Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
Last week a friend and I discussed how our thoughts kept drifting to Natasha Richardson’s accidental death. It seemed oddly haunting, we said, since neither of us was an ardent fan. We admired her, but our feelings were less about the premature loss of a talented actress than the tragically abrupt absence of a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and niece. “How devastated all the amazing people in her family must be,” my friend said. Days later, learning I’d lost a good friend and reader to suicide, it was déjà vu all over again—except this time I belonged to his online family. We joined hands across the ether, encircling the huge hole he left in the world. We understood why; his emotional and physical pain had become insufferable. Still, we struggled to accept Lee was gone.
Encountering two recent departures—one from an objective remove, the other up close and personal—repeatedly steers my thoughts about The Passion to the disciples. They’re together as usual for Thursday’s Passover feast. Yes, ominous tension crackles in the air and it ends with Judas rushing off to betray Christ. Yet even that can’t prepare them for how swiftly and irrevocably their lives change. Jesus is arrested after dinner. Peter, in a dumb show of loyalty, attacks an officer; hours later, he denies he knows Christ. Jesus endures a night of savage torture and humiliation. Friday morning flies by in a blur of legal wrangling, as Jesus shuttles through three pro forma hearings. Pilate sends Him to Herod, Herod sends Him back; with neither taking responsibility for His fate, He’s sentenced to death by popular verdict. By three o’clock, it’s over. One imagines His followers gathered at sundown for Sabbath seder, staring in shock at the huge hole in their world. They understand why Jesus was killed. Still, they can’t accept He’s gone.
Sudden Grief and Immediate Fear
It’s instructive to remember Jesus’s followers are laypeople, many no doubt illiterate and none notably agile to connect the past 24 hours’ events with written prophecy. Scripture was Jesus’s expertise. Their job was to listen and believe. Answers to questions and balm for sorrow exist, much of it in Isaiah. Without Jesus’s guidance, though, they remain hidden. On top of this, consider the disciples’ state of mind. They have no idea if Jesus’s murder appeases the authorities and masses, or if their lives are also endangered. The combination of sudden grief and immediate fear is paralyzing. Peace eludes them completely.
Had they looked to Isaiah, they would have found much-needed strength to penetrate their sorrows and anxieties with faith. Reading chapter 53, they’d realize everything, down to the tiniest detail, adheres to a divine plan revealed eight centuries earlier. “Surely,” Isaiah wrote, “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Witnessing the crucifixion in person—intimately knowing and loving the brutally disfigured Savior in life—surely stamps its horrors forever in the disciples’ memories. Yet just as surely, Isaiah explains God designed His plan expressly to alleviate their anxieties, relieve their sorrows, remedy their sins, and heal their suffering. Then, turning back to chapter 26, they’d discover peace they sorely need comes by rejecting fear and learning to trust. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you,” it says.
A Monument of Mercy
Knowing what’s coming makes Holy Week’s Saturday a lost day, a sort of idle intermission between main events. But suppose we put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes, imagining how stricken and terrified they must have been. Let’s think of how their day was riddled with traumatically vivid flashbacks between blind stretches of panic. Now, let’s open Isaiah. The picture totally changes. The cross’s splendor rises out of its hideousness. It becomes a monument of mercy, where we exchange our worst for Christ’s best. He takes our weaknesses and gives us courage. He carries our sorrows and clothes us in comfort. Our sinfulness pierces Him; He shields us with His forgiveness. He trades peace beyond our means for punishment we rightfully deserve. Healing flows out of His injuries. All of these blessings are there for the taking, if we can reject fear and learn to trust. In John 14.27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do no let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” A steadfast mind brings perfect peace. Surely, that’s Calvary’s legacy to us. Surely, we can accept and believe it.
Calvary's splendor can only be seen through faith found in God's Word.