The Suffering Servant
In 1804 Thomas Jefferson took a razor to his New Testament and cut out everything he found incompatible with his rationalism. Only about 10 percent of the text survived the operation. The Christian faith is thoroughly miraculous, and some people choke on that. But they often miss the most outrageous miracle right at the center of the gospel. In Romans 4:5 Paul says that God “justifies the ungodly.” That’s a real problem. Jesus walked on the water—so what? No one is harmed. But when God justifies the ungodly, he upsets the whole moral order of the universe, doesn’t he?
Everybody knows that God punishes bad people and rewards good people. It’s his job. But the gospel disagrees. The gospel says that God justifies the ungodly. What does that mean? It means that God declares guilty people innocent. It means that God treats bad people as if they were good people. That goes beyond the power of miracle. It’s a scandal.
There’s a reason why we shift the blame. There’s a reason why our problems are always someone else’s fault. There’s a reason why parents blame their children and husbands blame wives and so forth. The reason we continually pass the buck is that we know we can’t bear our own guilt. We want so desperately for others to bear it for us. So we dump it on them, without even noticing what’s happening in our thoughts. This is a major source of tension in our homes and workplaces and churches.
Every one of us needs a scapegoat. In the gospel Jesus says to us, “I am the willing scapegoat of the world. At my cross, it’s my professional business to be crushed under the unbearable guilt of others. It’s my role to bear away other people’s guilt. That’s what I do, because I love guilty people. If you’ll trust me, here’s the deal. My only guilt will be yours, and your only righteousness will be mine. Is that arrangement acceptable to you? Or will you continue to cope with your guilt by your own devices?”
God wants to glorify himself by flooding our lives with sin-bearing mercy in Christ. The only barrier to being awash in freshness and joy and release is when we cling to our guilt by clinging to our own righteousness. All our guilt must go to Christ, and all our righteousness must come from Christ. This is God’s way of release for guilty people, and there is no other.
1. The Servant Shall Be Glorified v. 13
2. The Servant Shall Be Brutalized v. 14
The Servant’s sufferings brought such a disfigurement that those who saw said not only, ‘Is this he?’ but ‘Is this human?’
3. The Servant Shall Be Recognized v. 15
New truth has come to them, formerly untold, unheard before, but now seen and understood. The next three stanzas of the poem explain what it is.
OBSERVANCE OF COMMUNION
One solitary man, abandoned, ground into the dirt under our heel, giving to us in return life-transforming purity—it’s the only way lepers like us are healed. Before him we are left in speechless wonder.