The MESSIAH MUST SUFFER
Do you find it easy to take on board new ideas? Do you find it easy to change beliefs that you've held for a long time when you are presented with new information? Or are you one of those people who doesn't want to be presented with any more facts because you've already made up your mind?
Jesus had already told his disciples on two separate occasions, as the end of his ministry was fast approaching, that he would have to suffer and die at Jerusalem before being raised to life again. The disciples hadn't liked it the first time he spoke to them on this subject and they had been afraid to question him when he spoke about it all for the second time.
Now Jesus was adding something more – he was telling them that all this talk of rejection, suffering and death this was no new fangled idea of his. Such ideas weren't to be attributed either to some morbid reflections in a moment of despair, it had, he said, all been spoken about long ago in the writings of the prophets!
Now this really should not have come as a surprise to Jesus' disciples. From very early on at least some of them had recognised that Jesus was the one spoken about by the prophets:
Jn.1:45 "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.""
Jesus too spoke openly clearly about this:
What then was the disciples' problem? Why did they struggle so to grasp it all? Was it that they didn't know their Bibles? Or was it because they failed to understand their Bibles? There is a real difference between those two conditions and yet each is a sorry state to be in.
In fact the disciples, as with the vast majority in their day, preferred to put to one side what the prophets had had to say about the sufferings of the Messiah. There were different strands of information concerning the Messiah contained in the OT and they failed to understand how it could all fit together into a coherent whole. So they did what we often do – they made a choice and of course they held on to what they liked and let go what they didn't. And after all, no-
Today is Palm Sunday and on this day the church remembers Jesus' Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At the beginning of the week it looked as though Jesus was going to carry the day – his popularity was on the up and up – It didn't seem like the prophets had got it right at all as the crowds of his followers demonstrated their adulation and their support. Even the kids got in on the act singing away to honour Jesus.
How the world likes a winner! And that was what Jesus looked like on that first Palm Sunday.
Everybody loves a winner
Everybody loves a winner
But when you lose, you lose alone.
And those crowds were gone by the end of the week. Jesus' followers became noticeable by their absence being replaced by crowds that menacingly cried "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
As the week progressed Jesus didn't make the expected progress and so looking less likely to succeed his support ebbed away. Who wants a suffering Messiah? The crowds in Jerusalem didn't, that's for sure. And down through the centuries, those who have failed to grasp what the prophets did actually teach about his sufferings, they didn't want a suffering Messiah either. And in our own day who wants a suffering Messiah? Do you?
But you can't simply pick and choose what you want to be true and expect everything else to fall into place too. The disciples had been trying to do that and their efforts crumbled as Jesus told them of the unwelcome truths they had never wanted to hear.
The sufferings of the Messiah were indeed writ so large in the writings of the prophets (just think about Ps.22 or Is.53 for example) that they should not have missed them. By failing to grasp what the prophets said about the Messiah's sufferings the people of Jesus' day had managed to completely falsify their entire understanding of the prophets' message.
Are you in danger of failing to understand what Christianity is really all about because you simply don't want certain parts of it to be true? It is said that Nelson couldn't see any foreign ships when he put the telescope to his blind eye – wilful ignorance in Nelson's case can perhaps be excused as courageous but if you deliberately reject the truth about Jesus it won't prove in the end to have been courageous but the height of stupidity.
What are we to make of OT prophecy?
When the OT prophets exercised their ministries they were not trying to pass on their own opinions to their contemporaries. We are not to think of them as employing dire prophecies as a means of bludgeoning their hearers with scaremongering tactics. They weren't dreaming up imaginary and worrying scenarios by which to cajole their listeners into doing what they wanted them to do. Indeed the prophets themselves didn't always clearly understand the significance of their own prophecies:
But it wasn't necessary that they should understand exactly what they were doing because it wasn't their word they passing on but God's!
2Pet.1:21 "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Jesus interpreted his ministry in the light of what the prophets declared about the Messiah because they were laying out the details of God's blueprint.
Isn't that just what Jesus says when he underlined that everything the prophets had written about him would be accomplished. According to Jesus a right understanding of the prophets MUST include a clear grasp of what they wrote concerning:
His deliverance into Gentile hands
His mocking and shameful treatment
And we find that this is confirmed by what Jesus taught his disciples after all events had in fact taken place:
Firstly to two of his followers on the Emmaus Road:
Then to the Eleven:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
Minds open or closed
The disciples' minds had been closed to the truth for a long time but finally they came to see and to understand what had been there all along. It wasn't the truth that had changed but the disciples had!
Has your mind been opened yet that you might understand these things?
Sometimes we have all the information but we just don't "see" it. Carrefour example – I needed a friend to explain it to me and now having seen I can't "not see" it any longer.
On the spiritual front when it comes to seeing and understanding we all need a friend to help us and not just any old friend will do.
Jesus still opens people's minds to the truth and he does so by the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit.
But, you say, "Why do we need this work of the Holy Spirit?" Well the answer is simple: our minds are naturally hardened and although we might hear the truth we fail to understand it and we draw the wrong conclusions. We reinterpret it according to our own prejudices. We try to squeeze it into a framework that is acceptable to us.
It is the reason why some people when they hear a preacher explaining as clearly as possible that the gospel of Jesus Christ and declaring that only way to be right with God is through faith in Jesus Christ will respond that a Christian will be accepted by God for doing his best! It is a pernicious lie, one that the preacher never did mention, but that is what they think he's been saying – because that is what fits in with their own thinking!
No, the Spirit of God must shine his light into our dark hearts if we are to become Christians. We must come to appreciate what our real need is before we can ever appreciate the magnitude of what it is that God has done for us!
But, praise God, he delights to do just this:
2Cor.4:6 "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
When the disciples did finally get it they were transformed and we find them subsequently leaning heavily upon what Jesus had taught them about all this:
Peter, for example, would include it in his preaching:
Acts 3:18, 24 "But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled… And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days."
And the apostle Paul would refer to it during one of his many trials:
Acts 26:22 "To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass"
Writing to the Corinthians Paul couldn't have made it any clearer than he did:
But still we might be tempted to say OK but so what?
Well Jesus gave his teaching not simply to correct errors in this thinking – as though the whole matter was resolved if the disciples came to believe that the prophets had spoken about the Messiah's sufferings. No, the matter was far more important than that!
If the prophets, moved by the Holy Spirit of God centuries ahead of the event, prophesied the sufferings of the Messiah then this is clear proof that God had planned and purposed that such sufferings should occur. It means that events hadn't spiralled out of Jesus' control and that the end of his life was an unplanned fiasco. No, God's plan of salvation had not been thwarted because suffering, death and resurrection were the integral parts of that plan devised in eternity past and gradually revealed over time through the prophets and brought to pass in the experience of the Messiah, Jesus Christ!
The rejection, the suffering, the death and the resurrection are central to understanding Christianity – you must not quickly pass them by or ignore them. Don't rest until you have grasped what happened and why!
If Jesus had not given all his teaching about suffering, death and resurrection merely to correct errors of thought then we can ask 'Why did he so insist upon it?' And the answer is that he gave it in order to prepare his followers for mission:
Lk.24:47 "and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
These words follow immediately after we are told that he opened the eyes of his disciples to understand the Scriptures.
Do you now see what is at stake?
Jesus was teaching that without his rejection, without his suffering, without his death and resurrection there would simply be no good news to share. But because he did suffer, die and rise from the dead then there is hope of reconciliation with God!
Without that climax to his life and ministry all we would be left with would be a series of impossibly high ethical standards to try to live up to, the example of a life so remarkable as to be beyond imitation.
Were we in that situation we could have two possible reactions neither of which would help us:
we might feel flattered – we like to be given the impression that we capable of doing something to contribute to our own salvation, something that we can try to do in order to improve our standing with God.
But the last thing we need is to be flattered in our complacency – we need to realise that we can't save ourselves. Indeed if we could save ourselves then Jesus would never had to suffer and die on our behalf!
we might feel crushed – if we are only too aware of past failure we won't find it at all comforting to see how high the bar really is set nor to be told that we must just get on with trying to attain it.
Feeling crushed leads to despair, no hope. Or to use a Bible phrase "Where there is no vision the people perish."
Were we to preach telling men that they now have to save themselves we would simply be preaching the law and there is nothing specifically Christian about that!
Were we to preach to preach Christ as a wonderfully inspiring example that we must imitate we would effectively be doing the same thing. Christ's life was lived in total and complete harmony to the Law of God – he exemplified it in everything he did. If we must put into practice his example we too must live in complete harmony to the law. And we would be found once more preaching the law.
Either we preach the law as a series of precepts or we preach the law as embodied in a person. In neither case is there anything specifically Christian and we are left to try to secure our own salvation.
But we preach a crucified Christ! (1Cor.1:23) We preach that he "was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification."(Rom.4:25). We preach a Gospel of grace – "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph.2:8-
Come and embrace this Saviour today!