By Jay McCluskey
Pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland
Focal Passage: Isaiah 53:2-12
Life is not fair. It is true. You do not always get a square deal. Things do not always work out evenly. “Justice for all” is a worthy ideal, but it is not reality. And no one likes to feel cheated, receiving less than we deserve.
Isaiah 53 is a prophetic description of a terrible injustice. Written hundreds of years before the crucifixion, this text poetically foretells of Jesus dying on the cross. There is no reference to nails, wooden beams, or shed blood. But there is a powerful description of Jesus’ sacrificial exchange of His innocence for our guilt.
I am glad promised salvation is unfair because I am the beneficiary. While I will bicker and bellyache if I feel I am not treated fairly, I rejoice when I know I gain better than I should receive. Remember, whenever you receive more than you deserve it is because someone paid more than they deserve.
Read verses 5-6 (which describe our benefits and Jesus’ cost) carefully.
Perhaps you are familiar with the acrostic of the word GRACE: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
This dynamic is vividly described. Jesus received the expense of our punishment. We received the benefit of God’s riches. Some folks say, “I just want what I deserve.” When it comes to matters of our heart and our relationship with God, we do NOT want what we deserve. We desperately need better than we deserve.
In the 1633 painting of the crucifixion by the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt, you will see a character near the cross whose dress and appearance seem out of character for the scene. Art scholars believe that this was a self-portrait of Rembrandt, who recognized that because of his sins Jesus went to the cross.
I am glad promised salvation is unfair because it pleases God. Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely (Isaiah 53:10 HCSB).
What a curious expression. How could the death of Jesus bring God pleasure? The answer is in the benefit made possible by Jesus’ suffering. The author of Hebrews puts it well:
In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered (Hebrews 2:10 NIV).
God is pleased because, as a result of the cross, we sons and daughters can come to glory.
I know many grandparents who sacrifice for their grandchildren. But these sacrifices do not bring them grief or resentment. Rather, they are pleased to be able to benefit these younger loved ones.
Some early settlers were traveling together across the western prairies of the United States. One day they were horrified to see a fire fanned by strong wind coming their way. As the flames raced closer and closer, one man, to the amazement of the others, set fire to a large patch of grass downwind. The tinder-dry grass burned quickly and left behind a charred and barren area. Then he told them to move onto the burned-over place. They watched as the fire swept toward them until it reached the burned area — and then stopped! They were safe as the fire passed by them on both sides.
The fires of God’s judgment will descend on a wicked world, but God has provided a burned-over place. At Calvary, Jesus bore our sin and fully paid for our transgressions. He made full satisfaction for our sins. Now we who take our stand by faith in the finished work of Christ are safe in the burned-over place.
Our world knows great calamities: natural disasters, disease, and crime. But from God’s perspective, life’s greatest calamity is that people die in sin. The ultimate disaster is carrying your sins to your casket. Heaven cannot fathom a worse tragedy because an answer is available provided at a high cost Jesus paid for us.
Life is not fair, but God is good. (And aren’t you glad).
— McCluskey is pastor of North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland.