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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 13 (Part 2)

As John Stott nears the end of his book, The Cross of Christ, he looks into the relationship between Christ's sufferings and the sufferings of those spiritually united to Him through faith in His substitutionary work on the cross on their behalf. Below are the first of several connections he finds revealed in Scripture.

     "Suffering and Glory" (Part 2)

First, the cross of Christ is a stimulus to patient endurance. Even though suffering has to be recognized as evil and therefore resisted, there nevertheless comes a time when it has to be realistically accepted. It is then that the example of Jesus, which is set before us in the New Testament for our imitation, becomes an inspiration.(1Pet.2:18-23) ... We need to 'fix our eyes on Jesus', for he 'endured the cross, scorning its shame'. So then: 'Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart' (Heb.12:1-3).

Mature Holiness
Secondly, the cross of Christ is the path to mature holiness. We need to consider the implications of two rather neglected verses in the letter to the Hebrews:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God ... should make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering. ( Heb.2:10)
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Heb.5:8-9; cf. Heb.7:28)
Not of course that he was ever imperfect in the sense that he had done wrong ... rather that he needed further experiences and opportunities in order to become teleios, 'mature' [perfected]. In particular, 'he learned obedience from what he suffered'. He was never disobedient. But his sufferings were the testing-ground in which his obedience became full-grown.

James uses the same language of 'perfection' or 'maturity' in relation to Christians. Just as suffering led to maturity through obedience for Christ, so it leads to maturity through perseverance for us (James 1:2-4; cf. Rom.5:3-5). ...Three graphic images are developed in Scripture to illustrate ... the father disciplining his children (Deut.8:5; Prov.3:11-12), the metalworker refining silver and gold (Ps.66:10; Isa.48:10; 1Pet.1:6-7), and the gardener pruning his vine (Jn.15:1-2). ...Not that suffering (which is an evil) is the cause of growth; but it is the occasion.

Suffering Service
Thirdly, the cross of Christ is the symbol of suffering service. We are familiar with the ...'Servant Songs' of Isaiah. ...We see this clearly in Jesus, who is the suffering servant par excellence, but we need to remember that the servant's mission to bring light to the nations is also to be fulfilled by the church (Acts 13:47). For the church, therefore, as for the Savior, suffering and service go together.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates [i.e. does not prefer, value] his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me..." (Jn.12:23-26)
Paul is the most notable example of this principle (Eph.3:1, 13; Col.1:24; 2Tim.2:8-10). Paul states in all three texts that his sufferings are being endured 'for the sake of you Gentiles', 'for the sake of Christ's body' or 'for the sake of the elect'.  The place of suffering in service and of passion in mission is hardly ever taught today. But the greatest single secret of evangelistic or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die. It may be a death to popularity (by faithfully preaching the unpopular biblical gospel) , or to pride (by the use of modest methods in reliance on the Holy Spirit), or to national prejudice (by identification with another culture), or to material comfort (by adopting a simple lifestyle). But the servant must suffer if he is to bring light to the nations, and the seed must die if it is to multiply.

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