Saturday, April 23, 2011

Worth it but not worthy

I love how sobering Easter it makes me think a lot about BIG things like my sin and God's love. I usually review the story of Jesus' death and resurrection by reading and/or getting preached to about the accounts of what happened in one of the gospels in the New Testament. You know, the actual history told by people who knew Jesus and were there when it all took place. This year, my heart was prepared to think about Easter a few weeks early as I read and studied Isaiah's prophesy of what would happen to Jesus about 700 years prior. It blows my mind to compare Isaiah 52:13 through chapter 53 to the New Testament accounts of what Jesus experienced. Not only is it dead-on accurate, down to the nitty gritty details, but it makes it so personal.

Disclaimer: I am not going to include all of the verses in Isaiah's prophesy but you can read it (and I encourage you to) starting in verse 13 here. And if you'd like to see the proof by matching up each of the specific prophesies in Isaiah 53 with the account of their New Testament fulfillment, there's a chart for easy reference here.

I just wanted to share some of the verses (I skipped some throughout) describing Jesus as the suffering servant that I found expecially relevant to me this year. I hope you will find them meaningful too.

Isaiah 52
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—
Isaiah 53
2 He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
As much as I can't stand Mel Gibson, if you haven't seen The Passion of the Christ, you need to.
Jesus suffered in so many ways, although his physical suffering is most obvious to most. In years past I've studied all the particulars of exactly how he was tortured and how someone who is crucified actually dies. You have a greater appreciation for what he did when you fully understand exactly what his body experienced. I strongly encourage you to read a medical doctor's account of the physical torture that Jesus experienced here.

For me this year, I was struck more by the ways Jesus suffered mentally and emotionally. Most people can't identify with severe physical torture but we've all suffered emotional hurt and pain on one level or another. The verses above remind me that Jesus was despised and rejected, held in low esteem, people hid their faces from him, there was nothing beautiful about him physically, he was oppressed and afflicted, and familiar with suffering and pain. Ever feel like you can identify?

Hebrews 2:16-18 explains why God came down to our level, to become a man, and take on the mental and emotional suffering we all experience too. "For surely it is not the angels that he helps, but Abraham's descendants [people]. For that reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in orer that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, that he might make atonement for [reconcile or repare] the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

I find it very comforting to know that God the Son humbled himself and became the person Jesus in part so that he is able to empathize with me when I feel alone, rejected, or less than beautiful. It's an expression of his love to me. I can never say Jesus has no idea what I'm going through or feeling.

I benefit from his suffering in many ways:
          Jesus' Suffering     Our Benefit
53:4   He took                 Our infirmities (sickness, weakness)
          He carried             Our sorrows
53:5   He was pierced     For our transgressions (sins)
          He was crushed     For our iniquities (sins)
          His punishment      Brought us peace
          His wounds           We are healed
53:6   Laid on him           The iniquity (sin) of us all

So as if Jesus wasn't mentally and emotionally tortured enough by his "friends", his family, his people, the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman rulers and soldiors, just before he died he suffered the worst of it all. Though completely innocent and having never sinned himself, he took on both the guilt and punishment for all of our sins. And because God is holy and cannot be with or even look at sin, God the Father turned his face from Jesus. Verse 4 says he was "punished by God, stricken by him." That was the ultimate rejection. And I'm also to blame.

The worst mental/emotional torture I can imagine for myself is suffering injustice. Getting blamed and punished for something I did not do. But would I do this for someone else on purpose to spare them what they deserved? Verse 12 says that Jesus poured out his own life unto death. Jesus knew what he was heading in to (which is a whole other level of mental suffering). Yet he chose to go through with it. He could have answered his accusers in such a way that would have resulted in him being let free. He could have healed his own wounds or miraculously disappeared from the cross before he died. But he purposefully and willingly took on the guilt and punishment for my sins and suffered the wrath of God the Father in my place.

I'm the sinner but he showed me mercy. There are no good works I can do to earn God's favor, nothing I can say or do to make Jesus love me. Only by his love and grace does he offer the guilt-free, punishment-free forgiveness of sins to anyone who believes. I do believe and so I do have this treasure. Though I continue to sin, I am guilt-free. Though my sins deserve the punishment of eternal separation from the holy God, I look forward to spending eternity with him in heaven because Jesus already paid for my sins. By his grace he offers me this wonderful gift and by my faith I accept it.  It is SO humbling. I so don't deserve a treasure as great as this. Apparently I'm his treasure or else why would he do this for me?

I am not worthy, but he thought I was worth it. Guess what? You're not worthy either. But He thinks you're worth it too.

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