As we prepare for Sunday worship I urge you to continue to pray for those who will accept our invitation to come join us in worship.

Continue to demonstrate the welcoming spirit of Christ as we gather on Sunday morning.

Prepare yourself spiritually for worship by praying for an open heart, open mind, and the strength to serve. Read the following: Matthew 27, Psalm 22, Romans 8.

The Passion of the Christ
Order of Worship and Discipleship:


This question is asked by one of the thieves who will be crucified beside Jesus.
He is amazed that Jesus does not resist but actually takes up the cross with resolve and a prayer of acceptance to God.

Can’t we appreciate the thief’s amazement?
      Why not fight? Why not resist? Why not protest in the face of such injustice and tragedy?

Matthew 27

Why God? If any of the statements from the cross trouble us, it is probably this one. Why would Jesus say this? It seems the opposite of the attitude that "embraces" the cross. When Jesus says this he seems too human. He seems to doubt. He seems upset with God. Theological rationales don’t remove the emotional impact of this verse. Even the crowds aren’t sure of what they’re hearing and suppose that this is some cry to Elijah.

Maybe this word from the cross shocks and offends because in this statement, more than any others, we come closest to the suffering Jesus.

And there is a tendency in our world to deny suffering. Some protested the Passion of the Christ saying that it was too agonizing.

But we dare not ignore the suffering (the Passion) for if we do we lose a very important dimension of the gospel. We also deny good news to those of us who do suffer and grieve ...

Jesus’ cry to God is the first line of an ancient song, Psalm 22. Why would Jesus recite from this Psalm. It will become clear as we read these excerpts from the Psalm.

Psalm 22

Knowing this Psalm and knowing that it would have been in the heart as well as on the lips of Jesus as he embraced the cross speaks to us about the realities of suffering and God’s response when we suffer ...

  1. God With Us

    Suffering is not always the result of bad choices and sin. To ask, "Who sinned?" or "Who’s fault is this?" is not a always the right approach.

    God offers no polished answer for "Why?" But he does answer. He does arrive and shares in the conversation. Now God is not an outsider looking in on us, he is within. He participates and shares. Jesus is God who has come to dwell with us. He identifies with us so that we may outlast the suffering.

    Psalm 22: O LORD, do not stay away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!
    When we suffer, we can know that God is not far away – he participates in our suffering with us. He is Immanuel – even when life is difficult.

  2. All Gain, No Pain

    By embracing the cross, by choosing to suffer with us, Jesus challenges a false motto of our age – "All Gain, No Pain."

    Those who suffer in our culture are made to feel worse when no medicine, no prayer, no counseling, no program, no ministry can alleviate their suffering. Eventually we tend to think that people bring about their own suffering.

    There has been much effort put into ignoring and denying pain in our society.

    "Well, let's take what people think is a dignified death. Christ, was that a dignified death? Do you think it's dignified to hang from wood with nails through your hands and feet bleeding, hang for three or four days slowly dying, with people jabbing spears into your side, and people jeering you? Do you think that's dignified? Not by a long shot. Had Christ died in my van with people around Him who loved Him, the way it was, it would be far more dignified. In my rusty van." - Jack Kevorkian - National Press Club - July 29, 1996
    Maybe Kevorkian is an extreme, but lest we judge the "world" too quickly, we ought to also realize that this is true of the church. Browse any Christian bookstore or catalogue and it is obvious that "gospels" of health, wealth, happiness, and success have often distracted the church from the reality of suffering.
    This is why the Passion of the Christ has been such a scandal and phenomenon. It has made a culture in denial accept the fact that real suffering does exist in the world. [The media hypocrisy of decrying this movie – when they report daily on suffering and tragedy.]
    We try to gloss over the reality of pain and suffering – but the cross breaks through to show us that God will not ignore it – he cares, he cries, he grieves!

    "For he has not ignored the suffering of the weak. He has not turned and walked away. He has listened to their cries for help."– Ps. 22:24
    If it has accomplished anything, it has served as a message to awaken the CHURCH to the reality of suffering. And if we realize the suffering of Christ, let us also recognize the suffering of others.

  3. Entrust and Endure

    Matthew says that after Jesus said My God, My God he shouted then gave up his spirit. What did he shout?
    Luke says that these were his final words - Then Jesus shouted, "Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!" And with those words he breathed his last. – Luke 23:46

    It certainly fits with the spirit of Psalm 22 - You heard their cries for help and saved them.
          They put their trust in you and were never disappointed.

The Good News

At the heart of the gospel response is God’s solidarity with the suffering.
Christ is a sympathetic priest who was tested and suffered – just like us. (Heb. 4:14-5:7).
The apostle Peter reminded the suffering Christians of his day that they could cast all their anxiety on God "because he cares." (1 Pet. 5:6-10).
We are not alienated from God when we suffer, rather we are drawn closer to his love. No suffering can separate us from the love of God. (Rom. 8:38-39).

God’s faithful love is transforming. Love and suffering are part of being human. Paul, Peter and James all agree that the experience of suffering can lead to maturity – Jesus embraced human suffering so that we might embrace his love. (See Rom. 5:3-5; 1 Peter 5:6-10; 2 Peter 1:5-11; James 1:2-7).

The Church of the Suffering Servant

Though we know very little about Simon from Cyrene in the gospels, his role in the event is a powerful symbol. Here is a man who is forced to carry the cross of Jesus. The portrayal of Simon in the movie is comment on the church and our culture. At first Simon wants nothing to do with the cross. He wants to deny it and refuse to accept it. But he is forced to carry it by the brutish Romans who insist on the way of violence. Simon is changed as he finds that Jesus even cares for him. Jesus could have let Simon carry the cross – his own cross – alone, but Jesus steps in and the image of Simon and Jesus bearing a cross side by side is an image for the church. Jesus and us bearing one another’s burdens!

Like Jesus, we must be a friend to others in the midst of suffering. The church must refuse to ignore suffering. We are called to provide a place where suffering, especially unmerited suffering, is met with unmerited grace extended by the Suffering Servant who invites us into the suffering of others and promises to meet us there.
Such a church is the embodiment of good news.

When my wife suffered unexplained seizures in the summer of 1999 I also suffered from the anxiety of uncertainty. I felt our love threatened by forces beyond our control. I shared my concern with my brothers and sisters in the church everywhere. I was blessed by the testimony of a woman who had also suffered with unexplained illness. Rather than ignore our suffering, she shared her story and her gospel. Her word of good news however was not simply that God healed her, but also that God gave her strength to endure.

I understood that the gospel response is not just the elimination of suffering, but the sufficient love and grace not to be destroyed by it. Our suffering would have been magnified if it had been denied. If we had no place in the community to share this burden. If we had been told to shelve our pain and anxiety.

Jesus does not ignore the suffering. He embraces the cross. He expresses the faith that God’s love can transform the suffering. We share that faith and say to all – We have a friend in Jesus who does not deny pain and suffering. We pledge ourselves to the hurting as a community formed beneath the cross of Jesus and sharing in His strength to endure.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 28 March 2004

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