Our Suffering Savior
When to Speak Up and When to Pipe Down
A sermon based on Isaiah 53:7
Sunday, April 6, 2014 – Lent 5A (Palm Sunday)
I've been diagnosed with "Foot in Mouth Disease." Not to be confused with "Foot and Mouth Disease," I have "Foot in Mouth Disease." You know the one, where I sometimes have to open mouth and insert foot? I say stupid things sometimes without thinking. I talk a lot—maybe that's an occupational hazard, or maybe it's just my personality. But with many words come foolish words—words I sometimes regret and wish I'd never said. I have "Foot in Mouth Disease."
I'd give you a few examples, but most are pretty embarrassing to me, and, besides that, I'm pretty sure that all of you could come up with a few examples of your own, couldn't you? And I wish it were just a social faux pas, this disease of ours, but it's not. It's a sin. When we speak first, think later, when we just don't know well enough to keep our mouths shut, we reveal our sinful nature.
Thank God that we have a Savior who always used his word wisely—who spoke up whenever he had opportunity to proclaim the truth of God's Word, who kept quiet when he ought, even when he was being led like a lamb to the slaughter. Thank God that even though we willingly whine, he silently suffered. And thank God by proudly praising him for what he's done.
Our text for this morning, is once more from Isaiah 53. Today we look at verse 7 and rejoice that where we willingly whine, our Savior suffered silently. Now, like those on that first Palm Sunday, we proudly praise him. Isaiah 53:7…
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
I. We Willingly Whine
"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me."?! Nothing could be further from the truth. Our words have incredible power. They can build people up, encourage others, and change lives. Or they can destroy people's reputations, their careers, their very lives. Our words are truly powerful. Indeed, "The pen is mightier than the sword."
Listen to the way that James, the brother of our Savior, describes the power of our words: "When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire…" (James 3:3-6)
So how do you use your powerful tongue? How do you use your mighty words? Do you sometimes gossip—talking about others in a way that puts them in a less-than-favorable light? Or do you always take their words and actions in the kindest possible way? After all, pointing out the sins, faults, and failures of others, does make it easier to minimize or altogether overlook your own, doesn't it?
Or when someone speaks unkindly toward you, do you respond in like manner to put that person in their place. Does your tone ever reveal your selfish heart? "Yes, dear, I knoooow. But I don't think you're really listening to what I'm saying!"
Do you ever whine or complain when things don't go your way or when you're not content with your lot in life? Do you ever use Facebook as your venue to complain or tear others down rather than to encourage? Do you correct faulty ideas without attacking the person or those who are in some political party? Do you always speak the truth in love?
I had a friend who got an email from his manager about a new policy that his boss had recently implemented. He replied back to his manager complaining about this stupid new policy and what a dumb idea it was, wasting everyone's time with such pointless procedures. And… he almost lost his job, when he accidentally hit "reply all" and sent the email not just to the manager, but to the entire company, the boss included. Oops. Open mouth… insert foot.
And though you may not have made that mistake at that kind of scale, I'm sure you've done the same with your spouse, with your parents, with your kids. Open mouth… insert foot. Too often the proverb is true: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt." (Abraham Lincoln paraphrasing Proverbs 17:28)
And you know what we deserve for failing to control our tongues: "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:6)
But of course, there are other times when we abuse our power in the other direction. If you see someone's house getting robbed, but choose not to call the police even though your cell phone is in your hand, what a horrible sin of omission. Likewise, there are plenty of times when we should speak up but don't. And it's no less sinful to keep quiet to the truth, than it is to speak the truth in a harsh and unloving way.
Yet too often we're silent. We're strangely silent when we have an opportunity to defend others and speak well of them, taking their words and actions in the kindest possible way and encouraging others to do the same. After all, the attack might turn toward us. We're strangely silent when it comes time to lovingly point out the sins of others. After all, I'm not perfect. Who am I to point out sin? We're strangely silent when it comes time to share our faith. After all, they might think we're "Jesus Freaks."
And you know what we deserve for our silence. Jesus said, "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38)
Sadly, we know when to speak up and when to pipe down, but all too often we speak up when we should be quiet and we pipe down when we should speak up. Paul, acting as prosecuting attorney against all of wrote in Romans 3(:13-14, 19), "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." And he closes his case: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God."
We have no defense. We can offer no excuse. We have sinned before God who hears every word that ever falls from our lips and warns: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)
II. He Silently Suffered
And yet, you know that we will not be condemned, but will be acquitted, in spite of the abuse and misuse of our words, because of what Jesus has done for us: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth."
His whole life Jesus used his words perfectly. He spoke the truth in love, even when it would have been incredibly difficult to do: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! … Woe to you, blind guides! … Woe to you… whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones… on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness… You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" (Matthew 23:13, 16, 27, 33)
Jesus knew when to speak up. But his truthful words, spoken in love, made him enemies eager to take his life. So after he rode into Jerusalem amidst the praise of the people, they arrested him, and put him on trial. But Jesus didn't speak up to defend himself. Jesus knew when to pipe down.
What Isaiah prophesied came true first before Caiaphas: "Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, 'Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?' But Jesus remained silent." (Matthew 26:62-63)
And the prophecy was fulfilled again before Pilate: "When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, 'Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?' But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor." (Matthew 27:12-14)
And so, he was condemned. And like a sheep led to the slaughter, "Then they led him out to crucify him." (Mark 15:20) Now, if I were come down there, grab your arm and nail it to a board, do you think you'd remain silent? Do you think you'd just scream in pain? Or might you have some other choice words to shout at me? But what did Jesus cry out when they nailed not just his arm, but both hands and feet to the cross? He cried, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
How could he say such a thing? Because that's exactly what he came to do. He came to be the Passover Lamb, who's blood shed for us in his slaughter would cause God's wrath to pass over us. He came to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world—your sins and mine!—all of them!—every careless word spoken in frustration, every carefully chosen word offered in insult or gossip, every quiet moment where we had opportunity to speak up for Jesus or for someone else, but remained silent. All of our sins are removed by the blood of the lamb.
"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)
III. We Proudly Praise
And having been redeemed from that empty way of life, we're no longer the same. We don't go back to using our lips to gossip or tear others down, to whine and complain. But now is not the time to keep quiet either! Now we use our lips to encourage one another and to praise our Suffering Savior! Let's not let the stones take our job from us! When the Pharisees told the disciples to pipe down on Palm Sunday Jesus replied, "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40)
But now we eagerly join in with the Palm Sunday crowd and proudly praise him. We praise the Lamb of God who's taken our sin away, acquitted us before God, and promised us unimaginable glory and joy in heaven. We proudly praise him with all that we have.
We use our voices to sing his priase here in worship, at home, or in the car. We use our voices to share what he has done, proclaiming "Hosannah! He saves!" and telling others how the Son of David is the Son of God, our Suffering Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
I know that last weekend some of you who went to see the movie, "God's Not Dead," heard Willie Robertson's call to action at the end of the movie and texted your friends and family the simple message, "God's Not Dead." And you followed up with, "Ask me what I mean?" or "Go see the movie!" Now follow through and don't keep quiet when they ask, but proudly praise our Suffering Servant who knew when to speak up and when to pipe down to redeem you and me.
And eagerly offer to him, "Take my voice and let me sing Always, only for my King. Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages from thee." (CW #469:3) In the name of Jesus, our Suffering Savior, dear friends, amen.