On August 21, 1911, an Italian immigrant took his revenge upon the nation of France.  Vincenzo Peruggia moved from his native Italy to Paris in hopes of joining its art world.  Peruggia eventually did make it into Paris’ most renowned art museum, the Louvre; however, it was as a handyman and not an artist.  From some reports, Peruggia  was verbally abused by some Parisians, calling him ‘sale macaroni‘ or ‘dirty macaroni,’ an overt and racially charged insult.

As one considers the various avenues of conflict resolution, there are some old standards that come to mind.  First, you can speak with those with whom you have an issue.  This is the peaceful solution to any problem and is the first step with most peaceable and civic-minded citizens.  Noting that Peruggia exacted his revenge in 1911, one might first jump to the conclusion that the Italian immigrant resorted to violence.  If you chose either of those options, sadly, you are wrong.  So how did Peruggia seek revenge upon the people and country that scorned him and made him long to return to his beloved Italy?  He stole the Mona Lisa!

No, your monitor is not displaying that wrong.  Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa.  Believing that Napoleon had stolen it from Italy (he didn’t by the way, da Vinci sold it to Francis I when he moved to Paris to become the court artist), suffering from homesickness, and just a general dislike for the French, Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with da Vinci’s masterpiece hidden under his smock.  The theft is not the most interesting aspect of the story.

Before being stolen, the Mona Lisa was a famous masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci.  It was well-known in most art circles.  Beginning around 1860, it was beginning to gain interest from art critics and art lovers, yet Mona had not reached the iconic status she enjoys today.  Author and historian James Zug states, “The ‘Mona Lisa’ wasn’t even the most famous painting in its gallery, let alone in the Louvre.”[1]  Peruggia’s theft transformed da Vinci’s work from a well-crafted portrait into a world-famous masterpiece overnight.  People rushed to the Louvre and the museum’s attendance steadily rose.

The painting would not return to the Louvre for nearly 2 years.  Peruggia would eventually try to sale the painting and be arrested for the theft.  Mona would take a tour of Italy before being returned to the Salon Carre and reclaim her place on the wall.  In the course of those 2 years, more patrons visited the Louvre to see a blank space upon the wall than had come to the museum in the previous decade.

I read the story of the Mona Lisa and Peruggia in disbelief.  The crime did not surprise me, though I was a bit taken aback with the motive.  My disbelief came from the people’s reaction to the theft.  They marched into a museum filled with masterpieces, yet it was a blank part of a wall that drew their attention.  There was not a drop of paint upon this bare spot.  No brush strokes to analyze, no colors to discern, and certainly no scene to envision.  The people had been drawn by the grandeur of the event.  They did not quite understand it, but they knew it was important.

As I tried to put this into a more modern context, I thought of the church.  Here during the Christmas season many churches see an influx of visitors.  Acquaintances and friends who barely have the time or spiritual inclination to make an appearance show up during the Christmas season.  The allure of the event is too much to be ignored.  But I have to ask, are we missing the big picture?

I believe the answer is a resounding yes.  One of the least offensive narratives of the Gospel story is the birth of Jesus.  His poor earthly father and mother travel in hardship to Bethlehem.  The trip is made especially more difficult because Mary is pregnant and nearing her delivery time.  The story’s tension grows as they reach Bethlehem and find there is no place for them to stay.  Either in greed or mercy, an innkeeper gives them his stable to rest in for the evening.  We assume Joseph and Mary are surrounded by animals, hay, and dirt when the child is born.  They wrap the child in strips of cloth and place him in an animal trough.  Angels sing, shepherds praise, and a star shines in the heavens.  The call comes for peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.  It is an upbeat story.  A beautiful story.  It is also only part of the story.  We are missing the big picture.

Why did Jesus come?  Why did he take on “the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men?” (Phi. 2:7)  While Matthew and Luke go on to answer these important questions, the prophet Isaiah had already painted a beautiful picture that answered these questions.  I shared this portrait with my congregation on Sunday, December 11, 2011.

I.             The Portrait is Made Public (Isa. 53:1-3)

His Coming Announced (v. 1)– Isaiah’s proclamation appears to imply that the coming of this servant has been alluded to before to the nation of Israel.  As NT believers, we know this to be an accurate statement as we look back upon the OT and see the various declarations of God concerning the coming of His Messiah.  Beginning in Genesis 3, the Lord has been promising a Savior for sinful man.  The prophet is making the public proclamation and describing the Christ.  Even in the proclamation, there is an element of foreshadowing concerning what is to come.  The word “arm” that is used in this passage is the Hebrew word zeroah, also used to describe the shank of the lamb that was eaten during the Passover.  Already, this Messiah is being portrayed as the Passover Lamb—a substitutionary death.

His Charm Annulled (vv. 2-3) – I can only imagine how shocked the people were when they first heard Isaiah description of the coming Messiah.  Surely, anyone that God will send will be glorious to behold!  His beauty will radiate, His riches will enthrall, and His life will be the envy of all whom see Him.  Sadly, this is not the picture that Isaiah is painting at all.  Notice the words he uses, “no comeliness; no beauty; despised; rejected; sorrow; and grief.”

Matthew Henry says, “No where in all the Old Testament is it so plainly and fully prophesied, that Christ ought to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, as in this chapter. But to this day few discern, or will acknowledge, that Divine power which goes with the word. The authentic and most important report of salvation for sinners, through the Son of God, is disregarded. The low condition he submitted to, and his appearance in the world, were not agreeable to the ideas the Jews had formed of the Messiah. It was expected that he should come in pomp; instead of that, he grew up as a plant, silently, and insensibly. He had nothing of the glory which one might have thought to meet with him. His whole life was not only humble as to outward condition, but also sorrowful. Being made sin for us, he underwent the sentence sin had exposed us to. Carnal hearts see nothing in the Lord Jesus to desire an interest in him. Alas! by how many is he still despised in his people, and rejected as to his doctrine and authority!”

II.            The Portrait is Marred (Isa. 53:4-9)

In the classic book The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde tells the fanciful story of young Dorian Gray.  He is attractive, rich, and is quickly becoming the talk of London.  Having been corrupted by a hedonistic noble, Dorian begins to believe that beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life.  After seeing a portrait of himself, Dorian wishes for the portrait to grow old, but for himself to remain forever young and beautiful.  His wish is granted.  The picture begins to change and reflect the sinfulness of Dorian’s life and ways.  The book is a lesson that everything beautiful is not good and vice versa.

Isaiah has not painted what many would consider a very flattering portrait thus far.  He has described the Messiah as one who is without beauty, rejected, and despised.  However, we must continue reading to find the true beauty of this picture.  Before we get there, we must first see how the portrait is marred.

The Servant is Sin-Bearing (vv. 4-6) – These verses recognize that the Messiah was to die for the sins of others and not His own iniquities.  All the punishment that is received is undeserved if the Messiah’s actions are taken into account.  It is our actions that are being considered though, and unlike this servant of God, we are not without sin.  Isaiah states that people will look upon His suffering and assume that God is punishing Him for his own transgressions.  As we think to the scene at the cross, the Jews shook their heads, mocked, and cursed Him just as Isaiah describes here.  They thought God had brought judgment upon Jesus for his own actions, when in reality, God was pouring our sin upon Him.

The Servant is Silent (v. 7) – Though He was innocent, He spoke not a word.  Jesus is recognized as the Lamb of God in the NT (John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:6), and here more detail is added to the picture.  The Messiah will be the sacrificial lamb of God.  He will resemble that sacrificial lamb that was introduced in Exodus (Exo. 12:3, 6); who through sacrifice and substitution was able to save lives.

The Servant is Slain (vv. 8-9) – So there is no mistake as to what is implied in the text, Isaiah tells us, “he is cut off from the land of the living.”  The death of this servant is a certainty for there is no other way to pay the harsh penalty of sin.

 III.          The Portrait is Magnified (Isa. 53:10-12)

The Seed of the Servant – What is the seed spoken of here?  It is the effect of Messiah’s labor and work.  Offspring will be produced through this righteous work.  And He will see that fruit of his labors.  This is a foreshadowing to me of the resurrection.  Isaiah has already told us that he was cut off from the land of the living.  And now, He will witness His offspring/seed.

The Satisfaction of the Servant – Not only will He see the fruit of His labors, but He will be satisfied.  If    the death that took place in verse 8 were permanent, then these final verses would be illogical.  Something miraculous is going to have to take place if the Messiah is going to see His offspring and be satisfied with the redemption of humanity.

The Spoil of the Servant – There is a reference to great victory in this final verse of chapter 12.  Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage, “To the victor go the spoils.”  This is in reference to the winning army taking the treasures of the defeated.  The servant is said to “divide the spoil with the strong.”  Will the Messiah be victorious?  The answer is a resounding yes!