Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week Bible Study: Subsititutions

Ps 41; Lamentations 1:1-12a; 2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Mark 11:12-26

Discussion & Study

  1. Lamentation’s author writes during the exile period, while the horrific events of the fall of Jerusalem are within living memory. Verse 12 asks, “Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?” Do you think that the exiles’ grief was unique in history?
  2. Compare Ps 41 and the Lamentations passage. What are the sources of the writers’ afflictions? Are the afflictions deserved?
  3. According to the 2 Corinthians passage, what bearing does the guilt or innocence of the believer have upon God’s purposes for the suffering of believers?


How shall we make sense of Christ’s sufferings? How shall we make sense of our own? He, who deserved only blessing and glory, endured the most devastating losses, the most hideous sufferings imaginable. We, who deserve punishment, receive forgiveness, release from retribution, but often we suffer where we have given no offense.

What does it mean? God’s Word indicates that, as believers, our sufferings have less to do with punishing us for our misdeeds and more to do with expanding our usefulness in Christ’s Kingdom. Christ’s sufferings were categorically undeserved. Yet He expected to suffer, indeed it was his purpose to suffer. Why? In order to become more useful to His Father. By suffering, Jesus opened fellowship between sinful humans and God. He satisfied the just penalty for all His people’s transgressions of God’s righteous law. Having experienced sorrows Himself, He became able to sympathize with ours. He became our comfort, and offers a dignity and a purpose for our own suffering.

Today’s Lamentations passage gives us a perplexing example. In Jeremiah’s time (the author of Lamentations), Jerusalem fell to Babylon. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and invaded by foreign pagans. The imagery here compares the Temple to a virgin forcibly taken. Yet it was through Israel’s disobedience that the entrance of Gentiles into the Temple was a violent, shameful thing, a rape rather than a wedding. Israel’s commission from God was to disciple the nations, to bring them into God’s presence properly, not simply to exclude everyone born outside of Israel. Jesus’ words as he cursed the fig tree symbolic of Israel bear this out: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.” By Jeremiah’s day, Israel had rejected God’s commission by mixing the true worship of YHWH with the religions of the Canaanite nations around them. Allowing the destruction of the Temple was God bringing physical reality to reflect the spiritual reality that Judah’s worship had already been corrupted.

By Jesus’ time, the Jews no longer mixed their worship with pagan rites. Instead they had invented their own regulations, which were not intended to disciple the nations, but were designed to keep Gentiles out. They had substituted their ways for God’s ways, their purposes for God’s purposes. They looked like a fruitful tree. A fig tree puts out leaves after its fruit is ripe, so even though "it was not the season for figs”, Jesus reasonably expected to find fruit there. But the tree, like Israel in Jesus’ day, had perverted the order of their Creator. At the crucifixion, the Temple was forcibly opened to the whole world, the separating veil ripped, not by invading pagans, but by the mighty hands of the God who will not be thwarted by man’s pettiness or sin. Jesus’ suffering ushered the Gentiles into the Temple on the arm of the tender Bridegroom who knows what it is to be rejected.

We are called to imitate Christ. It is clear that we must expect to suffer in a fallen world. So we ought to learn to view our afflictions as we view His. Having experienced our Lord’s comfort in trouble, we suffer so that we may become comforters. Enduring trials as He did, we earn not justification, but glory which reflects upon Christ’s worthiness.

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