We have been talking about how life in the Promised Land is fraught with battles. Yes, the Land is ours through the blood of Jesus and our consequent forgiveness. We "then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb. 4:16).
But Paul has an interesting way of standing with Jesus in the Promised Land:
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:10-14)
Wow. In order to know Jesus--to really know Him deeply, intimately and fully--Paul sees this path taking him into Jesus' sufferings. Yes, the path is filled with the Power that raised Jesus from the dead, that is, the Spirit of God:
The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Rom. 8:11)
But as we enter into the sufferings of Jesus, this is where we truly get to know Him.
So, it's just not suffering with an eye to the resurrection; it is an eye on getting to know Jesus better in this life. So, why suffering? Because that is the path Jesus walked. We shy away from this thought, because we don't want to suffer. I remember a passage from Corrie Ten Boom's autobiography, The Hiding Place. She is talking to her father about fear and how will she face what is coming? Her father asks her when he gives her the train ticket. She says when she gets on the train. So, too, says her father, that God gives us His grace when we are in the need at the moment, and not a moment before.
In other words, sitting where you are and thinking about suffering is scary--Satan will increase your worries with all sorts of horrible imaginings about what the suffering will be... But don't let him carry you away. When you face suffering, it is at that precise moment that God will step in, and hand you the ticket of grace, as it were.
Think of it another way. Remember the show, Undercover Boss? It had a great premise: Have the boss dress up like just another worker, and hang out with the workers. Experience what they experience, hear their concerns and ask what they really think of the boss. Wow. It was quite a revelation for the boss, for he or she just didn't hear about life at the lower levels, but actually engaged with the people enough to really understand them. The boss could go back to being a boss later on; unlike the workers, who had to remain behind. But the boss was never the same. How could he or she be? The boss went from head knowledge to hopefully some real empathy, and that changes a person.
Hearing about poverty and then driving through a poor, blighted neighborhood: That changes you.
Hearing about a Third World country and going there, staying with the people you are seeking to help and understand, and not staying in a four-star hotel: That changes you.
Being employed, and then getting fired, and having to wait with others in an unemployment line: That changes you.
Having your teenager spiral out of control and now joining the ranks of parents of troubled teens: That changes you.
Having your health suddenly deteriorate, and the doctors are utterly flummoxed by your symptoms: That changes you.
Why? Because now you stand where others are standing. You have left your rather seemingly uncomplicated life to enter one of hurt, pain, being misunderstood by others, and questioning God.
Then the battle of not becoming bitter kicks in hard. But the Word warns us where that battle can lead without leaning heavily on Jesus and learning to see His grace at work. Phillips does an amazing job on this verse from Hebrews 12:15:
Let it be your ambition to live at peace with all men and to achieve holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord”. Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but can also poison the lives of many others.
Beautiful. Notice that bitterness can spring up, or other translations put it, a "root of bitterness" can appear, as we fail to see (or do not want to see) how God, despite the pain and suffering we are going through, is still at work. This bitterness, is, at first, unseen by others, and can be ignored by you. When it is small, we nurse it, secretly thinking we are alone in our sufferings, no one else has gone through something like this, and even if others see our suffering, they just don't get it. That root grows, and if you have ever battled weeds (not wimpy ones, but the weeds that have giant taproots, ugly seeds and an attitude of "You want a piece of me? Fine. Take it, but I will be back!") you know what I mean.
Have you spent time with a bitter person? Need I say more?
But if our suffering matches that of Jesus', then we are entering into knowing Him better. Jesus was the ultimate Undercover Boss. He left the courts of Heaven, put on the working uniform of human flesh and walked among the lowly, the poor, the misunderstood, the hurting and the dying. He didn't hobnob with the rich, the princely or the exalted, which would have been His due. No. He went way down into the muck and mire of human experience.
He returned to Heaven a changed Man. He gets us. He really gets us.
So, if we follow Him, we enter into that same domain He was in while here: We go among the lowly, the poor, the misunderstood, the hurting and the dying. We go deeper into the muck and mire of human experience. Our path is through suffering, but He gives us grace when and where and how we will need it and not a minute before. You don't psych yourself up to face suffering; He gives you the grace the moment you get on the train:
The moment you are given the diagnosis.
The moment you are told you husband has had a heart attack and stroke. (That was me, seven years ago.)
The moment your teenager yells, "I hate you!" (Been there.)
The moment your husband's affair is revealed to you.
The moment your wife says, "I don't love you anymore."
Now, this all presents a small problem. Jesus suffered on this earth. We follow Him and as we suffer, we gain a deeper knowledge of Him. But I can hear you say,
Jesus is God, but I am not. He had the home-court advantage.
Jesus didn't lose a son/daughter/spouse to drugs/alcohol/suicide.
Jesus wasn't raped.
Jesus didn't suffer from a chronic illness.
So, how can I get to know Jesus better when He didn't go through what I am going through?
Good question. So, here is another way to think about this:
Do I have to go to war, undergo PTSD to minister to a vet?
Do I have to lose a child to minister to a grieving parent?
Do I have to be divorced to gently listen to a person recently divorced?
If we predicated our ministry solely on having gone through exactly what the other person has gone through, we would minster to very few people, and we would turn away a huge number who reached out to us. But, if we are suffering with Jesus, He gives us the deeper understanding, discernment and heart to walk with someone in moccasins so foreign to our experience.
He knew deeply the human heart, in a way that only God can. So, He could understand an event in the life of someone, even if He didn't personally go through it.
For example, Jesus did not contract leprosy while He was here. But He was all too familiar with rejection and being marginalized.
So, He could gently enter into the life of a leper, and deeply feel the hurt and rejection that leper experienced. He knew how pain and suffering cause us to question God's benevolence, and just how pervasively sin destroyed the beauty of His Father's creation.So, I am going to go through the Gospels with you, and search out exactly how, why and when, Jesus suffered--to unpack the idea of what "participation in His sufferings" looks like. We will go undercover with the Boss and as we see Him confront a lot of the evil, ugliness and pain this world has to offer, my prayer is that it will give us hope and a comfort from the Lord Himself as we face our suffering.