Many of you have seen “The Passion of the Christ.” It gives a brutal depiction of the physical suffering of Christ. When they were flogging him, I felt like saying, “stop already” and then they stopped and I was glad, but then they started again in an even more brutal way. We also saw the agony of the way of the cross which depicted the great difficulty He experienced as he carried His own cross, and then, the pain of crucifixion. The depiction is powerful and gives us a good idea of just how hard it was for Jesus to bear what he did for us. But the suffering of Jesus was not only physical.
One of the most powerful passages which talks about the death of Christ is found in the Old Testament in Isaiah 53:1- 9. The key thought actually comes from verse 11, which is in the section we will look at on Easter Sunday. There it talks about “the suffering of his soul.” For those who have seen The Passion Of The Christ, you have had an opportunity to meditate on the physical suffering of Christ. This morning, we will look at the other aspect of his suffering, the “suffering of his soul.” We will seek to understand it and what it means for us.
Read Isaiah 53:1-9
Have you ever noticed that some people go through life with ease and pleasure, while others seem to have one difficulty after another? Jesus purpose for coming to earth resulted in a life that from early on was one of difficulty. In the first three verses, we discover that Jesus was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.”
Although the suffering of his soul reached a pinnacle on the cross, I think it is important to realize that suffering marked his whole life in many dimensions.
When he lived on earth, he did not luxuriate in a comfortable bed and enjoy a life of relaxation. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus said, “the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” He also experienced the emotional suffering of being misunderstood and rejected by people. The story in which Jesus released the demon possessed man in the region of the Gadarenes, recorded in Matthew 8:34, ends by saying that the people of that region pleaded for him to go away. They did not understand what he was doing and so rejected him. At other times, for example in Matthew 9:3, he was accused of blaspheming. In Matthew 9:24 it says that “they laughed at him.” He had barely begun his ministry when we find in Matthew 12:14 that “the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
His entire life was a life filled with sorrow and suffering, which was sometimes physical, often emotional and always spiritual as people rejected the way of God and in the process also rejected Jesus.
Of course, the final suffering took place on the cross at which time he experienced the terrible agony of the flogging and the cruel crucifixion. What we don’t realize if we only look at the physical aspect of the suffering is that on the cross he also suffered by carrying the weight of all of our sins.
This message is powerfully presented in Isaiah 53:4,5. Just look at these verses for a moment and examine what he did. He took up, carried, was pierced, was crushed, experienced punishment and was wounded. But the real torture of all of these expressions of struggle and suffering is that he did it for us. Once again, the text is powerful when it points out that it was our infirmities that he took up, it was our sorrows that he carried. It was for our transgressions that he was pierced. It was for our iniquities that he was crushed, the punishment he bore brought us peace and by His wounds we are healed.
When Jesus was on the cross, he was indeed experiencing all the physical agony that a cross could administer, but there was more to it than that. In Isaiah 53 it says, “we considered him stricken by God.” The words of the mockers at the cross, assumed that he was being punished by God for his wrongdoings. We read about the mockery in Matthew 27:41,42, “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” Their mockery indicated that they saw his suffering as justly deserved, a punishment from God for his blasphemy in claiming to be God. Yet, in verse 5 we are reminded that “he was pierced for our transgressions.” On the cross, he was not bearing the agony of guilt for his own sins. How hopeless for a criminal on a cross. He would be there for his wrongdoing and the cross would represent his death in guilt. He would be filled with the knowledge that there was no absolution for what he had done wrong, that he would die in guilt. Jesus, however, did not bear the guilt of his own sin on the cross. The agony, the suffering of his soul was that on the cross he bore our sin. All the sin of every person was piled upon him.
Max Lucado, in the book “He Chose The Nails” indicates that “Between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.” “Dangling from the cross is an itemized catalogue of your sins.”
The suffering of His soul was the suffering of carrying your guilt and my guilt all the way to death.
But we learn more about the suffering of his soul. In verse 6 we read, We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
This seems to repeat the point we already made that the suffering of his soul involved suffering for our sin and guilt and taking our punishment, but it takes it one step further. It indicates that it is God who has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed in deep agony that if possible, the cup should be removed from him. By this he meant that the experience of dying for the sins of the world should be taken away from him. He did not want to go through with it, but prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.” Nevertheless, it was God’s will for him to go through with it. In other words, it was the Father who put him there. The agony of his soul was that the Father wanted him to be on the cross in order to accomplish his eternal plan.
There is a scene on the cross which helps us understand the real spiritual agony Jesus experienced when he was bearing our sins. It helps us understand the suffering of his soul that took place on the cross. For all his life, he had experienced an intimacy with the Father such as we can barely imagine. It was an intimacy better than the close relationship of mother and child, of husband and wife, of any human relationship. But when Jesus hung on that cross with all of our sins upon him, in that moment that intimacy was broken. God turned away from him. Jesus cried out in desperation in Matthew 27:46, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God put him there, his only and beloved Son and then at the critical moment, as the sin of the world was heaped on him, He turned away from him. That represents the ultimate broken relationship. Because we know there was a resurrection, an exultation and a restoration after that, we do not linger long enough over the horror of this moment. This truly was the high point of the suffering of his soul. Just as we cannot imagine the intimacy of his relationship with the Father, so we cannot imagine the horror of that relationship being broken as He became guilty of all the world’s sin. We need to linger there in order to understand God’s plan and Jesus’ suffering for us. We need to imagine the suffering of His soul as the Father turned away and the suffering of the Father’s soul as He saw his son guilty of the world’s sin.
Max Lucado in “He Chose The Nails” invites us to a imagine a list of the names of the people for whom we would offer the life of our child. We might be willing to offer our own life in rare circumstances, but never the life of our child. Yet, this is what God did and as He did, we come to understand the depth of Christ’s spiritual suffering and the depth of the Father’s love.
Yet even though it was God who put him on the cross, Jesus accepted that role willingly and quietly.
Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
Jesus’ acceptance of his role is recorded in numerous places in Scripture. Already in John 10:17, 18 when Jesus was talking about being the good shepherd, he told the disciples, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” At his trial, Jesus’ silent acceptance of what was happening is clearly evident. When on trial, we read in Matthew 27:14, “But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge - to the great amazement of the governor.” He was silent, but his silence was not due to giving up. It was due to laying down his life. He could have powerfully defended himself if he would have chosen to do so, but in John 19:11 he told Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
Over the past year, I have received or purchased four sanders. Why? Because the projects I was doing required a lot of sandpaper and I wanted all the power I could have in order to do the job well. We have such a desire for more power, it is almost impossible for us to consider setting aside power because we believe that weakness will be a better way of accomplishing a task. Yet this is exactly what Jesus did. He was silent, he laid down all the power of the universe in order to get rid of sin. His prayer in the garden revealed that this was the only way that victory was going to be accomplished. What suffering of soul must have happened in order for Jesus to lay down power!
One writer said, “The Servant did not submit to affliction through pathetic resignation but as a bold choice to participate with God in an act aimed at breaking the stranglehold that sin had maintained for countless ages…”
Finally, in Isaiah 53:8, 9, we see another aspect of the suffering of his soul. There we read, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. … he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”
What a sham it must have been to watch the trial, and still more to be at the center of the trial and see the injustice being done and simply let it go. The Jewish leaders responded negatively to Jesus claim to be the Son of Man. On the basis of his affirmation that he was the Son of Man, without examining to see if it was true, they determined in Matthew 26:66, “He is worthy of death.” Yet as the trial progressed, the voices declaring his innocence increased. Pilate’s wife told Pilate in Matthew 27:19, “have nothing to do with that innocent man.” Pilate responded to the shouts for crucifixion, in Matthew 27:23, “why what crime has he committed.” In Luke, the same conclusion is arrived at by Pilate who said in Luke 23:22, “I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.” What finally resulted in Jesus being given the death penalty was noise. Luke 23:23 says, “with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.”
Jesus did not deserve to die. He had done nothing worthy of death, but had to bear the weight of unjust suffering. This too was a time of suffering of his soul. Even though God wanted it to happen, and Jesus laid down his own life, the injustice of it is still horrible. It is the ultimate demonstration that God has gained an amazing victory through submission to evil and suffering and death. That is what God is like.
Jesus was, as one person writes, “a servant of the Lord whose surrender to God’s will was so total that he took the consequences of the sin of the community upon himself, even though he was innocent of any wrong.”
It is amazing that through a “perversion of justice” people are “restored to righteousness and wholeness.”
So as we see, the suffering of Jesus was not only physical, it was also emotional, psychological and spiritual. His suffering on our behalf was great. Yet, the good news is that because of suffering of his soul we are assured of the salvation of our soul.
Although we depict the cross as empty, I want to invite you to look at the cross with Jesus still on it. Let the reality of his physical and spiritual suffering wash over you. Let your mind think about the things in your life - your sins, failures, lusts, the evil in your heart - that put Jesus on the cross. Then allow your mind to understand that because of the physical and spiritual suffering of Christ, those things are gone.
In order to make this meaningful, I invite you to come to the front, and write on paper that is provided here, something that you want to lay at the cross, some sin, failure or fear. After you have written it down, I invite you to nail it to the cross as a way of recognizing that because of the suffering of His soul, it is now taken away.