At some point in our walk with Jesus we have to face it: the S word. It’s something we try to avoid. We even invent theologies that suggest we won’t have to because Jesus did all of it for us. But the truth is, we will undergo SUFFERING. It’s part of our identification with Christ.
Oh sure, our salvation is secure because of His suffering on our behalf, His death on the cross. As Oswald Chambers said, “Salvation is easy because it cost God so much.” But, he continues, “The manifestation of it in my life is difficult.”
It’s so satisfying to identify with Jesus in His triumphs – His resurrection and victory over sin, death, and hell. We love His companionship and help in our daily lives. We aren’t so eager to undergo rejection, ridicule, and misunderstanding … the painful side of being a Christian.
In other parts of the world, they routinely bear this cost. In the West, we’ve been able to relax with so many people around us sharing our worldview. But this may be changing. Today many in the West see the Christian message as an affront to their values. They view the church as a hindrance to the progress they envision … a world without God.
The temptation we face is to conform and shut down, to let opposing voices silence us. But Peter wrote to his fellow Christians: “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” … “These [trials] have come so that your faith … may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 4:12-13; 1:7).
Sometimes we forget that Jesus wasn’t readily understood or received. In spite of all the Old Testament passages foretelling His coming, His fellow Jews by and large rejected Him and His message (John 1:10). Even those who recognized His uniqueness were afraid to openly declare their faith in Him “for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43).
What was Jesus’ response? He didn’t let rejection deter Him from finding those who WOULD believe and proclaim Him openly. He continued to obey His Father, trusting His mission would be successful. If we want to follow Jesus we need to adopt this kind of bull-headed perseverance too.
As a young Christian, I lived in a small town where most of my neighbors were non-Christians. Some professed belief in God and attended church services, but when our group of newly converted believers tried to engage them in spiritual conversations they responded with anger. Often they retaliated by shunning, ridiculing, or falsely accusing us. A couple of times we were even threatened physically. We had to be ready to suffer rejection if we wanted to share Jesus.
The testing quickly weeded out those who were not genuine disciples. Fortunately, we had the support of fellow Christians who were loyal to Him. We prayed for each other and stood together in unity. Our love for Jesus and concern for the lost drove us on, even when our egos were bruised and our hearts ached.
One thing I remember distinctly about that unique time was the heightened sense of the Lord’s presence. His Spirit worked in us and in our community in miraculous ways. We discovered what Paul knew: that God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was so sure of this he went on to say “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9-10).
I don’t know if I could write that I delight in all the negative stuff! Yet, though I seek to avoid suffering when I can, I also recognize when the costs for following Jesus are small, the spiritual rewards are small too. Paul was a powerful witness for the Lord because he wasn’t afraid of what it would cost him. He knew the rewards would outweigh the pain. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:17-18).
What does it mean to fully identify with Jesus? According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, identification is “a psychological orientation of the self in regard to something or someone, with a resulting feeling of close emotional association.”
If we want to be close to Jesus we need to embrace ALL of who He is. Yes, He is Lord over all. One day He will come and reign in righteousness, putting all His enemies under His feet. But there is another side to Jesus: He is also a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Someone who “was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3).
Chinese believers in this century have suffered tremendously for their faith and witness. Brother Yun writes in The Heavenly Man: “There are many ways the Lord may lead a Christian during his or her life, but I’m convinced that the path of every believer will sooner or later include suffering. The Lord gives us these trials to keep us humble and dependent upon Him for our sustenance. … The Lord wants us to embrace suffering as a friend.”
How can we embrace it as a friend? There’s really only one way – to see Jesus as worth more than our comfort, our earthly relationships, even our physical life. I love how A. W. Tozer described the process of full identification: “To be crucified means, first, the man on the cross is facing only one direction; second, he is not going back; and third, he has no further plans of his own.”
Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted because of righteousness (Matthew 5:10). The apostles rejoiced when they suffered disgrace for His name (see Acts 5:41) and Chinese Christians today willingly endure anything to proclaim Christ. For every Christian the key to embracing the dreaded “S” Word is to remember who we belong to, what He suffered for us, and what the outcome of our obedience will be. We are on the winning side! “Do not fear, for I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish” (Isaiah 41:10-11).
We can offer Jesus as the hope of the world because HE IS! Some will receive us and our message with gratitude. Others will respond with scorn. But that’s not our problem. Like Jesus, we must focus on obeying the Father and trust that He will find the ones who will joyfully receive Him. If we suffer along the way, that’s okay. We can be glad that it will mature us and give us perseverance (James 1:2) and prove that our faith in Jesus is genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7).
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”