He Has Borne our Griefs
We often turn to Isaiah 53 to inform us, remind us, and give us sober thoughts about the cross of Jesus. Indeed, this is a powerful Scripture that helps us see the gravity of what Jesus did on our behalf to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Within the overall passage, we find this beautiful statement:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isa 53:4)
Let this sink in for a moment. Echoing this, Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). We are healed and made alive to righteousness by His wounds.
Let’s back up a little, though, and consider how Matthew applies this particular passage from Isaiah 53:4. Jesus was working miracles:
“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” (Matt 8:16-17)
Matthew’s application of Isaiah’s point is interesting. When we read Isaiah 53, we almost instinctively think in terms of Jesus healing our spiritual disease of sin (to Peter’s point above). Isaiah is talking about the suffering Servant who went to the cross to carry our sins and so heal us through forgiveness, isn’t he? Yes.
Yet Matthew quotes Isaiah and applies it to those who were physically being healed, and he says that is in fulfillment of what Isaiah was talking about. What is going on here?
Even though Isaiah 53:4 is typically read as “griefs” and “sorrows,” giving us the more spiritual outlook on the fulfillment, the terms there can also carry the ideas of disease and affliction. Matthew is not redefining terms by using the passage the way he does. He is rather applying the point to the physical ailments, though he is not denying an even greater fulfillment.
This helps us to see the way that New Testament writers sometimes apply Old Testament passages. They see couched in the texts multiple fulfillments. In fact, it is through these multiple fulfillments that we find such depth and beauty. Scripture is not meant to be read as a flat-line, single-layered text. There is a beauty here that helps us to understand that what the Lord did impacted both the physical and spiritual.
This also helps us to see how miracles were meant to be understood. They were surely intended to demonstrate that Jesus is who He claimed to be. They show that His words are true and He is to be heard. There is more, however.
By quoting Isaiah’s passage about the suffering Servant, the miracles of Jesus can be seen as pointing to something even greater than the physical healings. The physical healings were significant, but they were meant to teach greater lessons, too. We see a bit of a progression here:
We move from Griefs and sorrows —> to illnesses and disease —> to sin and spiritual affliction.
If Jesus can heal the physical diseases, He is more than equipped to heal the spiritual afflictions. If He has authority over the physical afflictions and the natural world, then He also has authority over the spiritual ailment of sin and the spiritual world.
We see this pattern in many places. For example:
He heals the paralytic as proof that He can forgive sin (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus was doing something that only God would have the authority to do. He showed that if He can heal the man physically, He also has authority to forgive sin.
Jesus heals the lame man and says there are worse things connected to sin that can happen, so “go and sin no more” (John 5:14). There is something about the nature of sin that makes its consequences worse than anything physical.
He heals the blind man and shows that spiritual blindness is worse than the physical blindness (John 9). Jesus even explicitly ties the concept of blindness to guilt. Some of the Pharisees overheard Jesus talking with the man he healed and they asked, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:40).
On it goes. Jesus carries our griefs and sorrows in many ways, and this can include the physical ailments we might endure. Even more, He carries our griefs and sorrow brought on by sin and offers the solution of forgiveness and reconciliation that leads to a renewed life, reborn in His image.
This is the Gospel.