Scripture References – Isaiah 50:4-9; Luke 19:28-40
Suffering is no confirmation of obedience to God. A human being with a conscience and a normal range of emotion is equipped to suffer. There is suffering that comes to us precisely because we are God’s people trying to do good in God’s world. We can rail and rebel against it, but it is part and parcel of life. So do not let suffering lead us to some false and proud sense of martyrdom. Most of us cringe at the thought of suffering. We may not run from it, but we won’t beg for it either. We are surprised, then, when we come upon a person who actually enjoys suffering, tries for it, and interprets much of life from that perspective. This person uses the unfortunate as some kind of a reminder or badge which signifies “hurting for God.” No one has yet asked that suffering be enjoyed.
Listen, children, adolescents, and adults: Living the good life is no guarantee that your way will be free of encounter with pain and difficulty. Being a devout Christian will not always bring enough good to outweigh the bad for you. Rather, through a careful study of the foundations of Christianity and—more powerfully—through the consistent living out of a relationship with God, we will find more often than not a correlation between obedience to God and suffering than we will find between obedience to God and success.
When Jesus proceeded into Jerusalem a few days before His death, He believed that He was placing His life at risk because He was being obedient to God, not something new for this young man, but a way He had lived consistently. And yet, what awaited Him there in Jerusalem? What was in store for this man who honestly only did good deeds for God’s sake? Nothing but suffering. Nothing, but suffering! Some reward, huh?
In the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth we see the epitome of the connection between obedience to God and suffering. We have taught, and we have desperately wanted to believe that these were mutually exclusive; at times, we have even needed to believe it. But it isn’t true. Obedience and suffering are wed in lives like Jesus’ life. And as He is our Lord and our example, our obedience to God will in some way be wed to suffering too.
I’m not suggesting that if you are God’s person you should be prepared in case suffering should come your way; I’m not suggesting that you brace yourself to prevent a possible brush with the unexpected. What I’m saying for all of us to hear is that obedience to God means suffering. Count on it. It may be that those who oppose God will actually turn on us, bringing us that kind of suffering; I’d say this is likely if we ever roam out of protected Christian environments. Or, the suffering we can expect may mean that as obedient children of God our hearts grow tender like God’s heart and thus connect us to those who struggle and lose so much and hurt so often that we suffer with them. Walt Whitman, again, without any intention of describing this kind of Christian suffering did a powerful job of it anyway when he said:
“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels. I become the wounded person.”
Jesus in His obedience to God knew those kinds of suffering: the pain of direct attack and the pain of identification. Jesus, no doubt, experienced all kinds of suffering.
When the prophet Isaiah wrote about the seemingly anonymous Servant of the Lord with whom Jesus would later be identified, Isaiah didn’t overlook the suffering in the life of this person whose experience either foreshadowed or hauntingly foretold the plight of the one we name as our Lord. Isaiah, speaking for this Suffering Servant, said: “I offered my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting.” – Isaiah 50:6 (NLT). As Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, this was precisely the fate that awaited Him; taunting, beating, being spit upon, and more. Yes, much more. The prophet set this account of suffering in a longer monologue which gave some explanation for why and how the Servant of the Lord endured such suffering. He explained in the Servant’s words:
The Sovereign LORD has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away. . . . Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. He who gives me justice is near. – Isaiah 50:5, 7-8 (NLT).
To Be Continued