The Suffering Servant
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9)
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3a, 4)
If you look at the gospel accounts of Palm Sunday, the headings describe this day as the Triumphal Entry. Jesus’ march into Jerusalem was marked with a chorus of praise and adoration from the crowds that was fit for a king’s victory parade. They shouted praises to the Lord. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They cut down palm branches, waved them in the air, and placed them at the feet of the donkey Jesus rode on. They took off their cloaks and lined the road with them. Jesus was recognized as the true King that he was—the King of all creation.
But even in the midst of this triumphal entry, the shadow of the cross was looming for this King, who was also the Suffering Servant. Some wondered, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10) Even his disciples did not understand all that was happening (John 12:16). Still worse, Jesus’ enemies rebuked him, “Tell your disciples to be quiet!” They hated how the crowds adored him, while they plotted to kill him.
Even on Palm Sunday, the words of the prophet Isaiah rang true. “He was despised and rejected by mankind.” Jesus, the one who knew where a donkey would be and what the owners of the donkey would say before his disciples went to get it, also knew the suffering that was before him. And he didn’t back away. Because that’s what a king, a true king, does for his people. He doesn’t back away from doing what needs to be done to keep them safe, to bring them peace and salvation.
This Holy Week, as the shadow of Jesus’ cross looms, remember why Jesus rode into Jerusalem. “He took up our pain and bore our suffering.” Jesus went there for you. Jesus bore the punishment for your sin. He became sin for you (2 Corinthians 5:21), so that you could be called a child of God and an heir of heaven.
Praise the King—because he was willing to be a Suffering Servant.
Dear Jesus, thank you for humbling yourself to be a Suffering Servant for us. Lead us to hail you as the true King in all we do. Amen.
Rev. Nicolas Schmoller serves Martin Luther College as a professor of theology and Greek.