Good Friday 2017
Not long after the Lord’s ascension, Philip was ordained a deacon. Shortly after that an angel of the Lord said to Phillip: “Rise and go to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip went and in a lonely place he found an Ethiopian eunuch. This eunuch believed in the God of Abraham. He had just come worshipping Him in the Temple in Jerusalem. He was sitting in his chariot, still full of the Spirit given in the Temple, reading Isaiah 53. Philip heard it and he asked the eunuch if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch replied: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” He then invited Philip to sit with him and discuss it.
The eunuch then asked Philip the most important theological question of all time: “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” That is the most important theological question because it has to do with how to read the Scriptures and how to recognize in them the Christ. In response, Philip gives us the key. Beginning with that Scripture Philip told him the good news about Jesus.
The passages we heard from Isaiah this afternoon are about Jesus, not about Isaiah. All of the Scriptures are about Christ, that is, all of the Scriptures serve to reveal to us God’s heart and plan of salvation through the Christ. Philip could have begun anywhere in the Bible and told the eunuch the good news about Jesus. Nonetheless, these passages from Isaiah are particularly pointed.
“Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14 As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— 15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.”
Jesus is the one who has been lifted up and exalted on the cross. We should still be astonished by this. His appearance was so marred by the torture of Herod’s and Pilate’s soldiers, as well as by the beatings demanded by the Sanhedrin, and simply from the cost of living in this broken world, that He appears inhuman. It is more than just what had happened to Him in the 16 hours before the crucifixion. His whole life had hurt. He was a Man of sorrows. Under the bruises and caking blood, He had acne scars. He was ugly. He had blemishes from burns and cuts. And it seems most unlikely to me, that these horrible beatings were not His first.
Nothing has befallen you that He did not endure and embrace. We don’t know the specifics, but we do know that life and sin and men had marred Him beyond human semblance. There suspended from the earth He looked not like a man but like a piece of meat. His form was beyond that of the children of mankind. This should astonish us – that God would do this to Himself, that He does not begrudge us, that He did it willingly. Rather than fill us with horror or grief, this ought to fill us with joy for this is how God loved the world. Christ opened His Body to pour out His blood for the sprinkling of the Gentiles.
It would be shocking, of course, to see an ordinary human suffer this kind of injustice. Jesus endured both ordinary and extraordinary sorrows, but He is not an ordinary human. This is not sad, but sadly ordinary, injustice. This is the Lord’s Servant, Yahweh Himself in the Flesh taken from St. Mary to make Himself mortal. This is most unjust for He is truly and in everyway innocent. Nonetheless, He took up flesh for this very purpose: that He might keep the Law for us and then allow the Law and Justice to do to Him what it should have done to us in our place. That is why we rejoice. We rejoice because this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes even if His appearance is horrific and the cost of His love staggering.
So Isaiah must ask: “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” He asks because this glory is not obvious to the sight of men. It must be revealed by the Lord. Thus did the Lord send Philip to the eunuch. And thus has the Lord brought to Holy Baptism, to church, to catechism class. Through His Word He reveals the arm of the Lord to you on the cross so that you would believe Isaiah’s report.
The Christ grew up before the Lord and before the world like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground, that is in an unlikely place and unappreciated. Again: He had no form or majesty, the sort of things that are honored among fallen men, that we should look at Him. He had no beauty or strength or prowess that we should desire Him. He had only the holiness of His Father, only His great compassion and mercy, His willingness to suffer, His perfect obedience.
And to our shame, because of that, He was despised and rejected by us, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, amongst us who lack pity. He was one from whom men hide their faces. He makes them feel ashamed. He makes it hard to enjoy one’s sin. So He was despised, and though we should have esteemed Him as the greatest of all men, though we should have rejoiced at His joining Himself to our flesh, we esteemed Him not.
We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Like the friends of Job, we judged the Lord’s Servant on the Cross as being rightly punished for His sins according to justice.
We misread the entire situation. Our flesh was seeking an escape and found a willing accomplice in our compromised consciences. For surely, it was not His, but our griefs and our sorrows that He carried. God was just to offer Himself this way, but it was not for His, but for our transgressions that He was pierced, not for His but for our iniquities that He was crushed, and it was not our chastisement or our satisfaction of the Law, but His, which brought not Him, but us, peace. By His wounds we are healed and thus we rejoice.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way. This didn’t only happen outside of Jerusalem at the foot of the cross. It is a problem for every sinner. It happens now to each of us as we seek our own pleasure or profit, as we blaspheme His Name that is upon us by our sins. And yet, the Lord has laid on Him, not on us, our iniquity.
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted. Yet He opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth, except to pray for us, to open Paradise to a thief, to commit His soul to His Father. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. As for His generation, who considered that He was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for our transgressions?
Of whom does the prophet speak? He speaks of Jesus, the Christ, the Servant of Yahweh, as do all the Scriptures.
Did not they make His grave with the wicked thieves between whom He was crucified and then with a rich man, of Arimathea, in his death? He did no violence, but He died a violent death. There was no deceit in his mouth, yet many false witnesses rose against Him.
“Yet” – says Isaiah, “Yet” – oh glorious adverb, wonderful conjunction! “Yet” means there is something coming, nevertheless. “Yet” is a great expectant “and here is the thing that brings it all together.” “Yet!” “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; He has put him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see his offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Yet, it was the Lord’s will. Here is the beating heart of all our hope. Pilate and Herod and Caiaphas and Judas, as well as Peter and the other failures and the angry mob, did not do this to Jesus. Nor did we with our many sins. It was the Lord’s will to crush Him. The Lord has put Him to grief and when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He, the suffering Servant, the One hanging on the cross like a piece of meat, that disgusting looking horror beyond the visage of humanity, whom we have betrayed and failed and of whom we are not worthy, when He who suffers, bleeds and dies, when He is on the cross He will see His offspring.
His offspring!! And who are they? The eunuch might have asked this. Because this is where he was in the account and it is also you. You are His offspring, the children of Jesus, His booty and reward. You are His legacy. You are the reason for the season, the reason that Jesus goes to the cross, that the Lord wills to crush Him. This is love.
The end of this Sacrifice is no surprise. The prophet speaks of Jesus. Even as it is the Lord’s will to crush Him as a guilt-offering for the sins of the world, so also it is the Lord’s will to raise Him again to life for our justification, to prolong His days, to prosper the Lord’s will, and to bring you to Him. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied. Jesus lives. Don’t feel sorry for Him. The Lord willed it. It was good. It was worth it. This is love. Rejoice, O Christian, rejoice in love.
Let me ask again, of whom does the prophet speak? Philip says: Jesus. Out of the anguish of His soul, He shall see and be satisfied. That is why you shouldn’t feel sorry for Him. “By His knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” There is something to rejoice about!
Of whom does the prophet speak? Jesus, and also of you, the offspring accounted righteous. By the knowledge of the Father the Christ declares many righteous by bearing their iniquities.
Therefore the Lord has given Him a portion with the many, with those declared righteous. He has divided the spoil with the strong, because His soul was poured out to death, because He was numbered with the transgressors. Yet, yet, yet! He bore the sin of many. He made, and He still makes, intercession for the transgressors. This is love.
Of whom does the prophet speak? He speaks of Jesus and of you. God be praised. He speaks of Jesus and of you, of Jesus in love with you, of Jesus satisfied with you. This is love.
In +Jesus’ Name.