The Voluntary, Atoning Sufferings of Christ

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The Sufferings of Jesus were Voluntary

    Another truth unappreciated by Muslims is that Jesus was not a helpless victim of tragic circumstances but that He willingly gave Himself to suffer. Many Muslims cannot understand how God could allow men to be so cruel to one of His great servants. But the truth is that Jesus suffered because it was the will of God, because He willed to fulfill God’s will, and because that was the only way in which sinners could be saved.

 

 

Jesus warned His disciples that He “must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things” (Matt. 16:21). At the Last Supper Jesus declared, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). That same evening He warned His disciples: “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad” (Matt. 26:31; see Zech. 13:7). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that, if it be possible, the cup of suffering might pass from Him, but He willingly submitted Himself to the will of the Father (Matt. 26:42). When the Jews and Romans came to arrest Jesus, Peter attempted to defend Him. Jesus rebuked Peter:

Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled. (Matt. 26:53-56).

Notice how Jesus consciously and deliberately fulfills the Scriptures of the Old Testament which prophesy His sufferings. One who reads the accounts of Christ’s sufferings and death in the Gospels cannot fail to see the dignity, the authority and the loving obedience of Jesus Christ. He was not a victim hounded to death. He was and remained in control of every situation. He chose to suffer because He loved His Father and He chose to suffer because He loved His church. That is why the New Testament speaks so often of Christ giving Himself. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:2-3); “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27); “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:13-14).

The Sufferings of Jesus Christ Were Necessary

Jesus had to suffer and Jesus willingly suffered because this was necessary for our salvation. In Islam Allah is called merciful and just, but the Qur’an does not give any examples of Allah’s mercy or justice, nor does the Qur’an explain how Allah can be merciful without satisfying His justice. The God of the Bible, however, is both merciful and just, and He never shows mercy at the expense of justice. 

God’s justice demands that sinners die both physical death and eternal death in hell. God’s justice demands that we all keep His Law perfectly: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10); “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Therefore, God cannot in His justice accept man’s best efforts in place of perfect obedience. Moreover, no sinner can produce any good works of himself because man is totally corrupted by sin and a slave to sin (John 8:34). Islam does not explain how Allah can permit sinners who are guilty of all kinds of transgressions to enter paradise. Does Allah simply disregard their sins when he forgives them? The Bible teaches that Jesus died on the cross in order to make a payment in the place of sinners. This atonement is the supreme display of God’s love for a world of miserable, guilty sinners. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Only the Sufferings of Jesus Christ Save Us

Jesus did not suffer merely physical death on the cross. And the one dying there was not a mere man. If a mere man, even a great prophet or holy man, had died, his death would not have saved sinners from sin. If an angel had died, his death would not have saved sinners from sin. Our salvation is based on the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God in our flesh. That is why the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ and the Incarnation of the Son of God is so important for our salvation. That is why one who rejects these doctrines cannot be saved. “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24); “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (II John 9).

First, the Person who suffered and died was the Son of God. Second, the Person of the Son of God suffered and died in the human nature. His real human body and soul were separated at death and His real human blood was shed as He died. Therefore, it is not true to say that Christians believe that God died, as if when Jesus died God was dead for three days and nobody was ruling the universe. Nor is it true to say that God was praying to Himself in the Garden. The Son of God prayed to His Father in heaven. Third, the Son of God experienced in the real human nature the wrath of God against the sins of His people, those whom He represented before the Father. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24); “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3). What was necessary for our salvation was someone who was 1) a human being, because the just God will not punish one who is not a human for the sins of humans. Therefore the Saviour must have a real human nature in which to suffer punishment; 2) a sinless human being, because one who is a sinner cannot be a Saviour for sinners. All men have sinned and none of them is able to be a substitute for his fellow men; 3) God, because the one who is Saviour must be able to endure the infinite wrath of God in order to deliver others from it. By the power of His Godhead, Jesus upheld His human nature, so that He was not crushed by dreadful burden of God’s wrath.

Muslims deny all this, because they do not believe in the absolute holiness of God or in the dreadful sinfulness of man. Sin is so serious that only the death of the Son of God in our flesh could deliver us from it. Only Christ could voluntarily give up His life, and then have power to take it up again in the resurrection. Only Christ could live a perfect life of obedience and the give up that life to death, satisfying by His obedience the demands of God’s law. Only Christ, because He is God in the flesh, has the power to send His almighty Spirit into our hearts, and to bring us to faith in this Gospel, to uphold us by His grace, and to preserve us even unto the end. This is the Gospel which all Muslims, and indeed, all men, need to believe. 

(For further information on the doctrine of the incarnation and atonement of Christ click here and here).