The Suffering Servant

The end of Luke 17 really shows Jesus’ divine nature and His humanity. Jesus talks to His followers about the return of the Son of Man – a title He used for Himself. “People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes” (Luke 17:23-24). I imagine this being similar to the time they caught so many fish, and Peter asked the Lord to go away from him because he realised his sinfulness. It must have overwhelmed them sometimes – being in the company of one who was human like them, but at the same time so glorious. Jesus’ return’s going to be visible to everyone – the sky lit up from one end to the other!

But in the very next verse He says: “First the Son of Man must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation.” I was struck by this. We’re now into the last third of Luke’s gospel – the last part of Jesus’ life, and He brings up the subject of His suffering and rejection. All-knowing, He sees all the mockery and the physical pain He’ll have to endure; and glorious as He is, it doesn’t take away His suffering.

“My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me” (Psalm 22:14).

“His face was so disfigured He seemed hardly human” (Isaiah 52:14).

These are just some of the things Jesus went through for us the day of His death.

One thing about Jesus dying for me is that He’ll always understand suffering. I’ll never have to go through the depth of agony that He did, but as we heard from Jesus a couple of weeks ago, students are not greater than their teacher (Luke 6:40). In order to share in His glory, I need to share in His sufferings. I mustn’t shrink from this. “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it” (Luke 17:33). Jesus tells us to remember Lot’s wife – a woman right back in the book of Genesis. The city where she lived was destroyed. She and her family had an opportunity to escape, but she looked back at what she was leaving behind – and turned into a pillar of salt! Because she looked back, she lost her life and her future.

I never want to forget the suffering Jesus went through for me. “For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). As I share in His sufferings, may my focus be on the joy that’s waiting for me in heaven. Jesus is a great example to follow.

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Jesus

“You are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Did you catch that? What’s Jesus saving His people from? Their sins; not necessarily the effects of them here on earth. I feel quite uneasy when I hear anyone say the Christian life will be easy. Jesus never promised that. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus has ultimately overcome, but as long as I’m in this world, I’m not immune to suffering. “If we are God’s children, we will get the blessings God has for His people. He will give us all that He has given Christ. But we must suffer like Christ suffered. Then we will be able to share His glory” (Romans 8:17). It seems suffering is the prequel to our future.

“But you must resist the devil and stay strong in your faith. You know that all over the world the Lord’s followers are suffering just as you are. But God shows undeserved kindness to everyone. That’s why He appointed Christ Jesus to choose you to share in His eternal glory. You will suffer for a while, but God will make you complete, steady, strong, and firm” (1 Peter 5:9-10). I can see from these verses that as Christians, we’re not on our own. God is there to strengthen us, like the angel strengthened Jesus before His arrest. You can call on the name of Jesus for strength in your suffering. “Father, I don’t ask You to take My followers out of the world, but keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus doesn’t want the sufferings we go through in this world to damage us; He wants us protected, until that amazing day when we’re taken to be with Him. “After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back. Then I will take you with Me, so that you can be where I am” (John 14:3). Jesus is preparing for us to have a home in heaven – somewhere that’s not just better than this life, but perfection itself! He’ll save His people from their sins.

Persecution

How do you find the positive from someone put in prison for their faith? In North Korea, it’s even done by association. You might be imprisoned because an uncle believes in God, and if you’re pregnant, then your children are born in captivity. “Escape from Camp 14” showed me they’re not taught about love; they only know survival. Families have so little that they’re in competition with each other, even for daily food.

“The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19). Christians can hold onto this truth: Rescue is coming. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6:23). We may not be persecuted the same way as North Koreans. For us it might be people showing hostility, or mocking our faith. Perhaps your relatives follow a different religion and are doing their best to steer you away from Jesus. “They will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of My name. And so you will bear testimony to Me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of Me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life” (Luke 21:12-19). “Everyone will hate you because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).

If you’re a believer in Jesus who’s being persecuted, keep relying on His Spirit to give you the right words and attitudes. Hold on till the end, and focus on your heavenly reward.

Illness

I remember my nan telling me about a time before her mother died. She was very ill and kept repeating a certain phrase. I can’t remember what she said it was in Welsh, but it translated: “What have I done? What have I done?” I find it sad that at a time when they’re in most need of comfort and reassurance, not just my nan’s mother but others too wonder deep-down whether their affliction is some kind of punishment from God.

When you’re ill, you can hold onto the love God has for you. One of the verses I keep coming back to says that God “delights in the wellbeing of His servant” (Psalm 35:27). Illness is only a temporary thing. When we step into eternity with God, there won’t be any more sorrow, and He’ll wipe away all our tears.

If you’d like to read the rest of this Write31Days series, click here

Mountains

It can be a challenge to put a positive spin on those awful moments in life. Our difficulties are as diverse as our personalities, and what seems trivial to you might be huge to someone else. I’ve recently bought a Bible for my Kindle, and I was reading Zechariah 4:6-7. “I am the LORD All-Powerful. So don’t depend on your own power or strength, but on My Spirit. Zerubbabel, that mountain in front of you will be levelled to the ground. Then you will bring out the temple’s most important stone and shout, ‘God has been very kind.’”

We could take that message as being for the man named Zerubbabel or for us today. In our own strength, we tend to dwell on our problems. God’s telling us here that if we depend not on ourselves but on Him, one day those problems will be no more and we’ll be able to boast of God’s kindness to us. Some people are like King David – confident they’ll see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living; others look forward to the fulfilment of that promise in heaven. Either way, it’s good to have a God who keeps His promises.

“Finding God in the Hard Times” Book-Review

Bethany House gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, but it didn’t have as much oomph as I expected it to. I respect Matt Redman for his song-writing and I love to hear his shouts of worship to God, but a good songwriter doesn’t always make for a good author.

Matt and Beth Redman look at how we relate to God in times of suffering, but I found it a bit longwinded. My favourite parts were the personal stories – how Beth coped with miscarriage, or how the couple met. These could definitely have been expanded on, but maybe they’re just private people.

Having read and enjoyed Matt’s book “The Unquenchable Worshipper”, I was disappointed that a couple of the stories are repeated here. I don’t believe you should write a book unless you have something new to say, and “Finding God in the Hard Times” didn’t feel very new. The guide at the end was helpful though, and cleverly, all the chapter-titles are lines from the song “Blessed be Your Name”.

Love Unchangeable

My Facebook newsfeed has really touched me tonight. I’ve read about someone who’s away from their spouse for Christmas (Christmas Eve is a night more than any other when you just want to be held), someone else in prayer for a family-member, and another in horrendous physical pain. Maybe ‘Happy Christmas’ isn’t quite the right thing to say this year.

My heart goes out to you, however you’re feeling today. Maybe you’re in prayer for a friend or family-member, whose circumstances are changing when you’d rather they didn’t. Maybe you’re grieving. Maybe the hope of ever seeing a change in your circumstances is slipping away. Wherever this Christmas finds you, there’s a God whose love for you never changes, who sent His Son into the world to be our Immanuel – God-with-us: God with us in our loneliness; God with us in our suffering. We can give all our worries to Him.

Circumstances may change, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He wants so much to be invited into the nitty-gritty of your life, and to give you the hope of a future with Him in heaven. Bonnie’s OneWordAdvent focus for this week is love, and there’s none greater than the love Jesus showed. Will you love Him back this Christmas?

It’s not Fair

Have you ever come to a point where you think the world’s such an unjust place? I’ve been reading this week about a 5-year-old girl who died in a horrible accident on her own driveway. I know God’s not the author of suffering, but I also know (from the book of Job in the Bible) that the devil can’t do anything without God’s say-so. It seems incongruous that God would allow something like this to happen to Christians who’d done so much for Him and even turned to Him in prayer at the time of the accident. As I read about the family processing their grief, one thing stuck out to me – the confusion, and this verse came to mind: “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). It wasn’t God’s heart that wrote this into their story.

Later I was in church, and a situation came up that I just felt so annoyed about. “How can that be fair?” was my question to God, and He did the unexpected. He reminded me of Jesus dying on the cross. If anyone had the right to say it’s not fair, surely it was Jesus, but what kept Him going? The joy that was set before Him. He knew all about eternity and the kingdom that would spread out in front of Him – the kingdom where fairness and justice will finally reign supreme.

Sometimes life in this world isn’t fair, but I hope you find comfort in this verse, as I have:

“Then a kingdom of love will be set up, and someone from David’s family will rule with fairness. He will do what is right and quickly bring justice” (Isaiah 16:5).

31 Jesus-Benefits: An Ally in Suffering

“When Jesus saw Mary crying and the Jews who came with her also crying, He was upset and was deeply troubled” (John 11:33).

On day 13, I’ve got Kristen Strong to thank for this one:

Jesus’ annoyance at sickness.

In her book “Girl Meets Change”, Kristen writes about Lazarus – Jesus’ friend who died, and four days later, Jesus raised him from the dead. Jesus went to the town where Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha and Mary, lived. When He saw Mary and the Jews with her crying, He was deeply troubled. Kristen says the translation of that Greek word ‘Trouble’ would be something akin to a bull snorting. Having grown up in a family of dairy farmers, she tells us: “A snorting bull is an angry bull.”

Jesus is angry at sickness and death. When you think about it, neither sickness nor death were in the garden of Eden before sin came into the world. They’re not God’s ideal, so when you suffer, instead of blaming God, you can picture Him feeling the annoyance you feel, and think of Jesus praying for you throughout.

“Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and He is sitting in the place of honour at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Romans 8:34).

The Blessing of Easter

I was inspired by this week’s Tuesday at Ten prompt: BLESSED.

Bereft, He prayed at Gethsemane – His soul overwhelmed with sorrow. “If it’s possible, take this from Me!” but the choice had already been made; He knew it would happen when the time came.

Lamb-like, He was led away – His friends deserting Him. From the house of the high priest, He looked straight at the one who denied all knowledge of Him.

Ethereal, He confessed to being the Son of Man who would sit at the right hand of God. Robes were torn and His death decreed.

Suffering, He was spat upon. Cruelly they blindfolded Him and asked who struck the blow. They bloodied His head with a crown of thorns.

Selfless, He thought of others in His darkest hours – telling the women to weep for themselves; entrusting His mother to John’s care; forgiving a common criminal.

Easter and the sun was rising. An angel rolled away the stone. There lay the tomb, open for all to see, but He was not there; He had risen!

Deliverer, He went to His disciples. Gave the oil of gladness instead of a spirit of despair. Suddenly they weren’t locked away in fear; there was hope and newness. “My Lord and my God!” one cried, as Jesus stood before His eyes, and the one who denied – he dived from the boat and swam to shore. He was completely known, and completely restored.

This Jesus – do you love Him? Then follow Him.