“But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.”
— Isaiah 53:5 (NRSV)
Christmas time seems awkwardly poised in considering Isaiah’s suffering servant: our Jesus Christ. But there are reminders in this ancient text (verse 2) of the humility with which the babe in the manger came and developed as a boy and into a young man.
Our Western ‘Santa Claus’ traditions of Christmas neglect the humble beginnings of Christ; humble beginnings that led to suffering, scorn, and derision, having been the brief exaltation of his followers, yet then forgotten momentarily in dying a savage’s death.
Surely Christmas and Easter fit together: the beginning and the end. The Alpha and the Omega of Jesus’ life call forth recognition of the same magnanimous fact: humankind’s restoration to fellowship with the Father.
The Lessons Contained In the Suffering Servant Motif
Living lessons there are many of, in the Bible. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeply into the text. Isaiah 53:7, for instance, helps us understand how we may be silent when enduring injustice.
The suffering servant was innocent, and yet scourged. When we are innocent, misjudged perhaps, we wonder the justice of the Lord; yet in our scourging we may fail to see the example of Jesus to encourage us to endure. This time too shall pass.
Sometimes it is the will of the Lord to crush us in pain (verse 10), yet we cannot claim to be—as the suffering servant was—perfect in snow whiteness. We are sometimes crushed as a result of our sin, and sometimes we are crushed beyond our sin. But we are not sinless. We are never too far from iniquity—those things that Christ bore on the cross for us.
Still, out of disaster comes hope.
This Righteous One—the servant of Isaiah 53—the Lord Jesus, one and the same—“shall make many righteous.” (Verse 11) He has done so—the prophesy was/is revealed in Jesus’ name.
The suffering servant, though he was numbered with the transgressors, and poured out himself to death, has borne the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (verse 12). We are those transgressors.
Isaiah 53 is a Psalm of honour to the suffering servant who came humbly, lived righteously to the point of sinlessness, and bore untenable pain, such that we could be made free. Truly, the sinless one was made sin for us such that we could be ascribed to grace.
The Beginning and the End. The Alpha and the Omega. Christmas and Easter. Everything that starts has an ending. The suffering servant, Jesus, came as a babe in rags and lived a peasant life, God-in-skin, to live with us, enduring much pain, to save us. God didn’t need to come here. He chose to. That is, for us, a Happy Christmas!
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.