For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, (1 Peter 3:18, NKJV)
On the one hand, the statement “Christ still suffers” sounds almost heretical, at least from an evangelical Protestant viewpoint. How could Christ still suffer? Was not His sacrifice fully accomplished on the Cross? Did He not say, “It is finished” (John 19:30)? Has He not paid the full price for our sin, so that no further price need be paid? How could He who has overcome death still be subject to the pangs of sorrow and the throes of grief?
On the other hand, the statement “Christ still suffers” is so common among Christians (including evangelical Protestants) as to be almost trite. For the Church is the Body of Christ -- and there is no question that Church still suffers for His sake. “Where Christ Still Suffers” is the caption on a widely-circulated map showing countries where Christians are still under persecution. Long after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Paul still said, “I fill up in my own body the measure of the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24).
Of course most Protestants who say, “Christ still suffers” consider this merely as a figurative way of saying that Christians suffer persecution as Christ once did. But is there in fact a deeper sense in which Christ Himself still suffers personally, and not just Christians on His behalf?
There is no reason to suppose that at the current time Christ bodily abides within the fabric of space and time. The question, “what is Christ feeling now?” may not even make sense, because He is not “now” located within our space-time framework. Nonetheless, in some sense He definitely does share our present experience. He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He also said, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, then I am present in their midst” (Matthew 18:20) Jesus has assured us that His Holy Spirit is present among us, and resident within us. Now Christ and His Spirit are so closely connected that what one feels, the other also feels. As Paul says, “For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11)
There is abundant evidence in Scripture that the Spirit of Christ suffers as He shares our experience. Paul tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us with unutterable groanings (Romans 8:26-27). Paul goes even farther, stating that all creation groans in expectation of God’s revelation (Romans 8:21-22). It is not actually the inanimate objects of nature which groan, but the Spirit expressing through them His deep yearning that all creation might be redeemed.
Paul expresses deep empathy for his brothers and sisters in Christ: “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:29, NIV) Did Paul have these feelings of himself? Were not these the stirrings of Christ’s Spirit within him? If so, we cannot escape the conclusion that the Spirit of Christ suffers. And since Christ identifies Himself so closely with His Spirit, then we must conclude that Christ also suffers as He shares our experiences.
Christ said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) Many people take this only figuratively. I believe that Jesus’ words here have a deeper significance. When we bless our brothers, He personally feels their joy. When we fail to bless, He personally suffers with those that we fail.
Jesus’ sufferings did not end on the Cross. The Cross was the ultimate physical expression of Jesus’ self-sacrifice which transcends physics, whose reverberations were manifest before the foundation of the world and continue until the present day. Just as Jesus Christ was the visible image of the God who is ultimately invisible Spirit, so the Cross of Jesus is the visible representation of an ultimately spiritual sacrifice. This spiritual sacrifice continues to be offered daily in the bodies of His faithful ones. By this sacrifice Jesus says to us, “No matter how deeply you wound Me, no matter how badly you fail Me and abuse Me and ignore Me, still I am willing to bear the consequences. I am willing to lay myself down for you, because I love you.”
As Christians, our lives should be an expression of the sacrifice of Christ, as He suffers in us on others’ behalf.
By the way, I do not believe, as some Catholics apparently do, that the sacrament of Communion is a literal re-enactment of Christ’s death, with bread and wine which are His real body and His real blood. This view misses the point entirely. The “real presence” of Christ is not in the bread and wine, but in those who partake. The Cross is re-enacted, or better re-expressed, when Christians by offering themselves share in the sufferings of Christ, and Christ in turn shares their sufferings through His Spirit resident within them. Communion is both a remembrance of Jesus’ one-time physical death on the Cross (Luke 22:19), as well as a reminder of the current reality of Christ’s continued suffering in and with His saints.
“Jesus, keep me near the Cross; There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream Flows from Calvary’s mountain
In the Cross, in the Cross, be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find Rest beyond the river.”
Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: April 22, 2002
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