Many Sorrows: Suffering in Light of the Cross

The city of Maiduguri never saw it coming. Even if they did, the city had little to nothing to stop or prevent it from occurring. Friday, July 31st at 6:30 AM, a bomb blast in Maiduguri caused the whole city to shake and stir with panic. Being set off at the densely populated Gamboru marketplace, the suicide bombing killed 8 people, while injuring countless others.

Said to be a woman, this suicide bomber was not suspicious in the slightest; yet, the effect she had on those around her will forever haunt her survivors. For people in Maiduguri (and Northern Nigeria in general), no place is safe anymore. What once used to be a place no one feared going to– and in fact, needed– has now become a place of trauma and horror for everyone who has ever walked its roads. Bloodied or not, the trauma Nigerians have suffered is both painfully real– and much more than skin deep.

The thought that something so horribly devastating could happen within a few seconds seems unfathomable. But, it is surprisingly true for many, if not all, horrific, life-changing experiences: what happens in only a few moments amounts to a lifetime of pain, grief, and sorrow. And while, in many cases, the perpetrator is the only one who suffers from their mistakes, the much more common (and incredibly unjust) reality of it all is that victims are the ones who suffer most. Innocent people are caught in the crossfire– and are forced to live with the repercussions for the rest of their lives. In many ways, this could have been what Jesus meant when He told His disciples that “In this life, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33); though Jesus’ warning is honest, the question still remains: when real tribulation hits, how do we cope?

Jesus: “Acquainted with Grief”
One of the beautiful things about God’s Word, the Bible, is it’s honesty about the human condition– and the honest recounting of many human lives on this earth. One of the most honest things the bible talks about is suffering. While God’s Word speaks about the suffering of many people in different shapes and forms, there is one Man whose pain and suffering “outdid” all of humanity’s. His name is Jesus Christ.

God’s Word states that Jesus was “despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). The sorrow and grief Jesus experienced in His life is nothing short of unfathomable; but, it is His death that truly marked the most pain and suffering ever had. From sweating drops of blood in His prayer to His Father, to being coldly betrayed by one of His own disciples, Jesus’ emotional, mental, and spiritual pain started long before He was nailed to the cross at Calvary. The physical pain started long before His crucifixion, as well. John 19 makes this tragedy abundantly clear.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
(John 19:1-3, NIV)

Flogging was severe scourging, in which a person was violently whipped with a flagrum, or leather cords that were attached to lead balls or mutton bones. These cords usually cut open the skin, while also removing tissue from the area. Jesus most likely suffered close to 120 of these lashings (source). Aside from the lashings, a crown of sharp thorns was placed on Christ’s head, cutting open blood vessels and causing major, painful bleeding (source). The crucifixion was even more horrendous; being nailed hand and foot by roman soldiers to a wooden cross, Christ would suffer from asphyxiation, dehydration, and severe blood loss. Though the whippings were fiercely done, with the kinetic energy of 9 bullets from a handgun (source), the death Christ experienced was both incredibly long– a reported 6 hours– and intensely painful. These are the wounds Isaiah spoke of when he prophesied, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Wounding Jesus
Jesus’ wounds were far more than skin deep.
His mental state was no doubt suffering due to lack of food, water, and massive blood loss; emotionally, Jesus’ heart was broken. Abandoned by His loved ones– including, at one point, by His Heavenly Father Himself– “…at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Mark 15:34). The pure despair and despondency heard in Jesus’ words only gave a hint of the misery He felt, as He took on the sin of all mankind (1 John 2:2). These words, among many others, echoed from the Old Testament– in particular, the 22nd Psalm, written by David. Though David wrote this Psalm hundreds of years before Jesus was born, it is considered to be prophetic, the very words and thoughts of the Messiah as He hung upon the cross. Psalm 22 and the account of Jesus’ crucifixion are strikingly similar:

  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  • …But I am a worm and not a man,
        scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
    All who see me mock me;
        they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
    “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
        “let the Lord rescue him.
    Let him deliver him,
        since he delights in him.”

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

  • Many bulls surround me;
        strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
    Roaring lions that tear their prey
        open their mouths wide against me.
    I am poured out like water,
        and all my bones are out of joint.
    My heart has turned to wax;
        it has melted within me.
    My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
        and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
        you lay me in the dust of death.
  • Dogs surround me,
        a pack of villains encircles me;
        they pierce my hands and my feet.
    All my bones are on display;
        people stare and gloat over me.
    They divide my clothes among them
        and cast lots for my garment
    (Psalm 22:1, 6-18)

Hope in the Valley
The similarities are too hard to ignore; from the Pharisees mocking Jesus in Matthew 27:43, to Roman soldiers dividing and gambling for Jesus’ clothes in John 19:23, these descriptions of intense distress penned by the Psalmist point not only to fulfilled prophecy, but to the heartbreak and evil Jesus endured for your sake and mine. Jesus suffered the “excruciating” death– a word created just to describe the intense pain caused by the crucifixion– so we would never have to. In dying, Jesus not only provided a model for suffering righteously; He became the Savior of humanity, keeping and saving us from eternal separation and suffering. In Jesus, we have a Messiah who knows the depth of our sorrow better than we do, and goes through it with us, daily pouring out His new mercies, grace, and strength to walk through every dark valley. Because of Christ’s work on the Cross, we can say with peace and hope in our hearts, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

In our suffering, we look to Jesus Christ, the “Rock that is Higher than [us]” (Psalm 61:2). The suffering of those affected by such hellish and traumatic events such as Boko Haram’s suicide bombings is real. But, so is the One and Only True God, Jesus Christ. May they find their true comfort in Him alone.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
(Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Do you know Jesus?

Jesus, as stated above, was a man of “many sorrows,” one who knew complicated, deep, overwhelming grief. Apart from knowing grief Himself, Jesus loved others in their pain– so much so that He wept with Lazarus’ sisters, fully knowing He was going to raise Lazarus back to life. Yes– Jesus was more than just an amazing man. He is God, and has the ability to raise others up from the dead. In fact, He Himself was raised from the dead, three days after His crucifixion. He is the Resurrector; and by His Resurrection, death was defeated for all people who confess Him as Lord, forever (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)!

Learn more about the sting of death– and how it was defeated through our Lord Jesus Christ– here.

Lord Jesus, we come humbly to You, today. Jesus, we thank You that you died for our sin; and we thank You, Lord Jesus, that you have promised never to leave nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Jesus please comfort and hold all those in grief, today; especially those caught in the crossfire of these suicide and terrorist attacks. We pray that those with PTSD would find You, and would be filled with Your peace to their hearts and to their minds, as they get the help they need. Lord, work through and in these people more deeply than the surface shows, for “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10). Jesus, oh Lord, we pray those affected by such profound grief would run to You, not away from You.
Jesus, we pray for the surround communities. We pray that those around people that have experienced this grief would “stand in the gap” for them in prayer and physical support. Jesus, show us how to properly love, serve, and comfort those in grief and great distress; I pray that, as those in Nigeria (and worldwide) see others, they would love them with action– bringing Glory to Your Name, that they might know You truly.
Jesus, we pray for those in the Nigerian military; Jesus, we pray they would come to know You as Lord and Savior, would come to You in their time of need, and would be given everything they need to defeat Boko Haram for Your Glory. We pray, Lord Jesus, that you would defeat Boko Haram, that they might be humbled, that justice would be served, and that they might come to know You: the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6).
Jesus, I pray lastly for those who do not know You, yet. Jesus, I pray that the hard hearts of men and women would be softened and drawn to You by Your Holy Spirit. Lord Jesus, I pray they would be mended of everything that has torn them apart; for, you are the One who holds every thing together (Colossians 1:17). I pray these people would realize the great Love You have for them, because You lived a blameless life, and died the death they should have died. May they live reliant upon You, as Lord and Savior, forever.
Jesus, I pray we would see every trial as You do; I pray we would keep our eyes on You. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

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