NO CROSS NO CROWN
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved!
There were three young trees growing together in the forest. They were young, healthy, and ambitious. They compared their dreams. One wanted to be part of the structure of a castle or a palace, so it would be a spectator in the lives of the high and mighty of society. The second wanted to end up as the mast in one of the tall ships, sailing around the world with a great sense of adventure. The third hoped to end up as part of some public monument, where the public would stop, admire, and take photographs. Years passed by, and all three were cut down. The first was chopped up, and parts of it were put together to form a manger for a stable in Bethlehem. The second was cut down, and the trunk was scooped out to form a boat, which was launched on the Sea of Galilee. The third was cut into sections, two of which were put together, to form a cross on Calvary. Each had a unique and special part to play in the one great story of redemption.
What a wonderful promise! “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10, 11 I have a dear friend who buried his wife less than a week ago. This is a Christian couple who are less than 50 years old. They were thrilled to finally get a diagnosis and course of action to resolve a problem she had been having for several months. Less than 3 days after her diagnosis she died without warning. I cannot imagine what my friend is experiencing emotionally, spiritually and physically. However, I can tell you that God’s promise of strength, maturity and security from these verses are very evident in my friend’s life. My friend stepped into my office this morning and spoke of the wonderful grace of God through this trying time. Not only for him, but in the lives of their five children. While we are not promised a life without trials and testing, we are promised a God who wants to walk beside us during those difficult times.
This parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule praying or whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together, told them what had happened, and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery. Initially the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, HE WOULD SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP! This he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up… shake it off and step up… shake it off and step up!” he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or how distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought panic and just kept right on SHAKING IT OFF AND STEPPING UP! It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him actually helped him … all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity. THAT’S LIFE! If we face our problems and respond to them positively and refuse to give in to panic, bitterness, or self-pity.
IN THE FIRST READING: The prophet complained to God and the people over his role. While Isaiah proclaimed judgment over the people for their religious self-delusion, stubbornness, and corrupt moral life, he cried out with a weary heart. He has preached so hard and so long. But to what end? The call from God would outlast the rejection of the people and the taunts from the angry mob. The words of God’s prophet would last because they truly came from God. The spirit of the prophet would far outlast both the prophet and the people, for the Spirit came from God. The prophet speaks about the sufferings of Jesus in such clear terms that one would say he had been present at his passion and death. Yet those songs were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
IN THE SECOND READING: Faith without works is dead. Christian faith if it is genuine, motivates the entire person. One’s entire life must answer God’s call. That is what James teaches in the second reading, and he goes on to demonstrate it through the obedient faith of Abraham, who placed his own son, the God-given son of Promise, on an altar of sacrifice.
The GOSPEL passage as narrated by Mark has three different parts;
1. Peter in the name of all the apostles, acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah.
2. Jesus lets his apostles know that he is about to suffer, die and rise again.
3. Jesus tells his apostles and all those listening to him, in the clearest terms, that they too will have to suffer if they really mean to remain his disciples.
Peter had his expectations and his vision of commitment. He wanted a Messiah to lead to glory among people. But Jesus had different expectations and vision of commitment. Jesus’ vision would lead to shame among people but glory before God. When we proclaim Jesus the Christ, let us remember the responsibility those words bring. And the risks those words bring. In the end, they will not make us popular or comfortable. But they will bring us to eternal life.
The greatest temptation the devil sends to us in time of suffering is to make us doubt of God’s love for us. We must resist it. Christ is closest to those who suffer for his sake:
- Jesus gives us light to understand his plans through suffering.
- Jesus gives us the strength we need to endure suffering.
- Jesus pours an intimate joy into our hearts even while we suffer.
Our suffering is a stepping stone to joy.
The way to save your life is to lose it – v. 35 – This verse is a paradox. A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory, but is still true. Jesus says that if you believe that having your own way, living life on your own terms and being your own lord is more important than surrendering to His Lordship, you will lose your life. However, if you will yield your life to Him, giving up total control over all you have and are to Him, you will actually save it. From a human perspective this makes no sense, but from heaven’s viewpoint, nothing else makes sense.
You have a choice. You can live your life as you see fit. You can refuse to come to Jesus Christ for salvation. You can call all the shots. You can be your own boss. You can do as you please, living your life on your own terms, but in the end, you will lose your life. When you reach the end of your way, you will find that there is nothing but an eternity waiting for you.
On the other hand, you can commit your life to Jesus. You can deny your own will, give up all your rights, surrender to His Lordship and follow him faithfully. At the end of that way, His way, you will find that the door of Heaven will be opened to you.
So, in the economy of God, “Losers are Keepers.” Those who lose their lives by giving them up for Jesus are winners in the end. While those who live for this life alone, lose everything in the end. What kind of ending do you anticipate? There are no cheap seats!
What does the pain and suffering do to us, if we take it positively and spiritually.
1- Pain and suffering can help us to learn important lessons in life.
Example: Mother eagle forces her baby out of the nest to teach it to fly.
Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:10,11
2- Pain and suffering can bring about creativity, resourcefulness and courage.
Example: Parents who lose a child help to starting organizations or to pass laws to protect other children. Artists and composers sometimes do their greatest work during times of pain or loss.
Scripture: Psalms 18; 42; 63; 126
3- Pain and suffering can help us to comfort others who are going through similar pain.
Example: This is the benefit of support groups for various problems. People who have faced the same problems are able to help and encourage others. Some have been able to help others because of their experience with diabetes and with a mentally retarded child. Others have been able to help others because of his experience with a handicapped child.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
4- Pain and suffering can help to shape our character.
Example: People who have survived as prisoners of war or persecutions often have a strength of character which is admired by others. Gold is refined by the fire which heats it until the impurities come out.
Scripture: Isaiah 48:10; Zechariah 13:8,9: James 1:2-4
5- Pain and suffering can test us to show what we are made of.
Example: The patriarch Abraham was tested; Job, the ancient man of wealth was tested; the apostle Peter was tested; and the early Christians were tested. In all cases the testing showed the weaknesses and the strengths of their faith in God. Products which are sold in the marketplace are put through tests to find their weaknesses and to demonstrate their strengths.
Scripture: Genesis 22:1-14 describes the test of Abraham. The entire book of Job tells about Job’s test. Matthew 26:69-75 tells about a test where Peter failed and he learned something about himself. Acts 4:1-21 tells about a test in which Peter was victorious and his enemies could see the strength of his faith. The testing of the early Christians is described in various places such as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus beautifully illustrated the results of testing in a simple story.
6- Pain and suffering can lead to repentance and salvation.
Sometimes it takes pain and suffering to turn a person’s life around and head it in the right direction.
Example: The Israelites who repented in times of persecution in the Old Testament. Saul who became Paul in the New Testament of the Bible.
Scripture: Judges 2:11-19 describes the cycle which the Israelites when through as they forsook their God only to be brought back to him by suffering and then to forsake him again when times were good. In contrast to that Acts 9:1-16 tells the suffering which lead Saul the persecutor to become Paul the apostle, faithful to his God until his dying breath.
7- Pain and suffering can sometimes help us to trust God.
Perhaps we are forced to turn to God because we have no other place to turn.
Example: There are numerous people who have made the decision to trust God because of their pain and suffering.
Scripture: Job 40:3-5; Job 42:2, 3; Lamentations 3:19-24; Daniel 3:16-18; Habakkuk 3:17-19
8- Bearing pain and suffering well can be an inspiration to others.
Example: Chet McDoniel was born with no hands, only one stub of an arm and no thighs, but he has been an inspiraton to many as described in the book “All He Needs for Heaven”.
Scripture: The apostle Paul endured his “thorn in the flesh” but was able to take the message of Christ to many areas of the world and write most of the New Testament.
9- Pain and suffering can have a Divine purpose in preparing us for glory.
Example: The apostle Paul wrote that our suffering is “slight” and “momentary” compared with “eternal glory.”
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
10- Pain and suffering can prevent us from becoming dangerously proud.
Example: Again Paul said that his “thorn in the flesh” was to keep him from becoming proud and arrogant.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
11- Sometimes pain and suffering in the life of one person can result in the advancement of the gospel in the life of another person.
Example: I know a family who accepted Christ because of the suffering of one member who died of cancer. The apostle Paul said that his imprisonment helped to advance the gospel.
Scripture: Philippians 1:12-14
12- Pain and suffering can allow us to be like Jesus.
Example: We are allowed to share in Christ’s suffering as we serve the one who suffered on our behalf.
Scripture: Philippians 3:8-11; Hebrews 2:9-11; 4:15; I Peter 4:12-16