Jachin—Singapore

When Romania was under Communist rule, Christians were severely persecuted by the authorities. Some of them were beaten up and then thrown into cells. Rats released into these cells would gather around these prisoners and gnaw at the latter’s wounds. Many persevered through such torture. But there was a particular priest who was tortured and then forced to desecrate the Holy Communion by serving human waste as communion to his fellow Christian inmates. When another inmate asked him why he eventually complied, he replied, “Do not judge me, please. I have suffered more than Christ.”[1]

Is it possible for an individual to suffer more than Christ? Perhaps the priest thought that Christ had only suffered hours on the cross, whereas he had been tortured over a very long period of time. Thinking this way is wrong and dangerous because if anyone thinks that he has suffered more than Christ, his faith breaks down. The whole point of Christian faith is to suffer with Christ. We are only partakers of Christ’s sufferings. We could never suffer more than Christ. To better appreciate this, we must understand how much Christ has sacrificed and suffered for us.

THE INTENSITY OF CHRIST’S SUFFERING

Birth of Jesus

All of us have sacrificed things for the sake of Christ. Many of us give up our time to attend services. Or we give up part of our earnings as offering to God. There are clearly different degrees of sacrifice; and the extent of sacrifice is not always measured in absolute quantities. On one occasion, Jesus sat, observing people making their offerings to the Holy Temple. He praised a poor widow who had given two copper mites (Lk 21:1–4). Although the rich had given more money, they had given out of their abundance. They had sacrificed only a fraction of what they had. In contrast, the widow gave out of her poverty and sacrificed all she owned.

We have often heard that Christ died for us, leading to a misconception that Christ’s sacrifice only took place at the cross. In fact, His very birth was a great sacrifice.

Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:6–7)

Jesus was God Himself. But He did not hold on to His form as God. He gave up what only God could give up—the form of God. From this angle, His sacrifice was the greatest of all. No rich man had given so much till he became as poor as the poor widow. Christ was the richest ever. He was God—the Creator and Giver of Life. Yet, for our sake, He became a poor mortal.

Life of Jesus

As mentioned, the Romanian priest erroneously thought that he had sacrificed much more than Christ because he had been in the prison cell longer than Christ had been on the cross. He did not realize that Christ had actually suffered throughout His life. Psalm 22a prophetic psalm about the sufferings of Christ—reveals that, from birth, the entire life of our Lord was a sacrifice to God. Jesus did not live a single second for Himself.

I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. (Ps 22:10)

Jesus had been given up to God from His birth. At twelve, He already knew that He had to be about His Father’s business. He knew that His purpose on earth was to give up His life. In His three-year ministry, Jesus underwent both physical and mental deprivation. He had no place to lay His head (Mt 8:20), often sacrificed rest to teach the people (Mk 6:30–44), and went without sleep in order to pray (Lk 5:16).

The ideal human life is a happy one. No-one wants to be sorrowful. If we are grieved, we hope to quickly get over and become happy again. But the whole life of our Lord was characterized by sorrow – the Scripture describes Him as a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).

Unfortunately, the people of His time did not appreciate all these sacrifices and even ridiculed Him (Jn 10:20).

Death of Jesus

Christ’s ultimate sacrifice was the cross. The history of Christianity is replete with examples of people who have undergone decades of torment or severe physical persecution for their belief, but no human could have endured Christ’s suffering on the cross.

The gospels describe the actual physical affliction of Christ on the cross. But Psalm 22 tells us of His state of mind. In this psalm, God used David’s experience to reflect on what Christ would experience.

He Was Surrounded by Ferocious Persecutors

Jesus’ persecutors were like ferocious beasts—the strongest bulls of Bashan (Ps 22:12), a raging and roaring lion (Ps 22:13), and dogs (Ps 22:16a). He was put through separate trials by Annas the high priest, Caiaphas the high priest, Pilate, and Herod. Our Lord’s enemies had so much hatred for Him that they spared no effort in trying to destroy Him.

He Was Mocked

At every point, he was mocked—by the men who arrested Him, officers at the courts, the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the high priest. The servants of the high priest not only mocked Him, but even spat on His face and beat Him. Other bystanders struck Him with the palm of their hand, taunting, “Prophesy to us Christ! Who is the one who struck you?” Herod and his men of war mocked him. The Roman soldiers put a scarlet robe on Him, twisted a crown of thorns, and put it on His head. After placing a reed as a sceptre in His hands, the whole garrison knelt down, sarcastically shouting, “Hail King of the Jews!”

Jesus was in fact God who became flesh. But at that point of His torment, He was even lower than man. As human, Jesus had emotions; so He would have keenly felt the prophesied humiliation.

But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him! (Ps 22:6–8)

This prophecy in Psalm 22 was fulfilled (cf. Mt 27:40–44). At Calvary, the baying crowd shouted their taunts, which aimed to hurt Jesus in several ways.

First, they threw words Jesus had previously spoken back in His face, i.e., “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself” (Mt 27:40; Jn 2:19). Second, they aimed for His soft spot. The one constant and most precious thing in His life on earth was His close communion with God. To provoke Him, the Jews sniped, “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God” (Mt 27:43). Their barb that God should save His son implied that if Jesus was not delivered, then clearly He was not the Son of God. Third, even convicted criminals – people clearly inferior to the Lord in character  – joined in the taunting (Mt 27:44).

Despite this severe provocation, Jesus did not give in. He said, “The ruler of the world is coming, but he has nothing in Me” (Jn 14:30). Though they taunted Him, it was useless.

He Was Scourged

 The plowers plowed on my back; They made their furrows long. (Ps 129:3)

Being beaten with a cane leaves a line or mark on the flesh; the flesh swells up. Jesus was not just beaten, but flayed till his flesh resembled furrows in the field. So horrific is such scourging that it has been said that some criminals sentenced to crucifixion did not even make it to the crucifixion site because they had already died from the scourging. Jesus was so badly scourged that He barely had strength to carry His cross up to Golgotha (cf. Mk 15:21–22).

His Hands and Feet Were Pierced

They pierced My hands and My feet (Ps 22:16b)

Crucifixion was a gruesome form of capital punishment designed by the Romans to inflict maximum pain on those sentenced to it, chiefly slaves and the worst criminals. In the process of crucifixion, the victim would first be nailed to the cross laid horizontally. All the nerves in a man’s hands and feet are connected. So when the first nail was hammered into his hand, the victim would feel an intense pain spearing through his whole body.

The Old Testament describes Jesus as the One who was pierced. Not only did nails pierce His hands and His feet, thorns also pierced His head (Mk 15:17).

He Was in Indescribable Physical Agony

I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. (Ps 22:14–15)

When the cross was raised from its horizontal position, the victim’s entire body weight was supported by the nails that had been driven through the hands. A massive strain is placed on the wrists, arms and shoulders often resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. The rib cage was constrained, making it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. With blood slowly draining from his body, the victim would feel extreme thirst.

Hence Jesus was clearly pushed to His physical limits on the cross. Although we may think there are moments in life when we are being put through suffering beyond human limits, Scripture assures us that no one will be tried more than what he can endure (1 Cor 13:10). God ensures this.

Jesus had no such respite. During His capture, Jesus had already identified the “power of darkness” that was working through human instruments against Him (Lk 22:53). His tormentors would show Him no mercy because the power of darkness was at work.

He Was Completely Alone

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? (Ps 22:1)

This phrase—“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”—is cited in the gospels, indicating how intense this trial was for Jesus. No human suffering comes close. Sometimes words are used to provoke and hurt us but we do not suffer bloodshed. Sometimes our sickness brings unbearable pain, but we are nourished by the love, concern, and intercession of brethren. There may be people who have actually suffered abandonment by every person they know. For example, Apostle Paul said that he had been forsaken by everyone. But he goes on to qualify that “The Lord stood by me” (2 Tim 4:16–17). In contrast, Christ was completely forsaken by all; even by God His Father.

THE STEADFASTNESS OF CHRIST’S TRUST

Christ’s sacrifice was total. To come to this world, He had to be stripped of His divine form. During His ministry, He was stripped of His sleep. During His arrest and trial, He was stripped of His disciples—Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, the others had long fled. On the way to Calvary, He was stripped of His dignity—they mocked and taunted Him. He was stripped of His flesh—they scourged and pierced Him; he could even count His bones. He was stripped of all His clothes—He hung on the cross almost naked.

I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. (Ps 22:17–18)

And finally, God even stripped Him of the Father’s presence. He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). Because He had to bear our sin, Jesus had to forego the help and abidance of the Father.

Some people wonder whether Jesus’ cry of “Eloi eloi lama sabachthani” was akin to questioning or blaming God. It could not have been, because Jesus was completely submissive to the Father’s will. Jesus’ cry was actually a plea to His Father to return to Him.

In fact, the entire Psalm 22 is a single prayer and a cry for God to return to Him. He starts with recalling God’s faithfulness:

Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. (Ps 22:4)

He then goes on to supplicate:

Be not far from Me. (Ps 22:11a)

But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! (Ps 22:19)

Then from verse 21, there is a change in the tone of Psalm 22. There is absolute conviction that God has already answered Him.

All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” (Ps 22:27)

Christ had seen the fruit of His sufferings, i.e., the salvation of the nations. This indicates that Jesus did not die in anguish and bitterness of heart on the cross. Unlike the priest who gave up on Christ, Christ never gave up on the Father. Jesus’ last two sentences on the cross were “It is finished,” and “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit.” Even the cruelest trial on earth was limited by time. Finally, Jesus returned to the bosom and love of the Father.

COME TO THE CROSS

Understanding the complete and total sacrifice and suffering of Christ leaves us with two key lessons. First, we must not try to run away from suffering because the latter is inextricably linked with future glory. The Old Testament prophets diligently sought to know the salvation grace that would come upon the believers in the New Testament (1 Pet 1:10–11). Specifically, they were looking forward to two things—the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that would follow. These two are inseparable. Had Jesus not undergone His great suffering, glories would not have followed. This is why Apostle Paul made it his life goal to understand the sufferings of Christ; this would thus enable him to have fellowship in Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:10).

Therefore, when we partake of Christ’s sufferings, we shall also partake of His glory (1 Pet 4:13). Wanting only the glory without the sufferings is like desiring only the good times in a marriage, and rejecting the bad. Conversely, sufferings without the glory are meaningless. What would have been the point of persevering through the pain? Hence, Peter reminds us that our suffering is meaningful—since we partake of Christ’s sufferings, we shall partake of His glory.

Second, amidst our suffering, we must continue to trust in God’s faithfulness. There will definitely be moments in our lives when we feel that everything is working against us and that our suffering knows no bounds. In moments like these, we need to come to the cross. We need to recall the sufferings Christ underwent. If God had loved us so much that He did not spare His beloved Son (Rom 8:32), what would He not do for us?

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)

Jesus is truly the most excellent exemplar for our journey of faith. He unwaveringly submitted to and trusted in His Father’s will. He despised the shame of suffering. He saw the joy that was before Him (cf. Psalm 22). He saw what would happen when He had completed His sufferings. By enduring the greatest suffering, He went on to enjoy the greatest glory—sitting down at the right hand of God.

Therefore, whenever we are at the breaking point of our lives, unable to endure anymore, we should always come to the cross. And when we do so, we shall have fellowship both in the sufferings and in the glory of Christ. This is the power of the cross.



[1] Wurmbrand, Richard. Tortured for Christ.

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