“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief […] surely our grief He Himself bore, and our sorrow He carried; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:3-6
Isaiah gives us a lot of insight into the character and heart of God; His intention for humanity. There is a constant series of God reaching out to man, but sin hindering His work. Until finally Isaiah states quite plainly: “Who has believed our message and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (53:1). The promise of hope given first in Isaiah 7 at the Advent of Christ: Immanuel, God with Us, and found completed in Chapter 53 with the man of sorrows broken on our behalf: Immanuel, God with Us.
The Advent: a promise of a Messiah to set everything in order; Isaiah 53: a promise of the Man of Sorrows. The temptation has always been the appearance of goodness, over actual integrity, and our culture is no stranger to this. Israel looked for a king who would push away their enemies and establish the kingdom again, but God’s intention has never been to pause at surface level solutions, but to push all the way to the heart. To Nicodemus Jesus explained that He would be lifted up for the salvation of the world (John 3: 14-16), and to the disciples He said that He was the King, but a King bearing a cross, the symbol of the convicted, the worst, the damned (Mark 8:27-31 ). Often the Bible explains things through contrast, and as God sees things differently than we, I think it is so we can better understand His perspective.
Much like Isaiah, Zechariah also has a vision of himself in the Holy of Holies and on Yom Kipper: the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter and make an annual sacrifice for the sins of the people. In preparation for this day, the High Priest would separate himself from everything. His clothes were always new, he washed himself constantly, and his meals were prepared and brought so nothing would be unclean. God’s ways are never to be taken lightly. If the High Priest entered unprepared, he would die. 1 Samuel 6 tells the story of some men merely looking into the ark and everyone in the area died. Though merciful, God’s holiness is not something to be handled lightly and without care – but we do exactly that over and over.
“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord […] now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.” – Zechariah 3:1, 3
I cannot enter into the shock and disgust Zechariah must have felt right away. Filthy doesn’t mean dirty – someone who is filthy may need to only change their clothes, take a shower, or put on deodorant. It is contaminated all the way through: decay, blood, pus, and all other nastiness. This was an abomination to all the rituals of cleanliness – this meant the sacrifice would not be accepted, and the nation would likely suffer for this desecration. But the command the LORD gives is: “remove his filthy garments and give him… See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes” (3:4). As with Isaiah’s vision, he revelation of God’s character is one of mercy, to forgive freely and to choose. He touched the coal to Isaiah’s lips to purify him, and He removed Joshua’s robes to cleanse him. Each come with the promise: There is a Messiah coming who will both purify and cleanse.
This was a metaphor for Israel, but brings a contrast to how God saw humanity opposed to humanity saw themselves. On one hand you have Joshua standing defiled before God, although he probably would have been cleansed and seen as well before me, and on the other hand you have the Jesus who stood before men as something they didn’t even want to look at, but in whom God was fully satisfied. Even in the best of the high priest’s office, he would only be able to keep the people up with the standard of God – while Jesus: “He offered one sacrifice for sin forever, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). When Joshua stood before God, Satan stood at God’s right hand to bring accusation of Joshua’s unworthiness. When Christ stood before God, He atoned and defined a new standard, taking that place of condemnation and changing it into acceptance. If you ask why Easter is so beautiful to me, this is it.
And I saw between the throne and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain […] “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:6, 9
During Jesus ministry, He sought people out and people found Him, and the result was always the same – they either walked away sad and confused, or entered into a life changing relationship with Him. The standard of God’s holiness did not change, nor can it, and that is why He stepped in to fill the gap for us – not that we could keep up with righteousness, but that we could become right. His perfection was brought to scorn and He became what He was not so that I could become what I could never be. The call is no longer – repent or die, but a knocking at the door to say: “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This is your invitation.
Honestly, until this year I had never studied the birth and death of Christ as parallel accounts, or contrasts to one another. Everything connects, integrates, overlaps. I think this was intentional, as sometimes we must be led into very dry places in our lives before we learn how sweet is His fellowship. As David wrote the invitation: “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8), I am called not to rest in my understanding as though I have arrived at a sufficient conclusion of pursuing His heart, but the road goes on and so must I.
The story of Christ’s coming is the story of hope, as it brings the Savior onto the scene, but the story of Christ’s death is the story of redemption because it brings us back into the fold of God. He had to bring our guilt so that we could take part in His life. This is difficult to understand in western culture as we do not have rites and rituals, but only some vague traditions – I was researching Victorian dance and if a man wanted to dance with a woman without engagement, he approached her and bowed, and if she returned they would enter into the dance. Studying John has made me realize that this is how God interacts with us – when Jesus encountered a situation, He always offered an invitation of acceptance, sufficiency, and fellowship.