THE TRIAL and SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
Reading: Mark ch. 14
Our New Testament reading for today brings again before our notice, as is done on seven other occasions in the course of the year, the final trials and sufferings of the One whom we especially remember this morning, even the Lord Jesus, on account of whose obedience unto death, the death of the cross, God also has highly exalted him, giving him a name above all other names, an honour soon to be openly manifested to a godless and indifferent world. Speaking of this in Eureka, our beloved brother Dr. Thomas says:
€ Though in all points tempted as we are, according to the likeness of his nature to ours, yet he did not sin. Though a Son, he learnt obedience by the things which he suffered. He was made perfect through sufferings, having been obedient unto death. He kept his body under, triumphing over its lusts, and though sorely tried, he yielded not, but evolved a character that was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. € And concerning his sleep of death he continues: € The man Jesus, who had left behind him a character which the Father € s Spirit acknowledged as His own, had been too excellent and admirable a person to be abandoned to the power of the enemy. The corpse rested, waiting to become the basis of a new revelation . . . a Spirit revelation . . The body was repaired, and in its being freed from the loathsomeness of death, it was created a Spiritual body, with all the embroidery of Spirit. € And one other quotation, in the Doctor € s own admirable phraseology: € Having established his worthiness in this moral conflict with the world and the flesh, God accepted him as the most excellent of all the intelligences of His Universe. € €
These are statements soundly based upon the inspired words of Paul in Phil. 2 to which we have just referred; and they assign to this earth, by inference and association, a far more important place in God € s creation than our scientists and astronomers are accustomed to give it € one of the smallest of satellites, they tell us, in one of the smallest of solar systems in comparison with the glorious orbs that garnish the heavens. But the Lord seeth not as man seeth. To Him who fills heaven and earth, magnitude and distance count for little; the greater Creator has a special regard for this earth, a regard which is localised in a particular tract of land, and even in a city in that land, and He has been pleased to link its fortunes and its future with that of His illustrious Son. Thus He has caused it to be recorded that € He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end € ; or, in even more forceful language, € Ask of me, and I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. € What a calmness and confidence such inspired statements impart to the servants of God, surrounded as they are by a world obsessed with fear and apprehension regarding the future. What a comfort to be assured that the Deity created it not in vain, but that He formed it to be inhabited for ever by a race of immortals at whose head will be € the most excellent of all the intelligences of His Universe. €
The trials and sufferings, however, which our chapter brings so poignantly before us, were but the culmination of what he had endured from the time that he € began to be about thirty years of age. € Prior to that, of his life we know little; sufficient is it for us that in his early years, though with a mind alert to his Father € s business, he nevertheless was subject unto his parents, as a godly young man should be; and following the craft of his foster parent he became a carpenter, and a skilled craftsman too, we may be sure, as witness the sneers of his friends and neighbours: € Is not this the carpenter? € Thus the character be developed was such that upon his submission to the ordinance of baptism in order to fulfil all righteousness, the Father, by a voice from heaven, acknowledged him as His beloved Son, well- pleasing to Him, and thereupon endowed him with Spirit powers for the carrying out of the mission for which he was sent: power to read men € s hearts, power to heal diseases and to raise the dead, power to preach with unquestionable authority the Word of the gospel € powers which he realised must be exercised subject to his Father € s will.
Thus there immediately followed the test as to whether he would indeed use these new powers aright. Under the Spirit € s direction he endured forty days of hunger in the wilderness, and then came the first test: € If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread € . Could he have done it? Of course he could, otherwise it would have been no test. But no; the power that had ordered this fast for him, and had sustained him for forty days, would continue to do so without any command from him. € It is written, Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. € And, as he said afterwards, it was his meat and drink to do the Father € s will. Of course this is true literally as well as spiritually. The life we now live is entirely subject to His will, and the servant of God will always recognise this. He will pray for his daily bread, and, realising it as God € s merciful provision, will humbly and gratefully acknowledge it as such. But how much more from the spiritual point of view, the life that is to come, as the result of the Word of God to be pronounced by Christ himself when he renders to each one according as his work shall be.
Then came the suggestion that he should cast himself down from the heights of the temple building, an act resulting in almost certain death apart from divine intervention € an invitation accompanied by a subtle use of Psalm 91: € He shall give his angels charge over thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. € What an impression would be created upon a wondering multitude below to see him floating down from heaven, as it were! But no, God must not be put to the test in this way: € Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. € The time for a descent from heaven was not yet, it would come in God € s own good time. His introduction to the world must first be in a far less spectacular manner than that. The Son of man must first be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; the other manifestation would come later in God € s way and in God € s good time. In the meantime he would undertake no hazard unless at the Spirit € s bidding; this was the attitude plcasing to God. Is it possible for us to tempt God in our day in this way? Is it possible for us to count on Him to deliver us from the results of our own acts of risk or daring? It is, and the fact should cause us to ponder carefully lest any action on our part should presume upon the goodness and mercy of God. Of course we realise that circumstances may cause us to be exposed to peril, circumstances beyond our control, but that is a different matter. All our ways are governed by the Almighty, and in such cases we must commit our ways to God in prayer and trust in His wisdom to protect us in so far as He sees fit. As we wish to be pleasing to God in all our ways, even as Christ was, wisdom will be profitable to direct.
But our Lord had yet a third test before him; a brief mental glimpse of world rulership, in return for just a momentary obeisance to a fleshly desire: what we might call a short cut to the attainment ofwhat had actually been promised him. But no, he realised that rulership was not to be attained in that way. He had a work to do, a mission to carry out. € I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished. € The reward would come as a result of obedience, and so he repelled the wrongful suggestion. God alone was to be worshipped, and not man € s ambition. € Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. € There is a lesson here for us too. A promise of future glory has been made to us, as to all who believe the gospel and comply with its requirements; but there is no short cut, though our probation may be either short or long, as God sees fit. There is no short cut of man € s devising; it is a case of patience and continuance in well doing, scripturally defined. Surely the apostle € s teaching in I Cor. 13 comes in here. We can give everything to the poor, we can give our body to be burned, but such actions of themselves cannot gain us the Kingdom. The determining factor in the case is love, a loving patient obedience.
Our dear Lord emerged from the contest unscathed, and he returned in the power of the Spirit to commence his public work. We are told in one of the gospel records that the devil departed from him for a season, but it was not for long. His trials now began to be of a different kind. He must continually encounter the contradiction of sinners against himself: those civil and religious leaders, men devoid of faith in the Scriptures, and whose mad jealousy of so noble a character knew no bounds. Crafty questions would need careful answering. He must endure with patience accusations of blasphemy, of being mentally unbalanced: his gracious works of healing wickedly attributed to some evil agency. All those insults must be patiently borne; anger, even righteous anger, must be duly controlled € though the Spirit must speak through him from time to time denouncing hypocrisy and rebelliousness, Dull and slow-witted disciples must be patiently and lovingly taught. Then, too, popularity and hero- worship on the part of a fickle multitude must be studiously avoided; physical weakness must be borne uncomplainingly, and not allowed to interfere with his duty of preaching, or those essential periods of solitude for prayer and communion with his Father. Then, in addition to these especial trials, which for the most part we are not likely to encounter, there were the temptations such as are common to all men, and that come in a hundred different ways, and all these must be successfully resisted if he was to be a Son well pleasing to his Father. He accomplished it all perfectly.
In all points he was tempted as we are, and in many ways in which we could not be tempted, yet he was without sin. He never allowed the flesh to gain the upper hand. His kindness and love towards his fellows never failed; his faith in God never faltered; he continued in his mission of preaching the gospel until the time of supreme trial drew near, the events which are recorded in this 14th chapter of Mark. There is the kindly reference to a woman € s act of devotion: € Let her alone; she bath wrought a good work on me € , and we fulfil his word in referring to it now: € Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her, € Then there followed that dastardly act of treachery; € What will ye give me and I will deliver him unto you. € All this was known beforehand and recognised by Jesus as a fulfilment of prophecy. Then, after a brief interlude there followed the passover supper, € With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer. € Then the betrayer is exposed, followed by the institution of this simple feast which has been of such comfort to his true friends right down the ages to this day. After this there was the memorial hymn, and the sad little procession wended its way out of the holy city. Then came the greatest test of His life; that agony € or contest € in the garden, his own will as a natural man versus that of his Father. But his final act of obedience unto death must be voluntary to be acceptable, he must offer himself, and so € € Not my will but thine be done € . Three times he prayed in agony in the garden, and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. Then the time having arrived he said: € Rise up, let us go € . There followed the kiss of betrayal and the arrest, unresisted, although the power was there, as he said: € Thinkest thou that I cannot pray unto my Father, and He shall presently (immediately) give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scripture be fulfilled, that thus it must be? € So our Lord was forsaken by his friends and three times denied by one of them. Tomorrow the sad story goes on, and, God willing, we shall read of the mock trials, first before the high priest and then the Roman governor: the insults, the cruelscourging, and finally the crucifixion. Even then he was mocked and jeered at by his enemies: € Save thyself and come down from the cross . . Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. €
And yet, all through this, not a word of complaint escaped his lips. On the contrary there was a prayer for his enemies, a loving word to his mother and the disciple he especially loved, and his generous reaction to the faith of the dying thief: € Verily I sayunto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise € . There followed the racking thirst, and after hours of terrible torture, the noble head drooped forward, with the words: € It is finished € . What was finished? His life? No, it was his life € s work so far as this part of it was concerned. It was a glorious victory.
Now it is written, € God is love € ; but some, unacquainted with the Scriptures, cannot see love in this sad story. Yet it was so. God, who in His infinite wisdom planned the redemption of mankind, would have looked down upon that dead, stricken form as it hung there and upon which sin had done its worst, and true indeed € never more true € would His words have been: € This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. € He was obedient unto death; and then there followed three days rest in the heart of the earth. But, thank God, € he had been too excellent and admirable a person to be abandoned to the power of the enemy € ; and so God raised him from the dead to become the basis of a new revelation; not a revelation as had gone before, of a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, the Lamb of God, led as a sheep to the slaughter. No, it was to be a new revelation, as of a Mighty Warrior, going forth to the conquest of the world, the Father of the future age, the Prince of Peace, ruling on David € s throne, € in the righteous precepts of Ail € . Thus on emerging from the tomb he was raised to the divine nature, and after forty days ascended to the right hand of power, € angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him € ; given a name, as Paul says, € which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. €
And who among us would wish it otherwise? Do we not all now, today, rejoice at the honour thus bestowed upon one of our race, whose faithful obedience has meant, and will yet mean, so much to us all. Yes, we rejoice now, but there will be a greater opportunity for us to express our deep gratitude in person before long, if we remain faithful to our trust; for the song will assuredly yet be sung, that new song that none but the redeemed will be able to sing: t € Thou hast loved us, and hast washed us from our sins in thine own blood. € For our dear Lord, it was the joy set before him that enabled him to endure. That joy has already been fulfilled in part in that the Deity has vouchsafed to him that new revelation of Jesus Christ, and which he has passed on for the benefit of his servants through the beloved apostle. And blessed indeed shall we be if we read it, observe its sayings, and keep the things written in it, for assuredly the time of the fulfilment of his closing prophecies is at hand.
Well, we have once again € considered him € as we have been commanded to do € we have considered the trials and sufferings he endured on our account in the days of his flesh. But we consider him, too, as being ourselves partakers of the heavenly calling, as the apostle and High Priest of our profession, making intercession on behalf of his erring brethren and sisters. And how do we react to such considerations? Should they not evoke in us the feelings of deepest gratitude of the Divine love that underlies all that is connected with our redemption; love both in the Father and the Son? We remember that God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son, and that that Son so loved his friends that he laid down his life for them. His faithfulness under trial we are bidden to consider, so that we shall not be weary or faint in our minds over any light affliction we may be called upon to endure; and following his example, we shall also consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.
And so, as we again remember that great atoning work in the bread and wine, we will also remember his promise to come again in power and great glory. Let us then determine each one, as we pursue our journey to the Kingdom of God, to walk even as he walked, keeping ever bright before us the vision of the future glory, as did our Lord: the time when, in God € s mercy, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is: € C, H. Lindars