A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” It portrays a brutal depiction of the physical suffering of Christ. Ancient paintings and other works of art don’t even come close to describing the physical agony of Jesus on the Cross. The 2004 film, with the benefits of special effects and a budget of $30m probably comes the closest, as in this movie we see the agony of the cross. Most students of history agree that crucifixion is the cruellest and most inhumane means of execution ever invented by man. As I also mentioned at the beginning of our series this month, the physical suffering of Jesus is the easiest part of His death for us to identify with, simply because physical pain is something we’ve all experienced to one degree or another.
But there is an infinitely greater suffering that Jesus experienced as He prepared to go to the Cross, and while He underwent the torment of death by execution.
One of the most powerful passages about the death of Jesus Christ is actually found in the Old Testament in Isaiah chapter 53. The key principle is found in verse 11. Here it talks about “the suffering of His soul.” This gives us some insight into the real passion of the Christ at Calvary.
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
For some people, life seems an absolute breeze, while for others, they seem to go from one difficulty to another.
Jesus’ purpose for coming into this world resulted in a life that from early on was one of difficulty. In the first three verses, we see that He was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.” Although the suffering of His soul reached a pinnacle on the cross, we need to realise that suffering marked His whole life in many ways.
During His earthly life, Jesus didn’t live a life of luxury. In Matthew 8:20 He said, “The Son of man has no place to lay His head.” He also experienced the emotional suffering of being misunderstood and rejected by people. They just could not understand who He was and what the purpose of His life was, so they rejected Him. Of course, this all reached a climax during Holy Week, but rejection was something He experienced throughout His life. And He is still despised and rejected by men today. We’re told in Scripture that as soon as He began His life of public ministry, the Pharisees began plotting to have Him killed. The greatest irony is that these religious custodians, who should have known better, had the temerity to accuse God Himself of blasphemy…
Jesus’ entire life was a life filled with sorrow and suffering, which was sometimes physical, often emotional and always spiritual as people rejected the way of God and in the process also rejected Jesus.
Of course, the final suffering took place on the cross at which time He experienced the terrible agony of the flogging and the cruel crucifixion. What we don’t realise if we only look at the physical aspect of the suffering is that on the cross He also suffered by carrying the weight of all of our sins.
This message is powerfully presented in Isaiah 53:4-5. Just look at these verses again and try to see what He did.
“He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” He took up, He carried, He was pierced, He was crushed, He experienced punishment and by His wounds we are healed. But the real torture of all of these expressions of struggle and suffering is that He did it for us.
When Jesus was on the Cross, He did experience all the physical agony of crucifixion, but there was more to it than that.
In verse 4 it says, “we considered Him stricken by God.” We need to know what this means, because this added to the spiritual suffering of Jesus. The words of those who mocked Jesus while He hung on the Cross fulfilled this prophecy, “we considered Him stricken by God.” Those who taunted Him assumed that He was being punished by God for His sins, chief among which was blasphemy.
We read about this mockery in Matthew 27:41-42.
“The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but He can’t save Himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.’” Their mockery shows that they saw His suffering as deserved punishment from God for His blasphemy in claiming to be God, and they were taunting Him. “You say that you are God. Well, prove it to us by coming down off the cross.”
But in verse 5 we are reminded that “He was pierced for our transgressions,” not His. On the cross, He was not bearing the agony of guilt for His own sins.
Jesus did not bear the guilt of His own sin on the cross. The true agony and the real suffering of His soul was that on the cross He bore our sin.
In Max Lucado’s book ‘3:16’ he writes, “Between His hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of your mistakes: your lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of your sins. The bad decisions from last year. The bad attitudes from last week. There, in broad daylight for all of heaven to see, was a list of your mistakes. He saw the list. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since He couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, He chose the nails.”
The suffering of His soul was the suffering of carrying your guilt and my guilt all the way to death.
But we learn even more about the suffering of His soul. Verse 6 says, “We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
This reinforces the point that the suffering of His soul involved suffering for our sin and guilt and taking our punishment, but it takes it one step further. It indicates that it is God who has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed in deep agony that if possible, the cup should be removed from Him. You’ll remember from earlier in this series that Jesus was not asking to avoid the Cross. What He was earnestly and desperately asking the Father for was that the cup of separation from the Father would pass. And it did. God answered that prayer, but not immediately. While Jesus bore our sins, and while He lay dead in the grave, the Father withdrew the intimate fellowship that had endured for an eternity. The agony of His soul was that God’s plan of salvation required that Jesus be abandoned by His Father.
There is a scene on the cross which helps us understand the real spiritual agony Jesus experienced when He was bearing our sins. It helps us understand the suffering of His soul that took place on the cross. For all of eternity, and even during His earthly life, Jesus had experienced an intimacy with the Father that we can barely imagine. It was an intimacy better than the close relationship of mother and child, of husband and wife, of any human relationship. But when Jesus hung on that cross with all of our sins upon Him, in that moment that intimacy was broken. God turned away from Him. Jesus quoted directly from Psalm 22 as He cried out in desperation in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
God put Him there, His only and beloved Son and then at the critical moment, as the sin of the world was heaped on Him, He turned away from Him. That represents the ultimate broken relationship. This truly was the climax of the suffering of His soul, and far outweighed any physical torture. The most intimate relationship you can possibly imagine with another human being falls infinitely short of the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with the Father, and for this reason we simply cannot imagine the horror of that relationship being broken as He took the guilt of our sin.
The words “Jesus died for my sins,” roll off the tongue so easily. We are so used to hearing them that many of us barely give them a second thought, except very briefly on Good Friday each year.
Picture for a moment a list of all the people in your life who have stolen from you, slandered you, hated you and have caused you nothing but pain and heartache. Now picture yourself allowing your own child or grandchild being put to death for those people so that they can be forgiven for what they’ve done to you…
It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it? If such a suggestion has shocked or even offended you, then good. That’s the whole point, but the horror of even contemplating such a thing comes nowhere near the spiritual heartache the Father and Son experienced at Calvary.
We wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing for our enemies. In fact, the whole idea when seen from that perspective is laughable. But this is exactly what God did and as He did, we come to understand just something the depth of Jesus’ suffering and the depth of the Father’s love for us.
Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”
Jesus’ acceptance of His role as the atoning sacrifice for human sin is recorded in numerous places in Scripture. Jesus often spoke about the Cross to His disciples. At the time they struggled to understand what He meant, and they were naturally horrified each time He spoke to them about His impending death, but eventually they did see it. Have your eyes been opened to not only the horror of the Cross, but also the absolute necessity of it?
The truth is, that without the Cross, a greater horror than Jesus experienced would await us all. We too would be separated from the Father, but there would be no end of this separation. There would be no resurrection for us.
At His trial, Jesus’ silent acceptance of what was happening is clearly evident. When on trial, we read in Matthew 27:14, “But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor.” He was silent, but His silence was not due to giving up. It was due to Him laying down His life. Remember, Jesus is God, and He could have brought this whole thing to an abrupt end by simply saying the word, but He didn’t, because He knew that He is our only chance of redemption and eternal life. Pontius Pilate was the ruler of Israel. He even outranked Herod, the Jewish king, and when Jesus was brought before him, he said in John 19:10, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus’ response to him was, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
Jesus, the eternal God of creation, the One who holds all we can see and all we cannot see in the palm of His hand, He who has the power to crush and destroy His enemies at will, just stood there. He was silent. He laid down all the power of the universe in order to get rid of sin. His prayer in the garden revealed that this was the only way that victory was going to be accomplished.
One Bible commentator wrote, “The Servant did not submit to affliction through pathetic resignation but as a bold choice to participate with God in an act aimed at breaking the stranglehold that sin had maintained for countless ages.”
Finally, in verses 8 and 9 we see another aspect of the suffering of His soul. “By oppression and judgment He was taken away. He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”
What a sham it must have been for Jesus to watch the trial, and still more to be at the centre of the trial, to see the injustice being done and to just let it go. The Pharisees and Annas the high priest flatly refused to listen to the many voices who insisted that Jesus was innocent of blasphemy. They simply said, “He is worthy of death.” Even Pilate, when the crowd had been stirred up by the Pharisees said, “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in Him no grounds for the death penalty.” As we saw last Sunday, what finally resulted in Jesus being given the death penalty was the noise of the crowd. Luke 23:23 says, “With loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.”
Jesus did not deserve to die. He had done nothing worthy of death, but He had to bear the weight of unjust suffering. This too was a time of suffering of His soul. Even though it was necessary for the plan of salvation, and Jesus laid down His own life, the injustice of it all is still horrible. But it is the ultimate demonstration that God has gained an amazing victory through submission to evil and suffering and death. That is what God is like.
Jesus was, as one writer put it, “a servant of the Lord whose surrender to God’s will was so total that He took the consequences of the sin of the world upon Himself, even though He was innocent of any wrong.”
It is just amazing that because of such a perversion of justice, God has taken our worst, and given us His best: righteousness, forgiveness and wholeness.
So the physical suffering of Jesus, as dreadful and as unspeakable as it was, is only a tiny fraction of what He really experienced. It was physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual suffering.
Yet, the good news is that because of suffering of His soul we are assured of the salvation of our soul.
As I have said often during the past few weeks, we know that Sunday is coming. I hope you will join the celebration with us on Sunday morning, but for now it is necessary to stop at the foot of the Cross, just for a moment, as we picture God Himself suffering for you and for me.
If you were here last Sunday you’ll remember I ended the service by saying, “To be continued.”
The story has yet to reach an end, and you may be wondering why we haven’t sung any hymns today. The music group is here, the guitars, piano and organ are at the ready and all we need is for the worship team to lead us, but there is one more chapter to come. There wasn’t much worshipping of Jesus while He hung on that Cross all those years ago, and that is why we are withholding our worship until we remember the glory of Resurrection Sunday. But we know we will worship, and that is why everything is ready, in anticipation of Sunday morning.
For now though, I invite you to just pause at the Cross. Picture your Saviour once more, suffering unimaginably for you. Let the reality of His physical and spiritual suffering speak to you today. Think about the things in your life – your sins, failures, lusts, the evil in your heart – that put Jesus on the Cross…
Now allow your mind to see and understand that because of the physical and spiritual suffering of Christ, those things are gone. And on Sunday, we will celebrate and worship once more.