Man of Sorrows
“He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”—Isaiah 53:3
The one title in which Christ delighted more than all others was that of the Son of Man. It occurs eighty times in the Gospel and is always applied by Jesus to Himself. It is a glorious name and brim full of hope for the human family. To be the Son of David or the Son of Abraham would limit Him to one race or one family, but to be the Son of Man is the equivalent of being the second Adam and having relationship with all men. It means that every man can find a response in His nature. Jesus, the Man of men, the glory of the whole human race.
But we must not forget that in one very particular respect, He differed from every other human being born of woman.
He Was Sinless
And He was the only sinless One that this world has ever known. “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me.” This was the challenge He flung out to both Satan and the world. But tonight I am going to talk to you about His sorrow and suffering, for while He was sinless He was not sorrowless. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” God has had one Son without sin, but never one without sorrow, and I sometimes think that he who doubts that we live in an unfallen world must find it difficult to account for this fact.
Next to a Saviour, man needs a comforter, and Christ has come not only to save us from our sins, but to bear our burdens; not only to cleanse our hearts, but to wipe our tears away.
This elegy of suffering begins with the 13th verse of the preceding chapter, with that word which occurs so often in the prophecy of Isaiah, “behold.” That the prophecy is of Christ is most obvious. How anyone can doubt this is a puzzle to me, and yet some scholars say the reference here is to King Hezekiah or some other local man; but to my mind he would be a very bold man that claimed this picture if he were any other than the Son of God. There is only one whose brow this crown of thorns will fit, only one can claim that all this prophecy was realized in Himself; and should any other man lay claim to the portrait, he must be prepared to meet the full force of this world’s ridicule and contempt.
In the Book of Acts, the 8th chapter, we have an interesting story of the conversion of a royal sinner. He was returning from Jerusalem and was reading a portion of the Scriptures. It happened to be the very Scripture that we are considering tonight. Philip the Evangelist approached him and inquired if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch replied, “How can I, when I have no man to teach me?” Then Philip sat down by his side and “began at the very same Scriptures and preached unto him Jesus.” Of course he did, for how could he preach anyone but Jesus from these Scriptures? So if we cut out the 53rd chapter of Isaiah as referring to Christ, then we must also do away with the 8th chapter of the Acts, and tonight my desire is to take the same Scriptures and preach to you Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.
We all know what it is to suffer, we all have sorrow; but in comparison with His sufferings, ours are but little griefs, just tiny bubbles that rise and burst, upon the stream of our daily existence. His was not an occasional sorrow, not a spasmodic grief or a transient pain. In Him sorrow was multiplied, and grief was His familiar acquaintance.
Now let us consider the cause of His suffering. Why should His visage be marred more than that of any man?
It Was the Sorrow of Loneliness
He was a lonely man. There are three kinds of loneliness. There is the loneliness of solitude, which often proves the greatest kind of a blessing to busy men and women, and I am sure that it was so with Christ. How often we read that after a busy day, He withdrew Himself to the mountains or He spent the night alone, or went out in the desert a great while before day.
But there is a loneliness of character. A man may find himself in the midst of men and yet be quite alone. Christ was a perpetual stranger in this world. No one seemed to understand Him. Even His precious mother failed to comprehend the meaning of His mission. You remember when He was twelve years old, she found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing and asking questions, and she said “Son, why has thou thus dealt with us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” And He said, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” and then it is added, “they understood not the saying that He spake unto them.” His own brethren had no sympathy with Him. They declared that He was beside Himself and sought to restrain Him. The religious leaders of His day said that He was mad and that he had a devil. His disciples were unable to appreciate His teaching or His sacrificial service. “I have many things to say unto you, but ye are not yet able to bear them.” “I have bread to eat that ye know not of.” These sayings reveal how He longed to make known the will of God to these men.
But there is also the loneliness of shame, and it was this that broke the heart of the Saviour. Have you ever read the book of Job? It is the story of a good man suffering the loneliness of shame. Disaster and calamity had come upon him and his former friends passed by with averted look, and scornful judgment, and his wife wished that he were dead; and so awful was the suffering of this loneliness that even poor Job cried out “I am weary of life.” Shame may come to us as it did to the old patriarch through no fault or wrong-doing of our own. It may come through the sin of another. Oh what shame a wayward son or daughter can bring to a father or mother. Ah yes, some of you have suffered that shame; you have passed through that loneliness; you have felt the cold salutation of a neighbor or the haughty glance of a former friend. These have smitten you like a scourge.
Like Hugo’s hero in Les Misérables, how poor Jean Val Jean felt the loneliness of his shame. The little children looked at him with distrustful eyes. Homes that were once open to him were now shut in his face. Even the common tavern would not have him as its guest, and justice failed to hold the balance even. And Hugo makes you feel as you read the story of this unfortunate man, that of all the suffering on Earth, nothing can compare with the loneliness of shame.
I was speaking with a young wife a few days ago. She came to me for advice, and to request prayer for her husband, who is a lawyer of some note, and filled until recently a position of no mean importance; but in an evil hour he used for himself a large amount of money that belonged to the company he represented and is now serving a term in prison. Shortly after his arrest a little babe was born to the young wife, and she has had a terrible struggle, working as a servant and caring for her child. But it is not the menial toil that is the cause of her suffering; it is the isolation from former friends and acquaintances and the awful sense of shame that has come upon her, which has added years to her life in a few months, and I shall not soon forget that sad face. Why, death itself is preferable to the loneliness of such shame.
But, oh, beloved, no man ever suffered such shame as came upon our blessed Lord. “He was made a curse for us; He who knew no sin was made sin for us.” “All our iniquities were placed on Him” as He became our scapegoat. So awful was that night of shame that He was forsaken by all. Those whom He trusted most, those who had said “if all men forsake Thee, yet we will follow Thee to the death” turned away and swore that they had never known Him.
Alone He stood before Pilate, not one word was spoken there in His defense. Alone He stood before Herod, no one to protest, as they mocked Him and spat in His face and crowned Him with thorns. He carried His cross alone until He fell and fainted beneath it and they compelled a stranger to assist Him. Well might the poet say that even “the sun withdrew her light and shut her glories in, when God the mighty Maker died, for man, the creature’s sin.”
Oh look upon Him in His loneliness and shame and remember the words we were singing a moment ago:
“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood.”
It Was the Sorrow of Unrequited Love
The Apostle John, who possibly recognized His love to an extent that others did not, laid stress on this cause of His sorrow in the striking words: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” And I don’t think there was a sadder picture in His whole life than that of the 23rd of Matthew, where He stands on the hillside and cries: ”Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft I would have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing, and ye would not,” and Luke tells us “As He beheld the city, He wept over it.”
I have read of a mother who shut herself in from the world for nineteen years and nursed a poor simple-minded son who never once recognized her or called her mother. When a friend spoke to her about the sacrifice she was making for this boy, she replied: “Oh, I have waited all these years for the slightest recognition, and if he would but call me mother once, I would be fully repaid for it all.” But, oh, how long He has been rejected! He so loved the world that he gave Himself to save it, and just one here and there ever responds to that love.
It is said that Carlyle, the great English author, when a young man, wooed and won a most beautiful and brilliant girl. She was a queen among women, but she gave up everything and poured her life and talents into her husband’s, to supply fuel to feed the flame of his fame and genius. He became so absorbed in his books that he almost forgot that she was his wife. He lacked gentleness, and a harshness stole into his voice, and long before the end came she was forgotten. One day two distinguished foreign authors called upon Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle, and for an hour the great philosopher poured forth a storm of words against the commercial spirit of the age, but his wife sat by and never once opened her lips. At last the author ceased talking and there was a silence, when suddenly he thundered: “Jane, stop breathing so loud.” And poor Jane, who long since had stopped everything else except to breathe, in a few days after this ceased “breathing so loud.”
A few weeks later Carlyle found, through reading his wife’s journal, that for the want of affection she had frozen and starved to death, like some poor traveler who was lost in the wilderness. Then he woke to her devotion and realized how she had cared for his health, how she had kept his mind in happiness, in fact, that his fame was very largely his wife’s. Then began his pathetic pilgrimages to his wife’s grave, where a friend often found him murmuring, “If I only had known,—if I only had known.”
Since I have learned this about Carlyle, I cannot admire the intellectual brilliancy of this great scholar as once I did.
Now this is the sin against the Christ,—a love and sacrifice that are never recognized. “He is a Man of Sorrows.” But why? Because “He is despised and rejected, and we hid as it were our faces from Him.” Oh, friends, let us read these Scriptures right. The Word does not say, “He was rejected,” but He is rejected; He is despised.” It is a perpetual rejection. Not only was He rejected and despised by the Jews two thousand years ago, but He is rejected tonight by many in this church, and this is His sorrow. He has been at your heart’s door time and again, seeking admission, but you have “hid” as it were, “your faces from Him.”
It Was Vicarious Sorrow
Sin is responsible for all of our suffering and sorrow. That is to say, if there had never been any sin, then we would have never known sadness or suffering; we would have never felt a pain or shed a tear. But why should this Man suffer? Why should He have sorrow? I said at the beginning that He was the One and the only One, the Sinless Man, that ever lived, and yet He is the greatest sufferer of all.
The most profound explanation of His sorrow that has ever been given is recorded by St. Matthew and it was given while He was hanging on the cross. One of His enemies shouted from the crowd as they saw His agony: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.”
Yes, He has saved me, but Himself He could not save. “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.”
A few weeks ago there was a story published in our daily papers.
In a little town called Gary, Indiana, a young woman, Miss Ethel Smith, was horribly burned in an explosion of a motorcycle, and was in danger of losing one of her limbs, and possibly her life. A newsboy in that town by the name of William Rough had one leg that was paralyzed. He offered to have that limb amputated that the skin might be used for grafting to cover the flesh of Miss Smith’s burnt member. The operation was performed, and the young lady in due time was able to leave the hospital, but the ordeal was too much for the newsboy, and it was evident that he would not recover.
When the doctors acquainted him with the fact that he must die, he simply said: “Oh, well, it’s all right. I was some good to the world after all.” We are not surprised that the citizens of that town are building a monument in memory of this brave fellow and his sacrificial deed, and I can readily believe that Miss Ethel Smith will often shed a tear over his grave or place a flower on his monument and frequently repeat the story of how he gave his life for her.
It was this phase of Christ’s suffering that turned me to Him over thirty years ago. I stood listening to a consecrated woman singing that old hymn:
“When I survey the wondrous Cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”
“O Calvary, dark Calvary, speak to some heart from Calvary.”
“And my conscience felt and owned its guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.”
Oh, that God would give you that vision tonight!
Now, in conclusion, let me say a word as to how we may recompense Christ for all that he has suffered on our behalf.
In the beginning of this chapter, the prophet says “we did esteem Him smitten of God.” That is, we thought His sorrow was just like that of other men; but when it dawns upon us that it was for us and we fall at His feet with a broken heart, confessing our sin, it is then He feels fully repaid for all His sacrifice.
Now listen to these words in the tenth verse: “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin (or a sin-offering), He shall see His seed,—He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied,” which simply means that whenever a sinner accepts Christ’s sacrificial death, when he makes Christ his substitute, the Saviour sees that for which He died,—“He sees His seed, and is satisfied.” Oh sinner, think of it, this very night you can give that precious Lord joy.
I have sometimes thought that when Christ said “there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents,” He meant “the joy that was set before Him” which enabled Him to “despise the cross,” the joy of the sinner’s salvation.