Monday, March 13, 2006

Suffered and died

Think about this basic but important observation: Jesus did not just die on the cross, he suffered and died. A suffering Messiah is prophesied in scripture such as Ps 22 and Isa 53. So, Jesus’ suffering is no coincidence or passing matter but establishes who he is, his unique qualifications, and capabilities. It is Jesus’ suffering that provides key insight into what happened in the events leading up to and involving the cross.

Consider the Old Testament sacrifices for a moment. When a lamb, bull or other living animal was offered as a sacrifice, none of them suffered. It was performed as a “clean kill”. The priest would take the animal and kill it quickly by slitting its throat or some other means but suffering was minimized. Why then did Jesus have to suffer? Recall the introduction by John for Jesus:

John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

Here John establishes an important parallel between Jesus and the sacrifices of old. Recalling the exegesis of Isa 53 and the use of the word “bear” to be a carrying away, we can see the continuation of the idea that John identifies that Jesus would carry away the sins of the world.

Isa 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

But Isa 53:7 gives more information about what would happen to the lamb and that he would endure affliction and suffering. Just as a lamb is helpless before the shearer our Savior as a lamb will not reply to the affliction, but instead endure it.

There is a repeated pattern in scripture as it relates to suffering: God takes dire circumstances of individuals in their suffering, pain, and anguish, and works in the person’s life to produce victory and glory to Him. This can be seen in Bible characters such as Joseph from the time when he was sold into slavery by his brothers to becoming the second in command over all of Egypt. It can be seen in the sufferings of Job and how he endured and was blessed two-fold more than before. It can also be seen in the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11, which also provides some direct insights into what God achieves through suffering.

The narrative of John 11 begins when Lazarus’ sisters send to Jesus telling him that his friend is sick. Jesus’ response to hearing this reflects the objective of using suffering to glorify God:

John 11:4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

You would expect that Jesus would heal Lazarus after this statement but we see something unexpected just two verses later: “he abode two days still in the same place where he was” (v 6). Why would Jesus stay after hearing that a dear friend was sick? His disciples even ask him why he hasn’t gone to Lazarus yet. They don’t understand what is going on and Jesus finally tells them that Lazarus is dead but with a very unusual response again from Jesus:

John 11:15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.

He just announced that Lazarus is dead and Jesus is glad for his disciples? How can this be? He provides a glimpse into these events with his statement “to the intent ye may believe.” Jesus concern, and that as direct insight into the mind of God, is the condition of the soul of the person and thus, Jesus is more concerned with their belief than a dear friend has died. But this is not the end of the matter.

Jesus and the disciples go to Bethany and here we see that Martha and Mary are distraught at the death of their brother and likely are confused and possibly resentful that Jesus had not come immediately to heal him. They also need to be instructed in how God takes difficult circumstances of suffering and accomplishes victory through them. Jesus arrives at the tomb with many people following him: Martha, Mary, his disciples, and a throng of Jews. Jesus tells them to remove the stone from the tomb and even now they don’t fully comprehend what Jesus can accomplish. His final response to them and a prayer to God give the final insight into what is being done:

John 11:40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
John 11:41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
John 11:42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

Jesus continues to point them to the glory of God through belief in Him. What is it that they needed to believe? It is exactly what he told Mary:

John 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
John 11:26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

God’s glory is that as seen in His son that through suffering, agony, pain, loss, and even death that God will always, and I repeat always, have the victory for those that believe and serve Him. We see the great extent and expanse of God’s glory and power as stated by Paul:

Eph 1:19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
Epj 1:20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,

It is God working through the suffering Savior that we can see his glory and power. We can see there were those that sought to destroy the Messiah but it is those very actions that brought about his victory. We can see that when things look the worst that can possibly be, that a Savior hanging from a tree being crucified, suffering beyond comprehension, and dying there, that God uses this as the means to victory for not only His son but for us all. Praise be to God for His exceeding wisdom and grace!

In conclusion, think back to how righteous men such as Job have suffered in the past and the true origins of that suffering. The story of Job provides unique insight into how Satan seeks to devour and destroy and to the great extent he will go to achieve our destruction. But Satan was restrained in that he could not take Job’s life. In seeing a suffering Savior, a perfectly righteous man, who was obedient to God even to the point of a death on a cross, can we not see Satan, unrestrained, throwing everything at him to deter him from his mission? Recall the prophecy given by God as Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden speaking to the serpent:

Gen 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Comparatively speaking what Satan will do to the Savior will be a minor wound compared to the destruction brought upon Satan. And that is exactly what the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus accomplished.

I submit to you that the focus has been on the wrong question. We see suffering and commonly will ask "Why is God doing this? What wrong did they commit to deserve this?" In a suffering Savior, a perfectly righteous man, you cannot find an answer to this by assuming God is behind it. Instead, we should be asking how God can take the wicked works of Satan against His son and achieve total and complete spiritual victory. It is through this that brings glory to His son and Himself throughout all eternity and will save unto eternal life those that believe and serve Him.

---Stephen Ledford