“Christ also has once suffered.”
1 Peter 3:18
IT is very unpleasant to our poor flesh and blood to suffer. Physical pain is a grievous infliction–mental agony or spiritual sorrow is still worse. Irons around the wrists can be worn till they fit easily, but when the iron enters into the soul, how it rusts the heart and eats into the spirit! Perhaps, to some minds, the most difficult of all suffering is that which is not deserved at all, but which comes because we do not deserve it. I mean that suffering which innocent personsare called to endure because of their innocence when they are slandered and oppressed and persecuted, not for evil-doing, but for well-doing. I admit that there is much about this form of trial which should tend to make it a light affliction, for we ought to take it joyfully when we suffer wrongfully. Yet, as a rule, we are not able to do so. Certainly not by nature, for there is a sort of sense of justice within man which makes him feel that it is very hard that he should have to suffer, not for unrighteousness, but for righteousness–not for any wrong-doing, but for having espoused the cause of God and His Truth.
The Apostle Peter would have Christians prepare themselves for this suffering. They had to bear very much of it in his day–they will have to bear some of it as long as the Church of Christ remains in this wicked world. He says, in the verse preceding our text, “It is better, if the will of God is so, that you suffer for well-doing, than for evil-doing.” Further on, at the beginning of the next chapter, he says, “Forasmuch, then, as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves, likewise, with the same mind.” He warns us that we shall need to be clad in heavenly armor, for we shall have to pass through conflict and suffering for Christ’s sake and for righteousness' sake. We must put on a coat of mail and be enveloped in the whole panoply of God. We must have, as our great controlling princip1e, the mind of Christ, that, as He endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, we, also, may endure it and not be weary or faint in our minds. We shall best bear our own sufferings when we find fellowship with Christ in them. Therefore, it is for your strengthening, that your spiritual sinews may be braced, that you may be armed from head to foot and preserved from the darts of the enemy that I would set forth before you, as best I may, the matchless sufferings of the Son of God, who, “once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”
It has sometimes struck me that the first Epistle of Peter is greatly concerning Christ’s First Advent and that his second Epistle tells us about our Lord’s Second Advent. In this first letter there are many references to the sufferings of Christ. It may interest you to notice some of them. In the first Chapter, at the 11 th Verse, we read, “Searching what, orwhat manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ.” When the Apostle gets to the second Chapter, at the 21 st Verse, we find him writing thus, “For even hereuntowere you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” Next comes our text in the third Chapter. Then, in the Fourth chapter, at the first Verse, is the passage I have already read to you. [See Exposition at end of sermon.] And in the 13 th Verse, the Apostle says, “Rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers ofChrist’s sufferings.” And in the 5
th Chapter, at the first Verse, he calls himself, “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.”
Thus his frequent expression–his peculiar idiom–is, “the sufferings of Christ” and, in the language of our text he thus describes the great work of our redemption–“Christ also has once suffered,” It may seem a very small thing to you to call your attention to such words as these, but it does not appear small to me. It seems to me that there is a great depth of meaning within these few words and it shall be my objective, at this time, to bring out that meaning, as far as I can, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
- Notice then, first of all, A SUMMARY WITHOUT ANY DETAILS–“Christ also has once suffered.” There is compassed within that expression a summary of the whole life and death of Christ! The Apostle does not give us details of Christ’s sufferings, but he lets us, for a moment, look into this condensation of them–“Christ also has once suffered.”
It is the epitome of His whole earthly existence up to the time of His rising from the dead. Christ begins His life herewith suffering. He is born into the world, but there is “no room for Him in the inn.” He must lie in a manger where the horned oxen feed. He is born of a poor mother. He must know the ills of poverty and, worse still, Herod seeks the young Child’s life. He must be hurried away by night into Egypt. He must be a stranger in a strange land, with His life in peril from a blood-thirsty tyrant! When He comes back from Egypt, He grows in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men–but you may rest assured that the years He spent in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth, though we are not told about them, were years of sore travail–perhaps of bodily pain, certainly of mental toil and preparation for His future service. Such a public life as His could not have been lived without due training. I will not attempt to lift the veil where God has let it fall, but I see, in the whole public ministry of Christ, traces of a wonderful mental discipline through which He must have gone and which, I should think, must have involved Him in suffering. Certainly it was one main point in His preparation that He was not without spiritual conflicts and struggles which must have involved suffering to such a nature as His was.
No sooner does He appear on the stage of action and the Spirit of God descends upon Him in the waters of Baptism, than He is hurried off to a forty days' fast in the wilderness and to a prolonged and terrible conflict with His great enemy and ours. Of that time we may truly say that “ He suffered, being tempted.” Throughout His life you may read such wordsas these–“Jesus, being weary, sat thus on the well.” “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay His head.” And then you can understand some of the ways in which He suffered. We cannot tell how much our Lord suffered even in the brightest portion of His career, for always was He “despised and rejected of men; a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” We cannot go into all the details of His life, but I think you may see that even in the very smoothest part of it, He suffered. And Peter does well to thus sum it up–“Christ suffered.”
But when He comes to Gethsemane, shall I speak of the bloody sweat and the groans which startled angels? No, Ineed not say more than this–“Christ suffered.” Shall I tell of His betrayal by Judas, of His being hurried from court to court, falsely accused, despitefully entreated, bruised, scourged and made nothing of? Truly, I may sum it all up by saying that He suffered! And as for all the rest, that march along the Via Dolorosa–that fastening to the wood–that upliftingof the Cross. The wounds, the cruel fever, the direful thirst, the mockery, the scorn, the desertion of His Father when He must, at last, yield Himself up to death itself–what better summary could even an inspired Apostle give than to say–“Christ also has once suffered”? This expression sums up the whole of His life.
It is well for you and for me, when we have the time and the opportunity, to make as complete as possible our knowledge of Christ as to all the details of His life and death. But, just now, it must suffice us, as it sufficed Peter, to say, “Christ suffered.” When next you are called to suffer, when pains of body oppress you, let this text whisper in your ears, “Christ also has once suffered.” When you are poor, needy and homeless, remember that “Christ also has once suffered.” And when you come even to the agony of death, if such shall be your portion, then still hear the soft whisper, “Christ also has once suffered.” I know of no better armor for you than this–“Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind”–and be prepared to count it your honor and glory to follow your Master with your cross upon your shoulders!
Much may be said to be known concerning Christ’s sufferings, but still, to a great extent, they are unknown sufferings. Some eyes saw Him suffer, yet I might truly say, “Eye has not seen, neither has ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man the things which Christ suffered for His people.” You may think, Brothers and Sisters, that you know something of Christ’s sufferings, but they are a unfathomably deep, a height to which the human imagination cannot soar! We are obliged to leave this summary without any details. “Christ also has once suffered.”–
“Much we talk of Jesus' blood,
But, how little’s understood!
Of His sufferings, so intense,
Who can rightly comprehend
Their beginning or their end?
‘Tis to God and God alone
That their weight is fully known.”
II. Secondly, this is A STATEMENT WITHOUT ANY LIMIT. How indefinitely it is put! “Christ also has once suffered.”
Do you ask the question, “ When did Christ suffer?” It is answered by not being answered, for, truly, we may reply toyou–“When Christ was on earth, when was there that He did not suffer?” “Christ also has once suffered.” The Apostle adds no note of time. He says not, “Christ suffered on the Cross, or in the garden,” but the very indefiniteness of the statement leaves us to understand that as long as Jesus was here, He was the acquaintance of grief. His life was, in a sense, a life of suffering. All the while He was here, even when He was not upon the Cross, and even when no bloody sweat was on His brow, it is written, “He, Himself, took our infirmities and bore our sickness.” He was bearing the lead, not, as some say, “on the tree” alone, but
up to the tree, as the passage may be read–daily bearing it till, at length, He came to
the Cross–and there it was for the last time that He felt the pressure of human sin. You cannot get and yet you do, in some sense, get, from my text, an answer to the question, “When did Christ suffer?”
Perhaps another asks, “ What did Christ suffer?” The text is remarkable in giving no limit whatever to the statement.“Christ also has once suffered.” What did He suffer? I answer–what was there that He did not suffer in body, in mind,and in spirit? What of pain–what of shame–what of 1oss–what of hatred–what of derision? He suffered from Hell, from earth, from Heaven–I was going to say–from time and from eternity, for there was a certain sense in which eternal pangs passed through the heart of Christ and spent themselves upon Him. What did He suffer? Peter says, as if that should be enough for us to know, “Christ has once suffered”–the very indefiniteness implies that He suffered everything that He could suffer.
And where did Christ suffer? Peter does not answer that question. Where did He suffer? In the wilderness? In thegarden? In Pilate’s Hall? On the Cross? The text as good as says, “No. Yes. Not somewhere only, but everywhere!” Wherever He was, Christ was enduring that great burden which He came into the world to bear till He would carry it away and it should be lost forever.
From whom did Christ suffer? Mark how unlimited is the text–“Christ also has once suffered.” From men falsely accusing Him and slandering Him? Yes, and that is the comfort of His slandered people. But He suffered not from only wicked men, but even from good men–the best of His disciples cost Him many pangs and sometimes made His heart ache. He suffered from devils. He suffered from the Father, Himself! There it stands–a sky without horizon–a sea across which I look and see no end–“Christ also has once suffered.” I think that Joseph Hart spoke well when he said that Christ–
“Bore all Incarnate God could bear,
With strength enough, and none to spare.”
So we leave this part of our theme. It is a statement without any limit. “Christ also has once suffered.”
III. Now I want you to notice, in the third place, that this is A DESCRIPTION WITHOUT ANY ADDITION. “Christ also has once suffered.”
Is that all? Was there not something else? No. This line sweeps the entire circumference. There was nothing in Christ, before His suffering, which was contrary to it. He never regretted that He had entered upon a course which involved suffering. “When the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” warning His followers that He was going there to be mocked, to be scourged and to be crucified. He might at any moment have relinquished His terrible task, but that idea never entered into His mind. Even when He came near to the worst part of His pain and His human Nature shrank from it, His true heart never was discouraged or thought of turning back. He said, “The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” And He did drink it, though it involved more suffering than we can imagine! Yet there was no resistance to that suffering. He suffered, but He never rebelled against it. He could truly say, “I was not rebellious, neither turned back.” He did not even complain and Isaiah’s prophecy was literally fulfilled by Him–“He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opens not His mouth.”
If we were to describe the experiences of even the best of men, I am afraid that we would have to say, “He suffered very much and he did not often murmur. Sometimes, however, he rebelled and cried out.” It was not so with Christ. Peter says, He suffered and there is no addition to that. You know, my Brothers and Sisters, how, having undertaken to suffer for sins, He went through with it. If He stood before Pilate and His enemies smote Him, what did He do? He suffered. If they bound His eyes and buffeted Him, what did He do? He suffered. When they spat in His face, what did He do? He suffered. When they nailed Him to the Cross, what words did He speak against His murderers? Not one! He suffered. “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again.” Even when they jested at Him, His only reply was the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He suffered and there was nothing to take away from the completeness of that suffering. The whole of His Nature ran out into that act of obedience called suffering! It was the time when He must do the Father’s will by suffering–and all the power of His Being ran into that channel. The Lord had made to meet upon Him the iniquity and, consequently, the suffering of us all! And He just accepted it at the Father’s hand without acomplaint or a murmur. You can sum it all up in the language of our text, without a single word added to it–“Christ also has once suffered.”
IV. Once more, I want you to notice that this is A DECLARATION WITHOUT ANY QUALIFICATION. “Christ suffered.”
There is no word to bid us imagine that He had any alleviation of His agony. Of a person in very bad health we maybe able to say, “He suffers a great deal, but he has an excellent medical attendant, a good nurse and he has every comfort that can be given to him.” But, in the case of our Lord, all is summed up in these two words, “ Christ suffered.” Werethere no comforters? No. He suffered. Was there no sleeping-draught to deaden His pain? No. He suffered. But did not His Father help Him in the hour of His agony? No. His cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” proves that we may say of Him, even with reference to God, that He suffered! The death of Christ was quite unique–none of the martyrs were ever brought into the same condition as their Lord was in.
I remember reading in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the story of a man of God who was bound to a stake to die forChrist. There he was, calm and quiet, till his legs had been burned away and the bystanders looked to see his helpless body drop from the chains. He was black as coal and not a feature could be discerned. But one who was near was greatly surprised to see that poor black carcass open its mouth and two words came out of it! And what do you suppose they were? “Sweet Jesus!” And then the martyr fell over the chains and, at last, his life was gone. Oh, how much of the blessed Presence of God that poor saint must have had to be able to say, at the last, when he was charred to a coal, “Sweet Jesus!”
But the Lord Jesus had not that help and comfort. His Father’s Countenance was hidden from Him. “Eloi, Eloi, lama Sabachthani,” is such a shriek as even Hell itself has never heard, for the lost ones there have never known what it was to have the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, as Christ had known it and, therefore, they could never know the loss of it as Christ knew it in that supreme moment of His agony. “Christ suffered.” That is all you can say of Him, He suffered, without any alleviation of His pain.
Further, He suffered without any qualification in the sense of being compelled to suffer. We say of such-and-such aperson, “He suffers greatly, but he cannot help suffering. He has a deadly disease, the pain of which cannot be alleviated. He is, therefore, obliged to bear it.” The martyr, whom I mentioned just now, was bound to the stake–he could not get away–he suffered under compulsion. He was made to suffer. But you cannot say that of Christ. Herein is a marvelous thing, that while Christ suffered, you may take the word in the active sense. I do not know how exactly to express my meaning, but there is a sort of passive sense in which He suffered–that is the sense in which we all suffer according to our share–but Jesus also suffered in an active sense. That is to say, He suffered willingly, resolutely, without any compulsion. At any moment He might have broken loose from the Cross! He might have called for 12 legions of angels and scattered all His foes. He might have flung off His body and appeared before them as a Consuming Fire to utterly destroy them!
Or, retaining His Humanity, He might have smitten them with blindness, or worked some other miracle and so have escaped from them. If we should be called to die for Christ, it would only be paying the debt of nature a little beforehand, for we are bound to die sooner or later–it is the lot of man. But there was no such need in the case of Christ! There was no necessity of death about that Holy Thing which was born of the Virgin Mary! It would not corrupt and it needed not to die. All the way through His death, remember that He did not die as we do–gradually losing consciousness, floating away and never able to suspend the process of dissolution–but, at any instant, up to the final committal of His spirit to His Father, He could have caused all those pains to cease! Now see with what an extraordinary meaning my text is girt about. As the painters foolishly depict Christ with a halo around His head which was never there, I may truly picture His sufferings, mystically and spiritually, with a halo about them which is really there, for He suffered in this superhuman fashion, without any qualification as to alleviation or as to compulsion!
Dear Friends, how shall I speak further upon this part of my subject? Only this word would I add–that “Christ suffered” without any desert. If we suffer, we must say to ourselves that we suffer less than we deserve, and even when aman suffers so as to die, we know that death is the penalty of sin. But “Christ suffered” in a very special sense because “in Him was no sin.” He had never done anything worthy of death, or of bonds. He suffered “for sins not His own.” There was nothing about Him that brought the suffering upon Him–His was the suffering of a pure and holy Being. We say of a criminal, not so much that he suffers, but that he is punished, He is executed, He is put to death. We never say that of Christ–we say that He suffered–voluntarily and without any obligation on account of demerit. He comes and takes upon Himself the sins of His people, stands in their place, is chastened with their chastisements, is smitten with their smiting. Well does He say, by the mouth of the Psalmist, “Many a time have they afflicted Me from My youth: yet they have not prevailed against Me. The plowers plowed upon My back: they made long their furrows.” So indeed they did, not only on His back, but on His heart!
I am speaking now, not only of His external but of His internal sufferings. Truly did one say that “the sufferings of Christ’s soul were the very soul of His sufferings.” And so, no doubt, they were. But, in His case, there was no punishment due to Him, so in His sufferings there was nothing exacted from Him on His own account. I must leave you to think upon this great mystery, for I cannot speak of it as it deserves.
- I close with this last reflection. My text is AN EXPRESSION WITH AN EMPHASIS. “Christ also has once suffered.”
When we think of our own sufferings, as compared with our Lord’s, we may print them in the smallest type that the printer can use. But where shall I find capital letters that are large enough to print this sentence when it applies to Him–“CHRIST ALSO HAS ONCE SUFFERED”? It is almost as if the Apostle said, “You have, none of you, suffered when compared with Him.” Or, at least, He was the Arch-Sufferer–the Prince of Sufferers–the Emperor of the Realm of Agony–Lord Paramount in sorrow. Just take that term, “a Man of Sorrows.” You know that in the Book of Revelation, there is the expression, “the man of sin .” What does, “the man of sin” mean but a man made up of sin, one who is allsin? Very well, then, “a Man of Sorrows” means a Man made up of sorrows, constructed of sorrows–sorrows from the crown of His head to the sole of His feet–sorrow without and sorrow within. He did sleep with sorrow and wake with sorrow–Christ was a Man of Sorrows, a mass of sorrow.
Take the next expression, “and acquainted with grief.” Grief was His familiar acquaintance, not a person that He passed by and casually addressed, but His acquaintance that kept close to Him throughout His life. He said once, “Lover and friend have You put far from Me, and My acquaintance into darkness.” But this acquaintance was with Him there–“acquainted with grief.” Listen to the words and if you can see my Lord pressed by the strong arm of grief until He is covered all over with a gory shirt of bloody sweat, then you know that grief had made Him to be acquainted with its desperate tugs. When you see Him bleeding from His hands, feet and side, with all His spirit exceedingly sorrowful even unto death–and God, Himself, leaving Him in the thick darkness–then you know that He was, indeed, acquainted with grief! You know a little about grief, but you do not know much. The hem of Grief’s garment is all you ever touch, but Christ wore it as His daily robe! We do but sip of the cup–He drank it to its bitterest dregs. We feel just a little of the warmth of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, but He dwelt in the very midst of the fire!
There I must leave the whole matter with you. But as you come to the Communion Table, come with this one thought upon you–“Christ also has once suffered.” Somebody, perhaps, asks me, “Is there any comfort in that thought?” Is it not an amazing thing that there should be more of comfort in the sufferings of Christ than in any other thing under Heaven? Yet it is so–there is more joy in the sufferings of Christ, to those whose hearts are broken, or sorely wounded–than there is in His birth, or His resurrection, or anything else about the Savior! It is by His stripes rather than even by His glory that we are healed! Come, Beloved, take a draught from this bitter wine, which shall sweetly charm away all your sorrows and make you glad! May God the Holy Spirit grant that it may be so!
And if there is anybody here who is not saved, remember, Friend, that your salvation depends upon the sufferings of Christ. If you believe on Him, then His sufferings are yours–they have taken away your sin and you are clear! Therefore, go your way and be glad.