THE NECESSITY OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS AND EXALTATION
Luk_24:26. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
AN ignorance of the Scriptures is far more injurious to us than we are apt to imagine; for it lies at the root of all our errors both in faith and practice. The infidels of old denied the doctrine of the resurrection, “not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.” The Jewish rulers crucified their Messiah, because they were ignorant of the character in which, according to the Scriptures, he was to appear; and thus they unwittingly fulfilled the very Scriptures which they professed to reverence. The Disciples of our Lord himself were confounded at the death of their Master, and averse to credit the reports of his resurrection, because “they knew not the Scriptures that he must rise again.” Our blessed Lord, after his resurrection, joined two of them in their way to Emmaus; and when he found how ignorant and incredulous they were, he reproved them; and, to convince them that “the Messiah ought to have suffered the very things which he had suffered, and in that way to enter into his glory,” he expounded to them the principal prophecies relating to those events.
His appeal to them on that occasion leads us to consider,
The necessity of Christ’s sufferings unto death—
There was no necessity for Christ to undertake the redemption of man; but, supposing him to have under-taken it, then there was a necessity for his sufferings unto death;
To fulfil the Scriptures—
[The death of Christ had been exhibited in types from the very beginning: all the sacrifices offered by Adam, Abel, Noah, and the Jews themselves, marked out a suffering Messiah. The same also was declared in many express prophecies. Not to mention the intimation of it given in the first prophecy [Note: Gen_3:15.], nothing could be more plain than the declarations of Isaiah on this subject [Note: Isa_52:14; Isa_53:3-5.]: it seems perfectly astonishing to us, that people professing to regard his writings as prophecies of the Messiah, should ever make the crucifixion of Christ a stumbling-block, or account the doctrine of his cross foolishness. How decisive too is the testimony of Daniel [Note: Dan_9:26.]; as is that also of Zechariah [Note: Zec_13:7.]! But besides these general testimonies, there are particular intimations respecting all the most minute circumstances of his death; the collective view of which forms a body of evidence that is altogether irresistible.
But how could these be fulfilled if Jesus should not suffer? they must all be rendered null and void, and the veracity of the inspired writers, yea, of Him also who inspired them, must be for ever impeached.]
To answer the ends of his mission—
[For what did Jesus come into the world? Was it not to bear the sins of men in his own body, and, by rendering satisfaction to God, to make the exercise of mercy compatible with the rights of truth and justice? But how were these ends to be attained? The obedience of Jesus, however perfect, could not answer these ends. The law denounced death against the transgressor: and death must be inflicted on him, or on his surety. If therefore Jesus was to be a surety for man, he must undergo death; he must bear that which man should have borne: nothing but this could satisfy the demands of the law: and if man were saved without the death of his Surety, the whole authority of the law must be cancelled, and the Law-giver himself be dishonoured in the sight of all his creatures. We grant, for argument’s sake, that the mercy of God would be magnified in such a way of pardoning transgression: but then what regard would he shew for the rights of justice? What would become of his truth and faithfulness? How could “mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other?” The perfections of God would be set at variance, and some would triumph at the expense of others: but this would be directly contrary to the ends of Christ’s mission: and therefore our Divine Surety must suffer death, in order to answer the ends for which he became incarnate.]
With the death of Christ is connected—
The necessity of his exaltation to glory—
The two cannot be separated: there was a necessity that the latter should take place,
To complete his work—
[The work of the high-priest was not finished, when he had shed the blood of his sacrifice: he must carry that blood within the vail, and sprinkle it upon, and before, the mercy-seat: and he must then burn incense before the mercy-seat: nor, till this was accomplished, could he come out to bless the people. Thus must our great High-Priest not only offer himself a Sacrifice, but “enter into heaven with his own blood [Note: Heb_9:12; Heb_9:24.],” and, together with that, present also the incense of his own intercession. If he should not do this, he would leave his work unfinished, and consequently of no avail. But how should he do this, if he should not “enter into his glory?” Nor is it his priestly office only that would be made void; his prophetic and kingly offices also would be incomplete: he teaches men by his Spirit; but “the Holy Ghost would not have been given, if Jesus had not been glorified [Note: Joh_7:39.]:” it was necessary that he should go into heaven, that he might send the Spirit down from thence [Note: Joh_16:7.]. Nor could he exercise his kingly government unless he were enthroned on high, and invested with power to subdue all things unto himself [Note: Php_2:9-11. “God exalted Him, that every knee should bow,” &c.]. Hence, then, his exaltation was as necessary to the completion of his work, as his humiliation was to its commencement.]
To give to his people a solid ground of hope—
[If our surety, who had been carried to prison for our debt, were kept immured in it, we should have reason to fear that he was unable to fulfil his engagements: but if we saw him liberated, we should conclude that he had fully discharged our debt. Thus if our blessed Lord had never been exalted to heaven to enjoy “his glory,” which he possessed previous to his incarnation, we should feel many misgiving thoughts respecting the acceptance of his sacrifice, and the efficacy of his mediation. But when he is restored to that glory which for our sakes he had laid aside, we cannot entertain a doubt respecting his sufficiency for our full and complete salvation. Though by dying on the cross he appeared unable to save himself, yet, by his ascending to heaven afterwards, we are assured of his power to save us: because he raised up himself, we know he can raise up us; and, “because he liveth, we trust assuredly that we shall live also.” Nor are we left to conclude this from uncertain reasonings; for St. Peter expressly tells us, that “God raised him up, and gave him glory that our faith and hope might be in God.”]
To obtain a just view of our Lord’s address, it will be proper to notice,
The peculiar force of his appeal—
There is a very striking energy in the text, as connected with the preceding and following verses: it intimated,
That they ought to have been better acquainted with the Scriptures—
[The Jews had the sacred oracles read and expounded to them every Sabbath-day; and therefore they were inexcusable in not being well acquainted with their contents, especially with those great truths which related to their Messiah. And the Apostles, above all, were blame-worthy, because they had enjoyed the ministry of our Lord himself. How blameable then are we, if we are ignorant of that which relates to Christ; we, who have all the light of the New Testament as well as of the Old; we, who can compare the prophecies with the history of their accomplishment; we, to whom the Bible is accessible at all times; and who have its contents statedly and plainly opened to us! We are apt to think our ignorance of the Scriptures excusable, because we are not scholars, or because we must attend to our worldly callings: but the Disciples were poor fishermen, and therefore as excusable as any persons upon those grounds; yet our Lord justly and severely reproved their ignorance: and most assuredly he will reprove us also in the day of judgment, for not using better the means of instruction which he has afforded us, unless we search the Scriptures, and labour diligently to acquaint ourselves with the things belonging to our peace.]
That the Scriptures, whether men be acquainted with them or not, shall surely be fulfilled—
[The Scriptures had foretold the sufferings, and the consequent glory, of the Messiah; and therefore it ought not to have been a matter of surprise that the events had corresponded with the predictions. Thus every thing relating to men’s acceptance or rejection of the Messiah, is foretold; and, whatever they may think to the contrary, every jot and tittle of it shall be accomplished. The eternal sufferings of the impenitent and unbelieving, may appear as improbable as the sufferings of the Messiah: and the eternal happiness of the contrite and believing, may seem as unlikely as the exaltation of Jesus, who was crucified. But, in matters that are revealed, we must not reckon upon probabilities or improbabilities: whatever is foretold, is as certain as the power and veracity of God can make it. They who look to our once crucified, but now exalted, Saviour, and make him the sole ground of their hope and confidence, are as sure of being in heaven as if they were already there, provided they continue to exercise faith on him, and shew forth their faith by their works. They, on the contrary, who neglect the Saviour, or make any thing of their own the ground of their confidence, are as sure of everlasting misery as if they were already enduring it in hell, unless they repent, and embrace the Saviour with their whole hearts. That which “ought” to be, according to the Scriptures, shall be: neither the fears of the timid, nor the presumption of the bold, shall at all change the decrees of heaven: yea rather, the agents, whether men or devils, who most labour to counteract the will of God, shall be taken in their own craftiness, and be the active, though unsuspecting, instruments of accomplishing his designs.]
How awful must have been the state of man that such things should be necessary for his recovery!
[Inexpressibly dreadful must have been that guilt which required the sufferings of God’s only dear Son to expiate it; and most deplorable that helplessness which could not be remedied but by his consequent exaltation to glory. We may judge of the state of man by that to which the fallen angels are reduced. There would have been no difference between them and us to all eternity, if Jesus had not undertaken for us. And such indeed is the state of those who are not interested in the Saviour: for, as far as respects their happiness, it is the same thing not to have a Saviour, and not to be interested in the Saviour that there is; only indeed their guilt is awfully increased by their contempt of him. Think then of this, ye who neglect the Saviour: as far as respects any hope of mercy, ye are in the condition of the fallen angels, while ye continue to neglect him: but, as to your final doom, you must perish under the aggravated guilt of rejecting and contemning your incarnate God. O that you may consider this, and “flee for refuge to the hope set before you!”]
How blessed is the state of those who are interested in the Saviour!
[Guilty and helpless as you are in yourselves, you have no need to despond when you reflect on what has been done for your salvation. Supposing that you would be restored to the favour of God, what can you think of that “ought” to be done, either for God’s honour or for your security, which has not already been done for you? Would you have a Surety? There is one. Would you have him to be God? He is so. Would you have him suffer all that you ought to suffer? He has done so. Would you have him invested with glory that he may perfect in you the work which he has begun? He is so. Inquire of God himself what ought to be done: search the Scriptures from one end to the other: see what the prophets spake: see what our Lord himself spake: and then try if you can find one thing omitted which has not been already accomplished, or is not accomplishing at this moment. Rejoice, then, Believer, rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice. You may be at present suffering like our Lord, and may be ready to doubt whether you shall ever behold the face of your God in peace: but “the word of the Lord is tried,” and “the Promises are sure to all the Seed.” Soon you shall be with your exalted Lord, and, having suffered with him awhile, shall eternally be glorified together.]