30. The Fellowship of His Suffering (Isaiah 53)
Again, we come in our survey to a passage which critics of our
viewpoint would argue has “nothing to do with fellowship”. And in
one sense they would be correct. The word itself does not appear at all in the
chapter. But the best students of the Bible must agree that, in the close study
of any divine subject, the more broadly based our conclusions are, the better.
The All-wise Father does not teach His children by simple assertion only; if He
did, then our Bible would need be no more lengthy than our Statement of Faith.
But He teaches us also by type, parable, history, prophecy, and example.
Foremost among the examples given for our instruction is His only-begotten Son.
The example of Christ’s sacrificial life, culminating in a cruel,
lingering death, speaks volumes to the reflective soul concerning
“fellowship”. We might even say that “fellowship” is the
main theme of Isaiah 53, for it tells us of Christ’s sharing,
his partaking of our infirmities.
Isaiah 53 is a mountain peak of God’s Word. I will not
attempt an exhaustive, or even a brief exposition of the chapter as a whole.
This has been done very ably by others, and their efforts will be well-known to
most. Let us simply consider the chapter as it relates to our fellowship
experiences and responsibilities, as a moral issue and not a
“theological” one (in the common sense of the word).
No man of faith can stand before the cross. It is
perpetually holy ground — this mysterious place of meeting between God and
man. The perceptive disciple approaches the mercy seat on his knees; he finds
there no place to display his own strength or wisdom or cleverness. All the
qualities that develop pride in natural man are driven from him further and
further with each blow of the hammer upon the Roman spikes. As his awareness
deepens, he must finally acknowledge that the cross of Christ has become, not a
set of logical premises to be thrown back and forth in legalistic debate, but
rather a moral mandate. As the rising of the sun drives away the darkness and
creates each day a new world, God’s love for man as demonstrated in
Christ’s death and resurrection forever changes the spiritual landscape
for the believer. Every issue of his life must now be viewed in the peculiar
divine glow emanating from Golgotha.
And thus our fellowship, with the Father and the Son and with
one another, is seen against the background of Christ’s sacrifice. Here is
the practical expression of his fellowship with us, his brethren. This should be
our example of action toward one another.
To those of us who have been accustomed to read Isaiah 53 as
related only to the last day or so of our Savior’s mortal life, the
quotation in Matthew 8:16,17 comes as quite a surprise:
“When the evening was come, they brought unto him
many demoniacs.... and he healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled
which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘He took our infirmities
and bore our diseases.’ ”
Surely these verses are telling us that Christ’s
sympathy for poor suffering humanity was an intensely personal feeling. We can
imagine no stronger words to convey the closeness, the unity, the fellowship of
suffering. Here is no theoretical transferal of guilt or sin-effect; there is no
ritual, no ceremony about it — it is real, as real as it can be! This man
was one of us. He stood before the tomb of a friend and shed real tears. Our
weaknesses were his... are his still, this high priest who was touched so deeply
with the sensation of our infirmities, and who carried it with him into the most
holy place. For our griefs are his, our sorrows also. For us he was willing to
die; for us, finally and conclusively, he did die. And not just for
“us” as a whole or a concept or an abstraction, but... this is the
real wonder.... he died for each one of us! Had there been only one
sinner, Christ would have still been willing to die. When each of us stands
before the judgment seat, he will be looking into the eyes of a man who gave his
life, personally and individually, for him.
Yes, it truly is a marvel: The Savior of mankind suffered for
sinners. For the man who blasphemed God’s Holy Name, Christ spent
sleepless nights in prayer. For the man who coveted, and even took, his
neighbor’s wife, Christ denied himself all fleshly indulgences. For the
man who in hot anger or cold hatred slew his brother, Christ bore the Roman
scourge that tore his flesh and exposed his bones and nerves. And for us,
“righteous” as we might be in the ordinary
“middle-of-the-road” sense, but sinners at heart if we would but
admit it, consumed with petty jealousies and grumblings, unthankful, lazy, and
often indifferent — yes, for people like us — Christ, the holiest of
all men, groaned and bled and died.
What does it really mean, to bear the griefs and sorrows of
another? As exemplified in Christ, it was more, much more, than a mechanical
“burden-bearing”. It was a “living sacrifice”, a way of
life that denied the lusts of the flesh within himself, while at the same time
loving and striving continuously for the well-being of his brethren who could
not, or did not, so deny themselves. And when they failed, and failed miserably,
he bore with their failures and never gave way to “righteous”,
condemning anger — but only expressed sorrow and gentle rebuke. Was there
ever such a man? “For even Christ pleased not himself” (Rom.
“The Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us
all.” “He was wounded for our transgressions.” Here
again we Christadelphians so quickly lapse into the “technical”
aspects (the word here almost seems sacrilegious) of Christ’s sacrifice.
We carefully point out that Christ did not bear the guilt of our sins,
and that he did not die in our stead. And there is nothing wrong with saying
such things, in their proper place. But, is it not possible that we are missing
the main point? Call it what you will, hedge it about with exceptions and
careful definitions, when all is said and done, HE DID DIE — and that is
the important issue!
Let us be careful here; let us examine ourselves. In our zeal
for “truth”, are we so caught up in the theory that the fact is
almost ignored? Do we suppose that when we have explained, in man’s
imperfect language, why Christ died, on a legal basis — that our
conception of the cross is complete? No, brethren. This man died because he
loved to the uttermost his brethren. Here is the lesson. Christ’s way of
life, the “fellowship” he practiced in regular interaction with his
brethren, is the challenge to us. Do we perceive that love as an impossible
theory — or as a reality, to be reproduced and practiced by us, here and
now? Our Savior calls us, he commands us, he entreats us, insofar as we can, to
do as he did. He sets before us an ecclesial life of difficulties, of sorrows,
of problems — and he tells us: ‘Bear the infirmities, even the
iniquities of your brethren. I died for them; you must live for them. I did not
please myself; neither should you. They are all worth saving, they are
all worth loving, they are all worth your sacrifices and prayers
— or else none of you are worth it! If you really believe in my
love, then you must believe that your ecclesial problems can be solved —
and that love is the key to their solution.’
We break bread and drink wine as a memorial of our fellowship
with God through Christ. We do not earn this right; it is a profound
privilege and a gift, earned by the sufferings of Christ. It is given freely
to sinners, if they will only believe. A fine record of outstanding
accomplishment, accompanied by perfect purity of doctrine (remember our
“brother” the Pharisee who prayed in the temple!), will not earn
us eternal life. The spirit that compasses sea and land to bring division
between brethren of Christ for the smallest hint of a cause will not earn
eternal life, no matter how zealously exercised that spirit is!
“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what
doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk
humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8).