Friday, March 25, 2016

"He will see the light of life and be satisfied"

Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
--Isaiah 53:10-12, NIV

Tonight I went to a Good Friday service at The Falls Church Anglican. Of course, the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 52-53, the famous "suffering servant" passage. I've heard and read this passage many times before, but this time the phrase, "he satisfied" stood out. I've really never given much thought to Jesus' own assessment of his death and resurrection, and I'd like to explore that here.

Of course, on the most basic level, we could say confidently that Jesus might be satisfied because he had obeyed his Father, and because he had finished the work he had set out to do. But any one of us could say that about any task set before us that we complete; there's nothing particularly striking about that idea. So let's think more about just what Jesus' task was, and what he endured to accomplish it.

What Jesus accomplished was the reclamation of the created order and of fallen humanity from the curse of sin, death, and corruption. It was a re-creation event. In the words "he will be satisfied," I hear an echo of God's assessment of the world he made, recorded in Genesis 1:31: "And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Genesis 2 goes on to tell us that "God had finished the work that he had been doing, so on the seventh day he rested from all his work." Jesus' resurrection was the testimony to the breaking of the power of death. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended back to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. His work, too, was very good and was complete. Surely, we can say that "He [saw] the light of life and [was] satisfied."

But there's another angle from which we can look at this passage, and childbirth and parenting have brought it into focus for me. I had 15 hours of very painful, unmedicated back labor to bring my daughter into the world. After her birth came the excruciating challenge of nursing a baby with severe reflux, and even now we are still struggling to get her to eat enough and gain weight appropriately, and dealing with other complications related to her intrauterine growth restriction. I have had many days when I just wanted to pack it all in. And yet, when I look at her and see how much she has grown and the kind of person she is turning out to be, I can say that it has all been worth it. And we have many more years to go yet.

The suffering that Jesus endured in order to redeem his wayward people was even more intense. Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus laid aside his right to stay in heaven at the Father's side--as his equal--and became a man. He endured temptation, the rejection of the people he came to win back, the agony of bearing the sins of the world, and the torment of crucifixion. No one in history has ever suffered as he did.

Jesus endured all this in order to redeem a people who had rejected his kingship. Like the religious leaders who hoped to achieve their goal by telling Pilate "We have no king but Caesar (John 19:15)," like the Israelites who asked God to give them a king "like the other nations," like Adam and Eve, who decided that they wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil, we have looked to the world and to ourselves for our welfare and salvation. There is nothing worthy in us that Jesus should have endured all that he did, and yet, our redemption was worth the price he paid to gain it. The passage above says that "he will see his offspring and prolong his days." That's a reference to us, the people of God, once covered in sin and shame, now, a pure, spotless bride. Let that sink in. There is beauty and hope and rest in the balance of these two truths: we are both altogether unworthy, and absolutely worth it. 

Have a blessed Easter.