Tomorrow it all begins. Tomorrow morning Jesus sends His disciples to find the man with the jug of water who leads them to the Upper Room where Jesus final teachings will happen, where Jesus will institute the Feast of His Body and Blood, and where Jesus will wash their feet, the final prefiguring of all that He is about to do for them and for the world.
So it is only fitting that tonight we hear of what will drive Jesus through the agonizing events of His last 24 hours. Yes, it is love for His Father and for His creation. Yes, it is a desire to see salvation won. But as Isaiah shows, it’s really divine, righteous wrath that will drive Jesus through those 24 hours, of betrayal, of illegal trials, of the cowardice of Pilate, of the envious hatred of the Jews. But He’s not mad at them. He’s not a victim. He goes on purpose, not on accident. Jesus wrath is directed at Satan, and it has been growing for some 5,200 years. Jesus not only knows the suffering sin and Satan have brought to creation and to mankind through His omniscience, but He knows it personally, as the writer to the Hebrews teaches: we have a High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness because at every turn He was tempted just as we are, yet without sin.
That verse means that every temptation possible was known to Jesus. You name the sin, and Jesus was tempted with it. Because He is God, He was able to stand steadfast in the face of temptation. But that had two effects on Him. First, it increased His sympathy for us. He experienced in His own body what we experience daily. Second, it increased His wrath towards Satan, the murderer and liar.
So, Jesus goes through every part of His Passion filled with divine, righteous wrath. He treads Satan in anger and fury. And there is nothing gentle or kind about it. Isaiah’s images are graphic. Jesus comes out splattered with the blood of his enemies. He doesn’t just defeat them, but it is a bloody, vicious defeat. Satan’s head is violently crushed for what he has done to God’s creation and God’s people. His evil angels are stomped like grapes in a winepress. When death and life contend on the cross, even though it looks like Jesus takes the beating, He doesn’t. That’s just the appearance. The reality is that Satan fares even worse. Jesus will be raised from the dead, but Satan will be cast off, crushed to death, and thrown in to the lake of fire forever.
This is the lovingkindness of God. Jesus goes through this alone. He does deadly battle with Satan, all to free you, to forgive you, and to give you eternal life. He defeats that enemy, and by His death and resurrection defeats death, the last and greatest enemy.
As we stand now on the threshold of these greatest three days of Holy Week and of human history we hear Jesus speak to us to tell us what He is about to accomplish: “Surely your salvation is coming; behold His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. You shall be called The Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.
Hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is abundant redemption.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.