Disciples and Suffering

Jesus warned us that we will suffer in this life, and his true church will endure persecution for his sake

Boat in Storm - Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash
Jesus forewarned us that we will suffer in this life - “
in the world you have tribulation.” Not only will his disciples experience pain and suffering, but they also will endure persecution for their faith. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” We are called to emulate the Master by taking up his cross and following him - [Boat in Storm - Photo by Justin Aikin on Unsplash].

The Apostle Paul likewise instructed the Thessalonians that “we are appointed for tribulation.” As Peter wrote years later, “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you…as though a strange thing happened to you.” And in addition to the triumphs and setbacks of this life, Christians will continue to die until the “arrival of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven” – (1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 4:12).

But beyond the trials of this life, the New Testament provides a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon of persecution and suffering unjustly for his sake is an expected norm in the life of the church. Believers will be persecuted for proclaiming his message to the world.

PROPER REACTION

For the disciples of Jesus, retaliation and violence are not appropriate reactions when persecution does occur. Rather than respond in kind to their tormentors, HIS disciples must meet threats with humility, mercy, and especially love. That is what it means to “deny yourself,” “take up his cross,” and “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”

But praying for one’s “enemies” and showing them mercy is contrary to the “wisdom of this age,” though doing so epitomizes the paradigm of Christ crucified.

In stark contrast to the world, Jesus instructs his disciples to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.”

The persecuted disciple is especially “blessed,” and that is why he ought to “exult greatly,” not because suffering is pleasant, but because “great his reward in heaven” - (Matthew 5:10-12).

After his resurrection, the original disciples took this teaching to heart. When Peter was hauled before the Sanhedrin, beaten, and ordered to desist from preaching, rather than respond in anger, he went his way “rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

On another occasion, after being abused and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell. At no point did they curse their persecutors or call down God’s wrath on them - (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).

HIS EXAMPLE

Jesus provides the ultimate example of enduring unjust suffering for the sake of others. As Isaiah prophesied, the “Suffering Servant of Yahweh” was “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.

The true Messiah of Israel did not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor did anyone hear his voice in the streets. He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick.” He did not seek how own glory or attempt to justify himself against the actions and accusations of his “enemies” - (Isaiah 53:7).

And he exhorted anyone who would follow him to “love your enemies, and to pray for them who persecute you.” Showing mercy to your enemies and persecutors is how the disciple emulates his Heavenly Father and becomes “perfect” as He is.

Perfection” is achieved not through self-discipline and moral purity, but through acts of mercy to the very ones that abuse us. The “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” desires “mercy, not sacrifice” - (Matthew 5:38-48).

Rather than be served, the one destined to reign from the divine throne came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many,” and this he did by suffering a horrific and undeserved death on behalf of others, not only so, but he chose to die for them when they were “yet enemies of God” and alienated from Him - (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

When an armed mob arrested Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear.” But he then did the unexpected. He rebuked the hot-tempered disciple, commanding him to sheathe his sword, and he healed the wounded man who had come with the others to arrest him, the very Son of David and “king of Israel” - (John 18:10-12).

Bearing the cross - clipart.christiansunite.com
[clipart.christiansunite.com]

Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While in his death throes on the cross, he prayed for his Father to “
forgive them, for they know not what they do” - (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:34).

In Scripture, persecution is something disciples should expect and endure faithfully. Not only so, but to suffer for Jesus is a great privilege and honor, a matter of rejoicing and not anger.

TAKING UP THE CROSS

In many nations today, through loud protests and legal machinations, Christians may avoid persecution, but in doing so, they rob themselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life in the present.

Our tendency to insist on our inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering, and the forgiveness of our enemies.

Thus, the man or woman who would be his disciple must daily “take up his cross and follow” the path already trod by Jesus. Failure to do so makes one unworthy of the “Kingdom of God.” to become "greatest" in His realm, one must first become the slave of all.

The disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross,” and daily follow the “Lamb wherever he goes” regardless of where he leads. Genuine self-denial means to deny yourself that which is yours by right.

In contrast to the political ideologies and systems of the present age, the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus offers its citizens the far greater privilege of self-sacrificial service for his realm, and the very high honor of enduring insults, hatred, and persecution on behalf of its king. The rewards for doing so in the “age to come” will outweigh any losses suffered in this present life.



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