Does Grace Grow Best in Winter?
Winter Luncheon Series
The Quandary and Questions of Suffering
January 31, 2008
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Friends, I want to welcome you to the fourth and final of our series of luncheons dealing with the issue of suffering. You are the few and the faithful today! You have persevered till the end, and certainly for you there is a crown of gold stored up!
Let me remind us a little bit about where we've come from over the course of our weeks together. We wanted to ask four questions to give us some sort of structure and guidance: Why Me? What For? How So? and, Him, Too?
“Why me?” so that we could allow the cry of the heart to be lifted up to the Lord just like it so often is in the Bible, and ask some questions — ‘Lord, what in the world are You doing in the middle of my suffering? What's all this about? I don't understand.’
When you feel that way, be encouraged; you’re not alone. Over and over the greatest saints in the Bible asked the same question, and God is so kind to let them ask that question. They don't ask that question unbelievingly, they don't ask that question in a way in which they disparage or disrespect the Almighty. They ask that question because they turn to Him: and He's the only one they can turn to when they are absolutely at the limit of their own wits. They don't know where to go. They go to Him, and they say, ‘Lord, why?’ And He's so kind to let them ask Him that question. He's not offended by that question. He's not intimidated by that question. He's not bowled over by that question. He knows the answer to that question. He does not ever tell them all of the answer to that question in this world, but He does always redirect them in the course of answering, however far He goes in answering that question “why.” He always redirects them in some measure to the question, “Who?” so that in their “why” they are pointed to Him as the answer to the question “who,” so that they understand that God is in the midst of their suffering.
What For? After having asked “why me?” we asked the question, “What for?” What are the purposes of God? What are the good purposes of God in suffering? And we tried to give some sort of a summarization of the Bible's teaching on that glorious question. There are many purposes of suffering which are recorded explicitly in the Bible.
And then we asked the question, “How so?” How do you go about benefiting from suffering? Because all of us in this room know that we have seen dear friends (different dear friends) undergo almost precisely the same trial, and we've seen some of those dear friends undergo that trial and become sweeter, more loving, more mature, more believing, more faithful, more godly Christians; and we've seen other friends become bitter and disillusioned, and more despairing of life than ever before. And so we have learned from that that it is not the trial itself that brings grace; it is God who brings grace in the trial, and makes that trial in His children be an instrument of His good purposes for them. Because the same thing can happen to two different people, and one can become sweeter and more godly, and the other less godly and bitter. And so we wanted to spend some time last time we were together asking, ‘OK, Lord, how do you do this? How are we supposed to respond when we find ourselves in suffering in such a way that we can benefit from what You are doing?’
How So? Just this past week, we received copies of Margaret Clarkson's Grace Grows Best in Winter. Margaret Clarkson, who many of you will know from the Urbana missions movement, who wrote beautiful hymns, wrote a couple of hymns that we love to sing…O Father, You are Sovereign, which has that amazing line in it: “O Father, You are sovereign, the Lord of human pain”…she is a woman who knew a lot about pain, and she addresses the issue of how the Christian goes about responding in trials in such a way as to grow and to become more tender and more sweet, and more trusting, and more loving, and more godly in this book, Grace Grows Best in Winter. She's addressing that issue “how so?” as well, in that book, Grace Grows Best in Winter.
Today we want to ask the question, “Him, too?” Did Jesus have to suffer, too?
That is, did Jesus have to suffer, too? And in fact, not only suffer, but experience the ultimate human suffering: that is, that the human being who experienced suffering par excellence, beyond the experience of any other human being, is in fact the only human being who never sinned…Jesus Christ.
It's mind-boggling just to say that, isn't it? But it's something that is testified to us literally from Genesis to Revelation. Have you ever thought about that? That God starts talking about Jesus’ sufferings in the book of Genesis? Jesus’ sufferings were recorded in Scripture 1500 years before He was born. One of the most beautiful and elaborate and detailed and explicit descriptions of His life and the sufferings that it entailed was written over 600 years before He was born, by the prophet Isaiah. And the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament recount in detail the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His response to it. And in fact, if you peek at some of the verses toward the end of the sheet that I gave you today, you’ll notice that in the New Testament, we as Christians are explicitly asked to look at Jesus’ sufferings and learn some things about our own suffering. So this is what we're going to do today.
I've given you a number of Bible verses on the sheet today. We will not reference all of them, but all of them are worth your reading and meditating on in relation to this general theme. We will reference many of them as we work through the outline today.
The outline today comes in four parts. Let me tell you what it is ahead of time.
First, we want to establish that the Bible from the very beginning speaks to us about Jesus’ suffering.
Secondly, in light of that we want to show why it is that Jesus was said to be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Third, we want to learn that because He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, He is able to sympathize with you in everything. And it's so important that we drive that deep, deep home, because here's what happens. We believe that generically–and then we get into the hardest points of our lives, and we think, ‘Yes, He sympathizes, but not this far, not this much, not in that area. He couldn't possibly get into this crack and crevice of my life, because it's so painful and it's so unique, and I'm so embarrassed about it, and nobody else knows in the world about this, and He couldn't possibly be my sympathetic High Priest in this area.’ Wrong! And you've got to convince yourself that you’re wrong about that before you start talking to yourself like that. And so we're going to spend a little time on that third point today, making sure that you've got that worked deep down into your heart and bones: that He is able to sympathize with you in everything.
And we're going to argue, when we get to that point… Want some sub-points for our outline? Three sub-points: the reason He is able to sympathize with you in everything is because He suffered with you; He suffered without you; and He suffered for you. And I’ll explain what I mean by each of those things. Each of those things is a powerful balm of comfort if we’ll just take them in.
And then, fourth and finally, today what we want to do is say, ‘In light of looking at Jesus’ sufferings, the New Testament — and especially those words that are given to us in I Peter that I've recorded from I Peter 2:4, 5 in your outline — the New Testament, and especially these words in I Peter, tell us that we're supposed to look at Jesus’ sufferings and learn something from them for ourselves about our own suffering, and so we're going to try and do that. And when we try and do that, we're going to talk about how we are supposed to draw lines in our suffering, and we're going to draw four of them. We could draw more, but I'm going to point you to four of them.
So there we are! A four-point outline, three sub-points under No. 3, four sub-points under No. 4.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this time together. Make it profitable, we pray, by Your Holy Spirit. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Take your sheets out and look at Genesis 3. If you have your Bibles with you, you’re welcome to turn along and read in your own translation, your own favorite study Bible, these verses and passages. I've just given you these passages in the English Standard Version, but any good translation of the Bible that you’re working out of will give you an excellent rendering of these as well. It's just for ease of reference I've given them to you on this sheet.
I. The Bible from the very beginning speaks to us about Jesus’ suffering.
Genesis 3:15. Have you ever stopped to think (and let me just confess, I had not stopped to think about this until the last 36 hours)…have you ever stopped to think about what the first thing the Bible tells us about Jesus is? Well, It comes in Genesis 3:15. Ironically, in Genesis 3:15, who is God speaking to? The devil. And so the devil is administered the first explicit word from God about Jesus. Have you ever thought about that? God preached to the devil about Jesus in Genesis 3:15, and here's the first thing that He said about Jesus: “He shall bruise your head.” So the very first thing that God says about Jesus, the coming Messiah…because we know that this verse is the first giving of the gospel, what the theologians call the protoevangelium, the first giving of the gospel. It points forward to the coming of Jesus as the Messiah into this world, who, the Apostle Paul says at the end of Romans, is going to allow us to crush Satan under our feet, even as He crushed the head of the serpent under His foot in His finished work on the cross. The first thing that God says about Jesus the Messiah in the Bible is He's going to win. He is going to destroy Satan and all his works. That's the first thing He says about Jesus.
But do you know what the second thing He says about Jesus is? That He's going to suffer. And He is going to suffer at the hands of the very one that He is going to crush; that even as He is going to have victory over that serpent, He is going to suffer by the fangs of that serpent. That serpent is going to bruise Him in the heel–the point being that though Jesus is going to have ultimate victory, He is not going to be bruised on the head; the serpent is going to be bruised on the head. (How do you kill a snake? Well, if you don't cut its head off, you at least crush its head.) Jesus is going to be the one who has the victory over Satan, over the devil and over all his works and will and power. But the serpent is going to grievously wound Him. So the first thing that is said about Jesus by God in the Bible is that He's going to win, but the second thing is that He is going to suffer.
Now believe it or not, that's my first point. The first thing in the Bible about Jesus: He wins; second thing: He's going to suffer.
II. Why is that Jesus was said to be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
It's not surprising then, is it…it's not surprising then [turn forward to Isaiah 53, and you can look at that whole section from verse 1 to 12]…it's not surprising then that 800 years or so, give or take a few, after Moses wrote down those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…maybe somewhere out in the desert of Sinai…somewhere around 1440, when Israel had come out of Egypt and the canon of Scripture began to be put in print surrounding the Ten Commandments which God had written with His own finger, by Moses, the prophet who spoke with the Lord face to face…about 800 years after that happened, another prophet came along named Isaiah, and he wrote this prophecy that we're about to read in Isaiah 53:1-12.
You say to me, “How do you know this is about Jesus? Jesus' name isn't mentioned anywhere here.” I know that because in Acts 8 there was an Ethiopian royal official in his chariot reading this passage, and he happened upon — “happened upon!” — Philip the evangelist. And he said to him, ‘Sir, I need some help. I need an interpreter. I need somebody that understands the Bible, because I am absolutely bamboozled by this passage. Who is this passage talking about?’ And Luke, the dear friend and medical doctor of the Apostle Paul, records that Philip said to him, ‘I am so glad you asked that question! Because this passage is about Jesus.’
Now listen to what Isaiah says about Jesus:
“Who has believed what [they] heard from us?
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
He had no form of majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
And as one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgression;
He was crushed for our iniquities;
Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with 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.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
So he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
That he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
Although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
“Yet it was…”
“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
He has put him to grief;
When his soul makes an offering for sin,
He shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
The will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet he bore the sin of many,
and make intercession for the transgressors.”
No wonder that Ethiopian royal official was mind-boggled by that passage, because even Christians (who know the right answer as to who this passage is about) are boggled when we hear this description about the servant of the Lord, about the Messiah. This is not what we're expecting of God's own Son, His anointed one sent into the world for salvation of our sins. And yet the answer is Jesus.
We need to take that in for a few minutes.
Just this morning, I was re-reading an article that I'd probably read for the first time 20 or 25 years ago. It was written by a brilliant scholar and teacher named B.B. Warfield, who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was a great defender of the inspiration and inerrancy and authority of Scripture, a great defender of the deity of Christ, of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. And he once wrote an article called “The Emotional Life of Our Lord.” It is about sixty pages of dense reflection on what the New Testament teaches us about the emotional state of our Lord Jesus Christ in His earthly walk. And he says this, having surveyed–and if you've ever read anything by Warfield, “surveyed” is not the right word. There is no nook or cranny left unexposed. There's no rock left unturned. He goes everywhere. His notes have five hundred Scripture references in them. He's gone everywhere, and he's looked everywhere he could find it. At the end of this survey, he says this:
“Of the lighter, pleasurable emotions that flit across the mind in response to the appropriate incitements that arise occasionally in the course of our lives, we hear little of these of Jesus. It is not once recorded that He laughed. We do not even hear that He smiled. Only once are we told that He was glad, and then it is a rather sober gratification than an exuberant delight which is spoken of in connection with Him. We hear little of His passing sorrows, but with reference to the supreme sacrifice of His death, His mental sufferings are emphasized.”
I say that not to try and paint for you a picture of a grim, morose, brooding Lord Jesus, because after all, what does He say to His disciples in the very wake of His death? “I have come so that your joy might be made full.” But in light of Isaiah 53, it doesn't surprise us, does it, that He in fact, in His emotional states, is described by the Gospel writers as a man of sorrows, who was acquainted with grief?
III. And because He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, He is able to sympathize with you in everything
So, what do we make of that? What do we make of the fact that He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief? Well, let me take you to Hebrews 4:14-16. Here's what we make of it: Because Jesus was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, He is able to sympathize with us in all that we endure and experience in this fallen world. That is explicitly what the author of Hebrews says. Allow your eyes to glance at Hebrews 2:18, on the way to Hebrews 4:14:
“Because He himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”
And then, in Hebrews 4:14:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
What we are being told there by the author of Hebrews is because of what Jesus has endured by way of temptation and suffering, He is able to sympathize with us.
Now this is huge. There are some people in this world who are so intimidated by the thought of approaching Jesus directly that they feel that they need to go to someone else, and get that someone else to approach Jesus for them, because how could they ever possibly approach the Almighty, sinless, Son of God on their own? And here's the author of Hebrews saying that He's the best high priest who ever lived because, whereas the earthly high priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins, Jesus didn't, because He was perfect.
And, Jesus is able to sympathize with you better than the earthly high priest, who is a sinner as well as you.
Now that's a mind-boggling statement, isn't it? That Jesus, who never sinned, is better able to sympathize with you in your trials, in your temptations, and in your sufferings, than even a sinful human high priest like yourself. It's mind-boggling.
Now in light of that, I'm reading this morning in Warfield's article, “The Emotional Life of Our Lord,” and listen to what he says about the Lord Jesus. After he has summarized all of the teaching of the New Testament about His emotional state, he says…here's what Warfield says:
“The thing that the Gospels emphasize most about our Lord Jesus’ emotional state is… [surprise, surprise]…His compassion. Everywhere He turns, He is filled with compassion.”
Isn't that exactly what we should expect, if Hebrews 4:14-16 is true? That He is compassionate? And in fact, that is exactly what the Gospels reveal to us: a man who looks out upon a self-centered, hungry multitude…I mean, Jesus’ cousin John has just had his head taken with the assistance of an immoral young woman and a lecherous old king. But the crowds that He's ministering to are hungry, and they don't know anything that's going on in Jesus’ life. And what do the Gospel authors tell us about Jesus at that moment? “He looked on them, and He had compassion.”
Or, Jesus is up on a hillside and He's looking down on Jerusalem — a Jerusalem that has for centuries killed the prophets that God in His love and grace and mercy had sent to them in order to save them from their sins and turn them from certain destruction — Jesus looks down on them and He says, “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How I have wanted to gather you under My arms like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings!” He had compassion on sinners!
Or, He looks at Mary and Martha at Bethany, weeping over Lazarus, and He weeps in compassion.
Over and over the Gospels drive home how compassion…His suffering…dare we say it this way? …His suffering worked in Him and manifested compassion, the likes of which the world has never seen.
Now I want to meditate on that with you for just a few minutes, because it's extraordinary what's being told to us here in Hebrews 4:14-16.
The passage is emphasizing the greatness of Christ, and at the same time emphasizing His sympathy, that we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses. And the juxtaposition of the greatness of Christ and the sympathy of Christ is actually jarring.
It's the divine Son who is sympathetic to us. Think of it. Who is it who is better able to sympathize with you in your sufferings than your mother or your father, or your husband or your wife, or your son or your daughter, or your dearest friend in life? Or those friends who are going through the same thing that you are going through right now? Who is it that turns out to be more sympathetic to you than all of them put together and rolled up into one? The One who is the heir of all things! The One who made the world! The One who is the radiance of God's glory! The One who is the exact representation of His nature. The One who upholds all things by the word of His power. The One who is a high priest according to the order of Melchizadek, who has passed through the heavens. The One who lived in sinless perfection, perfection beyond the holy angels. The One who had endured suffering although He was the very Son of God. That person is the person who sympathizes with you more and better than anyone and everybody else in the world. It's amazing. It really ought to blow your mind.
Perhaps that's why the author of Hebrews states Jesus’ sympathy in the form of a denial. Notice he doesn't say that He's able to…he doesn't just come out and say that He's able to sympathize with you. He says He's “not unable” to sympathize with you. Because humanly speaking, you might be tempted to think that He is not able to sympathize with you, and so he says it that way. No, no! Don't even think that He's not able to sympathize with you.
Our divine Priest is not only capable of sympathy, He is capable of the greatest sympathy. We have a Mediator who understands our problems.
But even more impressively, it is argued by the author of Hebrews in this passage that the range of our Savior's temptation and suffering is universal. Listen to what it says:
“We have one who has been tempted in all things as we are.”
Now that is a mind-blowing statement, so let's stop and analyze it.
That phrase, “tempted in all things as we are,” answers the questions ‘How is it exactly that Jesus the divine Son is able to sympathize with me? How could it be that one so holy, so perfect, could sympathize with a poor, wretched, inconsistent sinner like me? How can Christ, the glorious, obedient high priest, sympathize with your weaknesses and my weaknesses? How can He possibly know my struggles with sin? How can He possibly know how I feel in my temptation and trial and suffering? How can He possibly know these things?’ Hebrews gives the answer: because He was tempted in all things as you are.
Now that does not mean that Christ has experienced every specific temptation that every specific believer faces. Christ, for instance, never gave birth to a child. And I am told that there are some discomforts associated with that particular activity. You can tell me about that afterwards!
Nevertheless, His experience of trial, testing, temptation, and suffering is actually broader than yours. Even if He has not been tested identically to every situation that you have experienced, His experience is actually broader than your experience of suffering in this world.
Now we could enumerate many parallels between His experience and ours, but the emphasis of Hebrews here is on the temptation which He endured in His suffering. Remember what we read from Hebrews 2:18? “He was tempted in that which He suffered.” And in Hebrews 5:18, we’ll be told again, “He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” That is, His obedience was not an easy obedience; His obedience and temptation cost Him dear.
So I want you to think with me real briefly about three points, three aspects, of His suffering, for just a moment. Remember I told you those aspects: He suffered with us; He suffered without us; and He suffered for us. Let's think about these.
First of all, He suffered with us.
Can I put it this way, believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? He suffered with you. Whatever you’re suffering right now, He has been there in that with you.
We could think of the likeness of His temptation and ours, and there are so many points of contact. For instance, are you getting to that age where your feet are never warm? He knew what it meant to be cold, and burning with heat. Have you ever been hungry? Really hungry? I'm not sure I have. He, however, knew both hunger and thirst. Have you ever lost your home? Had your house taken away from you in embarrassing and humiliating and depressing circumstances? He never owned a home, and in fact told His disciples that He did not even have a place of His own to lay His head. Have you ever been anguished deep in your soul, beside yourself, not having the slightest idea where to turn? John tells us that on the eve of His crucifixion that His soul was “deeply troubled,” that His grief was even to the point of death. Have you ever been afraid? Or so sad that you thought you would never ever smile again? He knew fear and sorrow. Have you ever been afraid of death? He dreaded the cup that He had agreed to drink from the foundation of the world.
And you can think through the escalating extremity of His temptation. He began His career of suffering for us in the manger, and it continued in His ministry, and it continued to Gethsemane, and then to Golgotha and the darkness of the cross.
In all these ways — and if we had hours, we couldn't exhaust these — His sufferings have so many points of contact with your sufferings, so that you can say in your sufferings, ‘You know, the Bible says that Jesus suffered like this, too. He literally understands what I'm going through here in this place. He's felt the same emotion that I'm feeling right now. My Savior, my God, knows what it is like to be inside my skin, inside my head, inside my heart, and feel the way that I am feeling right now, in almost the identical situation that I'm in right now. It's a mind-blowing thought, because He suffered with you.
Second, but even more mind-blowing is that He suffered without you.
He suffered with you; and secondly, He suffered without you. You see, some of us may be tempted to think that Christ cannot understand our particular situation. At least in our case we think, no, there's some point of discontinuity between my experience and His experience that makes it impossible for Him to really sympathize with me. But here's the glorious news that I have for you, friend. It is precisely because there is a discontinuity between your experience and Jesus’ experience that He is able to sympathize with you in all things, because the fact of the matter is Jesus has experienced something that you have never and will, by God's grace, never experience.
I mean, think of it, my friends. It's a marvelous mystery, isn't it, that when you get to heaven you could spend a million-million years there, in that blessed place, and you would never meet another person who had experienced being utterly forsaken by God. Except one. Jesus. He's the only person in heaven who knows what it is to have the Father turn His back on Him and leave Him all alone. He's the only person in heaven who knows what it is to look down into the white-hot volcano of the wrath of God and survive. And you will never know what that was like. And precisely because He experienced something that you will by God's grace never experience, He is able to sympathize with you in everything.
In fact, the question is not whether He can sympathize with you in everything; the question is can you sympathize with Him in everything? And I can give you a quick answer to that. No, you can't. You’ll spend eternity in heaven, and you will never know what it was like for your Savior to do what He did for you. You will never know what it was like. The cross will just get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, all eternity long. And you’ll love Him more and more and more, because you’ll go deeper and deeper and deeper into what He has done for you, and you’ll never get to the bottom! Because you can't enter into His experience, because He suffered without you. You weren't there. The answer to the question that the old spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” is “No! I was not. He was absolutely alone. Everyone left Him. Everyone. They all abandoned Him. He was alone. No! No! I wasn't there when they crucified my Lord. He did that without me.”
Third, He suffered for us.
And that leads us to the third thing: He suffered with us; He suffered without us; but He suffered for us.
Understand that Jesus didn't come into this world so that He could empathize with you. Jesus is not like the person who comes along on the side of the road…you know, your car's broken down, you've got the hood up, your hands are covered with oil. (You have no idea how a car engine works, but you’re tinkering with it!) He is not like the person who comes along and says, “Hmm? Problem with your car? Oh, so sorry about that. Oh, that must be really frustrating to have a problem with your car. And it's raining, to boot! I’ll bet you’re soaking wet, aren't you?” (And they’re standing under an umbrella talking to you!) “Bet you’re soaking wet, aren't you? Bet you’re cold. Hmm. Oh, really…look. I feel your pain, you know? Really do. Look, I'm late for appointment — gotta go.”
Jesus did not come to empathize with you in your suffering. Jesus came to bear your suffering for you. Get this, my friends. Get this if you don't get anything else. Jesus came to bear a punishment that would have destroyed you.
And He didn't do it by coming alongside you and experiencing that with you. He came and He pushed you behind His back, and He said, ‘Father, I’ll take this for them. Send it now.’ So that you don't know what it's like, what He endured for you, because He took it for you.
I love the way one Christian puts this: “In Jesus’ suffering for you, your debt was not cancelled. It was liquidated.” It's not like the heavenly Father looks down on what Jesus is doing on the cross and says, ‘OK, OK. Look. I'm just going to forget that they owed Me. We’re just going to call that off. No more debt owed. I'm just going to pretend like they never incurred that debt…just forgive it.’ No, what Jesus did was He paid your debt to the last drop, and said, ‘Father, I have bought them with My blood. Now they belong to Me, and no one in the world can take them from My hands, because these hands have been pierced for them.’
Do you see why Christians cannot conceive of standing before God at the end of time and saying, ‘Look, Jesus is just fine. Love Him. Great teaching. Sweet, dear man…loved people. But, look, I've tried to live a good life and I'd like to come into this place. Don't need Jesus. He's nice. Learned a lot from Him. I've tried to live a good life. I can come in here on my own.’ You see why Christians can't do that about Jesus? Because they know that what Jesus did was to pay to the last drop, their sin. All that He suffered, He suffered in their place. All alone.
And that means that in our suffering in this world, you understand, that we never ever experience all that we ought to.
When it is as bad as it can possibly be, it is never as bad as it ought to be.
Because He has suffered for us, and that means that in the hardest places of our lives, in the deepest suffering and the darkest hours and the blackest nights, in times when sorrow and tribulation overwhelm your very souls, and you feel as if the Lord cannot hear your cry, you are never ever standing where Jesus was, because He stood there, not with you, but for you, in your place; and you can never stand where He stood, and you can never understand what He bore–never ever–because He not only shared with us in suffering, He has endured suffering and tribulation for us, on our behalf, in our room and stead, in our place.
And because of this, the author of Hebrews says, He is a great high priest who is able to sympathize with us and have compassion with us.
IV. So what are we supposed to learn from this?
What are we supposed to learn from this? Well, we're supposed to look at Jesus’ sufferings and learn something, that's what Peter says. Take a look at I Peter 2:21 —
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you may follow in His steps.”
And so you’re supposed to learn something from Jesus’ suffering, and you’re supposed to learn something from Jesus’ suffering about your suffering. Look at I Peter 4:1-3 —
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passion but for the will of God. The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.”
And then, in I Peter 5:10, 11 —
“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
So Peter tells us that we're supposed to look at His sufferings and learn something.
Well, what are we supposed to learn? A lot of things. I only have time to mention four. In our suffering… (you remember we said the very first week)…in our suffering we need to learn to draw lines.
The first line that we learn to draw in our suffering is a line from misery back to sin, because one of God's purposes in suffering as we look at the death of Christ is that we would learn to hate sin like we hate suffering.
I was talking to a friend this week who remembers the first time that she saw some friends with their Down's syndrome child, who had just fallen on the sidewalk. She remembers thinking to herself that they were facing a life of caring for a sweet child who was never going to be able to fully reach her human potential and care for herself in the way that other adults are able to care for themselves. And her heart was overwhelmed with sorrow at that thought, thinking of what that little child would endure…a child that would have been so, so beautiful, like her mother (though she was beautiful in her own way, and still is), thinking of parents who were going to spend years wondering, “What's going to happen to my child after I'm gone?” And God wants us to look at suffering in this world to draw a line back to sin and hate the sin like we hate the suffering. As you look at that incident and you just hate the suffering that a person is having to endure, do you hate sin like you hate that suffering? I don't know if you’re like me, but I don't. For sure, I hate suffering more than I hate sin. But I want to learn to hate sin like God hates sin. And if I’ll draw a line from suffering and misery back to sin, I’ll grow in learning how to hate sin. So in suffering all of us ought to draw the line: “Lord God, how much You must hate sin, because I hate this.”
Secondly, we need to draw a line from our suffering back to Jesus.
We need to draw a line from our suffering back to Jesus, so that we're saying things like this: “Lord, this suffering is beyond anything that I've ever endured, and it boggles my mind to think that Jesus’ suffering was far worse than this for me.” So that we come to do what? We come to treasure Jesus’ suffering. We come to esteem Jesus’ suffering. We come to respect Jesus’ suffering. We come to give Jesus’ suffering the due that it deserves. And that causes us to do what? To treasure Christ more, and to put our suffering in perspective: “Lord, if I'm wondering if I can put one foot in front of another in this situation, how must my Lord Jesus have felt, who lived every moment of His life with the conscious knowledge of what was coming for Him, and He did it willingly for me. This is hard enough for me, and I didn't know it was coming.” So we draw a line from our suffering back to Jesus, and it enables us to treasure Jesus’ sufferings more and to put our suffering in perspective.
Not to belittle our suffering! I want to emphasize that the way that we cope with our suffering is not so much that we say ‘Oh, it's not so bad,’ because sometimes it is so bad. The way to cope with our suffering is not to minimize our suffering, but to maximize Jesus’ sufferings, to look ourselves in the mirror in the morning and say, ‘Yep, it is that bad.’ Not, ‘It's not so bad.’ Yep, it is so bad; but Jesus’ sufferings were greater. Not to minimize our sufferings, but to maximize Jesus’ sufferings. So we draw a line from our suffering back to Jesus, so that we treasure Christ and have our sufferings put in perspective.
Thirdly we draw a line from our suffering to the body of Jesus.
Now, by “body of Jesus” of course I mean the church, His household, His family, His people. We draw a line from our suffering to the body of Jesus, and we remember that the Apostle Paul tells us that his suffering was for the building up of the body. And we realize in a moment of reverence that if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ that our suffering is meant to be edifying for our family, with whom we will share blissful, joyful eternity, but with whom we now walk through a fallen world filled with deep pain and great distress and suffering. And so my suffering is at least in part for the welfare and good and edification of my brothers and sisters in Christ. God not only does not plan to waste your suffering on you (that is, He intends for His children to grow in grace in suffering), but He does not intend to waste your suffering on His other children (that is, He intends you to be edified by their suffering, and for them to be edified by your suffering).
Have you ever read a missionary biography and just paused to think what another Christian had done and sacrificed so that others might know Christ? And then you started not only to be edified by the sacrifice and loss that they had experienced, but then you began to reflect on how you had been brought to Christ through the sacrifice and loss of others. And isn't that the way? The Lord just sends us out there to die, and die, and die, and die. And what does He bring from it? Life! And then so He shows His power in our weakness.
And fourth, we draw a line from our suffering to its goals, or purposes.
We draw a line from our suffering to its goals and purposes. Now we've talked about some of them today, but I want to come back to what our friend B.B. Warfield said about Jesus.
What is the emotion ascribed to Jesus more than any other in the gospels? Compassion.
Now, if He was a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief, and He was a man of compassion, what ought our suffering to create in us? Compassion! If Jesus in His suffering displayed His compassion, ought not our suffering achieve its goal in us of making us not only God-loving, Christ-treasuring, gospel-believing, godliness-pursuing Christians, but compassionate Christians? Those who, because we have gone through the valley of suffering, have been made tender and forgiving and caring, and who long to live and forgive as Christ forgave, and who long to care as Christ cared? Surely we’ll draw a line from our suffering to its goal in us, and one of those goals will be that we will become more compassionate.
And isn't that exceedingly important for us, especially those of us who are the best-taught in the Scriptures? Because how are we tempted by our knowledge? The apostle tells us: by our knowledge we are tempted to be puffed up. And what do they say about us? “The frozen chosen.” Let your suffering melt those icebergs and let them say, “Good grief, those Presbyterians are a compassionate lot, aren't they?”
Lord God, we sense that we are on holy ground when we think of Jesus’ suffering, and we are. In Your word, You tell us that there are things that we are to learn from that, so grant that we would go to Jesus’ suffering often and always, and draw lines of grace back into our lives, no matter how deep or how painful the suffering is. And then, O God, we ask that by Your Spirit You would grant us grace in our suffering, and make us to be what You intend us to be. In Jesus' name. Amen.