Man Of Sorrows
4. Chastened of God.
"The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed"(Isa.53.5). Here we begin to enter a new realm, of how these things affect us. This expression, "the chastisement of our peace," means literally the chastisement by which our peace is effected. The word does mean to chastise as with whips as used in the memorable passage where Rehoboam promised his subjects that where his father Solomon had chastised them with whips he would do so with scorpions. The expression really does refer to a scourging inflicted to coerce into submission. The word is derived from a root which means "to instruct". The dividing line between chastisement and instruction is very thin in the Bible. ''Spare the rod and spoil the child" (Prov.13.24) is a maxim that has support in the Old Testament. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth'' (Prov.3.11,12). We might, therefore, without wresting the meaning of this verse, take it to give some indication at least that the chastisement laid upon our Lord was in some sense a means of chastening or instructing the sons of men in the way that leads to peace. Some will see in this a reference to the teaching about sin-offering and to 2 Cor. 5. 21 "He hath made him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Here too we see our Lord's conscious pouring out of His life unto death (v 12) that men will receive the power and inspiration necessary to reap the benefit of the Ransom in the age to come. That is why, in v 5 Isaiah tells us that both the suffering and the discipline which are included in the word "chastisement" are laid upon Him that we might eventually attain peace. In those stripes which fell upon Him, we shall at the end be healed. The Book of Hebrews declares this same thing. "It became him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 2. 10; 5. 8-9). There is much in the mystic power for righteousness, set free by the Sin-Offering, that we do not as yet understand, but one of its most obvious aspects is the moral appeal to men's better nature engendered by the realization that He did indeed willingly bear our grief and carry our sorrows and accept our chastisement. It is that more than anything else that will lead men to cry out rapturously "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation". (Isa. 25.9).
There is a cryptic word in the Book of Proverbs which has some connection with this theme. "The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise." (Prov. 15.31). That word "reproof" is the same that is here rendered in Isa.53.5 'chastisement', and it has the same underlying meaning. The "reproof of life" is that stern discipline, chastening, which leads the subject of the 'reproof' to life. The following verse declares that the one who refuses instruction is a despiser of his own soul. The one who willingly becomes subject to the reproof of life, the discipline, the chastening, which is necessary to eternal life, shall abide among the wise — a reference to those who at the end of the Millennial Age will be adjudged worthy. So we can look upon our Lord as one who willingly took upon himself the obligations and duties, the humiliation and suffering, of those who must receive chastening at God's hand that they be reconciled to Him and fitted for their eternal inheritance. He stooped down to us and became as one of us, that we might be lifted up to Him and become like Him, sons of the living God.
"All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (v. 6). Irresistibly we are reminded here of the Good Shepherd, the One who gave His life for the sheep. It is because they have strayed from the safety of the fold into danger, that He is called upon to give His life in their defence and for their recovery. One of the most revealing discourses of Jesus is recorded in Luke 15. The reclaiming power and love of God, manifested in Christ, toward unregenerate man is shown in three everyday illustrations. There were a hundred sheep, one was lost and found. There were ten pieces of silver, one was lost and found. There were two sons, one was lost and found. These three stories provide indisputable proof that none will be lost for want of the selfless love of God, reaching out into the dark recesses of sin to draw the wanderer back to Himself. Medieval theology made it hard to evade the stern barrier of Divine Justice and enter at last through the golden door into the bliss of heaven. The plain teaching of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels is that it will be a very hard thing to escape from the encirclement of Divine Love and fail to inherit the green fields and sparkling streams of Paradise. The Son of Man, like the Good Shepherd of Luke 15, has come forth into the world to seek and save that which was lost, and resolute indeed must be the man or woman who is so determined to fill their hearts with sin and steel themselves against every form of what is good that the love of the Redeemer has no effect upon them. We must hold very rigidly to the Divine declaration that nothing unclean or defiled by sin shall enter the Kingdom of God. None save those reconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance of Him as Saviour, shall ever be admitted to the glory of God's favour and attain everlasting life. Nevertheless we do not have to conclude that on this account the number of the redeemed is to be few. The "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" has to be reckoned with. He has decreed that the whole earth shall one day be full of His glory. He has declared that His word does not return to him void, but prospers in the thing whereto it is sent. It is when we ponder Scriptures like these that we realise what tremendous force and power for good is let loose in the world when God sets Himself to recover His lost creatures, and how hard it is going to be for any man to remain wilfully and incorrigibly obdurate in the face of that outreaching love.
That some will be thus wedded to their sin, despite all the efforts made on their behalf and opportunities put in their path, seems possible from the general tenor of the Scriptures. Some there can be, it would appear, who will fulfil the dark words of Rev. 21. 8 and meet their end in the utter destruction which is the reality behind the lurid symbol of the fiery lake. We can only hope, and we have good reason to believe, that the number will be small compared with the vast numbers of redeemed and reconciled mankind.
Meanwhile the sheep are lost; they wander still in this world, waiting for the shepherd to find them and lead them home, and not even conscious, for the most part, that they are lost and need a Shepherd. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way." How like the bitter words of Rom. 1. 28 "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things" and so it goes on until the dreadful climax in 3. 23 "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God". There are the lost sheep, far from the warmth and light of the Father's home, and here is the Shepherd, making his way through this dark world to find the wandering ones and bring them safely back. But just as God "gave them over" so according to Rom.11.32 God intends to reclaim the dissident sheep and son.
It is not just a question of picking up the straying sheep and carrying it back and putting it down in the sheepfold just as if nothing had happened. Sin and the effects of sin are not dealt with so easily and casually as that. Lest anyone, reading without considering, should think that is all that there is in the Luke 15 story, the Lord adds an epilogue. The sheep has been restored, safe and sound, and there is rejoicing. "Likewise" said Jesus, "joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents". There is little use in bringing home the straying sheep if next day it is going to get lost again; or finding the lost piece of silver only to mislay it again; or greeting the returning prodigal if a week later, refreshed and revitalized, he sets out once more on a fresh career of dissipation and debauchery. There has to be repentance and atonement for past sin. The insult to God's holiness is not lightly to be set aside and the damage to the sinner's character is not easily rectified. So the Saviour not only carries the exhausted frame of the sinner back to God; He also bears the burden of his sin. That is what this verse says. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." The literal meaning of the Hebrew phrase is that "the Lord hath caused to meet him, the iniquity". Iniquity has met him in the road and blocks his way. The word really refers to such things as the historical avenger of blood, meeting the man for whom he is searching and whom he means to slay in satisfaction for the murder of a kinsman. The custom is alluded to in Num. 35. 19. "The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer; when he meets him, he shall slay him." That expression "meets him" is the same as "laid on him" in Isa.53. The implication there behind the expression is clear. The One who goes forth to seek and save the sinner is met in the way by the sinner's own sin, and that sin overcomes and slays him. "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." (1 Pet. 3. 18). "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree ...by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop (episkopos—guardian or overseer) of your souls." (1 Pet. 2. 24-25). Sin met him in the way—and He went forth, calm and resolute, to meet it. He knew that it would encompass His death, but He knew also that only thus could He defeat sin and break its power. We think too often of Jesus the bearer of sin in the sense that Divine Justice demands a sin-bearer before the sentence on a guilty race can be lifted. We think not often enough of the fact that Jesus must bear the sin of the world in order to break the power of sin over the individual. Divine forgiveness of sins is ineffective until the sinner repents; and after repentance Divine Justice has no further claim. There is no reopening old scores once the repentant one has entered into a condition of reconciliation with God, only the inevitable working out of retribution for the deeds done in the body, which none can escape. So it is of the more importance that we consider the bearing of sin by Jesus as it affects the repentant sinners rather than as it affects God. We want to know just how it is that this amazing manifestation of Jesus' love for mankind can result in the reconciliation of man to God and the renunciation by man of all evil
There is a story, said to he true, of a missionary some century or more ago who devoted his life to teaching a primitive tribe of head-hunters in Eastern Asia. Slowly he weaned them from their savage practices and by his love and kindliness endeared himself to all their hearts. Suspicious of strangers they remained, but for their pastor and shepherd they had nothing but the tenderest feelings of love, and they listened patiently and attentively as he talked to them of the love of Christ and attended their ailments and helped them in their troubles. Before his coming, the tribe had an annual ceremony at which a human victim was sacrificed, in the belief that by this means the weather would be propitious and the crops successful. The missionary had persuaded them to abandon that savage practice, not without considerable reluctance on their part, for they could not be sure that the orderly succession of sowing and reaping would go on uninterruptedly without the customary offering to the powers of Nature. When the harvests were good all went well but drought and failing crops made the men of the tribe restive and it took all their teacher's influence to keep them from a relapse into the old bad ways.
Years passed by, and then one day a deputation waited on the missionary. The old urge was back, and they insisted that they must be permitted to hold their ceremony and sacrifice a victim. In their reverence and respect for the one who had devoted his whole life to their welfare they had come to him for permission, but his permission they must have and they would not be gain-said. The old man realized that this time he would not be able to resist them and turn them from their purpose; their hearts were set upon sacrifice and a sacrifice they must have. He bent his head in silent prayer, and turned then to face the waiting deputation. "You shall have your request," he told them sadly, "but on condition that you follow my instructions to the letter." Overjoyed at having achieved their purpose, they assented gladly. "Tomorrow," said the old man, "you will go at the appointed time to your usual place of sacrifice. There you will see a man standing clothed in a scarlet cloak and his head covered with a scarlet hood. Do not attempt to look upon his features, but without delay do you accomplish your design. Now go, my children." At the set time next day the tribesmen went up to the place of sacrifice. There stood the victim, just as the missionary had told them. With shouts and cries of exultation they surged forward. The man appointed for the purpose swung his great sword, and with one stroke cut off the head of the motionless figure before him. . . the scarlet hood rolled off and the horror-stricken people looked upon the features of their beloved pastor.
It is said that never after that day did the people crave after sacrifice and idolatrous ceremonies. Through all their generations they cherished the memory of a man who, when he could save them from themselves in no other way, did it by laying down his life, a willing sacrifice.
In our philosophy about the Atonement and the meaning of our Lord's death for man, it may be that we are never so near the truth as we are when we read that little story. Had there been another way of saving mankind, surely God would have taken it. Maybe it was because there was no other way, because only by giving His life as the supreme sacrifice, that Jesus came out into the world to find lost mankind, and, coming out, met sin in the way, and gave Himself to be slain by sin and return to His Father's house bringing the lost ones with Him. "All we, like sheep, have gone astray but the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."