He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity. - Isaiah 53:3
Pilate released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. - Luke 23:25 (NIV)
Two-year reading texts: Psalm 37:27-33; Nehemiah 12:1-43; Romans 6:17-7:6
Paul has been leading us through a remarkable story as we read through Romans.
Part 1 is that no one - neither those who know the Law nor those who don't - lives a life up to God's standards; we all fall short and break relationships with God and others.
Part 2 is the Gospel (good news) that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, everything that needs to be done to reconcile these broken relationships has already been done by God; although we could never repair the situation on our own, simple faith in Jesus' saving work is all we need.
Part 3, which we're still reading today and will be for a few more chapters, is that once we've been given this gift of faith through the Holy Spirit, we recognize the truth of Parts 1 and 2, and our lives begin to change. Justification is a word we use to describe our status as people saved by grace through faith. Sanctification is the continuation of that status, as we are made holy and live into the righteousness of God that has saved us. We are no longer servants to sin, which leads to death; but servants to God, which leads to life.
Jesus himself talked about this same process when he mentioned "taking up our cross daily and following" him. I have that in mind as I read the Old Testament and New Testament verses for today. Isaiah writes about "the suffering servant," a poetic, prophetic figure who certainly foreshadows Jesus - but also represents God's people. The gospels tell the story of Jesus running into powerful opposition, being betrayed, arrested, tortured, and killed. This is the Lord we serve.
It's the best good news of all - and pleasant and inspiring for us to think about - that Jesus was willing to endure all of this for us. But it would be easy to forget - and view it as unpleasant or disturbing - that in being saved by him, we become part of his life and work, with the goal of serving and sharing the good news with others. We live in an age that glorifies riches and power and "winning," and by these standards, Jesus' path looks weak and foolish. Yet this is where we find him. This is where he goes, and if we follow him, we go there too.
I love and appreciate Jesus, but I'm also human, firmly attached to my sense of preserving and glorifying myself and seeking what's comfortable and pleasant for myself. The church is the very body of Christ in the world, but again human, always bending itself around our self-centered desires. It's good for me, good for us all, to wrestle with what it means to follow Jesus, especially when we encounter conflict and suffering. What does it mean to be despised? rejected? identified with suffering? acquainted with infirmity and weakness and need? How might we be swapped out and sent to the cross while people who do real harm are set free?
We don't find easy answers to these questions. But we have assurance, that begins with the gift of faith we've been freely given, that pursuing those questions leads to God's answers. May we resist the easy and pleasant-sounding diversions that would only warp us back and entrap us again in sin. May we keep our eyes on Jesus and follow him into human need, all the way to the cross.