Our Suffering Savior
A sermon based on Isaiah 53:1
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – Lent 1
“That’s unbelievable! I don’t buy it!” Ever say that when you hear some incredible claim? If I told you I’ve lost 20lbs. this year, you might believe it. If I told you that I also have six-pack abs, you might not.
If I told you that if I were to roll up my sleeves and show off my biceps, that you would all be stunned and amazed by the awesome gun show, you probably wouldn’t believe me. It’s too incredible a claim, it’s unbelievable.
But if God were to make a promise like that, you’d be foolish not to believe it, right? No matter how incredible it might seem, you’d better believe God’s arm is impressive.
This morning, as we examine just one short verse—Isaiah 53:1—we’re reminded that God has unbelievable power! And God has unbelievable love! Our text reads, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
I. Unbelievable Power
Okay, I admit it. My arm’s not that mighty. But God’s arm? Now that’s as mighty as they come! A huge bicep is the biblical picture of God’s might and strength. We looked at a few of those in Bible Class this morning. In Exodus 6(:6) God promised Moses, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.”
In Isaiah 52, God said, “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.”
God’s arm is a picture of his power and might acting to save his people. And sometimes God invited people to the gun show. When he forced Pharaoh to let his people go free, he flexed his muscles with the ten plagues. When Jesus performed his miracles, he showed off his pipes. Boom! Disease healed! Pow! Dead brought back to life!
But other times, God’s might and power didn’t seem that impressive. His biceps appeared to be as weak as mine. That’s the way it looked when Jesus was mocked and spit upon. He looked weak when he was taunted and beaten. He didn’t look too impressive when he was scourged or crucified.
How pathetic he seemed, anything but mighty. So people didn’t believe he had power. That claim that he was the Son of God seemed incredible to them. Unbelievable! The Apostle John quoted Isaiah in his Gospel: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’” Then he added, “For this reason they could not believe.” (John 12:37-39)
And is it any different today? People still find the claims the Bible makes to be incredible! Bill Nye the Science guy took the challenge to publicly debate Ken Ham, who maintains that the world was created by the power of God’s Word in six 24-hour days. And Bill Nye mocked that anyone could be so foolish to believe that God could speak the world into existence. It’s unbelievable. And many believe that it’s unbelievable that God is actually in control of the world. After all, if he were, how could he let people hurt and suffer the way he does? “God’s power? Where? His mighty arm? I don’t see it! It’s just too incredible. It’s unbelievable.”
But it’s not just the atheist, the agnostic, or the misguided scientist, that finds God’s claims unbelievable. It’s you and me too. “God promises to work all things for the good of his children. But this? How could this situation be good?! This broken relationship, this financial setback, this unanswered prayer?! It’s unbelievable!” Or, “God promises to work through water?! Through bread and wine?! Through some schmuck like Pastor Guenther?! Through some sinner like… me?! That’s too incredible! I don’t believe it.” God promises to forgive my sin. But this time I’ve gone too far. This sin is too big. This sin puts me beyond the reach of God’s grace. I can’t have peace with God. Not after what I’ve done. It’s unbelievable.”
But God’s mighty arm, as weak as it might sometimes seem, is certainly strong enough to accomplish what he has promised: to work all things for your good, to work through you, to work your forgiveness. And you’d better believe it! You see, he doesn’t just have unbelievable power. He also has unbelievable love…
II. Unbelievable Love
Even though he was being tortured to death, nailed to a cross, and publicly shamed, Jesus remained true God with a mighty arm. He demonstrated that when he knocked those who came to arrest him to the ground with the power of his Word: “I am” and—Boom!—they were leveled! He was demonstrating that he could come down off the cross anytime he wanted to. He was still Mighty God. But the thing is… he didn’t want to. He loved you too much to come down off the cross. He loved me too much to come down off the cross! So he volunteered to be tortured, to be killed, to endure hell itself! Just imagine the restraint it took to stay put and take all that he endured!
It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? Who would have believed Isaiah when he foretold God’s plan to rescue mankind 700 years before it took place?! “Really?! In some unseen future, God will send some ‘Suffering Servant’ to take our place and die for our sins? Yeah, right, Isaiah. Sure.”
And it seems just as incredible 2,000 years after it took place, doesn’t it? “Some guy died 2,000 years ago and that makes everything okay between us and God now?! Yeah, right, pastor. Sure.”
But you know that it’s true. You know that Jesus’ perfect life, his innocent death, and his resurrection from the dead are not just myth or legend, but fact. “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
By God’s grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit, you can answer, “I have believed. The Lord’s arm has been revealed to me.” Through the power of the Word, either on its own or connected to the water of Baptism, God has created faith in you. Paul quoted this verse in his letter to the Romans: “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’” But he went on to say, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:16-17)
And he not only created that faith in your heart that believes such incredible things as the forgiveness of sin through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but he also strengthens that faith through the same word of Christ. He strengthens that faith by giving you his very body and blood—as unbelievable as that may seem!—in the Lord’s Supper!
So you know that that unbelievable love is yours! You are forgiven! And you know that all of his other promises are true too! If he loves you that much, then you’d better believe that he’ll work all things for your good and keep you safe in your faith until he takes you to glory! Believe it, dear saints! You know that it’s true!
And “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” (Psalm 98:1) And, “Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” (Psalm 96:2-3)
That is to say, point others to God’s flexed muscles—his power to save his people—displayed for all to see on the cross. For this is not just the message, it’s our message—it’s our message to share. Yes, sadly, some will continue to reject his grace as too incredible, as simply unbelievable! But it’s no matter. Some will believe in his incredible power. Some will believe in his incredible love. So share our message of God’s unbelievable power, of God’s unbelievable love. In Jesus’ name dear friends, amen.