Last Saturday evening, as is my custom, I went along to the soup kitchen that feeds homeless folk, which I have been involved with for some time. I was feeling tired, under the weather, the cold and damp, and mindful of certain things that weren’t quite as I hoped. To cap it all, one of the folk we served launched into a loud tirade complaining about the food. At this point I was able to leave, feeling I needed to do so for my own peace of mind.
I realized mine was a case of compassion fatigue and, while not feeling sorry for myself, felt unable to muster the strength to make a more appropriate response. A little later, I read some words encouraging us to keep going in the face of adversity and all manner of disagreeable happenings around us, because that is what Christ did. It also reminded me of a book some of the people at my church are reading, titled: “The Beauty of the Cross” by Tim Chester, which comprises a series of short meditations based on Isaiah 52 and 53, one for each day of the Lent period, we are currently in.
Isaiah 53 “But, oh, how few believe it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal his saving power? 2 In God’s eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want him. 3 We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care. 4 Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! 5 But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed—and we were healed! 6 We—every one of us—have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us! 7 He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he stood silent before the ones condemning him. 8 From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people of that day realized it was their sins that he was dying for—that he was suffering their punishment? 9 He was buried like a criminal, but in a rich man’s grave; but he had done no wrong and had never spoken an evil word. 10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. 11 And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for he shall bear all their sins. 12 Therefore, I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great because he has poured out his soul unto death. He was counted as a sinner, and he bore the sins of many, and he pled with God for sinners.”
Few Christians who know their Bibles will disagree that these words of prophecy, written 800 years before the coming of Christ, are amazing. In it we read the words of Isaiah, inspired by God, foretelling the key reason for Christ coming to this earth and describe in graphic detail the part of His ministry to do with His death, the reason for it and the result of it, in particular concerning “one who is mighty and great because he has poured out his soul unto death. He was counted as a sinner, and he bore the sins of many, and he pled with God for sinners”. Humanly speaking, the Cross was anything but beautiful. It was the most painful method of carrying out executions at the time, reserved for the worst criminals, showing shame and utter contempt for the victims.
The beauty of the cross is that this is God’s way of demonstrating His great love and the means of drawing sinful man to himself. It puts into perspective the relative insignificance of the many things that bother us. Words are cheap and no words can convey how awesomely wonderful this act whereby the living God through His Son sacrifices Himself to save His sinful creation. These passages show our own wretchedness and sinfulness and so much more including our need to be saved and how we can be saved. It inspires those who have been saved, by virtue of the death of Christ on the Cross, to put aside our own petty desires and ambitions and in following Him who died, rose from the dead and is coming again, to make sacrifices as we serve others.