JESUS, THE GREAT OBJECT ASTONISHMENT.
OUR Lord Jesus Christ bore from of old the name of "Wonderful", and the word seems all too poor to set forth His marvellous person and character. He says of Himself, in the language of the prophet, -- "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given Me are for signs and for wonders." He is a fountain of astonishment to all who know Him, and the more they know of Him, the more are they "astonied" at Him. It is an astonishing thing that there should have been a Christ at all: the Incarnation is the miracle of miracles; that He who is the Infinite should become an infant, that He who made the worlds should be wrapt in swaddling-bands, remains a fact out of which, as from a hive, new wonders continually fly forth. In His complex nature He is so mysterious, and yet so manifest, that doubtless all the angels of heaven were and are astonished at Him. O Son of God, and Son of man, when Thou, the Word, wast made flesh, and dwelt among us, and Thy saints beheld Thy glory, it was but natural that many should be astonished at Thee!
Our text seems to say that our Lord was, first, a great wonder in His griefs; and, secondly, that He was a great wonder in His glory.
I. He was a great wonder in his griefs: "As many were astonied at Thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men."
His visage was marred: no doubt His countenance bore the signs of a matchless grief. There were ploughings on His brow as well as upon His back; suffering, and brokenness of spirit, and agony of heart, had told upon that lovely face, till its beauty, though never to be destroyed, was "so" marred that never was any other so spoiled with sorrow. But it was not His face only, His whole form was marred more than the sons of men. The contour of His bodily manhood showed marks of singular assaults of sorrow, such as had never bowed another form so low. I do not know whether His gait was stooping, or whether His knees tottered, and His walk was feeble; but there was evidently a something about Him which gave Him the appearance of premature age, since to the Jews He looked older than He was, for when He was little more than thirty they said unto Him, "Thou art not yet fifty years old." I cannot conceive that He was deformed or ungainly; but despite His natural dignity, His worn and emaciated appearance marked Him out as "the Man of sorrows", and to the carnal eye His whole natural and spiritual form had in it nothing which evoked admiration; even as the prophet said, "When we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." The marring was not of that lovely face alone, but of the whole fabric of His wondrous manhood, so that many were astonied at Him.
Our astonishment, when in contemplation we behold our suffering Lord, will arise from the consideration of what His natural beauty must have been, enshrined as He was from the first within a perfect body. Conceived without sin, and so born of a pure virgin without taint of hereditary sin, I doubt not that He was the flower and glow of manhood as to His form, and from His early youth He must have been a joy to His mother's eye. Great masters of the olden time expended all their skill upon the holy child Jesus, but it is not for the colours of earth to depict the Lord from heaven. That "holy thing" which was born of Mary was "seen of angels," and it charmed their eyes. Must such loveliness be marred? His every look was pure, His every thought was holy, and therefore the expression of His face must have been heavenly, and yet it must be marred. Poverty must mark it; hunger, and thirst, and weariness, must plough it; heart-griefs must seam and scar it; spittle must distain it; tears must scald it; smiting must bruise it; death must make it pale and bloodless. Well does Bernard sing --
"O sacred Head, once wounded,
With grief and pain weigh'd down,
How scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale art Thou with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish,
Which once was bright as morn!"
The second astonishment to us must be that he could be so marred who had nothing in His character to mar His countenance. Sin is a sad disfigurement to faces which in early childhood were surpassingly attractive. Passion, if it be indulged in, soon sets a seal of deformity upon the countenance. Men that plunge into vice bear upon their features the traces of their hearts' volcanic fires. We most of us know some withered beings, whose beauty has been burned up by the fierce fires of excess, till they are a horror to look upon, as if the mark of Cain were set upon them. Every sin makes its line on a fair face. But there was no sin in the blessed Jesus, no evil thought to mar His natural perfectness. No redness of eyes ever came to Him by tarrying long at the wine; no unhallowed anger ever flushed His cheek; no covetousness gave to His eye a wolfish glance; no selfish care lent to His features a sharp and anxious cast. Such an unselfish, holy life as His ought to have rendered Him, if it had been possible, more beautiful every day. Indulging such benevolence, abiding in such communion with God, surely the face of Christ must, in the natural order of things, have more and more astonished all sympathetic observers with its transcendent charms. But sorrow came to engrave her name where sin had never made a stroke, and she did her work so effectually that His visage was more marred than that of any man, although the God of mercy knows there have been other visages that have been worn with pain and anguish past all recognition. I need not repeat even one of the many stories of human woe: that of our Lord surpasses all.
Remember that the face of our Well-beloved, as well as all His form, must have been an accurate index of His soul. Physiognomy is a science with much truth in it when it deals with men of truth. Men weaned from simplicity know how to control their countenances; the crafty will appear to be honest, the hardened will seem to sympathize with the distressed, the revengeful will mimic good-will. There are some who continually use their countenance as they do their speech, to conceal their feelings; and it is almost a point of politeness with them never to show themselves, but always to go masked among their fellows.
But the Christ had learned no such arts. He was so sincere, so transparent, so child-like and true, that whatever stirred within Him was apparent to those about Him, so far as they were capable of understanding His great soul. We read of Him that He was "moved with compassion." The Greek word means that He experienced a wonderful emotion of His whole nature, He was thrilled with it, and His disciples saw how deeply He felt for the people, who were as sheep without a shepherd. Though He did not commit Himself to men, He did not conceal Himself, but wore His heart upon His sleeve, and all could see what He was, and knew that He was full of grace and truth. We are, therefore, not surprised, when we devoutly consider our Lord's character, that His visage and form should indicate the inward agonies of His tender spirit; it could not be that His face should be untrue to His heart. The ploughers made deep furrows upon His soul as well as upon His back, and His heart was rent with inward convulsions, which could not but affect His whole appearance. Those eyes saw what those around Him could not see; those shoulders bore a constant burden which others could not know; and, therefore, His countenance and form betrayed the fact. O dear, dear Saviour, when we think of Thee, and of Thy majesty and purity, we are again astonished that woes should come upon Thee so grievously as to mar Thy visage and Thy form!
Now think, dear friends, what were the causes of this marring. It was not old age that had wrinkled His brow, for He was still in the prime of life, neither was it a personal sickness which had caused decay; much less was it any congenital weakness and disease, which at length betrayed itself, for in His flesh there was no possibility of impurity, which would, in death, have led to corruption. It was occasioned, first, by His constant sympathy with the suffering. There was a heavy wear and tear occasioned by the extraordinary compassion of His soul. In three years it had told upon Him most manifestly, till His visage was marred more than that of any other man. To Him there was a kind of sucking up into Himself of all the suffering of those whom He blessed. He always bore upon Him the burden of mortal woe. We read of Christ healing all that were sick, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." Yes, He took those infirmities and sicknesses in some mystical way to Himself, just as I have heard of certain trees, which scatter health, because they themselves imbibe the miasma, and draw up into themselves those noxious vapours which otherwise would poison mankind. Thus, without being themselves polluted, they disinfect the atmosphere around them. This, our Saviour did, but the cost was great to Him. You can imagine, living as He did in the midst of one vast hospital, how constantly He must have seen sights that grieved and pained Him. Moreover, with a nature so pure and loving, He must have been daily tortured with the sin, and hypocrisy, and oppression which so abounded in His day. In a certain sense, He was always laying down His life for men, for He was spent in their service, tortured by their sin, and oppressed with their sorrow. The more we look into that marred visage, the more shall we be astonished at the anguish which it indicated.
Do not wonder that He was more marred than any man, for He was more sensitive than other men. No part of Him was callous, He had no seared conscience, no blunted sensibility, no drugged and deadened nerve. His manhood was in its glory, in the perfection in which Adam was when God made him in His own image, and therefore He was ill-housed in such a fallen world. We read of Christ that He was "grieved for the hardness of their hearts," "He marvelled because of their unbelief," "He sighed deeply in His spirit," "He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled." This, however, was only the beginning of the marring.
His deepest griefs and most grievous marring came of His substitutionary work, while bearing the penalty of our sin. One word recalls much of His woe: it is, "Gethsemane." Betrayed by Judas, His trusted friend, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me;" deserted even by John, for all the disciples forsook Him and fled; not one of all the loved ones with Him: He was left alone. He had washed their feet, but they could not watch with Him one hour; and in that garden He wrestled with our deadly foe, till His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground, and as Hart puts it, He --
"Bore all Incarnate God could bear,
With strength enough, but none to spare."
I do verily believe that verse to be true. Herein you see what marred His countenance, and His form, even while in life. The whole of His manhood felt that dreadful shock, when He and the prince of darkness, in awful duel, fought it out amidst the gloom of the olives on that cold midnight when our redemption began to be fully accomplished.
The whole of His passion marred His countenance and His form with its unknown sufferings. I restrain myself, lest this meditation should grow too painful. They bound Him, they scourged Him, they mocked Him, they plucked off the hair from His face, they spat upon Him, and at last they nailed Him to the tree, and there He hung. His physical pain alone must have been very great, but all the while there was within His soul an inward torment which added immeasurably to His sufferings. His God forsook Him. "Eloi, Eloi, lama, sabachthani?" is a voice enough to rend the rocks, and assuredly it makes us all astonished when, in the returning light, we look upon His visage, and are sure that never face of any man was so marred before, and never form of any son of man so grievously disfigured. Weeping and wondering, astonied and adoring, we leave the griefs of our own dear Lord, and with loving interest turn to the brighter portion of His unrivalled story.
"Behold your King! Though the moonlight steals
Through the silvery sprays of the olive tree,
No star-gemmed sceptre or crown it reveals,
In the solemn shade of Gethsemane.
Only a form of prostrate grief,
Fallen, crushed, like a broken leaf!
Oh, think of His sorrow, that we may know
The depth of love in the depth of woe!
"Behold your King, with His sorrow crowned,
Alone, alone in the valley is He!
The shadows of death are gathering round,
And the cross must follow Gethsemane.
Darker and darker the gloom must fall,
Filled is the cup, He must drink it all!
Oh, think of His sorrow, that we may know
His wondrous love in His wondrous woe!"
II. There is an equal astonishment at His glories. I doubt not, if we could see Him now, as He appeared to John in Patmos, we should feel that we must do exactly as the beloved disciple did, for He deliberately wrote, "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead." His astonishment was so great that he could not endure the sight. He had doubtless longed often to behold that glorified face and form, but the privilege was too much for him. While we are encumbered with these frail bodies, it is not fit for us to behold our Lord, for we should die with excess of delight if we were suddenly to behold that vision of splendour. Oh, for those glorious days when we shall lie for ever at His feet, and see our exalted Lord!
"Behold, My servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high." Observe the three words, "exalted and extolled, and be very high;" language pants for expression. Our Lord is now exalted in being lifted up from the grave, lifted up above all angels, and principalities, and powers. The Man Christ Jesus is the nearest to the eternal throne, ay, the Lamb is before the throne. "And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain." He is in His own state and person exalted, and then by the praise rendered Him he is extolled, for he is worshipped and adored by the whole universe. All praise goes up before Him now, so that men extol Him, while "God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name, which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Deep were His sorrows, but as high are His joys. It is said that, around many of the lochs in Scotland, the mountains are as high as the water is deep; and so our Lord's glories are as immeasurable as were His woes. What a meditation is furnished by these two-fold and incalculable heights and depths! Our text says that He shall "be very high." It cannot tell us how high. It is inconceivable how great and glorious in all respects the Lord Jesus Christ is at this moment. Oh, that He may be very high in our esteem! He is not yet exalted and extolled in any of our hearts as He deserves to be. I would we loved Him a thousand times as much as we do, but our whole heart goeth after Him, does it not? Would we not die for Him? Would we not set Him on a throne as high as seven heavens, and then think that we had not done enough for Him, who is now our all in all, and more than all?
You notice what is said, concerning the Christ, as the most astonishing thing of all: "So shall He sprinkle many nations." Now is it the glory of our risen Lord, at this moment, that His precious blood is to save many nations. Before the throne, men of all nations shall sing, "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us unto God by Thy blood." Not the English nation alone shall be purified by His atoning blood, but many nations shall He sprinkle with His reconciling blood, even as Israel of old was sprinkled with the blood of sacrifice. We read in the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, at the twenty-second verse, of "having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience," and this is effected by that precious blood by which we have been once purged so effectually that we have no more consciousness of sins, but enter into perfect peace. The blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, and much more doth the blood of Christ purge our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God.
The sprinkling of the blood was meant also to confirm the covenant: thus Moses "sprinkled both the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you." Our Lord Himself said, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." But is it not a wonderful thing that He should die as a malefactor on the tree, amid scorn and ridicule, and yet that He is this day bringing nations into covenant with God? Once so despised, and now: so mighty! God has given Him "for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles." Many nations shall by Him be joined in covenant with the God of the whole earth. Do not fall into the erroneous idea that this world is like a great ship-wrecked vessel, soon to go to pieces on an iron-bound coast; but rather let us expect the conversion of the world to the Lord Jesus. As a reward for the travail of His soul, He shall cause many nations to "exult with joy", for so some read the passage; the peoples of the earth shall not only be astonished at His griefs, but they shall admire His glories, adore His perfections, and be filled with an amazement of joy at His coming and kingdom. I can conceive nothing in the future too great and glorious to result from the passion and death of our Divine Lord.
Listen to this, "Kings shall shut their mouths at Him." They shall see such a King as they themselves have never been; they speak freely to their brother-kings, but they shall not dare to speak to Him, and as for speaking against Him, that will be altogether out of the question.
"Kings shall fall down before Him,
And gold and incense bring."
"For that which had not been told them shall they see." Kings are often out of the reach of the gospel, they do not hear it, it is not told to them. They would despise the lowly preacher, and little gatherings of believers meeting together for worship; they would only listen to stately discourses, which do not touch the heart and conscience. The great ones of the earth are usually the least likely to know the things of God, for while the poor have the gospel preached unto them, princes are more likely to hear soft flatteries and fair speeches. The time shall come, however, when Caesar shall bow before a real Imperator, and monarchs shall behold the Prince of the kings of the earth. "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." They shall see His majesty, of which they had not even been told.
"That which they had not heard shall they consider." They shall be obliged, even on their thrones, to think about the kingdom of the King of kings, and they shall retire to their closets to confess their sins, and to put on sackcloth and ashes, and to give heed to the words of wisdom. "Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth." To-day, the humble listen to Christ, but by-and-by the mightiest of the mighty shall turn all their thoughts towards Him. He shall gather sheaves of sceptres beneath His arm, and crowns shall be strewn at His feet; and "He shall reign for ever and ever," and "of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end." If we were astonished at the marring of His face, we shall be much more astonished at the magnificence of His glory. Upon His throne none shall question His supremacy, none shall doubt His loveliness; but His enemies shall weep and wail because of Him whom they pierced; while He shall be admired in all them that believe. Adorable Lord, we long for Thy glorious appearing! We beseech Thee tarry not!
"Come, and begin Thy reign
Of everlasting peace;
Come, take the kingdom to Thyself,
Great King of Righteousness!"