Friday, December 2, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 153

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 153

The suffering of the Servant comes into focus more clearly in Isaiah's prophetic vision of Christ. We learned yesterday that Jesus looked like an average man of His times, who blended in and was difficult to pick out of the crowd. It wasn't how He looked that set Him apart; it was what He did and said. And today we learn that, by the time Pilate's soldiers had beaten Him and nailed Him to the cross, His appearance was so shocking that people hid their faces from the sight. Terrible as the crucifixion was, we are going to do our best not to describe it in graphic terms as we discuss what Isaiah foresaw. Most of us have seen depictions of it in film and they are horrific to watch, even toned down as they are from what Jesus' experience was truly like. But I want to preserve, as much as possible, the dignity of the Servant who took our shame and disgrace and punishment. 

"He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem." (Isaiah 53:3) Bible scholar Adam Clarke compares the hiding of the face to the requirement that a person stricken with leprosy must cover the lower half of the face. He is saying something like, "We looked on Him as we would have looked on a leper. We hid our faces at the sight of His injuries. We showed no compassion for His plight. We despised Him and held Him in low esteem as we would a contagious leper. None of us spoke up for Him when He stood accused. We let Him be sentenced to an excruciating death." 

Yesterday we talked about how all of us, at one time of another, have experienced some form of rejection. But I'd be willing to bet nobody has ever gasped and hidden their faces from us as they did at the sight of our Lord. There is nothing we can experience in this life that Jesus doesn't understand. He understands suffering and is familiar with pain: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Because of this the Scriptures assure us, "We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses." (Hebrews 4:15a) If the Son of God had not become incarnate, taking on human flesh, then we might have been able to say, "But You don't understand! You can't possibly know how I feel!" But Jesus knows what it is to be weary, to be hungry and thirsty, to be betrayed by close friends, to have others talk about Him behind His back, to have mankind accuse Him to His face, to literally be spit on, to suffer the cruel beating of the Roman soldiers and then to die a slow death on the cross while His accusers stood and gloated over His fate. Jesus knows what it's like to be terminally ill, in the sense that He knew there would be no reprieve. He had to stare death in the eye as His dear mother, along with the Apostle John and several women of faith, wept desperate tears, hoping for a miracle. Worst of all, Jesus experienced being abandoned by the Father as He took on the sins of the world. Then while His body lay in the tomb, He battled the powers of death and the grave and then rose in victory on Sunday morning. Yes, Jesus knows exactly how we feel. There is no circumstance we will ever go through that He cannot sympathize with.

"Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:4) In Old Testament times, people often had the attitude that dreadful circumstances only came upon those who harbored sin in their hearts. Remember how Job's friends accused him of secret sins? Job's friends believed he must have done something to bring his tragedies on himself, and this is how many viewed the Lord Jesus. Surely He couldn't be a righteous man if God didn't rescue Him! Surely a man who performed miracles and preached the word of God as no one had ever preached it before would have been spared the cross if He weren't a liar in claiming to be the Son of God! So as the onlookers watched, they believed in their hearts that justice had been done, that Pilate was correct in condemning Jesus to death, that the accusations of the chief priests must have been true or else God would have done something on Jesus' behalf. But it was our pain and suffering He bore on the cross, not His own. He was stricken and afflicted for our sins so that, if we would believe on Him, we would never experience God the Father turning His back on us, never have to face the punishment our sins deserve. Not only did Jesus bear our burden of sin on the cross, but He bears our daily burdens as we walk through this life, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." (Psalm 68:19)

Next we find what I think is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible, "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) Even if we had been beaten with many stripes for our sins, it would not save us. That would merely be the punishment we had earned, but there would be no redemption in it. But by His wounds we are healed of lives of sin and futility. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. A wage is something that has been earned, and we had earned death and eternal separation from the presence of God by our sins. But, as Paul also says, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. A gift is not something we have earned. A gift is something someone freely offers us out of love and out of the goodness of their heart. We could not earn eternal life for ourselves but, in Christ, God is able to offer this free gift to us. 

The people of Isaiah's day must have struggled with the message of a Redeemer who would suffer. Isaiah may have struggled to understand it himself, although he had the faith to accept whatever the Lord told him, even when he didn't understand it. The people may have wondered why Isaiah was telling them all this, why they as God's chosen people needed a Redeemer. And this is the answer, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) Isaiah includes himself in the "all" who have gone astray. When he first received his commission from the Lord, he cried out, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5) Isaiah could not fathom how God could take a man like him, whose mouth had uttered unclean things, and make him a prophet to the nation who could speak the word of the Lord. But redemption is a gift; it is not earned. If God had not offered us this gift, and if we did not accept it, we would all stand before Him at the judgment someday and cry, "Woe to me! I am ruined!" This is why the one Man took on the sins of all of us. The high priest Caiaphus unknowingly spoke words of prophecy when he said, "It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." (John 11:50) This is one time, maybe the only time, that God was in agreement with a man who scorned the Son. God too considered it better for us that one Man perish than that we all perish. This is why Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, why He took our stripes, why He was stricken and afflicted by God in our place. If He had not been willing to endure these things, we would be handed only the wages of our sins, not the free gift of salvation.

Some of the stripes the Lord took were for my own shameful sins and foolish mistakes. Some were for yours. If any of you have ever had children or even dearly loved pets, you know how helpless you feel when one of them is sick or hurt. You may have wished you could take their place. Well, this is exactly how God the Father felt when He saw how sick and hurt we were by our sins. But He actually had the power to take our place and, in the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ literally took our place. What an indescribable gift! It's more than my human mind can take in, that anyone could love us this much, that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us". (Romans 5:8) 

Below is a link to a beautiful worship song that goes well with today's passage.

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