By Marc W. Gibson
While riding in his chariot along the deserted road from Jerusalem to Gaza, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading the scripture in Isaiah now commonly referred to as the Suffering Servant passage (Acts 8:26ff). We are told the exact place where he was reading when Philip ran to him — Isaiah 53:7-8. The eunuch no doubt had just read those moving words about the suffering of someone yet unknown to him: “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 bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by his stripes we are healed” (vv. 4-5). His first question to Philip was concerning the identity of this person. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35).
Jesus — The Suffering Servant of God
Suffering was an integral part of the work of Jesus in coming to this earth. His talk of impending suffering and death confused his own disciples who, like so many in that day, had pictured the Messiah as a powerful and triumphant earthly king who would bring back the glory days of physical Israel (Matt. 16:21-23; 17:22-23; John 6:15). Jesus, after his death and resurrection, rebuked the despondency of Cleopas and his companion, saying, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). To the apostles Jesus said, “‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:44-46). It was through suffering that Jesus “learned obedience,” and “having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:7-9). His suffering and death was necessary for his perfection and for the accomplishment of our salvation from sin. We would be consumed with unending sorrow over his suffering for our sins if it were not for the rejoicing that we have knowing that the same suffering provided the forgiveness of our sins. His suffering made possible our return to glory (Heb. 2:9-11).
His Example in Suffering
The epistle of 1 Peter was written to Christians who were suffering. This suffering was not due to an accident, poverty, or a lack of education. They were enduring persecution and trials for simply being Christians and living godly (2:20; 3:14; 4:4, 12-19; 5:9-10). Peter develops a theme of suffering and glory to strengthen these brethren. Early in the letter, he mentioned the “suffering of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1:11). The Christian’s suffering and glory are directly linked to Jesus’ suffering and glory. We can know that this is true because Peter points directly to Jesus’ sufferings as an example for us: “But when you do good and suffer for it, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (2:20b-23).
Three major points stand out in this passage as lessons for us: (1) We were called to suffer patiently. The sufferings of the Christian are not to be considered strange, but a blessing (4:12; 3:14). Jesus warned his disciples that the worlthat all who desire to live godly would suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). (2) Jesus left us an example of how to react to suffering. Jesus did not revile, threaten, nor sin in any way. Likewise, we are not to be “returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this” (3:9). It was Jesus who taught us to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Jesus lived what he preached. (3) We must commit ourselves to God. Total commitment to a faithful God is the foundation of a Christian’s endurance through trial. “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (4:19). In view of the supreme example of Jesus, it is no wonder that Peter tells the suffering Christian to “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings” and to “not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (4:13, 16).
Our Hope of Glory
The trials and sufferings of this life help us develop patience (Jas. 1:2-4), confidence in God’s promises (Heb. 10:32-35), and steadfastness in the faith (1 Pet. 5:9). The hope of future glory gives us renewed strength. With Paul, we look to God’s promises and “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Jesus is the originator and perfecter of such faith, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). This joy was not received until Jesus completed the road of suffering. We must follow the example of him who was rejected of men, betrayed, abused, persecuted, and killed. “For consider Him who endured such hostility against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:3). He suffered for us — shall we not willingly partake of his sufferings and, afterward, receive the reward of eternal glory to come?
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