THE HOLY SPIRIT’S ROLE IN CHRIST’S SUFFERING
A Communion Meditation by Jack Cottrell
In my previous meditation I pointed out that Jesus the SON of God was not the only one suffering at the cross. God the FATHER was also suffering, but in a different way. Jesus as the Son of God was the one who was actually suffering the infinite wrath of God in our place, making our salvation possible. But it was God the Father who, with feelings of deepest agony, was responsible for pouring out that wrath upon his own Son (Rom. 8:32).
But here we shall see that the suffering at the cross was not what JUST the Father and the Son went through; the HOLY SPIRIT also was part of a suffering Trinity in that event. The Spirit was suffering, too, but in his own way.
Hebrews 9:14 says that Jesus Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God.” It should be noted that the words “eternal Spirit” are rightly understood as a reference to the Holy Spirit. The point is that Jesus was undergoing the whole process of offering himself to God through the help and power of the Holy Spirit!
We often overlook the Biblical teaching that all during Christ’s ministry as God the Logos working through a human person, he was depending on the presence of the Holy Spirit for power to carry out his tasks. This is seen, for example, in these references: (1) Prophesying of the coming Christ, Isaiah 42:1 says, “I have put My Spirit upon him” – which happened in his baptism. (2) After his baptism Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). (3) After his temptation he “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). (4) John 3:34 says the Father gave him the Spirit “without measure.” (For more on this see my book, Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit, ch. 4, “The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.”)
When we come to the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus experiencing his need for the Holy Spirit’s power in his life more than ever. And this is the message of Hebrews 9:14, that Jesus was offering Himself up to God “through the eternal Spirit.” (Some of the following comments are based on my book, Power from on High, 149-150.)
This passage in Hebrews refers to what the Holy Spirit was doing for Jesus in the very circumstances of his crucifixion, beginning in Gethsemane. In the few hours that Jesus spent there, every strand of His messianic purpose came together and was unfolded before his human eyes as never before. When this happened, Mark 14:33 says he BEGAN to be AMAZED (the best translation). He became aware of the magnitude, the enormity, the infinite weight of the burden he was about to bear. And his first reaction was to recoil: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). The cosmic scale of the task that lay immediately before him seemed too much to bear, given the simple finiteness of his human nature. He is overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of this next step in his messianic journey.
As he continues to pray, though, this initial recoiling disappears, and his mind and heart are calmed and made ready for the unspeakable ordeal that awaits him: “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink of it, Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42). If there is a specific point when “the eternal Spirit” began to strengthen the man Jesus in the shadow of Calvary, this was it. Here we can picture the power of the Spirit undergirding the finite humanity of Jesus and infusing him with the resolve to see his “mission impossible” through to the end.
As John Walvoord says, “In the difficult hours of Gethsemane and all the decisive moments leading to the cross, the Holy Spirit faithfully ministered to Christ” (The Holy Spirit, 100-101). Just as Jesus promised the Paraklētos (sometimes translated “Comforter”) to his disciples, we can picture the Holy Spirit walking side by side with Jesus himself, with his comforting arm around Jesus’ shoulders, all the way to the cross.
Here is an image (figurative, not literal) of the cross itself that you can keep in your mind as you are participating in the Lord’s Supper today: (1) Jesus, the incarnate God the Son, hanging on that cross, undergoing infinite agonies of hellish proportions in our place. (2) God the Father, with tears of agonizing sorrow in HIS eyes, pouring out that infinite suffering upon his beloved Son. And (3) God the Holy Spirit, like a grieving mother holding a dying child, helping and encouraging and strengthening this willing servant Jesus, as he marches forward into (as it were) the very flames of hell itself.