The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"
by Joseph F. Harwood.
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In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul wrote that God made His light shine in our hearts when He called us to faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. And in the verses following he wrote:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
Paul taught that we will possess the treasure of our faith in “earthen vessels”. Earthen vessels are fragile and weak vessels, which is why Paul used this metaphor to describe our lives lived in God’s service. The “surpassing greatness of the power” by which we will live our lives and serve God is His, and not our own.
Paul also taught that as believers we should expect, and we will in fact experience, what it is like to be “afflicted in every way”, “perplexed”, “persecuted”, and “struck down”, always carrying around in our body “the dying of Jesus”. These experiences will be allowed to touch our lives by our sovereign God and Father because of the principle that we have studied previously. This principle can be summarized by Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 where he revealed that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17).
Though the Scriptures reveal to us that we will endure these sufferings as part of God’s plan for our lives, we are promised that we will not be crushed, and we will not be left in despair. We will not be forsaken, and we will not be destroyed. And as Paul taught, even though we will carry around in our bodies the “dying of Jesus”, and we are during the course of our lives “constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake”, the result of these “deaths” will be that the “life of Jesus” will be manifested in our lives, and spiritual fruit will be born to the glory of God.
It is through these “deaths”, or this share in the sufferings of Christ, that God has ordained we will receive a share in the eternal glory of His Son. Knowing that this principle will be at work in the life of every believer, we may wonder how Jesus’ sufferings might be manifested in our own lives.
The first things that come to mind as we consider the sufferings of Christ are the persecutions He suffered from the Jews, and the crucifixion He suffered at the hands of the Romans due to the insistence of the Jews. His sufferings and death were all according to the pre-determined plan and foreknowledge of God the Father (Acts 2:23), whereby His only begotten Son would give Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people (Matthew 1:21, John 10:11, 14-15). This message was vehemently rejected and opposed by many of the Pharisees and scribes, who were the religious leaders among the Jews of that day.
God has called some of His people to suffer persecution to the point of physical death because of opposition to the Gospel of Christ. The martyrs will certainly be numbered among those who receive the greatest reward in Heaven, having shared in the sufferings of Christ to the extent that it cost them their lives.
Most of us however will suffer persecution to much lesser degrees because we are Christians. Perhaps this persecution will take the form of mocking, ridicule, rejection, or various conflicts where an unbeliever is involved. Being rejected simply because we are believers will prove to be a common experience for us. Even subconsciously some unbelievers will not be fully aware themselves why they dislike us, but they know that they do indeed dislike us, and maybe they will even detest and despise us. This subconscious disdain is a manifestation of the spiritual enmity that exists between believers and those of the world. Others will fully realize why they dislike us when we refuse to approve of or participate with them in things that the word of God calls sin (1 Peter 4:4).
Experiencing persecution to some degree is certainly one aspect of Jesus’ sufferings that we as believers will all experience, as Paul taught us when he wrote to Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Insights from Isaiah 53
In addition to persecutions, there are also other aspects of the sufferings of Christ recorded in the Scriptures. A verse by verse study of Isaiah 53 gives us further insight into some of the things that Jesus suffered during His life on earth. As we consider each of these aspects of His sufferings, we might also think about how these sufferings may have been, or could yet be, experienced in our lives in some measure as God’s people. Beginning in verse two we read:
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (Isaiah 53:2)
The words “like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground” could speak of one who comes to faith in Christ, who is born from the dry ground of very humble beginnings where many of the opportunities and benefits available to others are kept out of reach for them, according to the plan of God for their lives. Some believers will experience this aspect of Christ’s sufferings.
The words “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” are clear and easily understood. There was no impressive quality in Jesus’ physical appearance and looking at Him people saw nothing of what the world considers to be attractive or desirable.
Many of us may feel about ourselves that God has made us to be unattractive, with nothing in our appearance that others would find desirable. If this is the case with us, then God has ordained that we would suffer in this way, and through this experience we share in this aspect of the sufferings of Christ. From Isaiah 53:2 we see that Jesus knew what it was like to experience this kind of suffering.
In the next verse we read:
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3)
Once again, the meaning of the text is clear. Jesus was despised and rejected by men. Some of this rejection could have come from what we read in verse 2, which speaks of Him having nothing in His appearance that we should be attracted to Him. Those of us considered by the world to be unattractive are often rejected, and we will know what it is like to be “one from whom men hide their face”, or one from whom others turn away. Jesus’ ultimate rejection was the rejection that He suffered for His message that He is the Son of God, and that no one can come to God the Father except by Him (John 14:6).
Finally in verse three, the words “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” speak volumes about how the Scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments characterize the life of Jesus Christ. As we have seen from the Scriptures, God has ordained that all believers must follow Jesus in His death, experiencing reflections of His sufferings in our own lives, in order that we may also share in His glory. Therefore we also will experience in some measure, as God determines for each of us, what it is like to be a man or woman of sorrows, who is acquainted with grief.
Continuing in Isaiah 53 we read:
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4)
Have you, Christian, ever given of yourself, your time, or your financial resources to help someone else who was going through hard times which brought great sorrow into their lives? If so, you have sacrificed something of yourself in order to help carry someone else’s sorrows, and in doing so you experience in some measure a share in Jesus’ sufferings and sacrifice for the benefit of others.
Notice also in the last part of verse 4 the words “yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted”. Many times, when people see others going through great suffering or difficulty in their lives, they may consider that those enduring the difficulty are actually being stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted for some sin in their lives.
Let us be careful not make the same mistake that Job’s three friends made when they judged Job’s troubles to be the result of sin in his life. They had no idea what the cause of Job’s sufferings was about, and neither did Job. In the final analysis, Job was shown to have a greater understanding of the ways of God than his friends when God rebuked his friends, saying that they had not spoken of Him what is right as His servant Job had done (Job 42:7-9).
If we see a fellow believer suffering some wrenching trial or difficulty, let us not be hasty in judging their situation to be the result of sin in their lives. Without question, sin always results in God’s discipline in the life a believer (Hebrews 12:5-13), and in some cases there may be a clear connection between sin in one’s life and their present troubles. However, where there is no clear connection to some known sin, it could very well be that what they are enduring is a share in the sufferings of Christ, as God has ordained for them.
Continuing in Isaiah 53 we read:
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
Have you, Christian, ever born the consequences of someone else’s wrongdoing? If so, this reflection of the sufferings of Christ is shared in your life, even though in so much smaller measure than the sufferings He endured. It could then be said of you that you were crushed for someone else’s iniquity, and that the punishment that brought them well-being was placed upon you.
Continuing further we read:
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open 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
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9)
In verse 7 we see that Jesus took the suffering that His Father had ordained for Him, suffering for the transgressions of others, silently and without complaint. This is a virtue that few of us will ever possess. Most of us complain bitterly when undeserved suffering enters our lives. Even when we fail to take it silently and without complaint as Jesus did, we still share in His sufferings when we experience undeserved suffering because of the wrongdoing of others.
In verse 8 we see that Jesus was falsely accused and judged harshly. When we are falsely accused and judged harshly by others, we experience a share in this aspect of His sufferings, even if only in a very small measure when compared to the sufferings He endured.
The latter part of verse 8 speaks of Jesus saying: “And as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off from the land of the living for the transgression of My people”. God has ordained that those martyred for the cause of Christ will share in this aspect of His sufferings.
It is also interesting to note in verse 8 the phrase, “And as for His generation”, which speaks of Jesus’ descendants. Jesus never married and had children. It is a great sorrow in the lives of some believers that God keeps marriage out of reach for them. Others marry but never have the children they long for. This aspect of Christ’s suffering is shared in the lives of those believers who desire a godly marriage and children. However, God, according to His own plan and purpose for their lives withholds these things, choosing rather to lead them in other paths.
Verse 9 again speaks of the unjust treatment that Jesus received, being assigned a grave “with wicked men”. Crucifixion was the punishment given to guilty criminals of that time, and not treatment deserved by the blameless Son of God. Even with all of our faults and shortcomings, when we endure unjust accusation and undeserved suffering, we experience in some measure a share in the sufferings of Christ.
In the following verse we read:
But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. (Isaiah 53:10)
In Isaiah 53:10 we see that it was God’s will to “crush” His Son, “putting Him to grief”. When we consider Isaiah 53:10, together with the teaching of John 12:24-26 and Romans 8:17, we can see that it is also God’s will to “crush” us and to “put us to grief”, in some measure, however small when compared to Jesus’ grief and sufferings, bringing about in our lives a share in His sufferings, which God has ordained will be the necessary path to a share in Jesus’ eternal glory.
Concluding this passage from Isaiah 53 we read:
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)
These verses speak of the sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself, the sinless Lamb of God who laid down His life for the sins of “many” (verse 12), so that they would be found acceptable in the sight of God. Certainly our death will justify no one in the sight of God, but reflections of Christ’s sufferings experienced in our lives are for us as believers a share in His sufferings, even if only in some small measure.
In verse 11 we read: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied”. This Scripture reveals to us that Jesus was satisfied when He saw what was accomplished through the sufferings He endured according to His Father’s will; He was satisfied with the “many” who were given to Him by His Father.
As we consider our share in Christ’s sufferings according to our Father’s will for our lives, we can recall from Paul’s teaching that now during this present time we know and we understand only in part, but the day is coming when we will know and understand fully what God was accomplishing through the sufferings that we endured (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12). In that day, we too will be satisfied, and we will be overjoyed as we share in the glory of our Lord for eternity (1 Peter 4:13).