The cross of Christ addresses our worst problem as humans — not the evil done to us, but the evil we choose to do. The evil we choose produces the greatest possible harm to us, because it does not superficially harm us, but anchors our being in guilt and shame and darkness. When we sin, we hide in shame, because it is evil we had control over and chose anyway. We can take much comfort that the cross of Christ so richly and definitively addresses our guilt. However, we might be led to believe that the cross of Christ only speaks to our sin and is useless to address the evil that comes to us which we did not choose. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In the midst of our very real lives, in our frustrations and disappointments and broken dreams and suffering and trauma, it is tempting to think that God in His heaven is so perfect and holy and removed from it all that He doesn’t understand what we are going through. How could we pray to a God who is only a Spirit, who has always been perfect and has never experienced the kinds of suffering and temptation and failure that we have experienced? The Cross of Christ declares that God has indeed come into the world as flesh and blood, and that He is able to sympathize with our problems, because He has lived through similar hardships.
17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
Hebrews 2:17-18 (NASB)
The Cross of Christ declares that God understands human suffering, because He has suffered in a similar way. He has been made like His brethren (that’s us) in all things. Perhaps you or someone you know has said that it is difficult to approach God as a Father, because their father was cold, cruel, distant, or neglectful. When Jesus was on the cross, in His darkest hour and His time of greatest need, He cried out for His Father’s help, and there was silence:
45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
Matthew 27:45-50 (NASB)
Perhaps you have cried out for help in some way, and there was no help at all. Maybe you have felt that the whole world misunderstands you and offers you a false comfort. You are right! The half-hearted self-serving comfort they offered was sour wine on a sponge when you were dying. I may not know how you feel directly, but Jesus understands, and sympathizes. He has learned through His sufferings a very great compassion for you (Hebrews 5:8). The entire world rejected Jesus to the point of killing Him; at the point of His death He was isolated and abandoned. No cavalry appeared on the horizon at the last minute to rescue Him. No last minute miracle came along and saved Him from this awful fate. He actually was tortured and stripped naked and nailed to a cross and raised up publicly outside the city.
In the prime of His life, at the height of His influence and ministry, He was cut down. Perhaps you have felt like you were all dressed up and ready, full of hope and life and optimism, and your dreams were cut off before they could come to fruition. Someone close to us died young, in the prime of life when their promise was great. God knows the tragedy of this. God understands this terrible grief.
Perhaps you have felt that you were betrayed by your family or close friends or your church. In your time of greatest need, someone important did not come to your aid, but kept apart and aloof from you. Perhaps they left you dangling on your own and even accused you falsely to further their own interests. I know I have seen that kind of thing happen in the workplace a number of times, and it is a comfort to know that Jesus has a great deal of compassion for that kind of thing, because He has lived through it in a dramatic way.
Perhaps in your field of expertise, you are very good at what you do. However, for some strange reason, politics or just fate, you are not honored. You remain on the periphery of the elite movers and shakers in your field, and they seem possibly even a bit hostile to you. The major contributions you could make are marginalized and rejected, or others take your work and your ideas and put them forward as your own while you remain in obscurity. Jesus was the Messiah, and the religious elite only wanted to discredit Him, and in the end they conspired together to actually kill Him. You think He doesn’t understand how you feel, and have compassion?
6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7 (NASB)
With others, their suffering can become a badge of honor by which they can boast and best your suffering. They want to impress others with the fact that they are better because they have suffered more. With Jesus it is never so. His suffering serves to make Him all the more compassionate. In fact, He wears His suffering on into His resurrected body (John 20:27), and by His scars we recognize Him. He stands on the very throne of God as a lamb who was slain because He will forever be the compassionate savior who understands what we have been through. It is in fact through our sufferings that we have fellowship with Him (Philippians 3:10), because by His sufferings we know He has compassion on our plight and through our suffering we understand the depth of His sacrifice and love for us. No other faith gives such a great comfort and compassion in the face of the evil within us and that afflicts us!