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Anticipating the Suffering

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

Anticipating the Suffering

Suffering is something we will inevitably experience at some point in our lives. It’s a given. Recently I have taken my turn at experiencing suffering by undergoing a hip replacement. Granted, it was an “elective” surgery, but it did not come without physical and mental suffering. The week prior, as the day of surgery drew near, I increasingly dreaded the event, yet continued to do everything I was supposed to in preparation for it. On Monday morning I prayed through the inner apprehension and dread, then laid on the table for the surgeon to do the necessary work. I trusted the plan set out by the medical team with the hope that it would one day enable me to walk without pain. Following the surgery, I have suffered a variety of painful and unpleasant after-effects, which are all part of the post-op experience, but were different than the mental suffering that preceded the surgery.

As Easter is only a week away, I am reading in the book of Matthew about Jesus’ time right before He was crucified. One particular passage has to do with the anticipation of suffering. Jesus, being fully God, knew that when He entered into Jerusalem He was heading into a place that would soon hold tremendous physical, emotional, and mental anguish for Him. He completely knew the horror ahead, yet He continued forward, taking His disciples with Him to celebrate the Jewish Passover in the holy city that week. He knew He had enemies there and that the ultimate plan for Him was to be handed over to those who would crucify Him. He knew that, in reality, HE was going to become the Passover Lamb.

What happens between the “triumphal entry” and the crucifixion is fascinating. One story that has captured my thoughts is of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Rather than running away, hiding, or sleeping before being betrayed into the hands of the Roman soldiers, He goes with His disciples to the Garden to pray. He becomes incredibly sorrowful and depressed. He, throughout the night, is tempted to not go the way of suffering. To get to the cross He first must wrestle through the anticipation of what He knows is coming.

He is about to be betrayed by Judas, one of His close 12; judged falsely by the authorities; charged with crimes He didn’t commit; deserted by the people closest to Him into whom He has invested His life; and horribly mistreated and humiliated by Roman soldiers. He is about to be mocked and spat upon by His own people, the Jews, who just days before had hailed Him as their king and laid palm branches down on the road as He entered Jerusalem. He’s about to suffer all sorts of physical agony knowing His mother is going to be watching the entire thing, causing her agony as well. He’s about to be labeled “SIN” (even though He was sinless in His humanity) and to shoulder all of it, since He is taking the punishment for the rest of us who ARE sinners. Worst of all, He knows His Heavenly Father is going to look away and withdraw from Him during this time. He will be separated from His most intimate relationship and source of strength.

This midnight time in the Garden, just before the dawn upon the day of His crucifixion, Jesus is wrestling in prayer with The Father who has called Him to this moment. His Father who orchestrated this mission. This Father whom He completely trusts. This Father who has said He is well-pleased with Him. This Father who has the power to change the plan. Jesus bares His soul to God and asks for an escape plan, seeking to avoid suffering. BUT, He asks for the plan to change only if it be the Lord’s will. If there is no other way, He will do it.

God does not change the plan because there has to be atonement for Sin. Jesus is strengthened through His time in prayer and communion with His Heavenly Father. Even though His body has suffered in tandem with His soul to the point of sweating blood, He resolves to do the mission set before Him. He could have tapped into His godly power to save Himself, but instead chose to submit to the will of the Father and lay down His life.

The arrest of Jesus moves forward quickly, and He does not defend Himself in court, knowing there are false accusers that have been set up to make Him “go away”. He willingly gives His body over to be brutalized and crucified on behalf of the sinful world, which He loves. He knows the Resurrection is coming, but not until after He walks a tortuous, lonely, unjustified, humiliating, public death.

Jesus agonized over the expected suffering in the most honest and vulnerable way but made the decision to choose what was best for us. He was tempted to avoid the cross, but knew it was the perfect plan for a once-and-for-all sacrifice and atonement for sin. He is strengthened through intimate prayer with His Heavenly Father and resolves in His heart that He is going forward in obedience with the Father’s plan. Jesus’ apprehension about suffering on the Cross is notable to me because He had to do a deep soul-search with the Lord before making a commitment to follow the plan God had set before Him and before being able to act in submission and obedience to the Father.

Without going through the process of anticipating suffering, Christ could not have fully completed His mission. He had to go through it to demonstrate the depth of His love, before laying down His life and obeying God. If He had not wrestled so deeply with the anticipation of going to the cross, I don’t know that His pure obedience to God and His incredible love for us could have been seen as clearly.

This examination of Christ’s anticipation of suffering is so incomplete. I wish to refer you to the gospel accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They each share their own version of that night and what Christ went through. I would also recommend listening to the following sermon on the Matthew 26 passage about this topic by John MacArthur from the Grace to You Ministry. It’s free.

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