There is an amazing prophecy in Isaiah 53 referring (Christians believe) to Jesus. The specifics are so detailed that when Isaiah 53 is read without a reference, almost everyone assumes it’s from the New Testament and is quite surprised to find that it was written over seven hundred years before anybody had ever heard of Jesus.
One of the major themes in the book of Isaiah is the coming Messiah who will finally set things right. Everybody expected it would happen but didn’t know when. And everybody expected the Messiah to be big and mean—bigger than the enemies of God’s people who had oppressed them and mean enough to be their worst nightmare.
Then Isaiah referred to a “servant.” That was unexpected and, even worse, confusing. Instead of explaining, Isaiah made it even more unexpected and confusing by describing the Messiah/Servant as one who suffers horribly and is killed. Isaiah 53 will take your breath away. Aside from being quite beautiful, Isaiah 53 points to something that is so profound and overwhelming that it is hard to absorb.
Messiah would not be very attractive (“no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him”), he would not be popular (“he was despised and rejected by men”), and he would not be the “happy face” of religion (“a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”) (vv. 2-3). That’s bad enough, but then we read the statements (vv. 5–7, 10) that shake the very foundations of everything we believe, everything we thought and everything we expected: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; . . . He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”
Forgiveness isn’t cheap
You and I both know that forgiveness isn’t cheap. Forgiveness always costs someone something. We have this spurious idea that forgiveness is simply a matter of saying, “I forgive you,” and then going on about our lives. It doesn’t work that way.
For instance, if I steal from you and you forgive me, it’s going to cost you whatever I stole. If you strike me and I forgive you, it’s going to cost me the pain of your blow. If I gossip about you and hurt your reputation, and you forgive me, it may cost you your reputation. If you have been abused and you forgive your abuser, it will cost you the emotional damage abuse brings.
Who is going to pay for the sins of the world? Bingo! How much is it going to cost? You and I have no idea! We can’t come even close to putting our arms around it. We simply can’t count that far, go that deep, or think that big. It’s beyond us even as it moves us deeply. At least we do get that there is a profound sadness at the very heart of the cosmos. The sound of God’s weeping as he “crushed” his own Son was heard throughout heaven.
But even in his agony, in all of his greatness and power, a holy God bends down low and witnesses our tears as they strike the ground. His tears mingle with ours in an astounding act of sacrifice on a cross planted on a garbage heap, between two thieves.
Have you ever been puzzled by the tears of Jesus in Luke 19:41-44 as he looked out over the city of Jerusalem? We understand the incident that happened just after the tears. Jesus went into the temple and kicked out the scoundrels. That’s the God we know! “You go, Jesus!”
But what’s with the tears?
Now you know.
I once spoke for a chapel service at a state prison. The chaplain printed up a bulletin for that service with a cover showing a prisoner in prison garb and a number on the back of his shirt. He is kneeling before the cross where Jesus hangs. The caption read: “My God! I did that???”
Yes, he did. And not only that—I did it too. And just so you know, you are also culpable. You may look quite spiritual, but you don’t fool me. I’ve been a preacher too long and have listened to too many confessions, so I know your secrets—the ones you won’t tell to anyone because you know they would kick you out. I know me and I know you. So relax. Nobody is going to embarrass you, so let confession do its work.
Now some good news. If you have run to Jesus, mercy has come running to you! You have, in light of what I’ve just taught you, unlimited free sins. I don’t care where you’ve been or where you are, what you’ve done or what you’re doing, what you’re smoking or drinking, who you’re sleeping with or demeaning, who you’ve offended or who you’ve hurt, or where the bodies are buried . . .
Three Free Sins
Three free sins is an amazing and glorious gift. It’s not just because we all need forgiveness. It’s because we all need to forgive and, in the very act of forgiving, there is laughter—a laughter that is as profound and as important as the tears that caused it.