The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: F

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Fellowship of his suffering

The All-wise Father does not teach His children by simple assertion only; if He did, then our Bible would need be no more lengthy than our Statement of Faith. But He teaches us also by type, parable, history, prophecy, and example. Foremost among the examples given for our instruction is His only-begotten Son. The example of Christ's sacrificial life, culminating in a cruel, lingering death, speaks volumes to the reflective soul.

Isa 53 is a mountain peak of God's Word. Let us simply consider the chapter as it relates to our experiences and responsibilities, as a moral issue and not a "theological" one (in the common sense of the word).

No man of faith can stand before the cross. It is perpetually holy ground -- this mysterious place of meeting between God and man. The perceptive disciple approaches the mercy seat on his knees; he finds there no place to display his own strength or wisdom or cleverness. All the qualities that develop pride in natural man are driven from him further and further with each blow of the hammer upon the Roman spikes. As his awareness deepens, he must finally acknowledge that the cross of Christ has become, not a set of logical premises to be sharpened and polished in legalistic debate, but rather a moral mandate. As the rising of the sun drives away the darkness and creates each day a new world, God's love for man as demonstrated in Christ's death and resurrection forever changes the spiritual landscape for the believer. Every issue of his life must now be viewed in the peculiar divine glow emanating from Golgotha.

And thus our fellowship, with the Father and the Son and with one another, is seen against the background of Christ's sacrifice. Here is the practical expression of his fellowship with us, his brethren. This should be our example of action toward one another.

To those of us who have been accustomed to read Isa 53 as related only to the last day or so of our Savior's mortal life, the quotation in Mat 8:16,17 comes as quite a surprise:

"When the evening was come, they brought unto him many demoniacs... and he healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.' "
Surely these verses are telling us that Christ's sympathy for poor suffering humanity was an intensely personal feeling. We can imagine no stronger words to convey the closeness, the unity, the fellowship of suffering. Here is no theoretical transferal of guilt or sin-effect; there is no ritual, no ceremony about it -- it is real, as real as it can be! This man was one of us. He stood before the tomb of a friend and shed real tears. Our weaknesses were his... are his still, this high priest who was touched so deeply with the sensation of our infirmities, and who carried it with him into the most holy place. For our griefs are his, our sorrows also. For us he was willing to die; for us, finally and conclusively, he did die. And not just for "us" as a whole or a concept or an abstraction, but... this is the real wonder... he died for each one of us! Had there been only one sinner, Christ would have still been willing to die. When each of us stands before the judgment seat, he will be looking into the eyes of a man who gave his life, personally and individually, for him.

Yes, it truly is a marvel: The Savior of mankind suffered for sinners. For the man who blasphemed God's Holy Name, Christ spent sleepless nights in prayer. For the man who coveted, and even took, his neighbor's wife, Christ denied himself all fleshly indulgences. For the man who in hot anger or cold hatred slew his brother, Christ bore the Roman scourge that tore his flesh and exposed his bones and nerves. And for us, "righteous" as we might be in the ordinary "middle-of-the-road" sense, but sinners at heart if we would but admit it, consumed with petty jealousies and grumblings, unthankful, lazy, and often indifferent -- yes, for people like us -- Christ, the holiest of all men, groaned and bled and died.

What does it really mean, to bear the griefs and sorrows of another? As exemplified in Christ, it was more, much more, than a mechanical "burden-bearing". It was a "living sacrifice", a way of life that denied the lusts of the flesh within himself, while at the same time loving and striving continuously for the wellbeing of his brethren who could not, or did not, so deny themselves. And when they failed, and failed miserably, he bore with their failures and never gave way to "righteous", condemning anger -- but only expressed sorrow and gentle rebuke. Was there ever such a man? "For even Christ pleased not himself" (Rom 15:3).

"The Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all." "He was wounded for our transgressions." Here again we Christadelphians so quickly lapse into the "technical" aspects (the word here almost seems sacrilegious) of Christ's sacrifice. We carefully point out that Christ did not bear the guilt of our sins, that he did not die in our steads. And there is nothing wrong with saying such things, in their proper place. But, is it not possible that we are missing the main point? Call it what you will, hedge it about with exceptions and careful definitions, when all is said and done, HE DID DIE -- and that is the important issue!

Let us be careful here, let us examine ourselves. In our zeal for "truth", are we so caught up in the theory that the fact is almost ignored? Do we suppose that when we have explained, in man's imperfect language, why Christ died, on a legal basis -- that our conception of the cross is complete? No, brethren. This man died because he loved to the uttermost his brethren. Here is the lesson. Christ's way of life, the fellowship he practiced in regular interaction with his brethren, is the challenge to us. Do we perceive that love as an impossible theory -- or as a reality, to be reproduced and practiced by us, here and now? Our Savior calls us, he commands us, he entreats us, insofar as we can, to do as he did. He sets before us an ecclesial life of difficulties, of sorrows, of problems -- and he tells us: 'Bear the infirmities, even the iniquities of your brethren. I died for them; you must live for them. I did not please myself; neither should you. They are all worth saving, they are all worth loving, they are all worth your sacrifices and prayers -- or else none of you are worth it! If you really believe in my love, then you must believe that your ecclesial problems can be solved -- and that love is the key to their solution.'

We break bread and drink wine as a memorial of our fellowship with God through Christ. We do not earn this right; it is a profound privilege and a gift, earned by the sufferings of Christ. It is given freely to sinners, if they will only believe. A fine record of outstanding accomplishment, accompanied by perfect purity of doctrine (remember our "brother" the Pharisee who prayed in the temple!), will not earn us eternal life. The spirit that compasses sea and land to bring division between brethren of Christ for the smallest hint of a cause will not earn eternal life, no matter how zealously exercised that spirit is!

"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Mic 6:8).
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