Theres a moving scene at the end of the movie "Ben Hur" as Jesus is dying on the cross. On the outskirts of town, Judah Ben Hurs sisters are suffering from leprosy. The sky grows dark and the heavens crack. As bolts of lightning fill the sky and thunder shakes the earth, the scene shifts back and forth between Jesus and the two sisters. The intermittent lightning reveals a startling development. The signs of leprosy have vanished. The two women have been healed. Something that happened to Jesus brought them healing.
Something that happened to Jesus brings us healing as wella more comprehensive healing. The wounds of Jesus, as we understand them, bring us healing. Look to the wounds of Jesus, and you will be healed. That is the message of Isaiah 53:4-6.
In order to be healed, you first need to know youre sick. The sickness that God wants to heal us of is sin. The world that we live in has largely eliminated sin from its vocabulary. Whatever problems we have, our world thinks that sin isnt one of them. The scriptures tell us that sin is not only one of the problems, its the source of our problems. Sin manifests itself in all sorts of ways that make it difficult to deny.
We come to the third stanza of the Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The poem comprises five stanzas. Structurally, this is the center stanza, and the heart of the poem. At the heart of the poem, we find the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross needs to be at the heart of our livesat the center of our worship and our discipleship.
The Servant bears the burden of our sin (53:4)
The conjunction translated "surely" serves notice that something unexpected is about to be communicated. In the last verse of the previous stanza Isaiah said that the Servant of the Lord was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Now, Isaiah says, "Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried." The unexpected thing is that he was so sorrow- and grief-stricken because he was so deeply affected by griefs and sorrows.
"Griefs" and "sorrows" are the first words Isaiah uses in this Servant Song in connection with sin. The word translated "griefs" was usually used of sickness or weakness. In this case, sickness and weakness would be the result of sin. The word translated "sorrows" was used to convey mental anguish, which in this context is a consequence of sin.
To "bear" something for someone means to lift it off of that person and to place it on another. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest laid the sins of the nation on the head of the goat and sent it away into the wilderness, "and the goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land" (Leviticus 16:20-21). Here, then, the Servant of the Lord is seen as the goat that bears the sins of the people. Particularly, he bears the griefs of the nationthe illness and weakness that proceeds from sin.
The word translated "carried" is the same word used of the Servants being "lifted up" in Isaiah 52:13. The Servant is lifted up, or enthroned, but only as he carries our sorrows. To carry something means to take it on as a burden. The Servant took on as his burden the mental anguish proceeding from our sin.
Whose griefs and sorrows is he bearing and carrying? Isaiah, referring to them as "our" griefs and sorrows, is speaking at least for the believing Jewish community, who didnt at first believe the message concerning the Servant but later owned that message (Isaiah 53:1-3).
Israel as a whole, though, had a different assessment of things. Israel thought the Servant was suffering for his own sins. Israel thought he was getting what he deserved. The Jews believed him to be "stricken," perhaps with some kind of disease (Genesis 12:17), "smitten of God, and afflicted." He was stricken, smitten and afflicted not because he was suffering for his sins but because he was suffering for their sins. To think that someone is suffering for wrongdoing when that person is in fact suffering for your wrongdoing is a colossal and, in this case, tragic misapprehension.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Servant of the Lord, the Jewish Messiah, came to bear and carry the griefs and sorrows of Israel. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah tell Israel that it will go into exile because of its sins, as it did in 586 B.C. But both prophets also anticipate a return from exile, which coincides with the forgiveness of sins (Isaiah 40:1-11, Jeremiah 31:31-34). The return from exile and the forgiveness of sins will be achieved, from Isaiahs perspective, by the Servant of the Lord. Israel, called to be the servant of the Lord (Isaiah 41:8) by being the light of the world and thereby bringing salvation to it (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, Matthew 5:14), fails in its task. Israel will be judged and will suffer but through it will be forgiven and return from exile. But when the exiles returned from Babylon, the pagans were still in power, and when Jesus showed up a few hundred years later, Rome was in charge and Israel was far from the Lordand was on the verge of being judged again, this time through sacking of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 A.D.
As Messiah, Jesus offered his people the biblical way to be Israelthe way of being a light to the nations, of turning the other cheek, of taking up Roman crosses instead of killing Romans. Israel had become as pagan as Rome, advocating a nationalist agenda that took no interest in bringing the Lords salvation to the world. In the deepest sense, she was still in exile. She needed judgment; she needed to be forgiven, she needed to return from exile. Jesus was crucified because the Jews were able to convince the Romans that he was a revolutionary who threatened the peace. In fact, it was a charge that the Jews themselves were guilty of. Jesus, then, as the true representative of Israel, took on the fate of Israel. He suffered in Israels place. All of her sufferings were focused on him. He bore her griefs and carried her sorrows.
So on the first level, when Isaiah speaks of "our" griefs and sorrows, hes speaking of Israels griefs and sorrows. Yet the Apostle John says Jesus is the "propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Ever since the Garden of Eden, the whole world has been in exile. The gospels show us that it was not only the Jews who were responsible for Jesus death but the Romans as well. He bore and carried the griefs and sorrows of both Jews and Gentilesof the whole world.
When Jesus stumbled to Golgotha, he was "bearing" his own cross (John 19:17), but he also "bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus appeared to "bear the sins of many," an allusion to Isaiah 53:12 (Hebrews 9:28). Paul says that God made Christ, who knew no sin, "to be sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus not only bore and carried our sins on the cross, he felt their effecthe felt sickness, weakness and extreme mental anguish.
Jesus is the goat, who bore on himself all our iniquities to a solitary land, the loneliest place on eartha hill outside Jerusalem where he died, alone and forsaken, for the sins of the world.
As Jesus was enthroned on the cross, he carried the sins of the worldto show the world what being king is really all about. Its about self-giving love.
If we follow the imagery provided by the words, its not hard to form a picture of what Jesus did for us. Were traveling through life with this immense burden on our backs called sin. It weighs us down with griefs and sorrows. At the moment when we feel that we cant take another step, Jesus joins us on the road. He lifts the burden off our back, he places it on his back and he carries it for us. One is reminded of Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus says, "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light."
Jesus, then takes the burdens that were ours, and he walks the road no one could walk, the road from Jerusalem to Calvary. As he travels on this road, he travels with a piece of wood on his back. That piece of wood is the burden he took from you and me and, quite literally, billions of others. The burden appears to be unbearable, yet he journeys on. He goes on ahead of us to take on our fate. He has miles to go before he sleeps.
If we have the wrong assessment of what was happening as Jesus was hanging on the cross, as the Jews of old, the implications can be similarly tragic. To miss that he was suffering for our sins is to miss out on forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It is to miss out on being healed.
The Servant is punished; we are healed (53:5)
Isaiah uses two more words for sin in verse 5: transgressions and iniquities. Here the words convey not the result of sin but the form sin takes. Now the Servant not only feels the effect of sin; he feels sin itself. Transgressions are willful violations of Gods law. Iniquities reflect the pervertedness of human nature. Together the two words convey sin both in its internal and external expressions.
Verse 5 describes a more intense experience with sin. In the previous verse, the Servant was seen as bearing and carrying the effects of sin; now he is seen and being pierced and crushed for sin itself. The word translated "pierced through" usually meant being pierced fatally. The word "crushed" was usually used of being crushed to death (Lamentations 3:34). The Servant will suffer a brutal and painful death for "our" sinsfor those of the Jews and the whole world.
Thus far we have seen that Servant suffers and dies for our sins. It is not until the final two lines of verse 5 that we find out to what purpose he suffered and died. He suffered to be chastened and scourged, and he suffered so that we might experience well-being and healing.
To be chastened and scourged was to be punished. Chastening could take many forms; scourging was done with whips. Who is doing the punishing? Isaiah tells us in verse 6 places the responsibility for this at the feet of the Lord himself.
The word translated "well-being" is the Hebrew word "shalom," and is often translated peace. It doesnt simply mean absence of war or a feeling of tranquillity. It means human wholeness coming from nearness to God. Reconciliation with God is essential to human wholeness. Israel lost its opportunity for peace because it disobeyed God (Isaiah 58:18). The word translated "healed" is not used of healing from disease in Isaiah but of restoration to the Lord (Isaiah 6:10, 19:22, 30:26). The peace and healing spoken of here are deep and pervasive and are wrapped up in restoration to the Lord and nearness to him.
On the cross, Jesus was pierced (19:34) and crushed (Romans 4:25). There he died a brutal and painful death in our place. He was chastened and scourged (John 19:1). In his passion, Jesus was punished. In verse 4 the imagery was suggestive of Jesus journey to Calvary. Here the imagery is suggestive of what happened on Calvary. Jesus, already weighed down by our griefs and sorrows, arrives at his destination to take on our fate. Like an unbearable weight, our transgressions crush him to death. Like a spear, our iniquities pierce him to death. Our transgressions are the nails and our iniquities are the spear. He absorbs the chastening and scourgingthe punishmentthat was justly ours.
But thats not the end of the story of Calvary. For he not only endured all this for our sins; he endured all this for our wholeness and healing. An interesting thing happened just after Jesus died. One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water came out (John 19:34)blood for atonement and water for life, blood and water for wholeness and healing.
Jesus gives us peace, or wholeness, that the world does not know (John 14:27), a peace rooted in reconciliation with God (Romans 5:1). And he heals our deep wounds by restoring our relationship with God (1 Peter 2:24-25), and eventually he removes even disease (Matthew 8:17).
How, specifically, are we made whole? How is it that we are healed?
To be made whole and to be healed, you need to know that youre broken and sick. The Lord says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). We tend not to acknowledge our desperate shape. We live in denial. We know that we live in denial because of all the quick-fix solutions we employ to repair our brokenness and heal our illness. We think we can fix ourselves and heal ourselves, if we could only figure out the formula and find the remedy. If we think its that easy, we must think the problem is not that big. Yet we have seen what the problem did to the Servant of the Lord. Its first a matter of facing into your brokenness and illness instead of running from it or fixing it.
Second, its a matter of recognizing that your sins have been paid for and that nothing stands between you and God. Just as we tend not to believe that the problem is as big as it is, we tend not to believe that its been dealt with. We know that we dont believe its been dealt with when we keep trying to deal with it ourselves. If we beat ourselves up for our failures and live with some degree of self-hatred, thats a sure sign we are not accepting what Christ has done for us on the cross.
Yet the process of becoming whole and being healed involves much more than tearing down of false beliefs and replacing them with true beliefs, which in itself is not the quick and easy process wed like it to be.
Nothing changes us like love. And there is no greater power in the world than self-giving love. And no greater self-giving love is seen than the kind demonstrated by Jesus, when he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, when he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, when he was chastened for our well-being and scourged for our healing. Somehow, we must turn our eyes to Jerusalem and to the road that leads from the city to the hill, and to a cross on top of the hill and to a man hanging on a cross, and somehow we must open our ears to hears to hear him say, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34)
An understanding of what Christ has done for you on the cross gives you the knowledge that you can draw near to God, who "heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3). An understanding of his love for you makes you want to draw near to God.
If we are healed by his wounds, it follows that we must look at his woundswhy they are there, how they got there, what they accomplish. Look to his wounds, and you will be healed.
A few years ago when I was looking for healing, I went on a personal retreat. Upon reflection on my time with the Lord, I wrote these words in January 1988:
In the middle of my journey northward, I stopped to peer into the blue of the Pacific. It seemed to have what I wanted. I wanted to be healed from the past and liberated to enter the present. I wanted freedom as vast as the ocean. So when I arrived at my destination, a retreat center north of the Bay, I knew that I would be searching for healing.
At 11 a.m. I entered my assigned room, perched like an eagles nest atop an old Episcopalian church. The steeple and the wooden cross on top of it were outside the window, directly in front of me. I knelt in my room, offering up the next 24 hours to God. As I fixed my gaze on the cross, these words took shape in my mind: "You will find healing in my cross."
I contemplated those words for the first few hours. Then I read Matthews account of the crucifixion, which inspired me to recall Isaiah 53:5: "By his wounds we are healed." For the rest of the day, until I went to sleep, I prayed and meditated over those words, repeating them to myself countless times and dwelling on Christs love for me as demonstrated in his wounds.
I thought I would spend the rest of my time contemplating those words, but by the time I awoke, new words had settled into my consciousness: "You cannot heal yourself." I cling fiercely to the belief that I can analyze my way to spiritual health. But I knew I had to embrace my powerlessness. As I tried to do so, I remembered these words from Exodus 15:26: "I, the Lord, am your healer." I cannot heal myself, but the Lord heals. He does heal! But will he heal me?
I wondered. The sun began its morning ascent and peeked through the trees. As soon as I saw the rising sun, a treasured verse committed to memory long ago ascended in my thoughts: "But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall" (Malachi 4:2). Yes, the sun will rise! I will go forth and skip about! I will be healed; I will be free. As the sun continued to rise, its rays spread out like wings and descended from heaven, coming to rest, of all places, at the cross outside my room. The sun had risen, with healing in its wings.
At 11 a.m. I finished where I had started 24 hours earlier, on my knees, in prayer, eyes on the cross. The sun had risen above the trees and flooded the room with light. At the conclusion of my prayer, I dropped my head in weariness. What I saw next startled me. The sunlight, playing with the frame of the window, had created a shadow on my shirt. The image was unmistakable. It was the cross. Only this time, it wasnt outside the room and in front of me, it was inside the room and next to me, even on me.
"You will find healing in my cross." The hand of heaven had first pointed to the cross and then painted a picture of it on my chest. The healer had drawn near and applied the instrument of his wounds to my body. By his wounds he was healing me. And I would be free, like a calf from the stalllike the blue of the Pacific.
As I looked for healing, the Lord directed my thoughts to the wounds of Christ.
The Servant meets sin (53:6)
Isaiah now uses the image of wandering sheep as an illustration of sin. Throughout the last two stanzas the prophet has spoken in the first-person plural, first of "our" reaction to the Servant and of what he did with "our" sins. Lest anyone think that he or she is somehow untainted by sin, Isaiah says that "all of us" have gone astray. A sheep that has gone astray has left the care of the shepherd and placed itself at great risk. Then Isaiah individualizes the illustration by saying that "each of us" has turned to his own way. In a general sense, all of us have strayed from the Lord, our Shepherd. In a particular since, each of us has chosen a particular way away from the Lord. Each of us has rejected the Lord in favor of something that we think is better. Lest we think Isaiahs description of sin portrays solely inadvertent wandering, he points the finger at each of us and says were are guilty of willful departure.
Paul, in his poetic description of the breadth of sin, says the heart of it is this: "There is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside" (Romans 3:11-12). This is the essence of sinrejection of the Lord and the worship of something else. Its idolatry. Idolatry is expressed through iniquities and transgressions and results in griefs and sorrows. Isaiah has shown us that all of usthat each of usis guilty of sin. Coupled with the earlier verses in this stanza, he has shown us that all of us deserve to be pierced, crushed, chastened and scourged. Each of us deserves to die. Each of us deserves not only earthly punishment but "the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
What are the ways you seek love, security and significance outside of a relationship with God? These are the ways to which you have turned. And it has been a turn away from the Lord. Its sin, and it deserves punishment.
The last line in verse 6 begins with a great word: "But." We are guilty of sin and deserve punishment, "But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him." In Hebrew, verse 6 begins and ends with the same word, translated "all of us" at the beginning and "of us all" at the end. All of us are guilty of sin, but the sin of all of us falls on the Servant. The sacrifice of the Servant is adequate for all. No sin is too great.
The Lord himself is the one who has transferred our sins to the Servant. In the imagery of Leviticus 16:21, noted earlier, the Lord assumes the role of the priest. He places the sins of the nation not on the goat but on the Servant. Sins placed on the head of a goat arent ultimately effective (Hebrews 10:4); sins placed on the head of a perfect man are effective (Hebrews 10:10). The Lords involvement as priest assures us that the sacrifice is acceptable.
Literally, the Lord caused our iniquity to "meet" him. If we met our own iniquity, it would be a devastating encounter. Instead, the Servant meets with sin. It is the meeting we have been dreading our whole lives, the meeting when we have to face into everything weve done. Jesus goes to the meeting in our place. And we can only begin to imagine what this encounter was like as he who knew no sin encountered the sin of the world. On the cross, Jesus meets up with our sin, and it devastates him.
Each of the other sections in this stanza contained four lines. The final section contains three lines. The abrupt ending causes our minds to focus on this last line: "But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him."
Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:14). In laying down his life, he went to the meeting that we should have gone to. Now we can go to a different meetinga meeting with our Father, who waits with open arms.
As the Father has sent me, I also send you
Peter picks up strands from all three verses in this stanza in 1 Peter 2:24-25, which says that Jesus "bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." Jesus bears our sins (verse 4); his wounds bring us healing (verse 5); and he returns wandering sheep to the fold of God (verse 6).
Jesus bears our sin and carries our sin. It pierces him and crushes him. He meets with sin; we dont. Look to his wounds, and you will be healed.
What does all this mean for us as servants of the Lord? What are we to do? Jesus says "as the Father has sent me, I also send you" (John 20:21). We are to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel. We are to look out on the world and see its griefs and sorrowsits sickness, its weakness, its mental anguish. We are to see it limping along, weighed down with impossible grief and sorrow. We are to see and feel the pain, perhaps to the point that it feels as if we ourselves are bearing and carrying it, as if we ourselves may even be pierced and crushed by this meeting with sin and pain. And we would be, if we couldnt do one thing. Pray. Feeling the impossible burden of sin and pain, we lift it up to God in prayer.
This is not an easy way to live, because it will get you wounded. Wed rather not feel sin and pain. But wounds have power. Self-giving love is seen best in its wounds. By our wounds the world is healeda world which sees the wounds and the love behind them that point to the wounds on the hands and in the side of the one who gave his life for it.
N.T. Wright writes, "It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point. Because Jesus bore the cross uniquely for us, we do not have to purchase forgiveness again; its been done. But because, as he himself said, following him involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the pattern of our life and work over and over again." (1)
(1) N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, @ 1999 by N.T. Wright. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. P. 189
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ("NASB"). © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Where indicated, Scripture quotations were also taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ("NIV"). © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
October 18, 2000
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