August 13, 2013

The Suffering Son

by Joey Newton

Crown of ThornsHave you ever wondered why Jesus had to go through all that He did? I don’t mean just the suffering on the cross, where He bore the curse of the Law for us (Gal. 3:13) and drank the full cup of divine wrath for the sin of His people (Matt. 26:42). We understand that He was and had to be the propitiation – full satisfaction – for our sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). However, what I’m talking about is all the other stuff He suffered. Wasn’t the suffering of the cross enough? In one sense, yes, He paid the price in full and no greater sacrifice could be made. But in another sense, no, it wasn’t enough for Him to be our perfect Mediator. Now, that may be a shocking statement to some, but how about what the writer of Hebrews said: “He learned obedience through what He suffered … having be made perfect” (5:8-9). Yes, He “learned obedience,” and He was “made perfect” as our Mediator and High Priest.

This means Jesus could not have been the perfect Mediator had He just shown up as a fully grown Man and then went to the cross. He couldn’t just come and get the whole thing over with. That wasn’t an option. No, He had to live the life He lived. He had to suffer and He had to suffer to the fullest extent of human suffering. This is crushing and amazing grace.

In one sense, this should not have been such a surprise to the nation of Israel, or the disciples. Isaiah the prophet anticipated One whose who life would be describes as “A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” He had to be “despised” (Isaiah 53:3). That’s an accurate description, but doesn’t begin to capture the fullness of what He endured – as if any words really could. There is a sense, however, in which what He suffered others have to. For example: “No where to lay His head” (Matt. 8), hostility of others (Lk. 4:28-29), being lied against (Matt. 26:60), hated (John 15:18),misunderstood (Matt. 9:3), loved for the wrong reasons (John 2:19), misrepresented by evil people (Matt. 12:24), and even the physical torture of the cross and all that went with it (Lk. 23:33). The Psalms are filled with this kind of suffering by the righteous. Granted, He did so as the Perfect Son of God, which makes His unique, but still, they are experiences others can relate to, to some degree. However, His greatest area of suffering was something that reached a level no human can ever understand.

He suffered that deepest pain of total abandonment to a degree we cannot fully understand. Jesus experienced rejection and abandonment from everyone in His life whom He loved and who should have loved Him. He suffered the rejection of His creation, even those made in His very image: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). Tragic. He suffered the rejection of His very own people, whom He had loved and revealed Himself to for over 1,500 years. It was not only the people that would reject Him, but the very leaders of the people who supposedly called Him God: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11; cf. Matt. 16:21; John 19:15 [8:54]). He suffered the pain of betrayal by one of His closest companions, a disciple whom He showed nothing but His love and glory. Yet, this one so close betrayed Him to His enemies for money and with a kiss: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Could the intensity of betrayal be any worse?Homeless sleeping

He suffered the abandonment of His closest friends in His hour of greatest need. Once the betrayer gave His signal, the mob then took Him away. Yes, there was a brief scuffle, but in the end: “All the disciples left Him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). He was left alone, to suffer the mocking, ridicule, scorn, blasphemy, and hatred of His own hypocritical national leaders, the Romans, and even the two-thieves (Matt. 26:63-68; 27:29-31; 41-44). He suffered the denial of His own chosen leader, Peter, who emphatically declared three times: “I do not know the Man!” (Matt. 26:74). He suffered the betrayal or abandonment of everyone close to Him in His life, but it gets even worse.

In all that He suffered above He could still say to His disciples on the night of the betrayal: “I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Even though every human companion left Him, the Father had not left Him, but even that would come. There, while He hung on the cross, a point came when the sky grew dark for three hours (Matt. 27:45). No words of Jesus are recorded during this time, except at the end, when in a loud and anguished cry He uttered words of profound suffering and mystery: “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46).

The abandonment of men, though tragic, could somehow be explained, but the abandonment of the Father; Him with whom He had known only a joyful, intimate fellowship that fills eternity. His Father, the Father, who affirmed: “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5), turned His face away and placed on Him the sin of His people: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). It is a mystery what He endured on that cross for those three hours, but it was enough “anguish of soul” (Is. 53:11) to satisfy Divine wrath for every sin His people had committed and would commit, ever. In those hours He suffered, to the highest possible degree – even more than we can comprehend – to a level of intensity that only the Perfect Son of God in flesh could have suffered.Cross dk clouds

No human experience can parallel the suffering of pain, anguish, and searing loss that Christ, the Perfect Son of God, suffered on that cross those hours when He felt the abandonment of the Father. No amount of human suffering is possible to equal that of Him who satisfied divine wrath for untold amount of sin.

And it is in this final act of suffering that He completed His perfect obedience and became the perfect sacrifice and Mediator. Why did He have to suffer as much as He did? The most basic and profound reason is this: As our substitute He had to display perfect submission and love to God – the fulfillment of the Law – which can only be perfectly demonstrated through the greatest suffering and temptation. So he suffered to the max, displayed perfect submission, perfect love, and became our perfected Mediator and “source of eternal salvation.”

A second, and no less profound, reason is: only through His suffering could He be the merciful and sympathetic High Priest. No matter what pain, or struggle we experience in this life, we can never say, “You don’t understand.” Yes, He does, and far better than we do. And He is ready to show grace to help us overcome, even as He did. Yes, we will fail, but that’s the point of grace. He is there to pick us up, dust us off, bring us to repentance, and put us back on our feet to keep fighting the fight of faith; until we are with Him and the fight is over. What a gracious God! What a wonderful Savior worthy of all our love!

Joey Newton


Joey is the pastor-teacher of Newtown Bible Church in Newtown, Connecticut.
  • Terry

    Excellent! The plan of redemption of unworthy souls, what it cost, and the actual fulfillment of the plan is God’s most glorious work and our finite minds can only catch a glimpse of it. Can a film that reduces it into a gory story about the unbelievable physical torture and suffering of Jesus be called the best evangelizing tool ever. Not so much. Thank you for some “spiritual” drink on this great mystery. The sheep are thirsty. So many clouds, so little water. Bless you.

  • From where you pastor, I’m sure your teaching on this subject has been much-needed. Thank you for your ministry.

  • Melissa Collins

    This was very gripping to read as you built up the intensity of His sacrifice! I could almost imagine the despair and it brought to life again, the unimaginable sacrifice for all mankind. Praise Him, that no matter how we are forsaken by mankind, our Father in Heaven will NEVER forsake us. Thank you!

  • Paul Abeyta

    Great article. I have a question on the topic though (perhaps it was answered in the body of the blog and I missed it). Would you say that Jesus suffered in his divine nature or in his human nature alone…or does it even matter to draw a line of differentiation?

    • Joey Newton

      Paul: Good question. The first thing to be said is that Scripture presents the Person of Jesus Christ, who is both God and Man; it does not say Jesus did this in His human nature, then that in His Divine nature, and so on. It is the Person of Christ we are confronted with in the gospels. Second, Scripture presents to us Jesus Christ as the eternal God the Son who clothed Himself in flesh, in humanity (Phil. 2:6-8). In other words, His humbling was in no way relinquishing His Divine attributes (as if attributes were something that could be put on or off like garments), but concealing them, as it were, and choosing not to exercise them for the purpose of fully experiencing humanity (Heb. 2:17). This means that Jesus lived His life fully yielded to the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit – as a Man (Acts 10:38). Third, His suffering, then, as as the Person – Jesus Christ. Yet, it has to be noted that it is difficult to see how His Divine nature could suffer, but His perfect human nature could; His Divine nature cannot die, yet He died in HIs perfect humanity; Divine nature cannot be made sin, yet in His perfect humanity He can be ‘made sin’ (treated as the culprit of all the sin of His people) at the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). In one sense, it is right to say God died for our sins, for He is the God-Man (John 1:1, 14). Yet, in another sense, it is God the Son in His perfect Humanity that suffered and died for sinners. His suffering and death was in His perfect human nature. This is a mystery, but is hinted at in Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 2:5 “One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” Jesus lived and grew and obeyed and suffered and died and was resurrected as a fully human Man (in the power of the Holy Spirit), though united to Deity, the God-Man. There are two books on this subject that I recently read and would highly recommend (in this order). The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ, by Bruce Ware; and The Presence and The Power: The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus, Gerald F. Hawthorne. Regarding the latter, there are a couple of points I either question, or would disagree, but overall it is an excellent study, well argued, and with much spiritual food. However, I would start with Ware.

  • Thank you for this much needed and well penned reminder…I can’t help but think as I read through such details of Christ’s suffering, how very little we can really comprehend of it all..what was done, accomplished for us. It’s overwhelming..

  • Krestan Boutross

    Thank you for this Joey. A lot of these things are overlooked when examining the cross and what Christ really did. Great reminder and great challenge to love Him all the more.