Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving: He Was Crushed. We Were Saved

Several days ago, my wife and I were listening to KKOJ.  It was about nine in the morning.  For those of you who listen at that time, you know that each weekday at 9 am there is about a 15-minute conversation between Doug Johnson and John Reitmeier.  The basis of this conversation is supposedly John’s “Cool-Site Pick of the Day.”  On Monday, Doug and John spent a considerable amount of time talking about hunting related violations and the humorous stories behind many of them. I stepped out of the room for a moment and when I came back, Sara asked me if I had heard the joke that Doug had just told on the air.  I said I hadn’t heard it.  Sara then repeated the joke for me.  It goes like this:
What is the thing to be most thankful for on Thanksgiving? That you’re not the turkey!
Now, I’m a pheasant hunter, and if I were to hunt turkey the way I hunt pheasant, well, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad to be the turkey.  They would run little risk with me around.  And pheasants mock me openly.

The turkey hunting joke that made it on the radio was good for a laugh, but then I thought of something that wasn’t as funny.  Success in hunting means spilled blood.  Hunting is a tremendous privilege, because the animals we take are made to give their lives up to the hunter.  Therefore, it’s never really something that should be undertaken without some degree of self-examination, because hunting costs life.  We shouldn’t forget that.

What does this have to do with anything from our scripture reading tonight?  That’s a good question.

We are here tonight to observe God’s grace in this holiday called Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving was established specifically to thank God for the many blessings of this people we call a nation.  In our culture, the practice of giving thanks of this day has now largely been overtaken by the idolatrous pursuit of football, multiple parties, and, perhaps most centrally, shopping.  Thanksgiving is meant to mark off a time for, you know, giving thanks.  To someone. For something. But Thanksgiving has now suffered what so many holidays have suffered from in the midst of our countries amazing affluence. 

I think God led me to select text from Isaiah to remind me and you of the most extraordinary event that has ever happened in the history of the universe.  It was predicted here in Isaiah, and fulfilled in a person named Jesus Christ.

Our text is the fourth of a series of songs, commonly referred to as “servant songs,” in the book of Isaiah.  These songs speak of a human who is the Lord’s servant, who is heir to the throne of David, and who will bring healing to the people after they have so thoroughly rebelled against God in sin.

The entire song is well worth close examination, but there is not enough time for that on this occasion.  Instead, I want to focus on just two really key sections: 53:4-6 and 53:10-12.

Isaiah beings by telling Israel that the servant would take the appearance of one whom the people would likely not expect as their servant-king.  The one who will be “exalted” (52:13) is described as having “no form or majesty that we should look on him,” and “[3] He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  The servant is described as being, in the eyes of the world, the biggest loser of all time, not worth looking at, worthy of being despised.  And, in a society that places such a huge premium on self-esteem and being liked, this servant will not be esteemed at all.  He will, in fact, be trampled upon.

And that brings us to one of the most important texts in the whole bible, 53:4-6:
[4] Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. [5] But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
This servant-king, who is despised and rejected by the people, isn’t considered worthy of anything.  And yet, look what he has done.  He bears the griefs and carried the sorrows of the people.  He was wounded, not for his own transgressions and sins, but for ours.  He was crushed for our iniquities and sins.  Upon him was placed chastisement due to us.  And by his stripes, the stripes of one who is beaten with the whip, we are healed.  There are two parties in this text.  The first is “we/us”.  That's you and me.  We are the ones with griefs and sorrows.  We are the ones who are the transgressors and sinners.  We are the one who from birth bear the iniquities and sins of our first parents.  The second party is the suffering servant. And do you see what happens in this text? All of this sin is transferred to him, to the servant.  He bears it all.  He is crushed by it.  We wonder off, recklessly perusing the ways of the world in pursuit of self-exaltation, worshiping idol entertainments and fleshy pursuits of money and sex, acquiring stuff at unprecedented levels in the vain attempt to secure our own salvation, rejecting the word of God and his rejecting the mantle of those who are created in His divine image. And all of that is transferred to him, the only one in this biblical scene who is innocent.

What we then learn is that this oppression of the suffering servant serves a divine purpose, which is disclosed in verses 10-12:
[10] Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. [11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. [12] Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Verse 11 is the critical verse: “[11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

The one who suffers anguish because of what he has to bear from us shall himself be satisfied.  We, the rebels, the sinners, the ones who deserve divine wrath for sin, are instead given freedom which is completely unmerited grace.  “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (11).

He takes ours sins and the guilt and the punishment of death.  We receive his forgiveness, pardon, and eternal life.  This is what Jesus Christ accomplished for us by his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.  He took your sin, and my sin, and all of the crushing punishment we deserved.  For those who accept his sacrifice as sufficient to cover over all sin, he grants his righteousness, total forgiveness of sin, and the gift of eternal life.  That is genuine cause for not only Thanksgiving, but worship to the one who grants us such overwhelming grace.

So I ask you, dear ones, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?  As you consider the person and work of Jesus Christ for sinners like you and me, what are you most satisfied with?  What is the source of your joy? Are you most satisfied when you are able to raise some material trifle over your head in triumph, having just grabbed the last one from the store shelf during the 2 a.m. Black Friday sale? Or with the latest victory of your favorite high school, college, or pro football team? Or with the astonishing estate you’ve amassed?  Or are you most satisfied in Him, the one who secured your eternal salvation at the cost of his own blood, so that you might live forever enjoying the glory of your Creator?

I want to be clear, the good things we have are gifts from God, and they ought to be enjoyed.  But they are not ultimate.  I think the gifts we are given are enjoyed most when we stop and consider carefully the amazing freedom and forgiveness and mercy and love shown to us by the Father in the blood of His precious Son.

This Thanksgiving, we can all be thankful that we’re not the turkey.  Hunting requires the taking of blood.  Sin requires payment by blood.  And this Thanksgiving, we can sing for joy that we were not held to account for our sins with our own blood, but by the blood of Jesus.  May that be for you and me the source of ultimate joy and satisfaction this Thanksgiving season and into eternity.  What a wondrous gift!

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.1

Thank you, Almighty Father, for Jesus.  Amen.

1Wesley, Charles. And Can it Be. Hymn composed in 1738. The hymn is the 363 in the current United Methodist Hymnal.

Given at the United Methodist Church in Jackson, Minnesota
November 24, 2010
Thanksgiving Eve

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