As the decisive revelation of the transcendent God in human history, the Incarnation is the central mystery of the Christian faith.That the Creator God would lower Himself to take on human flesh and bear our guilt, sin, and shame is a historical fact that I will never completely wrap my mind around as long as I live. And yet He did it—He descended that we might ascend.
Not only did the King of Glory take on human flesh, but He suffered in His earthly body—enduring the same types of limitations, temptations, sorrows, and pains we face. As I explain in my new book Shaped by Suffering (centered around Peter’s first epistle and forthcoming in February 2020), Jesus’ suffering had three key characteristics. It was sinless (1 Peter 2:22), silent (1 Peter 2:23), and substitutionary:
His decision to suffer in our place shows a love greater than we can comprehend. His substitutionary death on the cross was the most undeserved suffering ever experienced by a human, and his resurrection—the final triumph over death and suffering—is the greatest picture of the redemptive purpose of adversity.1
The Suffering Servant submitted to the authority of God just as you and I are called to do in our own sufferings. As we submit to our loving heavenly Father’s authority over our lives, it helps if an eternal perspective on our sufferings undergirds us. That perspective is summed up well in 1 Peter 5:10:
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
In other words, while our suffering feels long-lasting, it’s actually very brief on the scales of eternity. In addition, contrary to the message peddled by prosperity gospel teachers, our suffering is to be expected as part of our earthly sojourn (“after you have suffered,” not “if you suffer”); it’s a required course in the university of life. Although suffering will not be part of our eternal home in heaven (praise God!), He often uses adversity here on earth to prepare us for that home (to “perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us). Thus, we shouldn’t be caught off-guard when it comes our way (see 1 Peter 4:12).
As we celebrate the Incarnation, may Christ’s example, especially the example He set in His sufferings, inspire your own response to difficulties in your life. And may you know that, in your pain, He is with you, providing the final, permanent solution to all despair experienced in this world. As the carol says, through Him, God has “open[ed] wide our heavenly home” and “close[ed] the path to misery” at last.2
Note: This article was originally written for the December 2019 issue of Journey Magazine.