“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let such a person deny themself and take up their cross and follow Me. For whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” – Matthew 16:24-26 ESV
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;…” – Philippians 3:10 KJV
Christ calls us to a way of life that can at times appear to be largely nonsensical other than through belief in the Resurrected Jesus and the truth of His promises.
The Gospel of Matthew relays Jesus telling his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me…” The “if” is vital. Would you come after Jesus? Why?
E. Stanley Jones, in his book Christ and Human Suffering, writes about Christ’s magnanimous compassion. It is the great Love of Christ that allows us to answer the question of “if” that is put to us in Matthew chapter 16 with affirming assent.
Jones writes, “…at the cross his love judges my hate, his all-inclusiveness judges my narrowness, his self-sacrifice judges my selfishness…[Christ] would expel suffering by taking suffering, would expel sin by becoming sin…Here was to be manifested a new type of power — the power of overcoming evil with good, hate by love, and the world by a cross. It was the power of turning the other cheek, of going the second mile, of giving the cloak also, of drawing [people] by dying for [people].”1
Hope for the world and hope in our hearts arises via the grace-filled, redemptive ways of the Suffering Servant (see: Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-7; 52:13-53:12).
Christ’s compassionate choosing of suffering on our behalf resonates deeply with our souls. His actions bring poignant authenticity to His words; both His actions and words resound within us.
Jones writes, “[Christ] could not teach [people] to sing who bear crosses unless He allowed His own voice to be hushed on a cross.”2
Christ’s voice was hushed for a moment in order that the ongoing crucified peoples of the world might know salvation via the solidarity of the Crucified God.
[for further exploration, see Jürgen Moltmann’s seminal theological work on this matter – The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology]
Not only does Jesus choose to bear the general sufferings of humanity, the Lord takes on each of our own sufferings.
We are called to seek to be like our Lord in heart, methods, and all ways. This evokes Philippians’ “the fellowship of His sufferings.” Scripture is replete with the emphasis that seeking to be like Jesus will require us to volitionally choose the difficult way of compassion. For instance, 1 Peter 2:21 (NIV) shares, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
In Christ’s name, we too — as each is specifically so vocationally called — must seek to bear the general sufferings of humanity and the particular sufferings of those with whom we have personal relation. Galatians 6:2 (ESV) articulates that we are to, “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” As with Christ, there may well be times our own voices are momentarily hushed so that others might also sing.
Of course, we do not take up Christ’s cross — we are not Messiahs. Yet, as disciples, like Christ we are each called to take up the cross that bears our name. The life of a disciple is meant to point beyond itself to the Messiah. Can others see Christ through you?
E. Stanley Jones reminds us through a poem he shares that our vision can and in many ways should be obscured, our hearts rent, and our voices silenced as we see the suffering of humanity. Lament is our first appropriate response to suffering. As the scriptures tell us, we are to mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15).
“I want to sing lyrics, lyrics,
Mad as a brook in spring;
I want to shout the music
Of flushed adventuring.
But how can I sing lyrics,
I, who have seen today
The stoop of factory women
And children kept from play?
And on an open hilltop,
Where the cloak of the sky is wide,
Have seen the tree of terror
Where a black man died?
[Relatedly, see James Cone’s important work,The Cross and the Lynching Tree]
I want to sing lyrics, lyrics,
But these have hushed my song;
I am mute at the world’s great sadness,
And stark at the world’s great wrong”3
However, Jones also reminds us that it is through the way of the cross — by the lament arising from the Via Crucis — that disciples emerge able to sing “the song of the Lamb,” to sing the song of the Resurrected One with harps that God has given to them (Rev. 15:2&3).
This issue of The Cry engages Word Made Flesh’s encounters with suffering around the world. You will read things that will evoke sorrow within you. This is important. It is appropriate to lament the hardships and wrongs that people suffer.
However, thankfully, lament is not the end. Lament is the way to joy! But it is vital to remember that joy without lament is ultimately false as it fails to take into account the tension within which we celebrate at any given moment in this world; joy without lament wrongs again those who unjustly bear wrong all around the world.
The Song of the Lamb is indeed our eternal promise! Yet, for now, when we celebrate we celebrate in the tension of being part of “the fellowship of His sufferings,” of recognizing that “if one member suffers, all suffer together…” (1 Cor. 12:26 ESV).
Friends, as an understatement, suffering is a hard thing; as disciples, it is something that we must seek to healthily navigate our whole life. Suffering must not become the road to despair, but rather the road to redemption. There are no easy answers for how to do this. May the Lord give us strength.
In closing, I leave us with a word that the Lord has left for us:
“I have told you this, so that you might have peace in your hearts because of Me. While you are in the world, you will have to suffer. But cheer up! I have defeated the world.” (John 16:33 CEV)
Executive Director of Word Made Flesh
1 Jones, E. Stanley (1933). Christ and Human Suffering. New York: The Abingdon Press. (pp. 144-145)
2 Ibid., p. 145.
3 Ibid., p. 146.