The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"
by Joseph F. Harwood.
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Isaiah 53 gave us insights into the life of the “Man of Sorrows”, and we considered some of the ways in which a share in His sufferings might be manifested in our own lives. There are also other Scriptures that speak of the sufferings Jesus endured.
In John 13:18-30, Jesus told His disciples that one of them was going to betray Him. In verse 18 He said: “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me’” (See also Psalm 41:9).
Jesus was referring to the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, who took thirty pieces of silver to guide a group of Roman soldiers and representatives from the chief priests and Pharisees to Gethsemane where He often met with His disciples, in order to arrest Him. The arrest is recounted later in John 18:1-11. This betrayal set in motion the events that would lead to His crucifixion.
When we as believers suffer a betrayal of trust, we experience a share in some measure in this aspect of the sufferings of Christ. The betrayal that Jesus suffered would cost Him His life. Even when we suffer a betrayal that costs us only money or reputation, then in some small way we have shared in this aspect of Jesus’ sufferings. Therefore, the suffering of a betrayal and the consequences of that betrayal is yet another way in which a believer might experience a share in Christ’s sufferings.
Mark 14:32-36 recounts Jesus’ agony at Gethsemane just before His arrest. In this passage Jesus said to Peter, James and John: “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:34).
Overwhelming sorrow, even sorrow to the point of death, is another aspect of the sufferings of Christ that a believer may also experience at times. This is sorrow so intense that it brings one to the point that he would rather his life be ended than to continue to bear the weight of his suffering.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, the Apostle Paul revealed that while he was in the province of Asia, he was under pressure that far beyond his ability to endure, and so much so that he despaired even of life itself and having to live on to face such troubles. Through this experience Paul was shown a principle that he in turn would pass on to all of God’s people: We are not to rely on our own strength to face the troubles of this life, but instead we are to rely upon God, who is able even to raise the dead.
All believers should be aware that there may be times in our lives when we too will experience overwhelming sorrow, sorrow so profound that we would rather not live any longer than to have to bear the weight of our suffering. In these times we experience some share in the overwhelming sorrow that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Paul also shared in this aspect of Christ’s suffering in his experience in the province of Asia.
When considering the sufferings of Christ as recounted in the Scriptures, we must not overlook the physical suffering and pain that Jesus endured. After Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified, He was first flogged by the Roman guards. These floggings were so severe that some died just from this beating alone. After that, a crown of thorns was made and pushed down onto His head so that He bled from it also. During all of this He also endured mocking and jeers from the Roman soldiers.
Jesus was then forced to carry His own cross to Calvary where He was to be crucified. Because of the beating He had endured and because of the weight of His cross, He was not able to carry it the whole way. Someone else, Simon of Cyrene, was pressed into service to carry His cross the rest of the way. When Jesus finally arrived at Calvary, He was nailed to the cross instead of being tied to it as others were.
The means of death from hanging on a cross was a slow death from asphyxiation, where the lungs filled with water over a period of hours. When Jesus had been hanging there on the cross for some time, a Roman soldier thrust a spear into His side, and both blood and water ran out. Crucifixion was both a physically painful and a humiliating, degrading way to die.
As believers, suffering affliction or pain in our physical bodies is yet one more way in which we may share in Christ’s sufferings. The Apostle Peter wrote: “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2).
As Jesus was arrested at Gethsemane, we see another way in which He suffered. In Mark 14:48-50 we read that Jesus was confronted by a crowd of Roman soldiers and representatives sent by the Pharisees and chief priests who had come to apprehend Him. At this time, we see from the Scripture that His disciples “all left Him and fled.” (Mark 14:50).
In this passage we see that Jesus suffered abandonment by those who were closest to Him, those who should have been the ones who stood by Him in His time of distress. In the Gospel of John, just before Jesus was arrested, He told his disciples that they would soon desert Him saying: “Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:32). Those closest to Him, those whom He had appointed Apostles, those who had been with Him since the early part of His ministry, those whom He now called friends (John 15:15), forsook Him and left Him to whatever fate was to come next for Him.
Jesus’ experience of abandonment was much deeper than any we will experience. From the cross He cried out in a loud voice: “…My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, Psalm 22:1). It is impossible for us to contemplate the depth of abandonment that Jesus experienced as He hung on the cross bearing the punishment due for our sins.
For those of us who believe on His name, we have the promise of God: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:6). Even with this promise, in the depths of our sorrow and feelings of desperation when we experience abandonment by those closest to us, those we hoped would be there for us in our time in distress, we too may feel like we have been abandoned even by God. But because of God’s promise we know that He will never leave us or forsake us.
In the depths of our abandonment we are not alone, as Jesus Himself knew, because our Father is with us (John 6:32). When we experience abandonment by those closest to us, we experience a share in this aspect of the sufferings of Christ.
Further Instruction from the Apostles Peter and Paul
Peter wrote to believers: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, emphasis added). And so Peter also revealed to us that a share in the sufferings of Christ is to be expected in our lives, and something about which we should not be surprised.
As he continued in verse 15, Peter also said that if we suffer, it should not be for wrongdoing, or that which the Bible calls sin. Suffering for wrongdoing is not suffering according to the will of God (1 Peter 4:19). It is abundantly clear throughout the Bible that it is God’s will for His people that we should live a life separated from sin.
If however we do find ourselves at a time and place in life where we are suffering as a consequence of our own sin, we can take comfort from Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:28, where he revealed that all things which God allows to touch our lives as His people will be made to work together for our eternal good. And all things include God’s painful disciplines, which serve to separate us from our sins. Even in the midst of these disciplines and the losses which often accompany them, God will continue to work in the lives of every believer to bring forth fruit with eternal value.
Regardless of whatever failings may have come before in our lives, let us resolve to repent of our sins and leave them in our past. Let us obey God by doing as Paul exhorted us in Philippians 3:13-14: let us forget what is behind us, and let us diligently strive toward what lies ahead. Let us press on toward the finish line of the race that is our life on this earth, so that we may win the prize of a share in Christ’s eternal glory.
At the end of this passage in 1 Peter 4:12-19, the apostle exhorted us again when he wrote: “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:19, emphasis added). Just as we have seen from other passages of Scripture, Peter also revealed to us that a share in the sufferings of Christ is God’s will for each of His people, and he exhorts us to entrust our souls to our loving and faithful God as we share in the sufferings of His Son, obediently continuing to do what is right.
This suffering “according to the will of God” that Peter mentioned is the “death” of the grain of wheat that Jesus spoke about in John 12:24. These sufferings are for us our “Gethsemanes” and our “Calvaries”. They are the places in life where we are called upon to submit to God’s will when it is a hard and painful thing, when we know that all things are possible with Him, and that He could remove our burden if He chose to do so. Such sufferings are for us a share in the cup or the baptism of Jesus’ suffering, which as He taught in Mark 10:35-40, is necessary for a share in His eternal glory and a place of honor in the kingdom of God.
In John 12:24-26, Jesus compared His life and the lives of all of those who would follow Him to a grain of wheat, which must fall to the ground and “die” in order to bear fruit. Just as Jesus laid down His will and His life in order to do His Father’s will, so also all of us who serve Him must follow Him in this way, sharing in His sufferings as we “die” to our own will and what we would choose for ourselves in life, and we accept God’s will and the life that He has ordained for us.
Paul also taught us clearly in Romans 8:17 that we as the children of God must share in the sufferings of Christ, in order that we may also share in His glory. The Scriptures reveal to us that God has ordained it will be through our sharing in the sufferings of His Son Jesus Christ that spiritual fruit will be born, which will bring about for us a share in Christ’s eternal glory.
And as we can also see from the Scriptures, the sufferings that Jesus endured took many forms. In Isaiah 52:14 we learn that “His appearance was marred more than any man”. He was disfigured, and “many were astonished” at Him.
Continuing in Isaiah 53 we learn that Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”. He was despised and rejected by others. Men had no esteem for Him; they hid their faces from Him. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”.
Though He was “crushed for our iniquities”, we wrongly considered Him as one who was stricken and afflicted by God because of His own sin. He bore the punishment due for our wrongdoing, and “by His scourging we are healed”. He was “oppressed and afflicted”, and He unjustly suffered a death due to the wicked, though He had done no wrong.
We learn in Isaiah 53:10 that it was God’s will to “crush” His Son and cause Him to suffer these things. When we consider Isaiah 53:10, together with the teaching from John 12:24-26, Mark 10:35-40, and Romans 8:17, we can see that it is also God’s will to crush us and cause us to suffer, in some measure, bringing about in our lives a share in the sufferings of His Son in order that we may also share in His eternal glory.
From other passages in the Bible we learn of still more ways in which Jesus suffered. In Matthew 8:20, we see that Jesus had no place to lay His head; He had no home of His own. He was also betrayed by one who was close to Him. He suffered overwhelming sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane as He submitted Himself to His Father’s will for His life. He suffered exhaustion, and He was unable to bear the weight of His cross the whole way to Calvary. He suffered great pain in His physical body as he was scourged and then crucified according to God’s will, though He had done nothing to deserve it. He suffered abandonment by His closest friends during the time of the greatest trial in His life. And as He hung on Calvary’s cross, He suffered the desolation of feeling that He had been abandoned even by His Father God (Matthew 27:46).
As we consider the many ways in which Jesus suffered during His life on earth, we may be able to see reflections of His sufferings in our own lives. Maybe we have or we will at some point experience being “despised and rejected” by others, through no fault or wrongdoing of our own. Maybe we will suffer the consequences of a betrayal. Maybe we also, as Jesus did, will suffer abandonment by those who are closest to us during a time of great trial in our life. Maybe we have, or we will at some point in our lives, suffer any other aspect of His sufferings as we have seen revealed in the Scriptures.
With these things in mind, some of us may notice that the particular sufferings we are enduring are not among those mentioned in the Bible as something that Jesus suffered. As we consider the troubles, hardships and afflictions that our sovereign God has allowed to affect our own lives, we should understand that the sufferings we endure as we walk in obedience to God, whatever form these sufferings may take, are for us a share in the sufferings of the “Man of Sorrows”, who was Himself familiar with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
As we have seen from the Scriptures before, everything that God allows to touch our lives as His people, even the hard and painful things, will be made to work together for our eternal good and glory together with His Son. And once again, this is exactly why Paul taught that our sufferings in this present life are “producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
The Christian life is not a matter of having enough “faith” to “believe” God for the things that we want out of life, as some would say. Instead, the mindset and understanding that we should have regarding our Christian faith is reflected in Paul’s exhortation: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8, emphasis added).
Jesus Christ is our example of what the Christian life is all about. He took the form of a bondservant, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. As those who have come to faith in Christ, we also are to consider ourselves as bondservants of God, obediently serving Him in the place and the capacity that He has ordained for each of us individually.
God our Father calls upon us to submit ourselves to His will for our lives, as Jesus did. We are called upon to humble ourselves and become obedient to the point of death, taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23-24). This death involves our death to that which the Bible calls sin, and it also involves our being willing to “die to” anything that God may choose to take from us or withhold from us as part of His will for our lives.
We are called upon to die to that which we would choose for ourselves, and as obedient servants, we are to accept the assignments and place of service in life that God has ordained for us. This obedient acceptance of God’s will for our lives is the way that we carry around in our body “the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”, as Paul taught us in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11.
Even though these “deaths”, or this share in the sufferings of Christ, is God’s will for each of His people, we are not left without comfort. Once again, we recall the encouragement that Paul gave to us when he said: “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
This comfort that “is abundant through Christ” is provided to us through His grace and power, which is given to us in a measure sufficient for our every weakness and need in life (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). And this comfort is also given to us through the word of God as revealed in the Scriptures, because Jesus Christ Himself is the living Word of God (John 1:1, 14). As we study God’s word, we find many promises of His help, mercy, forgiveness, restoration, and provision for our lives, and we take comfort in knowing that every one of these promises is given through the One who is called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11-13).