4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
Isaiah 53:4-6 (NASB)
Disappointment With God
In his book Disappointment With God, Philip Yancey points out that at the time of Christ, the imminent appearance of the Messiah was in the air. They were expecting a conquering hero, a military and political leader who would free them from the oppression of Rome. When a wandering homeless storyteller arrived on the scene, healing people and casting out demons, they couldn’t accept Him as the Messiah. They certainly didn’t expect to see Him as pierced and crushed and chastened. He didn’t fit the mental picture they had built up of a proper Messiah. He was despised, and was not esteemed (Isaiah 53:3).
We see this same dynamic down to this day. We tend to shy away from the message of the cross of Christ. Like Cain, we want a bloodless and pleasant offering. We want to make Christianity about “relationship, not religion”, which is fine until I foul up my side of the relationship. We want to worry about our sanctification, which of course is perpetually lacking. We want to promise (lie to?) people that they can be free in Christ, that there is a liberty in the Spirit which we don’t really experience. We want to tell them that God is doing great things in our lives, when many times it is seems more like we simply soldier on. We want to tell them that Christianity is about anything except a crucified savior. It is a profoundly disappointing message; it just isn’t enough. We’re afraid to admit how true U2’s song is for us:
You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for
Resurrection, Not Crucifixion!
Unlike the apostle Paul and Isaiah, we tend to want to emphasize the resurrection as of first importance. The resurrection really is something to write home about! It is a tale of miracle and triumph, and without it the cross would mean nothing. The resurrection is important enough to be included in the 1 Corinthians account of what was delivered as of first importance. However, it is Christ and Him crucified that Paul was determined to make known (1 Corinthians 2:2). It was the suffering and death of the Messiah that Isaiah was so inspired to foretell. The Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah are explicit about His suffering, but obscure and sparse concerning His resurrection. All of the Levitical practices foreshadowed Christ’s death, not His resurrection. It is the savior’s blood, not the savior’s resurrection, that washes us from all sin (1 John 1:9). Unlike us, the inspired writers of the Bible emphasized the message of the cross first and foremost.
Who Would Make This Up?
One of the most distinguishing marks of the cross of Christ is that it is not the kind of thing that any human would have dreamed up. No one would wake up one day and say, “I’m going to invent a new religion! Let’s make the central doctrine a pathetic human sacrifice! In fact, let’s make the central figure out to be God in the flesh, and let’s make His chief act, that He dies. That will impress people and draw lots of followers!”
Instead, we see that the suffering of the Messiah couldn’t have been more clearly foretold, but it is such an unlikely and distasteful idea that no one believed it and no one expected it. Of course Peter disputed it when he first heard about it (Matthew 16:21,22,23)! To this day we still have trouble accepting it. No one but God could have dreamt this up. In other religions, the leader may have been sacrificial, but they did not make it their main goal to dramatically and publicly die. As Christians we might think that the Aztecs were closest to the truth with their human sacrifices, but they didn’t have the right person at hand to kill. Besides, it isn’t the deity who is sacrificed or a leader; it was thousands of young “innocents”! For other religions, the significance of their gods and leaders is in their power and success, their teachings and wisdom and inspirational leadership. It is not their sacrifice for us but their demand of sacrifice from us. People try to cast Jesus as the same kind of figure but it doesn’t work. His morals and His example and His wisdom are so perfect that we can only despair as we look. Jesus came to be the savior, and all of His ministry and wisdom and teaching worked toward this end: He was the savior come to die for sinners.
The Fingerprint of God
We have in the cross, the clearest and most obvious fingerprint of God. He made this up, and He executed it by His own sovereign power. You yourself did not make this up, you would never have made it up. There is a strange comfort in saying that the whole thing seems a little alien and creepy, because it means we didn’t invent it. No human invented your salvation. It is clear that God made this up. When you look at the cross of Christ, you are looking most directly at the unadulterated pure action of the living true God on earth. People may dispute about how to interpret certain Bible passages and theological doctrines, but the cross of Christ stands alone, stark and unblemished. In the most dramatic and profound way, He has used the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. It is as if God took a few millennia before creating the universe, to plan something so foolish and unlikely that no one would ever think that a human mind would invent it — then He used that as His centerpiece. There is nothing weaker and more foolish and embarrassing than the cross of Christ. In acknowledging this, we see that God Himself has stepped in, quite apart from the idea of any man, and has declared with His own authority that we are greatly prized. He has made a grand fool of Himself for our sake, and by His own initiative has declared for us a very great love.