Friday, March 29, 2013

You Think YOU Have Problems?

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? 
 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.[b]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people. 
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins.
I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.
~ Isaiah 53, NLT ~

"Pity!  Party of one!"  That's the phrase I often jokingly use to cajole myself out of a downcast mood when my problems get to me.  After all, the challenges of parenting children with special needs can often leave me weighed down and discouraged.  When I have given it my all and still find myself at odds with doctors, the school, family and insurance companies, I am prone to focus on my problems as an insurmountable giant that can never be overcome.

Good Friday teaches me otherwise.  I reach a somberness and tears of gratitude on this day as my mind suddenly awakens to the thought, "Problems?  You think YOU  have problems?  Look at what Jesus allowed himself to be put through when he was completely innocent!"  This is a day to quietly meditate on the unspeakable suffering our Savior experienced in our place.

Oh, and He suffered far beyond what we take for granted at first blush.  Focusing on the hours from Jesus' last supper on, we see pain that exceeds anything most of us must ever face.  As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the anguish he experienced caused him to experience hematidrosis or "sweating blood", which brings about the following experience, according to Apologetics Press:

“Acute fear and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes” (Holoubek and Holoubek, 1996). While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barbet, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.
From these factors, it is evident that even before Jesus endured the torture of the cross, He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it, make the passion of Christ beyond all comprehension.
All of this crushing emotional experience in the Garden of Gethsemane assured that Jesus' further physical experiences would be more catastrophic and painful.  As he was brought before the high priest, Jesus was bound, struck in the face, spat upon and mocked.  With his skin already so vulnerable, surely he was bleeding and in pain even more now.  When people get contentious with me, never to I endure such awful things.

Ultimately after undeserved humiliation in front of religious authorities and the Jewish King (Herod), Jesus was dragged in front of the local Roman authority, one who was well experienced in heinous torture.  Pontius Pilate, in seeking to appease the religious rulers and avoid civil unrest, sentenced Jesus to undergo flogging.  This procedure alone brought its victims to death's door.  Again, add the condition of Jesus' skin from his existing hematidrosis, and this was certain to have been uglier than usual.

Dr. William D. Edwards', "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ," from the "Journal of the American Medical Association," Volume 255, Number 11, March 21, 1986, gives a horrifying medical picture of what was endured during such a scourging.  Tied to a pillar, the victim was stripped of clothes and either whipped with stiff reeds or with a multi-stranded instrument containing leather strands with steel balls or sheep bones attached.  Two Roman soldiers struck the prisoners entire back side with these tools, beating them within inches of their life.

Despite the fact that such abuse would cause a man to experience incredible pain and weakness, this was not enough for the Jewish religious class.  Only the tortuous murder of crucifixion would do.  Pilate allowed the now frenzied bunch to have their way, ordering the execution.  Referenced again in Dr. Edwards' article, crucifixion assured the maximum searing agony in a slow, humiliating death.  None of us have to think too long about how horrendous it might feel being nailed, hands and feet, to a cross when we merely recoil from the pain of a deep paper cut.  Additionally, the cumulative effect of all the torture prior to this act, the bloody back of scourging, the exhaustion and pain of walking as one carries a 75-125 pound beam rubbing against those injuries, and then having them scrape against the wood pillar piece of the cross is a pain we can hardly fathom.

In a generation where most of us live with access to medical facilities and means to lessen pain or cure injury, our brains can barely get around such an event.  While we are highly driven to avoid suffering or remove it, the One who made us and loves us willingly walked right into our atrocities on a rescue mission.  I think I have problems?  Not intending to diminish any of the suffering that parents like myself go through, I still have to agree that what my children, my spouse and I suffer is "light and momentary" (2 Corinthians 4:17) compared to the One who gave us a hope far beyond it.  I am subdued, ashamed.  What right do I have in getting persistently stuck in feeling sorry for myself?

Good Friday is a time of humbled sorrow and boundless grace.  Because of what Jesus faced, no diagnosis, no disagreements with schools, no frustration with medical personnel and no financial woes born out of medical bills can rob us of eternal joy.  There is no dark power over us.  Nothing can succeed in keeping us down without our own foolish permission.  He not only took our sin that day, but our deep, unjust suffering.  And he replaced it with a hope and restoration that goes far beyond anything we could ask, think or imagine.  How incredible!  Hallelujah!

PRAY:  Jesus, you gave me all.  I surrender my self-pity and give you my all in return.

~ Barb Dittrich

Photo Image Courtesy of Free Bible

Bible Quote Footnotes:

  1. 53:4 Or Yet it was our sicknesses he carried; / it was our diseases.
  2. 53:8a Greek version reads He was humiliated and received no justice. Compare Acts 8:33.
  3. 53:8b Or As for his contemporaries, / who cared that his life was cut short in midstream? Greek version reads Who can speak of his descendants? / For his life was taken from the earth. Compare Acts 8:33.
Apologetics Press Quote References:

Barbet, P. (1953), A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image Books).
 Lumpkin, R. (1978), “The Physical Suffering of Christ,” Journal of Medical Association of Alabama, 47:8-10.

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