Palm Sunday • Isaiah 50:4–9a • April 13, 2014
This sermon was prepared for Grace Lutheran Chapel in Bellefontaine Neighbors, Missouri. It makes use of various pictures of Jesus’ face from the church and school. The approach combines verses from the text with the pictures. The goal is to give visual support to the sermon at key moments while also adding meaning to the pictures see at the church. The full version of this sermon is below.
The gospel reading for this Sunday has various options. This sermon uses John 12:20–43, and the introduction to the sermon is based on the Greeks’ request to see Jesus. The liturgical focus is Jesus’ passion, not the triumphant entry of Palm Sunday.
The introduction makes use of a familiar picture of Jesus by Warner Salman. While we would like to see Jesus as the Greeks did, we do not have any real life pictures or paintings of Jesus. Instead, we have Isaiah 50 that clearly reveals what Jesus does with his eyes, ears, cheeks, and mouth.
At verse 4, suddenly and without introduction, the Servant of the Lord speaks. This passage is a prelude to Isaiah 53, and the servant stands out in contrast to complaining, rebellious Israel. While so many of the people are blind and deaf to the Lord, the servant listens obediently and without rebellion. The instructed tongue results from someone who listens and learns perfectly so that he can speak the right words. The open ear characterizes one who will do just what he has been instructed to do.
The sermon asserts that Jesus is the servant who is speaking here. He listens to what the Father wants him to say and do. (The contrast set up is between my three-year-old grandson who makes his parents angry by ignoring them and how God is never angry with Jesus.) Two events from Jesus’s life are retold to highlight Jesus’ obedient listening: his baptism and his transfiguration, both of which have the Father declaring how well pleased he is with his Son. The picture used shows Jesus’ ears, described as listening ears.
The sermon moves next to what the listening servant’s obedience looks like. His instructed tongue speaks words to the weary. The words are timely and fitting. He says just what the weary needs to hear.
The picture of Jesus used in the sermon at this point is a mural in the hallway leading from the church to the school. Most everyone in the congregation knows it. It shows Jesus hugging a child. The child has his eyes closed and you see a look of peace/comfort on his face. Jesus’s lips are near the child’s ears. The sermon lists a series of moments of weariness (loneliness, fear, guilt, doubt, death, weakness) and combines them with Bible verses containing words Jesus spoke during his ministry. The section ends with Matthew 11:28–29 (the NIV uses the word “weary”).
The servant’s obedience also involves his suffering. Verses 6–7 picture perfectly the horrible agony Jesus will undergo. Pulling out the beard publicly shames and humiliates. The action shows utter contempt to go with the spitting. Yet the key phrase here is how the servant has his face set like flint. Drawing on Luke 9:51, Jesus’s resolve is to go to Jerusalem where this suffering and humiliation will strike him down. Nothing will stop him from this appointed task.
The sermon uses a stark picture of Jesus in black and white, with a streak of orange. His face is serious and determined. After describing what Jesus will go through, the sermon retells how Peter answers correctly Jesus’s question about whom the disciples say he is only to be quickly told to get behind Jesus when he tries to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem.
The servant declaring that he will give his back to be beaten highlights Jesus’s determination to go to Jerusalem—his face set like flint. He will not hide his face from the degradation. He is in control of all that will happen to him. Philippians 2:8 is quoted here.
The sermon turns to the question of why Jesus would go through this suffering and humiliation. The picture used is of Jesus, his face bowed down in death on a crucifix. Jose Fuentes de Salamanca’s line drawing captures the drama and emotion well. The sermon moves beyond Jesus’s words to the weary, important as they may be, to the deeper purpose of Jesus’s work: forgiveness and eternal life.
The last verses of the text focus on the servant’s vindication. God will help him. No charges against him will stick. The ultimate victor against the servant’s enemies is certain. Indeed, the Father brings his Son from the grave and will not let him see decay.
The sermon finishes with a picture of Jesus as a shepherd holding a lamb in one arm and reaching out in invitation with his other hand, the scar from the nail visible. The proclamation is that because he lives we too will live. The sermon concludes with the encouragement to see ourselves pictured with Jesus because he is the Good Shepherd who not only laid down his life for us but also took it up for us.
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We Would Like to See Jesus
Goal: That the hearers “see” more clearly the Suffering Servant’s face for their weariness and their eternal life.
Some Greeks come up to Philip, one of Jesus’s disciples. They have a simple request. “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” We do not know if they got the opportunity to meet Jesus. We do not know if Jesus walked up to them and started talking with them. They simply drop out of the picture. But we have their wonderful words. “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
Yes, the request is still a good one. Who wouldn’t like to see Jesus? Trouble is, we do not have a real life picture of Jesus. Smart phones with cameras had not been invented. You Tube videos were not around back then to show Jesus feeding the 5000. We do not even have a drawing or artist’s portrait of Jesus to go by. No one knows for sure just what Jesus looked like. We have many artists’ renditions showing what people think he looked like. For example, many of us grew up seeing Jesus in the painting by Warner Salman, with long flowing brown hair, white robe, and trimmed beard. Yet, this painting is simply the artist’s imagining what Jesus may have looked like. We do not know for sure how accurate it is because we do not have any actual pictures or paintings that capture the facial expressions of our Lord.
What we do have, however, is a clear portrayal of how Jesus used his face—ears, eyes, mouth, cheeks—written nearly 700 years before he lived. Isaiah was a prophet from ancient Israel. He was given the honor of revealing what the Messiah would look like and what he would do. This passage from chapter 50 is often called a “Suffering Servant” prophecy. It depicts what will happen to the Savior when he comes to save his people from their sin and give eternal life to those who believe in him. When you read this prophecy, you quickly realize that Jesus, and only Jesus, fulfilled these words perfectly.
So what does Jesus look like? Well, today we are going to use Isaiah 50 and combine what he says Jesus looks like with some of the paintings and pictures of Jesus we have here at Grace Chapel.
We will start with this picture and Isaiah 50:4‒5 (read verses). Notice that in this picture we see Jesus’s ears. I am imagining a listening Jesus in this picture because Isaiah says he listens with open ears. Open ears are obedient ears. He is not just hearing words vibrate on his eardrums. He is doing exactly what those words tell him to do.
Now that I am a grandpa, I can smile at some of the antics of my almost three-year-old grandson, Grayson. His mom or dad will tell him it is time to go home from our house, and he will pretend he does not hear them. He will not look at them. He will keep on playing with his scooper truck. As a grandparent, I smile. When I was a parent, though, I remember getting angry when one of my kids ignored my words like that.
God the Father never had a reason to ever get angry at Jesus. Jesus simply listened to what the Father wanted him to do, and he did it. Perfect obedience. Every time.
Picture the scene when Jesus was baptized. John sees him coming. He knows he is not worthy to touch even Jesus’s sandals. Yet Jesus tells him to go ahead. It is necessary for him to take a stand with us and for us. As Jesus comes up out of the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit comes down as a dove and we hear the Father’s voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). God the Father is pleased with Jesus because he listened and did just what was asked of him.
Then Jesus began his ministry of teaching, healing, preaching. For three years, he traveled doing what his Father wanted him to do. Finally, near the end of his ministry, Jesus goes up on a mountain. Three disciples go with him—Peter, James, and John. He suddenly changes into a bright white figure, whiter than any white could be on this earth. Two prophets older than even Isaiah—Moses and Elijah appear beside him at this moment of Transfiguration. Then the Father speaks again, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5).
From start to finish, Jesus had open ears for what his Father wanted him to do, and he did it! He listened with perfect obedience.
But what was Jesus to do? Listen to Isaiah. Jesus was given his instructed tongue to “know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.” Now look at this picture painted on the wall beyond the narthex. Jesus is holding one of his children. That moment is one of grace, and it is for all of us. I am imaging Jesus’s lips moving, whispering just the right words into that child’s ear.
What weariness? What words?
When you are lonely – “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt 28:20).
When you are afraid – “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19).
When you are weighed down by guilt – Your sins are forgiven. “Go, and from now on sin no more (Jn 8:11).
When you are unsure about God’s love – Take and eat. This is my body given for you. My blood shed for you.
When you are facing that enemy called death – “I am the Resurrection and Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Jn 11:25).
When you are weak – “I am the Good Shepherd . . . I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:14, 15).
So many ways we can be weary, and what does Jesus say? “Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28‒29 NIV). Jesus speaks just the right word for the weary.
But saying words to the weary is not all that Jesus does in obedience. Isaiah goes on to say in vv. 6‒7 (read). He set his face like flint. Look at this picture. Jesus is determined. Nothing will get in his way from doing what his Father sent Him to do. He is on his way to Jerusalem to be beaten. He will be humiliated. He will have his back ripped apart by a whip. People will spit at him. They will push, pull, and degrade him, even grabbing at his beard. They will mock him. Yet his face is stone. No one could stop him.
Peter found this out the hard way. One day Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They gave the common answers, “John the Baptist,” “Jeremiah,” “Elijah,” “one of the prophets.” Then Jesus turned the tables on them. He asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter steps up and gives a good answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Well done, Peter.
Then Jesus tells the disciples what it means to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God who listens to his Father. He says he will go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. At the hands of the chief priests, Pharisees and elders, he will be killed. Then on the third day rise again to life. But Peter doesn’t want that to happen. He tells Jesus that all this suffering and death won’t happen. Not good, Peter. Jesus has his face set like flint to go to Jerusalem. He rebukes Peter and calls him Satan. “Get behind me.” He yells. “You don’t have in mind what God wants me to do. I must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.” One look at his face and you know Jesus means what he says.
Look what happens in Jerusalem (the picture was of a crucifix, but any picture with Jesus’s head bowed in death would work. A poignant one is this one by Jose Fuentes de Salamanca). Listen again to what this Suffering Servant, the Messiah says in verse 6. Did you catch that? Jesus “gave his back” to those who want to kill him. He will be in control. Jesus will not hide from this suffering and death. He will be the One who lets all this happen. The Apostle Paul in the Philippians reading put it this way: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8).
Sometimes in the busyness of life or the weariness of living or the loneliness or the routines or the fears, we lose sight of just what Jesus came to do for us. Yes, he speaks words to the weary, but he also speaks words of forgiveness and eternal life.
I am the youngest of 10 children. Four of my siblings have died, one in August (2013). Five of us gathered for the funeral for my sister Betty. I am 58. The ages of my remaining siblings: 63, 72, 76, 81. My oldest brother is 89 and could not attend as he is bedridden in California. I sat back and watched as we talked the evening before the funeral. Three of my siblings are hard of hearing and many sentences needed to be repeated. One uses a cane. Our hair is gray or white. It reminded me of when my mother died in 1994. The pastor in the sermon said this to us, her children: You are now the next generation. The next generation to approach the grave, to die one by one as the years go on.
It is a sobering thought. No one likes to think about who will be next to lie in the casket and have the rest of rest of us walk by and pay our last respects. But one day it will be me. One day it will be you. Why did Jesus set his face like flint? Why the beaten back and spitting? Why the suffering? Why Jesus’s face cold and lifeless on a cross, head bowed in death?
For you. For me. To forgive us all our sins, everything that would keep us from him. To give us life after death so that the casket shutting is not the sound to end our lives. Listen to what Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then the Apostle John writes, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (Jn 12:32‒33). When you see Jesus’s face on the cross, remember that God so loved you that he sent His one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
One more picture of Jesus (The picture displayed, I believe, is by Katherine Brown. It is the one I used in the sermon as it was given to the DCE at Grace Chapel, Mike Kehe, and hangs on his wall. I could not locate this exact one through Google. Instead, another drawing is most often associated with the artist. One more reading from Isaiah (read 8‒9a). The Father vindicates his Son. He will not let him stay in the grave. See the scars in Jesus’s hands. See the Good Shepherd who not only laid down his life for the sheep but also took it up again. Paul says in Philippians: “Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:9‒11).
And look what he has in his arm. He lives again and so does that lamb. He is risen from the dead and one day you will rise too. See the lamb. Imagine it is you because when you picture what Jesus looks like, he wants you to put yourself in the picture as one held by him now when we are weary and forever when we will live again! Amen.