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Paul the Penultimate Sufferer
Without a doubt, our Lord Jesus suffered infinitely more than anyone on earth. He is called the Suffering Servant for a reason.
*He was the only perfect human to ever walk the planet since Adam and Eve fell from their sinless state in Eden. Jesus Christ was sinless, sin free, absolutely holy and righteous who is actually called the Holy One and the Righteous One by the apostles.
*Because of that absolute perfect holy righteous state of mortal existence, interacting with fallen sinful imperfect people was a grievous burden and challenge for Jesus. Not because He had a superior attitude or didn’t love others perfectly, but because of how His very presence must have threatened or irritated others failing to understand Who He was. Just notice how his imperfect parents treated Him when He was 12 years old at the temple in Jerusalem. He was perfectly going about the Heavenly Father’s business, but his mortal parents fretted over his absence thinking He got lost or separated in the festival crowd. Actually, Jesus knew exactly where He was and was supposed to be, while his parents were very upset and concerned. Yet Jesus submitted to their authority perfectly in obedience once His obedience to the Heavenly Father was fulfilled in the temple courtyard after politely engaging with the religious teachers who were amazed at his understanding and answers.
*Jesus endured opposition and difficulty not just from his hand-picked disciples and friends, but from hostile enemies and religious authorities. Peter’s rebukes and denials. Thomas’ doubts. Judas’ betrayal. His own family questioning His sanity. Rumors about His paternity and Mary’s pregnancy (immaculate? innocent? Joseph not the biological father? Holy Spirit incarnation from the Heavenly Father?). Loneliness and outcast as a Jewish single man who could never marry. False accusations by friend and foe alike. Having His authority and integrity challenged by Jewish leaders and Gentile governor Pilate. Innocent of all charges yet imprisoned, tried and condemned to crucifixion as a guilty criminal. Hanging nakedly exposed under the curse of God and His own people on the bloody tortuous cross in excruciating agony for 6 hours.
*All of this was like a stubbed toe compared to suffering the full unlimited Wrath of God for the infinite capital punishment of hell paid on behalf of the sin of the entire human race since Adam up till the last baby to someday be born. Jesus became a curse for us as our substitute. He took the penalty every person individually and cumulatively deserved. He paid the eternal and temporal, spiritual and physical and emotional and mental and psychological torment cost of satisfying God’s Holy Justice on every sin ever committed for all time past present and future. No one can ever measure Jesus’ cosmic loss to see mankind’s sin upon His blood-soaked cross. One Bible verse barely scratches the surface of the surface of the Suffering Servant’s anguish: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Compared to Jesus’ being the Ultimate Sufferer, the only Old Testament person famous for being a great sufferer is Job. Read the book for yourself to realize he was a foreshadowing and prefigurement of Jesus Himself, at a much lesser level to a much less intense degree or extent. Bad. Horrible. Unspeakable. Intolerable. Unimaginable. Stricken by the devil himself for months on end with no relief day or night. Until finally the Lord’s great compassion and mercy brought deliverance and restoration (parallel to Jesus’ own resurrection and vindication).
Somewhere between Jesus as Supreme Suffer and Job as severe sufferer stands one New Testament person famous for being a great sufferer. But few people realize who else in the Bible suffered so tremendously.
The Lord Jesus, now risen and gloriously ascended to heaven, visited earth to appear to a man in Damascus saying, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name.”
This same man wrote a brief resume of personal sufferings in his letter 2 Corinthians 11:23 onwards. Beatings. Stonings. Floggings. Shipwrecks. Hostile crowds. Betrayals. Arrests. Imprisonments. Poverty. Rejection. Plots against his life. Galatians 6:17 mentions his scars due to Christ’s Name. Acts mentions 4+ years in prison after which he likely served more time behind bars than all the other apostles combined. He was finally beheaded under Nero’s order in Rome according to tradition.
All this sounds horrific enough to qualify him in the ranks of Job or with noted martyrs of the Christian faith throughout Bible times, the early church up till recently in massively hostile persecutions beyond telling.
But one often overlooked the fact of this man’s life of exquisite torment and agonized suffering is found in 2 Corinthians 12. Much is made of what has been called his ‘thorn in the flesh’. Few preachers or commentators seem to grasp the full dimension of what exactly he suffered. Most underestimate his tragic malady as an eye condition or anxiety about concern over the churches he shepherded, the daily pressures of apostolic ministry, burdens of pioneer leadership, loneliness as a single man facing the alluring temptations of the pagan Gentile world, some sort of bodily disease causing great pain and unrelenting distress, etc.
Two neglected aspects of his ‘flesh thorn’ can help to appreciate more of ‘how much he must suffer for Jesus’ Name’.
*It was given to him by the Lord Himself, and after repeated pleas for removal, the Lord did not remove it as He had done 2,000 years earlier with Job. All he got for his desperate prayers was, ‘My grace is plenty sufficient enough for you, for My power is fully realized in your weakness.’ It seems he was stuck with his ‘flesh thorn’ for the rest of his earthly life.
*The Greek New Testament uses the phrase ‘angelos satana’, angel or agent of Satan. Some sort of divinely imposed devilish demonic presence afflicted him constantly. This is reminiscent of Job’s suffering inflicted by Satan, King Saul being tormented by an evil spirit and the Lord Jesus Himself being tempted by the devil in the wilderness 40 days and nights.
Everything considered, this servant of the Lord probably suffered more than anyone to fulfill the prophecy Jesus spoke about him, ‘I will show him HOW MUCH he must SUFFER for My Name.’ Although he was possessed by the Holy Spirit of God from heaven – the Spirit of Jesus Himself, and possessed by faith the all-sufficient grace and power to endure and prevail over the affliction and torment, he likely suffered more than any mortal in taking up his cross and following His Master Jesus.
No one can come close to the Supreme Ultimate Sufferer regarding infinite, eternal, redemptive suffering under the Holy wrath curse of Almighty God. But the Apostle Paul no doubt exceeded the sufferings of Job by multiple degrees and length of duration to serve his Savior.
Paul was the Penultimate Sufferer, used of the Lord to bring the Cross of Jesus by sermon, epistle and personal example to the world through the New Testament.
How many hundreds of millions of souls have been saved by Jesus using the chosen instrument of Paul’s testimony-through-torment, all because the power of Christ’s Spirit triumphed over his flesh-thorn-angelos-satana?
You too can endure all your suffering through the same Jesus Who savingly suffered beyond all limits of love to win you who trust Him safely secure as His Very Own.
Paul’s Christ-scarred letters are the Church’s hull- Most heavened output of an earthen skull.