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Lowell Brueckner

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Identification with Christ's Suffering


I am sure that I have never tried to write anything as important as these chapters on the cross of Christ. I feel it urgent to put the things that I have seen before some of God's people. Recently, I have learned from the persecuted people in India, who had no means of self-defense or help from their government, the value of what I have written. Please study carefully this chapter, the second-to-last in the upcoming book, "We Have an Altar".

Chapter 11

Identification with Christ’s Suffering

“Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Philippians 3:7-10

In these chapters, we see clearly the need, not only to view Christ on the cross as our substitute, but also to identify with Him in His death. Paul counseled us to yield to the same attitude of humility that sent Him to the cross and now, he writes of fellowship with Christ in His sufferings and experiencing the power of His resurrection. Since we are focusing on the cross in this book, we will only cover the area of His sufferings.

Towards that purpose, Paul suffered the loss of all things. He gave this short biography to the council in Jerusalem: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today” (Ac.22:3). Saul of Tarsus looked for a prominent place among his people. He abandoned the distinguished city of his childhood and made his way to Jerusalem, the capital of Judaism. He sought out the highly esteemed Pharisee and rabbi, Gamaliel, and made significant progress in his career; in fact, he outshone his peers. He was a Jew, body and soul, of the tribe of Benjamin with a passionate zeal to pursue and defend his religious heritage. He ordered and disciplined his life in order to find righteousness in the completion of its law and that was his hope of eternal life.

I think, nothing more need be said to prove that the glory of Saul’s life was his religion. However, after his dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, it had to go. What he once loved, now he hated. Our translation speaks of these past advantages as rubbish, but the original word included excrement in its definition and is probably a better rendering. Though extremely attractive in the past, now Paul saw as repulsive anything that could be used for comparison to Christ. It was something that had to be expelled to make room for something better.

A higher purpose took possession of his heart and love motivated him to draw close to Christ in personal relationship, which he considered to be something of “surpassing value”. His goal was intimate friendship. He let nothing stand in the way of full identity with this most winsome of all personalities. He longed to participate with Him in all areas of life, suffering included. In order to do so, he had to count as loss all that he formerly considered gain. Paul could take nothing with him to the cross. The cross is about loss and the lines of a hymn testify,

My ambitions, plans and wishes,
At my feet in ashes lay.

Paul then urged the Philippians to follow him to the cross: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”(3:17-20)

Of course, the Holy Spirit is speaking to us, as well as the Philippians, for every disciple of Christ is hereby urged to walk in Paul’s footsteps. It is more than an obligation, it is a high privilege. If there is any reservation in our lives, it is due to a lack of revelation of His person. In that case, we have not seen the brightness of His glory, because once it is seen, there is no restraint in pouring heart, soul, mind and strength in pursuing Him.

I heard Leonard Ravenhill say at the beginning of a message, “If I can open the door of heaven a quarter inch tonight and let you look inside, you will never again desire the things of the world!” It is true. Only a fool would choose the world over heaven once he has seen both. Our problem is a lack of spiritual vision and our guilt is in disobedience to the command of Christ – “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

If we are drawn to the beauties of creation, how much more should we be drawn to the beauty of their Creator. If we marvel at the physical abilities of the sport’s personality, envy the gifts of the musical genius, and wonder at the craft of the wise, then let us discover the unlimited skill of their Maker. If we desire the love and fellowship of earth’s charming characters, should our hearts not long for the Spring of all that is excellent in word and feeling?

Sensitive spirits have learned to cherish His cross. Try to catch the worshipful attitude behind the words of the song writer as he muses:
On a hill far away, stood an old, rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
But I love that old cross, where the dearest and best,
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Oh that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
‘Til my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old, rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

However, Paul was saddened to tears by enemies of the cross of Christ. Notice that he does not say they are enemies of Christ, but of the cross. It is the preaching of the cross that they despise and therein lies the difficulty. Simon Peter for a time was an enemy of the cross. He cared much for the Lord, but when He spoke of the cross, Peter rebuked Him. He saw no beauty in it, because he was attuned to the thoughts of men, not to those of God. He was minding earthly things. He was talking like a citizen of earth, not of heaven. Those who are bound to the earth are not bound for heaven. They pay attention to what is temporal and may gain the world, but lose eternity. The poet said:
Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last;
And when I am dying, how glad I will be,
That the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee!

There were twelve disciples, who walked with Him constantly for 3½ years. However, there were special times when he called three of them apart to be close to Him. Peter was one of them. As the hour of darkness approached and Christ’s soul was in distress, once more He called on these three to be near Him in Gethsemane. He wanted their companionship, but when He came to them, they were asleep (Lk.22:40-46; Mk.14:37-41). He found no comfort from their presence.

They were not able to participate in the spiritual realities of that moment. Fleshly weakness dominated their conduct and obstructed the revelation that could have penetrated their spirits. They were still too deeply entrenched in the thoughts and ways of the flesh and were out-of-touch with Jesus. From this point to the cross, it was failure for them.

Paul must have had the Garden of Gethsemane experience close at hand when he wrote to the Philippians. He did not want the same to happen with him, as it happened to the sleeping disciples. He wanted to participate in Christ’s sufferings and to fellowship with Him in the darkness of trials.

We want to return to the book of Leviticus momentarily to glimpse the Old Testament shadow of this communion as typified in the peace offering, sometimes called the fellowship offering. You may want to study the details of this sacrifice in Leviticus 3. We will let Matthew Henry disclose some of its significance:
“Peace-offerings had regard to God as a benefactor to his creatures, and therefore were divided between the altar, the priest, and the offerer. Peace signifies: Reconciliation, concord, and communion. And so these were called peace-offerings, because in them God and his people did, as it were, feast together, in token of friendship… They could not thus eat together unless they were agreed; so that it was a symbol of friendship and fellowship between God and man, and a confirmation of the covenant of peace…

As to the matter of the peace-offering, suppose it was of the herd, it must be without blemish; and, if it was so, it was indifferent whether it was male or female, Lev. 3:1. In our spiritual offerings, it is not the sex, but the heart, that God looks at, Gal. 3:28…

The priest must sprinkle the blood upon the altar, for it was the blood that made atonement for the soul; and, though this was not a sin-offering, yet we must be taught that in all our offerings we must have an eye to Christ as the propitiation for sin, as those who know that the best of their services cannot be accepted unless through him their sins be pardoned. Penitent confessions must always go along with our thankful acknowledgments; and, whatever mercy we pray for, in order to it we must pray for the removal of guilt, as that which keeps good things from us. First take away all iniquity, and then receive us graciously, or give good, Hos. 14:2…”
(Note: In the Garden of Gethsemane, as I have already stated, the Lord was looking for companionship in this time of extreme distress. Besides He counseled His disciples to pray, lest they enter into temptation. If we expect to develop fellowship with Christ and to know Him intimately, we must pray and continually deal with the problem of sin. It can be assumed that if we do not pray, we will give in to temptation.)

“Now the burning of this fat is supposed to signify, (1.) The offering up of our good affections to God in all our prayers and praises. God must have the inwards; for we must pour out our souls, and lift up our hearts, in prayer, and must bless his name with all that is within us. It is required that we be inward with God in everything wherein we have to do with him. The fat denotes the best and choicest, which must always be devoted to God, who has made for us a feast of fat things.”

“This is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn.17:3). The personal knowledge of God is the grass-roots purpose of Christianity and the heart of its functions. It is the reason for which Christ dealt with our sins on the cross. He removed the barrier between us and God and brought us to Him: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the Just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pt.3:18). Even more fundamental, it is the reason for creation. Distinct from the angels, with all their superior features, man was made in the likeness and image of God that he might share intimacy with Him.

Paul longed to know Christ and be led by Him to unscaled mountain heights of spiritual experience, but also he wanted to walk with Him through the valley of the shadow of death. He wanted to be close to Him and fulfill His desire for companionship. Already in the book of Exodus, we have a personality with a heart like the apostle, who saw the “surpassing value” of Christ: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt…” (He.11:24-27).

When Moses was forty years old, he rejected his privileged position as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. The adopted grandson of the mightiest king on earth, he chose rather to suffer with slaves, then to take his place in the center of a world power. He could see that Christ was at the end of Israel’s road. He saw plainly that “the Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to him you shall give heed” (Ac.3:22). Let’s see if we can’t easily put Paul’s words in Moses’ mouth: “Whatever things were gain to me, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter… those things - the treasures of the palace of Egypt - I have counted as loss for the sake of the reproach of Christ… and count them as excrement… that I may know the fellowship of His sufferings together with the ill-treatment of the people of God.”

With his physical eyes, Moses saw firsthand things, which none of us, I venture, can ever hope to see on this earth. However, through the eyes of faith he had a clear view of the invisible and eternal. He weighed them both on a balance and saw that the highest pleasures in the world are far lighter than the lowest treatment possible with Christ and His people. Their suffering was incomparably more honorable than the greatest pleasures of Egypt and Jesus’ reproach was far more valuable than all the riches of Egypt could buy. He made the right and wise choice.

Someone found in a similar position as Moses’ might say that since God had placed him in that palace, he ought to take full advantage of it and reap all the benefits. Moses certainly was placed by God in the palace of Egypt, but he did not possess it permanently, for he had more worthy intentions. Abraham also refused to set down roots in his promised inheritance on earth, because by faith he viewed the invisible and found earth too little a prize to possess. Those who have viewed the eternal are not unwise to count as loss their earthly possibilities. These are the real people of faith, contrary to those who are “believing God” to make them prosperous and rich.

The glory of Moses’ life was the palace and riches of Egypt; the glory of Paul’s was his religion. What is yours? Do your ambitions, plans and wishes lie at your feet in ashes? Have you seen that this life will soon be past and only what’s done for Christ will last? Do you have the eyes of faith that look into heaven? Can you see the value of the cross and glory in it? Is it your highest aim in life to know Christ and participate with Him in the heights of His resurrection and in the valleys of his affliction and reproach? We have an altar of suffering, in which we find the closest fellowship with Christ…


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