The Unparalleled Sufferings of Christ!
William Nicholson, 1862
"There were many who were astonished at Him. His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness!" Isaiah 52:14
God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spoke in times past unto the fathers by the Levitical priesthood, by their typical sacrifices, and by the inspired prophets — to the great joy of his Church then, has, in these last days, spoken unto us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also ho made the world; who being the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, was qualified to become the sin-atoning substitute of guilty man; and by his unparalleled sufferings and ignominious death, to "purge away our sins."
This subject is always interesting to the man who has felt its power. It has been so in time past — it will be until time shall be no more — and it will be in a more eminent manner in the Heaven of heavens.
In verse 1, 2, the captivity of the Jews in Babylon is described. Jehovah appears as the deliverer of the chosen tribes. This deliverance deeply impressed the mind of the prophet, and his attention was immediately fixed on that great salvation, of which that from Babylon was but a figure. The Author of man's great salvation is presented before us as a "man of sorrows," etc., in a state of severe and humiliating suffering, etc.
I. The Unparalleled Abasement and Sufferings of Christ."There were many who were astonished at Him. His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness!"
This will appear if we consider,
1. His abasement and sufferings were unparalleled, if we consider the glory from which he descended to become incarnate. He dwelt "in the bosom of the Father," John 1:18.
Solomon speaks of him under the character of Wisdom, Proverbs 8:22-31.
Isaiah saw his essential glory in the Temple, Isaiah 6:1, etc.
John describes his eternity, power, and glory, John 1:1-4, 14.
Jesus himself declared his pre-existence in Heaven: "Before Abraham was, I am."
Paul declares his equality with essential Deity, Philippians 2:6, and his mysterious transition from Heaven to earth, to veil his splendors in a tabernacle of flesh in "the form of a servant."
Thus as the "only Begotten of the Father," he dwelt in the "high and lofty place." There angels, the first-born sons of light, worshiped him; the cherubim and seraphim adored him, as the "image of the invisible God," etc. Colossians 1:15, etc. There "he was rich" in all the glories of the Divinity, in the boundless opulence of the universe, and in the ascriptions of praise incessantly ascribed to him.
Yet, astonishing condescension! He vacated that throne of splendor, he left the temple of praise, left the greetings of seraphs — and came down to earth to die!
What if an earthly king were to leave his throne, etc., for the benefit of his subjects! What if an angel were to visit this sinful orb, and become the subject of infirmity, poverty, persecution, sufferings, and death! All comparisons fail! "There were many who were astonished at Him. His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness!"
2. His abasement and sufferings were unparalleled, if we consider his incarnation, and the various stages of his humiliation. He veiled the Divine nature in the form of humanity, characterized by baseness, destitution, suffering, ignominy, death — and all this voluntarily.
He suffered the weakness of infancy, and the infirmities of childhood. In the Babe of Bethlehem, appears the mysterious union of impotence and omnipotence — the Mighty God and the infant of days.
In the morning of life he was persecuted. The envy and bloody rage of Herod compelled the flight to Egypt, to escape that ferocious tyrant, in whose nature no traces of compassion were found. "Out of Egypt have I called my Son."
Poor was his parentage and life. He was born, not in a palace — but in a stable, and cradled in a feeding trough. His mother was a poor obscure woman — not a princess. His supposed father was not a king — but a humble mechanic. He had no certain dwelling-place. "Foxes have holes," but Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. From his birth to his death, he was poor. "Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor."
He lodged in another man's house,
he fed at another man's table,
he preached in another man's ship,
he prayed in another man's garden,
he rode to Jerusalem on another man's donkey,
and he was buried in another man's grave.
He suffered hunger — he to whom belong the cattle upon a thousand hills, and the fruitful valleys beneath.
He suffered thirst — he who gives rain, and refreshes with showers the grass, and the lilies of the field — he who gives the vine its fruit to cheer the heart of man.
He endured fatigue — he who bears up the pillars of the universe. Consider,
3. His abasement and sufferings were unparalleled, if we consider the treatment he received from men. He suffered reproach. "I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people." He was charged with sedition against Caesar's government. He was called an impostor, a blasphemer, a devil, a glutton, a drunkard, etc.
He suffered from betrayal. Judas betrayed him with a kiss, Peter denied him with oaths, all his disciples forsook him and fled.
He was apprehended like a criminal. He was unjustly tried, having been falsely accused, and condemned to die as a traitor to his country, and a blasphemer of his God! "Reproach has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none." Psalm 69:20. "His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man!"
Follow him to the garden, and behold his sweat, like great drops of blood falling to the ground. If we gaze on him there, we shall see depicted in his countenance, all the sad emotions of his heart; that "His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man."
Follow him to the judgment-hall: there he is begirt with a gorgeous robe of mockery, and there was his placid brow entwined with a crown of thorns! They mocked and scourged him. "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheek to those who plucked off the hair." They smote him with a reed, and spit upon him, and the blood and spittle, together, clotted his flowing locks. And in that condition, the Roman Governor introduced him to the people, saying, "Behold the man!"
Follow him to Golgotha, and behold his death by crucifixion, which was painful, degrading, and accursed. No death was so painful as crucifixion. His hands and his feet — the most sensitive parts of the body — were secured to the cross by rugged nails, etc.
His death was degrading, for it was the death of a slave. Degrading, for he died with two malefactors — died in the midst of them, as if he had been the vilest of the three — and one of them cursed him. Oh, shameful death! "His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man."
To complete the violence offered to his person: after he was dead, one of the soldiers, with a spear, pierced his side; and out came blood and water. No countenance ever bore more distinguished lines of anguish, and no man was ever exposed to more painful suffering by his agony, by the murderous treatment of his enemies, and by his accursed death. Behold him in these tragic scenes! "His visage is so marred, more than any man," etc. Whatever was the dignity of your person, O Redeemer, the elegance of your form, and the beauty of your countenance; all is marred now. Your mind, impregnated with the attributes of Godhead — your mind, never ruffled with anger, or rent by the storms of passion — your mind, the very embodiment of Heaven, gave to your person and countenance, beauty, meekness, placidity, and majesty! But now your "visage is marred more," etc. Your saddened countenance, O man of sorrows, your bleeding brow, your clotted locks, your fainting spirit, should rend all human hearts. The tears of sorrow rushing down your cheeks, the poignant crown, the knotted scourges, the rugged nails, the dislocating shock, have effaced the bloom of your countenance, and dimmed the luster of your eyes. I see there, on that cross, pale, bleeding, dead, and ghastly, your "visage marred more," etc.
"Behold the man!" Are these the gracious eyes
Whose beams could kindle life among the dead?
Is this the wondrous and majestic head
Of Him, the Lord Almighty, and all-wise?
Are these the hands that stretched abroad the skies,
And earth with verdure, Heaven with stars o'ersprcad?
Are these the feet that on the waves would tread,
And calm the rage when wildest tempests rise?
Ah, me! all wounded and disfigured now!
Those eyes — the joy of Heaven — eclipsed in night;
Torn, bleeding, pale these hands, these feet, this brow
I weep for love, grief, rapture, at the sight.
My Lord! my God! — For me, for me, did you
In shame, reproach, and suffering, thus delight!
II. The Sufferings of Christ Have Been Productive of Astonishment."There were many who were astonished at Him. His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness!"
The whole scene was calculated to produce it. Never had such a Being stood before a tribunal, or been condemned to a death so tragic! He was . . .
greater than all kings;
wiser than all philosophers;
more benevolent than all the good;
more virtuous than all the just;
more devout than all the holiest.
He was the glory of the human nature; the express image of the Divine — and yet he suffered and died.
Oh, what evil, what venom, what hate must there be in sin — to have caused the death of the Just One!
"There were many who were astonished at Him. His visage was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness!"
The disciples saw him on the cross; they gazed on their Lord and Master with amazement, and scarcely recovered themselves before the third day.
The women who followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem, stood afar off, "astonished," and smote their breasts.
The thousands whom he had instructed, healed, and cured, were struck with astonishment to witness the tragic end of a life so benevolent and useful.
Devils were astonished when they saw the shafts of their malice recoil, and all their infernal plans frustrated.
Angels were astonished when they saw him whom they had worshiped, etc., "marred more than any man," etc.
Nature was astonished, and uttered her voice. All her elements joined in the universal consternation.
The sun refused to shine,
darkness was over all the land,
the graves opened, and their dead arose,
the veil of the temple was rent by a mysterious hand,
the earth was shaken to its foundations, and the rooks were cloven asunder.
Nations have been clad in funereal attire on the demise of the monarch who swayed the scepter, or the hero who fought and conquered on the field of battle; but never did the orb of day hide his luster to mark the death of mortal man; he shines with the same radiance on the morning of a monarch's exit — as on that of his coronation. A tomb is opened by human hands to receive the relics of earthly majesty, but nothing shakes the terrestrial ball.
But all nature stands a silent spectator of this astonishing scene! When the Redeemer died, nature stood aghast — she uttered her voice, and proclaimed his dignity to the universe. Clad in supernatural darkness, she uttered her groans, and refused to behold the sight.
And man — guilty, rebellious man — was the cause of that which shook Heaven and earth!
I asked the Heavens, "What foe to God has done
This atrocious deed?" The Heavens exclaim,
"Twas man! and we in horror snatched the sun
From such a spectacle of guilt and shame."
I asked the earth — the Earth replied aghast,
"Twas man! and such strange pangs my bosom rent,
That still I groan, and shudder at the past."
To Man — mirthful, thoughtless Man — I went,
And asked him next. He turned a scornful eye,
Shook his proud head, and deigned me no reply!
II. The Sufferings and Death of Christ Were Vicarious.
They differed from those of a martyr, who died as a witness of the truth, etc. It is evident, from the Old and New Testaments, that Christ's death was sacrificial and atoning.
"So shall he sprinkle many nations." Here is a reference to the rites of the ceremonial law. Under the Levitical economy:
1. there was the sprinkling of the blood of atonement once a year;
2. the sprinkling of water on the unclean person — called the water of separation — by which a person was separated to a holy purpose;
3. a sprinkling of water and of blood on the leper, by which he was pronounced clean, and needed no longer to remain without the camp.
These sprinklings convey two ideas in their typical reference to Christ:
1. An atonement. "By whom (Christ) we have received the atonement." Romans 5:11. See 1 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 2:13-17; Colossians 1:14. If remission of sins was necessary under the law, surely it was so "when the fullness of time was come." Yes, the glorious design of his abasement and unparalleled sorrows, was to expiate transgression, and to make an end of sin. See Isaiah 53.
2. Purification. Sin was not only atoned for, but "a fountain was opened to cleanse from sin and impurity!" Zechariah 13:1. "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word!" Ephesians 5:25-26. "The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" Hebrews 9:13-14
Delightful thought! "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool!" Isaiah 1:18. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness!" 1 John 1:9
Let none be content with the sacrifice, and reject the purification. "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid." Faith works by love, and purifies the heart. He is a vain man who loves the creed, and hates the commandment. "He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good!" Titus 2:14.
III. The Sufferings of Christ Are Designed to Benefit the World."So shall he sprinkle many nations." The Gospel shall be universally diffused.
The record of the Redeemer's sacrifice is to be diffused. It is the decree of God. It is the will of Christ. It is the subject of Divine prophecy.
The nations are diseased — announce to them the Almighty Physician.
They are perishing — proclaim to them the Almighty Savior.
They are dying — erect before them the standard of the cross.
Cry out to them, Look and live! "Behold the Lamb of God," etc.
To "sprinkle" means to diffuse, to shed abroad. And so Christ gave his last injunction, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature!" Mark 16:15. How many, on the day of Pentecost, were sprinkled by this precious blood. "Parthians, and Medes," etc. Acts 2:9, etc. These were converted and saved, and when they arrived in their respective countries, they spread the knowledge of the crucified Christ.
This world shall not always be Satan's empire — a sublime and holy destiny awaits it, will appear.
1. From the promises made especially to Christ, and the zeal of the Lord Almighty will perform it. Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 9:7; 49:6; 53:11.
2. The prophecies and promises given to the Church, warrant the expectation of it. The stone cut out of the mountain, without hands, is to become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth; a little leaven, etc., and the kingdoms shall be given to the saints of the Most High. Daniel 2:34, 35; 7:18, 27.
3. The prophecies already accomplished add to this assurance. These are the first-fruits of the harvest.