ISA 53-5-passionate

Christ’s death and suffering in themselves embody the very definition of passion.

 

 

Webster’s dictionary defines passion as (1) a strong and barely controllable emotion, (2) an intense desire or enthusiasm for something, and (3) the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death. Christ’s death and suffering in themselves embody the very definition of passion. Isaiah 53:7-9 essentially outlines the passion. In this stanza we see Christ’s trial, death and burial. Particularly we see that in each — he is completely innocent. He is innocent in his trial — even while being accused he speaks no defense. He is innocent in his death in in factfact, his innocence is so obvious that he is likened to a silent lamb led to slaughter. Finally, he is innocent even in his burial. Isaiah states that he will be buried with the wicked and rich, despite the fact that no violence or deceit could be found in him.

 

Could it be that this innocent man is silent because he is passionate about his passion? With precision and a perfect countenance, he reveals to us that he does not need to defend himself, he has no need to put the chief priest in his place, he offers complete forgiveness to his persecutors and he carries himself with a humble confidence because he has a secret ambition. Just as Hebrews 12:2 says, knowing the joy set before him he endured the cross. Christ found joy in the cross. He is passionate about his passion.

 

Christ’s Trial

The silence of the Lamb is a magnificent scene. “We give our highest eulogy to those who suffer for others without a murmur of complaint; carrying silently a load of pain and grief.”

In Christ we see a silently suffering servant, who spoke not a word of defense or deceit. Isaiah wants to make it clear that Christ is being oppressed, and oppression always speaks of injustice. There is no violence or deceit in this man. He is perfect and has every right to defend himself. You get the sense that he is silent with a quiet security, knowing full well what must happen. He hears the accusations, but has no need to respond, because in responding he only hinders the greater end. He knows that he must suffer and die for the sin of the world. Defending himself is unnecessary.

 

But Isaiah also wants us to know that this man willingly lays down his life.  Jesus is not overpowered, because he does not fight. He is not carried away by some chaotic unjust system, because he willingly chooses to offer his life. These, in fact, are Christ’s very words, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18) Again, when Christ is questioned by Pilate concerning his silence, he answers, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11) It is the will of the Father for the Son to give his life, and the Son is pleased to obey.

 

Christ’s willingness to serve can be seen in the terms oppressed and afflicted. The term “afflicted” is a participle and is more accurately translated “he was being afflicted” or more accurately “he was humbling himself”.

 

“The construction gives the sense of contemporaneous action: he was oppressed, while humbling himself.”

One cannot help but think of the kenosis or Christ’s great act of humility in Philippians 2, where Christ is clearly presented as actively choosing to humble himself. Christ, being in the likeness of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but instead humbled himself to become a man. Not just a man but to die as a man. And not just to die as most men, but to die upon a cross.

 

He is likened to a lamb that is silent before its shearers. This is the second  time that Isaiah uses an allusion to sheep. In the previous stanza he likens us to sheep who are lost and who frequently go astray. We are compared to sheep in a negative sense: We are stupid. We are lost. We need a shepherd. But in this stanza he compares Christ to a lamb in a positive sense: He is humble. He is silent. He is submissive. The Bible uses so many illustrations about sheep and shepherds. In many ways this is unfortunate because most of us have absolutely no experience with sheep.

 

I once saw a movie called City Slickers, about a few guys from New York city signing up for a week long experience herding cattle with a group of real “cowboys”. The trip was designed to get out of city life and man up in the old west. Ever since seeing that movie I have always wanted to organize a similar trip with sheep. Think about it: what if you could be left alone for a few days with the responsibility of caring for and shepherding a group of sheep? Can you imagine how that experience might illuminate these sheep illustrations to us “city slickers”?

 

But for now, I can only go by what I have been told, and I’ve been told that it is a strange sight indeed to see a sheep taken for shearing. It doesn’t fight back. It doesn’t protest, and it doesn’t seem to even care that his fleece has been taken from him. This is how Isaiah paints the picture of Christ. He is a lamb, silent before his shearers. So what does that mean for us stupid sheep? What are we supposed to learn from Christ’s humble example?

 

It is true that Christ came chiefly to take upon himself the sin of the world, but it is also true that as Christ pardons sinners he then “transforms them into people who act like Jesus—not like him in pardoning, but like him in loving. Like him in suffering to do good to others. Like him in not returning evil for evil. Like him in lowliness and meekness. Like him in patient endurance. Like him in servanthood. Jesus suffered for us uniquely, that we might suffer with him in the cause of love.”

 

However, in my experience it seems that humans are by nature defensive. We have this innate overwhelming desire to always defend ourselves. We defend ourselves even when we know we are wrong. We even have little slang sayings that illustrate this point exactly. We’ll say things like, “I’m just saying,” which seems to literally mean  something like, “I’m just saying this but can’t be held accountable for meaning it.”  Or even worse, when someone accuses us or speaks negatively to us, we might be very inclined to lash back with a list of all of their faults. Basically, we say something like, “Well — before you remove the speck from my eye, please — allow me to remove the log from yours!” We will then continue to lay in to our offender with a list of sorts of things we’ve been thinking but have never said. I wonder if you’ve had experiences like that? I sure have. Yet Christ, our hero and example, shows us how to love even when we are unloved. Even in his silent submission we can see how passionate Christ is for his passion.

 

Christ’s Death

It is too easy to read this text and think that Jesus died at the hands of an unjust system. It is true that he was treated unjustly and unfairly, and died at the hands of oppressive people who falsely judged him under an illegal trial. However, Isaiah is not emphasizing that Christ dies unjustly but that “he is suffering in the place of those who should be suffering.”

 

He is our savior, not because he suffered injustice but because he suffered in our place.

 

Or to put it another way — he was stricken for our transgressions.  All throughout this poem, Isaiah has made it very clear that the Servant dies for the sins of the people. And in case you might have forgotten, he tells us once again that “he was stricken for the transgression of my people”. The Hebrew word for stricken literally means “a heavy blow”. This term suggests overtones of plague or sickness and is the same Hebrew word used in the book of Exodus when God sends a plague, and in Leviticus to describe the leper’s spot. And so, the blow is a combination of sickness, violence and persecution, and, if you could even imagine, it is the most terrible version of all of those. It it is so bad that it moves Christ to say, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

Upon the cross, and just before his death, “Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34)  He is quoting Psalms 22, and if you were to read the entire Psalm you would see that it is awesomely shocking how Psalms 22, Isaiah 53, and the passion of Jesus in the Gospels run so parallel. As you go back and read Psalm 22, take special note at how often he uses the term mouth. Isaiah begins and ends this stanza with the term mouth. Also, I can’t help but notice the term generation at the end of Psalm 22 as David highlights the proclamation of the Gospel message concerning the suffering Servant to future generations. The term “generation” leads us back to the end of this stanza in Isaiah.

 

As Isaiah explains the death of Christ he says, “As for his generation, who considered that he was cut off from the land of the living.” There is much debate about what this means. The problem is with the word generation. Some say that generation literally means line. Therefore, because he had no children, the question becomes, “Who considered how sick he really was; in that he had no children to carry on his line?” Others take the term generation to mean his contemporaries. The question would then sound like, “Who among his contemporaries considered that he was stricken for the transgressions of the people?” This seems like the most normal reading; however, there were some who did consider this and were saved, for instance, the thief dying next to him, his disciples, and the centurion.

 

Some believe that with awesome irony, Isaiah is saying that the very people who are beating and killing Christ, could not consider that as they were beating him,  every blow that they gave to Christ was received for them and their sin – even the very sin of killing this innocent man. Christ illustrates this fact when, hanging from the cross, he looks down at the people and says, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) This is beautifully illustrated in much medieval art. For instance, in Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross (1515)

the focus is on the men and women around Jesus. We see how twisted and contorted and evil those people are. They are strikingly ugly — almost demonic, and yet Jesus offers them forgiveness.

 

Isaiah asks, “Who has considered that he was cut off and stricken for our transgressions?” This is the question that every man must ask himself. Have you given thought to this Gospel truth? Have you considered that your sin not only caused Christ to suffer, but he also suffered so that you would not. What an amazing message of love, mercy and forgiveness. Look inside yourself and you will certainly agree that you do not deserve such kindness. Even still, Christ is passionate about his passion.

 

Christ’s Burial

Just like the Apostles’ Creed, we move immediately from the dead to the buried (crucified, dead, and buried) and see that the injustice continues as he is buried with the wicked and the rich. “He is not even allowed to be buried among persons whose choices in life might approximate his own, persons who have chosen the good of others over their own comfort, gain, and power.”

 

This is a classic representation of the saying “adding insult to injury”. Even in his burial he is being spit upon.

 

How do you feel about pairing the wicked with the rich? This, for obvious reasons, makes many people uncomfortable. There are several different ways to interpret this verse. Some argue that the phrase is antithetic, meaning that Christ was supposed to be buried with the wicked, but instead was buried with the rich. Oswalt comments that this is pressing the text. “We must remain with the text as it is and attempt to understand the parallelism as it stands.”

Through out the Old Testament, and especially the book of Isaiah, wealth is frequently connected with oppression. In this stanza the suffering servant is oppressed and his oppressors bury him, not with the poor or those who have also suffered oppressive injustice, but with those who commonly oppress.

 

It is clear that God has no patience for those who do not care for the sick, the widow, the orphaned, and the poor. Because — in as much as we do not love and care for them, we are unable to truly experience how passionately he loves us. The parallelism of wicked and rich may make us uncomfortable, because that may mean that we too are numbered among the oppressors. We could take some comfort in knowing that Christ’s forgave even his oppressors, but I want to be one whose choices in life approximate his own.

 

In keeping with typical Hebraic poetry, this stanza ends where it began, with the mouth of the servant. However, this parallel structure does not simply repeat the concept but carries it a step further.  In the beginning we are told that he opens not his mouth, but here we are told that there is no deceit in his mouth, a concept that is much harder to accomplish. As difficult as it is for us to remain silent when others falsely accuse us, it is even more difficult, impossible actually, for us to speak no deceit. Christ was tried, crucified, died and buried and all along, not a single false word came out of his mouth. He is completely innocent.

 

Once again, it is important to note that the force of the Gospel is not that Jesus suffered unjustly but that he suffered in our place. Now, suffering an unjust death when there was no deceit in his mouth is indeed a horrible fact. However, there is a more powerful truth proclaimed in this verse: There was no deceit in his mouth. He said no false thing. Everything that he said was completely true and he claimed to be God. He declared that there was no way to the Father except through him. He confessed that he was the “I Am” and at that Caiaphas tore his clothes and exclaimed, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.” (Matthew 26:65) Unfortunately Caiaphas forgot what Isaiah told us, “there was no deceit in his mouth.” 

 

Perhaps you should consider his claims. Christ made it clear that he came to save sinners, he is the resurrection and the life and he offers life to whoever believes in him. In fact he said, more than once, that whoever believes him will not perish but have eternal life. May I remind you that there was no deceit in his mouth. Those claims are true, and he kept all of his promises. He died and rose again and he did it because he is passionate about his passion. He was and will always be the passionate Christ.