Lent is a season in which God’s people meditate on the slaying of Jesus on the Cross and all that is within them (and outside of them) that made that Cross necessary. So to that end, we’ve been doing a series meditating on the fact that Christ is the Lamb who was “slain before the foundations of the world”. We’ve been thinking through what it might mean that Jesus, in some sense, has been suffering for all time.
We’ve said that the Cross was an in-breaking of the suffering essence of God into our world. Think of it as a volcano that emerges after a millennia of quiet tectonic plate shifts. Eternity and infinity–past, present and future–break into the world at the Cross; eternity is the backdrop against which the death of Christ occurs.
We’ve also said that the world has a certain “slain-ness” to it as well, due to being created “through” a slain and suffering Christ.
Today I want to ask: What might that mean for our own suffering and death?
What if our own sufferings work the same way as the Cross? What if the suffering and slain essence of the Lord that’s woven into this world is the backdrop against which our own pains and death occur? Could our own sufferings quite literally be the in-breaking of the sufferings of the Cross of Christ into our lives? When our hearts break, might it be Christ’s own heart breaking within us?
When Jesus says that he is found in the prisoner, the homeless, and the hungry, could it literally be his imprisonment, lack of a home, and hunger breaking into the lives of those people that we meet and cross paths with daily, and not just some abstract metaphor?
Just as the world groans with the pains of the suffering Lord through which it was made (Romans 8:22), perhaps our own groanings (verse 23) are the very cries of Jesus breaking into our hearts and our souls, providing a weight, a gravity, and a mournfulness to life and existence? It certainly would make sense of some difficult verses:
“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27)
“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col 1:24)
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10)
So how could that possibly be good news? Because in the life and acts of God, suffering and “slain-ness” were not the end of the story.
“We are always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus…
…so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10)
The suffering Christ has joined himself with the suffering Creation, but not as an end in and of itself, but as a means for life to be brought into it. In his death and burial, Christ passes “through” this world that was created “through” him and comes out the other side, having conquered every futility to which the world was subjected.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 8:19-21)
“If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom 6:5)
What is the good news of the Cross and our sufferings (literally, the Cross in us!)? Life! Resurrection! New Creation!
“So if anyone is in Christ, this is new creation! Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! ” (2 Cor 5:17)
This gives us perspective in the present:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18)
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; ” (1 Cor 15:20-21)
But it doesn’t only give us “perspective”; perspective anchors us before the suffering comes and perhaps makes our suffering and pain not turn to despair, but there is something more we need when the “slain-life” of the suffering Lord breaks into our lives in the forms of our suffering…
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us…
…so our consolation also abounds by Christ.” (2 Cor 1:5)
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source…For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”(Heb 2:10-11,18)
Because our suffering has been joined to the suffering of Christ, then he is able to comfort us in the deepest and most substantial of ways. When we suffer, we’re actually intimately knowing the One for Whom our souls were made. Even in our deaths, we are experiencing his life in us, and it has a point; it has a goal: life and resurrection. Just as Christ’s suffering were to bring himself (and therefore his world) into new Life and Creation, so to they work within us.
The gospel changes everything: in our pain is found healing; through our death is found life.
[confidence (a benediction)]
Unfortunately, this is a blog and not a sermon or article, and so this needs to be brief and short. I wish I could talk in grand exhortations and encouragement and expound on these ideas in fuller and more practical terms, but this medium doesn’t quite lend itself to that.
But somehow, the biblical writers believed that these ideas that anchor and sustain us also lead to freedom and confidence: an ability to move through life restfully and joyfully. I pray their words help lead us to this as we go out into the world.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Cor 4:7-12)
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:58)
Go, therefore, in peace, to love and serve the Lord.