THE LAMB Personified in the Prophets…
The Supreme Court had not yet banned Bible reading in the public schools, so there was nothing unusual about a Jewish teenager telling his parents that his teacher had read from the Bible. But when he informed them that the Scriptures read that day were about Jesus Christ, they were deeply disturbed.
Early the next day they were in the principal’s office complaining that, as Jews, they did not want their son exposed to teaching about Jesus Christ from the New Testament. The principals assurances that school policy permitted only the reading of the Old Testament did not placate the angry parents. The teacher was summoned to the principal’s office. The parents, confident in their son’s account, insisted that he had read about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The teacher denied it. To settle the matter, the teacher was asked to read the Scriptures in question. He opened the Bible and began to read:
He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and chastisement for our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed (Isa. 53:3-5).
“See,” cried the parents, “he is condemned by his own mouth — he is reading about Jesus from the New Testament.” “No,” responded the teacher. “You are right in your observation that I am reading about Jesus, but I am reading from the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, in your Old Testament Scriptures.” The anger subsided and the debate ended.
This story serves to underscore the fact that Jesus Christ is the Lamb personified in the prophets of Israel — and most notably through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 52:13-53:12). In this text, the Lamb is given human qualities. And with truly astounding accuracy, the inspired penman presents (1) Israel’s response to the Lamb (isa. 52:13-15), (2) the substitutionary death of the Lamb (Isa. 53:1-9), and (3) the triumphant resurrection of the Lamb (Isa. 53:10-12).
In the Gospels, the death and resurrection of Christ are seen from the side — a horizontal view is given by men. In Isaiah, the death and resurrection of Christ are seen from above — a vertical, downward view is given by God. No portion of the Bible presents the Savior’s passion with more insight, sensitivity and pathos than Isaiah fifty-three.
It is precisely for this reason that this chapter is distorted in some translations of the Jewish Bible and meticulously avoided in the synagogue worship service. Is it, therefore, any wonder the prophet rhetorically inquired:
Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him like a tender plant, and like a root out of a dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him (Isa. 53:1-2).
Israel is an elect nation. God chose her to be a privileged people and destined her for special purposes. She was to give God’s Word to man — she has; she was to be the human channel through which the Savior was to come — she was; and one day she is to be a light and blessing to the nations — she will. Currents of truth, justice and love will one day flow from Jerusalem to the peoples of the world. But how will this come to pass? What is the source of this mysterious change which will one day, in turn, influence the world?
The prophet Isaiah ponders the nation and sees at a certain point in her history a central figure in whom are linked in a mysterious way the sufferings and glory of Israel. Both Israel’s dispersion by the Romans in 70 A.D. and her ultimate restoration and redemption are inseparably linked to this Person. Israel’s first encounter with Him resulted in her dispersion; the second encounter will result in her redemption. When she rejected Him at the first meeting, He said,
“. . . Ye shall not see me henceforth, tilt ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 23:39).
At the second meeting, they will look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son (Zech. 12: 10). Happily, Israel cannot escape this Man, and apart from Him she is an inexplicable enigma with no present purpose and no future destiny.
How did the Jewish people view this Person at their first meeting? Israel viewed Him through natural unregenerate eyes. She saw in her most illustrious Son neither “FORM NOR COMELINESS”. Seeking more proof for who He was would be like striking a match to help find the sun. But Israel only saw in Him one who was “DESPISED AND REJECTED OF MEN”. The leadership made Him despicable in the eyes of the multitudes. In Him, they did not find that for which they were looking. His spiritual qualities humility, righteousness and truth – the value of these, they neither recognized nor appreciated. And yet in Him, who is the theme of this prophecy, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). But mercy and truth are not jewels set in gold; righteousness and peace are not diamonds in a king’s crown, and so they despised and, therefore, rejected their greatest Son. And He, for His part, said to the nation, “. . . If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hidden from thine eyes” (Lk. 19:42).
How utterly amazing. The perfect Man — the One who is destined to raise up the tribes of Israel and regather the remnant of Jacob — the One who is to be a light to the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel — He it is who is despised and abhorred by the nation from which He sprang.
And because of His rejection He is “A MAN OF SORROWS, AND ACQUAINTED WITH GRIEF”. Here, then, is the dominant characteristic of this personage as seen by the prophet. By every just standard, He should have been welcomed with songs of thanksgiving and psalms of praise, but the people understood neither their own sinful condition nor the deliverance offered by King David’s greater Son.
For thousands of years, man has deceived himself and in various ways has hidden his internal malady of sin. With gold trappings, he has hidden this cancer; with shining ornaments and dazzling baubles, he has adorned this corrupting disease. And now comes the Man, awaited for generations, and He cried, “Enough!” to man’s self-deception. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees — the corruption of the teachers of the law — the impotence of the Sadducees — the false nationalism of the scheming Herodians — all is exposed for what it really is. The situation demanded such action. And so we. His brethren, “HID AS IT WERE OUR FACES FROM HIM,” scorning Him with a scorn which, in due time, inevitably turned to hatred – “HE WAS DESPISED, AND WE ESTEEMED HIM NOT”.
And our sin notwithstanding, the prophet continued:
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God,and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4).
It is important to realize that the redemption of Israel is both spiritual and physical — both individual and national. The Jewish holiday of Passover is a family festival which depicts personal redemption through the sacrificial lamb. The holiday of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is an all-encompassing festival which depicts national redemption through the returning King. Both the personal and national redemption have as their ultimate goal the bringing of this people into a relationship of perfect harmony and peace with God.
Israel’s meeting place with her benevolent Creator through which these purposes will be realized is her Messiah. At the first meeting, almost 2,000 years ago, it was said of Israel, “WE DID ESTEEM HIM STRICKEN…OF GOD”. That was the beginning of her dispersion and estrangement. “SURELY HE HATH BORNE OUR GRIEFS” — this confession looks down the corridor of time to her return to her Messiah at His second coming. And when that happens, we shall know ourselves as we ought, and we shall know Him who has “BORNE OUR GRIEFS, AND CARRIED OUR SORROWS”.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed (Isa. 53:5).
God had a problem — not in the physical or material realm. He created worlds by the word of His mouth. He spoke and it was done; He commanded and it came into being. To create the world was no problem for an all-powerful God. But how to redeem a fallen creation — that was the problem. ” . . . God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). To rescue man from sin, to heal and renew him, to restore in him the image of God, to remove from man the sentence which God in His holiness had pronounced against him without violating that holiness, to bring man to love good and eschew evil, to seek the things of Heaven and not the things of earth – this was the problem.
To provide a solution, “HE WAS WOUNDED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS”. The word “wounded” means “pierced through”, “fatally wounded”. The word “transgression” means “to overstep the law” either out of ignorance or moral weakness. He, therefore, became the sacrificial victim for our transgressions.
Not only was He wounded for our transgressions, but “HE WAS BRUISED FOR OUR INIQUITIES”. Iniquity is more than sin. Again, sin can be the result of ignorance or weakness. Iniquity suggests crookedness of spirit and inner corruption. And this One was bruised (oppressed) on account of our iniquities. The thought conveyed is that in His body He was wounded by the sword of our transgressions; in His soul He was oppressed by the weight of our iniquities.
Concerning this time of unfathomable anguish, S. Ostrovsky, from whom this author has freely quoted, has written:
He was deserted and abandoned by God himself — this despite the fact that He was holy and without sin. “My God, My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?” His lips murmured in the terrible moments of His agony. Abandoned by God, He suffered in His spirit. “I am a worm and no man, a reproach of man and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn, they shoot out the lip, they shake the head” — He suffered in His soul. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast . . . dogs are round about me; they have pierced my hands and feet” — He suffered in His body.
Do you understand dear reader — really understand? On the cross of Calvary the spotless Lamb of God died for you and me. In spirit, soul and body He suffered — He was placed in the winepress of His Father’s wrath and squeezed dry that rivers of life-giving water could freely flow like streams in a desert to lost and dying men.
“AND WITH HIS STRIPES WE ARE HEALED”. The result of this substitutionary sacrifice was spiritual healing.
Isaiah put it this way: “YET IT PLEASED THE LORD [the Father] TO BRUISE HIM [the Son];HE [the Father] HATH PUT HIM [the Son] TO GRIEF. . .”(Isa. 53:10).Why? Because, through the substitutionary death of His Son, God the Father was now free to bring many sons into glory (Heb. 2:10). But let the Scriptures speak directly to this issue: “HE [the Father] SHALL SEE OF THE TRAVAIL OF HIS [the Son’s] SOUL, AND SHALL BE SATISFIED [that is, His righteousness will be satisfied and His holiness vindicated]; BY HIS KNOWLEDGE SHALL MY RIGHTEOUS SERVANT [His Son] JUSTIFY MANY; FOR HE SHALL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES” (Isa.53:ll).
Calvary, rightly understood, is not an ignominious defeat but a glorious triumph. The following story which appeared in “Our Daily Bread” illustrates that point:
A Christian gentleman in an art gallery he heard the patter of little feet and was gazing intently at a picture of Christ on the cross. While standing there in deep meditation with tears trickling down his cheeks, he felt a tug at his coat. Looking down he saw a small boy beside him. “Hello, Mister,” said the lad. “Hello,” replied the gentleman, “do you know who that is in the picture?” “Why sure!” the little fellow replied, “don’t you know, Mister? That’s Jesus!” “Why is He hanging there, Sonny?” “He died for our sins. I learned that in Sunday School.” After a moment or two the old gentleman walked away from the picture and started down the long gallery. He had not gone very far before again felt the tug at his coat. “Say, Mister,” said the little boy, “I wanted to tell you HE CAME ALIVE AGAIN!”