Optional Study: We will resume Mark next Monday.
The book of Isaiah is crammed full of prophetic references to Jesus Christ. Today, we will cram into just two A4 pages, one of Isaiah’s reflections on the death and triumphal resurrection of our Lord, written many hundreds of years before his birth.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
The feet of a messenger who had run for hours on stony roads over mountain passes to bring good news are anything but beautiful. (Remember the tale of the messenger from the Battle of Marathon, who dropped dead on his arrival from exhaustion.) Such a runner’s feet will be lacerated, bleeding, bruised, stinking and swollen.
Isaiah has just re-defined beauty as that which exhausts itself in the service of others. The story to be told in the life and death of this servant will transform the values of the entire world.
1 Who has believed our message? To whom has the arm of Yahweh been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.
He has no good looks or majesty. When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised, and rejected by men; a man of suffering,
and acquainted with disease. He was despised as one from whom men hide their face; and we didn’t respect him.
Jesus was regarded by his society as an illegitimate child. He came from a poor family with no special connections. He lived his youth in obscurity. He was reviled and despised by all the upper classes of society, both Jewish and Roman. Although he taught with authority, he was rejected by the established teachers, the one with the qualifications from the “right” schools.
I’ve spent my whole life in education. I know all about the ‘right’ schools and the ‘right’ connections. I came from a very working class family, so I didn’t have those connections. Unfortunately the church is not exempt from such exclusivist prejudice either. If you didn’t go to this or that seminary, you can’t get a job in some dioceses. But take heart! The Lord suffered all that and more. He looks upon the heart, not the résumé. The last words in this passage are keen as a blade: we didn’t respect him.
4 Surely he has borne our sickness, and carried our suffering; yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed.
It’s generally a life rule that you suffer for your own wrongdoing. But Jesus had done nothing wrong. Do you remember the sharp injustice of being wrongly accused as a child for something you did not do? Children have no standing from which to defend themselves against injustice. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Every one of my sins – yes, the ones that I keep on doing, even now – they are yet another blow, another piercing. I’m so sorry, Jesus.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Let’s not blame “original sin”, here. This is not Adam’s guilt. This is my own guilt. We have all gone astray, turned to our own way. My sin, my responsibility. Don’t blame my parents, or the system, or my teachers, or… Mine the guilt, mine the shame. But God has laid on him my iniquity. He carried my guilt-burden so that I don’t need to.
7 He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he didn’t open his mouth. 8 He was taken away by oppression and judgment; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken for the disobedience of my people?
“It’s not my fault!” I cry. “Don’t blame me!” But he was silent. He who had no fault carried all of mine, and never once pointed out to his torturers that he was innocent. He suffered, unfairly, and no-one stood up for him. So Maximilian Kolbe would know how to die in Auschwitz; and I might know how to live in the face of injustice.
9 They made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
With a thief on either side, he died. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, offered up his own tomb. A hole in the ground for One whose very presence makes it holy ground.
10 Yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise him. He has caused him to suffer. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he will see his offspring. He will prolong his days, and Yahweh’s pleasure will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light and be satisfied. My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge of himself; and he will bear their iniquities.
Isaiah didn’t have any knowledge of the Trinity. He was nearly a thousand years too early for that. How could he know when he said that Yahweh would bruise his Son, that God was really bruising himself? For the Trinity is One-in-Three and Three-in-One. When the Son suffers, the Father suffers. This was no cosmic child abuse, as some have blasphemously tried to suggest. This was the God who died for his people. This was the True Reality behind all the pagan legends of gods who died for their people and rose again. This is the fulfilment of Balder the Norse God; of Phoenix; of the Green Man and the mistletoe. All of these were but pictures, foretellers of the true God who suffered and died for his people, only to rise again.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion with the great, and he will divide the plunder with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was counted with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” So our Lord made intercession for the transgressors, as Isaiah prophesied that he would do. Although he was listed in the Roman records as just another crucified rebel, yet his name is known in every language on earth. There is no land where he is not worshipped. The cross forms part of the British crown. We call our dogs Caesar and Nero, but we call our children Joshua, Paul and David. We build cathedrals for his glory and go for our holidays to visit Roman ruins. Jesus is Lord, and all Caesars will bow before him.