Lent 3 Midweek
The Vindicated Servant
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
The third song of the Lord’s Servant follows quickly on the heels of the second. In between the two is a prophecy of the Lord’s rescue of His faithful remnant in Israel, those whom He has inscribed on His palms He will Himself rescue. But now the Servant steps back onto the prophetic stage and He sings a solo.
The Lord GOD gives Me the speech of the learned, so that I know how to talk to encourage the weary. Morning after morning He wakes Me to hear, so I will listen like a learner. The Lord GOD opened My ears, and I didn’t resist or turn away (vv 4-5). The Servant of the Lord has an ear and a tongue filled with God’s Word.
This first verse of the third Servant Song encases two great mysteries of the faith. Just a few verses prior to the opening refrain of this third song, the Lord God promises that He Himself will be the rescuer of His people, yet now this Servant receives God’s Word and His gift. With these simple lyrics, the Servant reveals a mystery of the economy of the Holy Trinity. Though the Servant, that is, the Son of God, has full claim on everything divine completely equal with His Father in all respects, He willingly allows Himself to become the Receiver with respect to the Father, and the Father to be the First Giver. This is a reflection of God’s nature, which is love, the nature to give gifts and to graciously receive them. God is love, the apostle John writes (1 John 4:8), and this opening verse of the third Servant Song sings of that nature in a beautiful way: the Servant receives as a gift what He has every right to claim by force.
The second mystery is related to the first. In His unique relationship as the Son of God from eternity, this Servant takes the form of a servant, as St. Paul writes. He humbles Himself and becomes flesh. But He doesn’t descend from heaven as a grown man, appearing like the gods of myth and legend. He is conceived in the womb of a real woman in history, a descendent of King David, a real king of Israel. The second Servant Song tells us that this Servant was appointed from His mother’s womb, which means that even as the tiniest cluster of cells, the Son of Mary was also the Son of God, and the Servant of the Nations.
And the great mystery is that the full power of God was condensed down into a growing, developing, learning human child. Here’s a paradox for you: the eternal Son of God, who is called the Word of God, hears God’s Word for the first time. He has to learn to speak, to form the syllables and string together sentences. His mother corrects His grammar. The One who spoke with the Father in the beginning must learn to speak God’s Word. But the third Servant Song tells us that He is an apt student. He is especially attuned to God’s Word. Even though He hides His divine ability behind human weakness for a time, the teachers still marvel at the understanding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. When He hears God’s Word, He hears precisely what God is saying; neither His hearing nor His speech are clouded by sin. The Lord opened His ears and He didn’t resist or turn away.
What the Lord God did for His Servant He still does for His servants today. He gives you speech, He wakes you to hear. He fills your ears and your tongues with His Word. He removes the cloud of sin that impedes your speaking and your hearing, so that you can hear in this Servant Song, the promise of your Lord Jesus.
Prometheus is lauded in Greek mythology as the bringer of fire from the gods. He reveals secret, divine knowledge for the betterment of mankind and is a hero. But mythological bringers of gods’ words receive mythological receptions. Not so in real life with a real God. The one who brings God’s Word into this world of sin is a glutton for punishment.
So the Servant sings, I gave My back to those who strike it and My cheeks to those who pluck the hair out of My beard. I haven’t turned My face away from those who insult Me and spit on Me (v 6). A remarkable reaction to the One who comes with God’s Word in His mouth.
But the world hates God’s Word. Always has. It’s only a modern notion that the people who surround us are born morally neutral; the philosophical term is tabula rasa, or “blank slate.” Contemporary thought believes that all evil is learned evil, and that people can be changed by discipline, coercion, and, if not, elimination. But the testimony of Scripture is clear and contradicts contemporary thought. All are born evil. Every man is born without fear of God, without trust in God, and as an enemy of God.
And when God’s Word comes into this rebellious world, there is an explosion of conflict; Jesus is the prime example. The only charge that can be brought against Him is that He preaches the Word of God. And being found guilty of no other crime, He’s sentenced to whipping and beating, spitting and mocking. They pull out His beard. Incidentally, no New Testament account tells us of Jesus’ accusers pulling out His beard, but this prophecy tells us that it happened.
Yet through it all, He willingly offers His back and presents His face. He doesn’t turn away. He doesn’t seek to plea bargain His way to a lesser punishment—to do so would be to admit that His words are not God’s words. Instead, willing all this He gladly suffers. He stands and accepts the punishments laid on Him. Because, The Lord GOD helps Me; He sings, this is why I’m not overcome with shame. So I’ve set My face like a flint; I know I’ll not be shamed (v 7). He endures because He trusts the Father to be faithful, to see Him through this suffering and shame.
And so His servants today are not exalted in the world for being hearers and speakers and doers of the Word. Rather they are mocked, and shamefully, treated, and sometimes spit upon, beaten, and killed for the sake of the Word of God. Yet the Lord God, the real and true God, is with His servants especially in their suffering. He helps you, and you will not be shamed.
The suffering and shame of the Servant are not the end goal of the Servant’s service. The song goes on; and encore, if you will. There is service beyond His suffering.
I know I’ll not be shamed, because He is near Who justifies Me. Does anyone want to argue with Me? Let us confront each other. Will anyone oppose Me in this case? Let him come near Me (v 8). Dr. Reed Lessing in his commentary identifies the word that our text has as “Who justifies me” as a unique construction of the Hebrew word applied to God. It takes the sense of a noun, meaning “Vindicator,” or, “Justifier.” But Christ does not need justification for His person; He is righteous. The justification is for the sins that He bears, or better, for the sinners for whom He bears their sins. Jesus is instead Vindicated—that is, He is declared to have been righteous from the beginning.
When is the Servant Vindicated? When He rises from the dead. If He were guilty of the sins for which He suffered, it would be a death sentence. Eternal death. But death could not hold Him. Just as He willingly laid down His life, He willingly took it back up again. As St. Paul writes to the Romans, He was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness from the resurrection of the dead; Jesus Christ our Savior (Rom 1:4).
The world has tried to argue with this fact, to stand against the Christ, but the fact still remains that His grave is empty and no one can produce a body. The best answer militant atheists, secular humanists, rationalists, and enemies of the Gospel have to our message, “Christ is risen!” is, “Nuh-uh!!” Jesus is vindicated because He is risen from the dead.
Which is not true for the men who whipped Jesus’ back, who pulled out His beard, who insulted and spit on Him. They are all dead and in the grave. See, the Lord God helps Me; Who then will condemn Me? See, they will all wear out like a garment, and a moth will eat them (v 9). And one day the militant atheists, secular humanist, rationalists, and enemies of the Gospel will occupy the same space. No matter how much they rage against the Word of God, they will eventually wear out and become food for bugs. But you, even though you will occupy your own grave, have the same vindication with which the Servant was vindicated. You have your own resurrection. This is what the Word of God that fills your ears and your mouth promises you again and again, day after day until you die. It’s what brings you through your own suffering in this life to a resurrection to life an immortality. Because
The Servant’s Vindication Is in His Resurrection from the Dead
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev Jacob Ehrhard