In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what our natural responses to suffering tend to be, and what they should be. We’re quick to judge and assume things that we don’t know. And we should be wise, humble, and discerning when dealing with our suffering and the suffering of other people, while trusting God in all things and taking our pain to him.

In Part 2, I’d like to turn the table and discuss God’s response to suffering. I mentioned that the world is a broken place. It was broken and is being broken because of our sin. Imagine every wrong and selfish decision multiplied out into billions of people across millennia. That’s exactly what we’re looking at. It’s something we need to own. Initially, it was a beautiful, perfect place and someday it will be again. But the question is, how does God respond to brokenness? What is his role in this mess that we’re responsible for?

The theologians call it the protoevangelium, the first gospel. It occurs immediately after sin enters the world. In Genesis 3, humanity’s fall is described, and in verse 15 God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” We learn that a savior will come and crush the serpent who brought evil into the world. And here the concept of the messiah  is born. But strangely enough, God mentions that the serpent will also bruise the man’s heel—a snakebite that will kill. It’s a two-way destruction. What an odd prediction. It’s a strange victory; it feels like defeat.

Isaiah’s Vision

But this was God’s plan from the beginning. He planned to deal with sin and suffering in the most surprising of ways. In the 8th century B.C., the prophet Isaiah, moved by the Spirit of God, predicted what this messiah was going to do, how exactly he would deliver humanity from sin. What we read is extraordinary. This coming savior is described not as a king, or a ruler, as in other passages. Rather, he’s described as a suffering servant. Read the text meaningfully; don’t rush through it. Consider the weight of every verse:

[3] He was despised and rejected by men, 
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief
[4] Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows

[5] But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

[6] All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

[7] He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.

[8] By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

[9] And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
(Isaiah 53)

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This servant knows what suffering is. Pay attention to the language: Despised. Rejected. Sorrow. Grief. Pierced. Punished. Crushed. Wounds. Oppressed. Afflicted. Slaughter. Judgement. Death! And the most shocking part of all, He had done no violence, and  there was no deceit in his mouth.” He was INNOCENT; And yet, killed. An innocent man bears the penalty of the guilty. Well that sounds anti-climactic. That sounds wrong, unfair, and undeserved. It sounds like defeat. It’s the serpent’s bite. It’s surprising, but that’s not the end of the story. Isaiah continues…

[10] Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
(it’s all part of God’s plan)
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
(he’ll come back to life)
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

[11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
(he will save his people)
and he shall bear their iniquities.

[12] … yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Who is this man? If you know the life and ministry of Jesus, this sounds all too familiar. 700 years before his birth, the ministry of Jesus Christ was set in the eyes of God. Get this, God himself responds to suffering by partaking in our suffering. Our God is not like the gods of every other religion. It’s not our works, efforts, and religious practices that give us the best shot at reaching heaven. Our God is not a god who stayed on his throne and commanded people to reach his holy mountain. No. Our God got off his throne, and climbed down the mountain. He got his hands dirty. He got his feet dirty. He stepped into our mess. He experienced our pain. He felt our temptations. He lived our life. And he did what we could not do, live it righteously. So he took our place. Isaiah 53 is about Jesus and about you. He took your place.

Victory and Intercession

Why did he do that? What was the point? The author of Hebrews explains that this was the only way, not only to destroy the kingdom of the serpent, but to become our high priest and mediator. It’s written, “…[Jesus] himself likewise partook of [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14). It is by death and suffering that Jesus overcomes death and suffering. And so the serpent was slain.

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It is through this incredible act of love, that we have hope. When we suffer, we have a high priest. He knows what it’s like. He understands fear. He knows pain. He knows loss. He fought temptation and knew the weight of spiritual grief that it may cause. And he carried it all, so that we have hope. When we suffer, we turn to Jesus. Our God doesn’t call us to persevere through something that he didn’t go through. He calls us to follow him. To walk in his footsteps, and he promises to give us the strength if we trust in him. As Isaiah said, Jesus “makes intercession for the transgressors.” That is the role of Jesus in the Christian’s life. He is our mediator, forever, and always. That is why when we suffer, we have confidence that God loves us. He looks at us through the work of Jesus. In Christ alone, our hope is found:

And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me;
(In Christ Alone, Getty & Townend)

For more on Jesus’ continual intercession, I recommend reading Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and Hebrews 7:22-10:23. So how does God respond to suffering? He suffers for our sake, turning our losses into victories. That’s what we’ll discuss in the Part 3 of Biblical Suffering.

 

*Images courtesy of Full of Eyes ministry.

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