Man of Sorrows. What a name.
Isaiah penned some of the most memorable lines in all the Bible when he prophesied about God’s coming “suffering servant”:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)
We know from the New Testament, and the realizing of Isaiah’s words 700 years later, that this suffering servant would be not only the promised Messiah, but God himself — God’s own Son, come to rescue his people, by receiving in himself the justice they deserved. How can God himself, the happiest being in the universe, not only become man, but “a man of sorrows”?
Isaiah’s next words give the answer: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. In his mission to save us, he entered not only into our flesh and blood but into our sorrows. And yet, even as prescient and memorable as Isaiah’s prophecy is, nowhere does the New Testament refer to Jesus as “man of sorrows.” Yes, he carried our sorrows, and he even had his own, but he was so much more than a man of sorrows. Fundamentally, he was a man of something much stronger.
Sustained in Sorrow
Jesus could not have borne our griefs and carried our sorrows had he not been buoyed by something deeper and more enduring. Imagine what emotional strength it must have taken to fulfill the words of Isaiah 50:6:
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
Did he ever taste sorrow. He entered into our sin-haunted environment and felt our infirmities, making himself able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). He spoke a blessing to those who mourn and weep (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21). At the tomb of his friend, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). He wept (John 11:35). Then he was “deeply moved again” (John 11:38).
How was he sustained in the sorrows he encountered, not just in the course of normal human life, but in the unique steps he took as the suffering servant?
Deep, Habitual Joy
The surprising testimony of the Gospels is that Jesus was a man of unparalleled and unshakeable joy. “A joyless life would have been a sinful life,” writes Donald Macleod, “Jesus experienced deep, habitual joy” (Person of Christ, 171). While the Gospels focus on the objective, external aspects of his ministry, we do get a few precious peeks.
Not only was the divine Son infinitely happy with his Father before and during the foundation of the world (Proverbs 8:30–31), but the angels announced his human arrival as “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). He came, writes Warfield, “as a conqueror with the gladness of the imminent victory in his heart.” Hebrews 1:9 takes away any guesswork as to whether Psalm 45:7 addresses Jesus: “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” King David had written about the joy that his great descendant would experience from God: “You make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence” (Psalm 21:6). Jesus likened himself to a bridegroom (Mark 2:18–20), and his dour opponents accused him of having too much joy (Luke 7:34). He even taught that joy was essential in receiving his kingdom (Matthew 13:44).
We see Jesus’s own joy when he makes himself the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep. What does he do when he finds his lost sheep? “Truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray” (Matthew 18:13). “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:5–7).
Jesus even casts himself as the woman in the parable of the lost coin. To what effect? We glimpse his own joy. “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:9–10).
Delight in His Father
We catch a double glimpse in Luke 10:17–22. First, when the seventy-two return with joy, celebrating that even the demons are subject to them in Jesus’s name, he challenges the source of their exuberance. “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Rejoice not in ministry fruit that is yours, but in your Father who has made you his. The joy that fed and sustained Jesus himself was not the sermons he gave, the sick he healed, even the dead he raised, but the relationship he had with his Father. The bottom of his joy was not what he did in the world but whose he was.
This is confirmed in the second glimpse in verses 21–22. He “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” and said,
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
He delights in being a child of his Father. He delights in childlike dependence (John 5:19, 30; 8:28; 12:49). He delights in receiving from his Father, and being known by his Father, and knowing his Father, and bringing others into knowing his Father. As the living embodiment of Psalm 16 (as confirmed in Acts 2:25), he says,
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. . . . You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:8–9, 11)
Anguish, for Joy
Yet what was the place of his joy, then, in the week (and in the moments) when it mattered most? When he came to the cross, as sorrow after sorrow compounded with pain after pain, even then, would the joy that came from his relationship with his Lord be his strength (Nehemiah 8:10)?
Rightly do we sing of his cross as “my burden gladly bearing.” He walked the path of obedience, into the lion’s mouth, to the holocaust, toward the gates of hell itself, not by mere duty. He fulfilled his calling with no less heart than he would expect of his undershepherds: “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2). Being willing and eager, not duty-bound, was no added extra. It was essential. Such was “as God would have” it. “Such joy,” writes Macleod, “was an indispensable element in the psychology of his obedience.” He offered himself not begrudgingly, or from obligation, but through his own willing eternal spirit (Hebrews 9:14).
Isaiah had prophesied, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). Yes, there was anguish. But a satisfying sight beyond the pain that lay before him sustained him in the crucible. At his Last Supper, we see the anguish, and the joy that held him. He strengthened his own soul as he prepared his men:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20–22)
It would be true for his men because it would be true for him first. His sorrows would turn to joy. He would endure “the anguish, for joy.” And not for a thin, short-lived pleasure, but for one that no one could ever take away.
Joy Set Before Him
In the garden, the night before he died, he was “sorrowful and troubled” and confessed, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:37–38). In the agonies of his betrayal by a friend, denial by a disciple, trial by corrupt rulers, mocking and scourging by godless soldiers, and crucifixion in public, how was he sustained? By joy. “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus endured the most difficult, most shameful, least righteous, most unfitting anguish any human had faced, or ever will — and did so “for the joy that was set before him.” How, then, for those of us who call ourselves his people, “Christians,” little christs, can joy in God not explode with significance for everyday life?
He Gives His Own Joy
How can we not listen when such a man of joy — joy so deep and durable that it would send him willingly into such jaws — turns to us and says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12)? “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Jesus is no hypocrite when he tells us to rejoice. He is the man of joys, drawing us into his own. He wants our joy to be full (John 16:24). Misery may love company, but the fullness of joy is even more contagious.
One of the most astounding claims Jesus makes on the night before he died is that he will not leave us to the paucity of our own joy. He wants his joy to be ours — not just that we would have joy, but that we would have his joy. The very joy of the Son of God himself poured into our souls. And he says it twice so that we don’t miss it.
First, to his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). How attractive his joy must have been to those who knew him best, his own disciples, for him to make this statement to them. If Jesus had been morose or sullen, there would have been no appeal to “that my joy may be in you.” But if he is the man of joys, if he indeed has been anointed with the oil of gladness beyond his companions, then how could we not want to share in his joy?
Second, then, he prays to his Father, “Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). Jesus is the happiest being in the universe. As God’s Son, and God himself, he is “the happy God” (1 Timothy 1:11). As human, he is the most truly joyful, satisfied soul who has ever lived — so satisfied that he embraced the greatest anguish. And now, wonder of all wonders, he not only wants to make us happy, but he pours his own joy into us. “Christ not only offers himself as the divine object of my joy,” writes John Piper, “but pours his capacity for joy into me, so that I can enjoy him with the very joy of God” (Seeing and Savoring, 36).
How He Does It
How does he pour his own capacity for joy into us? The common thread between John 15:11 and John 17:13 is through his words. “These things I have spoken” (John 15:11). “These things I speak” (John 17:13). Let us not treat it lightly that the very Word of God (John 1:1, 14; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 19:13) has spoken to us in the words of his apostles and prophets (Luke 11:49; Ephesians 2:20; 2 Peter 3:2), and that through his words, by his Spirit, we now taste his own joy.
Paul calls it “the joy of the Holy Spirit” when he calls us not just to imitate Jesus’s sufferings but his joy in them: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). And if, in this joy of the Spirit, we now “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8), what fullness will we enjoy in the life to come?
Is it any wonder, then, what words might hold the most promise and grace for eternity? What will we hear at that climactic moment when we come to the end of this life, and pass over into the next? How might the man of joys, deeper than all sorrows, welcome his own into his presence? What might he say to those to whom he pledged to give his own joy and expand our capacity to enjoy his Father with his own sonly delight?
Again, he says it twice: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
53 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.
23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.
34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
30 Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
31 Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
6 For thou hast made him most blessed for ever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.
34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
18 And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
22 All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
16 Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.
2 O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee;
3 But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.
4 Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.
5 The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.
6 The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
7 I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
8 I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
11 Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
25 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
21 A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
49 Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.
8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.