You may have stood on the trail with a valley before you and, on the other side of it, the face of a mountain, and its summit. The trail through the valley, and out of it, will be long, and the climb to the summit steep. But the height of the summit, and what you anticipate can be seen from it, leads you into the arduous task ahead, determined not to dwell on the difficulties between where you are, and the summit, but on the view you anticipate once you get there.
So the valley, and the climb, lies before you in shimmering summer heat, but the summit, the pinnacle, compels you.
As the prophet Isaiah looks ahead to the summit of redemptive history, 700 years before the pinnacle event occurs, he begins to describe, first the arduous valley, and then later the glorious summit, a place where suddenly the view is clear and beautiful beyond imagination.
He gives us a glimpse of what will happen at the summit, the compelling force moving the servant of the Lord into the valley. "Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted." (Is. 52:13) But first, he faces the arduous valley.
"As many were astonished at you— His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind— so shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of Him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. Who has believed what He has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, 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.” Isaiah 52:14-53:4
Who is the servant of the Lord, so marred beyond human semblance? The answer is found in the purpose statements in the passage. First, “so shall He sprinkle many nations”. Secondly, “surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”. In numerous places in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, sprinkling is associated with purification. The Old Testament sacrifices often involve the sprinkling of blood on objects, and even on people by the priests, symbolizing the atonement for sin. However, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). They were only shadows, pictures of the reality described in this dark, vicious, valley of gruesome suffering so severe at the crucifixion that it marred the Lord Jesus Christ beyond human semblance.
Why is He “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted”? Though there are many, perhaps hundreds, maybe even thousands of descriptive statements in the Scripture as to why, the purposes described are here seen by focusing on a few simple pronouns.
“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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
If all we could see in the valley was the brutality of the suffering of Christ, it would be a hopeless and gruesome scene indeed. But the cross had purpose; the suffering had meaning. It demonstrated God’s fierce hatred for sin, and His fierce love for you. All the suffering was His, but the benefits were yours if you desire cleansing, sprinkling that is, to wash away your sin.
Those who love their sin will never appreciate the enormity of the sacrifice. Those who hate their sin, and desire to be free from it, can rejoice in the love of Christ, who was willing to sprinkle His own blood as a sacrifice for the full and complete payment of all your sin, so that you may be purified from it, and enjoy relationship with Him. This is the first step out of the valley, where the trail begins to ascend toward a summit glorious beyond all comprehension.
Thanks be to God!