“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…because of me”. Matthew 5:10-11
If we suffer because of Jesus,…
To all Christians, at all times, in all places Jesus stated that persecution—verbal and/or physical assaults or attacks—will come. But he also said to them that “yours is the kingdom of heaven”. Both the persecution and the kingdom will come “because of me”. If we suffer because of Jesus, we will rejoice because of Jesus.
There are times when are afraid that people will reject Christianity, or us because of our Christianity, because they can’t get over the offensive truths or doctrines belonging to it. But while Christianity as a system of beliefs or set of doctrines is necessary to being a Christian, it is ultimately not Christianity that convinces or saves a heart. It is Jesus Christ—who he is, what he says, and what he’s done as the Son of God—that ultimately saves and transforms lives.
Our hope, therefore, is in Jesus. We exult in him and we exalt him. He is the Narration of God, the Glory of God, the Image of God, the Radiance of God, the Word of God made flesh. His person is breathtaking, beautiful, majestic, glorious. His presence is holy, sweet, undeniable, inescapable. His work is eternal, impacting every inch of space and every second of time. His power is absolute and his authority over heaven and earth is final. He is preeminent in all things. He is making all things new. Christianity is nothing without and apart from Jesus Christ. He is the Gospel of God, and Christianity is ultimately about Him.
How can we deal with our suffering?
So, then, what can we do when, not if, persecution and suffering come? One way is to discredit weakness and suffering altogether. To try and get rid of it, to fix it and say it has no place in the life of the victorious Christian. This approach strives to have a strong Christianity, a powerful Christianity, where any weakness and suffering that overtakes us is the result of our lack of strength or wisdom or faith.
Nietzsche argued that “Good is all that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man, and what is bad is all that proceeds from weakness. What is more harmful than any vice? Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity. Nothing in our unhealthy modernity is more unhealthy than Christian pity. I condemn Christianity. The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its depravity, it has made of every value a disvalue.” Along this way we must not accept weakness or suffering on any level. We despise it and see no good coming from it at all.
Yet another way of dealing with our weakness and suffering is to accept it while looking beyond it, while looking to and embracing Jesus Christ, and in him a new heaven and earth. There there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). This is in fact what has given hope to those with no final solution to their suffering in this life: this life is not the end.
Praise God for the suffering of Jesus
In a sermon on the agony of Jesus Christ, Jonathan Edwards said, “The agony of Jesus Christ was caused by a vivid, bright, full, immediate view of the wrath of God. God the father, as it were, set the cup down before him, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. He now had a near view of the furnace into which he was about to be cast. He stood and viewed the raging flames and the glowings of its heat that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer. He felt what Ezekiel said, ‘You shall drink the cup of ruin and desolation and tear your breasts.’ He felt what Isaiah said, that you will ‘drink the cup of his wrath…the bowl of staggering.’ Christ was going to be cast into a dreadful furnace of wrath and it was not proper that he should plunge himself into it blindfold as not knowing how dreadful the furnace was. Therefore God brought him and set him at the mouth of the furnace that he might look in and stand and view its fierce and raging flames and might see where he was going and might voluntarily enter into it and bear for us, knowing what it was. If Jesus Christ did not full know before he took it, and drunk it, it would not properly have been his own act as a human being. But when he took that cup knowing what he did, so was his love to us infinitely more wonderful and his obedience to God infinitely more perfect.”
When in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus began to taste and see exactly and entirely, not what he was getting into, but what he was going into. “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” he cried. But the Father’s unspoken answer was, “If you want to save sinners from sin and death and bring them to eternal life, then this is the only way.” So Jesus freely and willingly said, “Not my will but yours be done.”
Jesus Christ went in weakness and suffering to the cross, there dying for our sin in our place, that we might be able to taste and see of the goodness of God. Praise God for the weakness and suffering of Jesus Christ! For because of it, because of him, we can be saved. We rejoice neither in weakness and suffering nor in strength and power, but in Jesus Christ. All our reproach fell on him, so that all his blessing would fall on us.
Is everything sad going to come untrue?
In the story, The Lord of the Rings, after the ring is destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, Samwise Gamgee wakes up and is startled to find not only that he is alive, but that Gandalf is alive, too. He asks Gandalf, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Everything he thought was true turned out not to be true.
One day you will stand on the mountain top of eternity and look down and see and say, “Look! I thought that was going to turn out that way…I was sure that was the end of it all….I never could have imagined anything good coming out of that…” Every instance of persecution and suffering will have turned out to result in something entirely beyond your comprehension, but exactly like Jesus always intended.
When persecution and suffering do come, you don’t have to fear, retaliate, hate, or lose hope. Yours is the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, the new heaven and earth. “Behold, I am making all things new…Surely I am coming soon.” (Revelation 21:5; 22:20)