"His Appalling Appearance Makes You Look Good before God"
April 4, 2010 Easter Isaiah 52:13-15,53:8-12; Heb 10:12-14,19-23
In our culture, we spend much time, money, and effort attempting to make ourselves look good. Some of us require an exceptional amount of effort - I have to remember occasionally to check my hair: not so much what's left on top of my head, but what's growing in other places on my head where you don't really want a lot! It's good to be able to joke about our appearance and not take ourselves too seriously. When we were finished setting up for the Seder Supper Thursday, one of the workers went over to a bench at the side saying he'd sit down a while and look beautiful. In response, one of the others teasingly wondered aloud whether he might be needing quite a bit of time for that?!
Admit it, we want to look good. The number of mirrors in our homes attests to that. In Facebook, you can spend quite a bit of time updating and grooming your 'profile picture' because it's the little icon people see whenever you write your status or make a comment. In our highly visual culture, appearance matters.
But when the prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the Messiah some 7 centuries before He was actually to come, the prophet must have been startled. He writes of many being 'appalled at Him' - God's servant's "appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man..." And so it came to pass: by the time Jesus made it to the cross, He must have been a bloody mess, His face and body nearly beaten and whipped to a pulp. It's interesting that Scripture doesn't preserve a single physical description of what Jesus looked like during His earthly life - His facial features, build, height, and so on. The Holy Spirit must be showing us it wasn't that important what Jesus physically looked like. What matters to God is the fact that by Jesus' appalling appearance, He succeeded in making those who trust in Him look good before God. Because He accepted punishment for us that caused His looks to become disturbing, we who believe in Him can be transformed from sin-splotched to new beauty shot through with God's glory!
THE SERVANT'S BELITTLING, BURDEN, AND BLOOD
On Good Friday, onlookers at Golgotha, that forlorn hill just outside Jerusalem, must have wondered that that 'thing', that shape, that bruised bleeding and torn-open mass which hung on the centre cross was in fact a human being. Witnesses must have found the sight profoundly disturbing, yet there was something about that mutilated man which held their gaze so they didn't want to look away.
Jesus was belittled, demeaned. The religious leaders sneered at Him; the soldiers mocked Him; even one criminal on a cross beside Him hurled insults at Him (Lk 23:35ff). The authorities' scorn led them to deny Him a fair trial. As Isaiah had prophesied in 53:8, "By oppression and judgment He was taken away." NLT, "unjustly condemned." In the whole process Jesus had been treated like dirt. 53:9, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked...though He had done no violence..." NLT, "He was buried like a criminal." V12, "He was numbered with the transgressors."
Q: Has there been a time in your life when you were ridiculed or treated unfairly in a major way? How does it help knowing Jesus can relate to you in that sort of experience?
Christ was battered severely, to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Pilate had allowed this innocent man to be flogged with a leather whip embedded with sharp bits of bone and lead, a punishment so harsh that people sometimes died from it (John 19:1). He was roughed up tremendously by the soldiers; John records the soldiers jamming a crown of thorns on His head and striking Him in the face (19:2f). Isaiah described it this way in 52:14: "there were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness..." NLT, "His face was so disfigured He seemed hardly human, and from His appearance, one would scarcely know He was a man." Can you imagine? How awful! So bad that v15 talks of kings shutting their mouths when they see Him, standing speechless, because they will see for themselves how great was the damage He endured. The NIV Study Bible comments, "His treatment was inhuman." Think of those rare instances of police brutality, or the Airborne troops' treatment of bothersome civilians in Somalia: those times when something snaps in sick individuals and deadly force vents in sadistic fashion. Jesus submitted to such abuse for you and me.
Isaiah 53:12 says, "He poured out His life unto death..." In the New Testament, the author of the letter to the Hebrews in 10:20 says Jesus opened for us "a new and living way...through the curtain, that is, His body..." Remember what happened to the curtain at the Temple when Jesus died? It was ripped in two from top to bottom (Mt 27:51). That's a picture of what Christ went through so we could have access to Holy God. The cross is sort of a vertical 'rack' where gravity works against the top nails as if to tear you limb from limb.
Why was Jesus going through such belittling and battering? As God's servant, He was bearing a burden, spiritually speaking. Note the 'load' language Isaiah uses. 53:4, He 'took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.' Next verse, "the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him." V6, "the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." V8, He was stricken "for the transgression of My people". And v12, "He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." That verb "He bore the sin" in Hebrew, nasa, to lift / bear / carry / take, is the same as back in v4, "He took up our infirmities..." Jesus voluntarily shouldered an impossible burden no imperfect mortal would ever be able to deal with - the immenseness of human sin.
Q: What heavy load have you been struggling with lately? Do you believe the Lord wants to help you with it? - that He CAN help you with it? Is it something you could share with another Christian so they can pray for you in that regard?
Another significant factor Scripture points out in its portrait of the Suffering Servant is His blood. Isaiah 52:15 says, "He will sprinkle many nations..." What's that supposed to mean?
Back in Exodus 29 and throughout the book of Leviticus, sprinkling the blood of the sacrificed animal symbolized consecration, making holy, making atonement for sin. At the heart of Jewish ritual on the solemn Day of Atonement was the sprinkling of blood at the atonement cover or 'mercy seat' atop the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16). That was the only time the High Priest could approach behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies: he had to bring the blood with him.
The apostles saw the blood of Jesus' sacrifice as fulfilling once for all the requirement of a price for our sanctification, cleansing, and admittance into God's presence. Hebrews 10(19,22) says, "Therefore...we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience..."
At Wingham hospital this past week, staff were reminded of an upcoming Blood Donor Clinic on May 6. We call it 'the gift of life' because it's so important; in my visits to patients I often see them receiving blood to boost their system. Also, when Yvonne has her MRI, I hold her hand while the nurses put in an intravenous port and draw blood (usually 3 or 4 vials) so her doctor can get an accurate picture of what's going on inside her. Blood is so essential in a medical sense; how much more so spiritually! God says in the Bible, "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." (Lev 17:11) Jesus is our Servant most dearly by pouring out His blood for us. Peter writing to the church says we have been "chosen...for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood..." (1Pet 1:2) He adds that we were redeemed from emptiness "not with perishable things such as silver or gold" (as if those things are just plain CHEAP) "but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1Pet 1:18f)
POSITIVELY: THE SERVANT'S PROSPERITY, POSTERITY, AND POSITION
Thus far it's been a rather sobering picture Isaiah paints of the Saviour; but consider those the dark colours in contrast to which the bright positive strokes stand out all the more. While this passage is usually viewed as a prophecy directly relating to Good Friday, there are strong indications also of Easter Sunday!
First, there's the Servant's PROSPERITY, a real advantage or flourishing achieved. In 52:13, the preface to the whole section, we read: "See, My Servant will act wisely" - NLT "My Servant will prosper"; also NIV text note alternative reading. The overall outcome is good. The verse goes on, "He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted": what better way to describe Jesus' resurrection and ascension? 53:10 says Yahweh will "prolong His days" - perhaps a hint there of eternal life, time beyond the grave. V11, "After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light [of life]..." After Jesus' suffering and death, He once more saw light when raised from the dead.
In v12 God promises, "I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong..." Sounds like a victor. The NIV Study Bible comments, "God will reward His servant as if He was a king sharing the spoils of a great victory."
If the passage begins with the note of prospering in 52:13, it comes up again near the end in 53:10: "the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand." What specifically is that will, what God wants, His goal through this chain of events? See the start of v10, "it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer...the LORD makes his life a guilt offering..." So way back here in Isaiah, 7 centuries before Christ was born, we see clearly laid out Messiah's mission: to be made the guilt offering that would atone for our sin and save us, through His suffering. Jesus understood that as His calling. He said in John 6(39f), "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." How did Jesus at the Lord's Supper interpret the 'cup' the Father was handing Him? "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Mt 26:28) He knew exactly what was at stake - what the Father was counting on Him to carry out. The Servant made that plan prosper, be satisfied.
Q: How does this throw a different light on what society commonly understands as 'prosperity'? Do you see God's will prospering in your life as you serve Him?
In addition to prosperity, the Servant is rewarded with a POSTERITY - dictionary definition, "the descendants of any person", all succeeding generations. This is where YOU come in - if you're in Christ, you're part of His 'posterity'! Back in 53:8 part of the shame of the servant's untimely death was this: "Who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living..." Indeed Jesus did die as a bachelor without children. But v10 adds, "though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring..." Jesus alluded to this when He said, "...unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (Jn 12:24) We who believe are those seeds, His descendants or family in a spiritual sense. Hebrews 2(10f) explains this, "In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God...should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." So Easter isn't just about Jesus dying and rising from the dead; it's about you being enable to actually become part of God's forever family!
Q: How might it affect our self-esteem to see ourselves as Jesus' brother/sister, the 'posterity' He died to make possible?
We've talked about the Servant's Prosperity and Posterity; lastly now, the Servant's POSITION. Following the Servant's 'appalling appearance' on the cross, Easter morning brought some arresting appearances as Mary, Peter, and the disciples on the way to Emmaus actually encountered the Risen Lord. Without these appearances, the empty tomb would remain just a big puzzle. What's really exciting about Easter is the Resurrection appearances, which kept on happening for a period of about 40 days, to groups up to 500 in size at one time. It's because of these visible appearances (not just the empty tomb) that all the apostles chose to die as martyrs rather than deny the fact Jesus had risen and been exalted as Lord.
Where is Jesus now? Isaiah 52:13 says He's "raised" and "highly exalted". Hebrews 10:12, "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" - NLT, "the place of honour at the right hand of God." He now enjoys what Isaiah 53:12 calls "a portion among the great", NLT "the honours of a victorious soldier."
At the same time, the apostle Paul could say, "Christ lives in me..." (Gal 2:20) for Jesus promised in John 14(20), "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." He could also talk about "If a man remains in Me and I in him..." (Jn 15:5) So Jesus is both transcendent - ascended "to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead" in the words of the Apostle's Creed - and immanent, here with us: "Lo, I am with you always..." (Mt 28:20) Either way, it is an exalted position of great honour.
Q: Are we honouring Jesus in our lives, acknowledging His position? Would an outsider observing our lives say, "There's somebody in whom Jesus is highly exalted"?
JESUS COMIN' THROUGH THE LINE
Do we really live as though Easter is a fact? Are we half-expecting Jesus to show up unexpectedly as He surprised the first disciples that day and the weeks following?
One way we encounter Jesus in this life is through His proxies - often other people who are poor or suffering. In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 He said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Tony Campolo tells of one of his friends who was touring an inner-city church with a huge social ministry that included a soup kitchen. He was there just before the noon hour. The kitchen crew had gathered in a huddle to pray before they opened the door and let in the hungry street people. Among the prayers was one by an elderly African-American woman who simply said, "Lord, we know You'll be comin' through the line today, so help us to treat You well!" Let's pray.