Editor's Note: This is an edited version of the recorded Bible study under this title at Truthtellers.org.
In Isaiah 52 and 53, the prophet describes the coming Messiah, Jesus, as “marred more than any man…There is no beauty that we should desire Him.” This may refer to the battered, bloody Jesus on the cross, or He could have been exactly as Isaiah describes: not handsome or even physically attractive but, as the apostle Paul describes himself, weak in physical presence.
God insists His mighty redemption and deliverance not be attributable to physical or intellectual prowess but to Him alone. Christ, Creator of His own body, exemplified this principle.
We should not be surprised to see God also mar those things the Christian most desires to be perfect. Being human, we love beauty, order, efficiency and predictability. Even sincere Christians highly value these things. But God has much higher purposes in mind—purposes often accomplished through ugliness, disorder, inefficiency and startling surprises!
Let’s consider how Jesus, Jehovah of the Scriptures, marred and allowed the marring of His greatest saints.
God promised Abraham a male heir; but, for the bulk of their lives, God kept Sarah infertile. He wanted Isaac to be a miracle.
Jacob came into this world destined to carry the birthright torch of belief in the one true God, a belief leading to Jesus. He was marred by being second born to his twin brother, Esau, who inherited the birthright privilege. Yet when Jacob obtained the birthright by divinely ordained deceit (link to Bible study on Jacob and Esau) and was blessed by God, God smote him with a hip out of joint. This was a tremendous difficulty, especially for a herdsman, disabled for the remainder of his long life. It was the price he paid for extraordinary blessing and promises. As a youthful shepherd living with his uncle Laban, Jacob’s life was further marred when God allowed him to be married to a wife, Leah, whom he didn’t love. His true love, Rachel, was marred by inability to conceive and bore only two children including the vastly important type of Christ the Deliverer, Joseph.
Job may have lived before Moses and was regarded by God as the most righteous man on earth. Yet, like Christ, he was honored to pay for it by becoming the object of a wager between God and the devil. The question was: Would Job still trust God if all his many children were killed and he were marred virtually beyond recognition, his entire body covered with boils? Job prevailed and remains perhaps the very greatest encouragement to all who suffer similar inexplicable marring by the permission of God.
The children of Israel spent 400 years in Egypt, most of it as slaves. Surely, when finally liberated, they could exit Egypt in an orderly, relaxed way. Instead, God required them to depart in haste. He commanded them to eat bitter herbs rather than feast and celebrate. This symbolized how urgent it is to flee sin.
Moses was severely marred by a serious speech impediment that destroyed his self-confidence. He repeatedly contradicted God’s assurances that He would empower and protect Moses against Pharaoh. When the Hebrews finally crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the Egyptian army drowned, all credit went to God, not Moses.
Gideon was marred by being the least in his poor family, yet he was courageous through his faith in God. The world would say he became fatally marred, however, when God stripped his forces against the Midianites from 30,000 to 300, only one percent. God delighted to give Israel victory in a way that left the Hebrews no boast--through the surprised flashing of lanterns and shout of “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" The encamped Midianites thought a vast army was upon them and in their panic fled.
Naomi was a godly Jewess whose life was marred by famine, forcing her into the land of Moab where her husband and both her sons died. Yet, in Moab, God gave her a faithful devout daughter-in-law, Ruth, who married a prosperous Jewish farmer, Boaz. She became the founding mother of a godly line through David which brought forth Jesus.
Perhaps one of the severest forms of marring in the Old Testament was the prophets being almost utterly rejected by the Hebrews, persecuted or even killed. Jonah experienced such rejection by Israel, so God sent him to gentile Nineveh. (link to Bible study on Jonah or repentance of Nineveh)
As expression of their utter contempt for God’s truth, the Jews lowered Jeremiah into the depths of a miry dungeon. He would have died there except for the persuasions and rebuke of a righteous Ethiopian.
When Daniel received his vast prophetic visions, God required him to pay the price of marring. He became so weak on several occasions that he could only lie on his face. Only the grace of God allowed Daniel’s strength to be restored enough to record his visions.
Similarly, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul was transported to the third heaven and “heard things not lawful to be uttered” yet also had to pay a price. The messenger of Satan afflicted him with a perhaps painful and disfiguring eye disease. Later, he was chained as a political prisoner of the Lord, perhaps until his death. Yet in this he enunciated as never before or since the divine principle that God’s power is perfected in human weakness, an immeasurable comfort to generations of suffering Christians.
Finally, Peter was marred by a limited, legalistic mind which caused him to not see God's big picture. As a result, he had to be repeatedly rebuked. Yet, recovering from correction, his dogged determination helped him triumph in the Lord. Eventually, according to Catholic tradition, at his request he was crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to be crucified like his Lord.
Is God’s marring of His saints only a phenomenon of the Bible? As long as people are tempted to feel being moral is about doing good things or that they through their own efforts deserve credit for having done good or defeated evil, God will continue to mar those He loves. He is eternally at war with our human tendency to imagine ourselves sufficient because we are smart, efficient, creative, hard-working or responsible. Even after we give our hearts entirely to Christ, we are wired by nature to feel pleasure and even self-congratulation in a job well done.
Although necessary for life and normal development and morally neutral, this tendency can also lead us away from God as our supplier. Jesus said, “Without me, ye can do nothing.” If not for the empowerments and protections of God, Satan would destroy or completely deceive us in an instant. The Christian is sustained in victory over sin by the power of Christ's sufferings when He was marred beyond recognition at Calvary. We are upheld and oriented by the Holy Spirit Jesus promised would lead us into all truth. We can do nothing on our own, as Jesus couldn’t except by permission of the Father.
All aspects of human security can compete with God as our only deliverer. Our abilities and proven ways of solving problems, getting ourselves out of the Egypts in our lives, crossing our Red Seas, or even entering into our promised land of career or personal fulfillment, must be subject to God’s marring. "For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." (Heb. 12:6) A scourge is a whip with sharp pieces of metal on the tips. Lashes leave scars. Let us not be disheartened or even surprised when we or those things we treasure most are marred in circumstances beyond control and which must have occurred by divine permission.
Of course, I do not mean being marred by our own sin. Such does not come by God’s permission, but by our rebellion.
Instead, let us rejoice that, as Jesus was marred more than any man, we have the privilege to share His wounds. Scripture says we can do more than simply accept what comes to us. We can, like Jesus, despise the shame of our rough and splintered cross with its heaviness, bowing us down. We can rejoice in the cross of Christ and in the unique cross God has entrusted each of us to carry. Unlike Christ on His cross, we have not become sin through carrying it and the Father has not turned His face away from us. Rather, all our marrings work together for our good and the good of others. Christ works our tribulations for a much greater good, the exaltation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the only source of life and goodness and deliverance from the terrible and eternal disfigurements of sin.
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