Monday, March 9, 2009

The Guilt Offering

It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

                        Isaiah 53.10

Symptom Mirrors

Family therapists can often pinpoint one person who “acts out” every conflict disrupting a household. Usually, they’re children born after the troubled dynamics are well established. They may be emotional wrecks, plagued by insecurity, anger, and antisocial tendencies, yet as this is all they know, they come by their undesirable behavior innocently. For example, a Kindergartener who expresses displeasure through physical violence may think nothing of it since Daddy beats up Mommy when she makes him mad. On the flip side, the child may sob and tremble when scolded by the teacher because that’s how Brother responds after either parent unleashes a torrent of profanity if he misbehaves. While psychologists typically treat this condition as early onset of post-traumatic stress disorder, they sometimes refer to these patients as “symptom mirrors,” relying on them to reflect dysfunction other family members refuse to disclose.

Isaiah 53’s uncanny prophecy of the Passion tracks Jesus from His birth as a “tender root” growing “out of dry ground” to His sacrifice and resurrection. Speaking in the past tense, the prophet notes Jesus as an unremarkable boy with “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him [and] nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Once His godly nature emerged as an adult, “He was despised and rejected, and we esteemed him not.” So hostile a reaction sounds odd; one expects those who knew Jesus as a boy to delight in seeing Him come into His own. Isaiah explains the discrepancy: “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” It’s a classic mirror-symptom case study. Born into a sorely conflicted world, Jesus absorbed and reflected its dysfunction through His precisely accurate filter of innocence. He exemplified God’s perfection while mirroring our failures. And we despised Him more for exposing our sins than we revered Him for revealing God’s love.

A Closer Look

Having been consistently taught that Jesus bore “the sins of the world” on Calvary, it’s easy to objectify His sacrifice as something bigger than you or I. Even the worst sinner’s transgressions go undetected when mingled with all of humanity’s offenses over thousands of years. Yet I wonder if we’re subconsciously drawn to the enormity of the entire burden to distract us from our contributions to its weight. A closer look at the cross stands us before a mirror to stare back at ourselves and recognize we’re really the ones hanging there. Once again, it’s easier to say and believe Christ died for us, when He actually died as us. The Hebrews writer stressed this distinction by saying Jesus became us (Hebrews 7.26; KJV) to complete the three roles needed to perform the final sacrifice for all sin. Simultaneously, He was God, the high priest who interceded on behalf of every sinner, and every sinner. He became us. Although the horror of His disfigurement alone is too gruesome to imagine, thousands of people have died equally horrendous deaths. Not until we personalize the cross and see all of our ugliness exposed can we comprehend why no death in human history remotely approaches the extremes of Christ’s suffering.

The Last Stop

Discovering our reflection on the cross adds immeasurable meaning to Paul’s statement in Galatians 2.20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Isaiah’s case study reaches a similar conclusion, observing Jesus became our symptom mirror in compliance to God’s plan to crush him and cause him to suffer and make him a guilt offering. Yet unlike ordinary symptom mirrors, whose innocence often defeats their ability to shake their distorted concept of permissible behavior, Christ’s inherent innocence was the crucial factor in God’s plan. Jesus triumphed in spite of carrying our sin, not because He carried it. The beauty and majesty no one noticed during His youth now radiated in full splendor, shattering the mirror once and for all.

After Calvary, when we look at ourselves, we see Jesus. The ravages of sin and its poisonous aura of guilt disappear. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us. Crossing Lent’s wilderness gives us vitally needed time to search ourselves for any recurrent urges to relapse into our former lives of sin. Our journey leads to the cross, giving us the chance to look at who we were. But always remember Calvary is the last stop prior to reaching our final destination—one last look in the mirror before stepping into new life.

Looking closely at the cross, we discover reflections of our former selves. 

(Tomorrow: Spiritually Minded)


genevieve said...

Jesus dying as us shows me the gravity of what sin actually is and what it does to lives. It also shows that Jesus defeated it and in Him so can we.

Tim said...

Amen to that, Genevieve! You've captured the concept so beautifully and completely, there's nothing to add. If I knew how to needlepoint, I'd stitch your comment into a sampler and hang it here above my desk, just to keep it before me every day of the year.

Bless you for this--and it's terrific to hear from you (as always).

Joy always,