The Hidden Face of God
"Isaiah's Unimaginable Image"
August 8th, 2019
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
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.
The pages of the Old Testament are haunted by a person who kept His name a secret (Genesis 32:29; Judges 13:17) and was wounded. Zechariah encounters him in a vision and asks, "What are those wounds on your body?" To which the mysterious man answers, "The wounds I was given at the house of m friends" (Zechariah 13: 6). Of course, you and I know His name as well as why He was wounded.
Isaiah gives the most vivid picture of Him of all the prophets. In chapter 53, he sees the same wounds that Zechariah saw. He notices as well that the man is sorrowful, perhaps he was weeping. But Isaiah seems to better understand why the scars and the tears are there. He opens his disturbing prophecy about the wounded Messiah with a perfectly natural question: "Who has believed our message?" (53:1).
Certainly no one in Jesus' day was willing to believe in a weeping and wounded Redeemer. The Jews were looking for a Messiah who would come and rule an earthly kingdom. But when they tried to make Jesus king by force, He ran away (John 6:15). The Samaritans called him Tahav, "the revealer." Though the Samaritan woman at the well recognized the One who revealed her life, by and large the Samaritans rejected Jesus (Luke 9:51-53). The Zealots believed in a warrior Messiah who would kill the Romans. Though perhaps at least three of Jesus' disciples had been Zealots, by and large He must have been a disappointment to the party. After all, Jesus did not come to kill the Romans, but to die for them. The Pharisees were only ready to believe in a paragon of purity. Jesus perfectly obeyed God's law, but disappointed them at every turn - sometimes deliberately breaking their oral laws of purity. Every day most of the Jewish men who eventually rejected Jesus prayed these words, later recorded in the Talmud as the Twelfth Article of Faith:
I believe with complete faith that the Messiah will come and although he may tarry, yet each day I will wait for his coming. (Talmud, Sanhedrin, 10)
The Pharisees taught that "He who when he prays, does not pray for the coming of the Messiah, has not prayed at all" (see John 1:48). How is it then, with all these expectant prayers, that so many people missed it? Who has believed?
After the Resurrection this question becomes even more frustrating as, again and again, Jesus' own followers fail to believe and recognize what has happened to Him.
In John 20:15, Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener. She had come with absolutely no expectations of witnessing the resurrection. She only came to anoint a dead body. When she saw that the stone had been rolled away, it was not a sign to her that Jesus' words about rising from the dead had come true. She assumed the obvious, that someone had simply stolen the body. It was only when Jesus spoke her name that Mary recognized Him by His voice.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24:13-32, walked and talked with Jesus for hours, long enough for Him to explain everything in the Old Testament concerning Himself. Amazingly, they failed to recognize Jesus as well. It is not until later in the evening, when Jesus broke the bread, that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.
Finally, in John 21, at the second miraculous catch of fish, we read a mysterious verse (verse 12). "None of the disciples dared ask him, 'Who are you?' They knew it was the Lord." They knew because Jesus had repeated the miracle from Luke chapter 5. But somehow, too, they did not know. John's curious statement is an echo of Zechariah's query to the mysterious wounded man. It is a mystery that perhaps we will never grasp. The Gospels do not explain this mystery, because apparently they don't think we need to know. Who has believed? Had Mary, or the disciples?
One thing is absolutely certain. When Jesus wanted them to recognize Him, He pointed to His scars. Even before the doubting Thomas incident, the Bible says, "He showed them his hands and side" (John 20:20). Jesus is recognized by His roundedness. It has always been and will always be that way.
In Revelation, Jesus is referred to as "the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world" (13:8, KJV). When John was standing in the middle of the multitude and one of the elders shouted, "Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah," he looked up, expecting to see a lion. Instead John sees a lamb. And how does he know who that Lamb is? He recognizes the wounds (Revelation 5:5-6).
The scars were allowed to remain on Jesus' otherwise perfect resurrection body. He would be recognized by them. They were His identifying mark, not His brown eyes or the freckle on His cheek. Jesus was recognized by the scars He had incurred on the cross. Like every other paradoxical piece of His story, those brutal scars are a part of His glory.
The question still resonates, "Who has believed?" Who has believed in this unbelievable Messiah? Who has recognized Him by the wounds He received for His friends? Who is ready to follow the One who is known by His scars? Who will respond to the call of the Man of Sorrows, who bids us to weep with those who weep? Who has believed? It is still, after all those centuries, the only question that matters.