If you work for a business, it would not be the normal thing to have your boss tell you, “Great job on losing all our accounts. I’m going to reward you with a great big raise.” If you are a student in the classroom, it would not be the normal thing to have your teacher tell you, “Great job on getting every single answer wrong and losing 100 points on every single test all year long. I’m going to reward you with all straight A’s.” If you play on a volleyball or football or soccer team this fall, it would not be the normal thing to have your coach tell you, “Great job on losing all your games. The conference is going to reward us with a trophy for first place.” A huge raise – straight A’s – first place and human praise… To say the least, it is not the normal thing to get a reward for losing.
But isn’t that what the prophet Isaiah is talking about in our lesson for today when he is talking about someone who seems to be getting just that – a reward for losing? I’m going to re-read the first part of verse 12: “Therefore I will give him a portion (that word can be translated as a prize or a reward) – Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death…” This person will get a prize or a reward for being poured out into death – a reward for not staying alive. What good is a reward for person who is not alive to enjoy it? And this is the same person the prophet Isaiah was talking about in the opening line of our text in verse 10, when he said this: “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…”
This someone whom Isaiah is talking about is The Someone who would enter the world seven hundred years later as the Savior of the world – the promised Christ. What happened to him as he got his reward for losing makes all the difference in the world for you and me in our world today. That’s what I pray we will all be able to understand a bit better today from God’s Word, especially if at this time in your life you may feel like you are losing – and losing bad – and thinking that the last thing you will ever get for it is a reward for it.
That opening verse says that it was the Lord’s will to crush the coming Savior. In other words, God wanted that to happen. God wanted his Son to suffer. Let’s think about and then apply it to ourselves. Jesus got a reward for losing because of what God wanted.
God wanted his only Son to be crushed and to suffer and to be poured out unto death. That’s a very crushing thing to hear, because we know very well that that was not God’s original will. God’s original will was that there would be no need for his Son to suffer at all, because God’s original will was that there be no sin at all to cause that suffering. But there was – and there is. What God wanted for his Son as a result of that sin was for him to suffer for our sins rather than have you and me suffer for our sins.
That is devastating for our pride to have to hear and to confess. My sins crushed Jesus. That’s what everyone of us here this morning, no matter our age, no matter our situation in life, has to say. That’s what everyone of us here this morning has to say because of the fact that we are participants in sinful life, and our participation medal is not a good thing at all. Our reward is a very harsh one – the reward of having to see God’s Son crushed because of what I did. My unkind words to someone. That was part of what crushed Jesus Christ. My jealous thoughts of someone. That was part of what crushed Jesus Christ. My attempt to make fun of someone, to get ahead of someone unfairly, to cheat someone, to bring someone to tears because of my hatred; my failure to lift someone up, to encourage someone, to comfort someone; my ignoring of someone who reached out for help, my asking of someone to join me in my sin, my request of someone to lie about me to cover up my transgression against the Lord — all that was part of what crushed Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. What reward for losing should I get for that?…
But God works in a strange way to our way of thinking, doesn’t he? He combines his threats of justice with his promises of mercy. Did you notice that there is something else that is God’s will that is mentioned here – something else that God wanted? It’s in the same opening verse – verse 10: “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.”
God’s crushing will is also a prospering will. Our reward for losing to sin was Jesus losing his life, but God wanted something else to result from that – and it did! God wanted his Son to prosper – and he did!
What a fascinating way that God says it here. He says that the coming Christ would see his offspring and that his days would be prolonged. Do you catch what Isaiah is predicting with those words? If the coming Savior would die as a guilt offering for our sins, what would have to happen for him to see his offspring and for his days to be prolonged? He would have to rise from the dead. Seven hundred years in advance God was not only predicting Good Friday, but also Easter Sunday. And that’s how God’s will “prospers” in his Son’s hand. He gets to see the results – the offspring — of what he did. All of the offspring which Jesus sees are all the people in this building today. All of the offspring which Jesus sees are all of the people all over the world today and all throughout the history of the world and all those in the coming history of the world, who put their faith in Jesus Christ as the one who lost his life to forgive their sin which should have caused eternal death, and who also re-gained his life to let us know that we will have eternal life. We will not die forever. We will get the “portion – the prize – the reward” of heaven – not because of anything we have done to earn it, but because God in his love was good enough to give it to us. We get a reward for Jesus’ loss. It was earned by the One who took our place and did what we could not do.
And that’s what Isaiah is talking about in the last verse. At the end of that last verse he tells us, yes, that Jesus would pour out his life unto death, but what he did in looking like he was losing was to make sinners winners in an almost unimaginable way, because Jesus’ loss was also Jesus’ victory. Isaiah tells us at the end of that last verse: “For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Our Reward for Losing is ours because of what God wanted. It is also ours because of what Christ did.
That Jesus would make intercession for the transgressors is a way of picturing Jesus that we may not think of all that often. When Jesus died on the cross, it is just like he was interceding for us with God. To intercede means to speak up for someone, to defend someone, to make sure they get justice. The justice we should have received is the justice Jesus got, but the justice you and I get is because of what Jesus received. He received upon his heart and soul all those sins of ours which crushed him, and by receiving those sins on himself, it was as if he was saying to his Father in heaven for every single one of us, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Father, that bad word he or she spoke — I accept the guilt for that. Father, that bad thing that he or she did years ago that still bothers them — I accept the guilt for that. Father, that sin which keeps enticing and trapping them and which they keep falling to, even though they are trying so hard not to — I accept the guilt for that.” Jesus our Savior bore the sin of many, resulting in the reward of losing his life. Our reward – for Jesus’ sake – is to have Jesus intercede with the God who made us and to whom we are responsible and to say to him with love that goes beyond our telling: “Father, forgive them. They are my offspring, and I want them to prosper in my hand by knowing that everything I have done I have done for them. They have won.”
In today’s Gospel Pastor Casmer read about Jesus telling his disciples to quit arguing about how important or great they thought they were, a temptation that everyone of us faces to think that our needs or our wants or our abilities or our lives are so much more important than everyone else’s. The way to be able to fight that temptation and to live in the kind of humble way that “welcomes the little children,” as Jesus talked about, is to remember something Jesus said in last week’s Gospel that related directly to what Isaiah is telling us today. Jesus said in those earlier words, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the gospel will save it.”
Our natural tendency is to think that the only we can ever get rewarded is by doing something that will merit a reward. But Jesus tells us that the way we get rewarded is by losing – losing our life for the gospel – knowing and believing the gospel message that Jesus our Savior successfully crushed the sins that crushed him on the cross, just as God wanted – knowing and believing the gospel message that Jesus did exactly what his Father wanted, and that because Jesus did it, all of us as his offspring can say that we have done it, too. We have crushed sin, and that’s why we can live in a humble way with others, because there’s nothing for us to have to do to prove how great we are. We already are the greatest we can possibly be — through Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. Do you want a winning life in the way that God considers winning, no matter how things are going for you right now? Then lose yourself. Lose yourself in the love of one who himself received – and who himself gives – a reward for losing. Amen.