Nathaniel sat in the pool of shade under the fig tree and stared up at his friend. Philip stood panting, hands on knees, dusty, and stared back expectantly. Nathaniel squinted out into the sun, breathed in the pregnant silence and tossed back, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” He meant that it was a backwater probably (like one of those little 300 person towns you pass in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin), but maybe his voice carried a hint of Jewish resignation – memories and stories in a long history of messiah-posers who had been unfulfilling and messiah-promises still unfulfilled. Philip was excited about the Messiah, this Jesus, but something would really have to attract a Jew like Nathaniel – and Nazareth wasn’t it.
Some time later, in that town Nazareth, Jesus himself spoke there for the second time. The first time they’d tried to toss him off a cliff. He’d come back though. This time with disciples. He was a rabbi. Still, as he spoke, there was a murmur in the crowd – this kind of thing: “Isn’t this the carpenter?” and “just a carpenter”, if you get the meaning… “Isn’t this Mary’s son” and maybe as in, “that son of Mary because we know Joseph wasn’t the father.” “Don’t we know his brothers and sisters?” Nothing desirable to see here, but normal as normal can be. “And they took offense at him.” Something would really have to overcome the assumptions and expectations of a hometown crowd – but Jesus’ words and works didn’t seem to do it for them.
And, of course, the same is true at the cross. There is nothing attractive here, nothing winning or appealing. It’s appalling. As Isaiah prophesied long, long before it happened, so it was true for the entirety of Jesus’ life – v.2 “He grew up 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.” In person, probably just a passing figure – not appealing to most. And at the cross, after the horror of torture and the abuse of this capital punishment – it’s grossly true: v.1 “his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” Like the persecution videos you don’t watch on YouTube, the news stories about beheadings you refuse to watch, so here – a picture that makes you want to turn your face away.
The crucifixion is such a grisly event, a sad account, that perhaps we should make sure to look at it closely. Because Jesus Christ is theone stricken by God in the most horrible way – but it is not in the abuse, not in the thorns, not in the nails, not truly. It’s in this, that on him is our iniquity. V.5 “[H]e was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…” Imagine your sins – bring them to mind. Bring to mind the worst of your struggles – the sin that catches you every week, the annoyance that turns you into an ogre, the lust that threatens your faith – find your worst trespass and temptation. Then paint it on Jesus – he is your angry face; he is your sneering disregard; he is your hungry sexual appetite; he is your fear, your disregard for God’s Word, your impatience with God’s plans. See the stripes, the wounds, the blood – but see them as evidence of what’s truly there: all our guilty flaws, all our shameful sins, all our gasp-worthy trespasses. Truly, if we saw someone who embodied our hatred or our lust – on whom it was visible – would we not turn away and hide our faces in disgust? For one sin, let alone someone marred by all of ours or the wicked sins of an entire world. It would be horrible to look upon. That is the horror on Christ, and it is from us. V.6 “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Not merely feeling sorry, not only in disgust or horror, but in sorrow, in repentance, know that this one is stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted with the guilt of our sins – and all this horror just shows it – punishment into death for “The soul who sins is the one who shall die.”
And so would we, if not for this one stricken by God. We would…but we won’t. Look closely at him in his humiliating suffering. See his wounds, his agony and know that on him is our iniquity – on him and not on you or me. Look at Jesus and see your infirmities – the things of sin in this world. See the temptations that you hate, that you would push away as often as you can but you are weak. See the punishment for all the guilt you know and the guilt you can’t even remember. See it all crushing him and not you. He was stricken by God. He was silent. He bore miscarriage of justice. He reacted in no sinful way as we would. As St. Peter would later say, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” He entrusted himself to the one whose v.10 “will [it was] to crush him and cause him to suffer.” For here is God’s justice – punishment for sins in this sinless one, to strike him so that sinners might have peace. V.4, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our transgressions (as in, picked them up to shoulder them and take them away, far away)…the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Not to feel sorry, not to punish ourselves do we come tonight, but to know that this one is stricken by God for he bears our iniquities so that we will not and so that we might walk away in peace.
Be at peace, my friends, as Jesus is laid is in his grave (v.9) it is not the grave of the wicked, but among the rich he was laid. And his riches are far greater than a newly cut tomb. V.10 “[T]hough 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.” And v.12, he will have “a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong…” This Jesus looks down on you and me, in the light of everlasting life in satisfaction. Because he acted wisely – just according to God’s plan. His knowledge to do everything God desired brought about just what God wanted – payment for sins, and what God wants – peace by faith for sinners so that they might have eternal life. Jesus’ work has made us his offspring by faith, his family, the souls he won for himself. He looks down on us in sympathy – as one who personally knows our weaknesses. He looks down on us in love as one who has won our forgiveness and put us at peace. As the writer of Hebrews said it, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Let us see this one stricken by God, and not look away, not be afraid or even sad, but look up to him at his cross with joy, because with him is our victory. “He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted…For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” He bore our sins. He still intercedes for us. And, we who have heard his message, we will be lifted up with him too. Amen.