every weakness self-pity selfishness laziness procrastination opportunities lost hurts inflicted back-stabbing shaming ungracious picky hateful oozing wounds misunderstood betrayed minimized maligned ignored soul suffering lonely depressed battered deceived undressed all fell on him the crushing weight of meanness corruption pain despair thank you seems so small to say so minimal against the mass of grief once again I give you me all I have to offer yet exactly what you want
He knew what was going to happen. Sure, the people threw palm branches over the road before him as he rode into the city. They were singing hosannas, welcoming their king, they thought. But he knew better. He knew that in a few days it would be different crowd surrounding him, people calling for his death by crucifixion. And after that, the voices would be jeering him for sticking it out and taking the hits and long hours of hanging torture instead of demonstrating that divine status he had claimed.
He knew all of that, but he went forward into the suffering. His three years of ministry had been torn by accusations and disbelief by many anyway, and his pedestrian tours of the country had involved physical distress and homelessness. But he had pushed through. Why?
Because the essence of his character was love. He had come to give himself as the ultimate sacrifice, once for all, the sacrifice that would provide forgiveness to anyone who would choose to identify with it. He knew it was necessary to make a way for humans to obtain an unbelievable goal: union with the God who loved them so much that he would plunge himself into their kind of body, with all its weaknesses and limitations, and put himself on the altar of sacrifice that would offer repair for their brokenness. They had been made to walk in fellowship with their Creator; he had been there at creation, had been the Word that brought them into existence and talked with them in the perfect environment he had made for them. But they had pulled away, choosing to trust deception. Now, the crucial moment had come that would provide forgiveness and restoration. Reparation comes with a price, and reparation for all of them could only be paid by the Maker of the Universe himself.
So he came, well aware that he himself would be the one to pay that price once for all. He had prepared the way for the people to understand the requirement: he had instituted that kind of necessary sacrifice when he had given the commands to Moses concerning the day of atonement, with all the preparations required and the complicated rites concerning the sacrifices:
. . . because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. (Lev. 16:30 NIV)
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Lev. 16:34 NIV)
That had to be done every year, but with Jesus’ putting himself in the place of the sacrifice, it only had to be done once, in all of time:
And by [God’s] will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb. 10:10 NIV)
Offering himself to provide reparation and purification for anyone who would take this at its value, he willingly underwent the years of insults and accusations, the sufferings of a normal human body in weather and fatigue, the cruel torture of whips and the pain of nails and death. He had decided to provide safe haven, forgiveness, and welcome into the Family of God to each person who would gratefully accept this gift. He gave himself, knowing he would come back to life to welcome them with open arms and joy.
Meditating on his life of suffering while he walked this earth, having left his throne to become an impoverished man, has been one way to put in perspective the suffering that we still face here on earth even though we have become united with him, joined together with him in a mysterious way that brings hope and joy. Sure, there is chaos all around: wars and terrorist attacks and famines and tornadoes and pandemics and hate speech and racist horrors and emotional abuse and slander and accusations and murders and . . . you know. The list is endless.
And not one of us is blameless. As it says in one of the prophetic passages about what Messiah would suffer:
All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the LORD caused the sin of all of us to attack him. (Isa. 53:8 NET)
Attack? The NET translation note carefully unpacks how the Hebrew words here usually refer to a hostile encounter or a military attack. Here, “the Lord makes ‘sin’ attack ‘him’ . , , In their sin the group was like sheep who had wandered from God’s path. They were vulnerable to attack; the guilt of their sin was ready to attack and destroy them. But then the servant stepped in and took the full force of the attack.”
In Isaiah 53 it is the “suffering servant” who is described as the one who would be unjustly abused and killed by the very wandering human beings he had come to rescue. They did not recognize who he was, or his purpose:
3 He was despised and rejected by people,one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant. 4 But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed . . . and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. 11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins. (Isa. 53:3-5,10b,11 NET)
Wow! He identified with human pain – emotional, physical and social pain. And my own disobedience, my own choices that have hurt others, my own ways of dishonoring the King were all part of the weight he was carrying when he went through that crooked trial, was whipped, staggered under the heavy cross until he fell, and then was nailed to it. And felt not only the torture of crucifixion but the price of having those sins attack him and fall on him. He did it for me. And for you. And for the billions who have lived and are living on this earth.
So now the choice is before us. The judicial requirements for our pardon have been met. It is finished! Will we humbly accept this truth and move forward in freedom? Or will we choose our own way, that way we take when we do what sheep do and just keep forging ahead for our own pleasure, not noticing that we are no longer on the right path, in the company of the loving Good Shepherd?
I am so privileged to have been shown this truth early in life, and to have come into sweet fellowship with God himself because of this sacrifice. I am praying for the wanderers, that they will recognize the loving voice calling out to them, telling them that he has made a way through their wilderness, and it leads Home!
All they have to do is identify with his sacrifice and give him their very own selves! That is what he wants. That is why he did it!