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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Our Only Comfort is through the Suffering of Christ
Text:LD 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-12-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,2                                                                                    

Hy 1

Reading – Psalm 22:1-21; Isaiah 53

Ps 22:1,3,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 15

Hy 25:1,3

Hy 23:1,2,3,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord Jesus, Christmas is a blessed season for remembering the birth of our Saviour in Bethlehem. Now, it is true that amidst the carols and the gifts and the decorations, we often need the reminder not to get caught up in the secular holiday that Christmas has become. And it’s also true that we shouldn’t focus only on the birth of Jesus. Being laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths was not the end of the story. That cozy picture of the sleeping infant with his mother and father and a few visiting shepherds shouldn’t distract us from the truth that this little child was born to die!

Born to die… It sounds harsh, but the Catechism confirms this difficult truth. For from Lord’s Day 14 we go straight to Lord’s Day 15—from Christmas straight to Easter. We don’t linger in the soft lighting of Christmas, but we move on the real purpose of the birth of Jesus.

The purpose of his coming into the world was that He might suffer and be killed, shedding his blood for the sins of the human race. His birth was only the beginning, because for all his days on earth, Jesus faced hardship and torment. Not just for the hours on the cross or in those last days before Golgotha, but throughout his life, our Lord bore a deep and unsearchable pain in body and soul.

And it sounds strange, but our comfort is in his suffering! His misery is our merit, his pain brings us peace. I preach to you God’s Word as summarized in Lord’s Day 15 under this theme and points:

Our only comfort is through the suffering of Christ:

  1. the time of his suffering
  2. the depth of his suffering
  3. the reason for his suffering

 

1) the time of his suffering: The Catechism wants to focus on the cross in its lesson, but it begins by looking back in time for a moment, to the things that lead up to Jesus’s death. It observes that “during all the time he lived on earth” (Q&A 37), Jesus suffered. To us, we said, it’s clear that Christ suffered much in the last days of his life. But the suffering of these hours was not new to the Lord Jesus. He had already known great pain.

So when the Catechism says that Jesus suffered “all the time He lived on earth,” what exactly does that mean? It doesn’t mean we have to think that every single moment of his time on earth was one of unbearable hardship and affliction. His life knew a lot of anguish, but Jesus also had times of great joy.

We know that Jesus rejoiced when people repented from their sinful ways. He marveled when sick people showed great faith in who He was, and when confused people were ready to be taught the way of truth. He also rejoiced in the communion that He could have with his Father in heaven, for He often prayed and He rejoiced in doing God’s will.

And though He lived in a pretty low estate for thirty-three humble years, from time to time Jesus still showed his amazing power—his true identity—when He put his divine nature on display. Think of how He repeatedly revealed his glory in his miracles. Sometimes the disciples were left almost speechless, when they could only say, “This must be the Son of God!” Or think of how He was exalted on the Mount of Transfiguration, or when He was received into Jerusalem with shouts of praise on Palm Sunday. These weren’t accidents. Those who had eyes to see could know that Jesus was someone great.

There were these brief glimpses of his joy and glory. But it is true that much of Jesus’s life was one of hardship and trial. The Catechism doesn’t say what each moment of his suffering was, or even give examples of it. But especially the first text that is referred to under Q&A 37 can give some important clues. The note there is a bit unusual, because it actually refers to an entire chapter, Isaiah 53.

There we read about a mysterious figure, a nameless person who had to be hurt immensely and even killed in order to help other people. In Isaiah, He often goes by the title ‘the Suffering Servant.’ This man was God’s chosen one for delivering his people. He was someone willing to follow the path of affliction: “to bear the sin of many, to make intercession for transgressors” (v 12).

You can understand why the Catechism refers to this chapter, because Isaiah 53 is really a sparkling-clear prophecy of the entire life of Christ. Take verse 2, for example: “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” Isaiah prophetically speaks of his growing up ‘as a root out of unlikely soil’ because Jesus was born to average, ordinary Israelites.

Though Jesus was conceived in a miraculous way by God the Holy Spirit, this didn’t change what He looked like. He didn’t have a perfect skin, or glowing x-ray vision eyes, or a golden halo atop his head. Isaiah says that the Suffering Servant had ‘no special appearance that we should want to follow him.’

And even though He was eternal, sent from heaven and infinite in power and wisdom, He certainly wasn’t adored as God. Sometimes it was only the demons and evil spirits who recognized who He was! Recognized, but not adored. In Jesus’s low position, He simply blended in with ordinary, sinful man. He was not esteemed, though He deserved endless worship, and so He suffered.

We don’t know if Jesus was poor when He grew up, but we do know that once He began his ministry, He had very little. He had no regular income, but Luke tells us that Jesus had to depend on a group of women who supplied his daily needs. In all this, remember again where He’d come from. He laid aside the riches of heaven to become a wandering servant. Though He was the son of David, He didn’t wear the robes of a king or dwell in a palace—instead, He was a bit like a wandering animal, without much of a place to lay his head.

And like any of us experience, Jesus’s body had its limitations. Jesus could become hungry and thirsty. He knew the feeling of fatigue at the end of a long day’s work. He was never shielded from life’s brokenness, but familiar with human hurt and sadness; Isaiah says that He was “acquainted with grief.”

It’s a well-known phrase from Isaiah 53, that our Lord was “a man of sorrows” (v 3). So we sometimes picture Jesus as a fellow who always walked around with a long face and a mournful expression, never a smile. We shouldn’t forget that our Lord did have those moments of happiness. And you can imagine him preaching at times with a joyous look in his eyes and a smile across his lips, because He had such good news to tell! ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, for I will give you rest.’

Yet even then, it’s fair to say that Jesus remained at heart a ‘man of sorrows.’ For this reason: He was already bearing the burden of God’s wrath. This was the heavy task He accepted onto his shoulders. We often dread the difficult events coming up in our life: a tense meeting, a risky operation, a hard visit. We feel sick just thinking about it! Ponder that Jesus knew—each day of his life—that He had come to earth for one reason: to die. All along He knew that this task would take him to the cross.

He also suffered from the insults of those around him. He had his friends and supporters, but encountered many who hate him. When we read the Gospels, it is striking how quickly the Pharisees and scribes begin plotting. It doesn’t take long, and they know they have to kill him.

He had a difficult relationship with the crowds too. Some thought He was only a great healer, others that He was running for political office. Even the people of his hometown rejected him. Imagine being tormented by the people you grew up with! They’re supposed to be the ones who understand you, who are extra patient with you. But the people of Nazareth took him to a cliff in order to throw him over. Throughout, “He was despised and rejected by men” (v 3).

And throughout, Jesus suffered deeply under temptation. We know of three specific temptations from Satan, but there were many more. Hebrews 4 says He was tempted “in every way” like we are. And how great those trials must have been!

For isn’t it true for us, that a time of mental or physical suffering can bring its own temptations? When we’re dealing with pain or illness, isn’t there the temptation to pity yourself  or to become bitter? When we’ve been wronged by people in our life, we might be tempted to become angry or vengeful. Or in suffering, maybe we’re tempted to drown our sorrows, to try and escape from reality, and turn to some sinful distraction.

Suffering can lead to temptation to sin. And this was surely also true for Christ. Tempted to snap at his foolish disciples, or to get bitter toward the Jewish leaders, or frustrated with the crowds, or to do his own will for a change—these desires must have often arisen in him. Yet Christ stayed true. He was faithful. So what a comfort are his sufferings! For by all these he took upon himself God’s wrath against our sin. There was no pain that He didn’t endure, no misery that He wasn’t familiar with—He took it all on, for us.

Thinking again about his temptations, there’s a comfort in that too. Hebrews says: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18). Our Lord went through the same kind of things we do. So now He’s able to help us. He knows what it’s like to be a lowly human suffering in a broken world, so He comes alongside us. He sends his Spirit. He gives grace. He prays for us.

And there is more. For Christ also suffered more than we’ll ever have to. In order to pay for our sin, He suffered to the greatest depths.

 

2) the depth of his suffering: Throughout all his life, Lord’s Day 15 says, but especially at the end, Jesus suffered. Near the end, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled.” He cried out to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” and He pleaded that they remain with him and keep watch. He then fell on his face and began an anguished prayer, asking, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Yet the strain only increased, for “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

Though their master was deeply troubled, already tasting how bitter the cup of suffering would be, his disciples failed him. First, they fell asleep during his dark hours in the garden. And this was only repeated when his disciples scattered at his arrest. He would go through this alone! He was led to his trial, where He was soon found guilty.

Violent beatings and verbal abuse then rained down on him. Matthew paints the picture in stark terms. We should never be able to read this without marveling at how deeply our Saviour, the Son of God, suffered for us and in our place: “Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt down in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him” (Matt 27:27-31).

They came to Golgotha, and there He was crucified. Nailed to the wooden beams, He was hung high to be shamed and ridiculed. For the mocking only continued, everything from the silent accusation of the sign hung on the cross, to the biting words of those who passed by, “Come down from the cross, if you are Son of God.” And so our Lord suffered in our place.

If Isaiah 53 prophesies powerfully about all the suffering during the life of Christ, Psalm 22 speaks about the pain that filled the last hours before his death.

“All those who see ridicule me” (v 7)

“They shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the LORD; let him rescue him’” (v 8)

“I am poured out like water” (v 14)

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd” (v 15)

“Dogs have surrounded me, the congregation of the wicked has enclosed” (v 16)

“They pierced my hands and feet” (v 16)

“They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (v 18)

This was bad suffering. But was it so bad? He suffered, but others have suffered too. He was beaten, flogged, spiked through his hands and feet to wooden beams, but other people have suffered in a similar way. His physical torment was extreme, but haven’t others suffered even more? For example, we can read of Christian martyrs who for days were slowly roasted on a grille over a fire. Others spent years in a dark cell not long enough to lie down in, and not high enough to stand up in—that is suffering.

And maybe physically, someone could endure more pain than Christ did. If you’ve ever read about the Tower of London, you’ll know that the human mind is very creative when it comes to torture. But notice that the Catechism says Jesus suffered “in body and soul” (Q&A 37). The depth of his suffering—for the duration of his life, but especially at the end—was the fact that He was bearing the wrath of his own God and Father.

So we could compare the way in which many Christian martyrs have met their death with how our Lord finished his life on the cross. You know that thousands of Christians have died with a song of praise on their lips while facing the end. Many have steadfastly affirmed their faith in God while they faced the sword. For example, there are the well-known words of Polycarp, spoken before being burned alive: “Eighty-six years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Courageous words, filled with faith with God.

Yet Jesus hung on the cross, and He was completely broken. He cried those words from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This wasn’t a scream in the blindness of pain. It was the agony someone who was fully aware: God had forsaken him! While Christians can meet their end with confidence and in true comfort, Christ knew no such comfort. He was alone in the darkness that surrounded him.

Through Pilate, and by the hands of the Jews, God judged Christ and sentenced him to death. And the Catechism points out that even the way He was killed has meaning. In the Old Testament, after the Israelites stoned a person, the body was usually disposed of with respect. But when it was a terrible offender, his broken body was hung on a tree. It was a way of saying they couldn’t fully carry out judgment on sin. They killed the body, while God alone could kill the spirit. Hung on a tree, a guilty person was delivered up to receive the full sentence.

And the just penalty was God’s curse. That’s a fearful word in Scripture! To be cursed is to be condemned. To be cursed is to bear the full weight of God’s wrath. To be cursed is to be separated from the community of God’s people, and separated from God himself.

Hanging on the cross, Jesus bore in body and soul the dreadful wrath of God against our sin. As Isaiah says, “It pleased the LORD to bruise him… to make his soul an offering for sin” (53:10). This was the depth of his suffering, worse than we can ever imagine. Yet in it is our great comfort. Be comforted in God’s steadfast love for sinners like us. Be assured of his abounding grace, even when you’re at your weakest and lowest. Christ was cursed, that you might be blessed forever.

 

3) the reason for his suffering: Throughout this Lord’s Day, the Catechism is busy answering the ‘why’ question. It doesn’t only speak of ‘what’ happened, and ‘when,’ but it explores why Christ suffered, why He was condemned by Pilate, and why He was crucified to death. And the reason is you. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t there when they crucified the Lord. Your hands have blood on them, because He went to the cross for your sin.

Jesus did not need to do it, but He did it, in order to take upon himself our penalty. In the hymn, ‘How Deep the Father’s Love,’ there is the beautiful line, “It was my sin that held Him there/ until it was accomplished.” For my sin, for your sin, for our unbelief, Christ was willing to suffer: “He took upon himself the curse which lay on me” (Q&A 39). He had no dignity left, no honour, no power or glory—all so that He could save us.

Jesus laid down his life before God and said, “Here, take me, not them.” Jesus, the suffering servant, suffered perfectly. Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, took away the sins of the world. “During all the time he lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race” (Q&A 37). Like Peter says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18).

This glorious gospel means that everyone can find forgiveness in Christ. There are times when our sins can seem so numerous—like they are too great to be forgiven or ever forgotten. The sins of the past, or the sins of the ongoing present, can seem like an impossibly huge burden. A person can feel that they can’t be forgiven, their shame is too great. If everyone knew what we had done, we’d surely be chased out of church forever. But by a truth faith in Christ, God removes our shame and removes the curse. He says, “Do not despair in your sin, nor continue in sin, but flee to our Saviour Jesus Christ!”

If there is one more lesson we can take from this Lord’s Day, it is this: Sin is not a little thing. If we ever forget how serious our sin is, we need only look at the suffering of Christ on the cross. And we need that reminder. For some people, we said, their sin seems impossibly huge, a crushing weight of guilt. But for many others, our sin seems relatively small. We downplay it. It’s the “things we do wrong,” it’s the ‘stuff-ups’ that everyone commits. Maybe in our busy days we sometimes forget to pray for forgiveness or to repent.

But in the dark shadow of cross, we see clearly how terrible our sin really is. When we look at Christ, we see how much our sin angers the holy God. Sin cuts us off from him. Sin deserves his curse. And if we don’t understand that, if we don’t know what our sin is, we’ll never strive to put it away from us. If sin is only a thoughtless habit, a character flaw, we’ll never realize how much we need grace.

We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever knew—the cross shows us this truth. At the very same time, we are more loved in Jesus Christ than we ever dared to hope—the cross shows this too! So let us flee every sin, repenting and believing, and let us flee to Christ, the Suffering Servant and our faithful Saviour!  Amen.     




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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