Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Man of Sorrows

When we think of the birth of Christ we are liable to think of a charming manger scene – a young mother cradling her infant son, the Magi bringing their gifts from afar, the angels singing to the shepherds in the field. It all looks so picturesque, and indeed it is. But amid all the tinsel and trimmings it is easy to lose sight of the real reason for the incarnation. The manger was but the prelude to a brutal death on a Roman cross.
    And the amazing thing is that it was all predicted. In Isaiah chapter 53 we have one of the most stunning prophecies about the Messiah found anywhere in the Old Testament. And it portrays the Messiah as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (v. 3).
    One would have thought that Israel would have welcomed its Messiah, but that turned out not to be the case. "Why?," one might be tempted to ask. The answer is that His contemporaries failed to appreciate who He was and what He came to do. They were looking for a national deliverer – a charismatic leader who would come and rule. Instead He came across as a radical rabbi who challenged established ways of thinking. He led no armies and He provoked no revolt. He was eventually crucified by the Romans. What kind of Messiah was that? And thus the prophet foresaw that He would be "despised and rejected of men" (v. 3a).
    What His contemporaries failed to realize is that it was necessary for Him to atone for sin – for their sin. That is why He had to suffer, and bleed, and die. "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities" (v. 5a). The problem, which neither they nor we like to admit, is that we are, at the bottom of it, guilty sinners. The prophet uses a homey illustration to make the point: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one into his own way" (v. 6). Somehow, if we are ever to be forgiven, an atonement must be made for our sins. And that was what Christ came to do when He was born in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. His path would lead to the cross, " . . . and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (v. 6b).
    And here was the supreme irony of the situation. When He was here among us, "he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (v. 3b). ". . . we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted" (v. 4b), and indeed He was. But it was for our sins that He suffered the pain and humiliation of the cross. It was our sin and guilt that occasioned His suffering.
    Jesus, in other words, was essentially acting as a priest offering up a sacrifice to God, except that in this case He was both the priest and the sacrifice. That sacrifice, then, becomes the basis for our peace with God. ". . . the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (v. 5b). The "chastisement of our peace" is a kind of corrective discipline that leads to a restoration of a relationship. In this case we were alienated from God by our sin and disobedience, and Christ's death upon the cross brings us peace with God. To achieve reconciliation we need to embrace by faith Christ's atoning work on our behalf.
Have you made your peace with God?

Other blog posts in which you might be interested:
Right with God
What Must I Do to be Saved?

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