We must attempt to bring the scene more fully to your view. Come with us, a moment, to Calvary. See the meek sufferer, standing with hands fast bound in the midst of his enemies; sinking under the weight of his cross, and lacerated in every part by the thorny rods with which he had been scourged. See the savage, ferocious soldiers seizing with barbarous violence, his sacred body, forcing it down upon the cross, stretching and extending his limbs, and with remorseless cruelty forcing through his hands and feet — the ragged spikes which were to fasten him on it! See the Jewish priests and rulers watching with looks of malicious pleasure the horrid scene, and attempting to increase his sufferings by scoffs and blasphemies! Now contemplate attentively, the countenance of the wonderful Sufferer, which seems like Heaven opening in the midst of Hell, and tell me what it expressed. You see it indeed full of anguish — but it expresses nothing like impatience, resentment, or revenge. On the contrary, it beams with pity, benevolence, and forgiveness. It perfectly corresponds with the prayer, which, raising his mild, imploring eye to Heaven, he pours forth to God: "Father, forgive them — for they know not what they do!"
Christian — look at your Master, and learn how to suffer! Look at your Savior, and learn to admire, to imitate, and to forgive.
But why, it may be naturally asked: Why is this patient innocent sufferer thus afflicted? Why, in his life, in his death — is he thus emphatically a man of sorrows?To this question, our text returns an answer, and an answer which ought to sink deep into our hearts; for in it we are all most deeply interested: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 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!" Isaiah 53:4-6.
Here, we see the true cause of our Savior's unparalleled sufferings. He was cut off, says the Prophet — but not for himself. He knew no sin — but he was made sin, made a curse for us. We have all strayed from the path of duty. Yes, you and I, and all our race, have forsaken the God who made us, and chosen the path that leads to Hell. God's violated law condemned us to die. Justice demanded the execution of the sentence. There was apparently no remedy. It is true that God, as our Creator and Father, was sufficiently inclined to spare us; but his holiness and justice forbade him to do it, unless a suitable atonement could be found. There was but one individual in the universe who could make such an atonement, and that being, prompted by infinite compassion, offered himself for this purpose. The Father, with equal love, accepted the offer.
To carry it into effect, the Son assumed our nature, and appeared on earth; and the bitter cup, which the divine law condemned us to drink — was put into his hand, and he drank it to the last drop! We were condemned to live a life of sorrow and pain — and therefore he lived such a life. We were condemned to shame and everlasting contempt — and therefore he hid not his face from shame and spitting. We were condemned to die under the curse — and therefore he died the accursed death of the cross. We were condemned to lose the favor and endure the wrath of God — and therefore Christ was forsaken by his Father in the agonies of death. We were condemned to perish without mercy — and therefore Christ had no mercy, no pity shown him in his last moments. We were condemned to remain under the power of death, until by satisfying divine justice, we could restore ourselves to life — and therefore Christ remained in the grave until he had made full satisfaction, and then resumed the life he had laid down. Thus he bore our sins, or, what is the same, the punishment of our sins in his own body on the tree — that we being dead unto sin, might live unto God.
What was the manner in which Christ was treated, when he thus came as a man of sorrows to atone for our sins? "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." How literally this prediction was fulfilled, we have already seen. Yet who but an inspired prophet would have predicted that such would be the reception of such a person, coming from Heaven on such a design? We would naturally expect that he would be received with the most lively emotions and demonstrations of grateful joy, by the beings whom he came to save.
Even after we were told that, instead of thus receiving, they rejected and condemned him — we would have expected that when they saw his lamb-like patience and meekness, and heard him praying for his murderers — they would have relented and spared him. And when this could not prevail, we would have hoped that themiracles which attended his crucifixion, and especially his resurrection from the dead — would convince them of their error, and cause them to relent. But none of these things, nor all of them united, could conquer the inveterate malice of his enemies!
Living and dying, rising and reigning, he was still despised and rejected by men. Neither his miracles, nor his sorrows, nor his meekness, nor his patience — could shield him from hatred and contempt.
But what was his crime? What had he done? I answer, he was good — and went everywhere doing good; he dared to speak the truth; he reproved men for their sins, he testified to the world that its deeds were evil. Above all, he bore the image of God — of that holy God whom sinners hate. These were crimes never to be forgiven; crimes, for which nothing but his blood could atone; crimes, which in their view rendered him unworthy of that commiseration which men usually feel for the vilest malefactors when in the agonies of death.
Nor were those who treated him in this manner, worse than the rest of mankind. As in water face answers to face — so the heart of man to man. The truth of this assertion is abundantly proved by the manner in which all succeeding generations have treated Christ. He has always been despised and rejected by men — and he is so still. It is true, he has long since ascended to Heaven, and therefore cannot be the immediate object of their attacks. But his gospel and his servants are still in the world — and the manner in which they are treated, is sufficient evidence, that the feelings of the natural heart toward Christ are not materially different from those of the murderous Jews!
To sum up all in a word, it is certain that all who do not receive the instructions of Christ with the temper of a little child — reject him as a prophet. All who do not trust in his merits alone for salvation — reject him as a Savior. And all who do not habitually and sincerely obey his commands — reject him as a king. This being the case, the conduct of multitudes among us fully justifies us in asserting, that Christ is still despised and rejected by men.