Meditations On The Messiah - The Garment Of Shame

by Ray Hawkins

Through the travail of his time, the prophet Isaiah was able to behold the glory of God: " ... I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple" (6:1). This sensitive servant of the Everlasting Lord put his 'burden' on paper and thus preserved for us all some of the Lord's promises.

One of the majestic themes throughout his writings is that of the coming Messiah. A child was to be born to reign (9:1-7) and this child was to have entrance into this world through the sign of the virgin (7:14). Signs are the Biblical imprint of God's dealing with the Nation of Israel -- even a shallow investigation will prove that point. Isaiah writes of a Servant clothed in purple who would succeed in fulfilling what the Nation as a whole had really only toyed with.

There is however another picture painted by this artist with words. It is a graphic picture of the Messiah in a garment of shame. At first glance it is repugnant. It seems so unrealistic, so inappropriate, so dishonouring to the Son of Man. As our eyes lock on to this word picture we want to flick it aside and look at something more noble and worthy.

But to follow our first instincts is to be denied one of God's masterpieces within the being of the Messiah.

It is without question that the Messiah is to come to rule. The way to the throne, however, is not by the sword, but through scars. The reign of joy blooms from the tears He shed as He identified with His subjects. Before the radiance of glory comes the shadow of shame.

Some would endeavour to use this against Him and thus deny Him His right. However, the fact that He would wear such garments actually enhances His garment of glory, for to be able to walk enveloped in suffering, shame and the sins of others and not be crushed by them makes Him all the more worthy and inspiring.

Where do we find this garment designed and displayed?

Isaiah chapter 53 is the most graphic presentation. The portrait flows from the previous chapter where we read: "See, my servant will act wisely, he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him -- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness ..."

Then as we follow on to read we almost hear the pain of the prophet as he is given the picture to paint. "Who has believed our message ...?" It would seem as though he hardly wanted to record it especially after the picture of rulership he had given us of the One whose name is "Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (9:6).

But the Prince of Peace was here depicted as a tender shoot with no beauty that would attract us; He would be "despised and rejected" (53:2,3).

The term by which He is described as a tender plant seems to illustrate a sense of fragility and nothing spectacular. The ground from which He was to emerge was barren, a spiritual and moral wasteland that would seek to impede His maturity. Fortunately He was to have the resources of the 'hidden spring', the ever refreshing presence of the Spirit of God and the writings of the Law and the Prophets.

The one who says, "I will make rivers flow on the barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs" (41:18) must first experience the barrenness. He who would transform the Nation's soil must first endure then transform the Nation's soul. Men and women would see Him but not perceive who He was. They would be impressed by His character, but their judging Him on His garment would cause them to assume He didn't fit their scene or expectation.

But this in fact was the compulsion of His mission. The Messiah was to draw men and women unto Himself by virtue of His character and His cause. He was not seeking to impress fickle followers through the vain cosmetic covering of shining armour or an aristocratic caste. The human heart attaches itself readily to the beautiful and valuable. Often that association is entered into for personal pleasure or profit, not for conviction and commitment.

Isaiah paints this word picture of the Messiah in an effort to reveal the depths of the Messiah's love. He would wear this garment of shame and rejection so that those who seek the heart of God would see it in Him regardless of the garment.