Our Savior’s Unique Suffering
March 25, 2012 / No. 3612
Dear Radio Friends,
Today I am going to speak to you from Lamentations 1:12. Lamentations is a short book in the Old Testament, tucked in between the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It was written by Jeremiah and is a kind of appendix to his prophecy. In the book of Jeremiah we learn about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and Lamentations is the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jeremiah writes it from the point of view of an on-the-street reporter, someone who is in the middle of and is experiencing the destruction and suffering.
Jeremiah is known in the Bible as the weeping prophet. We see that especially in this book. Jerusalem has been destroyed and all her glory is gone. The temple of Solomon is a pile of rubble; the walls of the great city are broken down; and the people of the city are either dead, gone into captivity, or they wander around in the rubble looking for food.
From the midst of this pile of rubble, when no one seems to care or pay any attention, when the Jews do not see why this has happened to them, and when the other nations just pass by and shake their heads casually interested—in the midst of all this Jeremiah cries out in the words of our text: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.”
The title of this message will be: “Our Savior’s Unique Suffering,” because, even though Jeremiah is voicing here the sorrow of Jerusalem, this is a prophecy of the sorrow and suffering of Jesus Christ. To see that, we should first describe the suffering of Jerusalem.
In the first ten verses of this book Jeremiah tells the story of a princess who loses all her glory and becomes a bond-slave. That princess is the city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is like a reporter, and after describing the fall of the princess he lets her speak. He gives her the microphone, and she puts a question to us: “Is it nothing to you? Look at me, tell me. Have you ever seen sorrow and suffering like mine?”
What was her sorrow? First, the sorrow of Jerusalem was a sorrow of amazement. In verse 1, astonished, Jeremiah exclaims: “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!” He is saying, “How can it be that this city, Jerusalem, the city of God, the envy of all the nations; how can it be that she has now become this pile of rubble?”
Second, it was a solitary sorrow. In verse 2: “among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies,” so that in verse 19 she says: “I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders [mine own people] gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls.” Jerusalem is like an orphan. No one pays attention to her. Others are concerned only about themselves.
Third, the sorrow of Jerusalem is a deserved sorrow. In verse 8: “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed.” This sorrow is the consequence of her sin. God is meting out to Jerusalem, to the people of Jerusalem, what they deserve.
Fourth, it was a reflective sorrow, a sorrow that causes Jerusalem to look back to a time of blessing. In verse 7: “Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old.” Her sorrow causes her to think of how she took for granted the blessings of God in the past. And now she repents (v. 18): “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment.”
From the sorrow of Jerusalem we learn that sin always results in judgment. God is just. God will not be mocked. And, therefore, we should repent of our sin. We should not have a fatalistic view of human suffering—Oh, well, it just happens. But we should see the hand of God in it and repent, or, likewise, perish. Sorrow and suffering should lead us to God in repentance.
Now, as we hear Jerusalem expressing her sorrow, we should hear the voice of Christ, Christ speaking from the cross of His suffering.
There is a connection between Jerusalem and our Savior. In Jerusalem were all the Old Testament types and shadows, the sacrifices, the kings, the priests, the temple, and so on, all of these pointing ahead to Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself, when He comes, says: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” He uses the name for the place of worship in Jerusalem to refer to Himself—the temple. That temple in Jerusalem represented God’s presence, God’s dwelling-place with His people. And when Jesus comes, He comes as the fulfillment of that. He is given the name “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” So, when the temple and Jerusalem are destroyed by Babylon, this is a picture of the destruction, the death and suffering of Jesus Christ, at the hands of unbelievers.
Also, there are similarities between the suffering of Jerusalem and the suffering of our Savior. Jesus’ suffering, too, was a suffering to cause amazement. At the cross the centurion exclaimed: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” And the question that it puts before us is this: How can it be that the eternal Son of God has come so low that He dies on the cross at the hands of men? Amazing!
Jesus’ suffering was also a suffering in which He suffered alone—a solitary sorrow. While He suffers in Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples sleep. When He is arrested, they all forsake Him. He goes to the cross all alone. And in the end, He is forsaken also of God in the deepest hour of His suffering.
And so there are similarities. But though there are these similarities, we should see that the suffering of Christ was altogether unique and different from any merely human suffering. When Jesus suffered He did not add His name to the list of all others who suffer. There is plenty of suffering in this world—the suffering of hunger, of war, of sickness, of death. We know suffering personally. We know the pain of suffering or we witness suffering. We read about it in the paper. But Jesus’ suffering is altogether different from any human suffering. It is much more than any other sorrow.
The text points to that uniqueness in the words: “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me.” There is no sorrow like the sorrow of Christ. It is incomparable. In what ways? Let me suggest some things that make His suffering unique. Every one of these should make us stand in amazement at what Christ did. We should see His love in these things and respond in praise and prayer.
First, consider the dignity of the person who suffered. It is one thing when the common people suffer, but another when a king or a ruler is captured and overthrown and he suffers. The One who suffered on the cross was the Son of God.
Second, Christ’s suffering was undeserved. In this respect His suffering is altogether different from all human suffering. As one of the malefactors crucified with Christ said to the other: “And we indeed suffer justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.”
Third, the sorrow of Jesus was voluntary. He chose to enter into His suffering. Man is born into sorrow. This is our portion in this world. But Jesus chose to become a man and to place Himself under the suffering and the curse of mankind.
Fourth, the sorrow of Jesus was unique because He suffered in the place of others. Not only was He innocent, but those who are guilty stand by and they watch while He suffers in their place.
Fifth, the suffering of Jesus was unique because it was lifelong. Every moment of His earthly existence He carried the burden of the wrath of God. Every ache, every pain, every sorrow that He experienced was an expression of the wrath of God against Him.
Sixth, His suffering was a constant combination of every kind of grief. For us, while we suffer one thing, we can smile about another. We have pleasures and joys in the midst of our grief. But in the hour of His suffering, Christ knew only bitterness and agony and grief.
Is there any sorrow like to His sorrow? That is the question of the text. And the answer is: No. When the text says, this sorrow that is done unto me, literally it is the pain that is rolled upon me. We have a picture here of being crushed by an unbearable weight. Christ’s sorrow was not just a physical sorrow, but a sorrow of soul, as He was cursed by and estranged from God. He bore the unbearable weight of the wrath of God. No wonder He cries out: “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.”
And this raises another question. Why? Why did Jesus have to suffer in a way altogether unique? Remember, I said this is a reflective sorrow, a sorrow that God sends on Jerusalem so that she will ask the question: Why? We should ask the question Why? What had Jesus done?
We need to go back to the text for our answer. Why did Jerusalem have to suffer this way? What had Jerusalem done? Why must her walls be broken down? Why are God’s people carried away into the captivity of Babylon? Verse 18 gives us the answer: “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against” Him. Why? Because of sin. Why must Jesus suffer? Because of sin—your sin and my sin. All the greatness and the uniqueness of His suffering that sets it apart from all other suffering points us to the corresponding greatness of our sin. This burden of sin that God rolls unto Christ, that crushes Him, this matches His suffering and shows the great price that must be paid for our sin. The fierce anger of God in the text, the burning wrath of God that Christ experiences, is against sin, against our sin.
As we look at the suffering of the cross, we should think of the magnitude of our sin. The Bible has given us many ways to think about how great our sin is. There are sins that we commit against better knowledge, presumptuous sins, as well as sins that are secret, sins that are unknown to us. There are sins of commission, that is, sins where we directly break one of God’s commandments. But there are also sins of omission, sins where we fail to keep one of God’s commandments. There are all our actual sins. Then there is the sin that is ours because of our guilt in Adam and Eve, which also makes us worthy of God’s wrath. There are sins in our thoughts. There are sins in our words. There are sins in our daily activities. There are sins that we commit in our homes. There are sins that we commit in our churches. There are sins that we commit in the workplace. There is sin in our relationships. There are sins against the moral law of the Ten Commandments as well as sins in not following the exhortations and the many admonitions of Scripture. And always Scripture is telling us that we are sinners. So great is our sin that Christ’s suffering must be of this nature. It must be unique.
And that points us to one more thing—the one thing especially that sets apart the sorrow of Christ from all other sorrow—this, that His sorrow is an actual payment for sin. Yes, there is other suffering because of sin. The result of Adam and Eve’s sin is a curse on the creation and on all humanity. All human suffering is because of sin. Sometimes in this life we have to bear the results of our own sin. In hell men will suffer for their sin eternally. But here, Christ’s suffering is different, is unique, in this way, that His suffering is an actual payment for sin. When man suffers because of his sin, God has to measure out that suffering little by little. But Christ suffered the full weight of the wrath of God against sin in the cross. It was all poured out on Him at once. The text describes it as the “fierce anger” of God. In His suffering He appeased the fierce anger, the wrath of God. He turned God away from His anger. He satisfied the justice of God against the sins of His people. He made a full and a final payment for sin, so that God says, “I’m satisfied with that payment.” No other payment for sin is like that. The wicked will suffer in hell for their sins, yes. And God will be satisfied that they suffer in hell. But never will it be said “It is finished,” as Christ said at the end of His suffering on the cross.
And that is why Christ had to be God. It was because only God could be strong enough to bear such a burden for sin. That, too, is why He must suffer alone. His solitary suffering was necessary because no one else could pay for sin. No one else could help Him in the hour of God’s fierce anger. In salvation, in appeasing the wrath of God, in justifying the sinner, in forgiveness, Christ does the work of salvation all by Himself. You do not satisfy God. Man cannot win God’s favor by what He does. No, salvation is through Christ alone, through His suffering and His payment for sin. The suffering of Christ is unique, alone. The Son of God suffers in our flesh for sin.
How do you respond? How do you respond to the suffering of Christ? In the text, Jeremiah calls out for a response. “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see [that is, stop and consider].” How do you evaluate the suffering of Jerusalem? How do you evaluate the suffering of Christ? What does it mean to you? How do you respond to it? It is as though every one of us is paraded past the cross and asked, “What do you think of it?” We are told to stop and to look and to evaluate. The gospel of the cross and the suffering of Jesus Christ demands a response from man. How do you respond to the unique suffering of Christ?
Will you pass by? Will you stop and gawk for a while with a mild interest and then move on? Will you be one of those who mock the suffering Christ? Will you laugh at Him? Is it nothing to you? Are there other things that are far more important to you? Do you consider Him to be just another one who had to suffer—just another crucified criminal? You have business to do, you have other things that are more important? Is it nothing to you? Or will you recognize what is really going on at the cross?
Christ calls us to look on His suffering. What does it mean to you? Is it just something cold, something historical, something theological? Or do the truths of the suffering of Christ in Scripture strike you and get your attention and stir your soul to see your own sin?
Do we see the suffering of Christ for what it is? That it is unique because He suffers for sin? That the One who suffered is the Son of God who is worthy of our worship? That He suffered alone because there is no way that you, a sinner, can make yourself acceptable to God? How do you respond to the suffering of Christ?
What response does Christ demand? This: Repentance and faith. Repentance is confession of sin and turning to a new life of godliness, following as a disciple of Christ. Faith is trusting in Jesus alone and not trusting yourself for your righteousness and your acceptance with God. Here, in the suffering Savior, the unique Savior, is the only refuge for the sinner. Here is all our hope, our only hope: Jesus Christ.
Sinner, be emptied of yourself and believe in Jesus alone.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Jesus Christ, who so willingly bore so much sorrow for us, who took on Himself the fierce anger of God against sin. Lord, let us not be apathetic toward His suffering but, in repentance over sin, trust in Him alone for all our forgiveness. Amen.