And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Luke 9:22-24)
During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him … (Heb. 5:7-9)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb. 12:1-3)
Our relatively comfortable life makes it hard for us to connect with passion themes. For most of us, suffering and tragedy are aberrations—things that happen to others. They come as rare exceptions that prove the rule—that life for us in this world is basically good because we belong to God, who has a wonderful plan for our lives.
Perhaps beginning with 9/11 and now most recently with a series of catastrophic natural calamities we have been jolted to better senses, to more biblical wits, at least for a while. We became acutely aware of the painful realities that make up daily life for many in the world. The tragedy we saw, and in varying degrees felt, was from the world’s perspective simply the rule to which our reality had been a curious, alluring, but deceptive exception.
That suffering comes as a fact of life is not news to most of the world’s peoples. This majority may be in the better position to appreciate the wonder and depth of meaning of the Lenten season: first, that God should enter our painful human history and identify so completely that God suffers and dies; and second, that our infinitely smaller degrees of suffering are not beyond redemption. That, in fact, God takes the worst and enfolds it into his gracious plan to bless and eventually to restore the human enterprise to original glory.
So it is that God uses especially the hard and harsh realities of our lives to make us bearers of his glory. I’m wondering these days whether Jesus didn’t have this in mind, at least in part, when he called the first disciples to follow him, a call that now comes to us. Certainly, the radical obedience that embraces self-sacrificing love on behalf of others often incurs at least static from the culture’s alien atmosphere, if not outright opposition. Add to that the “stuff” that happens to us no less than to others as we shoulder cross and put one foot in front of the other.
But how often have I regarded that “stuff,” and the mild opposition I’ve met, as a hindrance to my journey with Jesus! In fact, however, I’m learning that the “stuff” may become a powerful means of grace. I’m learning that the brokenness and the pain can drive me to a desperate dependence upon God, and God’s ways at work in the world. Only at such times am I likely to cry, with Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend myself,” to exclaim with Paul, “to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and to keep my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.