Romans 8:17, “…provided we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”
The Passage Considered
Sometimes, when we think of suffering with Christ, we might imagine that Christ is the sufferer and that WE take on HIS sufferings. While there is a sense in which this is true, there is also a sense in which this is exactly the reverse of what happens. Consider: Christ suffers ONLY because He chooses to love those who suffer and so makes their suffering His own. The sufferings of the Man of Sorrows are not essentially His sufferings; rather, they are OUR sufferings—chosen, carried, embraced, and overcome in sovereign love (Is.53:3-4).
Christ’s sufferings are our sufferings borne in love….how then do we suffer with one whose sufferings are our own? One answer to that question is that we allow Christ’s experience of our suffering to DEFINE our experience of our suffering….
This cancer, this weakness, this failure, this fear, this anxiety, this loss, etc. etc., THIS EXACT instance of suffering was borne in the body and embraced in the experience of Jesus Christ on the cross. When I look by faith at the crucified Lord, I see THIS EXACT moment of suffering embodied in the suffering of my Lord.
Suffering WITH Christ, then, means locating my present experience of suffering WITHIN Christ’s finished experience of that same suffering….it means allowing Christ’s embrace of this moment on the cross to define my experience of this moment here and now…And when we—by grace—suffer with Christ in this way, a few things happen.
First, the solitude of suffering is obliterated. It is IMPOSSIBLE to suffer alone, since all suffering has been borne IN LOVE in the experience of our Lord and God on the cross. When we enter a time of suffering, Christian, we are not entering a cold, lonely wilderness of fear and uncertainty, rather, we are entering a season that the sovereign love of our Lord has already made part of His own experience….And, in making it part of His own experience, has RE-DEFINED it BY His own experience…..which leads to…
The second thing that happens when we allow our suffering to be defined by Christ’s experience of it on the cross is that the agony of suffering turns from death-pain into birth-pain. How is that? Well, think about it, if ALL of our suffering is definitively experienced in Christ on the cross (such that when we look at the crucified Jesus, we see EVERY specific suffering we have, will, or can experience in this life)…if ALL of our suffering is definitively experienced in the crucified Jesus…..then the resurrection of Jesus reveals to us where ALL our suffering is headed.
When we look at the cross we see the present experience of our suffering, and when we look at the resurrection, we see the future experience of our suffering. In the crucified Christ who is risen, ALL suffering, sorrow, sin, death, and damnation MUST be transfigured by the resurrection into glory, joy, redemption, life, and fellowship with the living God. That is the law of reality as defined by the one who died and yet, behold, is alive forevermore. In the one who has passed through death into life, there is no “death-pain,” only, ever, and always “birth-pain.”
The bloody wounds which marred Christ’s crucified body as witnesses to sin, suffering, death and damnation are transfigured on the body of the risen Christ into heralds of holiness, glory, life, and the beauty of God. If we recognize that the wounds of the Crucified are OUR wounds….then we will also recognize that the transfigured wounds of the Risen One reveal where all of our wounds are headed. In the crucified and risen Lord, ALL suffering will finally be transformed into an emblem of God’s glory and so a servant of His people’s joy.
The Picture Considered
In this picture, then, I show the Church in the midst of her suffering in this life. She is bound in thorns (picturing the effects of the curse) and surrounded by fire (depicting all manner of tribulation). And yet, she is pictured within the crucified Jesus. This is an attempt to show that the suffering of God’s people has been wholly embraced in the suffering of God in Jesus on the cross. Christ’s sufferings are His people’s sufferings borne in love.
The crucified Christ and His suffering Bride are pictured within the half circle of the stone that covered Christ’s tomb. This shows that the season of suffering has been fully endured in Christ’s crucifixion and is passing away (and, indeed, has passed away in the death and resurrection of Christ).
Above the stone / scene of present suffering is the golden light of resurrection (depicted as the open mouth of the tomb). The crown of life (already won by Christ and, in Him, to be given to His people) is studded with five red jewels. These jewels represent the wounds of Christ, now transfigured into the crown of His glory by the resurrection (since it is in His crucifixion that Jesus reveals to us the glory of God, but it is only by His resurrection that the glory of the crucifixion can be perceived, John 20:28). Just as Christ’s wounds have been transfigured to the revelation of God’s beauty and the source of His people’s joy, so too in Him all wounding (which He embraced on Calvary) has been and will be so transfigured.
Finally, a triangle frames the entire picture. This is to show at least two things. First, that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ IS the supreme revelation of the Triune God to the world. Second, that our grace-enabled recognition of Christ’s suffering as our suffering borne in love, reveals to us the depths of God’s self-giving love (which is His glory), and so gathers us up into God’s own Triune life of love.