Isaiah 53 – Part 4

sheep

“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, NIV).

I find it interesting that the Prophet Isaiah would use the metaphor of sheep to describe human beings. Certainly, shepherding was a common occupation in Bible times. Moses and David each spent their fair share of time tending their flocks. Likewise, it was a band of misfit shepherds who first heard the angelic proclamation of the Messiah’s birth. Still, the comparison of people to livestock may be one that makes some of us feel, well, a bit sheepish.

Behaviorally, sheep are unique creatures in the animal world. Unlike cattle, sheep are not wrangled, prodded along, forced to move from one place to another. Rather, sheep are coaxed in the direction of their shepherd’s voice, which they are adept at recognizing. They hear their shepherd’s call and somehow understand that he is leading them to better pasture.

With the words, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19, NIV), Jesus invited his first disciples to experience his goodness. He does the same for each of us today. He never forces us into a relationship with himself. Rather, he simply calls us.

Like sheep, we have a tendency to stray. With so many voices offering so many “good” things, we sometimes wander from our Good Shepherd and the abundance he offers. Still, Jesus is never afraid to pursue us. For not only is he our Shepherd, but he is our Savior. Jesus took our sin upon himself and offered up his life to save us.

Isaiah 53 – Part 3

crown of thorns

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 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 53:4-5, NIV).

Throughout human history, man has been unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions. We see this in the first human beings, Adam and Eve, who traded Paradise for a taste of forbidden fruit. Before their shamed exit from Eden, each placed the blame on another. “…‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree…’ ” (Genesis 3:12, NIV) were the excuse-laden words of Adam. Eve’s response to God was no better, that “…‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’ ” (Genesis 3:13, NIV).

In Isaiah 53:4-5 we witness further scapegoating and blame-placing. The prophet states that “…we considered (Jesus) punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4, NIV, emphasis added), as if God the Father was at fault for all that Jesus went through on the cross and that we were virtually blameless. But consider Isaiah’s words. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53;4-5, NIV, emphasis added). Clearly it was our sin that led Jesus to the cross, and any role that the Heavenly Father played in Jesus’ suffering and death was born only out of necessity.

I find it difficult to think of God as a wrathful, vengeance-filled Father, who would take any sort of pleasure or satisfaction in the bloodied execution of his beloved Son. Rather, I imagine the Father’s thoughts wrenched and his heart broken. Surely it offended him to see the sin of the world embodied in the sacrifice of his Son, but it pained him even more to see all that Jesus had to experience to redeem mankind.

Truly, God’s love is great, and it’s aimed directly at our hearts. Jesus died momentarily that we would live eternally. Let’s honor the sacrifice he made.

Isaiah 53 – Part 2

isaiah 53“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3, NIV).

Jesus was God’s great offering to mankind, gift-wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger. He forfeited his Heavenly home to take on the flesh of man, to live a life of example, and to die a criminal’s death. Through it all, Jesus would bring salvation to the world, eternity to humanity. Yet collectively we despised and rejected him.

Such behavior was evidenced within the first years of Jesus’ life, yes, even before his birth. From the Bethlehem innkeeper’s proclamation of “no room in the inn” to King Herod’s attempt to eliminate Jesus and any perceived threat he posed, rejection, time and again, would be Jesus’ lot in life. As an adult, Jesus would face harassment from the supposed religious leaders of the time. His message would often fall upon spiritually deaf ears and hardened hearts. Even his closest of allies would leave him to fend for himself in his dark and final days. “Crucify him” would be the rallying cry of humanity, and Jesus would suffer the ultimate fate of death on a cross.

Yes, Jesus was, as the words of Isaiah proclaim, “a man of suffering” who was “familiar with pain”. And certainly, such suffering and pain was brought about by the cruelty of the crucifixion – the lashings and beatings, the nails that were driven, and the crown that was worn. But perhaps Jesus’ greatest suffering and pain was brought about by our rejection of who he was and what he came to do.

It would be inaccurate to say that such dismissal and rejection, such disdain and hatred directed at Jesus are merely something of the past. For whenever we fail to recognize the gift he offers, salvation and life, it’s as if we are crucifying him anew. Whenever we yield willingly to sin, or when we reason that we can somehow earn our way without him, the proverbial nails are driven over and again.

Jesus came to Earth so that we could attain Heaven. He died so that we could live. Let’s therefore accept the gift and so honor the giver.

Isaiah 53 – Part 1

jesus picture“…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him… Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2-3, NIV).

A small picture of Jesus stood on the nightstand near my childhood bed. Long, flowing hair framed the masculine features of the Savior. The look of sincerity and quiet contemplation adorned his lips. His eyes were kind and focused, his beard perfectly trimmed. I would fall asleep each night under his protective gaze. Life was simple then, long before the awkward years of adolescence and the endless demands of adulthood.

But with age came struggle and temptation, sin and brokenness. The foes of anxiety and depression became my constant companions. Loneliness, fear, failure, and doubt attacked my mind and strangled my faith. I needed a Messiah to invade my mess of a life, a Savior to rescue me from my sin and from myself.

That’s when Jesus became the most real to me. I realized that there was so much more to him than an artist’s rendering recalled from my childhood. I recognized him, yes, as true God, but as one who had taken on human flesh, and with that, my very sin. I learned to appreciate his rawness, his untamable Spirit, his unkempt appearance, and his humanity despite his divinity. He became to me a Rescuer, who was not afraid to save me from the darkest, most remote places of my rebellion. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty, even bloodied over my sin.

The realness of God dressed in human flesh and the ugliness of the cross causes many to stumble. But true beauty is found in both. And when we get real with him, he becomes real to us.