Recent Posts
Lowell Brueckner

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

The Sufferings of Christ


A few days ago we were talking to our youngest son, Mike, who has been youth pastor for many years at a successful church in the Midwest. He told us, “The more I talk with Christians, the more I am convinced that they don’t understand the significance of the cross. They can’t understand why we are excited with it, concentrating and meditating on it. They are involved with other things… activities, miracles, entertainment.”

He has been teaching the youth lessons on the cross and some “get it” and are excited about it. Others have the attitude, when can we get past this subject into something more interesting. A while back, he preached on “propitiation” in a Sunday morning service. People came up to him afterwards, saying they had never heard a message on the subject, including a 70-year-old veteran, very active in church activities.

Is that bothersome to you? It is to me. For that reason I wrote the book, We Have an Altar, because I wanted Christians to be able to know what they’re talking about, when they say, “Jesus died for us on the cross.” That’s about as deep as the understanding of many goes. Below please read chapter three and see if you agree with me that many Christians today need to hear this message, especially young Christians. Maybe you can help me get this book into their hands.

Chapter 3

The Supreme Suffering of Christ

“Jesus cried out with a loud voice… ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?’”
Mark 15:34

I struggle to find an adjective to describe the suffering of Christ on the cross.  Nothing seems adequate. What word can justly define that which only occurred once in history on this earth and was unique and unequaled by any other event or person? It was excruciating, unearthly anguish, immeasurably beyond whatever we might put in second place. In fact, take the composite pain and torture ever afflicted upon human beings throughout the ages, multiply it by any number you choose and you will yet come far short of finding a comparison for that which took place in a lone body on Calvary’s hill.

His trial and physical suffering
We will begin, however, with the mockery of a trial in the house of the high priest. We remind ourselves that at any point along the way, Jesus could summon a legion of angels for His deliverance. We also understand that, beyond anything that his accusers might determine, He was under the will of His Father and was bringing to pass counsel predetermined before the foundation of the world. He was carrying to fruition the divine purpose for which He had descended from His heavenly throne to Bethlehem’s manger.

Still, in order to fulfill all righteousness, we see the Judge of the universe coming before mere men and submitting to their decision. Now, the Jewish legal system was superior to any other in its time. It provided checks and balances to assure that justice could be met and contained excellent measures to protect the defendant.

However, as Jesus came to the end of 3½ years of earthly ministry and Passover approached, the Jerusalem council convened to deal with the major crisis that His ministry was causing them. They said, “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (Jn.11:48). They were afraid that the popularity of Jesus would provoke the Romans to a total take-over of the government and the Pharisees and Sadducees would lose any right to self-govern. 

Recently, the Romans had taken away the right to deal out capital punishment. According to Jewish law, Jesus should have been executed by stoning, rather than by Roman crucifixion. He would have died flat upon the ground, instead of being “lifted up” for public display, as He Himself predicted. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn.3:14) and “if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (Jn.12:32).  The prophets, notably David, also gave indications that the Messiah’s death would be by crucifixion: “They pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps.22:16).

The high priest, Caiaphas, finally brought the matter to a head and unwittingly prophesied, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish” (Jn.11:49-50). Because the high priest said it, it would come to the attention of all, but it was more than a deciding word for the council. John noticed that God took the issue far beyond what Caiaphas intended, with a different motive altogether, and turned it into a prediction with world-wide significance (v.51-52).

Meanwhile an event took place at Bethany, which would play a major role in the plot against the Lord. A woman poured an extremely expensive perfume upon Jesus’ head as He sat as an invited guest at supper. There was not a disciple in the house, who was not indignant, missing altogether (as was often the case) God’s point of view and the supreme need of a worshipper to glorify Christ. They preferred and understood the practical, humanitarian act of aiding the poor. For one of the twelve, in particular, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Probably, Judas Iscariot’s decision was strengthened by the reaction of his colleagues. He went from the supper to the chief priests to betray Jesus.

The Pharisees had become desperate and “said to one another, ‘You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him’” (Jn.12:19).  When Judas came to them, the council welcomed his help and saw that they must move immediately. They hurriedly arranged a make-shift trial and did not even give time to gather legitimate witnesses and instruct them, in order to conduct a consistent prosecution. In less than 24 hours, they had to arrest Jesus, judge Him before the counsel, then before Roman law, crucify Him and take Him off the cross…, all before the great day of the feast, when it was illegal to leave dead bodies exposed in a public place.

The Romans dispatched a cohort, 400-600 soldiers, to arrest Him and they were joined by Jewish temple servants and led by Judas, who kissed Him on the cheek, the sign of his betrayal. They first took him to Annas, who had been high priest himself, had had five sons who successively bore the office and was the father-in-law to the present high priest, Caiaphas. When Annas questioned him, Jesus answered rightly, that Annas should bring in witnesses to testify about his teaching, because Jesus, as the defendant, was not obligated to do so (Jn.18:19-21). As a result, He was struck by an officer (v.22), which was a totally improper action against a defendant, not yet convicted. Paul protested, when he received the same treatment (Ac.23:3). Annas sent him to Caiaphas.

The court convened and the accusation was blasphemy, historically a capital crime in Israel. Witnesses were brought in, but the testimony was inconsistent and contradictory. It ended with an attempt by two befuddled witnesses, recalling inaccurately Jesus’ statements concerning the destruction and rebuilding of the temple (He, of course, was speaking of His body as the temple), and as Mark 14:59 states, “Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.” This should have been the end of the trial and Jesus should have been freed. Moses had made that law very clear: “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (Dt.17:6 and 19:15).

Now, the high priest stood in an attempt to save an already botched trial. I understand that in that Jewish court, as in our modern courts, a defendant was not obligated to give incriminating testimony against himself. Therefore, Jesus had every right to remain silent under Caiaphas’ questioning, However, when Caiaphas said, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt.26:63), Jesus met him head-on and took the matter out of the earthly courtroom to another day of judgment, when Caiaphas would look on in stark terror: “Hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v.64). As the high priest heard this, he tore his clothes, something which Moses had forbidden, as unworthy of that high office: “The priest who is the highest among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not uncover his head nor tear his clothes” (Lv.21:10).

The council, not able to affirm their accusation by means of witnesses, based their decision solely on Jesus’ own true statement and pronounced the death sentence. They spat in His face. They blindfolded him, beat him with their fists and slapped him with their palms, mockingly demanding that He prophesy, as to who was the assailant. The next morning, after a short conference, they took him before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

Blasphemy was not a capital offense in Roman law, so now the council changed the accusation to treason. They claimed that Jesus had pronounced Himself King of Israel, thereby an affront to Caesar. In answer to the question, Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews” (Jn.18:36). The governor quickly saw the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders and that this Man was no threat to Rome. Besides, his wife sent him a message, urging him to step aside in this matter, because she had dreamed a strange dream the night before.

Learning that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate tried to pass him over to Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee; he was the son of Herod the Great and the murderer of John the Baptist. He was probably in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Jesus did nothing to Herod’s satisfaction and answered none of his questions, so Herod joined his soldiers in a mockery, covering Him with a luxurious robe, then returned him to Pilate.

The fact that Herod had not convicted Jesus, gave Pilate another reason to release Him, but the crowd would have none of it. Then, Pilate had Him whipped, in an apparent effort to appease them. Here is how Vine describes Roman scourging: “Scourging was the legal preliminary to crucifixion, but, in this case, was inflicted illegally before the sentence of crucifixion was pronounced, with a view of averting the extreme punishment, and of satisfying the Jews. (Lk.23:22). The punishment was horrible, the victim being bound to a low pillar or stake, and beaten, either with rods, or, in the case of slaves and provincials, with scourges, called scorpions, leather thongs tipped with leaden balls or sharp spikes. The severity of the infliction in Jesus' case is evident from His inability to bear His cross.”

However the crowd, incited by their leaders, continued to demand his crucifixion and so Pilate gave way to mob rule. On their insistence, he turned a murderer, Barabbas, loose and sentenced an innocent man to death. It was now the band of several hundred Roman soldiers’ (the cohort) turn to have a go at Jesus. They twisted together a crown of thorns and forced it down into His forehead. They put a robe on him, a rod in his hand and knelt before Him in derision crying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mt.27:29) They spat at him and began to beat Him over the head with the rod. Isaiah prophesied, “His appearance was marred more than any man” (Is.52:14).

When our son, Steve, was in a car accident, he suffered a severe concussion. His older brother, Dan, was the first to visit him in the hospital. The nurse told him that Steve was in intensive care. Dan walked into the room that she indicated and saw a man with a swollen head, lying with instruments wired to various parts of his body. He walked out and told the nurse, “No, I’m looking for Stephen Brueckner.” She answered, “That is he on that bed.” Dan nearly fainted. He couldn’t even recognize his own brother. It is an unworthy comparison, I know, but our family felt the pain acutely. Yet, we can only slightly sense the horror of the treatment given the Lord on that dark morning in Jerusalem.

Jesus was beaten beyond recognition. No artist has ever done him justice in an attempt to depict him at his trial and later on Calvary. The cross was laid on him, but, as Vine suggested, His beaten body collapsed and Simon the Cyrene was compelled to bear it. Arriving at The Place of the Skull, the nails were driven into His hands and feet. I cannot begin to imagine the torture of it and I will not try to describe the excruciating pain, but I think it would be impossible for anyone to exaggerate in the attempt. At the same time, the mockery and scorn from the onlookers continued.  

“He Showed Me His Hands, that were marred by my sinning
He showed me His feet, that were nailed to the tree,
I then saw His brow and His side deeply wounded,
And now I love Jesus and Jesus loves me.”

He poured out His soul to death

I wanted to go briefly through the mental and emotional anguish of the false judgment and then mention every kind of physical torture that Christ had to bear. This is the part that we can naturally relate to, at least to a small degree. However, thus far we have only paid tribute to the smallest part of his suffering and we have not yet touched upon what it really meant to be a sacrifice for sin. After all, the thieves were also crucified and went through the same kind of physical torture and suffering that Jesus endured, although I am sure that He suffered more abuse than they did.

Good Friday was a day for demons that delighted in inciting men to do their absolute worst to inflict all the punishment possible on the Son of God. The demons were surely present in the unseen world around the cross. In his inspired prophecy, David wrote, “Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me” (Ps.22:12) and “dogs have surrounded me” (v.16). A few verses later he speaks of “the paws of the dog… the lion’s mouth… the horns of the wild oxen…” He was not speaking of literal animals, but of spiritual beasts, which attacked His soul. This battled raged, in addition to the physical suffering. Jesus fought them in the spirit and triumphed in the cross. He foretold it in John 12:31, “The ruler of this world will be cast out.” Paul stated (I quote from the Amplified Version, Col.2:15), [God] disarmed the principalities and powers that were ranged against us and made a bold display and public example of them, in triumphing over them in Him and in it [the cross]”.

Please allow me - I think it is worthwhile to get some confirmation and some excellent observations from leading commentators: Warren Wiersbe says: “The death of Christ on the cross looked like a great victory for Satan, but it turned out to be a great defeat from which Satan cannot recover… He ‘disarmed the powers and authorities’.” Albert Barnes: “There can be no doubt, I think, that the apostle refers to the ranks of fallen, evil spirits which had usurped a dominion over the world… Satan and his legions had invaded the earth and drawn its inhabitants into captivity, and subjected them to their evil reign. Christ, by his death subdues the invaders and recaptures those whom they had subdued… Paul says that this was now done ‘openly’ - that is, it was in the face of the whole universe - a grand victory; a glorious triumph over all the powers of hell.” Matthew Henry: “The Redeemer conquered by dying… Never had the devil's kingdom such a mortal blow given to it as was given by the Lord Jesus…” And John Wesley: “And having spoiled the principalities and powers - The evil angels, of their usurped dominion, He - God the Father, exposed them openly - Before all the hosts of hell and heaven. Triumphing over them in or by him - By Christ.”

The cross produced yet greater torment within the very depths of Christ’s being. Above all, we must concentrate upon it, if we are to understand to any degree the significance of the cross. We come now to the heart of the substitutionary work in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

He was sinless. In a human body for 33 years He knew the power of temptation, but never once succumbed to it. We must understand also that not only in life, but in all eternity not once had sin ever marred Him. Throughout endless past ages, never had He felt the inner pangs of uncleanness for having committed some kind of unrighteous, untruthful or dirty act. Never had he known what it meant to feel guilty for having disobeyed God or having harmed another human being. 

Now we read: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross…” (1 Pt.2:24). Sins were heaped upon Him. They were dragged from all parts of the earth and from every period of history. They were pulled from concentration camps, abusive homes, the assassins’ hide-out and the palace of the oppressor. Have you thought about it? The most shameful offenses, the filthiest acts, and the cruelest deeds – He felt the weight of them all. Torture, hatred, greed and abuse were placed upon the spotless Lamb. He not only carried evil acts, but also evil thoughts and motives, which were never actually performed. He was spared nothing – God “did not spare His own Son” (Ro.8:32). Far beyond the physical torture, this was what He suffered.

However, He not only carried our sins, but the apostle declares, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin…” (2 Co.5:21). He not only is holy, but He is the Author of all holiness that has ever been manifested or experienced in heaven or upon earth by men or by angels. He, who was the eternal fountain of holiness, became sin. It is one of the mind-boggling mysteries of the cross, for which we can never find a satisfactory explanation. The embodiment of holiness and purity in a human vessel, not only took sins upon Himself, but sin became His state-of-being. I repeat, Jesus Christ became sin upon that cross! Such was the depth of His pain; it reached to the core of His being.

I remember reading, “Run, Nicky, Run”, the testimony of Nicky Cruz, many years ago. The saddest part of the book takes place near its beginning. Nicky’s mother and father were deeply into witchcraft. On one occasion to punish the little boy, his father left him to panic in a dark room. It was a demonic act, only out-done by one from his mother. Surely in the throes of an evil spirit, she lashed at him, “I hate you! You are not my son; I have never loved you as a son!”  Nicky was hurt many times in rumbles on the streets of New York. Once he was kicked into unconsciousness and his assailants continued to kick him thereafter. But no bodily pain ever matched the cruelty of those words by his own mother, which ripped his soul to shreds.

Ah, it is a poor, human example, but I submit it, because it may give our little finite understanding some small idea of what follows. We have come now to the apex of Jesus’ pain. In the first chapter, we faced the immense problem of the scriptural truth that God, in Christ, was put to death. “I am the life,” Jesus said (Jn.14:6). Life died! We have just tried to deal with the complexity of His holiness and the fact that He became sin. Now, we contemplate another great mystery of the cross: Seemingly, perfect, eternal love and communion were broken.

There had never been the slightest friction within the godhead in all the history of the universe and before history in the timeless ages of eternity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit always enjoyed the sweetest fellowship. The love is deep, beyond compare and human comprehension. Its failure was unthinkable, for God’s “love never fails” (1 Co.13:8). When John the Baptist doubted, when his disciples did not understand Him, when His people, the Jews, rejected Him and the Romans mistreated Him, Jesus could always count on His Father’s love. The Father had declared at His baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration that He was well pleased with Him. 

The Father looked upon the cross from heaven and this time He saw putrid sins amassed in infinite quantity. In the transaction of taking on sin and as a sacrifice for it, the fierceness of the unbridled wrath of God was poured out without measure upon Him. His Father’s holy eyes could no longer gaze on the scene and He turned His back. Darkness covered the earth in the middle of the day. For three hours, Jesus kept silent, but the pain reached a peak and He could no longer contain the grief nor restrain his voice. Please, hear His loud cry in Mark 15:34: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” It was the most horrible moment in time and eternity.

Perfect righteousness was satisfied and justice had been served to its fullness. The Lord Jesus deserved none of it, for He knew no sin. He was a Lamb without spot or blemish. Why then did all this punishment fall upon Him? There is only one answer. That answer echoes down the corridors of time for anyone who will hear. It has lost none of its awe or wonder in this century of secular humanism and damning materialism. Why does He hang there? Why does He suffer so? This is why: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn.3:16)

The Father placed Him there in love for us and the Son hung as a substitute for you and me, offering Himself through the eternal Spirit, in love. It was a work of the triune God. It is love beyond understanding, untarnished and unmixed in its purity, unbounded in its reach. It is unmatched by any love known on earth. No mother knows this kind of love for her baby; no man can equal it in his affection for his bride. This is an intense, passionate love that takes enemies into its scope. Let Paul help us to describe the indescribable: “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love (His unique, incomparable love) toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Ro.5:6-10). This is our heart-breaking altar, adorned by the love of God…


Post a Comment