Faithlife Sermons

Who Has Believed Our Report

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Mid-Week Lenten Series on Isaiah's Suffering Servant. This sermon is based on the material of Pastor Rolf Preus.

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The greatest work of God is faith in the human heart. People think faith is easy. And if not easy, at least faith is possible. It’s just a matter of deciding. The famous preacher, Billy Graham, popularized the idea of faith as a decision. His radio broadcast was called “Hour of Decision.” His magazine was called “Decision.” He ended his sermons with an altar call, giving people a chance to exercise their free will and decide for Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
In contrast to this optimistic idea of our so-called free will, we have the words of Isaiah: “Who has believed our report?” The answer is: no one. Humanly speaking, no one has believed, and no one can believe the gospel. Faith is not hard for men, it’s impossible. You can choose to drive a Ford or a Chevy. You can choose to wear a red shirt or a green one. But you can’t choose to believe in Jesus any more than a baby can choose to be conceived.
To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? The arm of God is his strength and power. This is a reference to Christ who comes into the world to do battle on our behalf. But look at how he appears: He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground. A young plant is weak and fragile. This is the arm of the Lord? This is the King of Glory? The heathen king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in which he was a mighty tree. The whole world came to him to nest in his branches and find rest under his shadow. But the King of Kings is a young plant and a root out of dry ground? Nobody plants a root in dry soil, in a desert, expecting it to grow. At best it would be stunted and sickly. And so, the Arm of the Lord appears as a weakling. He looks like a loser. The mighty power of God meekly submits to injustice and oppression. Jesus goes to the cross.
He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. When we look at Jesus with natural eyes, we don’t see the power of God. We see a weakling. We see a man who is powerless against evil. There’s nothing about him that’s attractive. Nobody wants to emulate him. No one wants to share in his suffering. No one would ever make a decision for him. In fact, your free will makes the only choice that it can. Free will turns away from Christ because it’s bound to do so. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Have you ever seen someone who is such a loser that it was painful even to watch? You had to cover your eyes and turn away? This is our Savior, and not only did we hide our faces, we esteemed him not. We looked at him and counted his life as worth nothing. He was of no value to us. What good is a Messiah who’s powerless against evil? Jesus is like a lifeguard – but instead of helping us make it to shore, he swims out and drowns!
Jesus was no hero. That’s what we must understand to obtain the true and saving faith and not be offended by his humility and weakness. He’s not a hero. He is despised and rejected. When things got tough the crowd abandoned him, his disciples ran away – only a few stood by him to the bitter end. He wasn’t mobbed by adoring fans in the hours before his death. He was despised and we did not esteem him.
Heroes go into battle and against all odds find a way to win. When all hope seems lost, they outmuscle, or outgun, or outsmart the enemy. Not Jesus. Though he’d been fighting the devil for years, when the climactic battle came, he prepared for death, not victory. He said to his disciples, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me” (Mt 26:38). Then he prayed. But those he asked to watch with him fell asleep. He struggled in prayer alone, sweating drops of blood, asking his Father if there were some way he could avoid the suffering of the cross. But there was no other way. It was the will of the Father for him to drink to its bitter dregs the cup of all human suffering and sorrow. And while the Lord Jesus was enduring a depth of sorrow no man has ever known, those closest to him were too tired to wait with him, too tired to encourage him, too preoccupied with their own concerns to pray with him. As Isaiah said, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
God would do us a favor by showing us how fickle and unreliable we truly are, so that we might find in the arm of the Lord our only strength. To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? It’s been revealed to those who’ve examined their hearts and lives and desires and found themselves to be incapable of true faith. Consider these familiar words: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.” Every Lutheran confesses this from the Small Catechism. You’ve said these words, but did you listen to what you were actually saying? I believe – that I cannot believe!?! That’s craziness!
Who has believed our report? No one would believe it except for the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The whole world would turn away from this foolishness. You know the old saying, “If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burnt.” The Old Adam doesn’t want to die, so he tries to avoid getting too close to the cross. And yet, Jesus invites his followers to share in his suffering and death? This has to be the worst sales pitch ever. There’s enough suffering already in the world. Why would anyone sign up for more?
But there’s a bigger reason we hide our faces from him. Sinful man rejects and despises the sorrow of the Servant, esteems him not, doesn’t want to look upon the suffering of Christ. Why not? Because, look at the source of his sorrow! He sorrows over your sin. He suffers because of your sin. Luther writes, “When you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts” (LW 42:9). It hurts us to see this. It cuts, but it’s the truth, and faith does not look away. Instead, faith looks upon the cross of Christ and confesses, “Here is my handiwork. Here is the sum of my sinful living, my selfish thoughts, yes, even my good intentions. Here is the best I have to offer God.” Look upon his cross and see the best, the strength of men. Yes, his sorrow is great because your sin was great. Look upon the cross and see the weakness of God. The Suffering Servant crushed and dying, weighted down beneath the strength and sin of the world.
But the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. This foolish spectacle is wiser than all the wisdom of men (1 Cor 1:25). Yes, your sin was great, but your Savior is greater still! And he was willing to bear the scorn of humanity for your sake so that through him you would find favor with God. He was willing to take your sin upon himself, to become sin for us, so that you could be called the righteousness of God.
Who has believed our report? You have! To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? The saving strength of the Lord has been revealed to you! For by the mercy of God, he has granted you faith – just as he promised through the prophet Zechariah: “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, they will look on me, on him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10a).
And so we do not look away. We don’t hide our faces from him. We look to the cross, to the Suffering Servant whom we pierced, and we see the death of our sin, the death of death itself. We look to the cross and after the sorrow, we find joy. The world turns away in disgust, but here at the cross we embrace him. For from this barren hill flows the forgiveness of sins, the root of Jesse springing from the dry earth of Calvary. Here we find our champion, our hero, our victor. Here, in his weakness, we find our strength. In his condemnation we find our salvation. And in his death we find life eternal. Amen.
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