West Point Road Church of Christ
Jesus as Suffering Servant
- Suffering ServantMark gives us the purpose of Jesus leaving heaven and coming to earth.For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.While pictures of Christ may overlap into several books of the New Testament, Mark does give us the picture of Jesus as a suffering servant.His purpose statement gives us two goals:To serveTo die (which will involve suffering)“The story identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, whose destiny is to suffer, die, rise from the dead, and return as the glorious Son of Man to gather the elect.” Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Christology: A Global Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2016), 22-23.Jesus makes what are called “Passion Pronouncements” regarding His future death. There are three of them in Mark.And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.Notice that Jesus:will suffer many things and dieit is something that He must doFor he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.This was not something that happened by accident. Through Jesus’s statement of purpose in Mark 10:45 and His three Passion Pronouncements, it is clear that Jesus came to Earth to be a servant and planned to suffer and die.BackgroundThe idea of a suffering servant may have some background in the Book of Isaiah.There are four passages in Isaiah that are referred to as “Servant Songs.”“When he maintains that it is ‘written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt’ (Mk 9.12; cf. 14.49), the background is most probably the Servant songs in Isaiah.” Sigurd Grindheim, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels : God or God's Servant (New York: T&T Clark International, 2012), 59.Perhaps one of the more well-known sections comes from Isaiah 53. The previous verses in Isaiah 52 show that the context is talking about the servant of God.Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, And his form more than the sons of men:Now, notice some of the Messianic prophecy which includes the coming suffering.He is despised and rejected of men; A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: And we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, And carried our sorrows: Yet we did esteem him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace was upon him; And with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one to his own way; And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, Yet he opened not his mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, So he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: And who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: For the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, And with the rich in his death; Because he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; For he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, And he shall divide the spoil with the strong; Because he hath poured out his soul unto death: And he was numbered with the transgressors; And he bare the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.The plan of God was to send a Messiah to suffer for the sins of people. He would be a “man of sorrows” (v. 3). He would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (v. 4). He would be wounded, bruised, and bear stripes (v. 5). We were the sinners, but He would be the sacrifice for our sin. (v. 6) He will be oppressed and afflicted (v. 7). He would be the sin offering for the people, a lamb of sacrifice for sins (v. 10). The Messiah would have travail and it would satisfy God. He will justify many. It would appease the anger as a propitiation, and it would expunge the sin as an expiation (v. 11).The plan of God was not just to send a Messiah, but to send a Messiah that would suffer. Notice again, Jesus’s clear statement of purpose.For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.MisunderstandingJesus really may not have been the type of Messiah that the disciples of Jesus expected.The disciples expected an earthly kingdomEven at the time before the ascension of Jesus after the resurrection, it was asked if the kingdom of Israel would be restored.When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?However, Jesus had mentioned earlier that His kingdom would not be an earthly kingdom.Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.Again, the disciples may have been expecting a triumphant earthly king to restore a physical kingdom to Israel, a glorious king, as opposed to a suffering servant.“As it turns out, however, Jesus’ triumphal entry becomes his entry into his trial, conviction and death, as he also repeatedly has predicted (Mk 8.31; 9.31; 10.33-34). By tying the announcement of Jesus’ messiahship to his entry into Jerusalem, Mark thereby ties Jesus’ messiahship to his suffering and death. It is therefore appropriate that when Jesus explicitly accepts the title, it is at his trial, when the high priest asks him if he is “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One” (Mk 14.61-62). Having crafted the story the way he did, Mark shows a Messiah whose mission is to die. He thereby interprets messiahship in a radically different way from the common expectations of a political leader who would restore the kingdom of Israel.” Sigurd Grindheim, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels : God or God's Servant (New York: T&T Clark International, 2012), 53-54.Jesus’s suffering was rejectedPeter makes the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.But after that, Jesus makes a Passion Pronouncement and Peter rebukes Him.And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.Peter’s idea of a Messiah may have been more along the lines of a glorious king rather than a suffering servant. Whatever the case, Peter did not like the idea of Jesus having to suffer and be killed.Jesus then rebukes Peter, making it clear that the rejection of the suffering of the Messiah, is a rejection of the things of God.But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.In fact, God had planned for the Messiah to suffer and die as the perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for man’s sins. Avoiding suffering may be natural for men, but it was in the plan of God the whole time. The disciples may not have understood it at first when Jesus began making Passion Pronouncements. Peter’s rebuke may have been because he did not understand why the Christ would need to suffer and die. It really may have gone against his idea of the Christ. Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ but then rebukes the idea of His suffering and death. God’s plan put the Messiahship together with suffering and death. Jesus tells Peter that he is not savoring the “things of God.” What Peter did not like was in God’s plan, as Isaiah had prophesied, namely, that the one who would be the Christ would also be the one who would suffer and die.Even though they may not have understood it at the time, the disciples understood it later. Paul demonstrates this fact.And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.Notice that Paul reasoned with them from the scriptures that “Christ must needs have suffered.” Apparently, Paul understood the scriptures to say that whoever was going to be the Christ was going to suffer. Then He connects Jesus as the one who is the Christ. At this point, Paul understood the connection between the Messiahship and suffering.As Morna Hooker points out, the suffering of the Messiah was not an obstacle to the plan of God.“It is not that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God in spite of suffering. Rather, it is (1) because he is the Messiah that he will not come down from the cross (15:32) and (2) because he is God’s Son that he dies in obedience to what he believes to be his Father’s will (15:39; cf. 14:36).” Morna D. Hooker, “‘Who Can This Be?’ The Christology of Mark’s Gospel,” in Contours of Christology in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longenecker, McMaster New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 94.If the Christ was going to bear the punishment for our iniquities, if He was going to satisfy God with the stripes He bore, if He was going to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, then the Christ must needs suffer and die. Otherwise, God’s plan would not be fulfilled.DiscipleshipJesus pointed out two components of His mission:ServeSufferFor even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.This is not only part of the plan of God for the Messiah, but it is the plan of God for His disciples today.Disciples of Christ should be servantsJesus taught that in order to be great, we should be humble and lower ourselves to be servants.And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:The point of the life of the Christian is not to build ourselves up, but rather to put God and others first.And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.Disciples of Christ will sufferIt may seem abnormal to willingly enter a life that could cause suffering. However, being a Christian means a follower, or imitator, of Christ.Christ linked His suffering to the suffering His disciples would experience.Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.As the world rejected Christ, it will continue to reject the teachings of Christ. As we go forth, we may not be nailed to a cross, but we can expect to be persecuted for being a follower of Christ and/or teaching the words of Christ.Christ linked His own suffering to the cost of discipleship.And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.The cross is an instrument of suffering and death. We must take up our cross and die to ourselves daily. We deny ourselves and sacrifice our lives for God and for others. Denying ourselves may cause us suffering but it is critical to being a servant of God. How can I be a servant to God and others if I am just serving myself?“Mark consistently presents discipleship as a self-denying and costly path of service in imitation of Jesus who came to serve and to give his life a ransom for many (10:45).” Douglas J.W. Milne, “Mark - The Gospel of Servant Discipleship,” The Reformed Theological Review 49, no. 1 (Jan-Apr 1990): 20.Modern-day disciples of Christ should be imitators of Christ and that includes being a suffering servant.ConclusionJesus came to serve and to suffer. Mark shows us this picture of Jesus as the Suffering Servant.The idea of a suffering Messiah was in the plan of God the whole time. Jesus would be the sin offering to appease the wrath of God and pay the penalty for our sins by suffering and dying as the perfect sacrifice.The disciples may have misunderstood this picture of the Messiah at first, but they understood it later and were willing to suffer and die for the cause of Christ themselves.We, too, must follow our Lord and be willing to be suffering servants for the cause of Christ.
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