Jesus said to his disciples that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer...”
Suffering’s not a very popular topic. We’d much rather talk about blessings... and love... and how we’re forgiven by the Grace of God in Christ. I love to talk about those things, too. I’m incredibly grateful for those things! But suffering is part of being a follower of Christ, too.
Because anyone who’d dare follow Christ... the Christ of the Cross... “must deny themselves and take up [their own] cross... and follow.”
And sooner or later, all of us have to bear something that is, for all intents and purposes, unbearable.
We’ve all witnessed it: a young father is left with three children to raise alone because his wife, their mother, dies way too soon. A baby dies at birth, leaving grief stricken parents and family. A sister, daughter, fiancé dies in a car crash involving a drunk driver, a week before her wedding.
Sometimes it’s more than enough to just turn on the news: the media thrives on tragedy and suffering.
Of course, eventually... we come to realize how little control we actually have when it comes to the things that cause us to suffer. The flood waters rise (like out in Texas)... you’re at the mercy of the waters. When hurricanes churn or tornados rage, we’re at the mercy of the wind. When death comes calling, and grief and despair fills every single atom of our being... we’re at the mercy of God.
It all makes me wonder how we’re called to respond to the certainty of suffering in this life...
In the Old Testament, we see emotional outpourings... as those who suffered opened-up their souls to God. The technical, literary and theological term... is “lament” - those who suffered would cry-out in anguish, they would lament their condition before the Lord.
From Moses... to Job... to Jeremiah (my favorite)... many of the characters in the Old Testament would cry-out before God in frustration at the grief and troubles of this life.
Jeremiah’s relationship with God had been, in Jeremiah’s own words, a “joy and delight”... and yet, Jeremiah’s pain in upholding God’s Word... the suffering he had endured, had become “a wound, grievous and incurable.” He was filled with anger at the people around him... friends & family... who tormented and sought his death! He asked God to “avenge me” [to bring down retribution] on my persecutors. Yet through it all, Jeremiah’s relationship with God was so strong that he never shied away from wresting with God... wondering if God was “like a deceitful brook, like a spring that fails.”
Jeremiah was lamenting! He was bearing something unbearable, and all he wanted was for the misery to stop. But even as the Word of God came to Jeremiah, in response to his outburst of grief... Jeremiah realized... there would be no escaping the trials, heartaches and troubles of this life. God had simply, and powerfully, assured Jeremiah of his presence... a presence that would strengthen him, enabling him to endure... promising to rescue and redeem Jeremiah from “the grasp of the cruel.” (15:20-21)
Of course our Second Lesson today picks up in Matthew’s Gospel right after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ... the Messiah.
Jesus said to Peter (the name “Peter” means rock), that, “on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In other words, Jesus was saying that Peter’s acknowledgment, his revelation, that Jesus was the Messiah; the Christ, the Son of the Living God... would be the rock, or foundation, on which the church of Christ would be built.
Of course, after this dialogue between Peter and Jesus... is when Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (16:21)
Causing Peter to cry-out “NEVER!” Causing Jesus to call Peter, “Satan” and “a stumbling block.”
Of course, Peter’s objection sounds right and appropriate... at first. But Jesus knew that his followers would have to bear the unbearable... they would suffer for the sake of Christ... and they needed a God... they needed a Redeemer... who’d suffered the depths of grief and despair... a Savior who’d walked in their shoes.
Christ would be that Savior... no other God could ever be as faithful and true, as the Christ who suffered as we suffer... and this is the Good News of God in Christ.
Whatever the unbearable suffering, whatever the uncontrollable events that afflict and grieve us to the core of our being, God has seen it, God has known it, and God has taken it upon Himself in Christ... who was crucified, who died, descended into the depths, and was raised to new life!
That’s why we cannot take the suffering and death of Jesus out of the Gospel. We can’t sanitize the Good News by taking out the parts we don’t like... like Peter tried to do!
The Gospel NEVER says that Christ has or will remove everything that is unbearable in our lives... or that Jesus has taken away every cause of grief and pain in our lives... but rather... through it all... God is the one who bears the misery and the grief with us and for us. By bearing the unbearable, God overcomes it and faithfully continues to bear our burdens... all the days of our life.
That’s why Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
Are you looking for rest... for comfort... are you tired of suffering alone... are you weary and burdened? Open your soul, and pour out your heart to God! You have a friend in Jesus. But more than just a friend... Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer... He’s been there! He hears the cries of the faithful... and he will faithfully save us, and redeem us... as we fully trust his love.