“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)
We tend to look at the cross only from the side. That is a tragedy. Tragic because it fails to behold glory; tragic because it fails to wonder at love; tragic because it fails to see the heart of the Gospel.
A “horizontal perspective” of the cross will not reveal the deepest sufferings of Jesus. Of course the physical agony from nails thrust into Jesus’ hands was real. And the emotional suffering of man betrayed and abandoned by His closest friends was real. And the anguish of being unjustly condemned and mercilessly mocked was real. But to see only these pains is to fail to see the Gospel.
What we need is a “top-down” look at the cross, that is to say a “vertical perspective.” The most important question we can ask ourselves when we are gaze at the agony that is happening on the cross is not how big the nails are, or how lonely the Savior felt after being abandoned by His friends, or how traumatic it was to be unjustly condemned. The most important question we can ask is “what is happening between the God the Father and His Son at the Place of the Skull?”
What does this “vertical look” at the cross reveal? It reveals the Savior “Smitten of God.” It reveals the Father pouring out furious, righteous wrath on His Son. It reveals the Son suffering the torment for our sin. Jesus is not like other men when He dies on the cross; He is not like the thieves on His right and on His left. His suffering is not like their suffering; His pains are not like their pains. On the cross the Savior is absorbing infinite wrath; crushed in the hands of an angry God.
Why? Because “The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” Isaiah informs us that the wrath poured out on Christ was wrath reserved for sinners. But Jesus dies in their place. He is tormented for their sin. He suffers the penalty of wrath as a substitute for sinners. He endures what we could not and He conquers what we could not overcome. And by all this “we are healed.” What a tragedy to see the cross only from the side. But when we look at the sufferings of Calvary from the top-down we can, with awestruck wonder, say with Paul, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).