Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Glorious Wounds of God

The prophet Isaiah had been used of God from the last years of King Uzziah and into the reign of King Hezekiah. He had seen the rise of Assyria, the enslavement of the Northern Kingdom, and he had watched as Judah sank into idolatry and unbelief. Isaiah would not live to see it, but Judah would be carried away into Babylon. His warnings would go unheeded.

But within the inspired writings of Isaiah lived a vision that was breathtaking and marvelous. God had chosen this man to see in great detail God’s coming Messiah, and the articulate nature of his vision seemed at odds with what Israel desired and expected. Oh yes, there were many verses that spoke of glory and grandeur, and there was great hope enunciated through his words. But delicately placed within his rebukes and encouragement were words of perplexity and bewilderment.

The core of these confusing words is found in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah’s prophecies. These words, these astonishing and excruciating words, would be misinterpreted and softened to accommodate the general thought of the people of Israel. In fact, many attributed them to a description of the sufferings of the nation of Israel itself. What other explanation could be found for such words of anguish and distress?

Who hath believed our report?

Surely this could not refer to the Messiah since He must come in great glory and power. He would rule with a rod of iron and He would deliver Israel from their bondage. These sufferings and humiliations could never apply to the shining Messiah. Never. Absolutely never. But could they…?

Among all the hidden treasure of future glory, and future dancing, and future deliverance, there was a treasure that could not be understood, and surely not even considered. This treasure was to be anticipated like Christmas morning, but this treasure would be shocking when found. This is not what earthly treasure hunters would seek, and this treasure would drape its glory in a crimson hue surrounded by those who denied its worth altogether. This treasure would not be found by seekers as much as it would itself seek to find those to whom it could bestow its wealth.

This reading of the prophet’s words does not draw many excited listeners. It speaks of defeat and gloom, and it is consumed with pathos and heartbreak so at odds with the upbeat atmosphere of today’s desired culture. These words are presented with the preamble, “Who hath believed our report?” Who indeed will believe what narrative these words are painting, and upon what fresco they will be painted. When the prophet Habakkuk asked God what was He doing about the Babylonians as they plundered Judah, God told Habakkuk that even if He told him he would not believe it. And the priceless apocalyptic glimpse within these few words would be unimaginable as well.

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

And in verse two the Spirit begins a future portrait, one that had been put to a sovereign canvas long before the worlds were made. One that would become the one and only foundation upon which God would call a people and build a church. But what is this we see? What words are these – no beauty, no desire, dry ground?? Surely there must be something lost in the translation. Even a fleeting glimpse of God and His glory had produced no such mirrors of Who He is. God passes with His back toward Moses, and for a moment Moses looked, and the face of a man called Moses had to be hidden lest it blind all others. That is God and that must be the Messiah.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
And verse three travels further into the absurd when it describes someone who clearly had no place among men, and who clearly had nothing to offer. And how could Israel despise their own Messiah? And instead of coming with a sweeping glory and a colossal entrance that is worthy of a king, this description uses words like sorrows and grief. By all accounts, this cannot be the One for whom we are looking.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
The chosen One of Israel was stricken? And to add to the confusion, this verse seems to indicate that we mistook the burdens of our sorrows and grief for the afflictions of God Himself. What is he saying here? Is the prophet suggesting that we caused this grief and this sorrow and this affliction, and yet we blamed it on God?? Oh no, this can never be and we cannot but dismiss such a thought.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Oh please, my ears cannot hear and my heart cannot receive such news. Where was I in the prophet’s words and how did my iniquities fall upon this man? We must refuse such picturesque gore and we must retreat to the comfort of the Glorious One who comes to deliver us and lead us into victory! There can be no symmetry in these two visions of God’s coming Messiah, so we are forced to reject the written mural that so shames us and portrays Him as receiving punishment rather than dispensing it.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities
Who can know this blasphemous conundrum? Who can describe the color red to a man born blind; and who can teach an ant to speak; and who can see the center of the Earth; and who can understand this saying? The same God who will send this Messiah, chosen before anything was, will be pleased to bruise Him? Can our hearts know any deeper insanity than this? How many days or months or years of meditation will this require before the illumination comes forth? And when this illumination comes forth and guides the mind into the trustworthiness of this mystery, will it bring us any closer to comprehension?
And how shall we approach the travail of His soul? To what shall we liken the travail that is an offering for sin? And how can we embrace such massacre knowing it is the looking glass into the wretchedness of our own selves? Count the sufferings of all mankind throughout history; enumerate the oceans of tears spilled by human grief; listen to the pleas of countless children as they suffer without an ounce of understanding; and multiply the heartaches that stalk humankind until they pounce upon each and every sinner born of woman. The answer to those tallies are worthless comparisons to the griefs pronounced in and upon this man.
But let us go further into a reality filled with violence, pain, and savagery. Step into the inventory of sins, all sins, committed and omitted by mankind as a whole. How many documentaries and accounts of one serial murder's sins have astounded our senses and disgusted our sensibilities? How many massacres has history provided for us in a sterilized context of literary comfort, and yet even with a reality buffer it can still manage to evoke emotion? How many sins are accumulated in one sinner’s life? One hundred? One thousand? Untold millions?? How many sins have been committed in totality among the complete compilation of human kind? And how many are added to that figure daily?
And yet in six hours Almighty God will be satisfied? What does it feel like to suffer for one sin, and yet in six hours the Messiah will suffer for all the sins of the world? And He had no sin of Himself but was willing to suffer for others; others that would despise and reject Him? We live in an amazing age of technology and knowledge. Quantum mechanics, the Theory of Relativity, the Hubble telescope, organ transplants, moon walks, vehicle trips that pass between Saturn and its rings, all these and more reveal a time of great human achievement.
So how can the bloody wounds of one Jew be the doorway to eternal life? How can the sufferings of this son of Judah satisfy the Creator in our place? Has God not seen what we have accomplished? Is He blind to the lifestyles we have carved out in His creation? Are we still to believe that God can only be satisfied by the gruesome wounds inflicted upon this pitiful figure? Can we allow ourselves to believe this Jew was the divine Messenger that would become the Servant of His enemies?
Who can describe your wounds, O Lord? Yes we can see the blood and the ripped skin and we can hear your cries, and we can see and understand the sufferings your body endured. But how, O Lord, can we ever touch the depths of your inward sufferings? With what tool do we measure how you suffered for so many sins and in so little time? And where can we find a place where we can touch the spiritual dimensions worthy of the staggering depths of Your sufferings? We cannot, dear Jesus, we cannot.
We are resigned, joyously resigned, to fall before Your cross and worship You. O for a thousand tongues to sing, and how can it be, and O sacred Head now wounded, and lead me to Calvary. There are no words, no human words that will ever suffice in describing what You have done. And there is no expressions of the heart that can be compared with Your scarlet labor. Sacred is the place and hallow is the sight. The stone will soon roll away to be sure, but when I survey that wondrous cross I am undone. It is there I find my life among the dying, and it is there I find comfort in those sufferings. Please continue to bid me to be an audience again and again before this Suffering Servant as He writhes for me. To say I did not deserve this sacrifice is to shamefully state the obvious and make a clumsy attempt at some false humility. Let the awesome spectacle speak for itself, for in the silence of a beaten and bloody corpse the God of all Creation has and will continue to speak forever.
The eternal glory of this Servant and His sufferings will always be the clearest looking glass into the heart of the Everlasting God.

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