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Expositions Of Holy Scripture H by Alexander Maclaren

THE SUFFERING SERVANT-II

'Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.5. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid (made to light) on Him the iniquity of us all.' -- ISAIAH liii.4-6.

The note struck lightly in the close of the preceding paragraph becomes dominant here. One notes the accumulation of expressions for suffering, crowded into these verses -- griefs, sorrows, wounded, bruised, smitten, chastisement, stripes. One notes that the cause of all this multiform infliction is given with like emphasis of reiteration -- our griefs, our sorrows, and that these afflictions are invested with a still more tragic and mysterious aspect, by being traced to our transgressions, our iniquities. Finally, the deepest word of all is spoken when the whole mystery of the servant's sufferings is referred to Jehovah's making the universal iniquity to lie, like a crushing burden, on Him.

I. The Burdened Servant.

It is to be kept in view that the 'griefs' which the servant is here described as bearing are literally 'sicknesses,' and that, similarly, the 'sorrows' may be diseases. Matthew in his quotation of the verse (viii.17) takes the words to refer to bodily ailments, and finds their 'fulfilment' in Christ's miracles of healing. And that interpretation is part of the whole truth, for Hebrew thought drew no such sharp line of distinction between diseases of the body and those of the soul as we are accustomed to draw. All sickness was taken to be the consequence of sin, and the intimate connection between the two was, as it were, set forth for all forms of bodily disease by the elaborate treatment prescribed for leprosy, as pre-eminently fitted to stand as type of the whole. But the fulfilment through the miracles is but a parable of the deeper fulfilment in regard to the more virulent and deadly diseases of the soul. Sin is the sickness, as it is also the grief, which most afflicts humanity. Of the two words expressing the Servant's taking their burden on His shoulders, the former implies not only the taking of it but the bearing of it away, and the latter emphasises the weight of the load.

Following Matthew's lead, we may regard Christ's miracles of healing as one form of His fulfilment of the prophecy, in which the principles that shape all the forms are at work, and which, therefore, may stand as a kind of pictorial illustration of the way in which He bears and bears away the heavier burden of sin. And one point which comes out clearly is that, in these acts of healing, He felt the weight of the affliction that He took away. Even in that region, the condition of ability to remove it, was identifying Himself with the sorrow. Did He not 'sigh and look up' in silent appeal to heaven before He could say, Ephphatha? Did He not groan in Himself before He sent the voice into the tomb which the dead heard? His miracles were not easy, though He had all power, for He felt all that the sufferers felt, by the identifying power of the unparalleled sympathy of a pure nature. In that region His pain on account of the sufferers stood in vital relation with His power to end their sufferings. The load must gall His shoulders, ere He could bear it away from theirs.

But the same principles as apply to these deeds of mercy done on diseases apply to all His deeds of deliverance from sorrow and from sin. In Him is set forth in highest fashion the condition of all brotherly help and alleviation. Whoever would lighten a brother's load must stoop his own shoulders to carry it. And whilst there is an element in our Lord's sufferings, as the text passes on to say, which is not explained by the analogy with what is required from all human succourers and healers, the extent to which the lower experience of such corresponds with His unique work should always be made prominent in our devout meditations.

II. The Servant's sufferings in their reason, their intensity, and their issue.

The same measure that was meted out to Job by his so-called friends was measured to the servant, and at the Impulse of the same heartless doctrinal prepossession. He must have been had to suffer so much; that is the rough and ready verdict of the self-righteous. With crashing emphasis, that complacent explanation of the Servant's sufferings and their own prosperity is shivered to atoms, by the statement of the true reason for both the one and the other. You thought that He was afflicted because He was bad and you were spared because you were good -- no, He was afflicted because you were bad, and you were spared because He was afflicted.

The reason for the Servant's sufferings was 'our transgressions.' More is suggested now than sympathetic identification with others' sorrows. This is an actual bearing of the consequences of sins which He had not committed, and that not merely as an innocent man may be overwhelmed by the flood of evil which has been let loose by others' sins to sweep over the earth. The blow that wounds Him is struck directly and solely at Him. He is not entangled in a widespread calamity, but is the only victim. It is pre-supposed that all transgression leads to wounds and bruises; but the transgressions are done by us, and the wounds and bruises fall on Him. Can the idea of vicarious suffering be more plainly set forth?

The intensity of the Servant's sufferings is brought home to our hearts by the accumulation of epithets, to which reference has already been made. He was 'wounded' as one who is pierced by a sharp sword; 'bruised' as one who is stoned to death; beaten and with livid weales on His flesh. A background of unnamed persecutors is dimly seen. The description moves altogether in the region of physical violence, and that violence is more than symbol.

It is no mere coincidence that the story of the Passion reproduces so many of the details of the prophecy, for, although the fulfilment of the latter does not depend on such coincidences, they are not to be passed by as of no importance. Former generations made too much of the physical sufferings of Jesus; is not this generation in danger of making too little of them?

The issue of the Servant's sufferings is presented in a startling paradox. His bruises and weales are the causes of our being healed. His chastisement brings our peace. Surely it is very hard work, and needs much forcing of words and much determination not to see what is set forth in as plain light as can be conceived, to strike the idea of atonement out of this prophecy. It says as emphatically as words can say, that we have by our sins deserved stripes, that the Servant bears the stripes which we have deserved, and that therefore we do not bear them.

III. The deepest ground of the Servant's sufferings.

The sad picture of humanity painted in that simile of a scattered flock lays stress on the universality of transgression, on its divisive effect, on the solitude of sin, and on its essential characteristic as being self-willed rejection of control. But the isolation caused by transgression is blessedly counteracted by the concentration of the sin of all on the Servant. Men fighting for their own hand, and living at their own pleasure, are working to the disruption of all sweet bonds of fellowship. But God, in knitting together all the black burdens into one, and loading the Servant with that tremendous weight, is preparing for the establishment of a more blessed unity, in experience of the healing brought about by His sufferings.

Can one man's 'iniquity,' as distinguished from the consequences of iniquity, be made to press upon any other? It is a familiar and not very profound objection to the Christian Atonement that guilt cannot be transferred. True, but in the first place, Christ's nature stands in vital relations to every man, of such intimacy that what is impossible between two of us is not impossible between Christ and any one of us; and, secondly, much in His life, and still more in His passion, is unintelligible unless the black mass of the world's sin was heaped upon Him, to His own consciousness. In that dread cry, wrung from Him as He hung there in the dark, the consciousnesses of possessing God and of having lost Him are blended inextricably and inexplicably. The only approach to an explanation of it is that then the world's sin was felt by Him, in all its terrible mass and blackness, coming between Him and God, even as our own sins come, separating us from God. That grim burden not only came on Him, but was laid on Him by God. The same idea is expressed by the prophet in that awful representation and by Jesus in that as awful cry, 'Why hast Thou forsaken Me?'

The prophet constructs no theory of Atonement. But no language could be chosen that would more plainly set forth the fact of Atonement. And it is to be observed that, so far as this prophecy is concerned, the Servant's sole form of service is to suffer. He is not a teacher, an example, or a benefactor, in any of the other ways in which men need help. His work is to bear our griefs and be bruised for our healing.

'He was oppressed, yet He humbled Himself and opened not His mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, He opened not His mouth.8. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living? for the transgression of my people was He stricken.9. And they made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death; although He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth' -- ISAIAH liii, 7-9. R. V.

In this section of the prophecy we pass from contemplating the sufferings inflicted on the Servant to the attitude of Himself and of His contemporaries towards these, His patience and their blindness. To these is added a remarkable reference to His burial, which strikes one at first sight as interrupting the continuity of the prophecy, but on fuller consideration assumes great significance.

I. The unresisting endurance of the Servant.

The Revised Version's rendering of the first clause is preferable to that of the Authorised Version. 'Afflicted' would be little better than tautology, but 'humbled Himself' strikes the keynote of the verse, which dwells not on the Servant's afflictions, but on His bearing under them. Similarly, the pathetic imagery of the lamb led and the sheep dumb gives the same double representation, first of the indignities, and next of His demeanour in enduring them, as is conveyed in 'He was oppressed, yet He humbled Himself.' Unremonstrating, unresisting endurance, then, is the point emphasised in the lovely metaphor.

We recall the fact that this emphatically reduplicated phrase 'opened not His mouth' was verbally fulfilled in our Lord's silence before each of the three authorities to whom He was presented, before the Jewish rulers, before Pilate, and before Herod. Only when adjured by the living God and when silence would have been tantamount to withdrawal of His claims, did He speak before the Sanhedrin. Only when silence would have been taken as disowning His Kingship, did He speak before Pilate. And Herod, who had no right to question Him, received no answer at all. Jesus' lips were opened in witness but never in complaint or remonstrance. No doubt, the prophecy would have been as really fulfilled though there had been no such majestic silences, for its substance is patient endurance, not mere abstinence from speech. Still, as with other events in His life, the verbal correspondence with prophetic details may help, and be meant to help, to bring out more clearly, for purblind eyes, the true fulfilment. So we may meditate on the wonder and the beauty of that picture which the evangelists draw, and which the world has recognised, with whatever differences as to its interpretation, as the most perfect, pathetic, and majestic picture of meek endurance that has ever been painted.

But we gather only the most superficial of its lessons, if that is all that we find to say about it. For the main point for us to lay to heart is not merely the fact of that silent submission, but the motive which led to it. He opened not His mouth, because He willingly embraced the Cross, and He willingly embraced the Cross because He loved the Father and would do His will, because He loved the world and would be its Saviour,

That touching imagery of the dumb lamb has manifold felicities and significances beyond serving to figure meekness. And we are not forcing unintended meanings into a mere piece of poetic imagination when we note how remarkably the metaphor links on to that of strayed sheep in the preceding verse, or when we venture to recall John Baptist's first proclamation of the Lamb of God, and Peter's quotation of this very prophecy, and the continual recurrence in the Apocalypse of the name of The Lamb as the title of honour of 'Him who sitteth on the throne.' A kind of nimbus or aureole shines round the humble figure as drawn by the prophet.

II. The misunderstood end of the Servant's life.

The difficult expressions of verse 8 are rendered in the Revised Version with clearness and so as to yield a profound meaning. We may note that here, for the first time, is spoken out that end to which all the preceding description of sufferings has been leading up, and yet it is spoken with a kind of solemn reticence, very impressive. The Servant is 'taken away,' 'cut off,' 'stricken.' Not yet is the grim word 'death' plainly uttered; that comes in the next verse, only after the Servant's death is supposed to be past. The three words suggest, at all events, though in half-veiled language, violence and suddenness in the Servant's fate. Who were the agents who took Him, cut Him off and struck Him, is left in impressive obscurity. But the fact that His death was a judicial murder is set in clear light. Whether we read 'By' or 'From -- oppression and judgment He was taken away,' the forms of law are represented as wrested to bring about flagrant injustice. And, if it were my object now to defend the Messianic interpretation, one might ask where any facts corresponding to this element in the picture are to be found in regard to either the national Israel, or the Israel within the nation.

That unjust death by illegal violence under the mask of law was, further, wholly misunderstood by 'His generation.' We need not do more than remark in a sentence how that feature corresponds with the facts in regard to Jesus, and ask whether it does so on any other theory of 'fulfilment.' Neither friends nor foes had even the faintest conception of what the death of Jesus was or was to effect. And it is worth while to dwell for a moment on this, because we are often told that there is no trace of the doctrine of an atoning sacrifice in the Gospels, and the inference is drawn that it was an afterthought of the apostles, and therefore to be set aside as an excrescence on Christianity according to Christ. The silence of Jesus on that subject is exaggerated; but certainly no thought of His being the Sacrifice for the sins of the world was in the minds of the sad watchers by the Cross, nor for many a day thereafter. Is it not worth noting that precisely such a blindness to the meaning of His death had been prophesied eight hundred years before?

But the reason why this feature is introduced seems mainly to be to underscore the lesson, that those who exercised the violence which hurried the Servant from the land of the living were blind instruments of a higher power. And may we not also see in it a suggestion of the great solitude of sorrow in which the Servant was to die, even as He had lived in it? Misapprehended and despised He lived, misapprehended He died. Jesus was the loneliest man that ever breathed human breath. He gave up His breath in a more awful solitude than ever isolated any other dying man. Utterly solitary, He died that none of us need ever face death alone.

III. The Servant's Grave.

Following on the mystery of the uncomprehended death comes the enigma of the burial. The words are an enigma, but they seem meaningless on any hypothesis but the Messianic one. As they stand, they assert that unnamed persons gave Him a grave with the wicked, as they would do by putting Him to death under strained forms of law, and that then, somehow, the criminal destined to be buried with other criminals in a dishonoured grave was laid in a tomb with the rich. It seems a singularly minute trait to find place in such a prophecy. The remarks already made as to similar minute correspondences in details of the prophecy with purely external facts in Christ's life need not be repeated now. One does not see that it is a self-evident axiom needing only to be enunciated in order to be accepted, that such minute prophecies are beneath the dignity of revelation. It might rather seem that, as one element in prophecy, they are eminently valuable. The smaller the detail, the more remarkable the prevision and the more striking the fulfilment. For a keen-sighted man may forecast tendencies and go far to anticipate events on the large scale, but only God can foresee trifles. The difficulty in which this prediction of the Servant's grave being 'with the rich' places those who reject the Messianic reference of the prophecy to our Lord may be measured by the desperate attempts to evade it by suggesting other readings, or by making 'rich' to be synonymous with 'wicked.' The words as they stand have a clear and worthy meaning on one interpretation, and we even venture to say, on one interpretation only, namely, that they refer to the reverent laying of the body of the Lord in the new tomb belonging to 'a certain rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph.'

If in the latter clause of verse 9 we render 'Because' rather than 'Although,' we get the thought that the burial was a sign that the Servant, slain as a criminal, yet was not a criminal. The criminals were either left unburied or disgraced by promiscuous interment in an unclean place. But that body reverently bedewed with tears, wrapped in fine linen clean and white, softly laid down by loving hands, watched by love stronger than death, lay in fitting repose as the corpse of a King till He came forth as a Conqueror. So once more the dominant note is struck, and this part of the prophecy closes with the emphatic repetition of the sinlessness of the Suffering Servant, which makes His sufferings a deep and bewildering mystery, unless they were endured because of 'our transgressions.'

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