Scottish Christian writer George MacDonald was once waxing eloquent with one of his adult sons about the beauty of the gospel when his son, somewhat exasperated, said, “Father, what you’re saying is too good to be true!” To which MacDonald replied, “Nay son, it is just so good it must be true!”
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the strange (none of us could have dreamed it up) and wonderful (it puts our deepest fears to rest and satisfies our wildest dreams) story we most want and need to be true. In Isaiah 53:4-6 we come to the very heart of the story—the beautiful broken heart of the gospel. Let’s briefly look at four powerful themes in the gospel of Christ that can transform our lives and counseling.
Biblical counseling sees and addresses sin as the deepest and most prevalent problem in life. In verse 5 Isaiah writes, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” Isaiah uses two words to reveal how we dishonor and anger God: transgressions are those attitudes and actions of defiant rebellion; iniquities points to attitudes and actions that flow, often unconsciously, from a heart of worthless depravity. Both words reveal the depth of our sin that offends and dishonors God and that, if left untreated, leads to eternal suffering.
As counselors we know the countless ways we and those we counsel defect from the worship of the living God and serve created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). This deepest of all human problems brings the threat of God’s wrath and eternal punishment. And this foreboding of eternal destruction fuels all manner of fears and exacerbates all manner of problems in living. There is simply no hope of lasting change or happiness unless sin is dealt with.
If sin is the deepest problem in life and counseling, suffering is often the most immediate. Every counselee we help is a sufferer in some way. Isaiah refers to the bitter fruit of suffering in this sinful world as “griefs/sicknesses” and “sorrows/pains.”
Margaret Clarkson lists the many forms this bitter fruit can take: feeling trapped in desperately hard circumstances; physical disabilities or disfigurement; long-lasting physical or spiritual isolation; unrewarded service, unmet goals, or unrequited love; haunting fears and deep depression; sexual abuse or rape; undesired singleness, divorce, or widowhood; foolish or wayward children; chronic illness or pain; oppression and abuse; broken homes and childhood trauma; poverty and hunger; war, natural disasters, and other sudden calamities; abandoned or loveless old age. As counselors we could certainly add many other examples.
An ancient sage once truly said, “Be kind to each person you meet, for every person is carrying a heavy load.” The presence of sin in the world has brought forth a wretched harvest of suffering and our counseling must address both. Thankfully the gospel deals with both the bitter root of sin and the bitter fruit of suffering. John Piper once said, “We are interested in relieving all kinds of suffering, especially eternal suffering.” This is indeed our hope because of the beautiful broken heart of the gospel.
This sin-bearing (“the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all”) and suffering-bearing (“surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”) salvation was accomplished in two stages. Through His incarnation, Jesus began to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows from the very beginning of His life, long before His passion and death: rejected as an outcast at the time of His birth; cut with the knife of circumcision as a baby; exiled to Egypt; misunderstood by His parents as a boy; tempted in the wilderness; continually hated and opposed—Jesus suffers in our place all throughout His whole life.
This mysterious incarnational exchange is referred to in Matthew 8:16-17: “…he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” Jesus so fully entered into the feelings of our miseries (Hebrews 4:15) and so related them to His coming passion that Matthew says He heals our suffering by bearing it Himself.
As wonderful as the incarnation is, it is incomplete without the atonement. In His passion Jesus bears and carries the sum of human misery all the way to the cross. There He takes upon Himself all our heinous sins and deserved sufferings and bears the wrath of God in our place. On the cross the work of bearing our sins and sufferings is completed (John 19:30).
This exchange of our sins and sufferings for His forgiveness and blessing on the cross is highlighted in Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Jesus exchanged the curse of the broken law for the blessing of the promised Spirit. He brings healing and peace to us by bearing our sins and sufferings so that the Spirit can come in to restore and renew.
As William Hendricksen writes, “Hell came to Calvary that day and the Savior descended into it and bore its horrors in our stead.” Hallelujah, what a Savior!
“Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; with his stripes we are healed.” Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, means wholeness, belonging, harmony, flourishing, and joy. This is what we all ache for in this broken world and the hope we hold out to our counselees. Tim Keller describes the peace of the gospel this way:
“Jesus Christ is the Creator who came here not to smite us, but to be un-created so we could be re-created…the maker who came to be unmade so we could be re-made…the judge who came not to bring judgment, but to bear judgment, to take what we deserve so that the Holy Spirit could come into our lives, once our sins are forgiven, and begin to remake us.”
What a glorious story—the story we most need and desire to be true—the King Himself comes to bear the wrath and consequences of our sins so we can be forgiven and restored. Wonder upon wonder and all of them true! Just so good it must be true! How wonderful that lives can be transformed by hearing and believing this story; by learning to exchange sins and sorrows for forgiveness and peace. Let us tell it with our words and our works in our churches and counseling offices. Let us tell it creatively and continually; graciously and gladly.
Join the Conversation
How does the gospel story make your heart sing with hope and joy? What Scriptures connect with your own sins and sorrows? How will you tell the “old, old story” in creative new ways this year?