Isaiah 53:4–6 - Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
British folklore speaks of the sin-eater, a man who would arrive at the home where a death had taken place and for a price of six-pence eat a ceremonial meal of bread and beer, consuming them on behalf of the deceased and then taking upon himself the sin of the dead with an incantation and an offering of exchange, thus allowing the dead to rest in peace and to have no reason to haunt the living. The tale makes for good campfire lore, but it holds no truth. Jesus said, “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” There is no man or woman, living or dead, who can exchange their merit for your sin. “It is appointed for man to die once,” the Bible tells us, “and then the judgment.” A hope resting on the appeal of a man or woman who will speak to God on our behalf, whether it be priest, prophet or potentate, is a hope that will surely fail. There has always been and will only be one sin-eating Savior, the God-Man Jesus Christ, and Isaiah the prophet tells us about him in our passage for today.
The concept of propitiation or substitution for sin holds little appeal today, even among many evangelicals. A God who demands justice, even sacrifice, in order for sin to be dealt with is a monster in some eyes. No, better to say that a God of love simply looks past our sin, or better yet, does not recognize sin because sin does not exist. This is a more palatable God. God exchanges his own Son for human souls? God pours out his wrath against sin on his own beloved, turning away from him at his greatest hour of need? Isn’t this more like the gods we read about in legend? “If God is like this, then he is not worthy of our praise or adoration, but only our spite or, at best, our pity” is the cool, educated response we get today. Be that as it may, the Bible speaks clearly in both Testaments of God’s wrath against sin and the necessity of sacrifice in order for it to be atoned for—no place more clearly than here in our text for today from the prophet Isaiah. Here we see clearly the substitutionary nature of Christ’s suffering and death on behalf of those he loved. “He was pierced.” For what? “For our transgressions.” “He was crushed.” Why? “For our iniquities.” The punishment that was ours to bear, and ours alone, was placed upon him, and by the wounds that he suffered we are made whole. All of us, you and me, have chosen by our own choosing to walk away, to do unto ourselves what we want to have done. We are like wandering sheep, ignorant and blithely walking toward our own destruction. Yet God, in his love and justice, has laid on his Son (a Son who would one day be known as the “Good Shepherd”) the sin of all those who have turned to him for hope and restoration. Stricken by God indeed, smitten by him and afflicted, all for the sins of someone else. This is the definition of substitutionary sacrifice, a term that, although rarely spoken of today, speaks the painful truth of what is required for sinners to become saints. C. H. Spurgeon reminds us, “How strange that where misery was concentrated, mercy reigned: where sorrow reached her climax, weary souls find rest.” Strange to our ears, but not strange to Scripture; it is the clarion call of salvation from Genesis to Revelation.
How will you respond to such news? What happens in your heart when you hear the gospel condensed to one sentence in Second Corinthians 5:21? “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Does your heart rejoice at such news? Do you fall down upon your knees and cry out, “Thank you God for saving a sinner like me!” or do you balk at the notion? “My sin? And what sin do I have that is any worse than the next person’s? What kind of God is this, that he would cause one to suffer who did not deserve the suffering?” If this is your response, where will you turn to be set free? Maybe you do not feel you need freedom. So be it. The day will bring everything to light, and that day is coming for all of us. Maybe you feel grateful for a Savior who willingly laid down his life for your sin, but believe your sin to be too gross, too graphic, and too frequent to be forgiven. This is simply not true. “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and purify us from all ungodliness” (1 John 1:9). The word “all” there is wonderfully universal; it means “all.” We all need a sin-eater, friends, and he has come to take up your sins and to carry your sorrows. Call on his name today.
Father, I accept the sacrifice of Jesus for my sin, a sacrifice that is acceptable to you. Save me from myself, I pray. Free me today.