Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief

In Psalm 22, David cries out to the Lord - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And, thousands of years later, this lament was echoed by his descendant - Jesus Christ, God incarnate come to both live and die among us - as He felt the full weight of God's wrath against sin.

We live in a world of suffering. There is not a person alive who has not felt pain or sorrow of some kind. As we find ourselves seemingly overcome, it can be easy to echo the Psalmist's cry in turn. Has God forsaken us? Why can our own bodies, or those of our loved ones, be afflicted with deadly diseases? Why do thousands die in natural disasters, and why can one person be so stricken with despair that they take their own life? Why do we suffer?

There is, unfortunately, no easy answer to this question. We live in a world of suffering because we live in a world of sin. A world stricken by rebellion against its Creator. We are sinful people in a sinful world, and our pain is a consequence of that. In fact, we are the ones who have forsaken God.

And yet, for all this, He has never forsaken us.

In the very same psalm that opens by saying that God has left him, the psalmist says:

"I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him."

He knows that, even when despair is greatest and God seems farthest, his salvation is assured. God has not despised the afflicted, or hidden His face - He is a God who hears and helps. Who lends strength when we have none of our own.

So we know that, even in our suffering, God is there. But how can we know that? What assurance do we have that our faith is justified? And why would God even do that for us if we are rebellious and sinful?

To understand that, we must look at someone who suffered despite committing no sin.

We read in Isaiah 53:3-5 of:

"...a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed."

Consider those words for a moment.

Man of sorrows.

Acquainted with grief.

This prophecy points to Jesus - to his life, and to the moment that He suffered on the cross. He was perfect, completely without sin, and yet he took the entirety of God's fury upon himself. He was acquainted with grief - not a cruel, unfeeling god, not caring for his people's plight, but one who knew intimately our suffering. A man of sorrows.

Pierced for our transgressions.

Crushed for our iniquities.

In the midst of our sufferings, we can rely on this sure hope and knowledge: that though we are sinners, born to suffer and die, there is one who suffered for us. One who bore pain greater than any we could ever endure - and that we will never have to experience because of what he did.

With his wounds we are healed.

This is love, and this is our assurance.

Our hope is not in this life, but in life after death. This, too, we are assured of as Jesus says in John 14:1-3 "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." And Paul tells us in Romans 8:18 that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

In Revelation 21, we read this:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'"

This is our strength, and that of the psalmist. Not that God will free us from suffering in this life. But that it will be nothing compared to that which is to come. And "when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

'Death is swallowed up in victory.'
 'O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?'" - 1 Corinthians 15:54-55

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