"Surely our griefs, He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed." - Isaiah 53:4-5
One of the most amazing things about the significance of Jesus' death is that it's most detailed description and the clearest enunciation of its atoning value is found, not in the New Testament Scriptures but in the Old! The Gospels, of course, tell us a lot about the events leading up to and following after Christ's death by crucifixion. But when it comes to the crucifixion itself Matthew says only "and when they had crucified Him…" (Matthew 27:35). The other Gospel writers are equally terse about what it meant for Jesus to be crucified. This is perhaps because their contemporary readers would have known what it meant, having themselves seen numerous examples of it as it was a common form of punishment under the Romans. Yet if we turn, for example, to Psalm 22and Isaiah 53 we find vivid descriptions of a torturous death that can only be understood as death by scourging and crucifixion, prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus' birth.
Even though the Gospels (Mark 10:45; John 3:14,15) provide a few brief statements of the atoning work of Christ's sufferings and death and the Epistles give quite a few more, nothing can compare with the lengthy and eloquent testimony found in Isaiah 53. So often, we find these verses as useful in conveying the truth of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, if not more so, than any we find in the New Testament Scriptures. With this in mind, let us turn to one statement found in Isaiah 53:5 that gives us a powerful insight into what it meant that Jesus died for us: "He was crushed for our iniquities."
I was puzzled about this statement because of the company it keeps, being sandwiched between "pierced through [or wounded - KJV] for our transgressions" and the "chastening" and "scourging" mentioned afterward. These expressions were literally fulfilled. Jesus was indeed pierced through or wounded, in his hands, feet and side. InPsalm 22:16, the Lord says through David, "They pierced My hands and My feet." We also know that Jesus was scourged by the Romans prior to His crucifixion. So then, why does Isaiah 53:5 mention that He was crushed? Jesus was not literally crushed, although His physical heart experienced tremendous pressure as it expanded again the lungs and rib cage under the effects of crucifixion and His breathing would have become so difficult that it would feel as though He were being crushed. Still, it made me look for another possible meaning.
That meaning I found in the Hebrew word itself. It has not only a physical meaning but also a psychological one. It can also be translated as "contrite" or "contrited" (this latter is not an actual English word but reflects the verb form in Hebrew). An example of this isPsalm 51:17 - "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." Also, God says, "I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of thecontrite." (Isaiah 57:15) God complains of the Israelites, "But they have not becomecontrite even to this day, nor have they feared nor walked in My law or My statutes, which I have set before you and before your fathers." (Jeremiah 44:10) This is the same Hebrew word translated "crushed" in Isaiah 53:5 - "He was crushed for our iniquities." So what does this mean?
The answer is found in verse 10 - "But the LORD was pleased to crush (or contrite)Him, putting Him to grief." Then, in verse 11 - "As a result of the anguish of His soul, He [God] will see it and be satisfied…" Contrition means being truly sorry for our sins, sorry enough to change our evil ways. But Jesus had done nothing wrong. AsIsaiah 53:9 says, "He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth." Jesus was not feeling anguish of soul for His own sins but for ours! In a sense, He repented for us. C. S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, calls Jesus "the Perfect Penitent." By this he means that Jesus provided the frame of mind that sinners need in order to be reconciled to God. We must repent in order to be saved but while remaining in a sinful frame of mind we may desire to repent but we will not do it (Romans 8:7). In such a case, we are in the Romans 7:19 bind: "For the good I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want."
To truly repent, we must look away from ourselves to Jesus and receive His Spirit. God promises to pour out on us "the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn." (Zechariah 12:10) This was to begin with the House of David and with the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as it did on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) but the promise, as Peter points out, is to "all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." (Verse 39)
When we feel our lost condition and realize our bondage to sin, we must, by faith, turn our attention to Jesus and consider what He endured because of our sins and for our salvation, including how He identified Himself with us in our sins and took the position of a penitent sinner before God on our behalf. As the Spirit reveals to us the awful reality of this, we will become clothed with the mind of Christ and mourn for what our sins have done to Him and fling them behind us as an unclean thing and hateful to our souls. This is true repentance and such as will satisfy God and bring peace to our conscience as we fully realize, "He was crushed (contrited) for our iniquities."