Isaiah 53:1-3 – A meditation by Tim Melton, Maundy Thursday, April 6, 2011, at Surfside PCA Church, Myrtle Beach, SC
1 Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For Jesus grew up before His Father like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He had no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face in disgust
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
As a Christian I often spend time considering the implications of Christ’s suffering on the cross. This has been especially true for me over the past year, magnified further during this season of Lent. When I contemplate Christ’s sacrifice, I often think of how He died for my sin and guilt. Christ took the wrath of God upon Himself that I might be forgiven. That I might be blessed with the eternal favor of the Father. I don’t believe that I will ever plumb the depths of that truth – even to the end of my life. But in recent days, I have been meditating on a different aspect of the Cross – that Christ did indeed die to atone for my guilt, but that He also died to cover my shame. That the very glory of God became hideous.
That Christ was cast out that I may go in. And yet I do not esteem Him.
In the Garden of Eden, when our first parents sinned against God, they were guilty. They came under the curse of the broken covenant. They were without excuse. They rightly felt the pangs of guilt. But pay attention to their first reaction to this guilt. The Bible says that they “realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.“ How startling this is! With hardly a second in between, their guilt immediately provoked a deep sense of shame. Adam and Eve hated themselves. They looked in the mirror of their lives and what they saw was repulsive, ugly, revolting…shameful. They hid their eyes. They turned their faces away. So they scrambled around and gathered whatever they could find from the garden and pitifully cobbled together something – anything – to make that feeling go away. And I do the same. I scramble around this world, this life, picking anything – everything I can find – hoping to find something to make this feeling go away. This condition. This sense of shame. This ugly. And it has been born in every man and woman since that moment in the garden so long ago. Handed down from our fathers. Hewn in our broken souls. And sewn in the hearts of every child.
Shame is prevalent in every human heart – no matter who we are, no matter what we believe. A person can escape feelings of guilt. He can pretend that there is no God. He can pretend that there is no one there for him to answer to. But, no matter what a person should do with God, Shame…shame is still there. Nagging. Eating away. Evident in everyone. In every soul. In every culture. And no amount of fig leaves, or money, or style changes, or education, or gifting can make that feeling go away. We can adorn ourselves with jewels and modify our bodies with exercise and improvements. We can stack our achievements a mile high. Yet, our internal reality remains the same. We stand guilty before God…and as a result, we are consumed with shame.
Christ was cast out that I may go in. But I did not esteem Him.
To be clear, when we speak of our guilt, we are talking about our sinful standing before God. We are positionally guilty of sinful acts against His nature. Against His will. We are at war with God. We are His enemies. And our actions bear that out. But our Shame…this has to do with our core identity, our peace with ourselves in God’s presence. So, when we speak of our shame, we are talking about who we are, not what we do. Not our sinful actions, but our sinful selves. We see ourselves as ugly. We see our world as ugly. Because we have lost touch with God’s beauty, God’s righteousness, and God’s peace. We are displaced. Our bodies confound us. Our neighbors enrage us. Nature frightens us. Our tongue betrays us. We say the wrong things. We are filled with regret. Our past haunts us. Our future paralyzes us. And so in the darkness of our closets, we desperately seek the right combination of fig leaves to hide our shame. In these isolated moments of hopeless despair, we whisper, “I am so weak…so stupid…so ugly…so undesirable…so lost…so angry…and I am so desperately alone.”
And this is why we Christians need to come back again to the Christ who was cast out. We need to come again to that garden where Christ lay weeping. We need to come back again and again to the Cross where Christ hangs dying. For it is only here, in this garden, and at the foot of this glorious tree, that we might have our burden removed. It is only here that our guilt is lifted. It is only here that our shame is truly covered. It is in this dark place, beneath the shadow of Christ’s suffering, that we receive the words we so long to believe, “I will not leave you as orphans…I will come to you. I will cover you. The leaves in my garden will cover your shame. The shadow of my tree will lift your head.”
Christ was cast out that I may go in. But I still struggle to esteem Him.
O’ what a treasure we have in Christ! What a treasure! He will not leave us alone in the tragic wasteland of our shame. On the Cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God for us. And He endured our shame. He was vilified. He was scorned. He was despised. He was put to open grief. And, just as Christ endured God’s Wrath, defeated sin and death, and canceled our guilt; He also took our shame upon Himself. He was reviled, that we might become desirable. Christ took our ashes and turned them into the glorious beauty of God. So to those who mourn in Zion. To those who mourn in brokenness. Remember. Jesus gave us beauty for our ashes. The oil of joy in exchange for our mourning (Is 61:3). And though we continue to struggle to esteem Him, yet He will be glorified. He will be valued. We will find Him Wonderful! For He has covered our nakedness in a garment of praise and called us glorious trees of righteousness. Where every branch will be full. And every bud will burst with life. We will never have to scramble for leaves again. For Christ Himself has become our garden.