GREAT THOUGHTS REGARDING THE CROSS, AND THE SUFFERING AND DEATH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
John Maclaurin, a Scottish minister in the 1700’s contrasted the physical and spiritual sufferings with the following words:
We may paint the outward appearance of his sufferings, but not the inward bitterness or invisible causes of them. Men can paint the cursed tree, but not the curse of the law that made it so. Men can paint Christ bearing the cross to Calvary, but not Christ bearing the sins of many. We may describe the nails piercing his sacred flesh, but who can describe eternal justice piercing both flesh and spirit? We may describe the soldier’s spear, but not the arrows of the Almighty; the cup of vinegar which he but tasted, but not the cup of wrath, which he drank out to the lowest dregs; the derision of the Jews, but not the desertion of the Almighty forsaking his Son, that he might never forsake us who were his enemies.
Billy Graham said this in his book, Peace with God:
Sometimes people have asked me why Christ died so quickly, in six hours, on the cross, while other victims have agonized on the cross for two and three days-and longer. He was weak and exhausted when He came there. He had been scourged, He was physically depleted. But when Christ died, He died voluntarily. He chose the exact moment when He expired.
There he hung between heaven and earth. Having suffered unspeakably,
The spikes never held Him-it was the cords of love that bound tighter than any nails that men could mold. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
But the physical suffering of Jesus Christ was not the real suffering. Many men before Him had died. Others had hung on a cross, longer than He did. Many men had become martyrs. The awful suffering of Jesus Christ was His spiritual death. He reached the final issue or sin, fathomed the deepest sorrow, when He cried, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This cry was proof that Christ, becoming sin for us, had died physically, and with it He lost all sense of the Father’s presence at that moment in time.
He who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Galatians 3:13; Mark 15:34; 2 Corinthians 5:21). On the cross He was made sin. He was God-forsaken. Because He knew no sin there is a value beyond comprehension in the penalty He bore, a penalty that He did not need for Himself.
How it was accomplished in the depth of the darkness man will never know. I know only one thing-He bore my sins in His body upon the tree. He hung where I should have hung. The pains or hell that were my portion were heaped on Him, and I am able to go to heaven and merit that which is not my own, but is His by every right.
John Calvin, one of the leading theologians of the Protestant Reformation, had this to say:
…that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.
We see that Christ was so cast down as to be compelled to cry out in deep anguish: "My God my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (PS. 22:1; Matt. 27:46). Now some would have it that he was expressing the opinion of others rather than his own feeling. This is not at all probable, for his words clearly were drawn forth from anguish deep within his heart.
Here certain untutored wretches impelled more by malice than by ignorance, cry out that I am doing a frightful injustice to Christ. For they hold it incongruous for him to fear for the salvation of his soul. Then they stir up a harsher slander: that I attribute to the Son of God a despair contrary to faith. First, these men wickedly raise a controversy over Christ’s fear and dread, which the Evangelists so openly relate. For before the hour of death approached, "he was troubled in spirit" (John 13: 21) and stricken with grief, and when it came upon him, he began to tremble more intensely with fear (cf. Matt. 26:37). To say that he was pretending-as they do-is a foul evasion. We "must with assurance, therefore, confess Christ’s Sorrow, as Ambrose rightly teaches, unless we are ashamed of the cross. And surely, unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone.
There is no reason why Christ’s weakness should alarm us. For he was not compelled by violence or necessity, but was induced purely by his love for us and by his mercy to submit to it. But all that he voluntarily suffered for us does not in the least detract from his power.
What shameful softness would it have been (as I have said) for Christ to be so tortured by the dread of common death as to sweat blood, and to be able to be revived only at the appearance of angels? What? Does not that prayer, coming from unbelievable bitterness of heart and repeated three times-"Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me" (Matt.16:59)-show that Christ had a harsher and more difficult struggle than with common death?
For feeling himself, as it were, forsaken by God, he did not waver in the least from trust in his goodness. This is proved by that remarkable prayer to God in which he cried out in acute agony: "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). For even though he suffered beyond measure, he did not cease to call him his God, by whom he cried out that he had been forsaken.
Jonathan Edwards, the great American philosopher and theologian, whose name is inseparably linked with the Great Awakening which occurred in the 1700’s in this nation, said:
Besides what our Lord endured in this excruciating corporeal death, he endured vastly him, and to put him to grief; now he poured out his soul unto death, as in Isaiah 53. And if the mere forethought of this cup made him sweat blood, how much more dreadful and excruciating must the drinking have been! Many martyrs have endured much in their bodies, while their souls have been joyful, and have sung for joy, whereby they have been supported under the sufferings of their outward man, and have triumphed over them. But this was not the case with Christ; he had no such support.
Ralph Earle, Professor of New Testament at the Nazarene Theological Seminary, said:
The death of Jesus differed from that of every other man. He "dismissed his spirit."2 His was a completely voluntary decease-"No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself."3 Death was not forced upon Him. He accepted it as the will of God for the salvation of man.
What did Jesus’ death mean for Him? The answer is best suggested by His prayer in Gethsemane. There He cried out in agony of soul, "0 my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Then, He bowed his head in humble submission and said: "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."
What was this cup from which He prayed to be delivered? Carping critics have said that Jesus cringed cowardly fear at the thought of death. But such cavilers are utterly ignorant of the true significance of that hour. Jesus was not afraid to die!
What was it, then, from which He shrank, in anguish of spirit? It was His Father’s face turned away from Him in the awful hour when "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him."5 Our Substitute took the tortuous trail of a lost soul, walking out into the labyrinthine depths of outer darkness. He tasted death for every man. That means more than physical death. When Christ cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? He was experiencing something far deeper. He was paying the penalty for sin-not His, but ours. The penalty for sin is separation from God. This was the price that Jesus had to pay for our salvation. There was no alternative. The final words of Christ in the Garden were these: "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" To secure man’s salvation, the Son of God let the blow of divine justice fall on Himself. He who could say, "I do always those things that please him" had to endure the displeasure of the one He delighted to serve.
In those few but fateful hours on the cross Jesus tasted the unspeakable horror of eternal death. Spiritual darkness shrouded His soul. His cry of dereliction is the measure of His sacrifice. Olin A. Curtis has well expressed it thus: " And so, there alone, our Lord opens his mind, his heart, his personal consciousness, to the whole inflow of the horror of sin-the endless history of it, from the first choice of selfishness on, on to the eternity of hell; the boundless ocean and deso1ation he allows; wave upon wave, to overwhelm his soul.
B.H. Carroll, former President of the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, said the following:
About the ninth hour, which would be three o’clock, the silence was broken, and we have the fourth voice of Jesus: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body, and spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. So just before that darkness passed away losing that ninth hour, Christ died the spiritual death. Right on the very verge of that deeper darkness came another voice. His words were, "I thirst." This shows that his soul was undergoing the pangs of hell, just as the rich man lifted up his eyes in hell, being in torment, and said, "I pray thee, Father Abraham, send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am tormented in this flame." This anguish was not from loss of blood, as in the case of a bleeding soldier. Any old soldier-and I am one-can testify that the fiercest pang which comes to the wounded is thirst. The flow of the blood from the open wound causes extreme anguish of thirst in a most harrowing sense. On battlefields, where the wounded fall in the range fire of both armies, a wounded man cannot get away, and nobody can go to him, and all through the night the wounded cry out, "Water, water, water!" After I myself was shot down on the battlefield-it was two miles to where any water could be obtained-I had to be carried that distance, and the thirst was unspeakable. How much more the anguish of Christ enduring the torment of hell for a lost world!
H.A. Ironside, the noted commentator said:
"No finite mind can fathom the depths of woe and anguish into which the soul of Jesus sank when that dread darkness spread o’er all the scene."
It was a symbol of the spiritual darkness into which He went as the Man Christ Jesus made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
It was then that God laid on Him the iniquity of us all that His soul was made an offering for sin. We get some faint understanding of what this meant for Him when, just as the darkness was passing, we hear Him cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Each believer can reply, "It was that I might never be forsaken." He took our place and endured the wrath of God our sins deserved. This was the cup from which he shrank in Gethsamane; now, pressed to His lips, He drained it to the dregs."
Ironside further expressed his belief concerning the significance of the spiritual sufferings of Christ in a sermon entitled "The Sinless One Made Sin":
It was not simply the physical sufferings, which our Lord endured upon the cross hat made the expiation for our iniquity. It was what He suffered in His Holy, spotless soul, in His sinless being, when the judgement that your sins deserved fell on Him…..
Then it was that He made to be sin for us. In some way our finite minds can not now understand, the pent-up wrath of the centuries fell upon Him, and He sank in deep mire where there was no standing, as He endured in His inmost being what you and I would have had to endure through all eternity, had it not been for His mighty sacrifice.
Lutheran scholar Paul Althaus, in his The Theology of Martin Luther, pointed out that Luther believed:
Christ really was forsaken by God; He was removed from the experience of his fatherly closeness, and in its stead he was surrendered to the experience of hell.
According to Isaiah 53, God strikes him because of our sins and punishes him with our punishment. This, however, does not consist only in physical death but "also in the anxiety and terror of a terrified conscience, which feels God’s eternal wrath as though it would be forsaken and rejected by God for all eternity."
…Whoever does not take this completely seriously – because he finds it unbearable to say that Christ has borne our punishment and our curse-robs us of the sweetest comfort.
Christ has thus fully endured the horror of the anxiety of death, of being forsaken by God, and of being under God’s wrath. Thus he is forsaken by God and suffers God’s wrath in our place. He takes our sins upon himself as though they were his own. In his own way, he stands before God as a sinner among sinners and God treats him as such. Our salvation depends on Christ’s thus taking our sins upon himself.
R. W. Dale, a respected British theologian and Congregationalist, pastor and preacher said:
I cannot believe that His terror was caused by His anticipation of the physical tortures of crucifixion…There came another and still more appalling sorrow. His fellowship with the Father had been intimate and unbroken….The light of God’s presence is lost, He is left in awful isolation, and He cries, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" In the "hour of great darkness" which had fallen upon Him, He still clings to the Father with an invincible trust and an immeasurable love, and the agony of being deserted of God is more than He can bear.
He knew that He was to die the awful death; that He was to be forsaken by God in His last hours… Surely this supreme anguish must have a unique relation to the redemption of mankind.
When I try to discover the meaning of the sorrow of Christ on the cross, I cannot escape the conclusion that He is somehow involved in this deep and dreadful darkness by the sins of the race whose nature He had assumed.
Charles Spurgeon, called the prince of preachers, pastored a Baptist church of 6,000 in London during the 1800’s.
In teaching on Christ "being made sin" and "being made a curse" said the following:
We would be very clear here, because very strong expressions have been used by those who hold the great truth which I am endeavoring to preach, which strong expressions have conveyed the truth they meant to convey, but also a great deal more. In Martin Luther’s wonderful book on the Galatians; he says plainly, but be assured did not mean what he said to be literally understood, that Jesus Christ was the greatest sinner that ever lived; that all the sins of men were so laid upon Christ that he became all the thieves, and murderers and adulterers that ever were in one. Now, he meant this, that God treated Christ as if he had been a great sinner as if he had been all the sinners in the world in one; and such language teaches that truth very plainly: but, Luther-like in his boisterousness, he overshoots his mark, and leaves room for the censure that he has almost spoken blasphemy against the blessed person of our Lord.
Now, Christ never was and never could be a sinner; and in his person and in his character, in himself considered, he never could be anything but well-beloved of God, and blessed for ever and well-pleasing in Jehovah’s sight; so that when we say today that he was a curse, we must lay stress on those words, "He was made a curse"-constituted a curse, set as a curse; and then again we must emphasize those other words, "for us"-not on his own account at all; but entirely out of love to us, that we might be redeemed, he stood in the sinner’s place and was reckoned to be a sinner, and treated as a sinner , and made a curse for us.
Let us go farther into this truth. How was Christ made a curse? In the first place, he was made a curse because all the sins of his people were actually laid on him. Remember the words of the Apostle-it is no doctrine of mine, mark you; it is an inspired sentence, it is God’s doctrine-"He made him to be sin for us"; and let me quote another passage from the prophet Isaiah, "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all"; and yet another from the same prophet, "He shall bear their iniquities." The sins of God’s people were lifted from off them and imputed to Christ, and their sins were looked upon as if Christ had committed them. He was regarded as if he had been the sinner; he actually and in very deed stood in the sinner’s place.
So Christ was made a curse. Wonderful and awful words, but as they are scriptural words, we must receive them. Sin being on Christ, the curse came on Christ, and in consequence, our Lord felt an unutterable horror of soul. Surely it was that horror which made him sweat great drops of blood when he saw and felt that God was beginning to treat him as if he had been a sinner.
It was an anguish never to be measured, and agony never to be comprehended. It is to God, and God alone that his grief’s were fully known.
See, beloved, here is Christ bearing the curse instead of his people. Here he is coming under the load of their sin, and God does not spare him but smites him, as he must have smitten us, lays his full vengeance on him, launches all his thunderbolts against him, bids the curse wreak itself upon him, and Christ suffers all.
The cross is an insult to those who are perishing, Paul says, but to us who are being saved, we understand the plan and power of God. It is a thing of beauty. The little girl wore a shiny cross around her neck. One day some sanctimonious Christian came up to her to straighten her out: "Little girl, don’t you know that the cross Jesus died on wasn’t beautiful like the one you’re wearing? It was an ugly, wooden thing." To which the girl replied, "Yes, I know. But they told me in Sunday School that whatever Jesus touches, He changes."
"Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want."
– Martin Luther
"Today I argue that one of the chief problems with the American church is that we have attempted to tame the Lion of Judah. We have sanitized, sugar-coated, and psychologized our faith to the point that it is bland, and unthreatening, and mediocre to a fault. Our problem is that we have ceased to be radicals, as was the early church, because we have forgotten that the cross is a radical thing!"
– Byron Harvey
"We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed."
– C.S. Lewis
"He came to pay a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay."
"By the cross we know the gravity of sin and the greatness of God’s love towards us."
– John Chrysostom
"In the cross of Christ I see three things: First, a description of the depth of man’s sin. Second, the overwhelming love of God. Third, the only way of salvation."
– Billy Graham
"We never move on from the cross of Christ, only into a more profound understanding of the cross."
– Daniel Prior
"Christ’s cross is the sweetest burden that ever I bore: is such a burden as wings are to a bird, or sails are to a ship."
– Samuel Rutherford
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress.
Helpless, look to thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me.
Let me hide myself in thee.
Could my tears forever flow
Could my zeal no languor know
These for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and Thou alone
In my hand no price I bring
Simply to the cross I cling.
– Augustus Toplady
"Christ took your cup of grief, your cup of the curse, pressed it to his lips, drank it to its dregs, then filled it with his sweet, pardoning, sympathizing love, and gave it back for you to drink, and to drink forever!"
– Octavius Winslow