It is a great wonder that the grand moment of the devil’s triumph is the precise moment of his overthrow. It is the same great wonder that the death of God is eternal life for man. Likewise, that the profound humiliation and shame of Jesus’ cross is His glory and exaltation.
In the weakness of the cross God overpowers sin, death, and the devil. In the foolishness of the cross sinners are made wise unto salvation. In the suffering of Jesus we Christians are given eternal happiness. In His forsakenness we are forgiven. In His death we find life, an eternal life that never ends, that cannot end.
He lets the godly become powerless and to be brought low, until everyone supposes their end is near, whereas in these very things He is present to them with all His power, yet so hidden and in secret that even those who suffer the oppression 2 And Take They Our Life do not feel it but only believe. There is the fullness of God’s power and His outstretched arm. For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins, provided faith is present and waits on Him. And when the oppression comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden underneath the weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there He performed His mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil. Thus all the martyrs were strong and overcame. Thus, too, all who suffer and are oppressed overcome. Therefore it is said in Joel 3:10: “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’”—yet in faith, and without feeling it until it is accomplished. (LW 21:340, On the Magnificat, 1521)
This hidden victory of the cross extends to the Christian, who follows Christ on the way of suffering. The first cross noted in the Scriptures is the one taken up by the disciples in order to follow Jesus. Martin Luther famously understood “the holy possession of the sacred cross” as a mark of the Christian church.
They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God’s Word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, Matthew 5 [:11], “Blessed are you when men persecute you on my account.” They must be pious, quiet, obedient, and prepared to serve the government 3 Every Christian A Martyr, An Introduction and everybody with life and goods, doing no one any harm. No people on earth have to endure such bitter hate; they must be accounted worse than Jews, heathen, and Turks. In summary, they must be called heretics, knaves, and devils, the most pernicious people on earth, to the point where those who hang, drown, murder, torture, banish, and plague them to death are rendering God a service. No one has compassion on them; they are given myrrh and gall to drink when they thirst. And all of this is done not because they are adulterers, murderers, thieves, or rogues, but because they want to have none but Christ, and no other God. Wherever you see or hear this, you may know that the holy Christian church is there, as Christ says in Matthew 5 [:11–12], “Blessed are you when men revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” This too is a holy possession whereby the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies His people, but also blesses them. (LW 41:164-165, On the Councils and the Church, 1539)
We could fill the world with the testimony of Scripture and quotations of Luther1 to the uncomfortable but undeniable truth that the Christian life is one of suffering. We shouldn’t be surprised to see our God suffer.