by Pastor Greg Fowler
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Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering (Isaiah 53:4a).
We are used to hearing this reading on Good Friday, so it appears out of place in January. This reading is one of several ‘servant songs’ in Isaiah, in which the central character is seen as the Lord’s servant who does the will of God so that others may have justice, redemption and freedom. While it is entirely correct to see Jesus’ passion as a fulfilment of this prophecy, it was initially spoken to the people of God in exile, bringing hope and meaning to their suffering.
Suffering befalls us all, and there is no simple explanation for why God allows us to experience loss and pain. Many books have been written to help believers to understand and bear suffering. Here in this servant song, we see one of the most rich and grace-filled descriptions of suffering. Engaging with the text allows God’s Spirit to be at work in our own suffering.
These words were written to the exiles in Babylon who were suffering, initially because of their unfaithfulness to God. Their breaking of the covenant led to their captivity. But Isaiah then shows God’s people that they suffer not for punishment but for redemption. Through their suffering, others will receive life from God. Our God is restoring his people to their place as bringers of blessing and reconciliation for the whole world. In their suffering, in their wounds, others were healed. This theme will be developed more fully in the life of Jesus.
We never suffer alone. Just as the exiles had God with them, transforming discipline into redemption, God is with us in our suffering, transforming us and drawing us closer. Through his Spirit, God will bring meaning and blessing from our wounds.
Lord Jesus, be with us in our suffering. Give us the wisdom to see you at work and at peace with your presence. Amen.
Pastor Greg lives in Adelaide and serves as pastor of Golden Grove Lutheran Church and Golden Grove Lutheran Primary School. He is blessed to spend lots of time with his grandchildren, Teddy and Olivia. His spare time is taken up with golf, Formula 1 and going out with his beautiful wife.