Scripture Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Devotional by Derek Baker, associate pastor of First Presbyterian in Ipswich, MA
Kelly noticed as she pulled out of the gas station there was an 18-wheeler on her bumper. At first, she thought she was imagining being followed. She tried to slow down and let him pass, and speed up and create distance, but he stayed right behind her. The truck’s headlights flooded the car. Her heart raced as her fear grew. She pulled off the highway at the next exit into another gas station, but the trucker followed her still. Slamming on her brakes, she jumped out of her car, and ran toward the store. Simultaneously, the back door of her car flew open, and out leapt a man who had been crouching in the back seat since she had filled up only minutes before. As the carjacker ran toward a nearby field for cover, the trucker tackled him and called the police. When the truck driver approached Kelly he said, “I saw him sneak into your car back there, but there was no time for me to warn you before you drove off. I had to stay close behind you with my high beams in your car so he’d know I’d see him if he tried anything. I did it to save you. It was the only way.”
When we read this passage, we should feel like Kelly did on that night: scared... confused, but wonderfully grateful. This is an unexpected way to save. But it was the only way. All of Israel’s history had been pointing to a coming Savior. The Jews called him “Messiah, Anointed One.” Isaiah and others expected a king. We find a kingly description of the Savior in the first verse of this section: “Behold, my servant shall...be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” But then for the next 13 verses, we are left confused, even scared. This Savior-king has an appearance that is “marred beyond human semblance” (52:14). He is compared to a young, tender plant in your garden that seems so tiny and weak you wonder if fruit will ever come from it; a root growing out of dried ground that you only notice when you stumble over it (53:2). He’s despised and rejected by men (53:3). This is the exalted Savior-king? Exalted by God, but dismissed by us humans. How many in our day find Jesus insignificant--paying no attention to him until moments of trial or near death? But for the Christian, we dismiss him: too busy to read and pray; forgetting that our every moment is dependent upon Him; failing to see Him working even now.
When C.S. Lewis’ wife was died of cancer he reflected that we may at times wish we could bear another’s pain for them, but we never know if we really mean it, since it is never allowed. He then wrote, “It was allowed to One we are told, and I find I can now believe again that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done. He replies to our babble, ‘You can not and you dare not. I could and I dared.’” Do you believe and marvel that he was diseased for you? It is the only way.
But in the middle of our confusion and fear, as in the middle of Isaiah’s horrifically beautiful description, we should be left wondering in gratitude, because this was the only way to save us. We notice from Isaiah 53:4-6 that there is an unfair exchange taking place between us and Him. It is our sickness He carried, our pains He bore, He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities and by His wounds we are healed. He was diseased for us.
But Isaiah doesn’t finish there. In the end, this suffering Savior-king is exalted because he makes many righteous as he bears their sins. He is seen as a conquering king, but doesn’t keep the spoils for Himself. He shares them with those whom He saved (53:11-12). Do you believe this? It’s His wounds, our healing; His stripes, our peace; His suffering, our hope. If you already trust in Him, will you stop and marvel anew? Allow yourself to be confused, scared, grateful......saved. It was the only way.
Oh man of sorrows, Hated and despised
So marred, so ugly, We all turned our eyes
Like sheep we’ve wandered, Going our own way
It pleased the Father, To crush You in our place
Your wounds, our healing,
Your stripes, our peace
You carried our sorrows, You carried our griefs
Your suffering, our hope
You poured out your soul, Unto death
So we could be counted, Righteous
Sinless one who takes our sins
Dying one our death condemns
Bearing our guilt though innocent
But the grave can’t hold you in
Written August 11, 2011 for The Scripture to Music Project.
Words and music by Caroline Cobb. From Isaiah 52:13-53:12.