Because He Suffered...
April 15, 2011 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Hebrews 2:18–2:18
As we approach Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter, I have been thinking this week about the suffering of Christ. What does it mean to me? What does it mean to you? I didn’t settle on any particular text, but found myself flipping around in my Bible, comparing different Scriptures. As I did so, I ran across another word. It is the word “help”. I was particularly intrigued by one particular New Testament word for help. It originally meant “to run on a call to help,” “to hasten to the help of the oppressed,” and then simply “to help.” The verse that linked these two words together in my thinking was Hebrews 2:18 which says: Because he himself suffered…he is able to help…
How are these two linked together? In what ways did the sufferings of Christ equip him and enable him to be our helper?
Before we answer this question, though, let us go back a step farther and acknowledge that we need help. The human race, Adam’s descendants are in desperate trouble. We have seen that in our series in the Book of Genesis, haven’t we? God made man in his own image. He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in a perfect environment. But they sinned. The disobeyed God’s command and he had to drive them from the Garden. By the time we get to Genesis 6, we find that man’s rebellion has gotten worse and worse so that “the thoughts and intentions of his heart are only evil continually.”Is our world any different today? Just look at the stories of raging violence and injustice and oppression that fill our newspapers day after day.
We are in deep trouble on another front. When man fell, so did the Creation. It has been subjected to “frustration and decay.” The world in which we live is a broken world. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, droughts, floods; it is not an easy place to live, and human suffering abounds.
On top of all that, there is the inevitable math of human life and death: one for one; for every birth, there is a death. Everyone who is born eventually dies. Death is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. We may deny it. We may refuse to think about it. But we cannot escape it.
It is a bleak picture. We need help! That is why I was intrigued by those words from Hebrews 2:18: Because he himself suffered…he is able to help…
What is the link? How did the sufferings of Christ equip him to be our helper? Why was it necessary for him to suffer?
What did he suffer? Usually when we think of the sufferings of Christ, our minds go immediately to the culmination of those sufferings, as he hung on the cross. But the opening words of Luke 9:51 are instructive: And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. Jesus’ suffering did not begin when they drove the nails into his hands, or even when they laid the cross on his shoulders. The entire week, particularly the last 24 hours were filled with suffering. He “suffered many things.”
I have made a list of some of the things he suffered.
1. He was betrayed by a close friend.
In Luke 22:47-48, we read: 47While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
This was a man he had spent 3 years with; one of his inner circle. He came up and kissed him – not to greet him, but to point him out to an armed guard that he led to the spot to arrest him.
2. He was deserted by his friends.
Mark 14:50 tells us: Then everyone deserted him and fled.
They left him standing absolutely alone.
3. He was arrested like a common criminal.
Luke 22:52: Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?
4. He was denied/disowned by a close friend.
Luke 22:60-61 says: 60Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
Jesus knew it would happen. But do you think it hurt any less?
5. He was ridiculed and mocked.
The description is found in Luke 22:63-64: The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?
The ridicule increased as he stood before Herod in 23:11: Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.
6. He was verbally abused.
We find this in the very next verse (65): And they said many other insulting things to him.
7. He was physically abused.
The words are many: slapped, beat, placed a crown of thorns on his head…
8. He was falsely accused and lied about.
In 23:1-2: Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar…
9. He was publicly denounced and rejected.
The leaders and crowd cried out for him to be crucified. Given a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, they chose Barabbas, a known insurrectionist and murderer.
10. He was denied justice.
Without reading the individual verses, the text tells us that three times, Pilate declares that he finds Jesus innocent of any crime. Yet in the end, he sentences him to death.
Jesus suffered all these things before they flogged him and led him out to be crucified, one of the most painful methods of execution ever devised. “The Son of Man must suffer many things.”
So, back to our question: How did his sufferings equip him to help us? Three answers struck me during my study this week.
First, because Jesus suffered, he is able to sympathize with our sufferings.
Hebrews 4:14-16 makes this application:
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
If we link this with Hebrews 2:18 we see the connection: Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
The word “temptation” carries the dual sense of temptation to sin and also testing through difficult circumstances and suffering. Jesus is qualified as a sympathetic high priest because he himself suffered. He knows what it feels like. He sympathizes with our pain because he has felt the pain himself. Thus we are urged to approach his throne with confidence. He is able to help.
Let’s apply this to the specific types of suffering we have seen that Jesus endured and related it to our own experience.
Have you ever been betrayed by a close friend or someone you loved?
Have you ever been abandoned by your friends in a crisis?
Have you ever been arrested or treated like a criminal?
Have you ever had a close friend deny or disown you?
Have you ever been ridiculed and mocked?
Have you ever been verbally abused?
Have you ever been physically abused?
Have you ever been falsely accused or lied about?
Have you ever been treated unfairly and been denied justice?
These are painful, painful things. I think all of us can say “Yes” to at least something on that list. And I suspect you still carry scars, wounds, deep hurts from the experience. There is help. Jesus is a sympathetic high priest. We can approach him with confidence, because he knows what it feels like. We can go and find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. Because he suffered, he is able to help.
There is another way that Jesus’ suffering can help us. Because Jesus suffered, we have a model to know how to respond to suffering.
This is the application that the Apostle Peter makes in his first epistle. He is writing to suffering Christians and he directs them to the suffering of Christ. We find this in 1 Peter 2:19-23.
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
From the example of Christ, we learn three lessons. First, when we suffer, we should be sure it is for doing good. There is no merit in being punished for doing wrong. But if we suffer for righteousness as Christ did, we are commended. But even when we suffer for righteousness, we must be careful to respond correctly and follow the example of Christ. He did not sin. He did not lie. He did not retaliate. He did not make threats.
This is a high bar; we might even say it is an impossible standard. But Peter gives us the underlying key to being able to respond in this way. We must do what Jesus did: he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He put himself into God’s hands. “God, you know who is right and who is wrong. You are the true judge. You will judge justly. I trust in you.”
Jesus’ example when he suffered is a help to us when we are suffering.
These are powerful truths. Because he suffered, Jesus is a sympathetic high priest. When he suffered, he gave us a model for how to respond to suffering. But if I stopped preaching now, I would leave our greatest need unmet.
Here is the double dilemma of the human race. We all play a dual role in life. We are victims. When we are victims of suffering, Jesus can help. That is what I have been talking about in the first two points. But there is another very uncomfortable truth: we are also victimizers. It is an irony of human behavior, is it not, that all too often the victims become the victimizers.
Imagine a first year student entering a boarding school. He soon encounters the senior prefects. They are bullies. They are cruel in their hazing of the new students. This is not harmless fun. This is sheer sadistic cruelty. The bullying leaves deep scars on this young student. Now fast forward 3 years. The first year student is now a senior. He is now the prefect. How does he treat the first year students? Is he kind? Is he gentle? Or is it now his turn to be cruel and visit on others what he experienced? All too often, the bullied become the bullies.
I could sense some resonance a few moments ago when I asked if you had ever experienced some of the things Jesus suffered. We all remember the things we have suffered. But now let me use the same list in a different way.
Have you ever betrayed a close friend or someone you loved?
Have you ever abandoned a friend who was going through a crisis?
Have you ever unfairly treated someone like a criminal?
Have you ever denied or disowned a close friend who fell out with the popular crowd?
Have you ever ridiculed or mocked anyone?
Have you ever verbally abused someone?
Have you ever physically abused anyone?
Have you ever falsely accused or lied about someone to save yourself?
Have you ever treated someone unfairly and denied them justice?
Now we all start to squirm a bit don’t we? Once again, if we are honest, I think all of us would have to confess that we have indeed been victimizers as well as victims. We have been hit by stones thrown by others, but we have also thrown our share of stones. And may I say it gently? While the one may partially explain the other, it cannot excuse it. In fact, this is our greatest need. What is the answer to the sins we have committed and the wounds we have inflicted? Adam and Eve sinned and they died. The Bible tells us that sin separates us from God and makes us his enemies. The Bible clearly tells us that “The wages of sin is death.” What can we do about our sins and about the death penalty levied against us?
This brings us to our third point: because Jesus suffered, the penalty for our sins has been paid and we can be forgiven.
Let us turn again to Hebrews 2, beginning with verse 14:
14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers 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.
This is the ultimate and greatest help, is it not? By his suffering and by the shedding of his blood, Jesus made atonement for our sins. He paid the penalty for our sins, so that we can be forgiven. Because he suffered, we can be forgiven.
Because he suffered…he is able to help.
What kind of help do you need this morning?
Do you need a sympathetic high priest? Someone who understands? Who knows what you are feeling? Who cares deeply about you and longs to comfort you in your pain?
Because Jesus suffered…he is able to help.
Are you caught up in the midst of a crisis, suffering unfairly, being treated badly by someone in your family or school or workplace? Are you trying to figure out how to respond? Do you need a role model, an example to show you how to act and what to do? Because Jesus suffered…he is able to help. He has left you an example so that you can follow in his steps.
Are you still lost in your sins? Are you guilty before the law of God and alienated from him? Do you stand before him condemned because of your sins? Because Jesus suffered and died…he is able to help. He has made atonement for your sins. He is calling on you now to repent, acknowledge your sins and your sinfulness, accept his sacrifice for you and call on his name. As the Scripture says so clearly and so simply: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. What are you waiting for?
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- In Luke 9:22, Jesus predicted he would “suffer many things.” Think about (and list) the sufferings of Christ during the last 24 hours of his life. (Use Luke 22:39 through Luke 23:49 as a source if necessary.) Remember to include emotional as well as physical suffering.
- Think more broadly. What common human experiences would Jesus have suffered during the first 33 years of his life? Feel free to use your imagination as well as events recorded in Scripture.
- Now read Hebrews 4:14-16. How does thinking about Jesus’ suffering increase your confidence in coming to him with your own struggles and pain? Are there any particular experiences Jesus had which parallel your own experience (past or present).
- Discuss Jesus’ model for responding to unjust suffering (I Peter 2:19-23). How does this compare to your natural instincts? What changes do you need to make to your current thinking and/or behavior in situations you are presently facing?
- Pastor Cam referred to the dual nature of the human dilemma; we are both victims and victimizers. Do you think this is a fair characterization of humanity in general? Is it a fair characterization of you? Does having been a victim justify becoming a victimizer? How does Jesus suffering and death as an “atoning sacrifice” address the second half of this dilemma? Have you accepted his sacrifice on your behalf?