April 5, 2009
On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus mounted a donkey and rode down the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley and up through the Eastern Gate. The crowds hailed Him as their conquering Messiah. Sadly, they did not know that Jesus was not to be the kind of Messiah they expected. On this Palm Sunday we ask, “Are we to be happy for Jesus’ acclamation by the crowds? Do we join in and acknowledge His messiahship?” Or, is it a time for us to be sorrowful? After all, we now know what Jesus suffered and why He suffered during His passion.
Isaiah helps us understand what is happening in the life of Jesus. We love the portrait of the Suffering Servant painted in
The Suffering Servant has been given a responsibility to teach and to be teachable. He is One who has learned to humble Himself under the mighty hand of God. Jesus was God in human flesh. Remember the picture of the young Jesus at the temple, helping the aged rabbis who had given their lives to the study of the Torah get a deeper grasp on the Word of God? He knew the word that sustains the weary. It was at least partially because He awakened Himself morning by morning to turn His ear to the one who could teach Him.
We need to be able to sense the emotional impact of the gospel. Maybe what we need is not necessarily to learn more facts or more differently nuanced truths about the gospel but to be inspired to act on what we already know. As we look at the life of Jesus, the Christ, He knew what God was calling Him to do; but He needed to learn that God’s grace would be sufficient-that it would give Him the strength to be obedient to what He was called to do.
The Servant of the Lord affirms that He has not been rebellious against God. He doesn’t turn away from hearing God’s instructions. Notice the progression here. He has an instructed tongue. It comes from hearing the Word of God every morning and not drawing back from Him. This Suffering Servant is a person who offers Himself to God, suffers abuse but is confident that God will vindicate Him.
This passage describes some of the things that happened to Jesus very well. He knew the words that sustain the weary. He applied Himself to hearing the word of God in new and creative ways every morning; and as we enter Holy Week, we see some of His passion foreshadowed for us. He says, “I offered my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.”
A question that we may want to ask is, “What is it that Jesus was being called to do?” He was being called to be crucified. I don’t think there’s any way we can fully understand the humiliation that goes into that. It’s more than just being nailed to a cross. Isaiah writes about offering His back to those who would beat it. Jesus was scourged after a mockery of a trial. The cat-o-nine-tails was used on Him with its leather straps with pieces of bone tied in them. His back was literally torn to ribbons. After having endured the mockery of a trial, He was beaten. He offered His cheeks to those who would pull out His beard. After all, He was the one who taught His disciples to “turn the other cheek.” After the trial and the scourging, He was forced to carry His cross to the place where He would be nailed to it.
Jesus was called to endure abuse and mockery. But He says to us, “If you would follow after me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” The cross is an instrument of execution, and the call to follow Jesus is a call to be willing to lay down your very life in service to Him. It’s a call not only to be willing to die for Him but to be willing to live your life every day for Him. Dying is easy. If you know the Lord and you are confident that at the end of this life you will spend your eternity with Him, you can lay down your life.
But following Jesus as Lord may mean doing some things that we would rather not do. It’s hard to be willing to learn to love those who are unlovely. It’s hard to offer your life to go to some hard place in this world to preach the gospel to people who may not listen to a word you say. It’s even hard to take a class of junior high school kids and patiently and lovingly help them to see that God is a God of love who wants to walk with them. But with the Sovereign Lord’s help, we can offer ourselves to Him, endure whatever abuse we have to from those who don’t understand, confident that-in the end-He will vindicate us.
Jesus knew that abuse was awaiting Him in Jerusalem; yet the Gospel writers said that He set His face like flint with a resolve to go to Jerusalem, even though He knew that there He would be put to death. Isaiah says though, “I know I will not be put to shame.” Jesus was vindicated by His resurrection. For the joy set before Him, He was able to endure the cross, despising its shame; and now He is seated at the right hand of the Father.