All of the suffering that Jesus endured (and we haven’t even got to the worst of it, yet), he did for you. Every moment of his life, every stubbed toe, headache, splinter or cold, every time he was tired, hungry, lonely or in pain – it was all voluntary, and all of it was for you.Sometimes God is a mystery, and it seems like he’s distant, like he doesn’t care about us. The actions of Jesus show us definitively and conclusively that he loves us.
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Matthew #93. Matthew 26:31-45
With these verses, we enter the time period that is often called “the passion of our Lord.” I don’t like the expression, because it comes from people showing off their ancient language skills, and frankly, it doesn’t really make sense in English. Here’s why people call it “the passion.” One of the Greek words for suffering is “patho;” it is often found in the form “pascho.” In addition, one of the Latin words for suffering is “passio” (and Latin was used almost exclusively in the Medieval Church). From these, we get our English word, “passion.” However, the meaning of “passion” in English has changed. These days “passion” does not mean “suffering.” Even so, now you understand why the suffering of Jesus is called his “passion” by silly people who don’t care if they are understood by the general population.
As always, I want to remind you that several legitimate, Biblically-sound sermons might be preached on any given passage of scripture. In these last few chapters of Matthew especially, we could easily spend several weeks finding new and important things in just one passage. We could talk about prayer, or the weakness of the disciples. As I’ve prayed and studied this time, however, what the Holy Spirit has impressed upon me is to focus on Jesus, and his suffering for us.
I want to make sure we have the correct understanding of the suffering of Jesus. It would be easy to say, “You know, I don’t know what the big deal is. Jesus was God, so how hard was it, really, to go through the crucifixion?” I am going to explain this as non-theologically as possible. In some ways, maybe what I say will be simplistic, but I think it might help us.
When Jesus entered Mary’s womb, not only was he gaining his human body, but he was also leaving heaven, and all of its advantages, behind him. Paul describes it like this, writing to the Philippians:
5Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, 8He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8, HCSB)
You may have heard the expression, “I’ll take you on with one hand tied behind my back!” In a real sense, that’s what Jesus was doing. In taking on human flesh, Jesus also voluntarily left behind all the power and privilege of his divine nature. He kept his own divinity “tied behind his back,” so to speak. He voluntarily limited himself to complete dependence on the Father.
So, for example, when Jesus did miracles, he wasn’t doing them with his own divine power as God-the-Son. Instead, the Father was doing them through Jesus, as Jesus trusted the Father and allowed Him to work. When Jesus knew what was coming in the future and prophesied about it, it wasn’t because he was making use of his own divine knowledge as God-the-Son. Instead, he knew these things only because the Father chose to reveal them to him. In the same way, there were some things that the Father did not choose to reveal to Jesus – such as the time of his return to earth (Matthew 24:36). Jesus chose to do and know only what the Father directed. The apostle John records several times when Jesus referred to this state of things:
19So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. (John 5:19-20, ESV2011)
36But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36, ESV2011)
28So Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own. But just as the Father taught Me, I say these things. 29The One who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, because I always do what pleases Him.” (John 8:28-29, HCSB)
All of this was completely voluntary on the part of Jesus. He did not have to do it. Without sinning or doing any sort of wrong, he could have said, “You know what, Father? I’m tired of living without indoor plumbing. Take me home.” He could have said, “I’m sick of being insulted and mocked by these ignorant, rebellious, arrogant people. Let’s pull the plug on this operation.”
Of course, if Jesus had done that, we would all be destined to burn in Hell for eternity. But that’s what we deserve, anyway. It would not have been wrong for Jesus to leave us to that fate. His entire life on earth was by his own choice, and it was all done for my sake and yours. Every headache, every splinter and stubbed toe, every moment of loneliness, every hunger-pang – every single moment of it was voluntary. He never would have had to experience fatigue, or sickness or grief or pain. Every time he was misunderstood, mocked, insulted or mistreated, it was his own choice to remain on earth and endure it – for our sake. Sometimes, we consider the suffering of a little baby who was born with a disease, and think how terrible and pointless that such a young an innocent child should be afflicted. Yet Jesus was more innocent than even a newborn baby. His suffering was even less deserved.
So first, we understand that the voluntary and innocent suffering of Jesus began at the moment of his birth, and continued throughout his entire life. As I said, every stubbed toe and every headache, cold, splinter, or fever, was undeserved suffering. And now, in Matthew 26, Jesus is coming to the very worst of it all. Let me make this clear – not only did Jesus suffer tremendously for our sake, and not for himself in any way – but at any moment, he had the option of ending it, and not going through the suffering. This must have been an enormously appealing option during the worst of his afflictions, and one that he could have taken without doing any wrong. Part of his suffering, therefore, involved denying himself the righteous option of getting out of it.
I think that sometime between when Judas left to get the temple soldiers, and when Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane, was the beginning of the final, and most intense suffering of Jesus on our behalf. Once more, I want to make it clear that every single moment of his time on earth was a voluntary hardship, and part of his overall suffering for us. But, of course, there is no doubt that the last eighteen hours or so, were an incredibly intense conclusion, without which, the other suffering would have been pointless.
This last, intense suffering starts with betrayal, weakness and abandonment among Jesus’ closest friends. It’s easy to look at Jesus as above all human emotion, but I don’t think so at all. He willingly subjected himself to everything it means to be human.
17Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Heb 2:17-18, HCSB)
And so, though we look at Judas through the lens of twenty centuries, Judas was, in fact, one of Jesus’ best friends. It must have been very, very hard for Jesus to realize that someone whom he has spent so much time with, someone he had invested so much in, had utterly rejected him.
Next, came the knowledge that his other followers, though they didn’t deliberately betray him, were ultimately going to abandon him in his hour of need.
Most of us have not experienced the kind of physical pain that Jesus did. We haven’t experienced the depth of emotional suffering – but we have experienced some of the same kinds of things. Our friends did not betray and leave us while we were dying (you couldn’t be reading this, otherwise), but if you live very long, you will experience that loneliness that comes with feeling that someone has abandoned you, or failed to care for you the way you expected. Jesus experienced that with an intensity that was incredibly deep. No one stood beside him in his hour of need. His closest friends couldn’t even stay awake while he agonized in prayer, and they abandoned him shortly after.
Not only was Jesus abandoned by his disciples, but also by God himself. We know that at some point, God-the-Father withdrew his presence and support from Jesus. We know that the arrangement was that God laid upon Jesus all of the sins of the world – our sins, and treated him as our sins deserved:
He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2Cor 5:21, HCSB)
God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. (Rom 3:25, HCSB)
This necessarily meant separation from the Father. For all of eternity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had lived in unbroken fellowship and one-ness. Even when Jesus came to earth as a human, though the relationship had to be different, there still was fellowship. But sometime during this night – I think, perhaps, not long after Judas left the supper – the Father deliberately withdrew his presence. For the first time in eternity, Jesus was completely separated from God – in a way that no human being has yet experienced. Romans 3:25 above says that God withheld the full punishment for human sin, and laid it all on Jesus. That means that no one has felt the full consequences of sin to the extent experienced by Jesus. No one has been cut off from God in the way Jesus was. No one has yet been so thoroughly rejected by God, as Jesus. The Bible says that at the end of time, those who do not repent and trust Jesus will also experience the hell of eternal separation from God. But until that time, only Jesus has experienced what that is like.
I think that the intensity and grief of Jesus’ prayers in the garden reflect that this separation had either begun, or had happened by that point.
So, what do we do with all of this? What does it mean for us? First, I think we can be quite confident that Jesus understands everything you may be going through when you struggle in your relationships with other people. He’s been lonely. He’s been betrayed. He’s been abandoned. The people closest to him didn’t seem to care.
Jesus also understands what it feels like to be abandoned by God – in ways that we may never feel. He can empathize with every kind of relationship-pain we might suffer.
Another thing I take away is this: Jesus is for you; he loves you. All of this that he went through (and we haven’t even got to the worst of it, yet), he did for you. Sometimes God is a mystery, and it seems like he’s distant, like he doesn’t care about us. The actions of Jesus show us definitively and conclusively that he loves us.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.