Easter is an extremely rich time spiritually, bringing into focus the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the rush and pleasure of the world tends to obliterate the need to spend time quietly and in sustained reflection on those two all important events. Quietness and meditation are not prime features of the pressurised modern age, especially at holiday time! But they are crucial for real spiritual growth. They are crucial to really grasp the Easter story. Finding time for such a focus is the challenge of Easter.
The Suffering Servant
When it comes to thinking more deeply about the death of Jesus, I always find the prophecy in Isaiah about the “Suffering Servant” one of the most challenging and instructive places to begin (Is.52:13-15 and 53). The reason for that is simply that it is a prophecy of the crucifixion given to Isaiah some 700 years before the event. The attraction is that it is not an obscure prophecy; at least not now the crucifixion has taken place, but an unbelievably accurate account of the event. That is what compels me to it and makes it so rewarding. It is part of the purpose of prophecy to bring wonder and faith when we see its fulfilment. This prophecy certainly brings both of those things to me each time I ponder it.
It does not of course speak of crucifixion as such. But the content is absolutely in tune with the appalling nature of crucifixion. A phrase like “his appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond that of any man” along with other words such as “smitten”, “afflicted”, “crushed”, “wounded”, “cut off (implying sudden death) from the land of the living” are all so appropriate to crucifixion. Other words are even more appropriate in the case of the crucifixion of Jesus. The word “pierced” bring us directly to the spear thrust of the Roman soldier, the expression “he was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death” brings us immediately to the two thieves dying on either side of him and his burial in the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea. Moreover, Isaiah describes his death as being by “oppression and judgement”, implying a miscarriage of justice. So the pain and the agony is all there, and somehow the language of Isaiah seems to bring it home in a profound and real manner. It fills out emotionally, so to speak, the bear narrative of the gospels. The same can be said of one or two of the messianic psalms.
However, startling and accurate though the physical descriptions are, for me what is even more startling is the sheer clarity with which the prophecy explains why the “servant” died in such a manner. The explanation is as clear and simple as anything given in the New Testament on this subject. It leaves me wondering how it is that so much argument has arisen over the why and the how of the cross.
Isaiah states simply “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). In other words this Servant bore our sins. In order that there should be no misunderstanding about this, Isaiah goes on the say, “The LORD makes his life a guilt offering” (53:10), the guilt offering being akin to the sin offering. His death, in other words was a sacrifice for the sins of others, for those who would avail themselves of the offering. But this does not finish his explanations. Again he enlarges this same reason in the expression, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed” (53:5). If words mean anything, he was clearly our substitute, a willing substitute who has taken away our sin and paid the punishment due to us. There is no obfuscation or cloudiness here, no peddling of jargon – just simple straightforward statements which found illustration every day in the sacrifices that took place in the Temple.
Jesus in Prophetic Scripture
The disciples did not see the connection between the prophetic scriptures and the crucifixion until Jesus himself expounded it to them after his resurrection (Lk.24:13-47). Since we are told Jesus expounded all the scriptures concerning himself on the Emmaus road we have every right to presume that Isaiah 53 was included. Seeing the connection their hearts burned within them – that burning was a work of the Holy Spirit.
It is really this work of causing our hearts to burn that is the purpose of an Easter meditation. Meditations do not look simply at information, nor are they there simply to gain information. We should not be satisfied simply with information. They are there so that truth might enter the inner part of our spiritual awareness and release the fire of faith. That is why they need quietness and focused time along with the word and the presence of the Spirit.
May God give you a deeper revelation as you ponder the cross and may it kindle a fire of renewed and purer love of Jesus.