Many of the early Christian theologians worked tirelessly to find direct references or hints of Christ’s presence in the Hebrew Scriptures. The earliest surviving effort is found in Paul’s writing where he claims that Jesus was the rock from which the water flowed to assuage the thirst of the Israelites in the Sinai Wilderness.
Thus, in Christian circles these passages from the Prophet Isaiah which are known as the ‘Suffering Servant’ passages came to be associated with Christ.
There is no evidence in the writings of Isaiah or any surviving contemporary material which points to which person these passages referred so we cannot with certainty say that it is of the savior or even the expected Messiah that Isaiah wrote.
In fact there is not a one to one correlation between the passages we have and the last day and a half of Jesus’ life. However, there are strong similarities between Isaiah’s writings and the events of Jesus’ betrayal and death as we have them reported in the four gospel narratives and in fact the legacy that the world enjoys from Jesus’ life and teachings.
Yet Isaiah is writing inspired words—prophecies—and as we know with other aspects of the New Testament narratives, the prophecy doesn’t always exactly match the events. One of the best examples is that of John the Baptizer who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of one who will come declaring the coming of the Lord and ordering that the highway be made straight for the coming of the Lord.
So what do we have as we study this first lesson on Good Friday night? Isaiah says that he will startle many nations and kings shall shut their mouths.
It suggested to me the effects of the Judeo-Christian ethical views which come to us in the form of the UN Bill of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions on War. They may not deter violence against the helpless but they do provide recourse in war crimes tribunals to bring the guilty to justice.
He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole. Think back on the various accounts of the trials before the Chief Priest and Pilate—the abuses he suffered including the scourging. Who has trouble believing that the degradation of the cross was not sufficient punishment of an innocent for us?
For ‘by a perversion of justice he was taken away’—first to the kangaroo court of the Chief Priest and then to Pilate who motivated by careerism sends Jesus to the Cross and allows the indignities before.
Although he had done no violence’—yes, even at this grave time he was the embodiment of peace—no legions of angels, no sword raised in his defense. This embodiment has colored our modern history with the Great Mahatma and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s successful non violent campaigns to bring justice.
‘Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.’ For us he was abused, crucified and died in great pain. Crucifixions were reserved for the enemies of Rome whether those who stole from the Romans or were threats to Imperial power.
‘When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring (us who are his church) through him the will of the Lord shall prosper’—the world-wide effort at reconciliation—still not perfectly done in many situations but attempted none the less.
‘…; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’ Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. And we and those who conspired in his crucifixion and death find that he intercedes for us still.
If we take to heart the writings of Isaiah regarding this unknown person of prophecy whom we who are Christians believe shared many commonalities with our Lord, then there is the prospect that we will prosper in what He died for us to do—to be free to make a difference in the world in his name.
Several speakers at today’s ecumenical service asked rhetorically why we could call this Friday Good. Was it good for the one dying on the cross, his body scarred by scourging? Was it good for his mother, watching her son suffer grievously? Was it good for his disciples—all who had failed him including one driven to suicide by what he had done?
In the grand scheme of things, Good Friday would come to be good for all of them, but it is first and foremost good for us who are frail humans, good at causing pain, at failing to keep promises, at ignoring all that Jesus called us to do as we live every day.
Today nearly 2000 years ago was good for us—thanks be to God and for Jesus who suffered in his humanity and divinity. It will propel us into an Easter life if we will accept it.