“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Is 53.3a-b, 4a-b).
Oscar Wilde tells a fascinating story in his book The Picture of Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward paints a portrait of Dorian Gray-a young, handsome, strapping young man. Enamored by Dorian’s beauty, Lord Henry Wotton encourages Dorian to take every advantage of his good looks, sparing himself no expense or pleasure. As the portrait is completed Dorian wishes that rather than he aging, the Dorian in the portrait would age.
With the wish granted Dorian sows seeds of hedonism knowing he will never grow old. With each hedonistic pleasure the portrait grows more and more cruel, decrepit, and ugly. At one point Dorian locks the portrait away so no one will see it.
When Dorian is 38-years-old (though still appearing 20) he meets Basil Hallward again and shows him the portrait. Basil is horrified as the portrait reflected years of sin and shame. He urges Dorian to repent of his hedonistic life. Offended, Dorian stabs Basil to death and burns his body. No one ever knew about the murder, but the portrait assumed an eerie blood stain.
Dorian’s conscience dogged him. He had gotten away with the murder forever, hiding behind his youth. Dorian did not count on his youth working against him. Though he would enjoy pleasures forever, he would also endure guilt forever. His only way out of his guilt, he thought, was to destroy the portrait and regain his life. He took the knife used to kill Basil and slices the portrait. When folks arrived to tend to the noise, they found a beautiful portrait of young Dorian Gray (as if untouched) and an old, horrible, hideous man lying dead on the floor. The only remedy for Dorian was that he die, not the portrait.
In this last scene, Wilde gets in the mind of Dorian Gray: “But his murder—was it to dog him all this life? Was he always to be burdened by his past? Was he really to confess? Never. There was only one bit of evidence left against him. The picture itself—that was evidence.”
What Dorian Gray hated about his portrait was in reality himself and the effects of his sin. Likewise, what we recoil at in horror as we look on the bloody Christ is our filthiness. What we despise and pity in Christ’s passion is our nature! All the vulgarity, brutality, gore, respulsiveness and hatred was the gravity of our sin that Jesus became (Is 53.5; 2 Cor 5.21). Jesus is not to be pitied as one suffering injustice. It is we who need pitying as reason for the injustice.
Like Dorian Gray we may think we’ve found a way around the guilt and consequence of our sin. There may be no one who knows the depth of your sin and darkness of your soul. The murder weapon is spotless and the body burned. But, there is still one piece of unmistakable evidence—the cross. There does all the world see the vulgarity of our sin. There do I see the real me; there is the real portrait of who I am. Thomas Kelly captures this well in his hymn entitled “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” (1804):
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.
However, the cross is merely our “before” picture. The resurrected Christ is our “after” picture. There is no greater an extreme makeover! We will be like him as surely as he became like us (Rom 8.29; Phil 3.21).