By J.R. Miller
One picked up an old book--and found it fragrant. The secret was that a sweet flower had been put in among the leaves by someone, and its fragrance had permeated the whole volume. So the fragrance of Jesus has perfumed the Bible from beginning to end. We do not find the name Jesus until we reach the beginning of the New Testament--but the sweetness of the name is everywhere. We find it even in the earliest pages of the Old Testament. No sooner were the gates of Eden closed on our first parents--than the gospel was given. True, the language was dim, not like the clear sentences of the Gospels; yet the promise is there in Eden--as the bud of a very lovely flower which, by and by, opens out under the increasing warmth of progressing revelation; until in the later prophets, especially in Isaiah, it appears in rare beauty.
No other chapter in the Old Testament has been a greater revealer of Christ, than has the fifty-third of Isaiah. Its words are almost as familiar as those of the Twenty-third Psalm. They are repeated at Communion services in thousands of churches, and are read in secret by countless devout believers, who love to sit in the shadow of the cross.
The best that can be done in brief space with the fifty-third chapter, is merely to indicate a few of its truths. The first verse has a tone of discouragement. "Who has believed our message?" That has always been the discouragement of the bearers of spiritual good tidings. If news comes that gold has been discovered in some far-away place, people believe it and flock by thousands to the spot. But when God's messengers deliver their messages, although they tell of the most glorious things, people are slow to believe.
The second verse reminds us that Christ's earthly beginnings were unpromising. "He grew up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." These figures are striking--a tender plant shooting up from a dry stem which seems dead, a root growing in a desert place. The field was not promising. But the root was not dry or dead--but living, and it grew into rich beauty. It became a great tree whose branches reach now over all the earth, with cool shade in which the weary rest, and rich fruits for men's hunger.
The description goes on. "He was despised, and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." The saddest thing about the life of Christ--was that men despised and rejected Him. He came with a great love in His heart. He came to do men good, and save them, to draw them away from their sins, to make them love God, to lead them to heaven. He came in love--and yet men despised and rejected Him. It is the same still.
Men do not like to look upon suffering. They can see no beauty in it. Pain is ugly to the human sense. Anciently it was thought that sickness was a mark of divine disfavor. The weak were looked at with scorn. Even yet we have not learned to see blessing hidden in suffering. The Servant of the Lord came in weakness, and He was rejected. He came to the needy and the sinful, with treasures of life and glory, which He offered to all. But men paid no heed to His knocking and His calls, and He had to pass on with His blessings.
We learn the object of the sufferings of Christ. The ancients thought that when a man suffered he was being punished for sin. We have this thought here in the words, "We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." That is the way Job's friends judged him. But here it is taught, that not for His own sin--but for ours, was the Messiah suffering. "Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows."
A Japanese Christian illustrated what Jesus did for sinners, by this story: A mother was crossing a great prairie with her baby in her arms. She saw flames coming in the dry grass. She could not escape by flight, so swiftly were the fiery billows rolling on towards her. So with her hands she speedily dug a hole in the soft ground, laid her baby in it, and then covered it with her own body. She was burned to death in the wave of fire that rolled over her--but the child was safe, unhurt. The Christian explained, "Just so did give Christ Himself--to save us."
We have a picture, also, of those whom Jesus seeks to save. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." This verse tells us that all are sinners. Of course, we all believe this, or admit it in a general way. But do we really admit it as a close, personal matter? "Like sheep!" Sheep are miserably foolish. They are always straying away, going wherever they can find a tuft of grass to nibble at, until at last they are far from the fold and do not know how to find the way back again. Like sheep, we have all gone astray. Every one has turned to his own way instead of going in God's way, the way of truth and holiness.
The Servant of the Lord was a silent sufferer. It is not common for men to remain silent in pain. But here it is said: "He was oppressed--yet when He was afflicted, He opened not His mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is silent--so He opened not His mouth." One of the highest qualities in him who is called to suffer--is silence in endurance.
Another quality in the suffering of the Servant of the Lord, is its injustice. "By oppression and judgment He was taken away, and as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of My people to whom the stroke was due?" The forms of law were not observed. "By a forced and tyrannous judgment He was taken." Then they gave Him a convict's grave. They made His grave with the wicked, although He had done no violence, neither was deceit in His mouth.
Such perversion of justice seems so terrible, that men might ask, "Where is God, that this cruel wrong is permitted?" But the answer is, "It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him!" In the Hebrew, the word has not the harshness it seems to have in the English. God did not delight in the bruising--but His purpose was in it. "Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief: when You shall make His soul an offering for sin--He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand."
Then we have a vision of the glorious outcome of the sufferings of the Messiah. "He shall see of the travail of His soul--and shall be satisfied." He is not sorry now that He endured the cross and all its shame. He does not regret His sufferings and sacrifices on the earth. The blessings which have come from His humiliation, have more than satisfied Him. He sees countless millions of souls saved, which must have perished forever, if He had not gone to the cross to redeem them. The life of the Son of God seemed a tremendous price to pay for the ransom of the lost--but it will appear in the end that the price was not too great. We do not know the worth of human souls, nor can we begin to estimate it until we try to understand how much Christ paid to redeem us.
You say that a certain professed Christian is a very unworthy one, with scarcely a line of spiritual beauty in him. "Christ will never have any comfort from him," you say. "He will never make a saint." "But wait!" says the patient Master. "My work on this man--is not yet finished. He is very imperfect now, and I am not satisfied with him. But wait until My work on his life has been completed. By and by he shall wear the full image of My face, and I shall be satisfied as I see in him--the blessed prints of all My sorrows and My love."