God’s Purpose in Dark Times
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. –Isaiah 53:5-6
This is the promise of the Messiah to come prophesied by Isaiah. I believe this was the first section of Isaiah 53 that I remember hearing, but I’ve come to deeply love and appreciate the entire chapter. It has given me great comfort during challenging times in my life as God revealed to me the depth to which Christ suffered for us. I would like to take a deeper look into Jesus Christ’s suffering and how suffering relates to us as believers.
Suffering—I am not an expert on this subject. Much of the world around me has experienced or is experiencing greater human suffering than I have ever experienced, but it is a subject that everyone can relate to.
What is suffering? It is “The state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship” (Google). No matter who you are, you will experience this on some level. Some suffering is self-induced, a consequence of sin choices in our lives. Some suffering is a result of obedience to Christ, choosing the narrow road, picking up our cross daily to follow Him (Luke 9:23). Some suffering results from spiritual darkness—in a country, in a government, in a region of the world. And the list goes on. So how do we view suffering in our lives? Is it a by-product of Satan’s dominion in the world? I have heard people say that it is not God’s design, but because this is a “broken world” suffering continues.
We must not think this way. Suffering is determined by God. We experience it for His purpose—to drive us to our need and His design to make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4), for us to seek Him as our whole supply, and for believers to give testimony to our total answer in Christ. Isaiah 53 shows how our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, suffered greatly:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted…
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. –Isaiah 53:2-4, 10
This passage gives us great insight into Jesus Christ as a person and into our Father and His purpose for us. Jesus was 100% man and 100% God; He experienced life as we do, encompassing the entire depth of the soul realm. It always strikes me when I read that He was “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.” The God of the universe in human form did not lead a happy life. From His beginnings, He was born in a stable, He was a refugee in his childhood to escape being killed by Herod, He came from the nobody town of Nazareth, He lacked physical beauty, He was employed as a lowly carpenter, He was criticized and ridiculed by the respected community (the religious Jews), and He was killed on a cross (punishment for criminals)—for all of humanity—for sinners—when he was a sinless man. Not only this, but it was His Father who determined this to happen. But Why? To complete His perfect purpose for humanity and the world.
Just the same, we are here to be containers of Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit is working in and through us in accordance to God’s will: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). When I look at personal circumstances that are painful or difficult, I am reminded that this life is like a vapor (James 4:14), and that this life is in preparation for our life in eternity. I am reminded that this is not “my” life, but it’s Christ’s life to live through me. We are here on this earth to contain Him, to bring others to faith in Christ Jesus, to bring glory to God. I am reminded that as a sinner I deserve the greatest suffering—death, total separation from God. But God has made a provision for me and for you In sending His Son to take our punishment.
It is therefore a privilege to suffer in His name. Again, James tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”(James 1:2-3). Our suffering is an opportunity to mature in faith. Perhaps most importantly, it is an opportunity to be a witness and testify to others, so that “we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).