For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10)
Because God’s children are human beings – made of of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 3:14–18 NLT)
Isn’t the word of God in itself so powerful that we hardly need to preach at times? It speaks for itself. And these words are so moving: ‘it became him … in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings’. That speaks of the vicarious suffering of Christ – and it is the subject of vicarous suffering that I want to address.
There is suffering that comes into the life of a Christian just because we are human beings. There is suffering that comes because we are being faithful to follow Christ. People in an earlier time in our land and in other lands have known the severity of that suffering and persecution, but we can know it in our lives also. And there is a vicarious suffering, when we are suffering on behalf of another or others. It is suffering that we could escape: that we can either accept or walk away from. But the Bible is full of the instruction to care for others, and not to live just to ourselves. God said: ‘Who will go for Me?’ and Christ answered: ‘Here am I: send Me.’ He asked Cain: ‘Where is your brother?’ and Cain answered: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The answer to that is actually: ‘Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.’ And we can find at times that if we are being faithful to God and faithful to His instruction to bear one another’s burdens, there comes upon our spirits and into our lives suffering that would not be there otherwise, and a burden upon our spirit and a way for us to walk in the spiritual world that actually can make us feel quite imperilled and seems quite a hazardous way for us spiritually. We think of somebody like General Booth, who wrote:
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire.
He wanted to walk in the midst of desperate sin and misery, but be himself untouched by it, in the sense of unstained by it. There is a road that God calls us to walk that can actually be very costly in our inner spirit, and can leave us, as I said, feeling at times imperilled. I remember going to one of our people who was in a lot of need, to be with them and to try and help them. It came to me very clearly that they were being called to walk a road that we can only call the Calvary road. They had been sent into a very difficult situation. The action they were taking was leading to suffering for themselves and in their spirit in a way that’s indescribable and inescapable, because really they were part of the effort to rescue somebody else, and they were being used in the hand of God for that. There was no easy road out for them if they were to be faithful to God. And there was a sense of being identified with the Christ of Calvary. It is a tremendous privilege, and it is something that God does call us to do when we are being faithful to Him. These words can sound quite poetic: to walk the Calvary road. But there is nothing poetic at all about it when we are actually doing it.
Some of you may have read in this week’s news an illustration that perfectly illustrates this principle. It concerned a Portuguese man, Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Born in 1885, he was a Portuguese consul in Bordeaux at the beginning of the Second World War. Portugal was taking a neutral stance, and orders were sent to him that he was not to issue visas to any Jewish people. Jews were fleeing and trying to escape just before the fall of France, looking for ways to get to Portugal and then hopefully to America. His son said that his father disappeared for two days into his room, and when he emerged his hair was grey. He had made a decision that he was going to issue these visas, and he issued them to tens of thousands of Jewish people. They reckon that before the word came that the visas were not to be recognised, between ten and thirty thousand escaped with them to Portugal; many went on to America. But he himself was disgraced; he was stripped of his job, of his pension; he suffered abject poverty. By the time he died in 1954 he had only been kept alive by the Jewish soup kitchen in Lisbon. It wasn’t until 1966 that Israel recognised him as ‘righteous among the nations’, and in 1988 the Portuguese parliament withdrew the disciplinary charges against him. He suffered, but thousands of people were saved. It was vicarious suffering for another. What bravery! It takes courage to be a Christian.
I always remember my father taking me out into the deep sea – literally the sea, and I couldn’t swim – and saying to me: ‘Come on, you’ve got to be brave in this life.’ There are other kinds of bravery as well as that kind of physical courage, but I’ve never forgotten what he said to me: You have to be brave in this life. It has helped me many a time, and in many a spiritually difficult time, just to keep my nerve, and to keep courage.
Of course the One who is our great example and forerunner is Christ Himself. As I was meditating on this subject of vicarious suffering that comes into our lives, it made me think more and more of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was safe in heaven. He came to be made flesh and blood. He came into a place of sin, of suffering, of temptation, clothed with flesh like us, but Himself without sin. But He came to a place, it seems, of such danger, where you feel the very Godhead was imperilled, speaking reverently, as the Son has left the safety and security of heaven to walk the road that we have to walk in this world. And yet He was willing, because He had in mind you and me. What it cost the Father to send His Son! His Son was going to be hurt, was going to be wounded, was going to give a desperate cry: ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ Heartbreak in the midst of the Godhead. But we know He never wavered, He never turned back.
And He said to His disciples and so to us: ‘Watch with Me.’ It is really He who is watching over a soul, and over the soul of another that you might be burdened for, and He says to you and to me: ‘Watch with Me.’ It would be so much easier to walk away and keep our own soul secure and safe. He says: ‘Can you not watch with Me one hour?’ Surely we answer: ‘Yes, Lord, it is our privilege to be invited alongside You. And truly Your promise will not fail, and You will keep us safe – safe in our spirit in any hour, as You kept Christ safe.’ He watched over Him in Gethsemane. He watched over Him every moment of all His sojourn here on earth. And He has gone back with many sons unto glory. And we will return to Him also. Our reward in that day will be to be with Him, and to know that we have kept tryst with Him, and kept watch with Him, and to be received by Him into the excellent glory.
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