When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride…
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
(Isaac Watts, 1707)
The invitation to follow Jesus is not an easy one. He is not looking for fair-weather friends. “Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Mt 16:24). Jesus’ followers were not promised a life of ease and popularity, but one of both suffering and joy. He explained, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Lk 6:22-23).
No one wants to suffer, including Jesus. Prior to the cross, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Lk 22:42). Prayer was a valid response to suffering, but when the suffering remained, Jesus modeled trust in and obedience to His Father. Our call to follow Jesus is not a call to exact imitation—Jesus alone died for the sins of the world—yet we are all called to follow His example of sacrificial love. This love motivates perfect trust in and obedience to the Father and empowers us to pour ourselves out on behalf of others (Phil 2:5).
There are several aspects of Christ’s suffering worth noting as we attempt to follow Him. First, it was, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, “necessary suffering.” When Jesus appeared to the men on the Road to Emmaus, He asked, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26). Jesus did not suffer a random act of violence. He voluntarily chose to endure what was necessary for humanity’s salvation. His suffering was voluntary, but it was not self-inflicted. Others were involved in His death, but Jesus was not the victim of evil; He was the victor over it. The pre-existent God voluntarily and purposefully gave His life. Jesus explained, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (Jn 10:17-18). In addition to being necessary and voluntary, Jesus’ suffering was temporary. He was arrested following His Passover meal, stood trial that night, was mocked, beaten, and crucified the following day. But on the morning of the third day, He rose again, and sorrow was turned to joy (Ps 30:5; Jn 16:20; Matt 28:8).
If life has seemed a little too hard recently, be encouraged that Jesus knows what it is to suffer. Pray for deliverance. Pray for miracles. Lean into God, and trust Him in the process. There is an aspect of Christ that can only be known as we follow Him even when it hurts. James encourages, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). James could find joy in the pain because he knew that trials lead to transformation. This transformative process includes knowing Christ in the fellowship of His suffering (Phil 3:10). Bonhoeffer explained, “Communion with God is granted precisely in suffering.” The call is not one of random, ongoing suffering against our will. It is a voluntary and purposeful choice to pick up our cross and follow Him, suffering as necessary for the benefit of others. It is a call to lay down our lives before His Lordship, setting our eyes on the joy and the glory that lie ahead.
P.S. Are you longing to reconnect with the one who loves you enough to give His life for you? We would love to invite you to join us in January 2024 for our “First Love Retreat.” We are committed to setting aside time at the beginning of the new year to connect with God and prepare our hearts for what He has in this next season, and we believe this retreat will be a powerful opportunity to do just that. We would love for you to join us.
2 . Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 90.