I think that one of the best ways to get to know Jesus is to get to know suffering. I know very little on this subject, but even when I get the smallest taste of pain in my heart and have the chance to say yes to Jesus again makes the pain so worth it.
Many preachers are making their living preaching a gospel that removes them from the fellowship of His sufferings; they are saying that Jesus came to enhance your life while giving you “above and beyond” what you could dream of.
I do believe in the extravagant goodness of God and I have tasted in the lavishness of His grace poured out, even in material things,
but, I’m referring to a gospel that does not include the sovereignty of God in suffering and does not rejoice to see the transformation of Christ through redemptive difficulty and hardship.
One cannot escape the theme of suffering (knit to joy, somehow), martyrdom, and the depths of self-sacrifice peppered through the new testament. For the sake of time I will not list all of the scriptures to prove this. One example is Acts 1:8,
“You will be my witnesses [greek for martyrs].”
Jesus says that it is the destiny of the apostles (each probably 20 yrs old) to engage their lives in deep suffering even unto death. Why must this be the end of their life? Why is this necessary? Why does Paul “rejoice in his sufferings” (Col 1)? I do believe that Jesus came to bless us. The question really is, will we be ok if blessing comes in the form of pain and suffering? I believe that one of the greatest acts of humility that we can engage with is to deeply feel and embrace things that hurt unto greater Christlikeness. One must not seek out hardship by any means, but one must also never pretend that this is not mandatory for the follower of the Man of sorrows. Do we dare to remove ourselves from this great call and honour? I believe that one of the most valuable parts of our journey with Jesus is to let Him lead you through trials unto His very faithful nature being formed inside you. Broken break is the bread that Jesus is and the kind that He forms in us. If I am not greatly broken and humbled I cannot enter into fellowship with Him in the depths. If my relationship with Jesus is not desperately difficult and taxing at points then how can I possibly value the journey when I make it out of the valley? The point is that you enter the valley potentially unwilling or unable to lean then at the end you come out leaning (Song of Solomon 8).
” Then He came to His disciples and said to them, Sleep and take you rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand. When He was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The One that I kiss is the man; seize Him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed Him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures by fulfilled that it must be so?'”
In moments of pain and distance from Jesus I always find it helpful to attach myself to Jesus’ travail and deep tension laid forth at the garden of the Gethsemane. I heard a preacher say once,
“Most Christians are willing to go to the pleasure of Eden with Jesus, but they are unwilling to be led to the pain of the other garden: Gethsemane.”
There are many vastly perplexing things about these words and I would like to point out a few of them and expound. Before these verses we read of the apostles that Jesus chose to sit with Him in the garden sleeping at three different points. Jesus calls them to awaken with ultimate gentleness as He is longing for friends in this hour, yet it was predestined by the Father for Jesus to pave the way of how to walk through the highest degree of loneliness and desolation. Jesus calls for them to pray in order for the power of temptation to be foreign to them. (May we deeply note how staying in the spirit of prayer is directly related to overcoming temptation from the lips of Jesus.) The weakness of the flesh triumphs and Jesus is left alone to a friendless preparation for the most painful hour of His life. The disciples squander their time of preparation and then we see a flustered Peter take his sword and attempt the role of the hero. In his immaturity, disappointment, and zeal he tries to run from the pain of his master’s death and execute vengeance. He cannot get even part of His heart around the idea that the Messiah would endure suffering. Much like it is in our culture, suffering was not accepted and was seen to not be helpful. Jesus had not backed away from prophesying this occurrence several different times during His ministry, yet His apostles were unable and unwilling to receive it. Now, came the reality of His prophesies. He said that pain would come. The deepest confusion and disappointment that these young apostles had ever experienced was now dawning on them and they knew not how to respond. In his pain, Peter took up arms. In his vulnerability and man-made wisdom he thought it necessary to loose judgement on a innocent bystander, which only gave Jesus the opportunity to yet again not look to His own deeply troubled soul but reach out to the one who came to murder Him and repair his ear. Jesus then strikes Peter with what I believe is a very pertinent concept for us: those who take the sword will perish by the sword. It was a call to humility. It was a call to embrace the injustice (or perfect justice) of the cross and to mourn for Him who would be pierced for the iniquity of mankind. It was a call to let go and to walk in trust. It was a call to enter into the suffering that Jesus embraced. He’s saying, “Peter, your immaturity is not a bother to me. You will leave me, deny me, and your heart will be crushed this day as you learn the path of trusting me.” Peter was unable to see how this could turn out good. How could Judas do this with such boldness? How could Jesus ever escape? His mind was on Jesus’ escape rather than the endurance and friendship that was needed for Him. In this moment, Jesus not only gives Peter a deeply powerful teaching in a sentence, but He also issues life-giving power to the poor servant that has come to capture Him and kill Him. What security and willingness to receive all of the wrath of God. It began right then with the betrayal and His response is to reach out to His accusers as a response to the Father that said,
“I trust you. I love you. I will walk any road with You.”
The issue that strikes me is the contrast of Jesus’ composure and willingness to make Himself vulnerable to pain and suffering (even to the point of joy. Hebrews 12.) because He can see the end result, as opposed to Peter’s hastiness to run from the turmoil of his soul. This sequence of events ends with every single disciple running and hiding from the reality of what they failed to prepare for in their hearts: Jesus’ trial and death. The pain was too much. The suffering was unbearable. How could this be happening? Why now? In all of this confusion, Jesus’ only words are, “Take on your rest later.” and “Those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” I can imagine that you have gone through some confusing seasons of not knowing why or what the Lord was doing in your life. I think we can take heart at looking at the confusion of this scenario for these teenage apostles and seeing the outcome of their lives after walking through this.
In closing, I recently read a deeply troubling and wounding article which spoke of the turmoil in Syria. I here learned of several native Christians who had pledged their love and devotion to Jesus after renouncing the tyranny of Islam. The change was so deep and their hearts so expanded in love after experiencing the gospel that when ISIS came to their village, they refused to leave as they believed that it was their assignment to share the gospel. They soon were confronted with the option to unleash their sword or to keep it in its sheath and endure suffering. ISIS commanders gave them the opportunity to return to the backbreaking load of Islam, but their love for Jesus made the decision easy to remain faithful to Him. They stood as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane: weary, confronted, and knowing that they could not go back now. The women were publicly raped. After a brutal beating, they were crucified. These young and new additions to the family of God were crowned as worthy to embrace martyrdom.
They saw that there was no need to resist by the sword and they chose the path of following Jesus through the willingness to see suffering as a gateway into Christlikeness.
We simply cannot ignore that the way to follow Jesus is to walk through fire and to not expect that He will excuse you from the pain that He went through. This can look very different for us all, it could be infrequent for some or frequent for others, but I firmly believe that there is no greater honour and blessing to the heart of Jesus than to keep your sword of retaliation in your sheath and saw yes to Him when its hard. It may not look like death physically, but it may feel like so much pressure on your heart that it feels like you may die. It could be small things that give you a choice to say yes and keep your sword in it’s place. I do not claim in any way to have a understanding of these realities and when I stress these issues I stress them deeply into my own spirit, as our brand new family has been walking through a season of pressure and lack of ease.
The point is this: let us follow Him to the depths of pain if necessary so that we may worship Him with our lives laid down and our hearts still saying yes. This is the smallest offering of worship that we can give to a Man who endured so much to have you inside His heart.