“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
– Isaiah 53:4-5 (NIV)
As we reflect on the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion during the season of Lent, we may wonder: Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer? Was there no other way except for Him to go through such cruelty as He experienced?
There are different forms of suffering. Suffering may be physical, such as that brought about by illnesses like cancer, or by injury. Alternatively, suffering may be on the emotional level, as in a broken relationship, bringing unbearable bitterness, vengefulness, or jealousy. At times, suffering could be caused by a spiritual blow or dilemma, so that one loses trust and hope in God and people, resulting in overwhelming feelings of loneliness and helplessness.
To answer our question of why Jesus must suffer, the first consideration is Man’s sinfulness. Among all of God’s creations, only Man is created with absolute free will, which gives us the freedom to choose to obey God, or to rebel against Him. When we choose the freedom to rebel, we must be ready to bear the consequences – that is the suffering that comes from choosing evil over good. Evil originated from Satan; God allowed it to exist; man brought it into the universe. What is astounding is not that there is so much suffering in our lives, but that we are not facing even more terrible suffering.
Suffering fills the whole sequence of events by which Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the whole world: betrayal, arrest, insult and humiliation, interrogation, whipping, dragging the heavy cross to the place of execution, being nailed to the cross, and hanging there until the last excruciating breath. On His journey to Calvary, Jesus suffered terribly on all three levels – physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as the crucifixion marked Him a lost and condemned man.
This process also exposed the extreme depravity and the horror of man’s sin – Judas’ ruthless selfishness, the high priest’s denial and rejection of Jesus, the religious leaders’ poisonous lies, the crowds who could not tell right from wrong, Pilate who washed his hands of Jesus’ fate, the avarice of the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross, the disciples who basely abandoned their Teacher, the condemned thief hanging beside Jesus who refused to repent, and many others who represent the corrupt and sinful nature of Man.
The second consideration is the Law as laid down by Moses. Traditionally, on the Day of Atonement, the penance for sin required the killing of animals and the spilling of blood, for “it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev 17:11, NIV), and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). The animals took the place of the sinner – and were sacrificed for the sins of the people. When Jesus took on the sins of the world, He bled and died as the sacrificial Lamb.
There was no other way but for Jesus to go through such tortuous suffering. It seems as if the greater the sins of Man, the greater the suffering that Jesus had to endure. Correspondingly, the more that Jesus had to endure, the more we realise how great the merciful love of God is, and how great His determination to save the world.
In the final analysis, we may not always understand the purpose that God intends when He allows suffering to come our way, but we can look forward to sharing in Christ’s glory. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:17-18, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung –
was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference for two quadrennia from 2008 to 2016.
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