Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).
The Gospels form a kind of commentary on the beauty of Isaiah's words, describing the empathy of our Lord Jesus Christ in bearing the infirmities of others. For instance, Jesus identifies himself with the leper by taking on his ritual uncleanness. He embraces the fallen and the broken ones. He dwells among the publicans, the sinners, the harlots, and the outcast of society; and he meets eyeball to eyeball with the rich, the glorious, and the finest of society. Our Lord Jesus comes in order to bear our very flesh, to become one of us apart from sin.
This is important for at least two reasons. First, it is important because of the very nature of the fall. We see something of this in the great parallel that Paul draws between the first Adam and the last Adam in Romans 5:12-21. Paul teaches that God deals with men and women in terms of two heads of humanity. Adam represents the head of the old humanity, and Christ the head of the new humanity. Yes, we are sinners individually, and we are saved individually. But undergirding our sin and the transformation that works in our lives is God's dealing with these two men in history—Adam and Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, the reason why our Lord Jesus is able to be absolutely one with sinners, and yet remain sinless, is for the very reason that Paul indicates in Romans 5. That is to say, if there is to be a restoration of man after the fall, then it must begin where the fall left us. If we have fallen in Adam, then we must not only be saved through the one man Jesus Christ, but we must be saved through Jesus Christ in the reality of his humanity. Thus, salvation—the restoration of man to God by his grace—does not take place by some easy divine fiat, but begins to take place from within the very pit into which man has sunk by his sin.
Jesus Christ comes into the world and takes on our flesh as the second man through whom God would deal with entire groups of men and women. The last Adam would accomplish the work on our behalf that we could not accomplish ourselves. But it would have to be accomplished within our flesh and blood, and it would have to last forevermore. Isaiah begins to intuit that our Lord Jesus will take flesh and blood. Do you remember how the writer to the Hebrews puts it?
"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15).
But there is another reason why this focus on Christ's identification with us is so vital for us to grasp. It's not only for the theological reason, or so that we may understand the way in which God has constructed his plan of salvation; it's because we must be persuaded that God really does intend to save us.
We must be aware that sin not only separates us from God, but also deceives us about the nature of our hard hearts and the gracious nature of God. Our sinful hearts deceive us about the very nature of God himself. That's what Satan was really after in the Garden of Eden. Formally, the temptation was to repudiate the word of God, but materially, the temptation was to deny the grace of God, the lavishness of God, the trustworthiness of God, and the kindness of God. By nature, none of us trust God as we ought. All of our instincts are to mistrust him, because we fear him. We have an instinct that God is against us, and it is in this context that our Lord Jesus Christ says, ''Whoever has seen me has seen the Father'' (John 14:9).
"And what," Jesus asks, "have you seen in me? You have seen me take on your flesh, experience your temptations far beyond any experience of temptation you have ever had, and go into the depths of suffering that you have never known." It is almost as if Jesus asks:
"Don't you see what it is that God is revealing to you through me? He is showing you how deeply he loves you. He is showing you how deeply he identifies himself with you in his compassion and his passionate concern for you. He is opening his heart to you by all the wounds of my flesh."
Jesus is saying that God is opening his heart to you, to teach you how profoundly he cares for you.
Because of the nature of the fall and the effect of sin on our very thinking about God, Jesus comes. Isaiah very poignantly says—and take this into your soul—that Jesus may chiefly be described as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). This speaks with great eloquence to us when we consider what Isaiah has already said in the first of these glorious songs:
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice (Isa. 42:2-3).
Here is the significance of the Savior's identification with us in our flesh: that he might persuade us that he provides the salvation we require and is the very Savior that we need.
Sinclair B. Ferguson (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) is Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has severed as a minister in his native Scotland and the United States. He has also served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas.
Atonement, edited by Gabriel Fluhrer
"Good Friday: Christ our Great High Priest" by William Boekestein
"The Carpenter and the Cross" by Barry Waugh
"Worthy is the Lamb" by James Boice and Philip Ryken