Scripture, suffering, and solace: providing hope and help for the hurting

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Carl S. Hofmann


The Suffering Servant: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

“Anyone who would impugn the goodness of God for allowing sin and consequently evil must measure that charge against the teaching of Scripture that God himself

became the victim of evil so that he and we might be victors over evil.”

Millard Erickson

“Whereas other religions portray a deity that serenely transcends human suffering,

at the heart of the Christian faith stands the mystery of a suffering God.”

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
1. Some troubling questions regarding human suffering:

A. Mr. Chen, my Pentecostal landlord in London…

B. There is a tension between Jesus’ words to the paralyzed man:

“See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (John 5:14)

And Jesus’ answer about the man born blind (“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”):
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3)
C. Suffering can be—but certainly isn’t always—caused by sin

2. Christ’s cross is God’s ultimate answer to human suffering

A. The cross is the central emblem of the Christian faith (Stott)
B. This doesn’t stand to reason, given the cross’ horror in the ancient world (Stott, Cross, 23-24)
C. Our baptism unites us with Christ in his suffering and his glory

- in Christ, ours is a baptism of suffering (Mk 10:38-39; Romans 6:3), as well as a baptism of new life

D. The cross is central because God’s answer to human suffering and sin is Christ’s death (see quotes above)
3. Jesus knew suffering was central in his mission

A. Holman Hunt’s “The Shadow of Death” (1870-73). See handout.

B. He predicted it at least three times (e.g. Matt 16, 17, 20)
C. He taught on it after he was risen from the dead (Luke 24)
4. Jesus suffered in many ways:

A. He was rejected by his own people (John 1:11; Lk 4:16-30)

B. He was brutally tempted in the wilderness for 40 days (Mk 1:12-13)

C. He was slandered and misunderstood (Mk 3:21-22; Luke 7:34; John 7:2-5)

D. He experienced great anxiety in Gethsemane (Mk 14:33-34)

E. He was betrayed, abandoned, and denied by his friends (Mk 14:43-52, 66-72)

F. He was falsely accused, ridiculed, and mocked (Mk 14:53-65)

G. He was scourged, tortured, and killed (Mk 15:16-32)

H. He was plunged into the horror of God-forsakenness (Mk 15:33-37)

I. After his resurrection, in his spiritual body, the Church, he suffers still (Acts 9:4-5)

5. Jesus also suffered by refusing to cling to the rights and privileges of his divine identity

A. He humbled himself and washed the disciples feet (John 13:1-20)

B. He humbled himself and became a servant (Phil 2:5-11)
Christ’s life was “cruciform”: Suffering was central to his identity and mission. Why?!
6. Jesus and the early church identified his sufferings with those of the Servant in Isaiah 52-53

A. This is echoed or alluded to many times in the Gospels (Is 53:12//Luke 22:37; Is 53:4//Mt 8:17; Is 53:10//Mt 20:28; Is 53:11//Matt 3:15)

B. The risen Jesus linked his sufferings to the Old Testament, likely the Isaiah 53 passage (Lk 24:25-27, 45-47)
C. Phillip highlights this with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:30-35)
D. Paul mentions Isaiah 53 in his writings (Romans 4:25//Is 53:5; Romans 5:19//Is 53:11)
E. Peter writes of this, too (1Peter 2:4//Is 53:3; 1Peter 2:21-22//Is 53:9; 1Peter 2:24//Is 53:5)
7. Let’s look closely at Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (see handout)
8. Practical Reflections

A. God’s answer to suffering is to personally enter it.

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ…is God’s only self-justification in such a world’ as ours.” -- John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ

B. Christ’s suffering for us saves us from sin

- the broken four main relationships begin to be mended…

- the Lord’s Supper becomes the object lesson (“This cup is the new covenant…”)

C. Christ’s suffering provides us companionship in our own suffering

- Stott: “our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his”

- Matthias Gruenewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (see handout)

- The cross, the crucifix, and Catholic appreciation of suffering

D. Mutual fellowship of suffering: Christ joins us in our suffering; we join him in his

- our lives are to become “cruciform” as well (Matthew 16:24-26)

- this is sometimes heroic, sometimes mundane:
“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.” –C.S. Lewis
E. Let’s consider how we might minister to others with what we’ve learned today…
For further reading: John Stott, The Cross of Christ, InterVarsity Press, 2006.

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