God So Loved the World

The Servant of God Suffers

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This week is the most sombre of all weeks of the Christian year: this week we begin our journey towards Calvary – a striking reminder of the suffering of any servant of God. The readings for this Sunday, Palm Sunday, bear the weight of the week and do justice to the passion we experience on Good Friday. The Lesson, Isaiah 50:4-9a sinks into the intensity of the week at verse 6: ‘I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting’. The Response, Psalm 31:9-16, begins with an impassioned plea to God, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly’. Next there’s the Epistle, Philippians 2:5-11 in which Paul calls on the church of Philippi to have the same mind of Christ – a mind of obedience and humility – a mind that allowed Christ to suffer, ‘to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (verse 8).

Finally, the Gospel, Matthew 26:14-27:66, one of the longest in the Liturgical Year, allows us to relive very slowly the passion of Christ, journeying from the Last Supper to the placement of Jesus in the tomb. The story today ends in darkness – the Redeemer being shut in a tomb, His followers – ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary’ sitting and waiting…no doubt, they too, did suffer seeing the one whom they loved brutalised in the way that He had been.

There is no denying: suffering is part of the inheritance of the servant of God. I have heard people ask, ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?’ Have we ever considered though, why does a good God suffer the rejection of His people? Why does a faithful God endure the denial of those who were made in His image and likeness? Why does a loving God withstand insults from a faithless people? Friends, suffering is part of the journey of faith. And while our suffering might not involve crucifixion, our suffering does involve financial challenges, painful separations from those whom we love, betrayal by those who, we thought, had loved us. Our suffering includes loss of employment, loss of property. Our suffering includes false accusations from others. Our suffering includes sickness. It includes extended periods of testing and preparation, even preparation for exams. What about loneliness, fear, distress? Indeed, as servants of God, we too do suffer. Be comforted, beloveds, for there is purpose in our suffering: our suffering preserves our connection to the Suffering Servant who died that we might live.

Jesus, the Suffering Servant, came to serve and not to be served as we will be reminded on Maundy Thursday when we relive the ‘Washing of the Feet’. Jesus loved us to death – His death on a cross. Jesus, Suffering Servant cried out to His Father, ‘”Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ Jesus, the Suffering Servant, pleaded three times with His Father that He would spare Him His fate, yet submitted Himself in full obedience, humility, and love to this awful fate. Jesus loved us to death, even death on a cross.

Jesus Who Came to Serve Suffered for Our Sake

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Jesus, the Suffering Servant, in love endured the betrayal by Judas. Mind you, Judas was chosen as a disciple (as one of The Twelve) out of the hundreds who followed Jesus. Yet, the Suffering Servant loved Judas. Jesus, the Suffering Servant endured the denial by Peter who insisted in Matthew 26:35, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ Jesus, the Suffering Servant, endured the falling asleep of His disciples who could not stay awake while He prayed in the Garden. Jesus, the Suffering Servant endured the scattering of the disciples, when in the face of the crowds who had come to arrest Jesus, they deserted him and fled (Matthew 26:56). Jesus, the Suffering Servant, offered no defence to the false accusations against Him. Jesus the Suffering Servant, did not fight back when he was spat upon, whipped, vilified, mocked, ridiculed, and made to carry His own cross. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, accepted His fate at the hands of the cowardly Pilate who ‘washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves’ as we read in today’s Gospel. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, dear ones, did all this because He loved us. God, the Father, suffered this with His Son because He loved us.

This Love suffered much for our sake. This Love that chose to lay down His life for us offers us forgiveness. This Love offers us completeness. This Love offers us peace, patience, humility, kindness, gentleness, self-control, generosity, and joy. This Love offers us faithfulness. This Love that will not let us go is as deep as it is wide.

What Disqualifies You from the Love that Suffered for You?

So now I ask, what have you done that disqualifies you from God’s love? What is the grave, unpardonable sin that you have committed that makes you the only one God can never forgive? What has removed you from the limitlessness of God’s love that you cannot be reconciled to the Father through the Son? What, my friend, has made you any worse an offender than the bloodthirsty ones who cried out, ‘His blood be on us and our children!’ when Pilate, in his cowardice, handed Jesus over to them to do with Him as they chose?

I continue with the questions: What unsalvageable situation do you now find yourself in that God’s love, which shepherds us through the darkest valleys, cannot salvage? What hopeless condition faces you that the love of God cannot redeem? Which loss of life have you suffered that the love of God cannot replace? What test are you now enduring that is greater than the capacity of God’s love to support you? What, beloved, has made you the only exception to God’s love? We are reminded in John 3:16 that ‘God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ So again, I ask, what has removed you from this world and therefore from under the cover of God’s love?

Dear one, in Romans 8, Paul tells us that no one and nothing separates us from the love of Christ: not hardship, distress, persecution, famine or nakedness. Not peril, not the sword. In all these we are more than conquerors, Paul says, through Him who loved us. Paul ends the chapter celebrating,

‘[…] I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Romans 8:38-39

Nothing Separates You from God’s Love

So, again, I ask, what has deemed you unworthy of God’s love? What has removed you from God’s love. My assurance to you is, just as Paul’s: nothing and no one has separated you from God’s love. Nothing and no one can or will ever be able to separate you from God’s love. Remember, according to Romans 5:5, that love was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Reassured by God’s love, then, I now invite you to make the journey to Calvary. For the Suffering Servant was vindicated when, on the third day, He rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. Make the journey whatever you are enduring at the current moment, for your vindication is also at hand. Draw strength and be reminded of the love of the Father in reflecting upon the words of the prophet in Isaiah 50:7, ‘The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near’. Continue in the fulfilment of your purpose as you, like the psalmist pray in Psalm 31, ‘Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me’. Know that they who are called to Christ are justified by God, and those who are justified are also glorified when you reflect upon the words of Paul to the Philippians in Chapter 2 of the letter to them, ‘Therefore God highly exalted Him’. My dear ones, be not dismayed for God in His love does not let us go’. Journey faithfully and confidently this week for you and I know that, as secure as the guards made the tomb by sealing the stone, that is not the end of the story of the Suffering Servant, neither will it be the end of our story.

Let Us, Too, Love As He Loves Us

As we journey to Calvary this week, let us keep in mind the prayer of this week’s Collect: a prayer that acknowledges God’s tender love for us which caused God to send His Son in human form, to suffer death upon the cross for our sake. The Collect this week acknowledges the example of great humility that comes through God’s tender love. Finally, this prayer asks that we may walk in the way of Christ’s suffering. My dear ones, it is only in walking in that suffering that we can, as we also pray in the Collect, share in Christ’s resurrection. And as we share in Christ’s resurrection, may we also learn to love the way Christ, who is the Way, taught us to love – forgiving those who have wronged us, forgiving ourselves, and laying down our lives, whatever that looks like for us, for the sake of another.

Beloveds, I have shared with you in the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the joy of the Spirit.

One response to “God So Loved the World”

  1. […] it is you might be enduring at present. There is nothing that the love of God cannot overcome, as shared with you last week. While you wait on your moment of completion, borrowing a verse from today’s Epistle (Colossians […]


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