Monday, October 24, 2011

Blood and Pain

Blood and Pain

"But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled." Acts 3:18 (ESV)

FORETOLD: prokatangello (to announce beforehand, to predict or promise); from pro (in front of, prior to) and katangello (to proclaim, promulgate); from kata (down) and angelos (a messenger, an "angel" or pastor); from agello (to bring tidings); from ago (to lead, bring, drive, go, pass, induce)

PROPHETS: prophetes (a foreteller, a "prophet", an inspired speaker, a poet; from pro (in front of, prior to) and phemi (to show or make known, to speak or say); from phos (luminousness); from phao (to shine or make manifest)

God spoke through prophets, foretelling of the suffering of Christ, fulfilling the prophecies through wicked, ignorant sinners.

What prophecies foretold of the suffering of Christ? How can wicked, ignorant sinners fulfill the plan of a good God?

Paul previously preached about the paradox of God's plan fulfilled by wicked men:

"This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Acts 2:23 (ESV)

Jesus Himself, after His resurrection, appeared to His disciples and showed them chapter and verse of Scripture that foretold His suffering:

"He said to them, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Luke 24:25-27 (ESV)

The first direct prophecy of the suffering of Christ is recorded in Genesis:

"The Lord God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 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." Genesis 3:14-15

This prophecy describes the enmity (hateful hostility) between the serpent and the offspring of Eve. "Offspring" is Hebrew for seed, one specific individual descended from Eve. One individual, descended from the first woman, would be bruised by one individual, descended from the serpent.

John saw the devil as the descendent of the serpent:

"Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8 (ESV)

"And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." Revelation 12:9 (ESV)

The enmity and bruising foretold in Genesis was fulfilled in the temptation and suffering experienced by Jesus:

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil." Hebrews 2:14 (ESV)

"Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
Matthew 4:1 (ESV)

"He himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Hebrews 2:18 (ESV)

Isaiah 52:7 triumphantly predicts future good news of salvation:

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns." Isaiah 52:7 (ESV)

Yet Isaiah, in the same prophecy, foretells of the suffering of Christ:

"As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—" Isaiah 52:14 (ESV)

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:2-5

"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. 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? 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. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him." Isaiah 53:7-10 (ESV)

Luke describes the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies. Jesus was obviously innocent of any crime, yet people of His own religion, people related to Him by blood, cried out for His torture and execution:

"Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him." Luke 23:13-15 (ESV)

"But they all cried out together, Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, Crucify, crucify him! A third time he said to them, Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him. But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed." Luke 23:18-23 (ESV)

Jesus was crucified and mocked as a criminal:

"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left." Luke 23:32-33 (ESV)

"And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One! The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! There was also an inscription over him, This is the King of the Jews. One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" Luke 23:35-39 (ESV)

Paul described the prophecies of Christ's suffering as being "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God", carried out "by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23)

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed — for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." Acts 4:26-28 (ESV)

God planned to have wicked people fulfill the prophecies of the sufferings of Christ.

The sufferings of Christ were necessary. They were part of God's plan, and in that sense, His sufferings were good. Yet the sufferings were the result of wicked, devilish actions by sinful people, and in that sense, His sufferings were bad, horribly bad.

Truth in Tension

We began this study with a seemingly simple verse:

"But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled." Acts 3:18 (ESV)

All of the references and implications of this study support three essential truths that must be held tightly together:

God is sovereign over every detail of every moment of every person's life.

Suffering is always the result of sin.

Suffering is part of God's plan for ultimate good.

Looking at any sin in isolation, seeing sin and suffering for itself alone, it is always appallingly wicked and perverse.

Yet God, and only God, is able to plan and allow, and even orchestrate, sinful actions as the necessary instrument for ultimate good.

We can see an innocent man tortured and executed, and we can rightly condemn the action as wicked. But we can also step back and gain a perspective that spans thousands of years or more. The long-range view sees God deliberately planning for wicked actions on the part of sinful, rebellious humans. The temporary suffering caused by sin is planned for and promoted by God, resulting in gracious blessing and happiness in the end.

Can we see the same ultimate good in other temporary suffering? In cancer? In abortion? In domestic abuse? In genocide? In suicide?

Only by trusting a completely sovereign God can humans have hope in the midst of wicked suffering. Without trust in His sovereign goodness, we have no hope in the face of despair and suffering.

The war between faith and despair is fought in the blood and pain of personal suffering. The resurrection of Christ is our greatest Rock of Hope, assuring us that God's plan for temporary suffering will ultimately end in eternal, wonderful happiness.

Yet a disturbing question quickly arises:

What is the right response to a wicked situation?

If all circumstances are under God's complete, ultimately good sovereign plan, how can we regard any situation as wicked? How can we oppose wickedness if God is working that wickedness out for good?

For it is sure that we are to oppose wickedness, in ourselves and in others:

"You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil." Exodus 23:1-2 (ESV)

"You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." Leviticus 19:15 (ESV)

"Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause." Isaiah 1:16-17 (ESV)

"Abstain from every form of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (ESV)

The simple answer to this tension between truths is, Yes!

Yes! Oppose wickedness, in yourself and in others.

Yes! Trust in God's sovereign goodness even in the midst of wickedness and suffering.

Isaiah targets both issues in this command from God:

"Thus says the Lord: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed." Isaiah 56:1 (ESV)

As individuals, we are to allow God's Spirit to control our minds and bodies, demonstrating justice and righteousness in all we do.

As members of a community or a nation, we are to stand for customs and laws that demonstrate justice and righteousness.

As weak, fallen and limited creatures in the midst of poverty, pain, pollution and perversity, we are to trust in the sovereign goodness of our Creator, depending upon Him to work all things out for an ultimate good and joyful peace.

In those things which we can control or influence for good, we ought and we must. In those things which we cannot, we ought to, we must, trust the One Who Can.

Image courtesy of Thomas Brauchle