Why did Jesus experience suffering, rejection and murder?

This Sunday the lectionary invites us to ponder Mark 8:31-38. In these verses, we read that Jesus taught his disciples he would soon suffer, be rejected, and be killed; and be raised up from the dead. And that the same things would happen to them.

Two thoughts which Christians have treasured over the centuries come from this portion of scripture. Verse 34 gives us the phrase, “take up your cross and follow me.” Verse 36 reads, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

The thought that Jesus came to suffer, be rejected, and be killed, runs through the Bible. About 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah predicted that a person, a saviour, would come to save God’s oppressed people, and that he would suffer, be rejected, and be killed.

Isaiah called the person “a man of sorrows.” You can read it in chapters 52 and 53 of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah even foretold that the saviour would be “pierced.” The explanation for why Jesus had to suffer, be rejected, and be killed, can be found in Isaiah 53:5-6, which reads:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

These verses tell us that we suffer, lack peace, lack friendship with God, and bring sorrow to God, because we follow our own hearts.

We can place examples of how we follow our own hearts on a spectrum of ways in which we live our lives.

At one end are people who do things to maximize the profit or pleasure of their own selves, families, clans, tribes, or communities, or even nations. At the other end are people who spend their lives serving others without paying any attention to what God may have shown or done.

What God has said and done are the prophecies about Jesus, and the facts of his life, his teachings, his suffering, his horrific death, and his resurrection. All these things stop us in our tracks. And make us think. Think that God is not who we say He is, but who He says He is.

And when we stop and think, we understand what the words spoken through Isaiah mean: In God’s eyes, what we do when we wander, when we stray, like sheep, are “iniquities,” or sins. And God draws our attention to our sins through the magnifying glass of the cross. And God places our sins on Jesus, on the cross.

Over 500 years ago, Martin Luther explained the shame, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. He put it in a document we call “the Heidelberg disputation.” It’s central to Lutheran identity. It has 28 parts, or theses.

In his explanation of thesis #23, Luther reminds us of what the Apostle Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 1:21:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

Luther then comments on the verse. This is at the heart of the theology of the cross. I’ve simplified the language and expression. Luther says:

[Therefore], it’s not sufficient for anyone, and it doesn’t do them any good, to recognize God in His glory and majesty, unless they recognize Him in the humility and shame of the cross. By means of the cross, God destroys the wisdom of the wise.[1]

Those who come to the cross thinking “it’s impossible for God to suffer or die,” will try to deny that Jesus died on the cross. They might say he fainted, was taken away, and recovered. Such explanations are the result of idolatry, the result of shaping God the way we think he should be.

The prophesied, foreordained suffering, rejection, and killing of Jesus, the Christ, shatters all our idol-making, all our “wisdom,” all our pride. Jesus death on the cross destroys the wisdom of the wise.

We’re called to live out of that belief. Every day, we nail our “natural” wisdom to the cross, we “crucify” our natural wisdom, and walk not as stray sheep, but as sheep who hear the voice of the true shepherd.

This is why Jesus suffered, was rejected, and was murdered. All these things happened to him so that we might put an end to our idolatry.

Peace be with you.

[1] I’ve condensed this paragraph from the disputation:
“The manifest and visible things of God are placed in opposition to the invisible, namely, his human nature, weakness, foolishness. The Apostle in 1 Cor. 1:25 calls them the weakness and folly of God. Because men misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognized in suffering, and to condemn »wisdom concerning invisible things« by means of »wisdom concerning visible things«, so that those who did not honor God as manifested in his works should honor him as he is hidden in his suffering (absconditum in passionibus). As the Apostle says in 1 Cor. 1:21, »For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.« Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isa. 45:15 says, »Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.«

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