He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53.5; NKJV)
The Back Story
When we look at Jesus on the cross, what do we see? The brow mockingly crowned with thorns. The beard that is every Jewish man’s glory savagely plucked and matted with blood. Dried saliva and parched lips evidence dire thirst. We see hands and feet affixed to this torturous altar by iron spikes. His arms and legs convulse with spasms caused by the strain of supporting all of His weight. His torso is swollen and bruised from sadistic pummeling with rods. His chest heaves beneath the suffocating pressure of mid-air suspension. Blood and viscera ooze from an open stab wound in His side meant to finish Him off. And, as the day wears on, the blistering sun scorches every inch of flesh on His body. It’s a heartbreaking, hideous sight.
Circling behind the cross to observe the back story, what we see is equally gruesome. Lashes from leather whips strung with shards of metal and bone have flayed Jesus’s back into a shredded curtain, exposing His muscles, sinew, shoulders, and ribs to the fetid air, heat, and scores of flies nesting the wounds with freshly laid eggs. If we’re able to stomach looking at such horror at length, we can count the stripes hashed across His back—39 in all, one short of 40 prescribed for whipping executions. We’re stunned to realize before the cross was thrust on His shoulders, before the hammer struck the first nail, before the spear pierced His side, Jesus was beaten within inches of His life. Then, remembering Isaiah’s prophecies, we realize He endured each aspect of His suffering for a specific purpose, including His stripes.
Isaiah 53.5 breaks down the Passion’s elements like this: He was wounded for our transgressions. When we transgress, we expose wrongful motives and desires by actively pursuing habits and pleasures that cause piercing pain and leave scars. “The soul who sins is the one who will die,” Ezekiel 18.4 says. Sin is lethal. It leeches the life out of us, just as Jesus bled to death through His open wounds.
He was bruised for our iniquities. Harmful attitudes and emotions buried beneath the surface discolor our appearance when we’re buffeted by hostility. Resisting these impulses doesn’t mitigate the internal injuries they bring. Clotted hatred and resentment interrupt the flow of God’s love and forgiveness. They mar His reflection. This is why passive iniquity and active transgression equally displease God, why seeing Jesus covered in bruises causes Him to look away, and why the psalmist writes, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66.18)
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him. The burden of humanity’s sin falls on Christ’s shoulder to restore our relationship with God. His punishment ends the war between our will and God’s purpose. It frees us from what we think to trust His mercy and grace. Romans 5.1 says this: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And by His stripes we are healed. The lashes driving Jesus to death’s precipice represent the most extreme physical, mental, and emotional pain a human can survive. In a few hours, Jesus suffers more affliction and abuse than the vast majority of us experience in a lifetime. The blinding agony—the undeserved brutality—of the first stripe isn’t absorbed before the next lash tears into Him. Wave after wave thrashes Him, emptying Him of strength, crushing Him with confusion. Yet He endures, because dying beneath the whip will defeat the promise of healing. And here’s something very telling about Jesus’s stripes. After His resurrection, Jesus authenticates His identity by brandishing the nail-prints in His hands and hole in His side. Yet not once in any account does He point to the whip-scars across His back. Were they there? Scripture doesn’t say. But it’s not illogical to believe they were gone—that Christ Himself was the first to experience the healing they deliver.
Because the stripes were real, healing is real. Because Jesus suffered and recovered, we can also recover. Throughout Christ’s ministry, He performed healing miracles at the touch of His hand. Still, not every sick person who sought healing was fortunate enough to feel His touch. His stripes now make healing available to all. Unlike miracles, healing is a process, a gradual restoration of health and resurgence of strength. And, as in Jesus’s case, it often reverses suffering by way of the tomb, plunging us into darkness to rise again in new life and health, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Yet throughout our tomb experience, we believe life’s power works in us. We believe the prophet. By His stripes, we’re healed.
Healing is available through the whipping Christ survived for our recovery.
(Troy David: The Whipping of Christ)