Friday, December 07, 2012

Jesus Purposefully Led his Followers into Suffering

"And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, 'See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.'" 

Mark 10:32-34

The Lord knew what he had to suffer, and that is a suffering in itself. He had to die to his own will and desire to avoid suffering, pain, and death. These things were his Father's chosen way for him and he let his Father's  plans shape his decisions and his destiny. Therefore, “They [Jesus and his disciples and followers] were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way…” 

We shouldn’t assume that this was easy for Jesus. As it says in Hebrews 5:7-10, “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 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus had to be shaped by suffering just like the rest of us, and this was not easy for him, but he chose the way of his Father over the way of his flesh. 

Jesus’ closest followers, the twelve, were astonished by his actions. On a human level, they knew what was at stake. Of course, they had earthly ends in mind for Jesus and had set their sights on that, but the point is that they had a clear sense of the likely outcome of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem--his death and possibly theirs. And yet, Jesus led the way and the twelve followed. 

Jesus’ broader circle of followers were also afraid. They understood that going to Jerusalem meant not only suffering for Jesus and the twelve but also for them. Their comfort, health and even lives were at stake, and they must have wondered, “What in the world is Jesus doing?” And yet, Jesus led the way. Understanding what the twelve and his followers were feeling, Jesus took the twelve aside and “told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We ARE going up to Jerusalem.’” It was as if he was saying, “There is not another way. I know that this strikes fear into your heart, but this is my Father’s will and we must follow it. Suffering is not optional for those who follow me, but my Father is good and he is in control.” 

Notice that Jesus knew very specific details about his Father’s will (verses 33-34). Among them were: 

(1) He knew that he would be “betrayed,” which implies that an insider would turn on him--one whom he loved. The pain of betrayal is greater than any other relational pain, and we would be wrong to assume that Jesus was inoculated from that pain. 

(2) He knew that the religious leaders of the Jews would sentence him to death and otherwise facilitate his suffering. These were his people, he had come to his own, but his own would not receive him (John 1:11). 

(3) He knew that he would be handed over to the Gentiles, to foreign peoples who were alienated from the promises of God to Israel and who were without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). 

(4) He knew that the Gentiles would “mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.” It's one thing to suffer; it's a whole other thing to know the details of what you're about to suffer and walk right into it anyway. Again, we should not assume that this was easy for Jesus. This depth and specificity of knowledge only served to deepen his conscious experience of suffering beyond what we can imagine. 

(5) He knew that he would rise again from death--he had a living hope that outweighed the weight of his pain, and this hope led him on and carried him through. 

Can you imagine living with the knowledge that one of the people in whom you had invested for three years—24 hours per day—would eventually turn on you and hand you over to your enemies? Can you imagine living with the knowledge that the leaders who taught you the ways of God, the people to whom you looked up all of your life, would eventually facilitate your death? Can you imagine living with the knowledge that those leaders would not only condemn you to death, but hand you over to their enemies? Can you imagine living with the knowledge that you would be publicly ridiculed, laughed at, abused, beaten, and killed? Can you imagine living with the hope that despite all of your suffering, God would vindicate you in the end and gain great glory for himself? That is suffering. That is submission. That is allowing the Father's plans to shape your decisions and destiny. 

In addition to meditating on these things, ponder this as well: in taking the twelve aside, Jesus was responding to their concerns and fears but notice that he did not necessarily try to comfort them or to ease their fears. He did not give them a way out, or seek to deliver them from the suffering they had to endure. Instead, he  explained to them the will of God and led them right into the heart of that will. He invited them into the kind of suffering that knows the details of our suffering beforehand and chooses to walk into it anyway out of loving obedience to the Father. He wanted them to be shaped by suffering, even as he was being shaped by it, for the glory of the Father, the good of their souls, and the blessing of the nations. 

Jesus was, in essence, teaching them the depths of what this means, “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). May the Lord teach us this lesson as well. 

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