Our Appearance & His Provision
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
We have looked at the picture painted of Jesus on Good Friday. He had no beauty that we should desire Him, so we hid our faces from Him and rejected Him.
Isaiah gives us a second painting. It is the picture of humanity. This portrait of mankind seems to be no more attractive than that of Christ. Notice what Isaiah has to say about our appearance.
1. Humanity’s Predicament
The begining of the human portrait is described in the fourth verse. We are told that we are creatures of infirmity. We suffer from weakness, from debility. We are infirm.
In the same verse the prophet tells us that we suffer from sorrow. There is something immensely sad about us. Some of us manage to play the clown in public, but there is a kind of cosmic sadness about the human condition.
Then Isaiah goes beyond the picture of people who are weak and sad and draws the picture more clearly. We are people in trouble with the law. In verse five he speaks of our transgressions. We are not only weak and sorrowful, but we are law breakers.
In fact. four times in this chapter Isaiah uses that word “transgressors” to describe the human condition. We have stepped over the line, we have trespassed on someone else’s domain. We have done wrong.
Then Isaiah adds some other brush strokes to our portrait. We are not only transgressors. We have a problem with iniquity. Now iniquity is different than transgression. Both break the law. One breaks the letter of the law. The other breaks the spirit of the law. A person might transgress the law due to ignorance, due to an accident, due to carelessness. But iniquity is lawlessness. To commit iniquity is to intend to break the law. The attitude is anarchy. The intent is rebellion.
Transgressors often cry with St. Paul, “The good I want to do, I don’t do, and the evil I don’t want to do, I find myself doing. O wretched man that I am!” There are sins that are not intentional, premeditated, or high handed. Sometimes we do what we know is wrong because of stupidity, or because our emotions are out of control. But iniquity speaks of that will to do evil, that intent to do wrong. Iniquity is the intent to break the law and to ignore conscience. And Isaiah says, both realities are true about ourselves. We sin by accident and we sin by intent. And we can hardly help ourselves. We are in trouble.
But the portrait is not finished. We are not only creatures of weakness, sorrow and sin, but we are separated from peace with God. We have not just done damage to our fellow mortal, but we have thumbed our nose at God. We have headed for the hills to fight a guerrilla war against His rule. We have presumed that we can create a better government to govern ourselves than God can.
‘Peace” is not simply an emotional experience of personal tranquility. It is much more than that. For between man in his iniquity and the Holy God there is the absence of a peace treaty. A policy of non-communication has prevailed because we are not willing to make peace with God, and so there is no peace within ourselves or our relationships with others.
But the artist is not yet finished with his work of dark art. He has painted us in weakness and sorrow. He has painted in the hues of sin and separation. But he adds the final touches to the canvas. We are sick. We are far from whole. Isaiah begins his message in Chapter 1 with an earlier portrait of humanity. “The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot all the way to the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises and putrefying sores that have not been drained or bound up or softened with ointment”.
And Jeremiah painting his own portrait of ill humanity raises his questioning lament, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no Physician there? Why then is not the health of my people recovered?”
The artist then adds his final brush strokes. We are beset with sorrow and sin. We are separated from God and sick. Then Isaiah adds, “We are like sheep gone astray. We have turned every to our own way.” That is the same picture Jesus saw the day He fed the five thousand. “Jesus was moved with compassion because they were as sheep not having a shepherd.” Lost sheep.
Dr. David Redding puts it this way, “LOST. One planet with people still on it. Man overboard in a sea of space, and that man is everyman. LOST. In a bottomless pit of cool suspicion. LOST. Late last night up the tortuous streets of science. LOST. Carried about with a floodtide of pleasure, chased by the man eating sharks inside himself. picked to pieces by analysis. LOST: Last seen somewhere east of Eden. A man whose last name is Adam.
Pretty grim picture! Is it true? I don’t believe this is an exaggerated picture of mankind whether in Isaiah’s day or Jesus’ day, or our day. The amount of evil in our society is overwhelming. The degree of confusion in our world makes the lost sheep image forever relevant. And we are so weak in heart and mind that we only solve one problem by creating a greater dilemma.
2. OUR PREDICAMENT
As Isaiah speaks these strong words however, he does not stand afar off with his righteous garments drawn around him. He does not say, “Look at those people!” But instead he says, “Look at us”‘ “Look at you and me” He speaks of OUR sorrow, OUR sin, OUR separation, OUR sickness, and OUR straying.
In the sixth chapter of his book, he had included himself in the human indictment. “Woe is me, For I am a man of unclean lips and dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips.” For the prophet recognised that ALL we like sheep have gone astray. We have ALL turned to our own ways and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us ALL. That includes each of us gathered here today.
We may not like being cast in the role of a sinner, but it is actually no role. It is the sad fact about ourselves. “For all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” If we are at all perceptive, we can see that the portrait the prophet paints is not far from the truth. Outwardly, we have learned the game of life sufficiently well to mask ourselves. God gives, however, this portrait not of our outward appearance, but of the real selves that hide behind the thin veneer of our sophistication. Behind the grease paint all is not well. We do not look very pretty.
3 HIS PROVISION
When we looked at the portrait of Christ, we saw the ugliness of the portrait and we rejected Him. But now the tables are turned. We look at ourselves and it can be said of us, “We have no form or comeliness and when He should see us there is no beauty that He should desire us.” By rights we should have been repugnant to him. By rights he should have shuddered and turned his back.
But then Isaiah introduces us to the graciousness of God. For when He could have despised and rejected us, He didn’t. Isaiah tells us what Jesus did when He saw us in our sad state. He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. By his punishment we found peace, and by his bruising we are healed. In fact the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. As the empathetic healer he took the pain of our lives and absorbed it into himself.
Instead of shunning us because we were enemies, instead of refusing clemency to we who had been revolutionaries against His love, He allowed the full brunt of human evil to fall upon Himself. Isaiah says, “God laid on Him the wickedness of all of us.” The Hebrew language is graphic here. “God caused the iniquity of all to meet on Him.” From North and South from East and West, from every age, from every race there met on Him that great burden of our lostness.
When we deserved abandonment, God did not reject us. When our transgressions, and our iniquity, and our sickness had done such a sadistic work on the Son of God, the God of love instead of retaliating, by divine alchemy He used such evil to bring about our redemption.
Everything that the Son of God touched, He redeemed. He did that with the hurting people he touched. He did that with the lives of lepers and the demoniacs. He did that with the diseased and the dying. He did that with sinful and the sordid. He touched them and their lives were transformed. In other places he touched wind and waves and they became tranquil. He touched five loaves and a few fish and made them plentiful enough for a picnic. And on good Friday he took a cross in both hands, and transformed that ugly instrument of human torture and made it the rich symbol of our redemption. And Isaiah tells us that he took our brutality against himself and against others and transmuted it so that it would be the vehicle that would draw us back to God in penitence and gratitude.
What response should we make to such love? There is only one. It is the response of gratitude. It is to offer to God our thanks, that when he had every right to turn his back on us, instead he turned his face towards us. When he had every right to abandon us, he reached out his arms to embrace us and to take us in, take us home, and bring healing into our lives. The hymn has been chosen to help us give our thanks to God.
It is #177. “What Wondrous Love is This.”