Bearing Our Iniquity

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6).

- Isaiah 52:13–53:12

Mark Twain once wrote that “forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Though this man was by no means a Christian, this quote does depict the biblical truth that true forgiveness never comes without a cost to the forgiver. Though crushed, the violet refuses to withhold a good gift but absorbs the crushing blow, blessing the heel that has injured it. The same thing happens every time forgiveness is offered — the offended person, while not overlooking or denying the hurt, refuses to hold the hurt against the offender over the offender’s head permanently. The offended blesses the offender with the promise of real reconciliation and fellowship when the offending party repents and asks for pardon.

Such costly acts of forgiveness among violets and heels and people do not even barely approximate the cost the Suffering Servant paid to forgive us. Isaiah 52:13– 53:12, the best known of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs,” depicts this cost most vividly. For the Lord to finally forgive those men and women who trust in His promises of redemption, the offended party must incur a cost. In this case, the offended party is God Himself, who incurred the cost of the death of His only begotten Son. We were reminded yesterday of how the Davidic king represented the nation of Israel and how Christ, as the Davidic king par excellence, is the ultimate representation of the people of God. This Davidic king, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, had to be “cut off” for our forgiveness (53:8). Being cut off is a biblical way of referring to divine judgment (Num. 9:13), and so we see the glory of Isaiah’s prophecy and the work of the Suffering Servant. It is one thing not to charge the offender the full cost that forgiveness requires but quite another for the offended person, who has done no wrong, to pay the cost himself. This is what our Father did for us — He paid our cost by sending His Son to be the Suffering Servant so that we might be accounted righteous (Isa. 53:11).

Jesus bore our iniquity that we might not have to bear it ourselves in hell. Like the sheep that consents to His master’s leading and goes even to the slaughter, so too did Christ consent to His Father’s plan to save His people (v. 7). His consent took the place of our rebellion, and so He became the atoning sacrifice of which the bulls and goats of the old covenant Day of Atonement were but a pale anticipation (Heb. 10:4).

Coram Deo

Though the costs we incur to forgive are real, they by no means approach the high price Jesus had to pay to extend His grace to us. We should therefore forgive others willingly, refusing to hold the full cost of their sins over their heads (whether or not they ask for our pardon). When we withhold forgiveness, we fail to imitate our Creator, who suffered the death of His Son, which Son died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:6–8).

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 33
Colossians 3:12–13

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343