by Thomas Langford
One of the most beautiful, yet awe-full, passages in the Bible is Isaiah 53, which details the suffering of the Savior for the sins of the world. Written many years before His birth, it outlines the earthly career of Jesus and our salvation by His sacrificial death. "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him"; "Surely He took our infirmities and carried our sorrows"; "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all"; "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter"; "He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." These words are so familiar to most of us that we forget their remarkable prophetic timing. But early Jewish Christians were aware of this foretelling of the "Suffering Servant." The Apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah as he writes to scattered saints. "By His wounds you have been healed" (1 Pet. 2:24) is the exact wording from Isaiah 53:5 and "you were like sheep going astray" (1 Pet. 2:25) is from Isaiah 53:6. Graphic as is Isaiah's description of the coming crucifixion, we still shudder as we read the details from the New Testament. Beaten and reviled by the mob, sharp thorns pressed into His bleeding brow, cruelly nailed to the cross, "The Passion" is too brutal for most of us and we would rather the story be tempered, or at least shortened. No one, much less an innocent, righteous man, ought to have to endure such suffering.
What made the suffering more intense was that Jesus endured it alone. Even the Father had forsaken Him. Philip Yancy reflects:
"I have marveled at, and sometimes openly questioned, the self-restraint God has shown throughout history, allowing the Genghis Khans and the Hitlers and Stalins to have their way. But nothing-nothing-compares to the self-restraint shown that dark Friday in Jerusalem. With every lash of the whip, every fibrous crunch of fist against flesh, Jesus must have mentally replayed the Temptation in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. Legions of angels awaited His command. One word, and the ordeal would end." (The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan, 1995). But He suffered alone and in apparent weakness. The Son of God, Creator of the world, full of omnipotent possibilities, chose to endure for the sake of all of us. "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Heb. 5:8-9). The cruelty of Jesus' last hours is made the more remarkable by the fact that He could have avoided it, that He willingly endured the weight of our sins and the pain it took to free us from them. We need to reflect on these horrific events, difficult though it be, and to remember that Jesus died for the sins of the world, including our own. The severity of the suffering reflects the enormity of the load He was bearing-the burden of all the sins of the world. But as we study the horror of all this suffering, there is a brighter side: "By His wounds you have been healed." Healing is what we all need and what Jesus freely offers through His terrible ordeal: As Isaac Watts puts it:
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Or from Mrs. Frank Beck:
There was One who was willing to die in my stead,
That a soul so unworthy might live,
And the path to the cross He was willing to tread,
All the sins of my life to forgive.
It is remarkable that Christians sing about and celebrate such a gruesome event. I am not aware that there is anything comparable in other religions. But the cross is the core of our faith; it is what brings our salvation and justifies our celebration. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). It is in the cross that we all are brought together in one body and it is the cross that compels our love for one another and makes us one family.
We stand as one in the awesome fact that "by His wounds [we] have been healed." Thomas Langford, retired dean of the Graduate School at Texas Tech University is
a member of the Quaker Avenue Church of Christ, Lubbock, Texas.