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 blood to 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 every day.
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 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). And '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 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 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.
*Other dates are suggested. I have taken this date from Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ by Harold W. Hoehner.