“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried” — Apostles' Creed
Suffering exposes the foundations of our life, whether we have built a life on Jesus or attempted to anchor ourselves to something else. Even more, understanding the place of suffering in the human experience helps us bring God’s love to a hurting, confused world.
Reflecting on Jesus’ own suffering and death in our own challenges brings hope when we need it the most.
Suffering and the Silence of God
The unjust trial and torture of Jesus at the hands of religious and political authorities draws our attention to the suffering Jesus endured throughout his life. He was rejected by his own community (Luke 4:16-30) and berated by respected political and spiritual leaders (Matthew 12:14). Jesus was misrepresented, maligned and slandered. He experienced fatigue, hunger, thirst and loneliness. He was beaten, tortured and killed. And at the height of his agony and pain, his Father was silent. Truly, Jesus’ suffering reveals a God who fully bears our sins, sorrows and pain (Isaiah 53).
Jesus’ incarnation confirms his full participation with us. In his full humanity, Jesus suffered and died in a world ruptured from full fellowship with the triune God. In his suffering, he chose to be with us and work for us right where we are. In his death, he gave forgiveness, life and redemption to all who believe (John 3:16). Jesus shared in the human condition as confirmation of God’s covenantal commitment to be constantly present with his children.
Death to Self
As God continues to abide with us through suffering, the suffering and death of Jesus also lays the groundwork for the life of Christian discipleship. Jesus offers an example of the courage and faithfulness essential to following God alone. Through his suffering, Jesus walked the path of full obedience to the Father’s will, charting a course for every Christian to follow (Hebrews 5:8).
Jesus certainly preached resurrection and final victory, but knowing a final outcome does not remove the painful path toward that final outcome. Knowing God’s will does not make following easy, just as knowing the outcome of a choice does not negate the challenge of following through to the end.
Without the faithfulness of Jesus in death, we would not know how to follow the steep demands of Christian discipleship. Jesus’ death gives us the example and strength necessary to die to self and live for God’s glory alone.
God’s Last Word On Death
Ultimately, the suffering and death of Jesus reveals that Satan does not have the final say on death. Rather, God has the last word. Do not pass over Jesus’ suffering too quickly for the sake of the resurrection. Certainly, the church serves a living Savior and we revel in resurrection life, but we rob ourselves of God’s means of coping with heartache, pain and death when we skim past Jesus’ suffering and death. His suffering and death gives us the strength to trust a good, powerful God from the first moment of our life until our last breath. There is no phase of life or challenge where God is missing. Even if God is silent, he remains present and partnered with us.
God is not obligated to explain every situation, but the suffering and death of Jesus promises his presence in the midst of every situation. Sometimes we see how God redeems our suffering for good, but sometimes we do not. Regardless, knowing and experiencing God’s presence offers a more powerful comfort than simply knowing the outcome or reasons for suffering.
By pausing to reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus, we begin to grasp Paul’s words in Colossians 3:3. Truly, we have died and our life is hidden in Christ with God (Colossians 3:3).
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