In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth by the power of his Word, in six natural days. We reject the evolutionary hypothesis, including “theistic macro-evolution.” (Genesis 1; John 1:1ff.; Matthew 19:4-6).
- Holy Scriptures elevates the dignity and equality of both men and women in the sight of God (Galatians 3:27–28; Ephesians 5:21–33). The Scriptures also teach that men and women have distinct and complementary vocations. The Scriptures limit the office of pastor to qualified men, while inviting sanctified women to serve in many capacities (1 Timothy 2; 1 Corinthians 14).
- Marriage, instituted by God, is only between a man and a woman. Homosexual behavior, like all adulterous behavior, is sin against the Sixth Commandment (Matthew 19:4–6).
- We pledge our on-going due diligence in maintaining sound doctrine and practice in our respective districts.
- We promise to abide by and uphold the Synod’s bylaws guiding ecclesiastical discipline.
- Along the way of doctrinal supervision, we will continue to seek restoration and repentance in a process which honors our synod’s constitution and bylaws.
Responding to concerns in the Synod regarding the present process of ecclesiastical supervision and discipline, we, the members of the Council of Presidents, unanimously affirm the following:
- The doctrinal integrity of our Council of Presidents as we carry out our role of ecclesiastical supervision;
- The need for our present process of discipline to follow the existing bylaws of the Synod;
- Our desire to evaluate the current procedure of discipline, leading to a more effective process.
The Council of Presidents also cautions that members of Synod be careful in their analysis of matters of ecclesiastical supervision, especially in social media and blogs, lest we sin against the Eighth Commandment, marring reputations and making public what is required to be private.
Finally, the Council of Presidents requests members of the Synod to pray for us as we carry out our role of ecclesiastical supervisors in accordance with the Scriptures, the Confessions, and our Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws.
The Emmaus Conference is now in its eighth year of bringing together Lutheran theologians, pastors and lay people to the Pacific Northwest to facilitate discussions. It has proven helpful in renewing discussions under a free conference style among representatives of the former Synodical Conference. The desire for such discussions has been on the hearts and in the prayers of many who fondly remember the Synodical Conference since its break-up in the mid 20th Century.
This year’s conference information:
- Essayist: Rev. David Jay Webber, ELS Pastor in Scottsdale, Ariz.
- Reactors: Rev. Jon Buchholz, WELS District President in California/Arizona; and Rev. Herbert Mueller, LCMS First Vice President
- Topic: Objective Justification — The direction of our discussions will focus on the pastoral dimensions of the doctrine and how the truth of this teaching gives comfort and peace to the sinner.
- Dates: Wednesday, April 22 (morning and afternoon sessions plus evening banquet) and Thursday, April 23
- Location: Parkland Evangelical Lutheran Church; 120 123rd ST S; Tacoma, WA 98444
Registration and agenda: theemmausconference.org
The other day, just for fun, I was reading in Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, some of his descriptions of King Herod’s family (the Herod who was King when Jesus was born). This man was so jealous that when he left town, he told his brother to kill his wife if he did not return, so no one else could have her.
When he thought two of his sons were plotting against him (which they probably were) Herod had them killed, and then bribed his Roman over lords to cover the crime. So, kill a few babies in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:16-18)? Herod was quite capable of doing much more in his jealous rages.
Into that dark world hope was born.
Into the stillness of the night came the song of the angels to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14). They went to catch a glimpse of hope in the Christ-child laid in a manger.
At about the same time, Magi in the East saw a miraculous star and somehow recognized the dawn of hope. They followed that star to find in Bethlehem the Light of the world.
Mary and Joseph, too, believed the word of the angels that they were holding in their arms the Hope of the world. While carrying him in her womb, Mary had sung “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55).
In the same way Zechariah, with tongue loosed by the Spirit, praised God: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…to show mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his Holy covenant” (Luke 1:68,72). Old Simeon also, with eyes illuminated by the light of God, when Mary placed in his hands the child who is the Hope of the world, proclaimed: “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:30-31).
That’s what they believed, yes, but the 21st century world is different, is it not? No, not really. Human nature and sinful activity are the same, no matter what the century. What you see on TMZ (a contemporary gossip TV show) about today’s celebrities is no better or worse than King Herod and his family. The first century Roman world was full of conflicting religious claims, violence, sexual abuse and grinding poverty next to unimaginable riches. Our 21st century is full of the same foolish and sinful violence, producing in many the same sense of hopelessness.
Into our dark world, we believe, real hope was born in Bethlehem’s stable, as we sing: “The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight” (O Little Town of Bethlehem-LSB 361). The Scripture says: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:22-24). Jesus Christ is that one sure hope of the world.
Here is why we who believe in Jesus are people of authentic hope. We have seen in our own lives the meaning of what the Scripture says:
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). God’s word of hope has lifted our eyes to see in Jesus the assurance, absolute and certain, that God is for us, that He is the God of life, not death, and that God’s promises overcome aimlessness and despair.
The world has many counterfeit hopes, but we celebrate Christmas and Epiphany exactly because Jesus has made us people of hope, people who look to the future, people who know how history will turn out. Again, Scripture says: “…to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).
So do you ever feel hopeless? Do you ever feel as though life is dead end? With no purpose or meaning? Jesus was born for you! Christmas is your holiday. Every Christmas display you have seen this season has been a sign that God has not abandoned you, that your life has meaning in Christ, that you are valuable to God, and that in Jesus, born for us, crucified and raised from the dead, you have “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Every Christmas service we attended sent us back into the same world, but filled with hope in Jesus, to be agents of His lasting hope. We now enter the Epiphany season “in our hearts regarding Christ as holy” but also always “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We are people of hope in Jesus.
A very blessed and hope filled New Year and Epiphany to all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS