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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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 Free Reformed Churches of Australia - FRCA
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:The gospel of Christ's suffering
Text:LD 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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

LD 15 – Christ’s suffering

Ps. 71: 1, 3, 10

Ps. 121: 1, 4

Hymn 27: 1 – 4

Hymn 21: 3, 4, 6, 7

Ps. 116: 1, 5, 7, 9


Scripture reading:       Mt. 26:  36 – 46

Text:                              LD 15


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,


We truly deserve eternal punishment.   And God demands that His justice be satisfied.   He demands full payment.   There is no other salvation possible.   And it is only our Lord Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, who was able to make this payment.  

Yes, He could only save us by making the full payment on our behalf.  He had to suffer and to die for our sins in order to save us.   We already confessed this in LD 5.  


And now, here in LD 15, we start to deal with that atonement as it has been accomplished by our Mediator Jesus Christ.   His suffering and death on the cross was the only atoning sacrifice.    There, on the cross He made the full payment that was demanded by God’s justice.


But, dear congregation, words and expressions such as payment, punishment, the demand of God’s justice and the fulfilment of the righteous requirements of the law are not words that tickle the ears of the hearers.   Also in our own day these words are certainly not popular.   There have been theologians in the past, and there are also theologians in our own day, who try to place the suffering of Christ within a different context – not in the context of payment or atonement, not in the context of punishment and the wrath of God, but in a context where the suffering of Christ becomes something accidental.  


Then the Father did not send His Son with the purpose to suffer and to die for our sins, and Christ did not bear the wrath of His Father, but accidentally had to suffer the wrath of men, which He then bore with longsuffering simply to demonstrate His love for us – a love that is willing to suffer and to forgive.

And it is added: a loving God would never require of His own Son to suffer under His wrath!   Such a gospel of payment, wrath and punishment, they say, does not fit a loving and forgiving God.


Dear congregation, although such arguments may sound very loving and gentle, it is not the gospel that has been revealed to us in holy Scripture.   Faithfully holding on to Scripture, our confession describes the suffering of Christ as bearing the wrath of God – the wrath of God against our sins.   Our confession describes the suffering of Christ as the only atonement for our sins, by which we were delivered from everlasting damnation.   And it was only by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, that Christ obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.


It is within this context of Christ’s atoning work that we will now look at His suffering.


I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

The gospel of Christ’s suffering


We will note…

1.      That He came to suffer

2.      That His suffering increased

3.      That He suffered as our Mediator 

In the first place we note that…

Christ came to suffer


Christ came to this world with the purpose to suffer and to die on our behalf.   He came in full submission to do the will of His Father: to accomplish the task for which His Father sent Him.   He came as Servant – the Servant of the LORD – as we read in the prophecy of Isaiah.   He came as the Servant of His Father to do the will of His Father – a Servant sent by the Father with the commission, the command, to suffer and to die for us.  


Christ’s suffering was no accident.   His suffering was not a by-product, or something that just happened to be part of His life on this earth.    Instead, He suffered all His suffering in active obedience to the Father in order to accomplish the task for which He was sent.

And it is within this context that Scripture explains Christ’s suffering.  


Now, the wrath of God was indeed poured out upon Christ, but at the same time it was Christ who actively took this suffering upon Himself and bore it for us.   He was not passive in His suffering in the sense of being a victim of the suffering, but in obedience to His Father’s command He actively took and actively bore the punishment for us.


And so all the suffering of Christ can be summarised with one word: obedience.  

He did not suffer passively, but with active obedience to His Father He drank the cup that was given Him.  

And thus we read these words in Hebrews:


“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me.   In Burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.   Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God.’

“…By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” – Hebrews 10: 5 – 7, 10.

There again the whole coming of Christ into this world is described as a coming to do God’s will.   And that will of God which Christ came to fulfil is then described as sacrificing Himself for our sins.   And so the suffering and death of Christ is described as doing God’s will, fulfilling the purpose for which the Father has sent Him.  

He accepted this task and command of His Father, saying:

            “I delight to do Your will, O my God...” (Ps. 40: 8 compared with Hebrews 10: 8, 9)


Now, the fulfilment of this will and command of His Father stretched from Bethlehem to Calvary, from His birth unto the cursed death that He died on the cross.   His whole life was the fulfilment of this commission.

Hear how our Lord Jesus described this command of the Father:

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.   No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.   I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.   This command I have received from My Father.” – John 10: 17, 18

He was willingly and purposefully obedient to this command to lay down His life for us.   “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself”.   He even delighted Himself in this will of His Father and in obeying this command.   As He also says in another place:

“…I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” – John 6: 38

Our understanding of Christ’s suffering and atonement is not Biblical unless we understand all His suffering as active obedience to the will of God, the fulfilment of the task and command for which the Father sent Him to this world.

Now, the suffering which Christ came to suffer, and which He took upon Himself, consisted in bearing the wrath of God – the wrath of God against our sin.   And Scripture makes clear that it was on the cross that He made atonement for our sins; and yet the Catechism does not hesitate to say that this suffering of Christ already started as His birth.   For although Scripture does focuss our attention on the final and complete suffering of Christ on the cross, where He completed and accomplished His work of atonement, Scripture is not silent about the suffering which Christ suffered during His whole life.   During His whole life He acted as our Mediator.   His humiliation and suffering started at His birth and found its climax and completion on the cross.  

We note that in the second place, that…

Christ’s suffering increased


When we speak about the suffering of Christ that lasted throughout the whole course of His humiliation from birth to death, then we are not speaking of one measure of suffering that remained the same throughout His earthly life.   Instead, there was an increase of His suffering, especially at the end of His life, with the climax and fulfilment of His task on the cross.

Now, as His suffering increased we also see the expansion of His obedience.  

We read in Hebrews 2: 10 that Christ, as the captain of our salvation, was made perfect through sufferings.

And we read:

“…though He was Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.   And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him…” – Hebrews 5: 8, 9

What does it mean that Christ was made perfect through sufferings, and that He learned obedience by the things He suffered?  

It can of course not mean that Christ was not perfectly holy before He suffered, or that He needed suffering for His own sanctification.   And it does not mean that He was not perfectly obedient before He suffered.

It simply means that His obedience expanded and grew through the things that He suffered.   And it is worthwhile to note this, because this suffering, we are told, made Him perfect to save us.

He was the Son of God, but after His incarnation He was at the same time also fully man – without sin.   He is fully God and fully man at the same time. 

He was not born in sin and had no sinful nature.   He never had any sinful desire or any inclination to disobey.   He knew no sin.   His human nature was perfectly holy from start to finish.   And yet Christ, in His human nature, did grow and develop and made progress.   We read for example of His childhood that He, the child Jesus, “increased in wisdom and stature...” – Luke 2: 52.   As He grew up He increased in wisdom.   That does not mean that He was at any stage unwise, but His wisdom grew and developed.  

In the same way, when Scripture says that He learned obedience through the things He suffered, it does not mean that He was at any stage disobedient, but that His obedience – which was without fault in every stage – expanded, grew and became full grown through the things He suffered.  

Yes, when it says that our Lord Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” then the word “learning” clearly implies process and progression.  

In every stage of His humiliation He was completely obedient to the will of His Father, but as His suffering increased the extent of His obedience also increased.  


We see this for example there in the garden of Gethsemane when the hour was approaching in which Christ was to take upon Himself the full measure of God’s wrath.  

As this hour was approaching His trial and suffering became more intense.   He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed, and He said to His disciples:


            “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death…” – Mt. 26: 38


And in His anguish He prays to His Father:


“…O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” – Mt. 26: 39


He asks that this cup, the suffering of hell, my pass Him by if it is possible.   His request, and the desire to escape the wrath of God, is genuine and most intense.   If it is at all possible, please let this cup pass Me by – nevertheless not as I will, but as You will.  


But how could He desire that the cup passes Him by if He knew all the way, beforehand, that He had to die this accursed death?   Did He not tell His disciples beforehand that He had to suffer this?  

The only explanation is that at this time, as the hour was approaching that He would have to bear the full measure of God’s wrath against the sin of the whole world, there was an enlargement of His knowledge and comprehension of the depth and the width of the curse that He had to take upon Himself, so that this increased knowledge and experience even turned His sweat into blood.  


Mark tells us that He began to be amazed (Mark 14: 33).   We cannot escape the conclusion that at this stage there was a deepening of His comprehension and experience of the full depth of the suffering that awaited Him, so that at the full realisation of the infinite depth of this suffering amazement filled His soul as the terrors of hell was approaching.    It started to engulf His soul, and it filled Him with horror and dread.  


Then He prays again, but this time He already stretches His hand out to receive the cup:


“O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” – Mt. 26: 42


And later that night He even rebukes Peter and says:


“…Put your sword into the sheath.   Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” – John 18: 11.


The cup has been given, and He took it.   The cup is already in His hand, and He is fully determined to drink it.   We see the development.   In every stage of His suffering He was completely obedient, and yet He learned obedience through the things He suffered, until He could finally say: “It is finished”.  


But we must not think that Christ suffered anything for His own sake, or for His own benefit, or for His own development.   He was innocent.   He did not deserve any suffering, neither did He need any suffering for His own sake.   All the suffering that He suffered, He suffered as our Mediator.


We note that in the last place, that…

He suffered as our Mediator


We saw that Scripture does mention the sufferings which Christ suffered during His life before He came to the cross, and even says that Christ, the captain of our salvation, was made perfect though sufferings – Hebrews 2: 10 – yet we have to realise that Scripture also speaks of Christ’s one work of obedience, His one sacrifice on the cross, and that He bore our sins on the cross.   And thus, speaking of His work of atonement, speaking of His suffering as “the only atoning sacrifice”, we have to focus our attention on the cross.   There He was cursed for our sake; there, on the cross, He bore the full weight of God’s wrath  against our sins.


Now, at first sight it may seem strange that the Catechism also adds that by His suffering Christ obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life. 

Because: when we hear about Christ’s suffering we tend to think only of the fact that He bore our punishment.   But the payment that we owed God, the full payment of which LD 5 spoke – which is the fulfilment of God’s justice as God demands it in His law – that payment is twofold.  

God’s justice, as revealed in His law, demands in the first place full obedience, and in the second place full punishment for those who disobey.  

Christ, when He suffered and died on the cross, fulfilled both these requirements.  


There on the cross He bore the full punishment and rendered the full obedience as required by God’s justice.   There on the cross His payment and His obedience are one.  It is His obedience unto death.   That is: His complete obedience to extent of dying the accursed death on the cross.   And it is that perfect obedience which is now accounted to us.


And thus we cannot speak of Christ’s suffering apart from His obedience.   In fact, His complete work of atonement can be summarised with this one word: obedience.   He was obedient unto death – the death of the cross.


With this understanding it becomes clear that Christ did not only suffer to take our guilt away and to bear our punishment, but that His suffering was also an act of perfect obedience by which He obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.


Brothers and sisters, this is the gospel of Christ’s suffering.   By His stripes we were healed.   By His death He obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness and eternal life. 


Yes:      “…let everyone consider his sins and accursedness, so that he, detesting himself, may humble himself before God.   For the wrath of God against sin is so great that He could not leave it unpunished, but has punished it in His beloved Son Jesus Christ by the bitter and shameful death on the cross.”


You will recognise these words from the Form for celebrating Lord’s Supper.


“…let everyone search His heart whether he also believes the sure promise of God that all his sins are forgiven him only for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, and that the perfect righteousness of Christ is freely given him as his own, as if he himself had fulfilled all righteousness.”


This is the gospel of Christ’s suffering.

And for the strengthening of our faith this gospel is also portrayed and sealed to us in the sacrament of Holy Supper.  

His body was broken and His blood was shed for the complete forgiveness of all our sins.


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

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