Matthew 16:21-23 To Suffer and Die

19 03 2013

 

jesusgarden

“From that time on, Jesus began to show 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.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”  Matthew 16:21-23 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

How is your mind’s focal point reflected in your attitude toward suffering and death?

I don’t think anyone (other than  masochists) looks forward to suffering or dying.  Even when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that God would take the cup from Him.

“Then he (Jesus) said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.'” Matthew 26:38 (NRSV)

jesus-in-garden-of-gethsemane

If Jesus, the Son of God, was so distressed by the prospect of His own bodily suffering and death that He sweat blood, then how are we ordinary, weak, fallible people supposed to take it?

(As Jesus was anguished in the garden of Gethsemane)

“Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.  In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.'”  Luke 22:43-46 (NRSV)

This isn’t the reaction of a guy heading off to summer camp.  This is unspeakable terror.  Given what would happen to Jesus as He suffered and died, His reaction was more than understandable.  He knew exactly what He was walking into.

The fact is that those of us who follow Christ will also follow Him (in varying degrees and manners) into suffering and bodily death.  While one need not be a Christian to either suffer or die, for the Christian there is a purpose in suffering (even when we don’t understand it) and there is hope beyond death.

The key to that purpose is in what Jesus says in Matthew 26:38: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’

That’s the very same conundrum we face when we pray the Lord’s prayer: “thy will, (not my will) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I don’t know what God’s purpose is in either suffering or death.  I have to wonder why suffering is necessary at all.  Is it merely to build people’s endurance and character? There should be an easier way to do that.  If suffering is meant to build human endurance and character, why do animals suffer?  Is it part of the curse brought on as the punishment for original sin?

And what about physical death?  If God’s all about this Kingdom business, why not start now and forgo the preliminaries?

The only answer that even begins to make sense to me is God’s answer to Job. (see Job 40-41) In synopsis, God is saying to Job, who are you to question Me?  Where was Job when God created the universe?  Where were we when God brought animals to life?

Doubt is part of faith.  When we question God, He does answer us, just not always in the manner and timing that we expect, which is exactly the point.  God is God, we are not.  He is the One Who did the creating.  He is the One Who brings that mysterious process of life together in the secret depths as the psalmist tells us:  “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” Psalm 139:15-16 (NRSV)  

He is the One Who keeps that slight electrical charge that causes one’s heart to beat going.

It is His prerogative as to when to turn off the switch, because He is the One Who turned it on to begin with.

 

 


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