Sermon for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, April 2, 2023

Isaiah 50:4-9a (Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion—Series A)

“The Follow Through”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 2, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text for this morning is the Old Testament Reading from Isaiah 50.

4The Lord Yahweh gave to me the tongue of those being taught, to know how to help the weary with a word. He awakens morning by morning; he awakens my ear to hear as those being taught. 5The Lord Yahweh opened my ear and I myself was not rebellious; I did not turn back. 6My back I gave to those who are striking, and my cheeks to those who are pulling out my beard. My face I did not hide from disgrace and spit. 7And the Lord Yahweh will help me; therefore, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I will set my face like flint and I know that I will not be ashamed. 8Near is my Vindicator! Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him draw near to me. 9Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me. Who is he who will declare me guilty?

          Palm Sunday, also called the Sunday of the Passion, begins this Holy Week leading up to the “queen of seasons, bright,” the day of the Resurrection of Our Lord. As we prepare to hear the precious Word of God about His Son’s Passion, death, and resurrection for the sins of the world and the salvation of people, let us consider today the words of the Third Servant Song in the Book of Isaiah. This Song is about the promised Messiah, the Savior, the Servant of the Lord. It’s about Jesus and how He alone is the perfect Servant who followed through on the Father’s plan of salvation for all humanity.

          Now it just so happens that at the end of last week, Major League Baseball began its 2023 regular season. You know I’ll be cheering on the Baltimore Orioles like always. In baseball, it is very important that the player “follow through.” When you are at bat, you don’t want to stop your swing when the bat makes contact with the ball. You want to keep swinging, follow through, and have the ball leave the bat with that beautiful “crack!” When you throw the baseball as a fielder or especially as a pitcher, follow through on your throw. If you’d like much better pointers on the follow through, see one of our ballplayers like Dylan.

          As we look at the Third Servant Song here in Isaiah 50, we note the follow through of the Lord’s Servant. Obedience characterizes His whole mission in order to accomplish the goal of blessing and helping the suffering and the afflicted by bringing them salvation from sin, Satan, and death. “The Lord Yahweh gave to me the tongue of those being taught, to know how to help the weary with a word.” Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, always listens to God the Father. Unlike the people of Israel who refused to listen to God as He spoke through the mouths of His prophets, Jesus the Servant listened and obeyed. Unlike you and I who often close our ears the hearing of God’s Word because His commandments do not suit our pleasures and desires, Jesus never stopped hearing the Word of the Father and always perfectly obeyed the Father’s commandments.

That’s why Jesus is the perfect Servant and the perfect Substitute for us and all of fallen humanity. Jesus perfectly followed through on the Father’s good and gracious will, keeping all of the Law faultlessly on behalf of us all. Jesus’ perfect life was lived for you. His holiness and righteousness are then credited to you as your own holiness and righteousness. Perhaps think of it like this: Jesus was chosen by God the Father to take the test of God’s Law for you. It’s not a test that you could have passed. Fail at any one commandment and they all come tumbling down in condemnation against you. Think of King David, who lusted after Bathsheba. He coveted his neighbor’s wife. He committed adultery with her. Then he had her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed. Then he took the man’s wife for himself. David could not pass the test of God’s Law. Neither can you nor I nor anyone else—only Jesus, the perfect Son of God and Son of Man, fully human and fully divine. He followed through in His earthly life, keeping the whole of God’s Law completely, passing the test with a 100%, but the score goes into your gradebook, into mine, and into King David’s. Jesus’ perfection in fulfilling the Law becomes yours. What a blessed word to those of us wearied by sin! What a help that word of promise is to you and me, assuring us that the Law cannot condemn us anymore because Jesus followed through on all of it in our place, and God the Father credits us as having been perfect through the perfect life of Jesus, His Servant.

Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, also knew that keeping God’s Law as our Substitute was only a part of the plan to save all people from sin, death, and hell. God’s holiness demands the punishment of sinners. And because all people became sinners through the fall of Adam and Eve, we must all be punished. And as we heard last Sunday, the punishment for sin is temporal and eternal death. Would Jesus follow through in this for sinners? Would Jesus surrender to God’s plan, leading to death and hell, for people who reject God by nature and daily sin much? The Third Servant Song tells us the answer: “The Lord Yahweh opened my ear and I myself was not rebellious; I did not turn back. My back I gave to those who are striking, and my cheeks to those who are pulling out my beard. My face I did not hide from disgrace and spit.”

Through Isaiah, the Lord promised that His perfect Servant would not turn back from accomplishing salvation from sin and death for all people. First, the Servant’s back is beaten. Then His beard is pulled out. This was to show contempt and disrespect to the person. The pulling out of the beard was one of the most heinous and degrading of insults. What’s more, the Servant of the Lord would be spit upon. Even then, He would not hide His face from the disgrace. He would not turn back from the path of winning salvation for the world, including His tormentors.

Look then at the Servant of Yahweh, Jesus, true God and true Man, as we see Him in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 27: “Then [Pilate] released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,  and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him” (Matt. 27:26–31 ESV).

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), who is surpassed only by Martin Luther in the number of hymns that are found in Lutheran hymnals, beautifully captures for us Isaiah 50 and the follow through of Jesus in His perfect life and death for you. From hymn 438, A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth:

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
    The guilt of sinners bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth,
    None else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
    That spotless life to offer,
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies,
The mockery, and yet replies,
    “All this I gladly suffer.”

This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend,
    The Lamb of God, our Savior,
Whom God the Father chose to send
    To gain for us His favor.
“Go forth, My Son,” the Father said,
“And free My children from their dread
    Of guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Your passion they will share
    The fruit of Your salvation.”

 “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.”
O wondrous Love, what have You done!
The Father offers up His Son,
    Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong You are to save!
You lay the One into the grave
    Who built the earth’s foundation.[1]

Jesus followed through, even unto death, for you and your salvation He purchased your forgiveness and eternal life as He was condemned in your place and suffered and died on the cross for you. But the story of salvation cannot end here! Sins forgiven and eternal life are won by Jesus’ death and by His vindication. The Servant of Yahweh declares, “Near is my Vindicator! Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him draw near to me. Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me. Who is he who will declare me guilty?” Jesus the Servant knew that He would be raised from the dead on the third day. On Easter, the Father vindicated Jesus. He was fully acquitted of all our sins and so, by grace, we baptized believers are acquitted too. Satan, our accuser, has been defeated. We overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus the Servant, who lived a perfect life in our place, who suffered death and hell in our place on the cross, and who rose again so that we also might rise again and live with Him and the Father and the Spirit eternally.

Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, has followed through on the plan of salvation. He has done everything the Father asked of Him. As a result, you are credited with His own righteousness. You are washed clean from your sins by His blood shed on the cross for you. You have been given eternal life by grace through faith in this Servant, your Savior, Jesus Christ. And so, as Gerhardt concludes his hymn, we have much to look forward to because of Jesus’ follow through:

      Lord, when Your glory I shall see
    And taste Your kingdom’s pleasure,
Your blood my royal robe shall be,
    My joy beyond all measure!
When I appear before Your throne,
Your righteousness shall be my crown;
    With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought,
As Your own bride shall we be brought
    To stand in joy beside You.[2]


     [1] Text: Stanzas 1-3 © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000752

[2] Ibid., Stanza 4

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