Messianic Expectations

Text: Isaiah 53
Date: Good Friday + 4/6/12

When the prophet Isaiah penned these words about the coming Savior, “he was wounded for our transgressions,” surely no one, you would think, maybe even the prophet himself, considered the wounds of which he wrote to be actual, physical bruises and gashes of the skin. No, this promised king, this descendant of David would surely be the victorious deliverer defeating all those who would bring any harm or attempt to enslave God’s people ever again. Maybe the prophet meant that the coming Messiah would be “wounded” by harsh words, false accusations or unkind names, not by “sticks and stones.” As he said, He would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Surely He would “bear our griefs and carry our sorrows” in His heart like a kind and sympathetic counselor or friend, not by actually enduring the same grief or sorrow we are going through. “Smitten by God and afflicted,” “the chastisement that brings us peace” would be but a temporary discipline and the “stripes” of our healing would be like those worn by a victorious military officer embroidered on the shoulder or the arm. “Oppressed and afflicted” He wouldn’t need to speak but overwhelm His enemies with His actions. “By oppression and judgment” we have been taken away into captivity and enslavement of sin. So maybe He would experience our sense of the unfairness of life and bring us back out to a better life, for the prophet said, “he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

What really were they to believe; how literally were God’s people to take these words written some 700 years before the coming of the Christ, and now we some 2000 years after? It was, maybe, that these prophesies were so literally fulfilled when Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and risen again from the dead that everyone missed or misunderstood what was happening right before their eyes on that first Passover Friday we call “Good.” For, the leaders of both church and state truly despised and rejected Him. The sorrow and grief were a matter of life and death for Him. The wounds and stripes were real gashes and bloody punctures. His silence, His refusal to complain or protest, shouted His innocence. He was “taken away” not as a prisoner to a jail cell but by execution on a cross. The “judgment” He endured was not only that of men but also and especially of God; God’s judgment against the sin of the whole world. And He endured that judgment, the hell of total abandonment by God for us.

A number of years ago Mel Gibson’s theatric portrayal of “The Passion of the Christ” was considered too violent and offensive for modern day sensibilities. According to the internet web page “rottentomatoes.com,” one critic wrote, “If I were a Christian, I’d be appalled to have this primitive and pornographic bloodbath presume to speak for me.” Of course if he were really a Christian he would see that his disgust should be aimed at human sin as the reason behind the bloodbath, and maybe he could begin to see straight as to what should truly shock us.

The four evangelists tell us that this was the goal, the purpose for which God took on our flesh of the virgin Mary, namely, to offer Himself as the only pure and perfect human sacrifice that takes away sin and the judgment of God against us. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us of the confession of the Roman centurion who, when he saw how Jesus died, confessed, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” St. John, however, knows that you have read those Gospels and therefore, as with so many other details, doesn’t include this one. Rather, he includes his own eyewitness testimony and the goal, “that you also may believe” (19:35).

We need to hear this Gospel over and over again, because faith, true, saving faith comes by hearing. And we are so tempted to misunderstand the truth of the matter: the bloody sacrifice of God for the liberation and life of the world. That it truly happened is a matter of record, undeniable, historical record. That it makes any difference for you is a matter of faith.

“He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”