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Man of Sorrows | Theology Matters

  • November 2016 Issue
Practical Theology
Some Christian artists today portray Jesus as a jaunty, grinning figure. Posters, paintings, and figurines depict Jesus as smiling or even laughing. None of the Gospel accounts describe Jesus laughing, though many scholars note that His parables reflect an underlying sense of humor. Jesus was no jokester, but His words and interactions with people reveal that He possessed a sharp wit.

Jesus experienced the fullness of joy (see Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:9). The prophet Isaiah’s portrait of Israel’s promised Messiah, however, describes another important quality. This picture depicted not a jolly Messiah but one who would be a “man of sorrows” who was “familiar with suffering” (Isa. 53:3). The Hebrew word translated “sorrows” in Isaiah 53:3 was used in other contexts to refer to physical or mental pain. In Isaiah 53, it seems to speak not only of the physical suffering of Israel’s servant (described in vv. 5–10) but also of emotional anguish. This grief was partly due to Christ’s awareness of the suffering of others. He lamented over the fate of Jerusalem and wept at the tomb of Lazarus (Luke 13:34; John 11:35).

Jesus also experienced deep, personal anguish prior to His crucifixion. While in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told
His disciples: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt. 26:38). It might seem as if Jesus were asking the disciples to help Him through these difficult hours. In reality, He was inviting them to stay alert with Him for their own benefit (Luke 22:46). The anguish of Christ in the garden was a reflection of His substitutionary role, something which Isaiah said would be a part of the Messiah’s ministry. The prophet predicted that Israel’s suffering servant would take up our pain, bear our suffering, and be pierced for our transgressions (Isa. 53:4–5). By these sufferings, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and provided a way for us to find forgiveness with God (see Rom. 5:1–11).

The image of a smiling Christ may be a helpful corrective for some who think that Jesus was morose or for those who believe that Christianity is depressing. But we must recognize that Christ’s suffering, not His laughter, was the means of our justification. Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2). He embodied both sorrows and joy.

To learn more about the sorrow of Jesus, read The Power of Christ’s Tears by Charles Spurgeon (YWAM).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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