“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces. He was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)
So begins the song of the Suffering Servant, a prophetic description of the promised Messiah. Hundreds of years later Jesus would arrive to fulfill the words of the prophet. These words: despised, rejected, familiar with pain, low esteem. Jesus was nothing like a storybook hero or like the muscle-strapped characters in the Marvel movies. Brute force or a show of power was not the way God would save. His experience was a lot more like a homeless man. And the Bible puts all our hope on his despised and rejected shoulders, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This Easter week we will be sharing five meditations on the suffering of Jesus and how it is hope similar to and hope for those experiencing homelessness today.
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
We live in a winning-obsessed world. From childhood we are trained to do whatever it takes to stand on top of the podium, claiming our place as number one, or at the very least get as close we can by climbing the ladder of success and beating all challengers. Since this is what we value, we would assume if God were to visit that he would probably showcase his once-and-for-all superiority. God would be the ultimate winner.
If God visited in this way, homeless kids would have a hard time believing he was a God who loved them. Many of our kids have experienced so much loss that our culture of winning just seems like a constant state of rejection.
In Isaiah 53 we are introduced to the song of the Suffering Servant. The sufferer in the song is Jesus. It is a prophetic word telling how God would come and live among us. Jesus chose to experience life from the perspective of someone who is always rejected, never picked, never winning, and hurting deeply. And when Jesus finally gave up his life in exchange for the life of the world, people were embarrassed by him and looked away.
How many of us have turned away from the hurting? When we are tempted to turn away from the hurting or not sit near the smell, remember that God embraced the hurting and the smell. Jesus lived fully among us. He experienced all our loss, so that by faith we might be included in all his victory—life forever in his home.
– by Daniel Frederick, Community Development Director at The Coffee Oasis
God, we confess with sadness that often we have turned away from those in poverty because it makes us scared to be close suffering. Give us the courage to love those experiencing homelessness with a love that goes beyond words. Teach us to live with open hands and open homes. Teach us the hospitality of Jesus, who made room at meals for everyone to eat with him. Help our hearts understand that we can look with love on all people, because you have looked on us with love.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.“
There are great transition words in these two verses that paint for us a beautiful dialogue. We get to see God carry our pain, acknowledge where it came from, and see it healed forever. What hope this revelation brings!
Verse 4... SURELY he has borne our griefs AND carried our sorrows. This suffering servant in a true way looks like the teenager carrying the same pain and sorrow you’ve known in your own life— rejection; loss of a parent; depression; loss of childhood dreams and innocence. He, too, reflects our griefs AND our sorrows. Truly, he has been the recipient, the carrier, the bearer of all that is unfair and unjust. How did his and our life come to be so hard?
Verse 4 continues… YET we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, AND afflicted. When we look at our God, suffering as we–me, you, them–has, we also wonder why. Who is to blame for this grief and sorrow? YET we thought it could not be our doing or the doing of a world ravaged by sin; no, YET God must be to blame. He would have the power to undo, to prevent, to protect, would he not? Then, too, with this suffering servant. If he is stricken, smitten AND afflicted, it must be by some blame, some neglect of God.
Verse 5… BUT he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. Here the transition turns and puts a mirror back in our own faces. It was not a passive, powerless God that led to the suffering of Jesus; it was our active transgression, our intentional iniquity that pierced and crushed the servant of God. Jesus came to bear our suffering not merely to share in the suffering that we passively experience as a result of living in a broken world. He willingly experienced a piercing and a crushing because of how we have willfully and thoughtlessly participated in breaking the heart of God.
Verse 5 continues… upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, AND with his wounds we are healed. Suffering is not the end of the story. Thanks be to God, the end of the wounds of Jesus was the beginning of our peace AND our healing. The way in which we and our youth are passive recipients of the broken world, bearers of grief and sorrow, and the way in which we are active participants in sin, both griefs find their end in a beautiful resolve… peace AND healing. This required an active, suffering, chastised AND wounded God to enter in and bring healing power to his whole world.
– by Megan Hackman, Pastor at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church
Jesus, thank you for taking on my own griefs and sorrows. I know it was not God who forced this upon you, but in your love for me you wanted to undo what I have done to cause more brokenness in the world. The people I have ignored. The love I have not extended. You wanted to soothe the griefs I’ve received from this broken world. I hold you to the promise of peace and healing. Do not delay the peace and healing of our world, and especially for our friends on the streets.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.“
There comes a moment in suffering where words fail. No amount of comfort from another can salve the stinging wound, nor can any string of words fully encompass the suffering one feels themselves. It is a giving up of verbal language to communicate and convey the unbearable grief. At times this is due to shame, fear, exhaustion, and even helplessness. At other times it is simply because everything has been said. Sorrow can be relentless in its persistence, making even the strongest unable to advocate or speak up. Christ knew his suffering would bring healing – eventually. There was an end in sight despite the agony that lay before him physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. For homeless youth however, they cannot see past “Good Friday” – for them, the silence in suffering is all that exists. They are unable to speak up and advocate for themselves. Suffering has silenced them. And when they do speak, sometimes their suffering falls on ears too numb to hear. These homeless and at-risk youth are oppressed – by a social and economic system outside of their control. Most of the youth that work with us have experienced trauma that would leave anyone speechless. Silent. Overcome with sorrow. Oppressed by indifference and judgement.
The King of kings was oppressed.
The God who spoke creation into existence did not open his mouth.
The Lord of lords was judged in his suffering.
He sits on the curb next to our homeless and at-risk youth, and laments with them in their helplessness and hopelessness. May we remember to do the same – and to speak to the world of their suffering, silent oppression.
– by Julia Woloschek, Coffee Oasis staff member
Silenced Savior, you felt the heaviness of oppression pressing in on you from all sides. I can only imagine what your thoughts were as you were led to and fro like an animal with no voice…yet you had the final say. You were misjudged, misunderstood, and misused, and that suffering was unbearable. God, may we not be the crowd of condemners, shouting for the judgement of homeless youth. Instead, help us to lift the eyes of their downcast gaze, to the glory, wonder, and loving victory of Jesus, who knows suffering intimately. May we speak with compassionate abandon and direct them to you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.“
I met Joyce on a Monday evening at Embrace United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY. For about five years I took a group of high school students to Embrace each month to help serve a meal for the homeless folks in the community, to feast together, and to worship together. I think Joyce is young, perhaps in her late twenties, early thirties, but it’s hard to say. The color of her hair doesn’t match the number of years under her eyes. I’m afraid she has the qualities in her face of someone that has learned to love everyone but herself. She is quick to smile, even quicker to look down. Her eyes sink with her shoulders, heavy, low.
I sat down beside Joyce and we began sharing our stories across the table. It turns out Joyce “grew up in this church. This is my church.” She spoke about her early days the way parents talk about children growing up too fast. Her words ached. They made me ache. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it had to do with the thought of Joyce-the-little-girl running up and down the halls and playing in the sanctuary. It had to do with the thought that there was a time when Joyce had a sanctuary. And it was the very present awareness that at some point along the way something happened to her, and that sanctuary was gone, or at least the girl who used to play in that sanctuary was gone.
During our conversation Joyce was texting back and forth with someone. With each text she seemed to be getting more anxious, and the more anxious she got the more agitated she seemed talking about “old times.” It was as though her cherished past was in confrontation with her very heavy present. Then, out of nowhere, she exclaimed, “I heard the voice of God in this church! I heard the voice of God in that room over there!” She began to weep and repeated, “I heard his voice. I heard his voice.”
“What did he say, Joyce?”, I asked.
“I’m not done.” She said it resolutely. “I’m not done!”
I don’t know what that meant to Joyce, but I know she heard it. I know she believed it more than I think most people ever believe anything. I think she believed in those words more than she believed in herself. She believed it like she had to believe it, like if it weren’t true nothing is true, like if there’s no hope in what God is going to do then there’s no hope at all. I also know God said it to her, because that is the kind of thing God is always saying (cf. Jer. 29:11; Phil. 1:6; Isa. 40-66).
And I also don’t know what it meant for the Lord to have been “pleased to crush Him,” but I do know why he did it (Isa. 53:10). He did it because there are young people like Joyce, aged beyond their years, bearing the weight of an irreversible past that we all have contributed to but only an unfortunate few have to bear. As Jeremiah lamented from exile, homeless, “our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities” (Lam. 5:7). And we know that by “bear[ing] our iniquities” as a “guilt offering” he would gain his “offspring” and the many would be made “righteous.” He was crushed as a criminal but would be raised as a homemaker. Jesus was changing our family tree.
Jesus came to bear our iniquities—and it crushed him. And if we are going to follow him into the future he promised, the future for which he suffered and through which we were brought under his roof, into his family, then I suppose that will require us to take up our cross and help shoulder the weight of a nation heavy with iniquities, crushing felt by a few. How can we do otherwise? If we belong to Jesus’ family tree, who doesn’t belong to ours? And how can we be at home as long as there’s an empty place at the Table and Joyce is sleeping outside on the street?
In Frederick Buechner’s words, “Woe to us indeed if we forget the homeless ones who have no vote, no power, nobody to lobby for them, and who might as well have no faces even, the way we try to avoid the troubling sight of them in the streets of the cities where they roam like stray cats as we listen each night to the news of what happened in our lives that day, woe to us if we forget our own homelessness.
“To be homeless in the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them. To be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is peace for all of us.”
~ The Longing for Home
– by Jeremy Spainhour, Pastor at Crossroads Neighborhood Church
My prayer is that we would allow God to move us to be his answer to the prayers of a heavy, hurting world:
“Is not this the kind of religious fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and to bring the homeless poor into your house—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.“
Jesus’ suffering on our behalf is both mind-boggling and encouraging!
The words of the chorus express it well “Amazing love how can it be that you my God would die for me!” Wow!
We will never be able to wrap our minds around the present and eternal benefit that is ours because of what Jesus experienced on our behalf!
Romans 5:15 describes it this way “If the many died by the sin of the one man (i.e. Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”
This is exactly what Isaiah 53:12 is saying “therefore I will give him a portion among the many and he will divide the spoils with the numerous”.
Jesus didn’t suffer for his own sin or because of his own short-comings. He suffered for us!
I’d like to highlight two important differences this means for us:
Hebrews 4:15-16 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Jesus understands. Me, and what I’m going through with my new cancer diagnosis, you, and your personal suffering, our brothers and sisters who are experiencing homelessness. “He had no place to lay his head!”
Hebrews 5:7-9 “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Jesus saves. He didn’t go through suffering merely to understand suffering but to ultimately deliver us from it through his death and resurrection making him the “source of eternal salvation for all who obey him!” Hallelujah!
What incredible hope is ours in Jesus, who suffered on our behalf!
– by Dave Frederick, Executive Director of Coffee Oasis
“Amazing love how can it be that you my God would die for me!” How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me! Oh, Father, open my eyes afresh to see and live in the reality of what Jesus has done for me.
I so easily get absorbed with my own suffering and wallow in it and whine about it. I think no one understands. No one “gets it”. And I am cast down into the darkness of despair.
Help me, Father, to see Jesus…to remember that he understands and he saves!
Help me to cast all of my cares and burdens upon Jesus knowing that he understands and cares.
And, thank you for his death and resurrection that ultimately defeated sin, suffering and death and gives me present and eternal hope!