Tag Archives: Isaiah 53

When it all goes dark…and silent

..yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brothers house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead.. At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;

Surely God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household…Only a few years will pass before I take the path of no return. My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

(Job 1.18-22: 13.15: 16.7&22-17.1)

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death..You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief…You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.

(Ps 88.1-3,6,8&18)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

(Isa 53.5)

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind, and God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

(1 Cor.10.13)

 

Sooner or later, it comes to each one of us. The pain of the world suddenly becomes our pain, the tragic headlines become our headlines, our lives, and our future. There are some trials from which there can be no return – the premature death of a beloved child, a fatal diagnosis, a destroyed relationship. These things in themselves are painful enough, but when those involved had not professed faith in Jesus, when we fear that they had no hope for eternity, the loss becomes unbearable.

These things are common trials to mankind down the centuries, not unique to us here and now – this is not some new thing which God is doing. It is a mystery which his children have wrestled with since Cain murdered Abel and broke his parent’s hearts, since Job’s children were destroyed, since Jeremiah was broken and despised by those to whom he was called, since Hosea’s tragic marriage to Gomer.

We are made to call God our Father, to trust in him and to receive all the good things which are our inheritance, most of all to be in intimate loving fellowship with him. When we are wounded in these ways, we feel betrayed, and abandoned; we become angry because we are scared and alone in the darkness of our suffering. We cry out for answers;  we long for the suffering to be undone, for the bad things not to have happened – and in Job and Jeremiah’s case, we wish that we had never lived to experience such depth of trouble.

God doesn’t give us answers, nor – with a handful of exceptional miraculous interventions – does he restore the dead to us. He promises that he will never leave us, and that he is sovereign to rule over all that happens, working it out for his glory – and our blessing. And he gives us his son, to suffer betrayal, injustice, physical pain and ultimate agonising separation from the Father – a darkness which we will never know, because Christ endured it for us.

Let us be merciful to one another, we are all living with unanswerable questions –  like open wounds, amputations or paralyses which impede our every function for the rest of our lives, and at times make us feel permanently cut off from joy, light and hope. Let us be filled with compassion for those whose burden of grief is inexplicably heavy, and refrain from offering easy comfort.

We pray for others, as we would be prayed for: that they might be kept from the temptation to despair of God, He is powerful to protect his children; that they might be spared the aggravation of comforters such as Job’s so-called friends, but instead receive compassion; that they might be upheld by God, and able to cast all our cares on him, over and over again; and that they might know – even in such agony – the peace which only he gives.

A divine substitute?

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,

Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

(Isaiah 53. 4&5)

The mystery at the heart of the Christmas story, is the mystery of who this miraculous child really was? Why was he foretold by God’s prophets hundreds of years before his birth, and what is the significance of the way he was described in those ancient writings? Babies were born regularly, frequently, it was nothing new, so why all the fuss about this one?

We have the testimony of the gospel writers, who must surely have had the details directly from Mary herself – who else could have told of the visit by the angel to her home in Nazareth all those months before the trip to Bethlehem? That testimony refers again and again to the prophecies given over the years, which pointed to a coming saviour, one who would save his people, would dwell with them, would bring justice, an eternal rule of peace, and real healing of our sin wounds.

We have Jesus own testimony about himself, coming as the fulfillment of all the old testament scriptures, coming as the one who would reveal God to his people, and would lay down his life for his sheep.

We have God’s direct testimony, at Jesus’ conception, birth, baptism, transfiguration, and ascension into heaven. This was God’s own son; beloved, sent, broken and blessed – for the redeeming of the world.

So on the one hand we have a very simple story; a young woman conceives and gives birth to a son. On the other hand we have a mystery which enchants and inspires us even as it perplexes us; God himself is enclosed in embryo, the creator of the universe submits to the process he himself devised, and takes on human flesh. When he was finally born in Bethlehem, the angelic host could contain themselves no longer, and burst forth in praise and adoration to announce to the shepherds that something absolutely unprecedented was going on!

All through his life, the paradox continued to develop. He was fully human, and lived a sinless life; He was sent to save his people, yet never raised a sword or led an army; He came in fulfillment of all the scriptures, yet the religious leaders opposed and hated him, utterly failing to recognise him. And ultimately on the cross, his death in disgrace and shame was to be his greatest triumph and the means by which his mission was accomplished. By his sufferings for our sins, all those who trust and believe in him are set free from the consequences of sin. His death for us, conquers death for us. His life laid down for us, births new life in us. What a mystery, what profound depths are these to consider!

This is the child whose birth we anticipate and celebrate over again each year; this Christ, the helpless baby who was also the eternal, all-powerful word of God. I am so thankful that at the heart of the story of Christmas is this great mystery, from which every year I am freshly blessed and find new cause for praise and thanksgiving. It is no empty sentimental excuse for a party, but the only gift which could ever really do me good, given by a God whose love I have every reason to trust.

The best songs are the ones which focus my thoughts on this truth, the simple, stunning reality that in Christ, God sent someone else to take my place; and this week, I have been singing one of the simplest and best of them. I close with it, and pray that for all of us, this truth will shine like the light in our darkness in the days ahead.

Child in the manger, infant of Mary;

Outcast and stranger, Lord of all!

Child who inherits all our transgressions,

All our demerits on Him fall.

( Mary Macdonald, 1817-1890; tr Lachlan Macbean, 1853-1931)