It’s Christmas time, but of course, were it were not for the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no celebration of His birth. And were it not for the execution of Jesus, there would never have been a resurrection. But again, what about the suffering that He endured for us? Do we look at the cross and the suffering Man on that cross closely and often enough? Do we see in the baby in the manger for fullness of God’s purpose and redemptive love?
Last week I wrote about how I considered the suffering of Jesus as He was scourged prior to the crucifixion. The image of the incredible torture He endured is something we tend to speak of only as a footnote to His execution. The torture He endured for our sins is something that makes us quite uncomfortable—-or at least it should.
But in most places of worship it seems to me that congregants are too narcissistically set on creating a sense of worship that feeds their need to feel good about themselves as well as figure out who they can receive His “blessings”; we don’t make invest too much time on “morbidly” meditating upon the cross of and suffering of Jesus.
But it is rather sobering to look at the little baby in the manger and realize that it was always God’s intention to allow that baby to grow into a young man that would one day suffer and die an excruciating death. Jesus was born to suffer. The irrefutable fact is that God not only permitted Jesus to suffer, He ordained it. In light of that, the suggestion that abortion makes sense because no baby should be born to suffer is ludicrous. Some babies are conceived out of wedlock, or by poor judgment or unexpectedly, and many do end up being unloved, despised and rejected, but if that is grounds for abortion, Jesus should have likewise been aborted. Praise God it was considered murder, even by an emperor as heartless as Cesar Augustus.
Is there any doubt that God, the Father, loves Jesus, the Son, obviously, is profoundly grander than any other love in the universe? Jesus is the only Son and His love for Jesus is the first love that ever existed. They have always existed together in this orbit of love. For all ages, Jesus has loved and honored the Father; for all eternity the Father has honored and blessed the Son—this is the first, primary, most intense and oldest of all loves!
But the fact remains that when it comes to pain and suffering, we seem to be at odds with what suffering means to God and what it means to man. God permitted His beloved to suffer! For mankind, it’s something we avoid, fear and want to stop, if possible. And that’s the rub: God does not always immediately stop suffering and sometimes He directs it for a great purpose, viz-a-viz Jesus Christ.
Pain, humiliation, suffering ….these are things God Himself endured in the form of His only Son. So when a man suffers let’s be careful to suggest that it’s a sign of God’s displeasure——it might be a sign that he is a true saint—-one for whom this world is not worthy.
I just returned from one of my favorite places on earth—-France; a country where 5% of Catholics/Protestants attend church regularly. And yet this highly educated country is covered with cathedrals, monasteries, churches and symbols of Christianity. The French government is decidedly “Christian”, whether they mean to perform that way or not. E.g. they embrace and show charity those without homes along the immigrants; they provide a free and equal education up through the university along with free national healthcare for all their citizens and in general look after the needs of their population. Everyone can retire—with full benefits—-at 62 years of age, and some retire at 52 years (subway, rail and bus drivers). The government takes care of you in France!
But in Nigeria—-a true third world home—89% Catholics/Protestants attend church regularly. And yet the people do not enjoy near the stability, protection and quality of life offered in the secular state of France. So why does it appear that the prosperous, protected, well-cared for, not seek God and those living “on the edge” seek Him so earnestly?
Suffering draws us to Him…..material wealth, good health, external protection tends to push us further into personal indulgences, a sense of self-reliance, independence from God, and sometimes, inexplicably, to depression. For as long as men have lived, trouble, pain, suffering and uncertainty have served a good purpose for eternal designs: It draws us into the heart of God. The lover of our souls and the One who designed and created us for dependence upon Him for our livelihood, knows that the more He spoils us, the farther we go from Him. Praise God we have a heavenly Father who knows what we need and not a heavenly “Grandfather” who bent on spoiling us!