In Philippians 3:10, Paul says that his greatest desire is “to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings . . .” Here is one of the most profound of all the doctrines and the mysteries of the Christian faith, that we have a Savior, God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has come to earth and has SUFFERED. We have a God who came TO SUFFER on a cross and to die in our place.
Not only is this truth profound, but it is also prominent in the New Testament. In Luke 22:15 Jesus says, “I earnestly desire to eat this Passover with you (His disciples) before I suffer.” Multiple times in each of the synoptic gospels Jesus foretells His suffering and His crucifixion. (Matt. 16:21; 17:12; Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15; 24:26, 46) After Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles’ gospel message centers on the suffering of Jesus and His glorious rising from the dead. How can it be that God suffers? But this is the amazing truth, that our God came to earth and suffered.
And because Jesus Christ suffered, suffering is now and forever a Christian experience. Jesus Christ has made ‘suffering’ a theological term. To overstate the matter, only Christ and His followers truly suffer. Oh yes, there is misery, anguish, agony, pain, sorrow and despair throughout the world and common to all mankind, but this is not truly suffering, because of Jesus. Because Jesus suffered, suffering is redefined. No longer is suffering a common experience available to all mankind; rather, Christ’s sufferings have made suffering forever a holy experience reserved for the righteous.
Suffering is a means of fellowship with Jesus. I will never stop a storm by saying, “Hush! Be still!” I will never walk on water or call a corpse dead four days out of a tomb. But because Jesus Christ suffered, I can have fellowship with Him in my own sufferings and share an experience with Jesus. Paul wanted to know “the fellowship of His (Christ’s) sufferings.” This means that as the believer suffers for the sake of Jesus, he or she draws nearer to Jesus and experiences the same thing that the Son of God experienced. Surely this is what Peter has in mind when he says, “To the degree that you share (this verb could also be translated ‘fellowship’) the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing . . . If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed . . . If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:13, 14, 16).” Why would anyone, Christian included, rejoice in suffering? The believer rejoices in suffering, because suffering is a direct means of fellowship with His great God and Savior. Is there anything that Jesus did that I could ever do? Yes; I can suffer as Jesus suffered. SDG rmb 8/25/2015