THE CITY OF DAVID (JERUSALEM), SEVENTH CENTURY BC.
This was a time of political turmoil. The nation of the Israelites had been split in two. To the south was the Kingdom of Judah; to the north was the Kingdom of Israel. The house of the Lord was divided. This was not the only trouble God's people faced. The Assyrians were growing stronger and were exerting their power and authority over their neighbours. They had already conquered the countries of Aram and Canaan. Treaties were forming and breaking; invading armies beat at the borders of Judah.
In the midst of all this was the City of David.
The City of David stood beneath the imposing Temple of Solomon. In this temple, the people worshipped. The sound of prayers and the smell of burnt offerings would float down, past the palace, to the city. The crowded city was ensconced in walls that weaved down the side of Mount Moriah, overlooking the steep Kidron valley. Within the boundaries of these walls lived a prophet: Isaiah.
Isaiah was burdened with a terrible message from the Lord. The prophet had been told of the coming peril of his people. If they were to continue in their sinful ways, the Lord would bring the might of the Babylonians to them. The holy mountain of Jerusalem will fall; the Lord's people will be captive, just as they were in Egypt those many years ago. Even the righteous king, Hezekiah, was not able to stop the Israelites and their contemptible ways.
But the Lord, in his mercy, also promised the restoration of His people. Just as the Lord had taken His people from the bowels of Egypt, He would rescue them from the Babylonians. And there was more. The Lord will send a servant that would save His people.
But, how this servant will suffer! He will be crushed, pierced, whipped, condemned, despised. He will die the death of a traitor, a criminal, a rebel. And yet he is innocent! It is not his sins he will die for, for he will do no wrong. He will not transgress; but it is for the transgressors he will be killed. What terrible sorrows would weigh him down! But mark, those are our sorrows upon his shoulders.
Who is this servant that would take other's sins upon him? Who will be lead like a lamb to the slaughter for our sakes? These were the questions of the lips of the Lord's people for the next three hundred years. And it would not be until a young mother gave birth in a stable that the world would see the answer.
The fifty-third book of Isaiah is a beautifully poetic prophecy of the servant's suffering. This servant was unremarkable in many ways: he was tender, at a young age and had no particular beauty of majesty. Yet, what this servant would do was anything but unremarkable. The way in which he would go about it, as well, is nothing short of shocking and extraordinary.
This servant would be crushed, pierced, rejected, oppressed and punished. For what, though? There was nothing that he had done that deserved this treatment. It was us, however, that had deserved this. It was our sins that he bore. Not only did he die for the transgressors, but he prayed for them. He prayed for the ones who had caused his pain. How selfless and remarkable is that?
This is a heart-breaking summary of the crucifixion story. It has the scorn and shame; the brutal torture and death; even the prayer for the transgressors. Although it seems unlikely that this passage could be any more astonishing, the fact that it was written three-hundred years before Jesus' crucifixion story is amazing.
There is nothing that can be said that this passage does not say clearly and beautifully. I shall leave you with a modern version of an old hymn, O Sacred Head. This hymn speaks of the pain and the tragedy of the servant's ordeal. Perhaps listen and reflect on the beauty and the tragedy of the cross.