As You Suffer, Remember Christ Suffered for You (HC LD 15, QA 37-39)

Suffering is an inevitable part of our existence. Since the fall of man in Paradise, sin has wreaked havoc on humanity and all creation. Suffering has come about because of sin. From the pain of a papercut to a cancer diagnosis, a divorce to being socially ostracized, a stressful work environment to war, all suffering is ultimately a result of original sin in Paradise. The stone was dropped into the pool and the ripple effect is ongoing.

Suffering is not only painful, it can be depressing and hopeless. The pain of suffering is often so engrossing it diverts our attention from Christ and his good provision of grace in suffering. Pain can lead us to believe there is no good purpose in suffering, which is not true. God uses suffering as means to give us grace. Paul said that “we rejoice in our sufferings.” Why would he say that? Well, because of the good things suffering produces in us. You’d think suffering drains us of hope. Quite the opposite. God’s provision of grace in suffering actually produces hope. Paul said:

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)       

Imagine God’s love being poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit (who is a gift) during your suffering. Imagine rejoicing in suffering precisely because God is conforming you to Christ. Imagine suffering, but instead of despairing, you are being filled with hope. This is something God does for us through faith.

I recently wrote 1 Peter 2:20–21 on a notecard to help me memorize it. I haven’t memorized it yet. But I wrote the verses because I need them, I need to know them and benefit from them. Peter said:

if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

I’m called to be a pastor of a small-town church. I’m also called to suffer for doing good. Why? Because my Christ suffered for me. He led by example. Now I’m supposed to follow in his steps of suffering for good. So are you, dear brother, dear sister. We must follow in the suffering steps of our Christ.

Both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds say that Christ suffered. He suffered terribly. Why? To save you and me but also to give us an example and to show us that the road to eternal life is painful. Heidelberg 37 asks: “What do you confess when you say that He ‘suffered’?” It answers:

During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.

Christ’s flogging and crucifixion were not the beginning of his suffering. Mary delivered him on that starry night, and he began to suffer for us. His entire life was suffering. And if that seems overstated, simply consider that the sinless Son of God “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7), took on human flesh in the form of a slave, and lived among miserable sinners to be opposed and resisted from breath one. Sure, Christ especially suffered at the end of his life, but his suffering was throughout his life. Zacharias Ursinus commented:

By the term passion we are to understand the whole humiliation of Christ, or the obedience of his whole humiliation, all the miseries, infirmities, griefs, torments and ignominy to which he was subject, for our sakes, from the moment of his birth even to the hour of his death, as well in soul as in body. [1]

Do you realize what Christ endured, body and soul, for you to be saved, for you to enjoy everlasting life and joy in the presence of God? He was poor, hungry, thirsty, exhausted, hated, ridiculed, rejected, subject to grief and sadness, betrayed, injured, shamed, even made the object of God’s divine and just wrath, all of which in order to rescue and love you. Other men have suffered greatly, but none has borne, in body and soul, the wrath of God for you. Ursinus stated, “for he suffered that which we were bound to suffer to all eternity.” [2] Others have loved you, dear ones, but none has loved you as lavishly.

Please make sure you understand why Christ suffered for you. It’s really important. The Apostle Peter described it like this: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . .” (1 Pet. 3:18). As you suffer, you must remember that Christ suffered for you so that you may be brought to God. Suffering is your road to the Father. Suffering identifies you with Christ, the Suffering Slave. Through suffering, Christ will escort you into the presence of God.

Dear Christian, your suffering is not evidence that God hates you or is against you. Some of it may be His discipline, but God disciplines those He loves. As you suffer, you must remember that Christ suffered for you because God deeply loves you.

How does the suffering of Christ encourage you? Well, first, it displays for you the holiness of God. Second, it sobers you with the seriousness of your sin. Third, it comforts you with the sacrifice of Christ for your justification. [3] And fourth, it assures you of the lavish love of God for you.

When the doctor says, “It’s cancer,” be reminded of the suffering of Christ and the love of God. When a close friend is treacherous, be reminded of the suffering of Christ and the love of God. When fear of the unknown paralyzes you, when you’re fired from the job you love, when your spouse is cold and distant, when your children are defiant, when you feel lonely, when your sin is daunting, when your disability is exhausting, be reminded of the suffering of Christ and the love of God. Our suffering is momentary. There is an end to suffering because our Christ walked the road of suffering before us and conquered death for us. Suffer to the end with perseverance, hope, character, and love, and never lose sight of God’s love for you.      

[1] Zacharias Ursinus, trans. Rev. G. W. Williard, ed. Eric D. Bristley, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (RCUS: 2004).

[2] Ibid., 398.

[3] Ibid., 402.  

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

About the author

Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

View all posts