Our Suffering Savior

BARBARANNE KELLY|GUEST

We are all familiar with suffering, aren’t we? As members of the household of God, experiencing suffering and trials is more than our common experience, it is our calling. Within our local churches there is more than enough pain and heartbreak to share. When I think about the women in my Bible study class or take a mental survey of the members of our church, I see a roll call of anguish which often brings me to tears as I pray. I know my own prayer sisters have cried to the Lord for me in the same way on many occasions.

Easter is almost here, and with it the joyful celebration of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Before we reach Easter Sunday, however, we must first go through Good Friday, because without the cross there is no reason to celebrate an empty tomb. Without Christ’s death there is no resurrection; without his suffering there is no salvation.

Our Bible study group has been digging into Peter’s first epistle, and we have found much that we can learn from Jesus when we encounter our own suffering. Deep into the second chapter, Peter makes a remarkable statement:

“If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20b-21)

What example did Christ leave for us in his suffering, and how do we follow in his steps? If our Lord has led the way, and is calling us to follow, we want to know where to walk. The example Jesus left us would fill many books, so I’ve chosen just three of the lessons we can learn from his road to the cross.

Prayer

Matthew reports that on the night Jesus was arrested he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (26:39). Jesus knew what lay before him, and in the anguish of his soul he struggled in prayer between his dread of the cross and his delight to do his Father’s will. He prayed in solitude, pouring out his heart to his Father until he was strengthened with the resolve to continue his mission to the end. As he finished, he rose to the sound of approaching soldiers, his desire to do the Father’s will secured, and faced the cross with no shadow of turning.

When sorrows strike, and we fall to our knees in prayer, we can have confidence that God hears us because in Christ we have access to him by faith (Eph. 3:12). Peter affirms this by quoting Psalm 34, writing, “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). We can come to the Lord with our heart’s burdens because Jesus went to that cross. We can go with confidence, drawing near to our Father’s throne of grace, finding mercy and grace to help in our times of need (Heb. 4:16).

Trust

Once Jesus finished praying, the suffering came on relentlessly: he was abandoned by his disciples, arrested, unjustly tried by the Jews, questioned by Pontius Pilate and Herod, denied by Peter, condemned, mocked, and tortured. In all this he never wavered. How? What sustained him as his accusers tormented him, as his body was beaten? Peter provides a clue when he writes that, “when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (2:23)

He continued entrusting himself to his Father, the just and holy Judge, in whom alone such complete trust may be placed. Jesus entrusted himself to his Father because he knew that though all others would abandon him, his Father would never do so. As he told the disciples in the upper room earlier that night, “Behold, the hour is now coming, indeed it has come, when … you will leave me alone. Yet, I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (John 16:32).

Yes, for a brief time, God the Father did turn away from and forsake his Son, pouring out his wrath upon the sin Christ bore in our place as he hung on the cross. But he did not forsake him utterly. The Spirit of Christ prophesied through the mouth of David that, “[God] will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption (Ps. 16:10). The Father crushed Jesus and put him to grief as his soul made atonement for our sins, but his obedience to the Father’s will as he poured out his soul to death was a pleasing sacrifice (Isaiah 53:10-12). Therefore, the Father of glory “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the one to come.” (Eph. 1:20, 21).

Peter exhorts us, also, to trust God in our suffering: “let those who suffer according to God’s will continue entrusting their souls to a faithful Creator” (4:19). Earlier in his epistle he anchors our security in the Father’s mighty strength when he writes that we, “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5). And later he binds our hope to Christ’s resurrection when he writes that through Christ we are “believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and hope are in God” (1:21). It is by that same resurrection power that we too may entrust our souls to the Father of glory, who exercises “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:19). Looking to the resurrection points us to one more way in which we can follow in our Savior’s steps.

Joy

The author of Hebrews sets Jesus before us not only as our example, but as our goal, when he encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (12:2). Strengthened by prayer, and entrusting himself to his Father, Jesus endured because he saw joy beyond the cross—a joy which eternally eclipsed the agony he would suffer on the cross. He looked not only at the cross, but at what lay beyond. In his commentary on Hebrews, Richard D. Phillips writes that there were many reasons for this joy, including Jesus’ delight to do his Father’s will, the coming reunion in heaven with his beloved Father, and the knowledge that his suffering and death would accomplish the redemption of his people.

“In short, Jesus rejoiced because he saw the crown beyond the cross; he saw the purchase of his blood, even the church that would be his bride forever in the regenerated glory of the endless age to come.”[1]

Peter begins his epistle with the same joy of anticipation which, in Christ, is ours. As he describes the great mercy of the Father in causing us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he then tells of the inheritance which awaits us in heaven and the security we have in God’s power, through faith, to get there. Based on this salvation, he then writes, “in this you rejoice, though now, for a little while, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6). Our trials, though severe and long, in the blazing light of eternity are only going to last for “a little while.” We can rejoice now, because, beyond our trials, we will reach the salvation which is ready to be revealed in the last time. And there, in heaven, our beloved Bridegroom awaits to welcome us to our glorious, eternal home. No more suffering, no more pain, no more tears.

And so, as we approach Good Friday, let us look to the cross and the suffering of our Savior, following in his steps: praying for endurance, entrusting our souls to God, with joy that looks beyond our suffering to our risen Lord, even Jesus Christ.

“And 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. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10, 11)

[1] Richard D. Phillips, Reformed Expository Commentary, Hebrews, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2006), 534.

About the Author:

Barbaranne Kelly

Barbaranne reads, writes, cooks, runs, and shoots an occasional photo in Texas.  She and her husband Jim are the parents of five of the neatest people they know and grandparents to the first two of (hopefully) many grandchildren.  She has been blogging ever since she accidentally signed up for a blog while attempting to comment on a friend’s blog post and figured, “Why not?”  She now blogs at Grateful and Women of Purpose, a ministry of the women of her church. Barbaranne and Jim are members of Christ Presbyterian Church in New Braunfels, Texas, where she leads a Bible study for women in the hope that she and they may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

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