This being Valentine’s Day, the commercially advertised day of love, I felt it appropriate to post Pastor Gary L.W. Johnson’s sermon notes on The Passion of Christ.  So many antagonists to Christianity often claim that God is not a loving God.  However, as you read through the message below, it will become quite apparent that no greater love has ever been displayed than that of our sinless Creator as He took on the sufferings described below so that we sinful humans do not have to experience them for ourselves.  –  R.L. David Jolly


 In 1983 Rabbi Harold S. Kushner wrote an immensely popular book titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People.[1]  Written in simple language, the author took human suffering very seriously and, to his credit, refused to offer glib or simplistic answers.  Indeed he was, as he painfully relates, driven to write this book because of the excruciating suffering he personally endured during the lingering illness and final death of his young son.  As much as I may sympathize with Kushner in his desire to help people cope with suffering, the book is terribly flawed theologically.  “God,” says Kushner, “is not all powerful.”  In fact, Kushner believes God to be quite limited.[2]    Bad things happen simply because God cannot prevent them from happening.  Kushner likewise does not take sin seriously.  He assumes that since people are good, they are innocent and do not deserve hardship or suffering.

Theologians have spoken of the sufferings of Christ in the Latin expression passio Christi.  Broadly conceived, the passio Christi extends to the entire status humiliationis or state of humiliation, i.e., from Christ’s birth to his death, during which he suffered all the common infirmities of the human race.  More strictly, the passio Christi is the passio magna, or great suffering, of the final trials and crucifixion.[3]    

The Apostles’ Creed stresses the fact that Jesus, the only Begotten Son of God, our Lord (note the emphasis on His Lordship) suffered under Pontius Pilate.  Shedd identifies three kinds of suffering:  (1) calamity, (2) chastisement, and (3) punishment or penalty.  Calamity does not refer to sin and guilt.  It is a kind of suffering that befalls man by the providence of God for other reasons than disciplinary or judicial.  Calamitous suffering, however, it should be noticed, occurs only in a sinful world.  Consequently, it is never found isolated and by itself alone.  It is associated either with chastisement (as when a calamity falls upon a child of God) or with punishment (as when it falls upon the impenitent sinner).  Calamity is therefore rather an element in suffering than the whole of the suffering. 

When, for illustration, some of the Galileans had been cruelly put to death by Pilate (Luke 13:1-5), our Lord distinctly told those who informed him of this fact that these Galileans “were not sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things.”  They were sinners, but not the worst of sinners.  In other words, he taught them that the whole of this suffering was not penal.  As sinners, they deserved to suffer; and some of this suffering was for their sins.  But as they were not greater sinners than other Galileans, they did not deserve a suffering that was so much greater than that of the Galilean people as a whole.

 A part of this extraordinary suffering, therefore, was calamity, not punishment.  As such, it had no reference to the guilt of the Galileans.  If it had, it would have been a proof that they “were sinners above all the Galileans.”  Our Lord then repeats and emphasizes the same truth by an allusion to the fall of the tower in Siloam upon some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  This event did not prove that these few persons were sinners “above all men that dwelled in Jerusalem.”  There was, therefore, a calamitous as well as a penal element in this fall of the tower. 

The second species of suffering is chastisement.  This is spoken of in Heb. 12:6:  “For whom the Lord loves, he chastens (paideuei).”  Chastisement and punishment are distinguished from each other in 1 Cor. 11:32: “When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”  The purpose of chastisement is discipline and moral improvement.  The reason for it is not secret and unknown, as in the case of calamity.  It is adapted to reform.  It is administered by parental affection, not by judicial severity.  It is the form which suffering assumes within the family.  The parent does not cause the child to feel pain for the satisfaction of justice, but for personal improvement.  The suffering does indeed remind the child of his guilt and is suggestive of penalty, but it is not itself penal.  Family discipline is not of the nature of retribution. 

The sufferings of Christ the mediator were vicariously penal or atoning because the intention, both on the part of the Father and the Son, was that they should satisfy justice for the sin of man.  They were not calamity, for their object is known.  The reason for calamitous suffering is secret.  And they were not disciplinary, because Christ having no sin could not pass through a process of progressive sanctification.  Scripture plainly teaches that our Lord’s sufferings were vicariously retributive; that is, they were endured for the purpose of satisfying justice in the place of the actual transgressor: “Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18); “Christ was made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13); “Immanuel was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5); “Jesus our Lord was delivered for our offenses” (Rom. 4:25); “he has made him to be sin [a sin offering] for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21); “he is the propitiation of our sins” (1 John 2:2); “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29); “he spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).  With this, compare 2 Pet. 2:4: “He spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell.” 

Penalty in the case of Christ was vicarious; in that of the fallen angels was personal.[4]  The New Testament over and over again declares that suffering was something Jesus had to endure.  Luke 9:22 tells us plainly that He must[5] suffer many things.  We later learn that this was decreed[6] (Luke 22:22).  In other words, it was His vocation that He should suffer.  It is important to note that our Lord did not view His suffering as coming from the arbitrary hand of fate or as attributed to pure chance.  On the contrary, Jesus saw the hand of His Father in every aspect of life (cf. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:12, 22, 23; Mark 8:31, 4:12; Luke 17:25). 

The Gospel narratives all highlight the scene at Golgatha.  It is noon, and Jesus has been on the cross for three pain-filled hours.  Three times He has spoken from the cursed tree, focusing on the well-being of others:  He has lovingly prayed for His enemies, promised salvation to a thief, and made arrangements for His mother’s care.  Suddenly darkness falls on Calvary, and “over all the land” (v. 45).  This darkness is no natural phenomenon; it is more than a thunderstorm and more than an eclipse.  By a miraculous act of Almighty God, midday becomes midnight.  This supernatural darkness is a symbol of God’s judgment on sin.  God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, Scripture tells us.  The Bible often associates sin with darkness and holiness with light.  So the physical darkness that covers Calvary signals a deeper and more fearsome darkness that Christ Himself has described as “outer darkness,” or the darkness of hell, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”


A.          Not explained on personal grounds (Hebrews 4:14)

B.          Essential to His mission (Isaiah 53:10; Luke 22:15)

C.          Their purpose was redemptive (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45) 


A.          Vicarious in nature (Galatians 3:10)

B.          The Ground of Reconciliation

                                   1.   The need for (Psalm 7:11, 24:16; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 1:18)

                                   2.  Official (Romans 5:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:7)

C.          Sacrificial (1 Corinthians 5:7)

                                   1.  Voluntary (John 10:17, 18; Matthew 16:23; Luke 9:51)

                                   2.  Propitiatory (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10; Hebrews 2:17; 9:5)

                                   3.  Personal (Galatians 2:20)


A.          Spiritual (Mark 14:33; Luke 22:44)

B.          Physical (Psalm 22) 


The great High Priest enters Golgatha’s Holy of Holies without friends or enemies.  The Son of God is alone on the cross for three final hours, enduring what defies our imagination.  Experiencing the full brunt of His Father’s wrath, Jesus cannot stay silent.  He cries out:  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  This phrase represents the nadir, the lowest point, of Jesus’ sufferings.  Here Jesus descends into the essence of hell, the most extreme suffering ever experienced.  It is a time so compacted, so infinite, so horrendous as to be incomprehensible and seemingly unsustainable.  Jesus’ cry does not in any way diminish His deity.  Jesus does not cease being God before, during, or after this.  Jesus’ cry does not divide His human nature from His divine person or destroy the Trinity.  Nor does it detach Him from the Holy Spirit.  The Son lacks the comforts of the Spirit, but He does not lose the holiness of the Spirit.  Nor does it cause Him to disavow His mission.  Both the Father and Son knew from all eternity that Jesus would become the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Acts 15:18).  It is unthinkable that the Son of God might question what is happening or be perplexed when His sense of His Father’s loving presence departs. 

A.           Jesus is expressing the agony of unanswered supplication (Ps. 22:1-2).  Unanswered, Jesus feels forgotten of God. 

B.          He is also expressing the agony of unbearable stress.  It is the kind of “roaring” mentioned in Psalm 22: the roar of desperate agony without rebellion.  It is the hellish cry uttered when the undiluted wrath of God overwhelms the soul.  It is heart-piercing, heaven-piercing, and hell-piercing. 

C.          Further, Jesus is expressing the agony of unmitigated sin.  All the sins of the elect, and the hell that they deserve for eternity, are laid upon Him.  Without the support of His Deity, Jesus could never have sustained the burden.  Because His Deity and humanity are combined in one infinite Person, His sufferings carry infinite value in the presence of an infinitely holy God.  That is how Christ can bear our justly deserved eternal hell in such a short time. 

D.          Then, too, Jesus is expressing the agony of unassisted solitariness.  In His hour of greatest need comes a pain unlike anything the Son has ever experienced: the sense of His Father’s abandonment.  When Jesus most needs encouragement, no voice cries from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.”  No angel is sent to strengthen Him; no “well done, thou good and faithful servant” resounds in His ears.  The women who supported Him are silent.  The disciples, cowardly and terrified, have fled.  Feeling disowned by all, Jesus endures the way of suffering alone, deserted, and forsaken in utter darkness.  Every detail of this abandonment shouts to you and me, “This is what God thinks of you and my sin!”  Every detail declares the irrationality, the heinousness, the dread character of sin. 

But why would it please God to bruise His own Son (Isa. 53:10)?  The Father is not capricious, malicious, or being merely didactic.  The real purpose is penal; it is the just punishment for the sin of Christ’s people.  “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Christ was made sin for us, dear believers.  Among all the mysteries of salvation, this little word  “for” exceeds all.  This small word illuminates our darkness and unites Jesus Christ with sinners.  Christ was acting on behalf of His people as their representative and for their benefit.  With Jesus as our substitute, God’s wrath is satisfied and God can justify those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).  Christ’s penal suffering, therefore, is vicarious—He suffered on our behalf.  He did not simply share our forsakenness, but He saved us from it.  He endured it for us, not with us.  Dear believer, you are immune to condemnation (Rom. 8:1) and to God’s anathema (Gal. 3:13) because Christ bore it for you in that outer darkness.  Golgotha secured our immunity, not mere sympathy.  This explains the hours of darkness and the roar of dereliction.  God’s people experience just a taste of this when they are brought by the Holy Spirit before the Judge of heaven and earth, only to experience that they are not consumed for Christ’s sake.  They come out of darkness, confessing, “Because Immanuel has descended into the lowest hell for us, God is with us in the darkness, under the darkness, through the darkness—and we are not consumed!”[7] 

CONCLUSION:   The sufferings of Christ do not manifest the love of God apart from their atoning efficacy.  The just suffered for the sins of the unjust (I Peter 3:17, 18).  We also are informed that the sufferings of Christ serve as a model or pattern of the trials and tribulations that Christ’s followers are to expect in this life (Hebrews 12:1-3; 1 Peter 2:20, 21; 2 Timothy 1:8, 9; 3:1; Colossians 1:24).  The sufferings of Christ are therefore at the very center of the Gospel and, as a result, form an important element in our Christian faith and daily lives.


 [1] H. S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Avon. 1983).  The book was so popular that it gave birth to a host of books accenting the same theme.  Warren Wiersbe, in an attempt to give a distinctively Christian understanding of suffering, produced a helpful book titled Why Us?  When Bad Things Happen to God’s People  (Revell, 1985).  Richard E. Wentz in turn wrote Why Do People Do Bad Things in the Name of Religion?  (Mercer, 1987).

[2] Kushner, p. 38.

[3] The sufferings of Christ all have to do with the Obedienta Christi, the obedience of Christi; viz., Christ’s obedient work as the Mediator; performed for our redemption, it was distinguished by the scholastics into obedientia active and obedientia passive, active and passive obedience.  The obedientia active describes the life of Christ from his birth to his passion, and particularly his ministry, during which Christ acted sinlessly and in perfect obedience to the will of God.  The obedientia passive refers to Christ’s passion, during which he accepted passively, without any resistance, the suffering and cross to which he was subjected for the satisfaction of sin.  According to the medieval scholastics, following Anselm, the obedientia active was not of a vicarious or substitutionary nature, but rather was Christ’s own necessary obedience under the law, the ground of Christ’s own merit and therefore of his aptitude for the work of satisfaction.  Had the Mediator not been meritorious before God, the payment of the obedientia passive would have been exacted of him for his own disobedience and could not have been applied to believers.  This view of his obedience relates directly to the medieval theory of penance and to the distinction between punishment (poena) and guilt (culpa).  Poena accrues to anyone who is not actively obedient, while culpa is the result, qualitatively speaking, of sin.  Since Christ’s obedientia passive accomplished the remission of sin (remissio peccatorum), those saved by grace through Christ have their culpa removed, but since Christ’s obedientia active was accomplished in order to constitute Christ as the worthy Mediator and not applied to sinners, the poena of sin remains and must be suffered temporally through the sacrament of penance.  Following Luther, the Protestant scholastics, Lutheran and Reformed alike, argued that both the obedientia active and the obedientia passive were accomplished in the place and on behalf of believers and together constituted the one saving work of Christ, satisfying for both the poena and culpa of sin.  Christ’s obedience, then, according to the Protestant scholastics, remits sin in such a way as to make unnecessary the sacrament of penance.  Note that this view of Christ’s obedience conforms to the doctrine of justification sola fide, apart from the works of the law.  Since the Protestant scholastics are adamant that the obedientia Christi was totally soteriological in purpose, they often refer to it as a single obedience with two aspects rather than as an obedientia active and an obedientia passive.  Thus the obedientia Christi is both an action passive, a passive action, and a passio active, an active passion.  Actio passive refers to Christ’s subjection to the law, while passio active refers to the real obedience of his life and death.  Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Baker, 1981) p. 205.

[4] W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology 3rd. ed. (P & R, 2003) pp. 711-720

[5] The word translated “must” is the Greek word DEI—it refers to that which must necessarily take place, often with the implication of inevitability.  B. B. Warfield refers to the “DEI of the Divine decree, as it has been appropriately called, by which is suggested the necessity which rules over historical sequences.  It is used with a view to Jesus’ own plan of redemption (by Jesus Himself, Luke 2:49, 4:43, 9:22 13:33, 17:25, 24:7; John 3:14, 10:16, 12:34; by the evangelist, Matthew 16:21), to the underlying plan of God (by Jesus, Matthew 24:6, Mark 8:7, 10; Luke 21:9; by the writer, Matthew 17:10, Mark 11:11, Acts3:21, 9:16), anon to the prophetic declaration as an indication of the underlying plan (by Jesus, Matthew 26:56, Luke 22:37, 24:26:44; by the writer, John 20:9, Acts 1:16, 17:3).  This appeal, in either form, served an important apologetic purpose in the first proclamation of the gospel; but its fundamental significance is rooted, of course, in the conception of a Divine ordering of the whole course of history to the veriest detail.”  Biblical and Theological Studies (rpt. Presbyterian & Reformed, 1968), p. 304.

[6] HŌRISMENON is the perfect passive participle of HORIZŌ which means to limit or define, appoint, mark off.  Our English word “horizon” comes from this Greek word.  Listen again to the words of B. B. Warfield:  “The whole Bible doctrine of the decree revolves, in a word, around the simple idea of purpose.  Since God is a Person, the very mark of His being is purpose.  Since He is an infinite Person, His purpose is eternal and independent, all-inclusive and effective.  Since He is a moral Person, His purpose is the perfect exposition of all His infinite moral perfections.  Since He is the personal creator of all that exists, His purpose can find its final cause only in Himself.”  Ibid, p. 325.

[7] This section `is adapted from Joel Beeke, “Christ Forsaken” in The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth (Vol. 18, No. 3) p. 68.

Continue Reading on