It’s Confirmation Sunday, this morning. Six young men and one young lady are going to publicly express their faith and their desire to be communing members of this church. They’ve prepared and studied. Thursday they endured a public examination – a time to share the truths of Scripture they know and believe and to share their personal faith in essays they prepared. And now for the public commitment – the confirmation of that faith. For them, it’s a day of joy and pride and commitment and hope.
On these kinds of days it’s intriguing to me, the humbling reality that we’re not all having the same experiences. They and their families have been preparing for a joyous day, a party day. And, we’ve converged here as the family of God, so you’ll share it with them. But maybe you’re coming out of just a bad week, or unexpected trouble, or some of the saddest days of your life. They’re filled with joy, a blazing fire of hopefulness – light and bright. Contrarily, as fires go, you feel more like the guttering little flame on a candle – just about ready to go out. Life’s blowing you here and there and you can barely keep it alight. They’re strong and hopeful, with heads held high, looking the future in the face with expectation. You may be the reed – not broken yet – but bent over by the crushing experiences and the relentless ongoingness of things. So, I ask you: if, in the hour between services, these young believers asked you about your Christian life and your own hope, what would you share?
There’s a tempting Christian brand of things that you may know by experience and that will surely tempt them, in their young faith. I mean the kind where you and I are cognizant of how we tend to be “bent” and “weak” and we try to make it not that way. As though life is like a trip through the aisles of a Hobby Lobby, looking for the inspirational decor that will direct us each day. We might see, “Blessed when I obey,” but then we disobey again and again and that blessedness feels farther away. There’s that really cute sign, “God never gives you anything you can’t handle,” but the soul who’s barely hanging on reads it and cries, wants to tap out because they can’t handle it. There are the goal signs that say to you, “Breakthrough’s just around the bend – only say this prayer, declare it to be so, or obey this command,” and you add that to the endless list of checkboxes that you haven’t filled yet – and it’s break-down not break-through. But we walk those aisles because we’d like an orderliness, to know that what’s right and good will happen. It’s a temptation to think that life and even God’s Scripture is about accomplishing that by our action for God, serving him, and I think that’s a temptation on this Confirmation Day too…
We’re all in different places… So, if in the hour between services, these young believers asked you about your Christian life and your own hope, what would you share? And, I guess I’m asking, for their future faiths’ confidence and your own, could you please share this – this song from Isaiah this morning?
Isaiah has four “servant songs”. They’re songs for Israelites who had exile to look forward to; exile that would nearly completely devastate their political, social, economic and religious lives. In America, we can hardly relate to that kind of national defeat, loss and upheaval, but most of us can relate to the questions it raises. “How could God let all of this happen?” “Has God abandoned his sons and daughters?” “What shall we do?”
To those questions then, God is making promises of new things he will graciously do for his people. Isaiah 42 announces that God is going to do some of those things through his “servant” (1). The “servant” in Isaiah’s songs is Jesus of Nazareth, foretold long before his human birth. St. Matthew tells you that’s true in ch.12 of his gospel. He says that Jesus was followed by the sick wherever he went and he healed them and taught them, “warning them not to tell who he was” (12:16) and this “was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:” the four verses we have today.
So why sing his song? Well, look at his provenance. In v.1, God says, “Here is my servant.” So Jesus would be God’s servant, for his purposes and work. In fact, God says he “upholds” him – he holds him tight as though he were important, because he is God’s “chosen one”. More still, he’s the “one in whom [the Lord] delight[s].” Which should bring to mind how Jesus came onto the scene: John baptized him, and the Father broke open the heavens and said almost exactly this. “This is my Son whom I love, listen to him.” And the Holy Spirit himself came down, which, finally, God says here too: “I will put my Spirit on him.” Our Lutheran Confessions pointed to v.1 (asking with others) to say that Jesus was filled with God’s Holy Spirit (FC, VIII) – the Son of God, chosen by God the Father for saving work, and filled with God’s mighty Spirit to get it done. Or, as St. Paul said today, he was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6).
And, this Palm Sunday where Jesus rides into Jerusalem to praises and palms and shouting crowds, it seems really royal and fitting with that. Crowds line the roads with palms and cloaks – not a red but a variegated carpet for his entry. Crowds (or the rocks themselves if the people hadn’t) shout his praises – blessed and hosanna. But, you know, they actually shout because he won’t. Isaiah said, “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.”
St. Peter highlighted the difficulty we often find then: Jesus is “chosen by God and precious to him,” but very often “rejected by human beings”. His work isn’t how we’d design it or often what we expect. Check out the religious leaders when Jesus rode in. They wanted nothing to do with the humility he was bringing. They wanted something louder and mightier. And, of course, this tempts us too.
Just think: lately in America, we’re in one of the most politically divided times we’ve ever been in. It’s a time in which maybe 40% of people think this is America at its greatest and it’s the entré to more, and there’s another 40% who think exactly the opposite and want all of this to end now, and probably 20% who are deathly afraid of either of those other sides. And whatever you think, to bring about what you want you don’t want some milquetoast, quiet person. You want power, and voices raised to bring about the dream. That’s how we come to an order we like in this world – often by force – our own might or willpower or money – to wrench things into “justice” and to “make right”. And so, if God’s servant will be quiet…
Well, don’t miss it. His work is strong. V.4 says, “He will not falter or be discouraged” though he will be in the middle of all these things we find so discouraging day by day. And his mission – it is exactly what we long for… Three times in four verses Isaiah says, “he will bring justice to the nations,” “he will bring forth justice,” and “he [will establish] justice on earth.”
Palm Sunday’s really just regal acknowledgement of this: that Jesus is God’s holy Servant, finally arrived to great fanfare, come to accomplish the greatest work, which is in no way regal or enchanting but complete humiliation. Recall the rest of what Paul said, “[Jesus]…being found in appearance as a man…humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8)
Why sing his song this day? Because when you put it together, he accomplished his mission with strength in humility. He did not cry out for his own protection or serve his own designs, even when tortured and bent and finally broken. In selfless humility, he was mighty to quietly, fully accomplish the mission…his death at the cross to set forth God’s justice. But justice is always to be applied among people. So he accomplished his mission with you in mind: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
You have seen bruises and are bent by the relentlessness of the sinful world… You smolder just barely at times… You long for things made right and often try to make them so… And he carefully serves you with the justice he sets forth. And, as Isaiah speaks of God’s believing children here, he’s not talking about condemning sins justice… He’s talking about Justice where God puts all the human sins onto Jesus (and under God’s wrath they are punished), and where God sets Jesus’ own, innate goodness/rightness/holiness onto the records of all “nations” (v.1) on the face of “the whole earth” (v.4) for all to see – that they are just before God by his service. That they might believe it.
You see, that’s why Isaiah says the Servant’s work is “faithful”. If you’re a faithful employee, usually it means not just that you get things done but that sometime else has recognized it – they can trust you. In Isaiah’s language that word means the kind of work you can be certain of, it’s dependable, confirmed… It’s made to be the thing on which you depend as you live. Jesus’ work of living and dying and rising to life again to forgive your sins and strengthen you when you are bent under burdens and to gently kindle your faith that is going out… That work is meant to be the teaching in which you put your “hope” (v.4).
On this confirmation day – whether remembering your own or thinking of theirs – put your faith – your trust – your confidence that God has accomplished justice – put it right here in Jesus, God’s servant. That’s most appropriate on a day where faith is confessed – our faith is in Jesus Christ and not in ourselves. It’s most appropriate for Isaiah 42 – a prophecy about Jesus Christ and his service to us. It’s the most appropriate thing we could possibly sing.
But, you know, even in Isaiah 42 and the Servant Song, God’s people eventually sing their own song in response. And actually, that’s what our confirmands will do with us later in the service. They’ll sing about the author of creation, the Lord of every man, whose cry of love rings out across the lands. That’s good and right too, because we too are servants of the Lord. God has sent his Spirit into your hearts to fill them with faith; he has also sent you out to serve people and equips you for that service by his Spirit. Service to show God’s justice and to work for it yourselves in fairness and accommodation for others, to serve others who are bent and broken with friendship and hospitality and encouragement… And, most of all, to serve as light to the world so that they might see. So that when they ask you where your hope is placed, you sing it out: how the greatest one has humbly served us in the greatest way. You see, when we sing the Servant’s song, it becomes the servants’ song – a confirmation in our hearts and mouths and lives of our hope and our salvation.
May the one who rode into Jerusalem to hosanna and praise be with you by his Spirit and encourage you with his humble work so that your hope is always in him – in this life and into the next.