SUFFERING AT THE CROSS — A Communion Meditation
Jack Cottrell – Greendale First Church of Christ – October 2017
[Author’s note: I gave this meditation on the same Sunday when I preached a sermon dealing in part with the subject of the Trinity. In the sermon I was pointing out that it was necessary to reveal the fact that God is a Trinity of persons at the beginning of this New Covenant age, because that was the time when God was carrying out the mighty works of redemption (incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension, outpouring of the Holy Spirit). The necessity for this new revelation is grounded in the fact that these new redemptive works required a “division of labor” among the three persons of the Trinity. E.g., the Son does certain specific things the Father does not do; the Holy Spirit does specific things the Son does not do.
[The connection between the meditation and the sermon is this: in the single event of Christ’s dying for our sins, all three persons of the Trinity are involved, but in different ways. In this meditation I show how both God the Father and God the Son are required to suffer in order to bring about our redemption, though not in the same way. In my next meditation (December 2017) I will show how the Holy Spirit was also involved in Christ’s suffering, and I will use Hebrews 9:14.]
The Lord’s Supper is a time of remembering (“This do in remembrance of me,” said Jesus—1 Cor. 11:24-25). In thinking about this I was reminded of the hymn, “Precious Memories.” Then I thought, “Well, the memories flooding our minds during the Lord’s Supper are certainly precious, but they are not always very pleasant.” The main things we are remembering here involve pain and suffering, indeed, the greatest pain and suffering imaginable. The very emblems that we consume here—the bit of bread and sip of juice—represent the body and blood of Jesus in the midst of suffering and death. They are indeed emblems of physical pain!
But the physical pain of crucifixion was the least of Christ’s suffering. On the spiritual level, in his own spiritual and especially divine natures, Jesus was experiencing in our place the infinite agony of the outpouring of the wrath of God – an agony that was the equivalent of eternity in hell for the fallen human race. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Here we see GOD THE SON, the second person of the Trinity, suffering the punishment we deserve for our sins, so that we will not have to!
But here is something you may not have thought about. Jesus was not the only one suffering at the cross. John 19:25 points out that Jesus’s own mother, Mary, was “standing by the cross.” Imagine how she must have been suffering in her heart to see what her Son was going through!
But there is more—much more. There is yet another form of DIVINE suffering connected with the cross. Yes, Jesus as God the Son was suffering the outpouring of infinite wrath, as indicated by the references to propitiation (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). But whose infinite wrath? Who was actually pouring out that wrath upon Jesus? Who actually put him on the cross to begin with? The answer is: GOD THE FATHER – Jesus’s own Father – the first person of the Trinity! Romans 3:25 says God—this would be God the Father—put Jesus forward as a propitiation. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says it was God—i.e., God the Father—who put his Son in the place of sinners and treated him as a sinner deserves. Romans 8:32 says that God—i.e., God the Father—“did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Let this sink in: “HIS OWN SON!”
Let’s be clear. The essence of Christ’s suffering was to be put in the place of sinners, and to suffer the eternal punishment deserved by sinners, by being enveloped completely within the infinite wrath of the Father. That is, the wrath of HIS OWN FATHER! This raises the question, why would God the Father treat “his own Son” like this? Why would he pour out his wrath upon Jesus? We know the answer: because both he and Jesus knew that this was the only way we can be saved from our sins! Think how much God must love us, to do this to “his own Son”! See Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The point I am stressing here, though, is not the great love for us sinners that must have been in the Father’s heart while his Son was suffering on the cross. I am thinking more of the greater love he must have had for Christ himself—and thus for the infinite suffering that must have been in the Father’s heart as he watched what his Son was going through! Indeed, not only “as he watched what his Son was going through,” but as he was the one putting him through it! Can you imagine how God the Father’s own heart was breaking, with a different kind of suffering compared with what God the Son experienced—but an infinite agony nonetheless!
What could be more heart-wrenching than this? The Father was experiencing the agonies of a Father as he put his only begotten and only beloved Son through an ordeal unlike anything eternity had ever seen or will ever see again. Why in heaven and on earth would he choose to do this? For the same reason the Son himself chose to go through his suffering: FOR US! They both suffered, in different ways, FOR US! Our salvation required both God the Son’s redemptive suffering in our place, and God the Father’s unimaginable suffering as the one required to pour out upon “his own Son” the wrath we deserve!
Let our focus our thoughts, our memories, on these precious truths as we partake of the emblems today. “Precious memories! How they linger; how they ever flood my soul! In the stillness of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”