If Only Wishes Were Nickels

The rest of this chapter reminds me of a movie I watched with one my daughters years ago, when she was in college and had come home for the weekend. The film we chose was about a woman who was trying to find some meaning, some joy in her life. In the course of her pursuit, she betrayed and terribly hurt the people who were closest to her. She was sorry about hurting them, but there it was. She could not undo the wrongs she had done against them. She could not undo their pain. And they were not ready to forgive her.

The woman was loaded down with feelings of guilt, most of all, for wronging her husband, whom she decided to divorce for purely selfish reasons. So, she tried to make herself feel better by taking on a lover, by traveling, by enjoying good food and new friends. But it was not working. Yes, she could make herself feel good for a while by indulging in all her pleasures. But she could not get rid of the guilt. She felt sure if her ex-husband would just forgive her, then she would be free.

In the middle of the movie, she receives what is supposed to be the key to her liberty, from a supposedly very wise man. Here is the key: all she really needed to do was to forgive herself.

So, she spent some time imagining that and the movie leads you to believe that she was now free from those feelings of guilt because, in her imagination, she makes her ex-husband be okay with her selfish decision. In her purely fictional imagination, her husband releases her.

Finally, in the last portion of the film we learn that loving herself is the true goal. This will bring her joy, balance, and the ability to truly love again.

It sounds sweet, does it not? Would that not be great? The way to find freedom is to pretend in our imaginations that the people we have wronged are okay with it so we do not have to feel guilty anymore. Then, we can spend lots of time concentrating on how we might love ourselves and imagine ourselves as in balance with the universe, free to seek unfettered pleasure in everything.  

Broken Heart | by bored-now, flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Hard Reality

Except, the truth is that you and I do not have the power to simply imagine away, or wish away, the consequences of sin:

  • Ruptured relationships in need of repair.
  • Decisions made, and roads taken, that cannot be undone, for they have taken us to destinations that must now be faced.
  • Words that cannot be unspoken.
  • Promises that remain broken.
  • Bridges burned.
  • Opportunities spurned.

There are times when you and I really are guilty, when we are definitely responsible for the transgressions we have made, the offenses we have given, the debts we have incurred, and the wrongs we have committed.  

By the same token, we really also have been violated by others who have done the same to us.

These things cannot be erased simply by wishing them away anymore than you and could wish that the dent would just go away in a fender bender. In the spiritual realm, sin, guilt, corruption, and death all go together, and we can see all around us in our physical world how very real those things are 

The only way for guilt to be removed is for something definite to happen, a definite cleansing by a power strong enough to tackle the stain of sin, by the only One Who understands and can bring about real justice and true mercy.

That One – the only One – is God.

God promises to, in actuality, right every wrong, not just pretend everything is all better suddenly.

But how?

Man of Sorrows

The context in which Isaiah presented this fourth song about the Servant is the character of God’s Own Person: God’s holy love, holy righteousness, and holy justice.

Judgment and Salvation

Judgement features strong in Isaiah, next to God’s longsuffering grace for the unbelief of God’s people, their refusal to listen to God’s warning concerning their idolatry, moral decline, and hard-heartedness. God made sure they understood that God would chastise them.

Salvation is also a major theme. God is salvation and even Isaiah’s name means “Yahweh is Salvation.” God promised both comfort and a Savior, One who would drink the full cup of wrath and judgment for the people’s sin, and who would bring restoration to His people.

Central in the comfort of God to God’s people are these four servant songs, designed to engage the heart, not just to be understood intellectually.

The Covenant Servant

The Called Servant

The Suffering Servant

The Sorrowing Servant

This fourth song falls into five stanzas of three verses each. Each of these stanzas reveals an important truth about the Servant and what He accomplished for us.

Stanza 1

See, my servant shall prosper;
    he shall be exalted and lifted up
    and shall be very high.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
    —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle [or “sprinkle”] many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
    and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

Isaiah 52:13-15 (NRSV, brackets mine)

This is like a summary of what will happen with the Servant.

The Cross and Ascensionhe shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high.

Beaten Form: so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals.

Resurrection: that which had not been told them they shall see.

High and Lifted Up

Isaiah used the same phraseology to describe the Servant as he did of the Christophany he witnessed in his vision of Jesus in the temple:

See, my servant shall prosper;
    he shall be exalted and lifted up
    and shall be very high.

… In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty, and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

Isaiah 52:13 and 6:1 (NRSV, emphases mine)

Centuries later, the apostle Paul quoted a Christian hymn that incorporated this passage from Isaiah.

Therefore God exalted him even more highly
    and gave him the name
    that is above every other name

Philippians 2:9 (NRSV)
James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Scourging on the Back (La flagellation de dos), 1886-1894 | Brooklyn Museum, Public Domain
Marred in Appearance

Because of the Servant’s perfection, because of His wisdom and His fulfillment of God’s will, He was going to suffer horribly, beaten and mutilated beyond recognition.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face.  Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

John 19:1-5 (NRSV)
Sprinkle / Startle the Nations

Those of Jewish faith throughout the known world returned yearly to Jerusalem for the Passover. This Passover, they beheld God the Son, Lamb of God, crucified.

Sprinkle: There is a double meaning in Isaiah’s prophecy. Some English versions translate the Hebrew word נָזָה | nâzâh as “sprinkle.” Like the sacrifice the high priest brought into the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle on the atonement cover, the Servant’s blood will be enough to atone for the whole world.

Startle: But there can be another meaning, since in Hebrew this word also means “startle.” Perhaps this is how the apostle Paul understood this verse, when he wrote to the church in Rome about his plans to spread the gospel to new cultures.

The entire world was going to be astonished by God’s plan to redeem the world through the Lord Jesus’s death and even more amazing, powerfully raise Jesus from the dead, throwing open the way for all who would believe to receive eternal life.

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