The Substitutionary Suffering and Death of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
1) Pierced for Our Iniquities
2) The Passion of Christ
PIERCED FOR OUR INIQUITIES
I have one point to make in this article. "Christ died for you and you should never take it for granted." We take things for granted when we become accustomed to having them, they become commonplace. We take things for granted when we forget how valuable they are, how much they cost. I want you to see the cross of Christ as God sees it. The cross of Christ is not a mere historical event that occurred 2,000 years ago, it is an event that should color the way you see the world. It is an event that should affect the priorities that govern your life. It is an event that should shape your character and impact your relationships. The cross of Christ is not just an historic event, it is a personal foundation upon which you can build your life.
In Isaiah 52, we are commissioned to share the good news to a world that is barraged by bad news. The world of today is a world thirsty for peace, for love, for purpose. In fact, that's the picture, literally, that God paints for us when He commands His people to take the good news to Zion. Zion literally means "parched place." God essentially tells them to go to that parched place and tell the inhabitants that their God reigns and that living water is available.
In Matthew 23 Jesus calls the Pharisees and Scribes hypocrites. Pharisees and Scribes were the religious elite who based their religiosity on memorizing and teaching the law. If anyone should have known about the Messiah Isaiah wrote about, it should have been them. But their unbelief prevented them from accepting the obvious interpretations that pointed to a divine savior, a divine rescuer. Passages such as Isaiah 9:6, where the Messiah is called "mighty God," or Isaiah 53:11b-12, where His work is described as "bearing the sins of many" and suffering "death," are clear. They accepted neither implication. They rejected Jesus because He claimed to be God's literal Son, equal with the Father, and because He predicted that He would die for the sins of Jew and Gentile.
To them, both claims were blasphemous. Instead of seeking God's grace through His provision, they were committed to earning God's favor through keeping the law. Jesus called them hypocrites because they overlooked their own violations of the law. They overvalued themselves and their efforts at self-righteousness and undervalued God's holiness. They wanted God to honor their efforts instead of honoring Him for His.
Regardless of what they believed, Isaiah is very clear about the nature and work of the Messiah. Isaiah 53:1-12 is remarkably clear and concise in its description of the person and work of the Messiah. As we read this together, ask yourself, How did the Pharisees and Scribes not see the truth about Jesus Christ?
"Who has believed our message? To whom will the Lord reveal his saving power? My servant grew up in the Lord's presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected-a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins-that he was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. But it was the Lord's good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs…. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins…. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners."
Combined with Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 clearly describes a savior who will literally suffer and die for the sins of people, Jew and Gentile.
The coming of Christ was a work of God. To convince the world that the cross was actually a work of God, God declared exactly how it would happen. Seven hundred years before that star would rise in Bethlehem, 500 years before Rome would even become a world power, God instructs Isaiah to describe in detail the key events of the cross, to prophesy about the mission and future work of Christ. A prophecy is the future told in advance by God through a prophet. God does this to validate what is happening. Isaiah 48:3-5: "I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. For I knew how stubborn you were; the sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze. Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, 'My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.'"
Following are some prophecies in Isaiah made hundreds of years before they were fulfilled:
GOD COMES TO EARTH AS A MAN
Isaiah 9:6-7: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever."
BORN OF A VIRGIN
Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
Mattthew 1:20-23: "But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' --which means, "God with us."
FROM THE HOUSE OF JUDAH
Isaiah 37:31: "Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above."
Matthew 1:1-2, 16: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…. and [a later] Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."
FROM THE ROOT AND STUMP OF JESSE
Isaiah 11:10: "In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious."
Isaiah 11:1-5: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD-- and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist."
Romans 15:12: "And again, Isaiah says, 'The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.'"
Matthew 1:1-2a, 5-6, 16: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, … Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David…. and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."
FROM THE HOUSE OF DAVID
Isaiah 16:5: "In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it--one from the house of David--one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness."
Matthew 1:1-2A, 6, 16: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac,… and Jesse the father of King David…. and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."
BE FROM NAZARETH OF GALILEE
Isaiah 9:1-2 : "Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan -- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
Matthew 2:22-23: "But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene.'"
Matthew 4:13-16: "Leaving Nazareth, he [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali-- to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles -- the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.'"
MISSION WOULD INCLUDE THE GENTILES.
Isaiah 49:6: "He [the Lord] says: 'It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope. I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles."
Matthew 12:14-21: "But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.'"
MINISTRY WOULD INCLUDE MIRACULOUS HEALINGS
Isaiah 29:18: "In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see."
Isaiah 35:5-6a: "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy."
Luke 7:20-22: "When the men came to Jesus, they said, 'John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, 'Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.'"
MINISTRY WOULD DELIVER SPIRITUAL CAPTIVES
Isaiah 61:1-2: "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn."
Luke 4:16-21: "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'"
DESPISED AND REJECTED BY MEN
Isaiah 53:3: "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not."
Isaiah 49:7: "This is what the LORD says-the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel-- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: 'Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.'"
John 7:48-49: "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law--there is a curse on them."
John 15:24-25: "If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'"
Hebrew poetry does not rhyme words. It rhymes thoughts. Let me put Isaiah 53:4-5 together for you. It says, "He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities." There are four verbs and four nouns in these verses.
Concerning the verbs, the action is all on Christ's part. Actively, He took up our infirmities and He carried our sorrows. Literally, in Hebrew the words describe taking the handles of a duffle bag that is so overloaded we cannot pick it up. We cannot even slide it on the ground. He picks it up for us and takes it to our destination. What we are too weak to do, He is able to do. His strength is able to move what we cannot budge. Impassively, it continues, "He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities." He is not only strong enough to do what we cannot do, He is willing to endure the pain and penalty while doing it. He was pierced and crushed. Pierced by the spear of the executioner as it was thrust into Him. Pierced by the two-inch thorns woven into a mock crown and then rammed into his skull. He was pierced by the chunks of bone that were tied to the lash that ripped into the muscle of his back and his legs. He was crushed by the metal balls also tied to that lash that would strike him with enough force to break the meat away from the bone like a tenderizer. He was crushed by the club used to batter his face. He was crushed by the weight of the wooden beam lashed to his back. It is our problem, not His, but He took it up and dealt with it. It is our problem, not His, but He paid the price to resolve it.
The four nouns of these verses-infirmities, sorrows, transgressions, and iniquities-tell us something significant about humankind's predicament and the purpose of Christ's work at Calvary. Infirmities and transgressions describe a condition, a state-of-being, of the human heart. Sorrows and infirmities describe the consequences or results of that condition.
There is a spiritual sickness in humankind that prompts us to rise up and shout, "You won't tell me what to do." We have a pride, a stubbornness, a hardness of heart that too often ignores God's commands. Infirmities indicate that we are helpless, by ourselves, to get over it. At times, we want to not be stubborn, we want to not be proud, but it still swells up in us. It rises up when we least expect it. Transgressions indicate that we have willfully violated God's commands for our lives. Humans are prone to seek a direction in life that does not include the true God!
Our spiritual rebellion leads us into trouble. We go our own way and pay a heavy price. Not only are we under the moral condemnation of God, but our inner being and our social conditions are in a constant state of deterioration. A lot of hard work by a lot of spiritually committed people can work to combat social deterioration, but there seems to always be that tendency for corruption and violence. Look at America today!
We have been blessed beyond any other nation but still many persist in turning freedom into license for predatory aggression and self-indulgence. Our tendency toward deterioration leads to sorrows and iniquities. Pains and perversities are literally what sorrows and iniquities mean--hurting ourselves and others and distorting truth and goodness. Calling what is wrong, right. Our rebellious attitude declares that, "I'll do what I want to do. I'll say what I feel like saying even if it destroys my friendships. I'll have sex with whom I want to have sex with even if it means betraying a trust and a commitment to fidelity. I will replace God's design for life for what I see depicted on television. After all, it looks like it is working for them." The results are perversion of family, of marriage, and of our character. This is what is meant in the simple word "sin." Sin is the rebellious attitude that leads to individual sins, selfish acts.
At Calvary He was pierced for our Sin, for our rebellious attitude. Our rebellious attitude stabs at His heart every day. Our selfish acts pile up as a crushing weight against us. We want to avoid blame. We try to deny responsibility. We try to wiggle off the hook of responsibility for Calvary. Calvary is not just where forgiveness can be found but it is where we see God's colossal hatred of our rebellion. It took the innocent and vicious suffering and death of God's own Son to make the way for forgiveness to be possible.
There was no other way! A holy and just God could not, cannot, overlook sin. Nor can He merely decide by His sovereignty to forgive those who make the most religious effort. "After all, He is God, can't He do what He wants?" The answer is "Yes!" He can do what He wants. But recognize that His parameters for decision making are different than yours and mine. His decision making comes from a core that is a perfect harmonization of holiness and love. A mere declaration of pardon based on nothing more than a divine decision is open to criticism. The price for sin must be paid or justice will be violated. Violate justice and you are no longer holy. Based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, God can forgive without violating His holiness. "Yes," God can do what He wants and aren't you glad His love moves Him to want to forgive you and bless your life! Calvary is the result of that love. Without that divine love you have no hope!
Calvary was not just about God satisfying His holiness 'requirements'. It was where the depth of His love for humans, and all of creation, shone forth. Does a disinterested sovereign talk like God does in Isaiah 49:16? "I will not forget you. I have engraved your name on the palm of my hand." God is vastly different from any image you have of powerful kings and despots.
This engraving idea goes back to the high priest who was directed by God to take twelve stones and engrave the name of each of the sons of Israel on them and put them into the breastplate of the High Priest who wore it when he went into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement to offer shed blood to atone for the sins of the people (which prefigured Christ at Calvary), that he might bear the names of the sons of Israel that they might be forgiven and spiritually healed. When the soldiers pounded those nails into Jesus hands your name was there. As His spirit left Him in death and blood dripped from His side your name was there. He did it for you, as well as Himself! You were on His mind.
Calvary frees Him to bless your life. Jesus says, "You no longer need that high priest, I am your high priest and I have written your names on the palm of my hand." How then, in light of this, in light of who Christ is and what He's done for us, shall we live? What difference does it make? I tell you to live each day in light of the cross. Do not trample that glorious act of God under your feet by living as if it never happened!
THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
As believers we often talk about the death of Jesus Christ and what it accomplished for us. But rarely does anyone talk about what His suffering accomplished. Was there a purpose for it? Why did He have to go through the beatings, the whippings, and mockings that preceded the cross? We know that we are redeemed by accepting the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on our behalf, but what does His suffering do for us? We know that the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ satisfied God's holiness and allowed Him to forgive repentant sinners, but what did Jesus Christ's sufferings do for God? Why was it necessary for Jesus Christ to suffer so much?
Isaiah 53 was written about 700 years before the time of Jesus Christ on earth. But amazingly, it describes the suffering and substitutionary death of the Messiah almost as if an eyewitness were describing it for us. This chapter is so important to our understanding of the events surrounding the Cross that we should read the entire chapter.
"Who has believed our message? To whom will the Lord reveal his saving power? My servant grew up in the Lord's presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected-a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins-that he was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. But it was the Lord's good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs…. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins ... He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners."
These verses describe the Messiah's suffering and substitutionary death. They can be thought of as two key but separate aspects of the last 12 hours of Jesus' earthly life. The suffering aspect is also called the "Passion." The term "passion" comes from the Latin word that means "to suffer." The passion of Christ is about the suffering of Jesus, specifically those twelve hours before His crucifixion and death.
"Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He [Jesus] grew up before Him [the Father] like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. And he [Jesus] had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and He carried our sorrows. Yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted."
I want you to catch what Isaiah is saying there. Unredeemed mankind looks upon Jesus as a victim of the Jews, or a victim of the Romans, or a victim of God's plan. But Jesus was not a victim! Jesus said it clearly in John chapter 10:17-18, "I lay down my life, no one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord." Jesus knew what was going to happen. He knew the sufferings that awaited Him but He went forward, anyway!
Jesus in Matthew chapter 20 describes in detail what He knew about His immediate future: "The son of man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the teachers of the law and they will condemn him to death. And they will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised to life." Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen because He came for that purpose. Jesus was not a victim. I see Him as a steel-eyed courageous warrior with his face, as it says in Isaiah 50:7, set like flint. Stone-faced, knowing what He was going to endure. He ran the gauntlet of suffering and never sought to escape it.
The suffering is described in detail in Isaiah 50:6. Isaiah 50:6: "I give my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pull out my beard. I do not hide from shame, for they mock me and spit in my face." Jesus willingly submitted Himself to suffering and death. He was not powerless to stop it. The Father put it into His hands (John 10:18) to say, No! He could have stopped anytime He wanted. He chose the difficult path because of what could be achieved. The Father watched the spectacle from heaven and restrained His powerful hand. These words from Isaiah 50:2-3 seem to apply: "Was I too weak to save you? Is that why the house is silent and empty when I come home? Is it because I have no power to rescue? No, that is not the reason! For I can speak to the sea and make it dry! I can turn rivers into deserts covered with dying fish. I am the one who sends darkness out across the skies, bringing it to a state of mourning." Both the Father and the Son had the power to stop the suffering but chose not to.
We can learn several things from the suffering and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Look at Isaiah 53:5 again, "He was pierced for our transgressions." When was Jesus pierced?
Many would say when they put the nails in His hands, or wrists, but the primary reference is to the spear that the soldier stuck in His side. Why did the soldier pierce His abdomen with that spear? To kill him? No, He was already dead. He pierced Jesus' side for two reasons.
The first reason was known to the soldier and the second was not. The soldier pierced Jesus' side to prove that He was dead. The second reason laid in God's redemptive methods. Scripture declares that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
It is important to know that in the Old Testament the sacrifices ordained by God, which prefigured Christ's sacrifice, were to take place at a specific place in a specific manner. The death of the animal was not enough. The actual sacrifice involved more than just the death of the animal. The actual sacrifice involved the blood of the slain animal poured onto an altar, which signified God's holy presence. It was the purposeful offering of the life of another for the offerer's sin. Without the pouring of the blood, the sacrifice was incomplete. In fact, without the pouring of the blood there was no sacrifice! Calvary was a holy place because God was there. It was the altar where God Himself brought our sacrifice for us. And it was at Calvary where the blood poured from Jesus' side for our redemption and forgiveness. Jesus was pierced so that the sacrifice would be complete.
We see two things in the suffering of Jesus. First, we see the depth of the opposition to Jesus by all who oppose God. The fury of human sin struck at Jesus and literally beat Him to death. The only thing that kept Him alive was His divine strength and the plan of God. In the end it was Jesus who gave up His spirit (Luke 23:46) to the Father. But it was human wickedness that shredded His body in order to mock and kill Him.
The second thing we see is the depth of God's love. He was so willing to redeem human sinners, and all of creation, that He Himself bore the burden of sin. I believe that until a person actually understands Who the Son of God was/is he or she will not completely appreciate the spectacle of Calvary. The same being that provoked the angels to hid their faces and cover their feet out of respect in Isaiah 6 is the same being who descended to earth to put on swaddling clothes, a crown of thorns, and nails through His hands. The descent of the Son from heaven's majesty to earth's depravity is beyond our understanding. But the words of a seventeenth century pastor, Thomas Traherne, paints such a picture of what happened at Calvary that we can begin to grasp the significance and depth of His love.
"Is this He that was transfigured upon Mount Tabor? Pale, withered, extended, tortured, soiled with blood, and sweat, and dust, dried, parched! O sad, O dismal spectacle! All His joints are dissolved, all His blood is shed, to the last drop, all His moisture is consumed! What is here but a heap of desolations, a deformed carcass, a disfigured countenance! A mass of miseries and silence, footsteps of innumerable sufferings! Can this be a joy? Can this be an entertainment? Can this delight us? O Jesus, the more vile I here behold Thee, the more I admire Thee. Into what low abysses didst Thou descend, in what depths of misery dost Thou now lie! Oh what confusions, what stripes and wounds, what desolations and deformities didst Thou suffer for our sakes!
"In all the depths of thy humiliation I here adore thee! I prize and desire always to see those stripes and those deformities. It is sweeter to be with Thee in thy sufferings, than with princes on their Thrones, and more do I rejoice with Thee in Thy misery, than in all their solemnities. I tremble also to see thy condescensions, the great effects and expressions of Thy love! Thou wast slain for me: and shall I leave Thy body in the field, O Lord? Shall I go away and be merry, while the Love of my soul, and my only Lover is dead upon the cross. Groans, here, in the sight and apprehension of thy love are beyond all melody, and the solemn sorrows of a loving Soul, a faithful friend, a tender Spouse, a deep and compassionate true Lover, beyond all the entertainments in the world. Thine O Jesus will I ever be while I have any being" (Centuries, pp. 45-46).
Traherne is describing God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, getting dirty and bloody to redeem all of creation back to Himself! What kind of monarch is this? What kind of monarch gives himself for the life of his subjects? God's love is beyond our ability to fully grasp. When we see Him as He truly is then we will know and we will love Him all the more!
The intensity of His pain was endured by the strength of His love. He could have been executed by stoning or by hanging or could have been stabbed in a crowd or when he was at a table talking with people. It could have been something clean and quick, but instead God designed it that you would see the depth of His love. He chose to endure brutal scourging so that we would know how much He loves us. He demonstrated how much He cares for us. Ephesians describes it in terms of marriage: "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her." Christ is looking out for us. He loves us and is working for our best. His suffering demonstrates the boundlessness of His love so that you might commit to follow Him and follow His example. Ephesians 5:1 says, "Follow God's example in everything you do, because you are his dear children." We are called to be imitators of God. And how do we know what God is like? We look at Jesus Christ who is the "visible image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). We are to live a life of love just as Jesus did!
His suffering reveals the seriousness of sin. Our sin is significant and it is serious. His suffering displays the slashing pain of sin upon God's heart. Every time we rebel or reject His advice, it cuts like a lash into the heart of God. Look at 1 Peter 2:11: "Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and as strangers in this world to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul." What sin are you discounting before God? Do not discount any sin. John says in 1 John 1:9, "If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He died for our sin and suffered great pain and humiliation so that we can chase after godliness. As we look at His example with holy eyes we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).
From the very beginning God planned for your redemption. Do you remember Adam and Eve in the garden? Remember what happened and what did God say to Satan? "You will bruise his heel, but he will crush your head." God did not have to go back to the drawing board, He did not have to pull back into the recesses of heaven and say, "Oh boy, we have got a problem! We will switch to plan B. We have got to try this again."
From the very beginning God had a plan. Without taking a breath, He knew what needed to happen. Revelation 13:8 says that the Lamb was slain before the foundations of this world were laid. Before there was anything, the Lamb of God was slain in God's eyes. In order to create at all, the Lamb had to be slain! And as God prepared the world to see, understand, and receive the sacrifice of the Lamb, He started making prefigures of that sacrifice from the very beginning.
In Genesis 3:21 it says the Lord made garments of skin for Adam and his wife. Garments of skin point to the very first sacrifice of one for another, as the life of the animal was used to cover the nakedness of the sinners. The intricacy of God's plan is woven all through Scripture. Hundreds of prophecies made hundreds, even thousands, of years before they were fulfilled in Jesus Christ point to Calvary as the central event of all history. It is at Calvary and its surrounding events where the entire Old Testament takes on meaning.
A book by John Piper, The Passion of the Christ: Fifty Reasons He Came to Die, documents that Scripture is loaded with references to Calvary and all that was accomplished there. We recommend this book to you as a valuable addition to your library. It will help you understand the vastness of Jesus' accomplishments. Jesus was not a martyr. He was a mighty warrior who conquered sin and corruption not with a sword but with love and compassion.
Based on Christ's work at Calvary, what situation in your life is beyond God's ability to handle? What can He do in your life now? Anything He wants and as much as you will let Him! His suffering should ignite the kind of faith in us that follows Him even when we do not understand. That will follow Him into the darkness where we need to rely on Him to lead us. To trust His leadership in our daily lives that we can live a life worthy of being called Christians!