Preachers face a dilemma. People want entertainment from the pulpit, but God’s Word is not always entertaining. Pastors are counseled not to bring discomfort to the listeners. Yet Jesus violated that rule. Many sermons are little more than psychological dissertations seasoned with a little gospel, whereas they should be Biblical expositions with a theological base.
Hearing the words of today’s scriptural text, a listener might wonder if I am feeling well today. The answer is yes. I feel fine. However, if I expound the text, there will be little entertainment for the congregation.
Isaiah is telling us what God demanded as a payment for sins. He is also revealing how much God really loves this world. Listen to these words: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Not a pretty picture, is it, especially when I know Isaiah is telling what God did for me. That makes it very personal – too personal for some.
Mel Gibson, in his movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” gives his viewers a picture of Christ’s suffering and death that is faithful to the Scriptures. Have you seen the movie? I hope you have, or you will. I have seen “The Passion” twice. Neither time was I entertained. Nor did I buy popcorn for either showing, which is the normal menu at the theater.
The first time I saw the movie I could only respond by saying, “Too much.” There was simply too much beating. Was all of this beating necessary to get the point of Christ’s suffering across to the audience? Then I waited a few days and returned to the theater to see the picture again. Suddenly my feelings changed. It was not too much. This movie shows how seriously God takes sin and what Christ had to endure for me. It reveals how much God loves me. He was willing to suffer so that I might live with the assurance that He forgives my sins. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, I know I have a place in heaven.
To understand this text and what happened at the cross, one has to be truly convicted of their sin. There is no real meaning to these words, “Your sins are forgiven,” until we see ourselves as lost and condemned creatures. We cannot pay for our own sins.
However, we do not like this message. Therefore, those of us living in the Postmodern Age have devised other ways to deal with our sins. Our culture has adopted a philosophy that there are no ultimate truths. We have become masters at rationalizing our sin. Here are a few examples:
Bill Clinton committed adultery in the Oval office. He was impeached, but continued to serve. How could this happen? It was not treated as sin, grievous to God, but forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Instead our country adopted the attitude: Who of us are without sin? Look at all the good the President has done for our country. He continued to serve as our President, not needing a Savior in the minds of the masses.
Not to be partisan, Richard Nixon was found guilty of lying to the nation in the Watergate scandal. He was forced to leave office, but later pardoned by the new President and treated as a hero in the minds of many.
How can this be? Nixon felt that to know the truth about Watergate would be more than the average citizen could handle. So he shielded the nation from the gory facts of what happened. Christ never came into the picture. Nixon did not need a Savior. After all, he was President of the most powerful nation in the world. Besides that, he was successful in opening trade with China for us, and look what that meant in monetary gain.
Martha Stewart is found guilty of lying to the courts. However, we should overlook the wrong she did, for it is just society’s way of punishing the successful and wealthy. Jesus is not needed in this case.
Mary Brown (a fictitious person where you can place your name) and Homer Larsen are guilty of a sharp tongue, a critical spirit, an unforgiving attitude, etc. Well, this is no big deal. We are all sinners, and see how much good we do to balance the bad things that come from us. No Savior is needed.
We cannot overemphasize the love of God. However, neither can we neglect preaching the righteousness of God. It is at this point that this sermon is not entertaining, and people are made to feel uncomfortable. Two rules have been broken now that make the message a good sermon in the minds of many listeners. However, remember our theme is Experiencing Ultimate Wholeness. What is needed to experience this state of mind and soul?
When the Law of God gets done with us, we are broken people. This is not where God wants to leave us. He too wants us to experience this ultimate wholeness. This includes peace, comfort, freedom from all guilt, and true joy. He wants us to leave the worship service saying, “Yes, I am guilty, and lost without hope. However, I am forgiven, saved, and restored into fellowship with God for all eternity.” This is ultimate wholeness.
How can this happen? Christ alone is the answer. Notice the words of our text. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities . . . by his wounds we are healed.” Notice how personal this is.
“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness,” the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us.
St. John writes, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”
Peter says, “You know that you were not redeemed with perishable things, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish.”
To use the computer as an example, our sins are on the screen. Because of Christ’s atonement for these sins, when we pray with the Publican of old, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” our Father hits the delete key, and our sins are no more. Then, and only then, do we experience ultimate wholeness. That is the Gospel.
Think of it! At the end of the day, we can know that our sins are forgiven and there is peace for the night. In the morning, our Lord takes us by the hand to walk with us through another day. When we slip and fall, He picks us up and sends us on our way.
This is life with Jesus.