Saturday, February 15, 2020

Victory: The Path of Suffering

Luke brings out the truth that our salvation was brought about by Christ’s suffering for sinners. That suffering appeared in Peter’s early preaching (Acts 2:23; 3:18). Indeed, “the Christ had to suffer” (17:3). It was not just that this was the way it all happened to turn out; there was a compelling divine necessity about Jesus’ suffering.

Luke did not dwell on this suffering; it is not as though he was carried along by a morbid interest in the pains of others. Indeed, it is striking that not only he but all the New Testament writers make no attempt to harrow their readers’ feelings by dwelling on the pains that Jesus endured. Crucifixion was one of the most painful methods of execution ever devised, and it was preceded by a flogging that was so severe that it sometimes brought about death by itself. On the cross the body of the crucified person was contorted, his lungs were constricted so that he could not breathe in all the air he needed, and he might linger on his cross for days. Commentator Dr. Reville speaks of it as “the acme of the torturer’s art: atrocious physical sufferings, length of torment, ignominy, the effect on the crowd gathered to witness the long agony of the crucified … tortured, the pillory, degradation, and certain death, distilled slowly drop by drop.” Luke deals with all this in one word! He was not concerned to play on the feelings of his readers; his aim was to bring out the meaning of it all. Jesus’ death was the way to life for all believers. What exactly does this mean then? Well, it means...


Luke keeps telling us that Jesus was not defeated by being crucified. Indeed, that was the way He won His victory, for He rose again, triumphant over death (1:3, 22; 2:24–36; 3:15, 26; 4:33, etc.). Jesus’ triumph over death runs through Acts; it is clear that it thrilled those first believers and they never tired of proclaiming it. And they saw the triumph as going on. Not only did they stress the Resurrection, but they want on to speak of Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God (2:33; 5:31). Plainly this was a very important part of the Christian message from the first. The Cross was not defeat, but victory.

Defeating Demons

We do not always appreciate the fact that the fear of demons permeated the world of the first Christians. Demons might take possession of people (and in the Gospels there are many accounts of the casting out of demons). But demons were thought to lurk in all sorts of places. Spells and incantations were necessary to ward them off. A good example is the way the demons prevailed against the sons of Sceva (19:13–16). But the Christians preached a Jesus who healed “all who were under the power of the devil” (10:38). In the name of Christ, Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl in Philippi (16:18). This aspect of the Christian victory is not overemphasized, but it must have been very real for the first believers.

The Curse

Luke says that Jesus died on a “tree” (5:30; 10:39; 13:29), a most unusual way of referring to a cross. It is difficult to find any example of this use outside the New Testament, and apart from Luke, it seems to be used only twice (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24). Why did Luke use this curious way of speaking of a cross? Surely because he saw a reference to Deuteronomy 21:22–23, which speaks of a person who “is hung on a tree” as “under God’s curse.” It is another way of bringing out the significance of the many-sided salvation Christ’s death brought.

The Holy Spirit

Salvation should not be thought of exclusively in negative terms, as salvation from sin. It is that, but it is more, and Luke brought this out with his strong emphasis on the place of the Holy Spirit. He has his wonderful account of the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and of the transformation of the believers when the Spirit came (ch. 2). The rest of Acts is taken up with the story of what the Spirit did in and through the believers; this book is really “the Acts of the Holy Spirit” rather than “the Acts of the Apostles!”

The giving of the Spirit is seen as part of Christ’s saving work. Jesus told His followers to wait for the coming of the Spirit (1:4, 8); now He is at the right hand of God and He “has poured out what you now see and hear” (2:33).

Christ brings full salvation. His death takes away the sins of those who trust Him and the Spirit equips them with power to lead lives of service and direction for the way in which they should go.