June 15, 2012
The Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) in his poem Man was Made to Mourn states a timeless and universal truth when he wrote: ‘Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!’ Since the murder of Abel by his hate filled brother Cain the human race has torn itself
apart by conflict, violence and cruelty causing rivers of bloodto flow and stain this earth. The story of human misery and suffering not only fills the pages of history books, but sadly continues to dominate the headlines of newspapers and the content of newscasts around the world everyday.
In the midst of human pain and tragedy, God’s character if not His very existence is often questioned.
He is after all supposed to be an all-powerful and loving God, so where is He in the hour of suffering? And why doesn’t He do something about the activity of evil in our world? Unfortunately, our attitude and at times, arrogance frequently portray our ignorance of the ways of God with men. When it comes to God and the Bible we are quick to assume knowledge without understanding and to pass judgment without evidence.
The truth is that the ultimate of all suffering occurred when God’s own Son, the Sinless Christ, known in this world as Jesus of Nazareth was rejected by men and nailed to a Cross outside of Jerusalem, Friday April 3, A.D. 33*. Indeed, as the Lord Jesus hung on the cross the men responsible for His crucifixion mocked Him regarding the seeming absence of any intervention from God to save Him: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’”(Matthew 27:43). Of course these religious leaders did profess belief in God , but they didn’t believe in Jesus and therefore their scorn was directed against Him personally and His situation on the cross was proof to them that He wasn’t the Son of God. But their words of scornful challenge do raise the same questions mentioned above - where was God in the hour of Christ’s suffering? And why didn’t He deliver His Son from the evil hands that crucified Him?
Understanding from the Bible why Christ suffered opens our minds to God’s purpose and provision for this world regarding the present and the future. Just as God’s apparent absence at the cross was in fact the evidence of His love toward sinners, so His apparent disinterest in the affairs of men today is actually a display of His mercy as people everywhere are given the opportunity to repent and believe the gospel unto salvation. Think about it; men are free to live and act as they want in the world for good or for evil; that is the reality and consequences of human freedom. This however, does not mean that God is oblivious to all that is happening or that He does not care, rather it is that God is presently dealing with the world in grace not judgment. The day of judgment is in the future as the Bible states: ‘He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead’ (Acts 17:31). There is a day of reckoning for every individual for though the justice of God may seem slow, it is absolutely sure. The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way: ‘Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God’ (8:11-13).
The Identity of the Christ
It is who Christ is that makes His sufferings so infinitely significant. The Bible states again and again that the man called Jesus was indeed divine, the very and only Son of God. On one occasion when at the pool named Bethesda in Jerusalem the Lord Jesus healed a man who had afflicted with a debilitating disease for some thirty eight years . Afterwards He was confronted by the Jews for performing this miracle on the Sabbath day, a day which they observed as sacrosanct to the extent that they would rather have seen a person remain sick than be healed for they considered that to be work and therefore a violation of the day of rest. The Lord Jesus responded to their misguided and murderous zeal by reminding them that His work was in partnership with His Father, the God they claimed to be serving: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” This statement just further antagonized them and they ‘sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God’ (John 5:17-18). These Jews refused to believe what the Lord Jesus said about Himself despite the evidence supporting His claim, but they knew exactly what He meant when He called God His Father. To be the Son of God (not a son of God) means equality with God and therefore to share the very nature of God. The Bible constantly and continually emphasis the deity (the divine nature) of the Lord Jesus Christ. The following verses from the Bible unequivocally state who Christ is:
‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over [superior to] all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist’ (Colossians 1:13-17).
‘Who being the brightness of His [God’s] glory and the express image of His [God’s] person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Hebrews 1:3).
The wonder of the gospel is that the eternal Son of God, by whom the Father created the universe, became truly man without ever ceasing to be divine in order to endure the sufferings of the cross for the glory of His Father and the salvation of the lost.
The Prophecies concerning the Christ
Among the proofs which demonstrate that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God is the fulfillment of prophecy. Centuries before the Christ ever came ‘holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21) concerning ‘the sufferings of Christ and glories that should follow’ (1 Peter 1:12). The prophet Isaiah foretold the suffering and triumph of Jehovah’s Servant, who is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, some seven centuries before the time! (52:13-53:12). Psalm 22 was written some ten centuries before the coming of the Christ, yet it not only relates His experience as the forsaken but victorious Saviour, He even cried from the cross the very words with which the Psalm begins “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1-Matthew 27:46). The Lord Jesus did not cry these words superficially but in reality; it was the fulfillment of scripture not only in word, but also by experience.
Numerous other Old Testament prophecies foretold many things that were fulfilled by Christ in His first advent, but the two mentioned are sufficient to show that all that happened to Him was already known by Him and much of its detail was foretold through the prophets of Israel. After He had risen from the dead He appeared to two of His disciples as they made the seven mile walk home from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. They were conversing about the recent events in Jerusalem and their disappointment that Jesus, whom they called a mighty prophet, had been crucified. They had hoped that He would redeem Israel from Gentile domination and were certainly not expecting Him to die on a cross which to their way of thinking, dashed any hope for a free state of Israel! The risen Lord joined them as they walked, but by an act of His power He concealed His identity from them with the result that they perceived this stranger to be a pilgrim returning, like themselves, from Jerusalem. The Lord joined their discussion by asking what was to them a very surprising question:
“What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?”
Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”
And He said to them, “What things?” (Luke 24:19-19)
They despondently proceeded to tell their story. Finally, after listening graciously, the Lord spoke and said to them: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” Then Luke adds: ‘And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself’ (Luke 24:25-27).
The point of His response? The sufferings of the Christ never overtook Him by surprise for everything was foreknown and foretold and fulfilled according to the plan of God. The Bibles says ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The Knowledge of the Christ
As already observed, the Lord Jesus knew that He had come to fulfill what was written concerning Himself, but His knowledge of what He would suffer was not simply the result of His own reading and understanding of the sacred writings. No, His knowledge was because of who He is - the Son of God and as the Son of God He was the very source that had inspired those same scriptures in the first place. He knew exactly what He would experience therefore nothing was a surprise to Him. John in his gospel emphasizes the divine knowledge of the Christ and records concerning the time of His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane that ‘Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”’ (John 18:4). Also, regarding the cross John writes: ‘Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!”’ (John 19:28).
One day when up in the north of Israel the Lord Jesus asked His disciples about the general opinion among the people concerning His identity: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” After they answered, the Lord then asked His disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter gave the answer: “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). The Lord of course was questioning His disciples for a reason and this occasion marked a turning point in His ministry and His movement toward the cross. Matthew records: ‘From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day’(Matthew 16:21). Luke also records in his gospel how that ‘when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51). The ‘receiving up’ refers to His going back to His Father in heaven and He knew that the way to His ascension was by His rejection and resurrection at Jerusalem.
The Lord Jesus not only knew what He would suffer, but when, where, how and why. He, contrary to how it appeared, controlled the events that unfolded around Him. It wasn’t the power of the Jewish leaders or Pontius Pilate nor even the Devil that determined Christ ‘s crucifixion. They played their part only as the sovereign will of God allowed them to do so.
The Sufferings of the Christ
In the Garden
While many are the causes of suffering it particularly affects us in two ways that are inextricably linked - physically and emotionally. When an individual suffers in the body he or she will indeed be affected emotionally and vice versa. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Lord Jesus suffered the intense agony of emotional pain which affected Him physically to such an extent that not only did He sweat, but ‘His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (Luke 22:44).
On the eve of His crucifixion He crossed the Kidron valley and entered the Garden of Gethsemane having spent the previous hours alone with His disciples. He had been preparing them in light of His death, yet, while instructing and comforting them, He carried upon His own heart a tremendous burden. This burden of sorrow found painful expression in the Garden as He bowed in prayer before His Father. He left eight of the disciples to sit and wait, probably just at the Garden’s entrance, while the privileged three, Peter, John and James, accompanied Him a little distance away from the others. Judas, of course, was missing having left the upper room early that evening to betray Him. Now alone with the three disciples the Lord Jesus ‘began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed’ and He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me” (Matthew 26:37-38). Then He withdrew from them about the distance of a stone’s throw and falling on His face to the ground He prayed these words to His Father: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). In His deep distress and sorrow of soul, He prayed the same way another two times. Luke describes the scene: ‘Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (Luke 22:43-44). The Lord Jesus fully understood and keenly felt what it would mean for Him to take this ‘cup’ of deepest suffering and fulfill His Father’s will.
May we with reverent and were necessary, repentant hearts consider the Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and understand that it was in anticipation of the cross that He felt such deep emotional trauma. And if the anticipation was so overwhelming what must the actual experience have been like?
Through the Trials
Judas, the false disciple of Christ, treacherously made a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus to them for a mere ‘thirty pieces of silver’ (Matthew 26:14-16) before the Passover feast. Knowing where the Lord would be that night, he led an armed multitude to Gethsemane so they could arrest Him. Judas performed his treacherous deed of betrayal by kissing Christ and in this way identified Him to His captors. Soon they seized the Lord Jesus and led away bound to the palace of the high priest (Matthew 26:47-57). There Christ was subjected, during the night, to a mock trial in which He was falsely accused, blasphemed and denounced as a liar (Matthew 26:57-66). Intoxicated with revenge and energized by Satan, the Jewish leaders thought that they had finally obtained power over their perceived enemy and in this situation they did what such men always do – they acted inhumanly. To humiliate Christ they spat in His face, punched Him, smote Him with the palms of their hands and having blindfolded Him, they cruelly taunted: “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?” (Matthew 26:67-68; Luke 22:63-64). Remember, these were the ‘dignified’ leaders of Judaism, the elite and learned of that society. But rank, privilege or learning does not change the depravity of the human heart. Finally, very early on the Friday morning Christ was again unjustly and officially condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and delivered up to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who they ‘forced’ to carry out their death sentence by crucifixion (Matthew 27:1-2; John 18:28-31).
Pilate was unnerved by the prisoner before Him that day and being convinced of His innocence, he sought to release Jesus, but to no avail (Luke 23:4; John 18:38-40). Learning that the Lord was from Galilee He sent Him to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who was present in Jerusalem at that time. Herod had wanted to meet Christ personally for a long time and had hoped to see one of His mighty miracles, so he was pleased to have this opportunity of finally seeing Him. But the Lord Jesus had nothing to say to this ‘fox’ (Luke 13:32), the murderer of John the Baptist and as a result of His silence He suffered the scorn and ridicule of Herod and his soldiers (Luke 23:7-12). Sent back to Pilate the Lord Jesus faced an incited mob calling loudly for His crucifixion. Pilate endeavored to appease the leaders and people by promising to punish Jesus before releasing Him, but they refused this and demanded instead the release of a murderer named Barabbas (Luke 23:13-23). Pilate, seeing that he could not prevail against the increasing violent opposition to his authority and having pronounced the Lord innocent of any wrongdoing more than once, took a basin of water and washed his hands declaring: “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it” (Matthew 27:24). To this point it would seem that Pilate’s character was not true to form, but now having satisfied his own conscience he proceeded with the callousness for which he was well known. He had Christ mercilessly scourged and despite declaring Him innocent of the all charges brought against Him, he sentenced and delivered Him over to his soldiers for death by crucifixion. The soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters and gathered the whole garrison around Him. There they stripped and brutally mocked Him with a crown of thorns, a reed and a purple robe. They spat in His face and beat Him over the head with the reed saying: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:26-32). Then they made the Lord carry His cross to Golgotha where the soldier’s crucified Him between two criminals. The hymn writer wrote poignant words:
Behold! faint on the road, ’neath a world’s heavy load,
Comes a thorn crownèd Man on the way,
With a cross He is bowed, but still on through the crowd
He’s ascending that hill lone and grey.
Hark! I hear the dull blow of the hammer swung low;
They are nailing my Lord to the tree,
And the cross they upraised while the multitude gaze
On the blest Lamb of dark Calvary.
The indignity and cruelty that the Lord Jesus suffered ought to shock us, but what should shock us even more is that the very same attitude shown to Christ at the time of His trials and crucifixion is reflected in our own hearts. The rejection of the Christ is a powerful lesson in the anti-God enmity and moral depravity of the human heart. We are no different in heart than the multitude, the leaders, Pilate or the soldiers; we share the same sinful nature that hates God and resents His interference in our lives. We today are no more willing to hear the voice of truth, nor are we any more inclined to submit to Christ’s claims than they were. We arrogantly stand in judgment of the divine just as they did and we would readily have joined with them in the cry for Christ’s crucifixion for every time anyone says says ‘no’ to the gospel and rejects Christ, they demonstrate the same attitude that cried “crucify Him!”
On the Cross
Up to the cross the physical and emotional sufferings of the Christ were dreadful, but how infinitely more dreadful were His sufferings upon the cross. Crucifixion was first practiced by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians and then extensively used by the Romans for the execution of slaves, provincials and the lowest types of criminals. Rarely were Roman citizens crucified. There was no worse form of torture and execution invented by men for it prolonged the agony of its victim by causing a slow and excruciatingly painful death. It ought to deeply humble us to think that the Son of God, who enjoyed all the prerogatives of deity, ‘humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross’ (Philippians 2:8).
The Lord Jesus suffered the humiliation of crucifixion. Condemned as a criminal, He was led outside the city wall of Jerusalem to be publicly executed with two robbers. Upon arrival at the place of a skull, the place of death, He was offered wine mixed with gall, a kind of herbal drink probably used to alleviate the pain of crucfixion victims; Christ refused it. He was then stripped of His clothing and the gospel of Matthew so simply yet so powerfully records: ‘They crucified HIM’ (Matthew 27:35). The Lord Jesus suffered the intense physical pain and emotional trauma of crucifixion as did the two thieves, but with this difference - they knew their guilt, He knew His innocence.
The apostle Peter wrote about the sufferings of Christ to believers who themselves were facing persecution. He particularly reminded those who were the servants of difficult masters of how the Lord not only acted, but reacted in the face of hostility and brutality:
‘“Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’ (1 Peter 2:22-23).
This agrees with what Isaiah prophesied about Christ:
‘He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth… And they made His grave with the wicked— but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7,9).
But Isaiah and Peter also tell us the reason why the sinless Christ suffered upon the cross; a reason that goes far beyond the actions of men and a cause of suffering that goes far deeper than the agonies of crucifixion itself.
‘But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:5-6).
And Peter wrote:
‘Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed’ (1 Peter 1:24).
‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit’ (1 Peter 3:18).
The Lord Jesus suffered upon the cross for no crime of His own, remember Pilate declared Him innocent, nor did He suffer for any personal sins for He did not and could not sin. He suffered, as the above texts clearly state, for the sins of others. As sinners before God, who is infinitely and eternally holy, we little appreciate the seriousness of our sin. The Bible declares our accountability to the sovereign Creator and our sinfulness before Him: ‘Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty [accountable] before God… For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:19, 22-23). The entire human race is under the condemnation of God’s justice because we are in violation of His righteous standard. To rescue us from this predicament God sent His Son to bear the punishment for our sins upon the cross and through Christ’s sacrifice God has found satisfaction for His holy and just demands.
The Bible says:
‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21)
‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (Galatians 3:13-14).
‘But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone’ (Hebrews 2:9).
The Triumph of the Christ
The Lord Jesus endured the sufferings of the cross and before commending His spirit into the hands of His Father as He was about to enter into death, He said “It is finished” (John 19:30). The great work of propitiation was complete and the price of redemption paid in full. The cross of Christ was a victory not a defeat, a triumph not a tragedy.
Again the Bible says:
‘Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Hebrews 3:1).
‘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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2).
The Lord Jesus after His resurrection instructed His disciples regarding the reason for and the outcome of His suffering : “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). The gospel is for all people and the Bible is abundantly clear about that fact:
‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”’ (Romans 10:12-13)
‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).
The good news is – sinners can be saved, offenders can be forgiven, enemies can be reconciled, hearts can be changed, lives can be transformed, mourners can be comforted, darkness can be dispelled, hope can be kindled, heaven can be assured, and God can be known – all because the Lord Jesus suffered, died and rose again.
The terms are simple – repent and believe in the Christ, the Son of God as Lord and Saviour. F. A. I. T. H has been simply defined as - Forsaking all I trust Him or Forsaking all I take Him. Turn from all other things – religion, works, self, money, privilege or status and embrace Christ entirely for eternity. If you do, it is something you will neither regret nor forget. If you don’t, you will experience the darkness and despair of eternal judgment; the portion of all those who refuse to submit to their Creator.
*Other dates are suggested. I have taken this date from Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ by Harold W. Hoehner.
Gordon's Calvary - Jerusalem