Probably everyone has seen the poem "Footsteps In The Sand" pinned on the bathroom wall or down the hallway of one of our relative's homes. It's the one about a man who has a vision in which Jesus carries him, unbeknown at the time, through the darkest and most desolate times of his life. It has become almost a household standard in the United States, surely for anyone over 30years of age. But there is something special about it - something that stirs our hearts. It's one thing to be encouraged and challenged by those you love, it is entirely another thing to be lifted and carried through your greatest times of trial. That type of sacrifice resonates in us - even beyond our understanding.
I was just struck by the passage in Matthew 8:14-17 where Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law. The last verse in that section leapt off the page at me. Verse 16 says, "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. V.17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'" The contrast lay in this: Jesus is healing people and driving out demons, as we see throughout the New Testament, but here Matthew interprets Jesus' action through the lenses of Old Testament prophecy as one who carries our diseases. So often we read through Jesus' miraculous acts as if he were only a benevolent dictator, destroying the works of those he hates, and going on about his business of pleasure. But Isaiah paints a different sort of rescue.
Isaiah says that Jesus didn't just remove our burdens, he lifted the burdens from us - AND PLACED THEM ON HIS OWN SHOULDERS.
Once there was a village of people that were forced to leave their beautiful valley and take flight to the mountain peaks above because their land was being flooded with ravaging torrents of rain. Each carried what they must in order to survive on the heights above, less they avoid the floods only to starve on the mountaintops. In short time, however, it became apparent that the journey up the jagged peaks was too much for even the strongest among them. Yet the waters rose ever nearer. One by one they would be swept away in the torrent. To leave their burdens would mean death above, but to carry them would mean death below. When all seemed utterly lost, suddenly one appeared running down the mountain. He had no burden. He leapt past those highest on the peak and made his way down to those nearest the water's tumultuous fury. With tremendous power and skill he lifted their heavy loads and carried the burdens himself - all the while moving the exhausted people up the mountain to a precipice of safety. As the waters rose, he worked ferociously, exhausting ever ounce of his energy in the rescue. In a final selfless act, he heaved the last person over the edge to safety. As he did so, his body - utterly depleted of strength - sank back into the waters and was lost. The people looked at one another in utter and solemn amazement. Not only had he rescued their lives, but he'd made complete provision for them to live, having carried their loads and bringing them all to safety. They all noted that the man himself had left the protection of the heights above to enter their struggle, carry their burdens, and sacrifice his life so that they might now live.
Perhaps our gratitude and affection for Christ would be different if we realized that before he destroyed our sins, he first carried them where we could not. And having nailed them to the cross, he made provision for us through his death - and resurrection, to be forever called sons and daughters of the most high God.