By H. Lynn Gardner
From the pristine perfection of Heaven, Jesus came to earth to live in this vale of tears as a suffering servant. It amazes us that God would humble and humiliate himself to experience opposition, suffering, and death.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8).
The cross of Christ stands at the center of human history and divine action by serving human need and satisfying divine necessity. The old covenant prepared for it. His death initiated the new covenant. In Christ’s suffering and death we encounter the heart of God.
Christ’s Sufferings Demonstrate that God Identifies with Us
Jesus understands us because he became one of us.
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:17, 18).
Our Lord is not distant, unfeeling, nor indifferent. Followers in most religions have no personal relationship with their deities. In Christianity God gets personal with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
God could have said to the human race, “I gave you a chance. You failed. I will banish you to outer darkness.” What he did was to promise and prepare for a Redeemer Messiah to be the Savior of the world. Christ died “for our sins” (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3), tasted “death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), and “bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24).
Christ’s death was not the valiant self-sacrifice or noble martyrdom of an ordinary human. God incarnate died in our place as our substitute sacrifice (Mark 10:45). He took the penalty we justly deserved. We accept his death as our death. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
How Jesus faced and handled suffering is a model and example for us as we suffer (1 Peter 2:18-23; Hebrews 12:1-3). Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done, not his own. He reverently trusted and obeyed God, patiently accepting and enduring suffering (Luke 22:42; Hebrews 2:10; 5:8, 9).
Christ’s Sufferings Define God’s Love for Us
Many hurting people feel God does not love them. God’s love is not an emotional, indulgent love that gives us what we want. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Our heavenly Father loves and cares for us perfectly and acts in our long-term best interest (1 Peter 5:7).
True love cares for the unworthy. In the suffering Christ, God moved toward us in love. He did not wait until we were good enough for his favor. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us. . . . While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8, 10).
Paul points to our Lord’s love for us, demonstrated when he became our substitute sacrifice, as the example for us to follow in walking in the way of love (Ephesians 5:2). As a good Shepherd, he willingly laid down his life for us (John 10:11, 18). His willingness to suffer and die for us is proof positive of his love for us (1 John 4:10).
God’s love for us is not a “touchy-feely” kind of love but rather an “act-in-your-best-interest” kind of love. God created human beings in his image. Sadly, we have all sinned. We stand alienated and condemned under God’s wrath against sin. As sinful human beings, we have no way to remove our guilt. Our loving God, not wishing any should perish, prepared a way (2 Peter 3:9).
Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind, thus satisfying God’s righteousness because he paid the just penalty for sin. The cross shows God’s wrath against sin and his love for the sinner. We do not deserve it, but by his grace received by faith we can be forgiven and justified of our sins. We see God’s loving character when we understand that, through Christ’s suffering and death, God is just and justifier (Romans 3:23-28).
Many in our generation have a trifling attitude toward sin. The cross states powerfully that sin is serious business to God. He cannot ignore or overlook it. He paid a heavy price of suffering to deal with it. Our salvation is free, but it was not cheap.
Because Jesus was God in the flesh, his death is more than an expression of human love and sacrifice. The meaning is much deeper. It was not the death of a mere man, rather the divine Son of God. Death itself does not save. It was the God-designed death for sins that shows divine love.
A holy and loving God reached down to provide a way for us to be forgiven and be restored to a wonderful fellowship with him (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:12-16). The cross of Christ is the best answer to the age-old question of why a loving God would allow evil. Sin introduced evil into the world. The cross is the ultimate answer to the problem of evil.
Christ’s Sufferings Display the Glory of God
Three times Jesus spoke of his death as a time of glorification. During the final week, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. . . .
It was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:23, 27, 28). In the upper room, after Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once” (John 13:30-32).
The night before his death, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:1-5). Jesus prayed that he would honor God by doing his will. Instead of considering the cross as shameful, he saw it as a means of bringing glory to God. God shares his glory with believers by giving them eternal life, which begins by knowing God in Christ.
The Shekinah in the Old Testament designated God’s presence and dwelling among his people. People observed this glory dwelling in Jesus (John 1:14). Leon Morris states, “Jesus was the unique embodiment of the glory of God. Because of his character as the Word we see in him the divine glory, and we see it nowhere else.”
Jesus did not display this glory in regal splendor but by humbly serving and suffering for others. God’s glory, seen at the cross, captures us and draws us to the heart of our heavenly Father (John 12:27-33; 13:31). The cross reveals God’s true character brilliantly. The powerful God submits to the powerlessness in death, displaying his heart of holy wrath against sin and love for the sinner.
On the surface, the cross looks like the triumph of evil. Where is God in this ugly scene? Through the cross, God provided for our salvation. A young boy remarked that if God had been there, he wouldn’t let them do that to Jesus. But “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19, New American Standard Bible). Christ’s death accomplished a resounding defeat of the devil and evil. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
H. Lynn Gardner is a freelance writer in Carl Junction, Missouri.
Learn More About Christ’s Sufferings
Where Is God When We Suffer? What the Bible
Says About Suffering
By H. Lynn Gardner (College Press, 2007)
The Cross in the New Testament
By Leon Morris (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006)
The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition
By John R. W. Stott (IVP Books, 2006)
1 and 2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings
by David R. Helm (Crossway Books, 2008)
24 Hours That Changed the World
by Adam Hamilton (Abingdon Press, 2009)
The Radical Cross: Living the Passion of Christ
by A.W. Tozer (Wingspread Publishers, 2009)
Shaped by the Cross: Meditations on the Suffering
by Ken Gire (InterVarsity Press, 2011)
Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die
by John Piper (Crossway Books & Bibles, 2006)