Midweek 6 - April 13, 2011
The Lamb of God Who Suffered Scorn
“Lamb of God, pure and holy,” we sing. That’s what we call Him, this Savior who is our King. But not everyone would second our praise. Many in our community are not thinking of Jesus tonight, and if they were to think of Jesus, they would not likely call Him the pure and holy Lamb of God.
It was the same at Calvary. Those who passed by hurled insults at Jesus that day, shaking their heads and mocking Him: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but He can’t save Himself! He’s supposed to be the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God, or so He says. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, “I am the Son of God”’” (Matthew 27:39–43).
Scorn. That’s what it was—pure scorn, outright ridicule of God’s anointed, contempt for the Messiah of the Lord. It is astounding how Jesus could tolerate such blatant mockery; yet He bore that scorn unflinchingly. We sing about it in our hymn: “ever patient and lowly, Thyself to scorn didst offer” (LSB 434).
It will not always be that way, of course. One day every eye shall see Jesus as He is, when He comes in glory. Then every knee shall bow, unbelievers, too, will finally be forced to admit before the awesome judgment throne that Jesus Christ is Lord, though for them it will be too late. The true identity of Jesus remains hidden until that day. Only faith can see in this Man of Sorrows the true Son of God, Light from Light and very God from very God. There is a dramatic contrast between who Jesus truly is and what He appeared to be during His earthly ministry.
That is why Jesus suffered scorn. On Palm Sunday throngs of people welcomed Jesus into the royal city of Jerusalem with triumphant cries and hailed Him King, saying “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Strangely enough, five days later many of them no doubt were in the jeering mob that mocked and scorned Him. “Oh, so He’s the ‘King of Israel,’ is He? Let’s see Him come down from the cross; then we’ll believe in Him,” the crowds cried.
But Jesus didn’t, did He? Jesus could not come down from the cross because He would not. He was bound and determined to carry through with God’s cosmic plan to rescue and ransom a fallen world. Not even hell itself could deter Jesus from His chosen mission to offer Himself as the innocent sacrifice for all our sin. He is the Lamb of God—and tonight we remember that He is our Lamb who endured the scorn of men to win the final victory.
You and I don’t tolerate scorn very well. We are so interested in protecting our rank and status that we have grown accustomed to laying low; we don’t want to stand out in the crowd. We usually knuckle under fairly quickly when our reputation is at stake. We don’t want to lose face, and we would do almost anything to protect ourselves.
We are quite reluctant to let our lights shine in the darkness of an unbelieving world because we fear the scorn of skeptics. It’s unpopular to take a stand on moral issues in an age where a “live and let live” attitude is expected, where people choose their own lifestyle and give no thought as to how that compares to the holy commandments of God. In such a moral climate it’s unpopular to stand for common decency and order, moral purity, marital faithfulness, integrity and truth. When you take such stands you are considered weird, you just don’t fit in, and very quickly you find yourself on the outside looking in.
And what happens then? After getting hurt a few times by the cutting remarks of others, you shut up. You let vile and foul expressions go unchallenged. You look the other way when people live as though there were no God. You remain silent when God’s holy name is defiled and abused, when His Church is scorned and ridiculed. You just don’t want to pay the price.
That is the way it goes among us. We can’t tolerate the abuse, so we remain silent rather than bearing testimony to what we know is right. We wink at sin and go along with the crowd. Sometimes we even set aside our hesitation and join in, all because we cannot stand the scorn.
Thank God it was not so at Calvary. Our Savior bore the insults and mockery of His enemies that day just as bravely as He endured the bodily torture inflicted by the soldiers. All that was child’s play compared to the unimaginable agony of the Father’s wrath that Jesus endured because He bore our sin. The fury of God against a scornful world and all its sin was unleashed fully upon His beloved Son, because Christ carried all our sins upon His sinless back that day He died. If just one sin can send a soul to hell and call forth God’s fierce anger, think what Jesus endured as He bore the sins of all humanity in one fell swoop.
Yet this is the measure of God’s love: that He would go that far, not sparing His only Son but freely giving Him up for us, for you and me, for one and all no matter who we are or what we have done. And Christ’s death earns us the forgiveness for the sins of which we are ashamed, including all those times we have caved in under pressure and were not willing to pay the price of ridicule or feel the bite of scorn.
As it was with David, so it was with Jesus upon His cross. “I am a worm and not a man,” wrote King David, “scorned by men and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6). That is the way it went for David for much of his life: hunted by his enemies and rejected by his people because he did not look like who he actually was, a king. They took David for a pipsqueak of a man, a herder of sheep, some backwater boy—not the Lord’s anointed, the rightful king of Israel. Many times David was under attack and his life was in danger. No wonder, then, that in this psalm David called out to the Lord in anguish, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me?” (Psalm 22:1).
That was only dress rehearsal for what happened centuries later on the hill called Golgatha, the place of the skull. Here the Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel hung in open shame and degradation, nailed on a cross to die a horrific death. Abandoned by most of His friends and scorned by all His enemies, among Jesus’ words from the cross were those of David: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). So low had Jesus stooped in His redeeming love that God His loving Father abandoned Him and turned His back on Him in righteous fury against our sin.
Yet this, too, is the measure of His love for sinners like you and me. So deep was His sorrow, so sharp His pain, so bitter His despair that Jesus understood Himself to be subhuman: “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6). In these words we catch the sarcasm in the gloating eyes of the temple authorities; we glimpse the triumphant contempt of the Pharisees. We can almost see their poisoned, mocking lips and their conceited, wagging heads: “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue Him. Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him” (Psalm 22:8). They thought they had the last word that day at Calvary, but they did not.
Jesus’ mocking and jeering enemies did not see the whole picture. That humiliating death He died was more than it appeared to be. He truly was the Son of God, though He looked more like a worm than a man. Jesus truly was the head over all things for His Church, though He looked more like a fool than a King.
That is the way it remains to this very day. All those who know Jesus by faith confess Him to be both Lord and God, but those who reject Him go on mocking Him, for they do not see Jesus as He really is. He is actually God wrapped in human flesh, but only the eyes of faith can see that. Many people today think of Jesus as one more religious guru among others: Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, Jesus—take your pick.
You can call Jesus “Teacher,” and there is little reaction. But call Him “God” and you will be jeered and mocked because the world despises everything the Creator treasures. That is the way it is in this fallen world, and so it will remain until Jesus comes again in glory to bring down the curtain on this created world and usher in the kingdom yet to come.
Christ’s gifts are real, wrapped within those means. Forgiveness, life, and salvation we call those gifts. But these means are not some religious gibberish. The Gospel that is preached to us is the very power of God for salvation to all who believe. When the called servants of Christ say, “I forgive you all your sins,” they are forgiven. Such forgiveness is as valid and certain in heaven as if Christ had spoken to us Himself. When we are washed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that water is not plain water. It is water included in God’s command and promise. Because of the Word of God wrapped within that water, Holy Baptism is a gracious bath of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. When we eat the bread of the Holy Supper and drink the cup of the Lord in that sacred Meal, we show forth the Lord’s death until He comes. It may look like bread and wine, but that bread we break is a communion in the body of Christ, and the cup we bless is a communion in His holy, precious blood. All this is for the forgiveness of our sins.
We should not take these gifts for granted, for they come with a high price. The very Lamb of God suffered the scorn of men and the wrath of God to deliver these gifts to us in this place. So we keep coming to receive them, then we leave to live our lives made whole and new out there, where we are called to love God in our neighbor.