19 April 2009
Crucifixion entailed extreme suffering and excruciating pain. The thoughts of being nailed to a cross through ones ankles and wrists makes a person envision horrific agony. Death, slowly overcoming a person through suffocation after becoming too exhausted to pull oneself up in order to breathe, makes one wonder how could our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ have to suffer this form of execution. This manner of bringing about death was only set aside for the most violent of criminals in ancient Rome.
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke about His suffering to come as “an hour of glory.” Such glory that perhaps only He could set the precedent for. This “hour of glory” would be one which would manifest the supreme Divine splendor of God. Immediately before the Lord Jesus Christ##s suffering, He said, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified” (John 12:23). The Lord Jesus Christ did not mean the glory found within the Resurrection, but the actual suffering as “an hour of glory”. The next verse in the Holy Gospel of St. John tells us, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24).
Truly there is no glory within the actual suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ. No one can dispute this fact. But what occurred in His hour of suffering and what the Lord Jesus Christ completed on the Holy Cross glorified God the Father and His Son the Lord Jesus. Only this glory can be associated with His suffering. In the Lord Jesus Christ##s prayer to the Father, He prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son also may glorify You” (John 17:1). Definitely, the hour of Crucifixion was this hour.
The Lord following His glorious Resurrection spoke of His glory of Crucifixion to the Disciples on the road to Emmaus. “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26). How did the Lord achieve His glory? Clearly, glory was achieved through His suffering.
The apostle St. Paul explains to us further the concept of glory which followed the Lord Jesus Christ##s suffering. “…looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrew 12:2). What this means, “who for the joy that was set before Him” is that the Lord Jesus Christ was anticipating the glory which followed the suffering upon the Holy Cross. For the glory He endured the Holy Cross, its shame, and its pain.
Another example of St. Paul illustrating that the glory followed the suffering can be found in Hebrews 2:9,10, “Jesus was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” Apparently St. Paul##s message here was saying that suffering and glory will follow one another.
For us as children of God, suffering on this earth should represent only one side of life, the earthly. The glories which will follow suffering represent the other, the Heavenly. Suffering cannot be viewed separately from glory. They both go hand in hand.
To serve and worship God is how we glorify Him here on earth. Heavenly glory is what we strive for. St. Paul said to the Romans, “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:17). Again to the Ephesians St. Paul teaches about the Lord Jesus Christ, “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). For the faithful, the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was crucified and “He raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places.”
In the Holy Book of Revelations St. John reveals this great and magnificent vision of heavenly places to us,
“And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ##Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?##”
“And no one in Heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But, one of the elder said to me, John, ##Do not weep. Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”
“And I looked, and behold, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain.”
(“A Lamb as though it had been slain” represents the Lord Jesus Christ in this context)
“Then He came and took the scroll. Now when He had taken the scroll, the heavenly creatures each having a harp, and they sang a new song, saying, ##You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals##;
“For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” They said with a loud voice, ##Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!##
“And every creature which is in Heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying, ##Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Excerpts from Revelation 5)
Truly this is very strong imagery and clear evidence of the suffering on the Holy Cross and the glory behind His suffering.
Let us pray that as we all contemplate the sacrifice of the Holy Crucifixion and the liberation of man from death by the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that we also reflect upon the glory brought about through the manifestation of the two events.
His Grace Bishop Youssef is Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States (www.suscopts.org)