Reading: John 14:6; Acts 9:1-2; 16:17; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22; Luke 22:14-23.
We come now to the fifth of the five major features of Christ as the Way - the meaning of His sufferings and the little clause - "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). The table of the Lord particularly, brings into view His sufferings. It is meant to keep His sufferings in view, and inasmuch as He gave them the cup and the loaf, He called them into fellowship with Him in His sufferings. These are not His vicarious sufferings. We have no place or part in His atoning sufferings, His redeeming sufferings. Blessed be God, He did that completely, fully, utterly alone. We can add nothing to that, and there is no need for us to add anything. It is complete and finished. But the New Testament makes it perfectly clear that there is a side of the sufferings of Christ into which we are called, what Paul calls "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:10); not atoning, not redeeming, not vicarious, but the fellowship of sufferings. We will see what those are as we go on, and what that means.
Let us understand right away that whenever we as Christians come to the Lord's table, we are declaring that we are in the way of His sufferings. Whatever else that table may represent - and it does represent a number of other things - inclusively and pre-eminently it represents His sufferings. There is an aspect of His cup which He will offer to us to drink. There is an aspect of His brokenness into which He will bring us.
His table, the symbol and representation of His sufferings, embodies all that we have said, the whole of the five things. It sets forth His unique humanity, for it is a Body which is different. It sets forth the end of an old life; it sets forth the beginning of a new, a risen Life, anointed and devoted to God. It sets forth His holy, pure and heavenly walk, and it sets forth that aspect of His sufferings which is vicarious. All that is crowded into the testimony of the Lord's table, and we have all those things before us whenever we come to the Lord's table.
But having said that, let us come exactly to this point. When we speak of Him as the Way and when Christianity at its pure heavenly beginnings was called the Way, that way is, whatever else it is, the way of His sufferings. We need perhaps to make some little adjustment to that fact. A very selfish Gospel is being preached nowadays. The popular Gospel is the Gospel of what comes to those who will accept Christ in the way of their own personal benefits - attractions, offers, almost bribes, prizes and presents and what not; that side of things which is to anybody an attraction, what anybody naturally might want - peace, assurance of forgiveness, a way to heaven, and joy; all those things which will come to the individual who will accept Christ. Now those things may be quite true, but there may be something of a hidden deception, and it may lay the foundation for a good deal of subsequent disillusionment, not that the joy will not be forthcoming, or the peace, or the pardon, or the heaven. But it might be after a while that those who came in on that ground only would say, 'You did not let me know what I was in for; if I had known what I was in for, I probably would have thought more seriously about it; you made it too cheap.' Now the Lord Jesus never did that. Whatever He offered of pardon and peace, of joy, (and He did offer those things), He always offered them in fellowship with His sufferings, that is, He always was perfectly honest, candid, frank about this. "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:27).
And in other such words at the beginning He made it perfectly clear that this was going to be no joyride to heaven. If that were all, if we left it there, of course, it might be disconcerting, it might set some back. But you see first of all, the Lord is not going to minister to our selfishness by His Christianity. Christianity is no ministration to anyone's natural self-interest. Therefore the Gospel which Christ preached and which the apostles preached, and the Way which they presented, was no cheap way, no easy way. It was the way of suffering. It is to be noted that on every occasion when that phrase occurred in relation to Christianity in the beginning - the Way - it was connected with opposition. The very first time that it is mentioned was in connection with persecutions through Saul of Tarsus, and what bitter and terrible persecutions they were, something that followed and haunted that man himself to his dying day. "I persecuted the church" (Gal. 1:13). "When the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving" (Acts 22:20).
When Paul said that years after, there was a sob in his throat. The way from the beginning was the way of opposition, and, I repeat, every time that it is mentioned as such it is in connection with trouble. "There occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way" (Acts 19:23). "Speaking evil of the Way" (Acts 19:9). That is the connection all the way through, the Way which is the way of suffering.
Fellowship in Relation to the Supreme Purpose of God
But we must redeem that from oppression or depression. That does
not mean that gloom should at once gather over the way. This
suffering, this fellowship with Christ's suffering, is fellowship
in co-operation with God and with Christ in relation to the supreme
purpose of this universe. God is committed to immense things where
this universe is concerned. God has committed Himself to wonderful
things where this race is concerned, and God is working out those
purposes and they are being worked out through the cross of the
Lord Jesus; they are being worked out through the sufferings of
Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings; in other words, the
fellowship of God's eternal purpose. It is to be hand in hand with
God in the working out of the things of His own heart. Paul saw
that; he was a man who knew something about the fellowship of
Christ's sufferings. He could say the "sufferings of Christ are
ours in abundance" (2 Cor. 1:5). He could speak of, "I do my share
on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is
lacking in Christ's afflictions" (Col. 1:24). He knew something
about it and not a little, but at last right at the end he cries -
"that I may know Him... and the fellowship of His sufferings"
(Phil. 3:10). What does he mean? Is he inviting trouble? Is he
such a fire-eater? - let any suffering come, I can take it!? That
is not the spirit, that is not the attitude, that is not the
Paul, perhaps more than anyone else, knew what God was after, what God was engaged upon, the great eternal counsels of God, and saw that because of things being as they were and are, the only way for their realization is through travail and through anguish. It is out of the pangs that the new creation will be born. "The whole creation", said he, "groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now"; "the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:22,19). Out of the pangs of creation, the sons of God will be born. Paul said, 'I share the pangs which will produce the sons; I share the travail which will bring forth to new creation, and that is a high honour; that transfigures the sufferings, that gives an altogether new angle to this Way.'
Oh, that we might find the transfiguration of all the sufferings and the adversities which come to us because of the Way; that they might take on a new complex; that we might see that this which abounds unto us of the sufferings of Christ is fellowship with God in the realization of His great purpose.
Suffering Because of the Testimony
But then that suffering - and there are several things to be said about that - is because of the testimony of Jesus. And the testimony of Jesus is first of all the testimony against Satan's work in man. Satan's one object from the beginning was to capture man, and, as we pointed out, when he gets hold of man, he will in some way or another seek to make that man feel that either in himself naturally or by his works he can be his own saviour. That is the glory of man in the place of the glory of Christ. Glorifying man has ever been Satan's object; to make something, yes, to make everything, of man, so to work for the exaltation and glorification and inflation of man that at last the great superman comes as the incarnation of Satan himself.
When Jesus comes and says that whole manhood and humanity is finished, that God is no longer going to make anything of that man, that natural man, that God has brought in another Man and that kingdom that Satan has hold of for his own ends is at an end, that God has no place for it, do you think Satan likes that? See what it cuts from under his feet, see what a tremendous thing that is when all the ground of Satan's hopes and purposes and intrigues is simply swept away, and Jesus stands to declare another kind of man in whom God is interested. Therefore if we stand for the other Man and with the other Man and on the ground of that different Man in which Satan has no place at all, we are in for it. By any means Satan will spoil us, will mar us, will break us, will put us out, and that is the fellowship of His sufferings. It is the sufferings which come because Satan cannot get hold of that Man, cannot do anything with that Man, but he is going to do his best to spoil those who are in the Way of that Man, to put that creation out of the way.
Again, on the positive side, the testimony of Jesus (that is the testimony in Himself, what He is) is the testimony of God's eternally conceived and purposed destiny for His Man. "You make him to rule over the works of Your hands" (Ps. 8:6); "You have put all things in subjection under His feet" (Heb. 2:8). Satan says, 'Not if I can help it, I will have him under my feet.' God's destiny in Christ as representing this new manhood and God's destiny eternally determined for all who are of Jesus Christ, the new manhood - that means that Satan's kingdom is going, that means that his rule has its end secured, that means the time is coming when this Man, Christ Jesus, and this corporate man in Christ Jesus, is going to have the pre-eminence, is going to reign together with Him, and that reign is not just something official, it is spiritual, it is moral. It means that all enemies shall be put under His feet and under theirs, and you can quite clearly see that the enemy will postpone that as long as he can, and will do everything to make it hard for those who are eventually going to oust him and his kingdom. So it is a suffering way.
And did he not with Him Who is the Way, try to turn Him aside by any means, by subtle tricks, by friends, and by opposition and suffering, from being that great predestined Head of a new eternal kingdom, to stop Him from going to the cross to accomplish it? The way of suffering is the way of its accomplishment and its realization.
Suffering Because of Misunderstanding
Then the sufferings of Christ are seen to be so much in the realm of the complete impossibility of the world to understand, and that includes the religious world. One thing that the world, the natural man, desires, is to be understood. The most difficult thing for anybody is to be misunderstood or un-understood. Oh, how we naturally long to be understood! "For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him" (1 John 3:1). And there is a great deal of suffering bound up with the world being entirely unable to understand.
You will never be able to explain yourself to the satisfaction of the world if you go on with the Lord Jesus. You will carry about something hidden in your own heart which others who have not gone your way will never understand. It will be the suffering of a lonely way so far as the whole world outside of Christ is concerned. "You... will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me" (John 16:32 NKJV). But there was something of a pang in His voice when He said that. "You will leave Me alone", you just will not be able to understand. How true it was even of His closest friends and disciples; they could not understand why He should go to the cross, and why He should accept the cross, why He should not do everything to avoid and evade it, to escape it. They begged Him, they pleaded with Him, not to go that way. They could not understand. For them every hope was dashed should He go to the cross. He had to go His lonely way without one person being able to understand. There may have been sympathy, there may have been pity, but there was no understanding. And that is always the way of those who are going right on with the Lord. You will always find that even amongst Christians if you are going right on with the Lord, there are many who will not understand. They can go so far and they do not know why it is you will not stop there, why you will go that bit further. Yes, it is a lonely way, and that is a large part of the suffering.
Suffering Because of Prejudice
The way that Jesus took was the way which encountered the blind prejudice and pride of the whole religious world, which would not come under the government of the Spirit of God, the world which would govern itself by its own judgments and standards - that was the religious world of His time. And it is the religious world of our time, that which is not wholly governed by the Holy Spirit and therefore not wholly open to all the thought of God that will be marked by prejudices, by pride, by a closedness, to a great deal which it will not have, is not prepared to accept. For such as are going the whole way - and this is not just a statement of a theory, it is the borne-out experience of many - they will encounter their chief prejudice and opposition from religious people themselves. They will find less sympathy in that realm than even in the world. Is that true? It is true. The Book from which one speaks is a very large volume of history, the history of those who have set their faces to go in this way wholly. Yes, prejudice and pride and jealousy and envy and much more of that kind, and it creates a great state of suffering. You just have to get on in spite of it and suffer because of it.
I do not think I need enlarge upon this any more. All I have said and all that I could say would simply resolve itself into this - the Way, as in the case of Christ personally and in the case of the church and Christianity at its beginning, is a Way of suffering. It will be that for all those who are going to identify themselves with the Way, but that suffering in the Way in fellowship with the Lord Jesus is infinitely fruitful suffering.
It is tremendously impressive when you just stand back and think of it, that here is a throne, not necessarily a literal throne, but a throne, a centre of universal government and supremacy, a glorious throne. Around that throne are ever-widening circles from the immediate circle to larger and larger circles until you get a great multitude out of every nation and tongue and kindred, a multitude which no man can number, all in the ecstasy of their full redemption realised and possessed, all in the glory of a mighty triumph, all now in fellowship with the supreme universal Lord, and that Lord is a Lamb in the midst of the throne. It has all come from the offering of the Lamb, it is all out from His sufferings.
The Lamb of sacrifice always speaks of suffering. But look, from the heart of things where there is the symbol of suffering, the Lamb, the whole universe is full of glory and praise and worship and adoration. The language being used around that throne is not human language. Human language is defeated in its effort to set forth the worship that you find around that throne. Yes, by way of suffering. Ah yes, it is not all in vain. If that is a true revelation of the fruit of suffering, it is not in vain; and if that is true, then it is worth our having some fellowship in it. It was not fruitless suffering. It was not suffering to desolation. It was suffering to glory, "...if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him" (Rom. 8:17).