A single event can change perspective. It is funny how an isolated encounter, a single experience, or a chance meeting, can radically alter the way things are perceived. The world will never be viewed in the same way after 9/11. Technology was in question after Apollo 13, Challenger, and Columbia. Something as trivial as Lebron’s Decision (and in a smaller scale Durant’s move to San Fran) has changed the way athlete’s are viewed. A single event, in this case, the Cross, changed forever how suffering can be viewed.
All the guys from the previous post had something in common; they all wrote on the other side of the cross. The cross became the leverage point of suffering.
On the one side of the cross stood death and the other a resurrection that overcame death. The empty tomb emptied suffering of all that it held. That is why James can write: “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1.2)
James, the half-brother of Jesus, knew suffering. He led the church in Jerusalem. It struggled financially (see 1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). It struggled doctrinally: “should the Gentiles be circumcised?” (Acts 15). It struggled with persecution (Acts 8.1-2) and eventually James would be martyred by stoning. Suffering was a major part of the ministry to which he had been called.
James leveraged his suffering though.
In the same way that our doubt can be leveraged into belief; hope can be born out of our suffering. James knew that suffering would come. Since is inevitable, James argues that we can learn perseverance in it. I ran cross country in high school. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I enjoyed it. It taught me to push through pain, to persevere and to endure the suffering. The only reason I could do that was the finish line ahead. Perseverance for James (James 1.3), obedience for Jesus (Hebrews 5.8) and Paul’s enduring example of Jesus (2 Cor. 4.8-12) came as a direct result of their suffering. But what for us can come about through our suffering? What can suffering give rise too?
Suffering is a casual (don’t try to convince the one suffering of this) reminder that this world is not permanent. We were created for paradise and partnership with God. When our sin severed this pact, our world and our relationships in it were changed, but not permanently. Temporarily, for or 100 years or so on this earth, we struggle in relationships, with the world, with identity, and with purpose. In other words, we suffer.
John paints a picture in Revelation 21 of a different place:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
The garden of Genesis 1-2, the “good garden” where God resides with man with no barriers, returns in Revelation 21. A place where paradise and partnership is reinstituted. This is a welcomed sight in Revelation because of all the books of the Bible, Revelation probably has more suffering talk than any of them. Think about this:
- John is writing from the island of Patmos, where he has been exiled for preaching the Gospel. He even call himself a “companion in the suffering”. (Rev. 1.9)
- To the church in Pergamum, he reminds them of Antipas martyrdom (Rev. 2.12)
- The Lamb (Jesus) wandered around heaven with a gash on his chest, a reminder of the suffering he endured. He looked as if “he had been slain” (Rev. 5.6, 9, 12)
- The seals, the trumpets, and the bowls, all brought with them an element of suffering, be it war, famine, or plague. Suffering was a key theme in them all.
- The beast made war against the saints (13.7) and “this calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (13.10)
- The woman on the beast was “drunk on the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (17.6)
- God will “avenge on her the blood of his servants” talking about the blood spilt by the temptress Babylon. (19.2)
- John “saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.” (20.4)
- The theme of “victory” or “overcoming”, the Greek word nikao from which Bill Bowerman built the company Nike, is woven throughout the book.
The New Heavens and the New Earth arrives and pain and suffering are no more. Suffering is the reminder that this type of world was never a permanent landing spot.
So we leverage, suffering as an opportunity for hope. Jesus suffered the very worst this world had to offer. He bore the weight of every sin ever committed and will be committed by humanity, on his body.
But death could not hold him. The empty tomb is an image of hope. The dark hours of crucifixion, followed by the quiet bleak hours of Saturday, gave way to the rolled-away stone and the empty tomb of Sunday.
Like Paul says in Romans 8.37:
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The word for conquerors that Paul uses in Romans 8: nikao! Since Jesus has overcome death, we too can conquer, not physical, but spiritual death!
Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch a loved one waste away from cancer. All will watch abuse or neglect steal the future of a child. We will suffer! But we know that because Jesus overcame, we too can prove victorious!
So we live with hope that Christ gives us that ultimately we will be in the place John describes. And hope is leveraged suffering.