That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death;
Historically the disciples found themselves incapable of entering into the fellowship and sufferings of Jesus till touched by the power of His resurrection. They gathered with Him round the supper table, and gazed into His sorrowful countenance, but could not understand the mystery of His sufferings. There was a veil upon their heart, and a strange indescribable barrier between them and Him. "They were amazed" as Jesus went before them to Jerusalem, "and as they followed they were afraid." They stood beside Him bravely for a moment in the garden, but when they saw Him bound and helpless when they expected miraculous power, they all forsook Him and fled. How different it was when these very men saw things as in the light of the glory that burst from that broken tomb; then they began to understand all that Moses and the prophets had spoken, and their hearts burned within them as they began for the first time to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings. A little further on in their history, and the power of the risen Christ has come down in the flood tide of Pentecost, and what a change is wrought. They who shrank back from suffering — that Peter who was ready to say, "That be far from Thee, Lord," and denied his Master — that man gathers his fellows round him, and they lift up the voice of praise, rejoicing that they are counted worthy to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ. And as it was with them historically, so it seems to be doctrinally here. Do we desire that the Lord may nerve us to participate in His sufferings? In pro portion to the tide of new resurrection, life is strong in us. Shall we dare to stretch out our trembling hand to grasp His cup?
I. THE FELLOWSHIP of His sufferings. The word "fellowship" occurs in the case of the partnership which existed between the fishermen of Galilee, and in the case of the early Christians, who "had all things common." So we are not only permitted to sympathize with Christ as the Man of sorrows, but that, just as two partners in a firm are both joint possessors of the capital which belongs to the firm, so that wondrous wealth of sorrow which belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ, so far as it is a source of wealth, belongs in a measure to us, who are partners with Him. As the wealth of the disciples was thrown into one fund, and distributed amongst all, so the wealth of sorrow which belonged to our great Head is thrown into one fund with all the sorrows of those who are His members, and we are partakers with Him of that which is no longer to us a source of loss, but, on the contrary, a perennial source of gain. And to this common fund we are each of us permitted in our measure to contribute (Colossians 1:24).
II. The fellowship OF HIS SUFFERINGS.
1. Fellowship with the sufferer. Mere suffering will do nothing for us. We may torture ourselves if we will, but shall continue as ungodlike as before. What we want is to suffer in the right way, and that is in fellowship with Christ. How did He suffer? Not by entailing suffering on Himself, or courting it for its own sake. He was the Man of sorrows because it was His meat to do His Father's will. Considerations of pleasure and pain were subordinate. Psalm 118:27, is prophetic of the passion.
(1) God's light — the light of the Divine purpose resting upon the problem of human life — indicated the way that led to Calvary. It led the Son into the darkness; yet it was not the less precious to the heart of the Son for that. And we, too, if we would have real fellowship with Jesus, must see to it that our fellowship is intelligent fellowship. Some of the broken hearted followers of Christ gathered round His cross, and certainly suffered while He suffered. Yet had they no real fellowship in His sufferings, because they had not risen to the discovery of His design. Is it not too often so even with us? We have our sorrows; but the ray of light has not yet entered our souls, and the result is that we have no fellowship with Christ in our sufferings; and this, not so much because God is unwilling to give us the light, as because we shrink, like Peter, from the illumination which reveals the cross, and thus His light becomes obscured, and we lose the moral power which should have raised us into fellowship with His sufferings.
(2) How strong were the cords with which Christ was bound! It was not the brute force of the soldiers, nor the mandate of the governor, nor even the cruel nails that fastened Him to the tree. These He could have broken, but there were other cords, and of how strong, that bound Him there. There was the cord of —
(a) Obedience. The Father's will had revealed itself, and that was law to Him.
(b) Love, and that glowed with furnace heat towards God and man that proved itself stronger than death. Blessed are they whose love grows with sorrow. It is only thus that we rise to true fellowship with the sufferings of Christ.
(c) Faith. His very enemies bore witness that He trusted in God. His last words upon the cross testified that His trust remained unshaken. If we would rise into fellowship with His sufferings, it must be by stepping forward in the spirit of faith, even though it should be into a burning, fiery furnace. Suffering ceases to be sanctified when it is infected with mistrust.
2. Our privilege of fellowship in the sufferings. Much was borne that we might not have to bear; but as I gaze at yonder cross I interpret the nature of our fellowship in the light of the next clause. Take the voices which sound from the dying Son of Man.
(1) "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do!" Can I have fellowship in that? I believe there is not one of us that follows our Lord fully, but we shall be more or less misunderstood, misinterpreted, but let us endeavour to enter into sympathy with the heart and mind of Jesus; and then, if a rough word is spoken, or a brother does not seem to understand us, Christ's prayer will rise to our lips.
(2) "I thirst." Thank God our thirst shall never be what His was. Yet I am reminded, "Blessed are they that thirst," etc. And do not be cast down that you have not received the fulness of blessing. Is it not something that your thirst for God and righteousness makes you in a sense partaker of the sufferings of Jesus.
(3) "Woman, behold thy son! Son, behold thy mother." In that I see something that I may have fellowship with. In the midst of all His agony He found time to think upon the sorrows of His broken hearted mother and His lonely disciple, and to mingle their griefs with His own. How is human sorrow sanctified by such a revelation as this? Does bereavement come? The same pangs that shot through my Saviour's heart are become mine, and I am a partaker with Him.
(4) "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He was forsaken in order that you and I might not be forsaken. And yet, let us consider what it was that caused that cry: it was the dark shadow of imputed sin coming between His soul and God. And as we enter into the fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus, our views of sin will become more keen and clear, and also bring along with them a more painful emotion than could otherwise be ours. Let me enter into the fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus, that will make me hate sin.
(5) "This day shalt Thou be with Me in Paradise." Parched are His lips, and His heart breaking; yet when that dying malefactor's cry reaches His ear, His eye is turned upon that poor dying man, and the word of peace and pardon is spoken; and the suffering Son of Man takes on Himself the burden of the dying sufferer at His side. Oh for a heart to sorrow in all the sorrows of humanity!
(6) "It is finished." Oh to be partakers with Christ in the glory of that last cry, which is the triumphant issue of suffering. When the will has been so fully yielded that God has been able to work out His own purpose in us, and to reveal His Son in us, then may it one day come to our turn to exclaim with St. Paul, "I have finished my course."
3. Fellowship in the result of His sufferings. He, the Captain of our salvation, was made "perfect through suffering." Even so, while there never was a time that the will of the Man Christ Jesus was opposed to the will of the Father, yet there was a time when its obedience was not completed, and thus He learnt obedience by the things which He suffered. If we learn what it is to be conformed to the image of His death, as our wilfulness and waywardness learn to submit themselves to the gentle discipline of suffering, and if in each fresh cross we find a fresh revelation of the loving will of the Father, how calm, how resurrection-like our lives must needs become!
(W. M. H. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;