The Sufferings of Christ

J.W.H. Nichols

Scripture Truth 1940, p. 30, etc.


“Jesus, what memories thrill our hearts,
  Of Thy blest footprints here,
While now to heaven we turn our eyes,
  And gaze upon Thee there.”

What sacred memories must ever associate with "Gethsemane"! John speaks of it (chap. 18) as “a garden”, and to reach this we read, “He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron.” And as we read these words, our thoughts are carried back to another garden where the “first Adam”, under testing, so signally failed and blighted God’s fair creation by his sin, becoming head of a fallen race. “Cedron”, the deep valley east of Jerusalem, giving its name to the “brook”, links our thoughts with David, when all Israel went after the usurper, and the rightful king with a few devoted followers went weeping from Jerusalem, passing over this same brook (2 Sam. 15:23). This was the occasion of David writing Psalm 3 (see title).

Once more the rebellion and hatred of the heart of man had risen to full tide and He who would have gathered Israel's children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings had to solemnly charge home to the nation their sin in the words: “YE WOULD NOT” (Luke 13:24).

The nation knew not the day of her visitation!

While each of the four Gospels gives a record of Gethsemane, Luke dwells most on the sufferings of our blessed Lord, when anticipating in spirit what the drinking of the cup would mean. Luke alone records, “Being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly.” Here only we learn that “His sweat was as great drops of blood.”

All this is entirely in keeping with the character of Luke’s Gospel, where our blessed lord is before us as the “Son of Man.” It is to be remarked that when the cross was actually reached, there was no trace in Luke’s account of agony and sorrow; all this had already been passed through in spirit in communion with the Father. How divinely perfect is the Word of God!

His first utterance on the cross was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His last words, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:34, 46).

Hebrews 5:8 is Gethsemane, and this is found linked with resurrection. “Saved out of death” (N.Tr.). Verse 9 reads, “Having been perfected” (N.Tr.) this is resurrection glory.

But let us reverently dwell upon the sorrows of that blessed Man, conscious however of our human limitations. The three disciples who were privileged to be with Him and witness His kingdom glory upon the mount of transfiguration and hear the Father’s voice declaring His delight in His blessed Son, are now taken aside that they may watch with Him. We read, “He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast,” but how infinite was the distance morally! Indeed who could enter into the meaning of the conflict, as Satan pressed upon His holy soul what it would mean to come in contact with that which He abhorred—sin in all its hideousness and heinousness in the sight of God?

We are told WHO had the power of death (Heb. 2:14) and the sting still remained untaken away. His righteous soul anticipated the load of it. Here in Luke we read: “Being in an agony He prayed more earnestly and His sweat was as great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

In Hebrews 5, “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears.” Precious Saviour and Lord, who can tell the anguish of Thy soul, when the shadow of the cross fell athwart Thy holy pathway? It is for us to worship and adore.

Alas! what is man? We read that “When He arose and came to His disciples He found them sleeping for sorrow.” They had slept in the presence of His anguish, leaving Him alone with God, alone in His sorrows:
  “Hark! what sounds of bitter weeping,
    From yon lonesome garden sweep;
  ’Tis the Lord His vigil keeping,
    While His followers sink in sleep.
  Ah! my soul, it was for thee,

Strengthened by angelic ministry, He came forth as Victor and in self-forgetful love said to His disciples, “Sleep on now and take your rest; behold he that betrayeth Me is at hand.”

After the kiss of the betrayer when the emissaries of the priests and rulers came to seize the Lord, He, in quiet dignity, anticipated them with the enquiry, “Whom seek ye?” and in answer to their reply, “Jesus of Nazareth,” He added, “I am He” (or as the New Trans. reads, I AM). But no hand was laid upon Him. Those words “I AM”, once spoken to Moses, awed them and before His glory they “fell to the ground.”

Who could apprehend Him? Often He had “conveyed Himself away,” when His hour had not come, but now the conflict of Gethsemane over, He is about to take the cup from the Father’s hand and give Himself up to death.

Again He asked them, “Whom seek ye?” Again they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And now, His loving care for His poor failing disciples expressed itself in the words, “If ye seek Me, let these go their way.” And this, we are told, “That the saying might be fulfilled, Of those whom Thou hast given Me have I lost none.” The Shepherd must be smitten, and the sheep scattered (Zech. 13:18).

2. GABBATHA (1 Peter 1:11)

GABBATHA, the Aramaic word for “The Pavement” (John 19:13), must now be the scene of the Holy Sufferer’s testing.

The Chief Priests and Pharisees, having received a band of men and officers—led by the traitor—laid hands upon Him, and led Him away to judgment. Here divine power and glory were evident, yet poor Peter, with weapons of carnal warfare, would ignorantly protect his Master. Who can question his affection? Yet how all this serves to bring out the lack of proper appreciation of this Holy Sufferer! He could have commanded twelve legions of angels for His protection (Matt. 26:53), or annihilated His persecutors with a word; but—reproving Peter—He said: “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” In this His perfect obedience shines out.

Thus, the hardness and profanity of the heart (Judas), and the dullness and fleshly energy of man (Peter) were manifested. We see too, in His disciples, the weakness of the flesh when tested, and finally, the enmity and hatred of man and Satan against the Sinless One. Who can measure the deep sorrow of all this, or enter adequately into the sufferings of the Righteous One?

He allows Himself to be bound, “Led as a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth” (Acts 8:32). Taken—as John alone tells us—before Annas first, in quiet dignity He referred to the testimony of His words, and when one, more open in his contempt and profanity, struck Him, the holy Sufferer bore the insult without a murmur; Peter, in his first epistle, bearing witness that when “suffering He threatened not”. Oh! that we might drink more deeply into His spirit.

From Annas He is seat to Caiaphas the man who had given counsel to the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. He would offer Him up, at the Roman altar, to ensure their peace and favour with Rome. The Holy Spirit however, turned the words to better account, using it as prophetic of a Saviour, the result of whose work would “gather together in one the children of God scattered abroad” (John 11:52).

Before the ecclesiastical court, the council sought false witnesses against the Holy Prisoner, “to put Him to death.” How base and wicked men can be; and yet withal religious and apparently genuinely zealous. Here, He is charged with “blasphemy”—later, before Pilate the charge is “rebellion.” The charge before Caiaphas was a real one, “He had made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). They had been stung to madness by His words in the parable of the vineyard (Matt. 21), and knew the implication of the words “This is the heir, come let us kill him and seize on his inheritance.” Now they are carrying out their base purpose, and are ready to swear anything, if only He might be put to death. Under oath He is commanded to reply if He “be the Christ the Son of Cad.” To this He can give but one answer, “Thou hast said.” Thus He becomes His own witness maintaining the truth of His previous testimony and adding, “Henceforth shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This is characteristic of the testimony in Matthew’s Gospel, and here we find the heads of the nation, lashed to fury against the Saviour, their unrestrained passion surging against Him. While they cry, “He is guilty of death,” the high priest—as if in holy horror—rent his robe and declared the trial ended.

The farcical proceedings over, the holy One condemned, the full tide of evil passion, which had been the true incentive, flows forth unrestrained. Every possible indignity was offered. In derision they spit in His face fulfilling the words of the prophet. “I gave My back to the smiters and My cheeks to those who plucked off the hair, I hid not My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6). No cry comes from the holy Sufferer—He is buffeted and struck, and still answers not a word. “Despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53).

Beloved, He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. Not that we can ever knew those depths of anguish—no CREATURE could do that—but His beautiful spirit of self-abnegation and patience under testing makes us feel what unworthy disciples we are, and must surely create a desire to be more like Him.

We next see our blessed Lord before Pilate, in perfect calm and entire submission. Their charge is laid. First He made Himself the Son of God for this He should die but it was not lawful for them to put any man to death: therefore, they invoke the aid of the Roman power. Secondly, He claimed to be a King. This for the Roman governor, was the more serious, though he made it evident it created no alarm for his Imperial Master. Into the Praetorium the Jews would not enter lest they be defiled, that they might eat the passover”! What solemn mockery! Throughout this whole scene it is evident that Pilate sought to quiet the people, and to release Jesus, recognizing that “for envy they had delivered Him up.” He is evidently conscious that the Prisoner was no ordinary one. His silence, we read, made “the Governor marvel greatly.” This impression was greatly deepened by the varied happenings: his wife’s dream and message, the extreme malice of the Jews, and the unwavering claim of the prisoner that He was the Son of God—all awakened in the mind of this ambitious ruler alarm and misgiving; but the world had too great a hold, and to be a “friend of Caesar” was more to him than justice and truth. However, he laboured to find a way out of the dilemma, again and again stating he found no fault in Him. But the voices of the scribes and elders prevailed, and when as a last resort, he gave the choice of “Barabbas or Jesus,” there was no hesitancy on their part, such as evidently Pilate expected; their decision was made, “NOT THIS MAN BUT BARABBAS”! We read, “now Barabbas was a robber”! Thus the fatal choice was made, and the decision of the nation recorded: “WE WILL NOT HAVE THIS MAN TO REIGN OVER US,” and the multitude take upon their posterity the awful responsibility by crying: “His blood be upon us and our children”. Under this self-expressed judgment they remain until this day.


GOLGOTHA (Hebrew), Calvary (Latin)—“a skull” or “the place of a skull,” outside the walls of Jerusalem, thought to be a hill two hundred and fifty yards west of Damascus gate was the last scene of the Saviour’s sufferings and sorrow.

Matthew (chap. 27:27), depicts the Holy Sufferer delivered into the hands of the soldiers to be crucified.

Every possible indignity He suffered at their blood-stained hands. They stripped Him of His raiment, clothing Him in a scarlet robe (emblem of royalty), and pressed upon that holy brow a crown of thorns—which bore solemn witness to the curse of God resting upon the earth on account of man’s sin, and emblematic surely of the curse He was now taking upon Himself to remove it from man.

Into His hands they thrust a reed, in their wicked minds a rude jest, a mock emblem of a kingly power, but that which expressed weakness may fittingly speak to us of the way He has reached the place of authority and power.

“By weakness and defeat
    He won the mead and crown,
  Trod all our foes beneath His feet
    By being trodden down.”

While it would seem that the Holy Sufferer was wholly in their hands, who can fail to see that behind all they did, a higher power ordered the details and caused “the wrath of men to praise Him.” They bowed the knee saying, “Hail, King of the Jews,” and since no retaliation came from that blessed One, their satire and mockery was turned to absolute brutality; they derisively spat upon Him and smote Him. All this but fulfilled the words of the prophet “I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6); and He Himself had said “The Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and unto the scribes and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him: and the third day He shall rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).

“Golgotha—the place of a skull,” emblematic surely of the world where death reigns on account of sin, is the place to which He in love was brought. John says, “He went forth bearing His cross,” which beautifully accords with the presentation of the “burnt offering” in his Gospel, as does every detail given by this evangelist. In the other Gospels Simon, a Cyrenian, is compelled to bear the cross, but we may gather from Mark (who tells us he was the father of Alexander and Rufus), that his was no irksome service! What a privilege indeed was his to be so identified with the Holy Sufferer.

Upon that hill of Calvary they crucified the Sinless One, associating with Him in that death two whose sins were too heinous to allow them to live, but even in this the scripture was fulfilled. “He made His grave (death) with the wicked.” The literal translation of Isaiah 53:9 is better understood, viz: “And they appointed His grave with the wicked, but He was with the rich in His death.” Man would have buried that holy body in the potter’s field, but the Father’s loving care ordered otherwise.

Over the cross, the “superscription of His accusation”—written by Pilate—was placed: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37). We are told by John that the title was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Here again the hand of omnipotence is seen, for God would bring in the whole world guilty of this foul crime. The religious world (Hebrew), the heathen world (Greek), the political world (Latin)—all had their parts in the rejection and crucifixion of the Holy Son of God. The Jews were stung by the form of the sentence, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews,” and would fain have it changed, but Pilate is adamant. Indeed, it was but the truth, and written under God’s compelling power so that it could not be altered.

The fatal choice had been made, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Does not the very name speak their awful condition of hatred? “Bar-Abbas,” “son of the father,” doubtless foreshadowing the Antichrist who will “come in his own name,” and be received by the apostate nation, only to reap the bitter fruit of their fatal choice. The Holy Sufferer would receive no stupefying draught, but tasted to the full the untold sufferings of that cross of shame.

Psalm 69 especially gives us to understand, in some measure, what this Blessed One suffered at the hands of men; there we see the Righteous One, the victim of unrighteous men, hated without cause, reproach and shame covering His face, broken-hearted, with naught to mitigate His grief, alone in His sorrows, man pouring out all the bitter hatred pent up in the human heart against God for four millenniums. And the Jews in their senseless rage join a malefactor in deriding and insulting their King, in their blind unbelief quoting their own prophetic Scriptures, “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him!” Could human rage do more? Scripture says, “Sitting down they watched Him these.” Man had done his worst and in crowning wickedness sat down to watch the dying agonies of the Holy Sufferer. What a spectacle!

Then hear the one righteous Man, who with perfect truth could say, “I do always those things which please the Father,” cry at the very end, in the midst of the greatest stress, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Here He enters the last phase of His sufferings, and who shall tell the untold depths to which He went, or fathom the sorrows He endured when He was delivered as a victim unto death, enduring it as the judgment of God. Yet He gave to God glory in the words of Psalm 22, “But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Prophetically it was written, “The pains of hell got hold upon Me.” How we are made to realize our own limitations as we dwell upon the depth of His sufferings! A writer has said, “One after another the waves of wickedness dashed against Him, but the depths beneath that awaited Him, who could fathom His heart, His soul—vessel of divine love—could alone go deeper than the bottom of that abyss, which sin had opened for man, to hang up those who lay there after He had endured its pains in His own soul. A heart that had ever been faithful was forsaken of God. Where sin had brought man, love brought the Lord, but with a nature and an apprehension in which there was no distance, no separation, so that it should be felt in all its fulness. No one but He who was in that place could fathom it!”

The storm is hushed, and from out of the darkness is heard the cry, “it is finished,” then with a “loud voice”, (no sign of exhaustion apparent) the blessed Sufferer commended His spirit to His Father and expired. In Matthew’s Gospel the results are before us.
  First, the veil is rent from the top to the bottom. God is no longer hidden, the Jewish system represented by that veil entirely done away, distance has been removed God and the sinner brought together in the death of Christ.
  Second, going into death, He annulled Satan’s power and triumphed over it. Many bodies of the saints arose. All blessing now is associated with resurrection.
  Third, blessing goes beyond Israel. The centurion on guard renders the first Gentile testimony, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

It is significant that it is John who tells us a soldier pierced His side and that from a dead Saviour there flowed the blood and water tokens of a blessed and perfect salvation cleansing and pardon henceforth as the fruit of death for the one who believes.

“Lord, we joy Thy toils are ended,
    Glad Thy suffering time is o’er.
  To Thy Father’s throne ascended
    There Thou livest to die no more.
  Sing, my soul, He loved thee,
  Jesus gave Himself for me.”