Updated: Apr 6, 2020
by Samantha Shrauner
Recent news reports around the world are grim.
There is not one of us who has been unaffected in the past week. In many ways it feels like life has come to a screeching halt. Our lives have reached a level of uncertainty that many of us have never experienced before. There have been wars and plagues and economic depressions throughout the centuries.
But they’ve never happened here. They’ve never happened to us.
In this moment we need a faith that is tangible. We need something that we can hold onto, something with substance and clarity that pierces through the confusion, the fear, and the uncertainty. We don’t need platitudes that everything will be okay, we need an anchor and a foundation that will hold us secure in every scary circumstance of life.
In our sermon last Sunday, we read John 19:1-16 together. Jesus has been arrested and now stands trial before the authorities. His execution is imminent. Soldiers beat and harm him. John includes details of Jesus’ suffering, and the words are hard to read. But the details are not included to cause us needless pain. These words of suffering can bring us life. Scholar Alister McGrath illustrates three ways that we can learn from Christ’s suffering: we can see with clarity the extent of our problem, the magnitude of God’s solution, and the firm foundation on which our faith is built. (1) As we face a pandemic with an uncertain outcome, we can set our eyes again on our Saviour and trust that God is for us, God knows our suffering, and God will see us safely home.
1.) In Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate, we see the extent of the problem of sin
Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.
We can say the words with a single breath, and the good news at the end covers over the sad news at the beginning. It’s compact, and neat, and every word is true. But if we want to understand what sin means and how it has affected us, we must dwell on Christ’s suffering on our behalf.
Good Friday was neither neat nor compact. Christ suffered over long hours, and the reason for his suffering was not his sin. It was our sin. When we recognise the extent of Christ’s suffering, we can see more clearly the damage that our sin has caused and our deep need for redemption.
Sin is not something that can be swept away or painted over. Our rebellion against God, our desire for our own way, our cruelty and disregard for others - all of these have broken this world and our lives so completely that we have no hope of restoring what has been lost.
The good news of the gospel is that God made a way for our salvation through Jesus Christ. But in the midst of this celebration, Alister McGrath points out that Christ’s suffering “asks us to consider the cost of this breakthrough. Forgiveness is a costly business that demanded the suffering and death of the Son of God. Jesus Christ really suffered in order that our real sins might really be forgiven.” (2) Read John 19:1-3 and do not rush past the words.
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.
In a few weeks we will celebrate Easter together. When we remember with joy that Christ has been raised from the dead, let us have a greater appreciation for the cost of our salvation. Remember Christ’s suffering so that you have a deep and abiding recognition of the cost of sin.
2.) In Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate, we know that God is with us in our suffering
It is a comforting thought to remember that God is with us. The psalms are filled with images of God as our refuge and hiding place. But when moments of hardship come, these pictures can feel abstract and far away. We can know that God is with us and for us, but God feels distant.
Christ’s suffering for us moves us away from the abstract and into the concrete. We do not need to ask if God understands what we are going through. Jesus was beaten and struck and mocked. When we say that Jesus walks with us through our pain, we know that Jesus has been where we are and knows what we are feeling.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed that suffering is closer than we like to believe. Our illusion of security from illness, poverty, and death has been shaken. We may recognise for the first time in our lives that our dependence has been on the things of this world, not on the rock of our salvation. If God brings us to a place of suffering, we can walk the road knowing that Christ has also suffered. Remember Christ’s suffering so that you may know that God is with you in your own suffering.
3.) In Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate, we rest our faith securely on historical fact
The Christian faith is not built upon myths and legends in the misty past. Our faith is built upon events that happened to specific people at specific points in history. Historical figures, such as the Roman proconsul Pontius Pilate, could be cross-checked by witnesses for accuracy.
In considering the importance of history, a timeline is an enormously helpful tool because it visually demonstrates how the past is connected to the present and the future. On a timeline we can mark when events from the Bible occurred. We can mark important events in the history of the church and in the history of nations around the world. And then we can mark our own families and our own lives and see where we fit in God’s grand story. The historical fact of Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate has a direct impact all the way down the timeline to us. McGrath says, “The gospel is not just about ideas; it is about God acting, and continuing to act, in history.” (3) Christianity is not built upon philosophy that is unconnected with historical reality. We believe in Jesus because of what he has actually done.
The next points in the timeline are uncertain. We do not know what will happen next in our history. But we can be certain that God, who has ordered the past, will continue to order the future. Remember Christ’s suffering so that you will be able to entrust your future to God’s sovereign care.
It is brutal to read the words that John has written about Jesus being beaten and hurt. The Saviour that we love endured pain and humiliation. But there can be great value in remembering Christ’s suffering on our behalf. In Christ’s suffering we can clearly see our own depravity, we can have context for our own suffering, and we can rest in a God who is at work in history.
God is not far away from our suffering. In our greatest need God has not left alone, and God will not leave us alone in this pandemic. In Christ, God came down and suffered so that we might be saved and live forever with him.
In every moment and every circumstance our hope is anchored to our trustworthy Saviour.
1) McGrath, Alister, I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 55-58
2) McGrath, 57
3) McGrath, 56