The Call of Lent: Suffer with Me (Why do believers have to suffer?)
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 2:3)
We are nearing the Holy Week of our faith again. All media outlets are expected to be saturated with the images of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. A sweaty, bloody, and mangled Christ will once again, dominate our feeds.
It is accurate anyway. This is really what The Christ had to go through for us all. And if you are like me, you would also be crying at the thought that The Divine would stoop down to such level of pain and sorrow just to save sinners like us. You and I know our worst and meditating on this alone should break us that someone voluntarily broke His body for us all.
But is brokenness or remorse over our own sins the only thing that Christ’s suffering and death are asking us to do? Or is that entire act on the cross also a way to model the call of Jesus to those who are willing to come after him?
If your desire this Lenten season is to answer this question, then join me in the next few weeks, as we dig deeper into the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For it is one thing to watch what Christ has done for us all, and another thing to know what it is calling us to do. There is an invitation underneath it all and today we begin by studying Jesus’ summon to suffering. Why do believers have to suffer? Isn’t it that we submit ourselves to God so we can be assured of a good, stable and blessed life?
I sure wish this were the only truth. In 1843, Karl Marx came out with the famous line that “religion is the opium of the people.” Opium was known to be a painkiller in his time and he was talking about how religion was that which dumbed down the sorrows of the oppressed. Perhaps he saw that people who had some measure of faith were able to endure injustice by drawing helpful fictions of hope and redemption someday. If this is true then the problem was that he didn’t see three things. One was that believers were hoping on something true and not fiction, two was that people endured because of faith and not religion, and three is that if we only read our Bibles well, suffering is not something we evade but embrace as followers of Jesus.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
The cross was where our Good Lord suffered greatly right before death, we all know that. He was believed to have carried no less than 75lbs worth of the cross up to the hill where he would later be hung for all to see. It is gruesome to think that nails had to be hammered through his hands (or arms, as some studies say) and feet on a cross, while gravity was pulling all the rest of him down, where his bones could have been painfully ripping through his flesh apart. The Bible records him sweating blood because of the extreme stress he had to endure.
But what we often forget is that his suffering did not begin only when he picked up the cross. He was actually scourged and crowned with thorns before he was made to do this last walk on earth. He was already weak and beaten down by the time he laid the crossbar on his back, which he had to carry uphill. And it wasn’t as if he went to the gym and prepared for this extreme physical torture days before it. Jesus was already suffering when he had to incur yet more of it.
Hearing this led me to better understand the implications of his invitation to pick up our cross and follow him. Clearly, Jesus’ theology of suffering isn’t about never having a hard time once you believe or suffering only once and never anymore after that, but to acknowledge that suffering upon suffering is a part of our faith. As I have heard many times before from different preachers, to be a disciple of Jesus does not mean to be conveniently seated in the church halls but to step out and go out of your comfort zone.
Of course no one wants to invite hardship to his or her life, but God’s word says to expect it, and even embrace it even as it gives you the opportunity to share in Christ’s sufferings.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Please don’t think that this is an invitation to summon suffering when there is none, or to pursue blind sacrifice. But that when it comes, may we be assured that it is not always an indicator that something is wrong. Instead, that the Lord was confident to ask us of this because His plans and purposes far outweigh our momentary hardships. And although there are reasons we cannot know for now, there are benefits that come as we acknowledge suffering as part of our journey on earth.
To break us
Who doesn’t like to live free of pain and sorrow? Yet living comfortably can shelter us from the real problems of the world. It will turn as into unfeeling, unaffected, beings if we are not careful to keep our eyes open to the needs of a fallen world. I believe God sometimes sends pain our way that our hearts might break for what breaks His, and be moved to share His gospel.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, (2 Timothy 1:8)
To humble us
My friend who recently found out her mom has cancer and finds her dad soon suffering from stroke told me, “What suffering has done to me is remove ‘my power’, and made me realize that we don’t have any control and power over life. So I found myself submitting to God and all that He is.”
A smooth and unchallenged life sometimes also gives us a false sense of power and control. And while sickness is not something we wish upon ourselves and our loved ones, dire situations as such actually come with the privilege of removing our trust in our limitedness and onto the true power and authority of Jesus, Our God. Much like a soldier out in the field of battle, who finds himself prepared, strong, intelligent, yet vulnerable and only able to preserve his life at the mercy of his enlister.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
To strengthen us
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, (Romans 5:3-4)
Endurance can only come about by going through hardships we have no choice but to endure. The more we suffer, the more opportunities to overcome, the more courage we gain and faith we build in experiencing first hand that “this too, shall pass.”
To glorify Him
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:18-20)
And not only to God, but also to men. Is it not that we find it tantamount to a miracle when we witness one who suffers yet is not crushed, but hopes and believes, and continues to possess a spirit that is beyond this world? It can only point to a source of godly proportions and power, doesn’t it?
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:18-20)
To excite us
Job was a righteous man who did no wrong. But God allowed for him to suffer, that evil may know that people who sincerely loved the Lord will stay in His care even when the going gets really, really tough. And though it can be seen as injustice at first, right when the story ends we see the Lord give back all that Job lost and added even so much more.
And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning… (Job 42:12)
The Lord is just and is a rewarder, let us not forget that. He sees everything and he always has the grandest plan as each story ends. As we endure suffering for His glory, we should never shy away from expecting that God will redeem and restore us to perfection, if not in this lifetime, then the next!
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
To know Him
Job’s plight in the Bible caused him and his friends and even us, the readers, to ask questions of when, why, what, and how. When will this end? Why does it have to be me? What did I do wrong? How will I get through this?
But if you’ve read through this book you’d also know that God never answers those questions, instead He gives this reply, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4) And on and on it stretches to show the unfathomable nature of such a majestic God, and how little we knew of all that He is and all that He can do.
The truth is that in this faith, the only question that matters is not why, when, where, what, and how, but WHO.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)
I know we like to have reasons when we suffer but many times, it just isn’t available. But guess who always is? Jesus. For when we suffer, He is close; when we suffer, we know Him most of all; when we suffer, we gain Him. And for those who have chosen to know Him through their sorrows will be able to attest that there really is surpassing worth in knowing Him. For through the loss we find in Him both comfort and hope, and a divine gain of eternal worth.
- What is your present suffering?
- What could God be doing using the present suffering of your life? Feel free from the reasons above. You may also cite another reason that I may have not included in the list!