An Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 53.1-4
“1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him 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. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain….”
A Faint and Distant Cry from the Darkness
Long ago, I heard a missionary tell a moving story. He was working in northern India, in the foothills of the Himalayas, close to Darjeeling. He had been invited to speak to a group of Indian Christians over several nights in a village meeting place. On the first night, he could hear a faraway wailing as he preached. The villagers said it was probably an animal trapped. On the second night, the distant cry continued – he stopped, and insisted that they follow and investigate the sound. A few miles away, on a swamp by a lake, they found a baby crying, covered with ants. The child was so poorly, the villagers could only cover him with a light piece of muslin.
When the missionary asked what might have happened, they replied that he had probably been thrown into the lake as one mouth too many to feed, and fallen short of the water. The tiny church adopted him, calling him Moses, because he had been found in the reeds. He recovered, and was nurtured and grew into a strong young man, a believing Christian. Any sense of rejection flowed from him into the rejected Messiah.
Isaiah’s Insight into the Life of Jesus
The 53rd chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy is a staggering anticipation of the coming of the Jesus. The shock is that Isaiah does not speak of a Messiah who would be a great warrior, a king, like David; a liberator who will make Israel great again; but a servant, a despised and rejected man who would be forcibly put to death. This was totally out of line with what Jews expected of the Messiah. John’s gospel tells us: He came to His own, but His own would not receive Him….but to those who received Him, He gave power to be children of God.
The Rejected is Transformed into the Most Beautiful and Precious
Several sculptors visited the yard looking for suitable pieces of marble, but the enormous block of marble lay abandoned for 25 years in the courtyard of the Opera del Duomo, in Florence. Each artist thought the marble, which came from the quarries in Carrara, had too many imperfections.
Finally, the rejected marble was chosen, and between 1501 and 1504, Michelangelo worked on it with all its flaws. His sculpture was to be one of a series of statues depicting Old Testament figures, placed in the buttresses of Florence Cathedral.
Michelangelo was 26 years old when he took on the task, creating the masterpiece “David” that still leaves us in awe, more than 500 years after it was created. Like Michelangelo, Jesus comes alongside the rejected, and makes each into a work of art.
Jesus and the Rejected Ones
In Luke 17, the evangelist tells us how Jesus healed 10 people with leprosy. One of them returns to thank Jesus. Remarkably, he was a Samaritan. This is vital for Luke, because he loves to tell us how the Lord engages with the rejected.
The Sense of “Not good Enough”
When we go back to Isaiah 53, we read: “Surely, He took our pain” Isaiah is saying our sin, our sorrows, our pain, and our rejection are somehow transferred to Him. All that is inadequate and imperfect in us is drawn into this Messiah on the cross. Through His death, the believer loses these impediments, these flaws, these disabilities. Through His resurrection, He breathes new life into the shell of what has gone before. He takes our damaged and rejected block of marble, and finds within it a purpose and a beauty that only He could see – Hallelujah! What a Saviour.
Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.