Suffering Before the Cross: Suffering Prepares Us For Death

Today’s selected reading continues in and concludes the first epistle written by the apostle Peter unto the pilgrims who were called to be the saints of God. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the fourth and fifth chapters of this New Testament book. “Therefore since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of the men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking particles, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:1-6).

 

            “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. Ande above all things have fervent love one for another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11).

 

            “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing  happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed you also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let  none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:12-19).

 

            “The elders who are among you I exhort, I am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entreated to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).

 

            “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, stablish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:5-11).

 

            “By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Peter 5:12-14).

 

            When you come to the fourth chapter of the first epistle written by the apostle Peter you will encounter the tremendous truth surrounding Christ’s suffering which He faced and experienced in the flesh. If there is one thing we must needs recognize when reading this particular section of Scripture is that the account of Christ’s suffers were not written by someone who wasn’t closely aware of them. Although Simon Peter denied the Lord three times before the rooster crowed the following morning after He was betrayed he still followed Christ to the place where He would begin to be falsely accused and tried by religion and false witnesses. Scripture isn’t clear whether or not Simon called Peter was present at the cross when Christ died, however, we know the apostle Peter was present with the other eleven disciples when Jesus emphatically spoke of His suffering in the flesh. There were at least three to four separate and different occasions when the apostle Peter—together with the other disciples—heard the Lord Jesus declare and speak of those things which He must needs suffer in the flesh. The apostle Peter was one of the three disciples in the garden of Gethsemane on the night in which the Lord was betrayed and even took his sword and struck off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest. The apostle Peter was present in the garden when Judas betrayed Him with a kiss and when those armed with swords and staves entered into the garden that they might seize and lay hold of Jesus. After three and a half years—only when His time had come—was Jesus able to be seized and His finally being laid hold of by the religious leaders. Despite the fact it wasn’t the religious leaders who showed up in the garden it was those who the religious leaders sent who did indeed and did in fact enter into the garden and seize the Lord Jesus.

 

            As you read the words found in these passages of Scripture you can and will find the tremendous truth surrounding the suffering of Jesus Christ in the flesh. What’s more is that one of the main and underlying reasons for Christ coming in the flesh was to suffer in the flesh. The Lord Jesus Christ laid aside the glory which He had with the Father that he might take upon Himself flesh and blood and the seed of Abraham that He might in fact suffer in the flesh. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for when we think about Jesus Christ coming in the flesh we must needs understand understand that one of the main and underlying reasons for Christ coming in the flesh was for the purpose of suffering in the flesh. Not only this but when we think of the flesh and blood which the Lord Jesus took upon Himself we must recognize that it was just as weak and subject to frailness as was our own flesh. When Jesus was in the garden and declared unto the apostle Peter, James and his brother John that the flesh was weak but the spirit was willing He wasn’t merely speaking of their flesh. There is not a doubt in my mind that when we read these words we must needs understand that the flesh of Christ Himself was also weak and subject to absolutely everything we ourselves face and experience in this life. It was the apostle John who declared that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and it was the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews who would declare and speak of Christ’s coming in the flesh that He might—in that flesh—suffer. The flesh and blood and the earthly tabernacle and temple which Christ took upon Himself was subject to all the same weaknesses as ours is. The flesh and blood which the Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself was indeed and was in fact subject to all the same hurt and pain as our own flesh is.

            Before moving on any further in the first epistle written by the apostle Peter I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the epistle written unto the Philippian saints. I am also convinced there is a great need to consider the words the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews wrote as well for they were sure to write and speak of the suffering of Christ in the flesh. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of these truths and what is centered upon them for they bring us face to face with the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding Christ’s coming in the flesh and suffering in that flesh. There is something truly unique and powerful about Christ coming in the flesh and taking this physical form of weakness and frailty upon Himself for in this weakness and frailty He was able to experience the very same things we ourselves experience. With this being said I find it incumbent to declare that while Christ did indeed take upon Himself the form of flesh and blood that He might suffer in that flesh there are many among us—particularly in our Western civilization, culture and society—who have not experienced a fraction or measure of the suffering which He Himself experience. Despite the fact that Christ took upon Himself the form of flesh and blood and suffered in that flesh there are very few of us who truly recognize the depth and magnitude of that suffering. There are very few of us who recognize just how much the Lord Jesus Christ did indeed and did in fact suffer in the flesh for us and have not ourselves suffered in the flesh. It is with this in mind I would like to invite you to consider the following words which are found in the above mentioned passages of Scripture beginning with the epistle written unto the Philippians:

 

            “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 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 bondservants, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and becomes obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

 

            “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; who have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that He put all in subjection under Him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he who sanctified and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to you. And again: Here am I and the children whom God has given me. Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:5-18).

 

            “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since He Himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself to offer sacrifices for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: You are my Son, today I have begotten you. As He also says in another place: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek; who, in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a 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, called by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:1-11).

 

            “And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: The LORD has sworn and will not relent, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek), by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily as those high priests to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once and for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law appoints the Son who has been perfected forever” (Hebrews 7:20-28).

 

            “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with the blood of another—he then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:23-28).

 

            “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before 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” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

 

            “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch over your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:7-17).

 

            With each of these passages we encounter one all encompassing and all important truth—namely that the Lord Jesus Christ came in the form of flesh and blood and took upon Himself the form of flesh and blood that He might suffer in the flesh. The author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews spoke time and time again of the suffering of Christ in the flesh and made it perfectly clear that Christ did indeed take upon Himself the form of flesh and blood for the purpose of suffering. If there is one thing we must needs understand it’s that when Christ came in the flesh He knew that He had taken upon Himself and come in that form of flesh and blood that He might suffer. There was absolutely no escaping the suffering in the flesh which he would indeed experience for He would suffer in the flesh once and for all. What’s more is when you think about the life of Christ He would experience suffering before the death. It would have been one thing for Christ to simply come in the flesh and to be nailed to the cross and be crucified by the Romans before ultimately yielding and giving up the ghost and committing His spirit into the hands of the Father. What makes the four gospel narratives truly unique when you take the time to think about them is when you consider the fact that it wasn’t simply about Christ coming in the form of flesh and blood but He also needed to suffer. It’s almost as if the suffering itself would be preparation for the cross and Christ’s being nailed to the cross by Roman soldiers. Not only this but it’s almost as if His being nailed to and dying upon the cross was perfected by and through the sufferings He faced and experienced. In all reality it’s almost as if there couldn’t—and perhaps even wouldn’t—have been the cross were it not for the suffering that was faced and experienced prior to the cross.

 

            The more I think about this particular truth the more I am brought face to face with the absolutely wonderful and powerful truth that Christ’s suffering in the flesh gave more worth and value His death upon the cross. The eternal and living Father could have allowed Christ to come in the flesh and immediately allowed Him to die upon the cross and raised Him from death to life. The truth of the matter, however, is that when Christ came in the flesh He came in the flesh knowing those things He must needs suffer in the flesh. There is not a doubt in my mind that when He spoke of the cup passing from Him in the garden it wasn’t necessarily the cross itself, nor death. I would dare suggest that the cup which Christ prayed to the Father about removing from Him was the suffering that would be directly associated with the cross. What’s more is that it’s almost as if death would and could have been the easy part—especially knowing that He was going to be raised from death to life. For Christ—dying on the cross would and could have been the easy part and He could have easily come in the form of flesh and blood and even walked upon the earth for the thirty-three and a half years that He did and then die upon the cross before being buried in the grave and rising from death to life on the third day. The truth of the matter, however, is that just as there is no resurrection without the cross and death so also there is no death without suffering. I am absolutely convinced that it was the suffering Christ experienced that not only prepared Himself for death upon the cross but also perfected the death which He would experience upon the cross. Oh what illustrates this even more is in various television shows and movies when the villains declare to their victims that killing them and allowing them to die is the easy part. It is the pain that can be afflicted upon them before, leading up to or in place of death that can have the greater impact.

 

            I read the words which are found in these passages of Scripture and I am brought face to face with the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the suffering of Christ in the flesh and the Father willingly allowing His Son to suffer in the flesh. It would be while Jesus was hanging there upon the cross He would cry out to the Father asking Him, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” however, there is something to be said about the suffering He faced and experienced in the flesh. Christ indeed suffered in the flesh and I am convinced His suffering in the flesh perfected the death he would experience on the cross. I am absolutely convinced that there would and could not have been the cross without and apart from the suffering in the flesh. We have a great High Priest who was in all ways tempted as we are and yet without sin and we have a high priest who can sympathize with the feeling of our infirmities having suffered in the flesh. This is something which must needs be acknowledge and understood for it was absolutely necessary for Christ to suffer in the flesh as it was ordained and appointed by the living and eternal God. The law and the prophets both prophesied and foretold of the suffering and ultimately the death of the eternal and only begotten Son of God. One of the most prominent passages in all of Scripture concerning the suffering, the affliction and even the sacrifice and death of the Lord Jesus Christ is found in the fifty-third chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah. It is in the fifty-third chapter of this prophetic book we find the prophet Isaiah seeing a vision of the coming Messiah and would see and behold the suffering He would face in the flesh. With this in mind I Invite you to consider the following words which are found in this passage of Scripture beginning with the first and opening verse:

 

            “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His tripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; He was lad as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people He was stricken. And they made His grace with the wicked—but with the rich at his death, because he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When you make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12).

 

            Within this passage of Scripture we encounter the absolutely wonderful and captivating reality that before Jesus even took upon Himself the form of flesh and blood it was appointed and ordained by the eternal and living God that He suffer in the flesh. The fifty-third chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah clearly demonstrates the incredible truth surrounding the Lord Jesus and how the Lord Jesus was ordained and appointed to suffer in the flesh before ultimately being put to death and nailed to the cross. Throughout His life and ministry Jesus understood and recognized that it was for this reason that He was sent into the earth—that He might suffer in the flesh before ultimately being nailed to the cross and put to dearth by sinners. What’s more is there were multiple references within the gospels that clearly demonstrates how Christ understood and recognized this suffering was absolutely necessary. Despite the fact that Christ would ultimately be nailed to the cross and be put to death and killed by sinners He would need to suffer in the flesh before the suffering. SUFFERING BEFORE THE CROSS! SUFFERING BEFORE DEATH! Christ would be nailed to the cross and would be crucified and hang there suspended between earth and sky for six hours before yielding up the ghost, however before that would or could ever happen there was a great need for Him to experience suffering—and not simply suffering but unimaginable suffering that many of us will never know nor experience within our own lives. Oh having said this I invite you to consider the following passages of Scripture which describe the Lord Jesus revealing unto and teaching His disciples that He Himself must needs suffer in the flesh and ultimately be killed and put to death before being raised from death to life on the third day. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ:

 

            “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you. But He turned and said to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23).

 

            “Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, The Son of man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day he will be raised up. And they were exceedingly sorrowful” (Matthew 17:22-23).

 

            “Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:17-19).

 

            In the sixteenth chapter of this New Testament gospel we find Jesus describing and declaring unto the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes AND be killed. In the twentieth chapter Jesus takes this a step further and declares that they were going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will not only be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and to the scribes but He goes on to declare how they would condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles who would both mock and scourge and crucify Him. Please don’t miss the incredible words and language that is found within these passages of Scripture for Jesus knew and recognized that He would indeed suffer in the flesh and would indeed be scourged. How absolutely incredible it is to think about the fact that Jesus recognized and understood that He would in fact suffer many things at the hands of the chief priest, scribes and elders before being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles and sinners. It would be in the hands of sinners Jesus would experience the greatest degree and measure of His suffering as they would not only strike His face with their hands but would also scourge Him in the Praetorium, would also plate a crown of thorns and place it upon his brow before nailing Him to the cross. This is something that warrants strong consideration for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth that Jesus didn’t merely come in the form of flesh and blood that He might die on the cross before being raised from death to life. Perhaps the greatest illustration of Jesus’ suffering in the flesh is that of communion as it demonstrates the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood.

 

            If you want to truly understand the suffering of the Lord Jesus you must needs understand that it can best be understood through the imagery of the Lord’s Supper and communion. It is through these elements and sacraments we see and come face to face with the truly wonderful and powerful truth surrounding Jesus’ body being broken before being nailed to the cross and His blood being shed and spilt. We must needs recognize that before Jesus Christ would experience the breaking of His body and the shedding of blood as a result of being nailed to the cross He would experience the breaking and the shedding through the suffering He faced and experienced leading up to the cross. There is not a doubt in my mind that when we think and speak about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ we cannot do so without and apart from also speaking concerning His suffering in the flesh. I firmly believe that the death of Jesus upon the cross was perfected by and through his suffering and that death would have been the easy part. This isn’t to say that knowing that He was going to be nailed to the cross would have been emotionally, mentally and physically easy for the Lord Jesus Christ for we know how incredibly difficult that truly was for Him. What we must needs recognize is that He came in the form of flesh and blood to do more than simply die upon the cross and be raised from death to life. Just as Jesus wasn’t merely raised from death to life on the third day and ascended unto the right hand of the Father so also would and so also could He not simply die upon the cross and be raised to life on the third day. There was indeed the element of suffering in the flesh which the Lord Jesus would experience as He would be perfected through sufferings and would even be prepared for death through suffering.

 

            With all of this being said it is important to recognize that when we read the first epistle written by the apostle Peter there is a strong and intrinsic link between the suffering of Jesus and the suffering we experience in the flesh. As you read the words within this particular epistle written by the apostle Peter you will find him writing of the suffering of Jesus but also writing and speaking of the believer’s own suffering in this life. I am absolutely convinced that there are many of us who are content with knowing that Jesus suffered in the flesh and have absolutely no desire for that suffering to touch us nor impact our lives. There are countless men and women among us within this generation who would be completely and utterly offended if they had to face and experience suffering in the flesh. What’s more is that if you read the four gospels you will find that before the cross was ever the instrument of death within the life of the Lord Jesus it would be a symbol and image of discipleship within the life of a disciple. Jesus made it very clear that anyone who wished to walk with and follow Him must needs deny themselves and take up their cross. Not only this but Jesus would declare that anyone who did not take up their cross and follow Him was not worthy of Him. Many among us would like to view the cross as a gold emblem or symbol we have attached to a necklace we wear around your necks. Many men and women among us within our culture and society today view the cross as the symbol and instrument of the death of the Lord Jesus and yet have absolutely no understanding of the fact that the cross was and still is an instrument of discipleship. Those who wish to demonstrate their willingness and desire to walk with and follow the Lord Jesus Christ must needs deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him.

 

            I find it absolutely necessary right now to pause and ask you who are reading this whether or not you are one who has denied yourself, who has taken up your cross and have walked with and followed the Lord. It was the apostle Paul who besought the saints at Rome by the mercies of God to present their bodies a living sacrifice holy and acceptable in the sight of the living God and then declared it to be their reasonable act of worship. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of the cross is more than simply the instrument of suffering, torture and death in the life of Jesus Christ. The cross—before it was ever the instrument which Christ Himself carried to the place of His death—was a symbol and instrument of discipleship. This is truly astonishing when you think about the fact that while Christ did in fact instruct us to take up our cross and follow Him and even declared that anyone who did not deny themselves and take up their cross was not worthy of Him He would demonstrate what it would look like to carry one’s cross. It would be the Lord Jesus Christ who would carry His own cross along the Via Dolorosa through the streets of Jerusalem unto the place of the skull outside the city. Oh I have personally walked the Via Dolorosa in the city of Jerusalem and have been to the place of the skull and Christ’s carrying His cross is something that must needs be recognized and understood by us within this generation as we have been called to be those who deny ourselves and take up our cross that we might walk with and follow Him. The eternal and only begotten Son of the living God would deny Himself and carry His own cross to the place of His death before being nailed to and hang upon it and this serves as the pattern and example for us.

 

            There are those who would declare that Christ died upon the cross so we ourselves wouldn’t have to and I would are say there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. While it is indeed true that Christ needed to die upon the cross and be crucified thereon to make atonement for the sins of many He didn’t die on the cross to somehow excuse us from having to do so ourselves. Christ didn’t carry His cross so we wouldn’t have to but rather to show us a pattern and example of what it means and what it looks like to carry our cross. If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand it’s that we have indeed been called to deny ourselves as Christ denied Himself, take up our cross as Christ took up His cross, carry our cross as Christ carried His cross and even carry our cross as long as we can until we reach the place where we will be nailed to the cross ourselves. It’s quite interesting to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for although Christ instructed us to deny ourselves and take up our cross He never revealed what carrying that cross would indeed look like. Christ made it perfectly clear that we were to deny ourselves and take up our cross but never revealed the full scope and picture of what that would mean within our lives. Having said this, however, we do find within the four gospels powerful words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ concerning discipleship and what it means to walk with and follow Him. If we are to have a conversation about the suffering of Christ, the suffering we experience in the flesh, denying ourselves, taking up our cross and truly walking with Jesus we must needs consider the following words which are found in the four gospel narratives written by the gospel authors:

 

            “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Now brother will deliver up brother to death and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I cam eat bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter in law against her mother in law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:16-39).

 

            “Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desire to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).

 

            “And Jesus answered and said to them: Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who denies to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:4-14).

 

            “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to. Save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

 

            “Now as he was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? So Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is, God. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother. And he answered and said to Him, Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth. Then Jesus, looking at him loved him, and said to him, One thing you. Lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me. But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17-22).

 

            “Then Peter began to say to Him, see, we have left all and followed you. So Jesus answered and said, Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:28-31).

 

           

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you intending to build a tower does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good; but if the Walt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:25-35).

           

            Returning back to the first epistle written by the apostle Peter you will find a tremendous amount of instruction and exhortation concerning suffering. Undoubtedly many whom the apostle Peter was writing to were indeed facing suffering, affliction and perhaps even persecution in this world. Within this epistle the apostle Peter directly links and connects the suffering of Christ in the flesh to the suffering we ourselves face in the flesh. What’s more is the apostle Peter would also go on to describe how suffering has never nor will it ever take place in a vacuum. Suffering never happens in a bubble and is never an isolated occurrence and not only did Christ suffer in the flesh but so also did many in the great cloud of witnesses the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews wrote. The author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews helps us understand the intrinsic link between the suffering, affliction and persecution we face in this life and that which many experienced in the generations and days before us. In the eleventh and twelfth chapters of the epistle written unto the Hebrews we find the author describing much of the suffering, affliction, trials, troubles and persecutions those who have gone before us experienced and how they all died having not received nor seen the promise but knowing there was something better for them. The author of this epistle speaks of our being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses—those who have gone before us and how they were not perfected without us nor are we perfected without and apart from them. Consider if you will the following words which are found in these passages of Scripture beginning in the eleventh chapter:

 

            “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embrace them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

 

            “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).

 

            “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escape the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:30-40).

 

            As I bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely necessary to return to the first epistle written by the apostle Peter unto the pilgrims who were scattered throughout the earth. The apostle Peter spoke unto these saints who were not only scattered but also suffering and sought to encourage them in the midst of their struggles and suffering. Undoubtedly there were countless believers who were experiencing trials, troubles and tribulation in this life and the apostle Peter sought to convey unto them the importance of their faith and how it’s of more value than gold. The apostle Peter sought to remind his readers and audience of their own suffering in direct relation to the suffering of Christ. For the apostle Peter it was Christ’s suffering that perfected the suffering which the saints of old experienced and went through as well as the suffering which we ourselves in this generation experienced. The apostle Peter directly linked the suffering of Christ to the present sufferings of the believers but also with the suffering of the saints together. Regardless of whether the saints of God were located they were united through Christ’s sufferings and they were united through their own sufferings. This is something we dare not miss and lose sight of for it brings us face to face with the absolutely awesome and powerful truth surrounding the suffering of Christ and how it not only links us together with our suffering but links our suffering together with other believers. We must needs recognize and understand that the suffering we face in this life is not isolated and does not happen in a vacuum and that more often than not it is our suffering which links us together. Having said this I invite you to consider the following words which are found in the following passages which are found in this first epistle written by the apostle Peter unto the pilgrims who were scattered and suffering:

 

            “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).

 

            “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).

 

            “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also  an entire which now saves us—baptism (not the recall of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:18-22).

 

            “Therefore since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. IN regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit” (1 Peter 4:1-6).

 

            “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:12-19).

 

           

 

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