Our Suffering Savior
With Liberty and Justice for All?
A sermon based on Isaiah 53:8
Sunday, April 13, 2014 – Palm Sunday
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” thousands of children profess each school day across our nation. That’s always been a part of the bedrock of our nation: liberty and justice for all. We value our liberty—our freedom to speak and act as we wish (within reason). And we value justice—we want what’s fair.
And yet, liberty and justice aren’t always given out as they should be…
On February 13, 1976, Richard Holloman was shot and killed in his grocery store when he didn’t immediately hand over all of the cash in the till. Charles Ray Finch was quickly convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. But now, more than 37 years later, the case has been reopened. And the evidence is overwhelmingly in support of Finch’s innocence.
The eyewitnesses swore they saw him shoot Holloman with a shotgun. But Holloman was killed with multiple shots from two different handguns. None of the witnesses were ever able to identify Finch in a lineup. And Finch has always maintained that he was walking past the grocery store when he heard shots fired and ran to help. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And now he’s almost 76 years old, but still in prison, hoping his lawyers can prove his innocence once and for all.
Now, unlike the story I told you about John Coffey, wrongly accused and sentenced to death on the Green Mile, this story is sadly true. They got the wrong man. And Finch has spent almost four decades in prison for a crime he did not commit. The innocent has been condemned and the guilty is set free. Sadly it isn’t true, even in our great nation, that there is liberty and justice for all.
And it certainly isn’t true in Jesus’ case. An innocent man went through a mock trial where the witnesses were clearly lying. No charges could stick. And the witnesses couldn’t identify the accused for who he was. And being deprived up his liberty, robbed of justice, innocent Jesus was condemned. He was sentenced to die by torture on a cross.
And yet, we rejoice in this gross miscarriage of justice, as horrible as it was, because we know that the innocent has been condemned so that the guilty might be set free. We rejoice because we are the guilty. We rejoice because we don’t get justice. Instead we get an incredible liberty that Jesus won for us by the injustice inflicted on him. Isaiah foretold all about the miscarriage of justice that took place for Jesus… and for us… in Isaiah 53:8…
By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
I. Justice for Liberty Abused
Is there any question that we Americans value our liberty? We love having the freedoms that we do, even if we do take them for granted far too often. We love our freedom of speech. We love our freedom to choose what we will make of our lives, what occupations we pursue, and what we do with our own money. That’s why we get so irritated when we’re told what to do with our money by our government. That’s why we get upset when our freedoms seem to be restricted. We want our liberties!
But what do we do with those liberties? I’m free to do what I want (within reason), but do I do what God wants? God has given us freedom to rebel against him. He didn’t want mindless robots serving him. He wants us to willingly love him. But we abuse that freedom. We do rebel against God. We break his commands and sin against him.
And we’re all to happy to have a miscarriage of justice when we’re the guilty party, aren’t we? Sure, we’re quick to seek justice when someone sins against us. We’re quick to cry foul when we’re the ones hurt or when our team is the one wronged But what about when it’s the other way around? When I foul the other guy, or when the call goes against the team I’m rooting for, “No harm, no foul,” is what I’m quick to cry. When I’m caught speeding I want leniency, not justice.
And when it looks like leniency’s not coming, we’re all all too quick to try to get out of the trouble we know we deserve. We try to minimize the sin, excuse the sin, even let others take the fall for my sin. We do anything but own up to the sin. Let’s face it. We’re a part of the problem of injustice. We’re happy to go unpunished when we do wrong.
So don’t be too quick to cry, “No fair!” As my dad used to point out to my brother and me any time we whined, “No fair!” because one brother got better treatment in our opinions than the other, “Life isn’t always fair.” And thank God that it’s not. Because of the transgression of this people, we all deserve to be cut off from the land of the living. We don’t really want what’s fair because “fair” means hell for all of us.
II. No Liberty and Justice for Jesus
And thank God that we don’t get what’s fair because, “He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
What a horrible miscarriage of justice dealt to Jesus! Where our text says, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” the Hebrew could be translated, “By oppressive judgment he was taken away.” That is, the judgment was no fair!
At the start of Jesus’ trial, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.” (Matthew 26:59) They already had the verdict and the sentence determined before the trial! And even though many false witnesses came forward (v.60) perjuring themselves in court, no evidence could be found! But that didn’t stop them. Even though Pilate and Herod together acquitted Jesus five times! (cf. Luke 23:1-22) “‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered.” (v.66) And they convicted him, not to life in prison, but to a death sentence! To be carried out that very day so no appeals could be made! (cf. Acts 25:11-12)
And where our text say, “And who can speak of his descendants?” the Hebrew could be translated, “And who of his contemporaries spoke up?” No one came to Jesus’ defense. No lawyer would take the case. No lawyer had the chance to be the main character in some future John Grisham novel, such was the miscarriage of justice in this trial by night.
And no friend would speak up for him. Only two had even followed him. And one of those—Peter—had denied him. Even John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, kept his trap shut.
And the innocent was condemned to die. Liberty? Not for Jesus? Justice? Not for Jesus? The only sinless person who alone deserved no punishment, no pain, no death, because he alone did nothing wrong—ever!—took on suffering… pain… torture… hell! Talk about injustice!
Jesus was cut off from the land of the living. “And who can speak of his descendants?” He was killed without any children. He was executed for crimes he did not commit. No fair! … Thank God!
III. Liberty and No Justice for All
You see, we dare not complain. We dare not cry, “Mistrial!” Because like the case of Charles Ray Finch, the innocent has been condemned and the guilty are set free. And the guilty… are us.
“He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
Now God’s justice is satisfied. Sin is adequately punished. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:25-26: God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his [patience] he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Jesus didn’t get what he deserved. He lost his liberty. He saw no justice. But Jesus didn’t get what he deserved so that we don’t get what we do deserve. We don’t get justice. Instead, we get liberty. We get freedom from hell… freedom from death… and freedom from sin!
Now cherish this freedom, dear friends. Rejoice in this liberty! “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Live to serve your Savior, not yourself! Live to fight against the injustice in the world. Live to share the message of the injustice that was done against our Savior, that others too might know of his grace for them.
We may not be too happy that it’s simply not true that there is liberty and justice for all. We may be saddened and angered by the reality that for hundreds—or even thousands!—of people like Charles Ray Finch, the innocent are condemned to die while the guilty go free. But we rejoice in the gross miscarriage of justice that was carried out against Jesus, because we know that the innocent has been condemned so that we, the guilty, might be set free. We rejoice that we don’t get justice. We rejoice that instead there is liberty, not justice, for all who believe in him. In Jesus’ name, dear friends, amen.