“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
AS A JEWISH RABBI, PAUL STUMBLED OVER THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST IN THE SAME WAY THAT MANY HAVE. The Messiah was to be the King, God’s “Anointed.” How could He even be killed, let alone die by crucifixion? To be hanged on a tree was to be under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:22,23). Surely the way in which Jesus was executed meant that He could not be the Messiah.
The point Paul did not realize until later, however, was that Christ was indeed under God’s curse, but it was not for His own sins; it was for ours. He voluntarily submitted to an accursed death to free us from the curse. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).
Isaiah had prophesied about the substitutionary nature of the Messiah’s death centuries before it happened: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” God put Him to grief, making Him “an offering for guilt” (v.10). In v.11, He would “bear their iniquities.” And in v.12, He “bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” All of these phrases in Isaiah 53 say what many other Scriptures affirm: the Messiah’s death was vicarious. He suffered for us — substituting Himself on our behalf at the bar of God’s justice and agreeing to take the penalty that we had incurred by our sins.
Had any of us witnessed what was done to Jesus and known that this abomination was being suffered for us, it is not likely that we could have borne the sorrow of that. Perhaps it was a mercy that the handful of Jesus’ friends who were at the foot of the cross did not fully understand what they saw until later. Who could have seen that, understood it, and not been crushed by shame?
The cross of Christ, therefore, is the ultimate contradiction: He was murdered that we might be resurrected. Upon Him was laid the chastisement that brought us peace, and in His horror is our hope.
“The cross is a picture of violence, yet the key to peace, a picture of suffering, yet the key to healing, a picture of death, yet the key to life” (David Watson).