The travail of his soul
Concerning the Lord Jesus, the prophet Isaiah foretold: “he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied” (53:11, RSV). I want to offer a short meditation on this strange, sweet prophecy.
Isaiah uses the word “travail” to describe Jesus’ anguish and suffering. In Gethsemane and at Golgotha, he endured indescribable pain to atone for, to make amends for, our sins.
While Jesus’ physical suffering was horrendous, it is not Isaiah’s primary focus. Rather, he speaks of “the travail of his soul”. This reminds us that Jesus’ suffering was much more than physical. It was spiritual as well. He suffered spiritual torment when he was polluted by our sins and abandoned by his Father. In the garden and on the cross, he experienced anguish in his soul, agony in the depths of his being.
And yet Jesus’ spiritual torment was not without purpose. Something resulted from it. Something grew out of it. His travail produced fruit. And that fruit is each and every Christian. We—all of us who trust in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins—we are the fruit of the travail of his soul!
Isaiah’s language has overtones of pregnancy and birth. Elsewhere in the Bible, an unborn child is called the “fruit” of the womb and the pain of childbirth is called “travail”. The Lord Jesus suffered for a reason, a joyful reason. Just as our mothers suffered to give birth to us physically, so Jesus suffered to give birth to us spiritually. It is by virtue of his suffering that we have been born anew. It is by virtue of his suffering that we have become the children of God.
As a husband and father, I have witnessed the births of five children. And on the basis of my experience, I have come to appreciate one thing in particular about a mother when her travail is over. After the pain of childbirth, a mother looks upon her child and is satisfied. The instant she sees her infant, her anguish is replaced by contentment and gladness.
I wrote a poem about this abrupt change after the birthing from suffering to satisfaction:
I recall it still,
that look on her face after
the long agony—
that radiance as she held
our baby red with her blood.
For a husband, that radiance, that elation, on his wife’s face in the delivery room is itself almost as astonishing and as welcome as the arrival of the newborn son or daughter. As he watches her gaze upon her infant, he realises that she is utterly content with the “fruit” of her suffering, and counts it more than worth all the discomforts of gestation and the agonies of delivery she has had to endure.
And so it is with the Lord Jesus. Isaiah says, “he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied”. Jesus is satisfied with the fruits of his suffering—that is to say, he is satisfied with us! He looks on us without regret. He considers that we were worth the price.
Jesus’ satisfaction arises not only from the fruit itself but also from the sight of that fruit: “he shall see … and be satisfied”. Here is a prophecy of the resurrection. Jesus is not like a soldier who lays down his life for his country and yet never knows if his sacrifice is worthwhile. The soldier’s death may have helped save his people, but he cannot see that from the grave. Jesus, how-ever, rose from the grave and is alive forever more. He can and does see the results of his atoning sacrifice. And what he sees satisfies him.
Isaiah’s prophecy brings to light the true nature of our Saviour’s feelings about us. He feels happy and content with us.
When we understand this extraordinary fact, we are heartened in two practical ways. Firstly, we are stimulated to live in a manner that is pleasing to Jesus. Knowing he is satisfied with us, we want to do all we can to bolster his satisfaction. Secondly, we are encouraged to set our affections on Jesus. Knowing he is satisfied with us, we want to show that we in turn are satisfied with him.