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We hardly ever use the word “transgression” in our day-to-day communication. In fact, when we hear this word it almost seems like some ancient machine or apparatus. While the word may be uncommon in our times, we can all relate to its meaning. To transgress is to break trust with someone by doing certain things that are rebellious and sinful against that person. For example, we see in the moving story of Joseph that he should have been protected and welcomed by his older brothers. Instead, his brothers were jealous of him and broke the trust of the brotherhood by selling him to the traders who were headed to Egypt. Although we may think this is an unusually rare sin, the sad reality is that it has happened since the beginning of the world. Ever since Adam and Eve, our story has been one of breaking trust with God our Creator (Hos. 6:7) and rebelling against His righteous laws.
Notice what the book of Job says, "Have I covered my transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom” (Job 31:33 NASB). Also, the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, uses the Greek equivalent of the same word while describing the “transgression” of Adam. “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come.” (Rom. 5:14).
The sad truth is that we have been acting like Adam throughout the whole of human history. Yet, God by His grace, moved ahead in His plan of salvation by choosing a nation called Israel (Gen. 12). They promised to be faithful to the God who delivered them and made them a nation. But time and again, they broke trust, violated and transgressed the holy laws that were given to them (Isa. 1:2-4; Hos. 6:7). God is awesome and altogether wonderful. He is the self-existent One who is dependent on no one, and on whom all things are dependent (Heb. 1:3). He made us because He wanted to and not because he was forced to by anyone. He made man very special and the Bible calls this being made “in His image or likeness”. He has provided us all good things to enjoy in this life (Gen. 1:31).
The appropriate response the Bible calls from mankind is: to love Him with all our heart and love our neighbour as ourselves (Lk. 10:27-28); to acknowledge Him and be thankful to Him (Rom. 1:21-23); to walk humbly and faithfully before Him (Mic. 6:8); to love His righteous laws and not rebelliously transgress them. But sadly, we have a sin nature that suppresses the knowledge of God in our hearts. We love the passing pleasures of sin and break trust with our awesome and unimaginably good God again and again. We do this by not giving Him first place in our lives or worshipping Him how He wants to be worshipped. We do this by taking His holy name in vain. We do this by dishonouring the basic authority structure of parents whom He placed in our lives. We do this by having a heart of covetousness which says, "I wish I can have more material things, power, position, respect etc. in place of God" (Ex. 20).
But the good news is that God has not left us in this fallen, sinful condition. Isaiah 53 is the centrepiece of the Bible where we see the plan of salvation so clearly. How is God going to sprinkle the nations and cause kings to worship Him (Isa. 52:15)? How is God going to bring salvation and joy for His people (Isa. 52:9)? How is God going to make all things new and bring His people with joyful singing into the new heaven and the new earth (Isa. 66:22-23)?
It is through the substitutionary and atoning (wrath-absorbing) death of Jesus Christ, His eternally begotten Son. So, in Isaiah 53:5 after talking about the humble upbringing of the Servant Jesus, we learn about His sufferings. In verses 4 and 5, Isaiah, who is writing hundreds of years before the death of Christ is describing in great detail what was going to happen to the suffering servant, Jesus Christ. The Bible uses a language called the “prophetic past.” It means the prophet, Isaiah, is prophetically telling us about the future and yet, he is describing it as something that is so sure that it has been accomplished by God for us.
The identity of the suffering servant is important for us. Who is the “He” of Isaiah 53:5? He is the true Israel of God (Hos. 11:1, Matt. 2:13-15). Israel as a nation needed salvation and was consistently forsaking her God and breaking the covenant. So, God says that ultimately the righteous servant who will accomplish His plan of salvation is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. When we study what else Isaiah says about the person of Christ (especially in 9:6-7), we find that He is fully divine, yet He would be a child (fully human by His incarnation). He is of the royal seed of David and will reign forever, yet He would come as a suffering servant in His first coming.
If this servant of the Lord is so significant, then why does He have to be pierced and wounded? Well, this was because of the great love of God for sinners. God in eternity past had planned it and the Son had agreed to be the mediator and deliverer of His people by dying a propitiating death for them. God is holy and righteous and man, in his fallen condition, is fully separated from God. It was through the atoning death of Christ alone that reconciliation could be made between God and man. So, Isaiah 53 is describing for us the day of His death. Jesus set His face like a flint towards Jerusalem. He yielded His spirit in submission, after sweating drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. He put Himself under the crushing hand of His Father that we might be cleansed and accepted forever.
So, on that all important day over 2,000 years ago, Christ was pierced and wounded for our transgressions. He was pure and guiltless. He was born under the law and He obeyed it perfectly, He never broke trust with God and He never transgressed in any way. Yet, God laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Yes, the cross was extremely painful and we tend to focus on the pain and torture of crucifixion during Passion week. This meditation on His suffering has its place and deeply affects us. But, let us never forget that in God’s divine plan the Son of God was pierced and struck down to satisfy the justice required by His holiness and law.
This should make us tremble. This should make us humble. This should make us grateful and this should make us reverently joyful. Christ our substitute drank dry the cup of eternal fury that should have been ours! God crushed His Son on the cross that we may be lifted up with Him to the heights of heaven where Christ arose and ascended as our King. What a Saviour! Trust in Him at all times. No one else is our salvation. May we be ever growing in gratitude and continue to follow our great Saviour and Lord.