Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Isaiah 52:14 - The Astonishing Sacrifice

"Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. "

There are some intense thoughts here for the interested reader. Please consider these points as seeds for deeper meditation on the cross of Christ. God's Word REVEALS God's character - and His work on the cross reveals mysterious wonders that are satisfying food for our hungry, sin-sick souls. This is where we find the greatest encouragements, and the deepest change. We begin with an examination of the Hebrew word for "astonished." I pray that you and I and all mankind will fall down in utter awe before the Beautiful One Who died for lost, disgusting sinners like us. (Had I said "wretched," you wouldn't have tripped over that sentence. But the two words are synonymous - do you believe it? Until we believe it, won't be astonished by the cross.)

Astonished = Heb. SHAMEM, שמם - "To be desolate, be appalled, stun, stupefy ... to be desolated, be deflowered, be deserted ... be awestruck." (Brown-Driver-Briggs). "Basic to the root is the desolation caused by some great disaster, usually as a result of divine judgment.... the sense of 'horror' and 'shock' brought about by the vision of desolation. It is the inner response to the outward scene." (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament), "Awestruck or astonished." (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

The Cross is an Astonishing Thing
Gazing upon the cross of Christ will leave us blessedly desolate, as we are finally freed from ourselves, and liberated from the destructiveness of sin, and rightly made nothing in our own eyes. The cross properly deflowers us from the self-wrought veneer of our own glory. As worms looking up to the cross, we see what we are in what He became for us. As puffed up, self-inflatable gods looking down upon the cross, we see the means by which we may be made worms again. God knows we need to be astonished by some things. We need to be shaken out of the stupor of sin.

The Astonishment of the Cross Comes from the Marring of Christ's Appearance and Form.
Marred = Heb. MISHCHATH, משחת - "disfigurement (of face), corruption" (Brown-Driver-Briggs). Note that this is not an adjective, but an adjectival noun - representing disfigurement as personified and epitomized. The word is only used twice in the Old Testament. The other occurrence is in Leviticus 22:25, where it refers to an animal that has been bruised, crushed, torn, or cut, and is therefore unacceptable as a sacrifice. These terms fit well as a description of crucifixion, and the unacceptability of the animal may relate to Christ's work as the sin-bearing sacrifice, the One who became sin for us, and also became a curse for us. He bore our marred image, and shared with us in the destructive effects of sin - but for Him it was taken even further, so that He was marred by sin to a greater extent than we were.

This marring of the Son of God is designed to astonish us on many fronts . . .

The Cross Gives an Astonishing Revelation of the Depth of Man's Sin
On the surface of it, in the garden of Eden a piece of fruit was eaten. Today, fruit is eaten innocently on a regular basis. So what's the difference? In short, the difference is a matter of will. Adam and Eve ate the fruit contrary to God's command. In that act, for the first time, human beings defied the divine authority. We chose a course of action that was opposed to the revealed will of God. Our choice in the garden demonstrated extreme distrust for God, accusing Truth Personified of being a liar.

We dared to base the destiny of our race on the notion that Goodness Himself is somehow less than good. Our actions declared that God, Who IS LOVE, is unloving. We concluded that God was unreliable, imperfect, and unloving, and opted to build our future on the shaky sands of self-reliance, pride, and human wisdom. And by the way, we can still sin by eating fruit - if we don't eat it in faith, and to the glory of God.

Our choice in Adam opened the door to all sorts of calamity. It forfeited a perfect world for an existence fraught with tragedy. It separated us from God, ostensibly for eternity and without hope of repair or remedy. Adam had no hint that God would later move heaven and earth to undo the damage caused by humanity's rebellion.

The Cross is an Astonishing Revelation of God's Righteous Hatred for Sin, and His Just Judgment Against Sin
God's hatred for sin is not a mere preference. It is a deadly serious abhorrence of that which deserves to be abhorred. If Christ's experience on the cross shows us God's attitude toward sin, then in God's eyes there can be nothing more heinous than sin. Sinners who are not redeemed are ultimately abandoned by God. Bearing our sin, Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" The final result of sin is complete separation from God. He will have nothing to do with sin, for it is utterly and eternally odious to Him.

To further discern the awfulness of God's judgment against sin, consider that Christ's wounds were not merely physical. He appears even in heaven as "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain." God's judgment against sin, meted out vicariously against His Own beloved Son, was much deeper than bodily death. What Christ suffered in His body was an illustration of His greater afflictions.

Just look at some of the internal aspects of Christ's sufferings:

Isaiah 53:6 ... the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
Isaiah 53:10 But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.
Isaiah 53:11 As a result of the anguish of His soul ...
Isaiah 53:11 ... He will bear their iniquities.
Psalm 22:14 I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it is melted within me.

Even in Gethsemane, our Lord spoke these words:

Matthew 26:38 "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death ..."

The Cross is an Astonishing Revelation of Christ's Willingness to Suffer
Our Lord's suffering was greater than any other man's suffering ever was. At particular times, each of us has carried the objective and subjective guilt of his own sins. To an enlightened conscience, the weight of this is unbearable. Yet our knowledge of personal guilt is spread out across a lifetime, and we often succeed in distracting ourselves from it. When we believe the Gospel, we find a salve which brings comfort to our bedraggled hearts and cleanses our consciences continually. But Christ carried the sins of the many, all at one time, and without benefit of distraction or comfort. He suffered the fully concentrated blast of sin's horrendous condemnation, and the unbridled wrath of the Father. It would take an eternity in hell to justly execute God's wrath against our sin upon us. Christ received that eternity's worth of wrath, multiplied by millions or more, all in the space of a few hours at most. It's no wonder there was darkness, and there were earthquakes. In light of this, it's remarkable that the earth itself did not burst into shards of cosmic debris, and that the sun did not implode at the sight of God enduring the agony of man's sin.

When Adam's fallen sons receive the wrath of God in any measure, they can at least realize that they are receiving exactly what they deserve, and what their deeds have warranted. But Christ's suffering was magnified by His divinity and sinlessness. He never deserved an ounce of divine wrath, but He received all the infinite fury of it.

"Because Christ was infinite in dignity, glory, and power, he had to descend an infinite distance to save us." (William P. Farley, Outrageous Mercy, p. 93)

Christ's sufferings were unimaginably heavy, yet He did not suffer under compulsion. He gave Himself willingly and without a trace of malice. Typically, when we human beings suffer even slightly, we rise up with cursings of hellish anger and hatred. But the Man Christ Jesus, suffering fathomless horrors, offered forgiveness to His murderers.

The Cross is an Astonishing Revelation of God's Humble Omnipotence

There are wonders here! Absolute wonders!

Implicit in the Gospel is Christ's amazing ability to become something MORE (or at least "other") without losing (or changing) what He essentially IS in His perfect divinity. He existed eternally as God, but became a man. He lived sinlessly on earth, but became sin for us on the cross. He is forever blessed, yet He "became a curse for us." (Galatians 3:13). He was, and is, and always will be divinely perfect - yet He "took the form of a bondservant" (Philippians 2:7) "became obedient" (Phillippians 2:8), "learned obedience" (Hebrews 5:8) and "was made perfect" (Hebrews 5:9). Nevertheless, He is "the SAME yesterday, and today, and forever." All of this is consistent with His astounding humility and grace, not to mention His abundantly and overwhelmingly great and indescribably magnificent LOVE. God can do things that we can't even begin to imagine, because He is moved by "the great love with which He loved us." (Eph. 2:4).

Note: This is not an acquiescence to the heresy known as "process theology." Process theology teaches that some aspects of God are changeable by nature. Contrary to this, Scripture teaches that Christ took on human characteristics in time, without any change in His eternal deity. There is mystery here, to be sure, but the mystery should never lead us to a denial of God's sovereignty and immutability, for those are Biblical facts which must never be denied. Link:

The Cross is an astonishing Revelation of God's Infinite Love for Human Beings
Why did God the Father send His Son? Why did God the Son consent to suffer death in our place? Why did God the Holy Spirit actively participate in this divine conspiracy which involved the crushing and alienation of one member of the Holy Trinity? Surely the collective heart of the entire Godhead was broken in Christ's passion! And we ask again, WHY?

The New Testament offers up a disarmingly simple answer to this complicated question:

Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy ...
Ephesians 2:4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) ...
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

At the cross, inexorable justice meets fathomless love. And there is sufficient sacrifice here to save a world that has abandoned it's Creator.

The person who looks upon the cross with faith sees this: his own sins have caused the suffering, shed the blood, and taken the life of the Perfect Man who is the Son of God. By this fact we are ever crushed. But God has used the cross to wipe out the debt of our sins and bring us back into fellowship with Himself. By this fact we are ever renewed and made joyous again.

So, first we are astonished at our wretchedness. But as we continue to consider the cross, we become even more amazed at God's stupefying grace.

Dear friend, are you astonished yet? If not (or if not enough), keep setting your gaze upon the cross. There you will find that God gives you everything you need, and all that He requires.


  1. I don't know who you are sir, but thank you! You have opened my eyes to things about the cross I didn't know. Thank you so much, you have just given me a lifetimes worth of scripture to ponder.

  2. Carlo,

    Thanks for visiting, and thanks for letting me know God used this article to bless you. That's encouraging.

    Grace & peace,


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