Christ's Travail and Glory

In John 12 we read about Jesus coming to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover feast and dining with Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. Crowds of people, mostly Jews, gather to meet Jesus because of what they had heard he had done by raising Lazarus. The “Greeks” mentioned here, god-fearing Gentiles present in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast, came to Philip seeking Jesus saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21) While the Jews want to see Lazarus, the Greek god-fearers came to see Jesus. This was a noble request. In fact, no one who has this sincere desire to see Jesus has ever been turned away unrewarded. Consider some of the men who saw the Master face to face and whose lives were changed completely: Andrew and Peter, James and John, Matthew, Paul, and Zacchaeus. When John saw the Lord in all his awesome glory he “fell at his feet as one dead.” (Revelation 1:17) As we paint a word picture of the Lord, we should see him in his travail and glory, fall at his feet in absolute surrender, and worship Him. Even Moses, as he was leading God’s people in the wilderness asked God, “Please, show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18) May our prayer be, “Blessed Holy Spirit, show us the travail and the glory of the Lord.”


Christ’s Travail

Although we know that Christ was indeed the Lord, we also know that he became man and experienced much pain and human suffering in his life here on earth. Paul tells us He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) Jesus experienced life as a human being would. He knew the pain of being squeezed through a birth canal, and even suffered innuendos involving the legitimacy of his birth. He felt the pangs of hunger from his forty days in the wilderness, and knew the pain of rejection from his own people, his hometown and his family. He knew what it was like to be falsely accused, and then felt the refusal of his Father the night he anguished in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what it was like to be deserted by his closest friends, to be denied and betrayed. He knew the fists of the Roman soldiers and the weight of the rods as they fell across his back. He knew what it was like to be mocked as a crown of thorns was mashed into his head, a purple robe was draped over his shoulders and a sign was placed in his hand as they taunted, “Hail the king of the Jews.” He knew the bite of the whip as it tore away his flesh, and winced as the huge Roman spikes were pounded into his hands and feet. He felt the sting of the insults thrust at him by the crowd and knew the agonizing thirst of fever and dehydration as he hung upon the cross. Because we know these things happened, we should behold the man, behold our king, and behold our God. He endured these sufferings just as a human would endure, even though He was God!


The Lord also experienced other travail. Mark records that the Lord and His disciples come to a place called Gethsemane. (See Mark 14:32) From the main group of disciples, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to pray, and in their presence begins “to be greatly amazed and very distressed.” (Mark 14:33) We should note the words and phrases used to describe the Lord’s anguish. They are among the strongest in the original language. The Lord has anticipated the passion, but when He is about to participate in its complexities, His terrors exceed His expectations, and as He is in a sea of anguish, He is “sorely astounded and sorely distressed.”

Horror and dismay come over Him as He is gripped and overwhelmed with intense agony of soul. In the midst of this anguish in the garden He says to His disciples, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.” (Mark 14:34) This unfathomable depth of anguish and sorrow brings Him to the point of death! Luke then tells us that “He withdrew himself a stones throw” as He kneels down and begins to pray. (Luke 22:41) “He withdrew himself” is an interesting phrase. This means that He tears himself away from His disciples against His own will, dreading being alone. Mark says that “He went forward a little and fell to the ground” repeatedly. (Mark 14:32-41) While He lay exhausted on the ground, He prays that the hour might pass from Him and that the cup would be taken away. In His prayer, He appeals to God as His father and “Abba.” The heavens are as brass as He prays “not my will but thine be done.”

Utterly exhausted, He returns to his disciples for support but finds them unconcerned and asleep. He goes back into the Garden for the second time and speaks the same words. The heavens are silent; He bears the burden alone. He comes again to his disciples the second time, only to find them fast asleep again. He enters the garden the third time and Dr. Luke records that an angel appears to Him and strengthens Him. (Luke 22:43) Despite this heavenly ministration His anguish becomes so intense that His blood forces its way out of His pores and falls to the ground! What caused this overwhelming anguish? First, the physical suffering involved caused intense fear and anxiety. Secondly, He was about to be made sin for the rest of the world and a curse. Finally, He was about to be forsaken by God, His own father. Even before this redemptive work takes place, though, Jesus sweats drops of blood! This horrific experience of anguish was not the climax of his redemptive work, but was preliminary to it.

Next, we know Jesus is taken from Gethsemane to Golgotha. He is lashed under Roman law and then taken on to Golgotha. By this time His back is stripped raw, His face has been exposed to shame, cruel men have torn His beard from his face, and the vile spittle of ungodly men have poured into open wounds. (See Isaiah 53) He is so battered and disfigured that His appearance does not appear human. (See Isaiah 52:13-15) Picture Him now nailed to the cross, crowned with thorns. For three hours, His body is exposed to the burning rays of the pitiless eastern sun, His soul exposed to the merciless attacks of the powers of evil. Worse than any of this, He has for the first time throughout eternity experienced abandonment by God. This breaks His heart, and He shatters the silence with the shuddering cry of desolation, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In the three hours of darkness the Lord is precipitated into the vortex of God’s unmitigated wrath. The white-hot fury of God’s wrath against sin crashes relentlessly upon His spotless soul. In that one mysterious hour, the Lord takes the full blast of hell. On the Mount of Transfiguration God says, “Hear him.” (Mark 9:7) But on the Mount of Calvary God says, “See him.” The hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross declares, “See from His head, His hands, His feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?”


Christ’s Glory

Since we have examined Christ’s travail, let us now take a look at Christ’s glory. On the cross the Lord cries with a loud voice, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) This loud voice Jesus used was not like a victim’s cry of pain, rather the voice of the victor crying in relief. He yielded up His spirit in this moment, and this distinguished His death from all others. Humans die because we have to; it is the curse on humanity. But Jesus, who was God, died because he chose to. As Jesus says in John 10:17-18, “Therefore my Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from my Father.” After Jesus cries out, the veil in the temple splits in two, the earth quakes and rocks are split, and many people are raised from their graves! (See Matthew 27:51-53) This signals the victory over death of our Lord! Christ’s work of redemption is completely finished. Nevermore shall God cause Jesus to suffer, striking “the shepherd with the sword.” (See Zechariah 13:7-9 and Matthew 26:31) Never again shall cruel sinners set at naught our glorious Lord. The hymn, Look Up, Ye Saints, The Sight is Glorious, describes this victory of the Lord: “Look, ye saints! The sight is glorious: see the Man of Sorrows now; from the fight returned victorious, every knee to Him shall bow; crown Him, crown Him, crowns become the Victor’s brow.” When Christ died, He conquered all, leading “captivity captive.” (Ephesians 4:8)

Christ’s glory of His death on the cross, which is the greatest demonstration of the love of God, highlights Christ’s glory in His resurrection, which is the greatest demonstration of the power of God. The resurrection is not only a great historical fact, but a culmination of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. Loving hands took him down from the cross and laid him in a new tomb. The hymn Low in the Grave He Lay describes this moment: “Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior, He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord. Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph over His foes. He arose a victor from the dark domain.” Jesus indeed rose after three days, a victor over death, hell and the grave. We should see Him as He stands in majesty and says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18) While those human hands emptied the cross and filled the tomb, the almighty God emptied the tomb and filled the throne forevermore.

We should also look at the glory of the Lord’s ascension. After forty days of manifestation, Jesus was taken from the disciples and carried up into heaven. Jesus had predicted this earlier in his ministry when he told his disciples, “If I go I will come again.” (See John 14:3) Paul calls Jesus’ glory a “mystery of godliness,” that “God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16) But the Lord in all His glory also promises us that He is coming again to this earth, where He will reign over all things. In Acts 1:11 after Jesus has just ascended into heaven, the angels assure the witnesses, saying, “This same Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner.” We know that the Lord will indeed return; He himself will descend. Paul says that when the Lord comes to rapture his church there will be a shout, a voice and a trumpet. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16) These would have all been signals of the Roman army at the time of Paul. We can understand these signals as heralding the resurrection of all and the final judgment. At the shout, dead believers will be raised. With the voice, those still living will be changed, and with the blast from the silver trumpet of heaven, together we shall rise to meet our Lord.  

The hymn, When my Life Work is Ended describes this rapture in eagerness: “Oh, the soul thrilling rapture when I view His blessed face, and the luster of His kindly beaming eye; how my full heart will praise Him for the mercy, love and grace, that prepare for me a mansion in the sky.” Another wonderful hymn, Our Lord is Now Rejected, describes the glory of Christ that we will all one day experience: “The heav’ns shall glow with splendor, but brighter far than they the saints shall shine in glory, as Christ shall them array, the beauty of the Savior, shall dazzle ev’ry eye, for the crowning day is coming by and by.” Beloved Christian, do you see Him in His travail as well as His glory? One day soon we will see Him, for He is coming back. As Psalm 42:5 cries, “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” Fix your eyes on Him and look full on His wonderful face!