Palm/Passion Sunday - Isaiah 50:4-9a

Isaiah chapter 50:4-9a (NIV)

The Sovereign Lord has given Me a well-instructed tongue,

to know the Word that sustains the weary.

He wakens Me morning by morning,

wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed.

The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears;

I have not been rebellious,

I have not turned away.

I offered My back to those who beat Me,

My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard;

I did not hide My face

from mocking and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me,

I will not be disgraced.

Therefore have I set My face like flint,

and I know I will not be put to shame.

He who vindicates Me is near.

Who then will bring charges against Me?

Let us face each other!

Who is my accuser?

Let him confront Me!

It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me.

Who will condemn Me?

            There are lot of technical terms, jargon, if you like, that we use in the Church. The word “atonement” is one of them. It’s also one of the few theological terms which derive from the Anglo-Saxon language group.

“Atonement” means ‘a making at one’, and points to a process of bringing those who are estranged into a unity. ... The word “Atonement” is used in theology to indicate the work of Christ in dealing with the problem posed by our sin, and in bringing us sinners into a good and right relationship with God.

            Our need for “Atonement” is brought about by three things, the universality of sin, the seriousness of sin and our inability to deal with sin.

            The universality of sin is recorded in many places in the Scriptures:

  • there is no man who does not sin’ (1 Kings. 8:46)
  • there is none that does good, no, not one’ (Psalm. 14:3)
  • ‘there is not a righteous man on earth, who does good and never sins’ (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
  • Jesus told the rich young ruler, ‘No one is good but God alone’ (Mark 10:18)
  • and Paul writes, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23)             We’re appalled when a child is murdered, and an adult dies in an accident because of someone’s negligence or deliberate stupidity. Death appals us.            We, along with the great thinkers of the church through out history, have struggled with the question, “Why did Christ suffer and die?” To answer this question theologians and church leaders have presented us with the “Doctrine of the Atonement”.             Anselm of Canterbury, a senior church man who lived in the 11th Century, said that Christ, by His death earned an excess of merit with God for His obedience. This merit was paid to God as compensation for all mankind’s sin. People are unable to buy God off so He decided to make the payment Himself. Romans 6:23 says:   For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.             Similar to Anselm’s teaching, an answer to the question of “Why did Jesus have to suffer and die?” was formulated from statements in the Book of Hebrews. The assumption is made that we can’t put right our guilt and sin but God’s sense of justice must be served. Therefore a sacrifice must be made on our behalf.             In the Old Testament a sacrifice of a pure lamb was made for sin. In Leviticus 17:11 God tells us “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.             A German theologian, Friedrich Schliermacher promoted another answer to the question in the early 19th century which has been picked up by heretics like John Shelby Spong and New Zealand’s own Lloyd Geering. Christ’s noble suffering and death, according to Schliermacher and his friends, was merely to inspire us to new moral achievements. It was proposed that Jesus death was merely an example to us to inspire us to live better lives and earn favour with God.             The most popular expression of the doctrine of the Atonement, and our own church’s teaching we find in the teachings of St Paul in his Biblical letters, an early church theologian called Irenaeus the bishop of Lyons in the 2nd century and Martin Luther in the 16th Century.             In effect, God wanted to show us that life is meaningful, death and evil are not the conquering powers and that God’s goodness has and will prevail. In this understanding God has taken the initiative and by a great self sacrificing act of love has given us the gift of His forgiveness and shared with us His life.             As St Paul states in today’s second reading, being born in human likeness.He humbled Himselfeven death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7b-8a, NIV)
  •             Sin condemns us but God sets us free from sin, death and the power of the devil. Isaiah says in our text:
  • and became obedient to the point of death—
  • And being found in human form,
  • …taking the form of a slave,
  •             Becoming one with us, God took on the role of a suffering servant and came, not as a dictatorial tyrant to scare us into believing in Him, but as a loving servant awakening in us spontaneous love.
  •             The clearest answer to the question as to “Why Christ had to suffer and die is contained in the most popular Bible Text of John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 
  •             It was thinking such as this that inspired some of the early Lutheran migrants to move to Australia and the United States in the 19th century because the Protestant church in Germany had been influenced in this liberal thinking which devalued the saving power of Jesus Christ. Jesus death is more than a moral example for us!  
  •             Schleirmacher’s proposal was that God’s attitude to humanity was never one of wrath and anger but one of love so no sacrifice or compensation was needed for sin.
  •             With Jesus’ death, God’s righteous indignation at sin is satisfied because justice is served and God is able to re-establish His relationship with creation because life giving blood was shed and the blessing shared.
  •             Jesus then, as a man, gave Himself up as a sacrifice for us all. He is ‘the blood of the Lamb’- the innocent sacrifice who died on our behalf. As John the Baptist said, John 1:29 ..., “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 
  •             To pay for sin, God became human in the person of Jesus, a perfect man, a servant to serve humanity to satisfy the justice of God.
  •             Behind Anselm’s thinking was the idea that God was angry with humanity because of sin, and that sin had to be paid for in some way.
  •             The history of this doctrine has matured through difficult stages of development and understanding. There have been a number of answers as to why Jesus had to die. Today we’ll look at why Jesus was an obedient servant to the will of God the Father so that He suffered and died on our behalf – serving us.
  •             We should be appalled - especially at Jesus death - for we can identify in His death, our own death - much more so because we each had a part in Jesus death. Each sin we commit is like another lash of the whip, another slur on Jesus name, another spray of spittle and another hair pulled from His beard.
  •             Because of sin many innocent people die. We’re appalled by innocent suffering and dying - we think the Holocaust, Pol Pot, Rawanda and Syria where innocent people are still dying.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me,

I will not be disgraced.

Therefore have I set My face like flint,

and I know I will not be put to shame.

He who vindicates Me is near.

Who then will bring charges against Me?

Let us face each other!

Who is my accuser?

Let him confront Me!

It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me.

Who will condemn Me?

            Because God has helped us and made atonement for our sin we stand in His presence without disgrace. Because of Jesus sacrifice and His dying on our behalf we are not apart from God’s grace but we are in His grace. God no longer sees our shame and guilt for sin. Christ has dealt with it for us.

            If then God does not condemn us then who can - No One! St Paul wrote in Romans 8:1-4:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.           

            Christ is the true ‘Lamb of God’ who takes away the sin of the world. He gave His life as a ransom for us and His own blood purifies us from all sin. This is what Good Friday and Easter is all about.

            As we’ve progressed through the season of Lent we’ve heard and read about aspects of Christ’s innocent suffering. God’s own suffering saves us from eternal suffering. So, we look forward with expectation to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus because it brings with it the hope of our own resurrection and “Atonement” - being at one with God!

            At one with God, we’re also free to live according to His will - with His help. We are enabled to become servants and serve each other as Jesus served us with truth and grace.

We’re not alone - we’re united with Christ in a life like His desiring and making every effort to live in obedience to our loving Father God.

            Amen.