No Going Back
Text: Isaiah 50:4–9a
Palm Sunday, A
4The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The season of lent is a time for us to listen more deeply and be taught more fully than we often would allow ourselves to be at other busy times of the year. It is our chance to give up on some of the distractions of the world around us and awaken ourselves to the love of God. As someone keenly observed, this lent we all gave up much more than we bargained for when this season began. But are we wiser for it? Have we learned what God would have us know? Are we ready to step up in these times of fear and uncertainty and sustain our friends and neighbours by the words we alone can share?
Probably not nearly as well as we could have, or should have. We are many of us just trying to hold it all together ourselves. When the going gets tough, or things get frightening, our first impulse is to turn back, stop up our ears, yell at the world (and maybe God) or run away and hide. When trouble strikes it is very easy to turn a deaf ear to God, turn back from His calling, retreat into ourselves. It is what God’s people in the Old Testament did. It is why God through Isaiah promised a different way to see them through the tough times. He promised them the Suffering Servant, the Messiah. While rebellious Israel turned a deaf ear to God, the Messiah would speak just as the Father taught Him. Words of comfort. Words of healing. Words of acceptance, faith, joy. Words of warning and of forgiveness. Therefore, a word from Him sufficed to sustain the weary.
5The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. While we might all wish that these words spoke of us, they are not ours, but the Lord’s. Because the Servant (Messiah) is listening, it follows that He cannot be rebellious. This sets Him apart from every other servant, prophet, or leader of Israel, as every single one had times in which they turned their back on the Lord. Only this Messianic Servant could claim to such obedience to the Lord.
Your Messiah is no coward, nor is He irresponsible nor ever rebellious. He did not shun the task nor neglect the mission assigned to Him. He faced it rather than turning His back to it. Even if it meant humbling Himself to the point of death on the cross. Make no mistake, Jesus knew full well where the road would lead, long before He placed a hand on the donkey that would bear Him into Jerusalem as the King sent from God. He could see beyond the palms and praises and parades to the whips, and spears, and cruel taunting laying just behind. Yet seeing all the suffering before Him, He still would not turn back.
6I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Willing to be abused, that’s what marks this servant. Pulling out of a beard was an ancient way of showing contempt and disrespect for that person. Just like you will witness of Jesus this week! And yet, not only does He not turn back, He literally gives His back to the cause. How do we know? Because He gave His back to the smiters! His holy back is draped in mocking purple robe, and He is beaten and blindsided. His innocent back is scourged with whips and then the instrument of His own crucifixion is dumped onto it for Him to drag to the place where He will die!
7But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. It is not easy, the burden He must bear … but He will not complain for having to bear it, nor will He feel ashamed at what it will cost. Even death is not a disgrace for this servant, who places His life in God’s hands. Jesus set His face when He resolutely set out for Jerusalem, knowing full well what was in store for Him there, because He also knew what it would mean for what will now be in store for us.
Because He did not turn away this pivotal day. Because He squared His shoulders to both the joy and the sorrow before Him, because He did not turn His back on us in our time of need ... we are now led back into the grace of God, brought face to face with His heavenly love and mercy.
8He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Guilty? The religious leaders tried to make a charge stick, but they could not. He was totally innocent. Yet this Jesus, our heavenly Servant is charged with all the sins of the world on that cross that awaits Him. God alone will declare Him guilty, for our sake. But He will also be vindicated and acquitted when He is raised from the dead. And even now He is at the right hand of God defending the innocence credited to all who appeal to Him for justification.
And in that very Good News is a promise to us. God stands by us no matter what happens: protecting us from shame and disgrace, supplying us with courage, and justifying us, defending us against enemies and false accusations and giving us light as we walk in darkness. We cannot see what lies ahead the way Jesus did, but even if we could, would it really change anything? Only He has the power to change what will be. And by not turning back He already has! And so for us there is no turning back either. We simply place our worries, and our fears, our troubles and our temptations over to God. These dark days will pass. New dark days will follow. But in them all we take our cue from Jesus the Suffering Servant, and our Hope from the Christ, the steadfast Messiah. We look to Him to be our helper because we know He will never turn His back on us in our time of need.