Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray ; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of singing George Frideric Handel’s Messiah in concert. It was probably the third or fourth time I’ve performed this great oratorio—which Handel wrote in just 24 days back in 1741—but perhaps the first time I’ve really stopped to consider the words and felt them so deeply that I was moved to tears.
Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m also studying Isaiah 1:1 in Bible study right now, and that Messiah’s libretto is drawn so heavily from this prophetic book.
Many associate Messiah with Christmas, but it was originally written to coincide with the Easter season as it illustrates a Savior, Christ the Lord, who saved the world through his victory over death. In my times of reflection during Holy Week last week and in preparation for ascension day, the movements that have been most meaningful to me are those that illustrate Isaiah 53 so beautifully and communicate what Jesus did for you and me through his sacrifice on the Cross …
Surely, He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows …These words are from the 22nd movement of Messiah, and I cannot sing them with getting a lump in my throat. “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities.” Yes, it is my sin. And it’s personal. But it’s not something I like to think about that often, especially as a lifelong believer who likes to think she’s got her spiritual act together. But it is a powerful reminder of the truth that I need a Savior—someone to save me from my depravity, someone who gave his life so that I might live for him.
And with His stripes we are healed …That’s all the text there is to sing in the 23rd movement. Over and over again this phrase is repeated throughout. Why was this phrase singled out to have its very own movement? I don’t know, but I can’t sing it without realizing the amazing love that came forth from God the Father to sacrifice his Son for me. Because he suffered, died and rose again, I am clothed in righteousness. His body was beaten and broken so that I could be made whole. That is amazing love!
All we like sheep …In the next movement of Messiah, the 24th, we are reminded how, even as believers, we are so much like sheep. We become easily distracted. We get tired of following the Shepherd. Each of us wants to go his or her own way. I know I struggle with that on a daily basis. And because I am so prone to wander, that means I need a Shepherd who will protect me and keep me on my path. The ending line, and the remarkably slower tempo of the final section of this movement, reminds me of this and the consequences of living for myself: “And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus did what I couldn’t. He was the spotless and blameless Lamb, and he gave up his life to save me from my sins and give me hope for eternity.
I invite you to read through these passages in Isaiah 53 today and to take a hard look at yourself, at your condition, at your lifestyle, at your choices. Are you living for the moment? For what feels good? For what is comfortable? For what will get you by?
Let the impact that “the iniquity of us all” was laid on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that he suffered, bled and died for you really sink in. Your life was bought and purchased. Your transgressions were blotted out, and you have been made clean (Psalms 51:1-2). May the indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) of God’s Son make a difference in how you choose to live today.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Do you believe that? When we confess, he will forgive. Praise God that Messiah has come, and we are no longer separated by our sins!