(Part 3 of a series on God’s comfort in affliction)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
What does it mean to “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings”? And how does this relate to comfort?
I have struggled for the last several days to grasp this weighty concept. In spite of this effort, I am not sure how near I am to understanding it yet. So I’m going to offer some thoughts on this and not try to tie it all up neatly with a bow.
Christ’s sufferings encompass the physical, mental, and spiritual. In light of Paul’s verse, I thought it would be useful to briefly list some of the various sufferings of Christ as I observed them in scripture:
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Humanity: He came to earth in human form. [Phil. 2:6-8]
Duress: He was flogged, slapped, spit on, and finally crucified, enduring both physical pain and literal death. [John 19:1; Matt. 27:26]
Mockery: His family belittled and disbelieved Him. [Mark 3:21; John 7:5] The religious leaders mocked and taunted Him. Lies were told about Him. The soldiers mocked Him as they prepared Him for crucifixion. [Matt. 27:27-30]
Rejection: People rejected His teaching and chose to cling to their own earthly desires. [Luke 18:22-24]
Patience and Humility: He showed respect even when misunderstood and did not revile when He was reviled. [1 Pet. 2:23]
Betrayal: His friends and disciples, sworn in their loyalty to Him, ultimately betrayed and deserted Him. [Matt. 26:69-75; ]
Demands: Large crowds sapped His energy and demanded healing, miracles, and for Him to become an earthly king.
Emotions: He endured fear of His responsibility and the reason for which He incarnated. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me [Matt. 26:38-39] As a man, Christ felt trepidation about the cross, even though He was intent on going to it.
Death: He endured and was greatly moved by the death of at least one of His friends (Lazarus). [John 11:35]
Even a surface look at my list (however incomplete it is) brings a few key ideas out:
- What Christ endured gives us an idea of what to expect in our lives. Suffering, trials, difficulties, grief, loss, conflict with other people… none of these things should be a surprise to us. I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. [John 16:33 ESV]
- Christ’s sufferings remind us of how great God’s love was in sending Him and how great God’s love remains for us always.
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- How Christ suffered is intended to show us how personal and near our God is to us. We do not worship a God who stands at a distance or stands above our suffering, but one who has experienced what we experience and can relate and offer us comfort in Himself. What means more to you: someone who says I’m sorry you’re in pain… or…someone who says I’m sorry you’re in pain; I know what that kind of pain feels like?
- The sufferings of Christ give us an example to follow of how to respond to suffering. Just as we may feel the sufferings in our lives stack up and overflow, we are capable, as Paul says in 2 Cor.7:4, of overflowing with joy in the face of them.
Reflecting on His suffering should, optimally, result in a changed perspective. It is not that we need to minimize what we’re going through. Think of Job when he says, “if only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sands of the seas!” [Job 6:2-3] It is rather the changed mind, looking to Him for His strength, His Word, and the comfort only He can bring…to Him, the God who knows.