Isaiah, the 8th Century B.C prophet-poet in Israel wrote four famous songs about ‘the Suffering Servant of God’ which delivers messages of utmost spiritual significance. These Songs are found in the wonderful canonical book of Isaiah: First Song in Isaiah 42: 1-9, 49: 1-13, 50: 4-9 and 52:13-53:12. The title of this reflection on the crucifixion of Jesus on what is known as Good Friday among Christians comes from Isaiah 53 verse 5 which runs thus “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” These words constitute the central verse in this particular and also the most explicit Messianic Song containing 15 verses (in Isaiah 52:13 up to 53:12) picturing the unjust sufferings and humiliation of the Christ, the Messiah, the Servant of the LORD. This is termed as the Gospel in the Old Testament. Isaiah, the “Prince of prophets” is also known as the most Christian prophet in the Old Testament. Apart from many allusions to his book there are at least direct 62 quotations in the New Testament that concerning Christ’s incarnation, earthly work, sufferings and his vicarious death for sinners, second coming to and millennial rule in the world and other eschatological events. The fourth Song is a clear prophecy composed in what is called by theologians prophetic past tense.
The incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ are the three greatest events in the salvation history in God’s calendar, and Good Friday is the holiest day in this. It is ‘good’ since what God did on the rugged and brutish cross by giving his son as a penalty for human sin was for the eternal good of man, the salvation of sin. Innocent Christ was cursed, but man is blessed, he was bruised that man might get healed; he was humiliated that man might get glorified; he was despised that we might be honored by holy God, he was estranged from God that man might get reconciled. Christ’s vicarious suffering and substitutionary death was the will of sovereign LORD God. Alluding to Isaiah’s words Saint Peter testified to Christ with magnifying words, such as these ones, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds we have been healed. On Good Friday God supremely manifested his love and grace supremely for sinful and as such alienated and estranged man from him. The universality of sin and sin-nature in man is the root issue in Christian thought. The impact of Adam’s sin has seminal impact on the entire human race. Man himself cannot redeem or anyone else from the original sin, i.e. the sin-nature. Sin-nature of man is permeated through all members in the human family with far reaching consequences. This is manifested in alienation of man from man, from nature, from God and even from one’s own inner self. Christ sacrificed his life to make atonement for our sins that should result in peace with God, peace with fellow-beings, peace with nature and peace within one’s inner-self. The Old Testament sacrifices of animals were inadequate to do away with human sins. They were mere shadows of the sacrificial death of Jesus for the propitiation of human sin. They amply proved the need for a greater sacrifice. Animals do not have rational volition or will. They cannot or do not represent man. In Jesus’ time about one quarter of a million cattle used to be killed on the Jewish Passover festival annually in Jerusalem! Jesus became the true and perfect sacrifice as he lived a life of total obedience to God and his laws. His life was entirely sinless and perfect. He abolished the old order of rituals, and made the new one with his own life. “Christ is the end of the law”, said St. Paul meaning that he fulfilled the law. The cross did what the Old Testament law could not do: ideally it transforms the life of a sinner. Christ’s sacrifice was once and for all and is not repeatable. The capital punishment that was given to offenders was so cruel, gruesome and deadly that no Roman citizen was sentenced with this. But such was the depth and breadth of Christ’s love for Man that he took upon himself the death on the cross. All this was according to Divine plan. Any other kind of a sacrifice is repeated again and again. Christ’s sacrifice is once for all as it is the supreme sacrifice on the part of God. Christ died to bear our sins in his grace and mercy. With war, greed and pride man is in a lost situation. Puritan scholar Joseph Alleine lamented thus: “O miserable man, what a deformed monster has sin made you! God made you ‘little lower than the angels;’ sin has made you little better than the devils.” Because of original sin man is depraved. He cannot save himself. God’s sinless Son came to take man’s place and took upon himself that punishment that was due him. This is why Christ emptied himself. God in his unique and unmerited grace reconciled us to himself. On the Cross of Jesus we see God’s grace poured out for our peace and reconciliation and we are called to a new life of righteousness, peace and harmony with God and with others.
Man cannot have peace unless he strives to be upright. Peace is costly and also something pre-paid. The greatest need for the preachers of peace is that one needs to be intentional and willful about peaceful co-existence. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace makers.” He did not say, “Blessed are the peace lovers!” For our personal work of service we ourselves need to strive for peace. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone"(Romans12:18). The world has been in turmoil always. Religious beliefs and doctrines are used and interpreted by people with vested interests, by cunning politicians, and peace and harmony are pies in the sky; the very spiritual purpose of religion is frustrated. Doctrines divide, but love and respect unites. Right doctrines are important. But authentic life is vitally important as we seek peace. Let the message of Christ inspire us to make our own sacrifices for peace.
The writer is a Christian theology teacher and a church leader