The God Who Suffers

An Advent reading for December 12.

Read Isaiah 52:13–53:12.

During Advent, it is easy to sentimentalize the Incarnation. We imagine the God-man as a baby with his mother; we anticipate his ministry as “Wonderful Counselor” and “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). These are true aspects of Jesus’ identity and humanity, and are certainly appropriate scriptural themes for this time of year. But Isaiah’s prophetic words in this last of his Servant Songs—which describe a coming servant of the Lord who will be found faithful to lead the nations—augment our understanding of Christ’s incarnate life: Jesus was born to suffer and die.

Jesus’ path to glory was not straightforward. Instead of being accepted by the world, he was despised and rejected (53:3). Instead of being exalted as king, he was tortured and murdered (53:5, 9). This is not merely a human tragedy—it is mysteriously part of the divine plan (53:10). Christ’s voluntary suffering reveals his willingness to be not only our High Priest, but also the sacrificial lamb.

This profound reality is more than a theological concept. Jesus suffered as a human being in a physical body, sharing in the most painful and dark aspects of the human experience. He knows what it is to be brutalized and humiliated (52:14), oppressed and abandoned (53:8). In the Incarnation, Jesus identifies with us even in our worst forms of suffering. For those who experience the holidays as painful or lonely, this aspect of Jesus’ life can be strangely comforting. No human tragedy extends beyond his understanding or his solidarity.

But Isaiah also makes it clear that Jesus’ story does not end in suffering and death. Rather, his affliction is the means through which …

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