In his New Testament letters, Paul teaches that we are to know Jesus Christ in two distinct ways:
- In the power of His resurrection (my personal favorite of the two)
- In the fellowship of His suffering
I have spent many years trying to have the first without the second. My conclusion, admittedly based on my limited personal experience, is that it’s not possible. Neither can be separated from the other. There is no fast track express lane to the power. We must walk the long slow path into suffering to obtain the glorious pinnacle of power.
As a result of this observation I have been meditating the meaning of such suffering. How did Jesus suffer as a man (the part of His life to which we are being conformed)? I do not count what He suffered as Savior because none of us is called to that particular sacrifice which, once accomplished, is forever finished.
I find that Jesus suffered in two distinct ways:
First, Jesus grieved for those who were perishing. “O Jerusalem…How I would have gathered your children together as a mother fowl gathers her brood under her wings, but you refused!” (Mt. 23:37).
Because of His great love, pain accompanied Him who knew men’s hearts; who saw the great call of a magnificent destiny upon each individual, yet witnessed that individual’s deafness to God’s voice; who saw mankind, the crown jewel of Father’s creation, living in filth and pain and despair…imprisoned in the dark yet designed to be light.
What a great burden that must have been for Him!
Dare we see our fellow man in such a way? If we open our spiritual eyes so that we recognize the promise as well as how far short we fall from it, could we bear it? Can we walk in fellowship with that kind of suffering?
Second, Jesus yearned for Heaven. Paul describes this sort of suffering: “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Phil. 1:23-24)
Paul’s great yearning for Heaven resulted from visions where he explored the vast reaches of glory and experienced the unity of God’s presence. He spent so little time there but never lost his home-sickness for that place more real to him than the world. Yet his assignment was earth and so, because of the Christ-love in him, he withstood the tug of war between desire and duty that he called a “conflict” (Phil. 2:30).
If Paul suffered so mightily after his limited heavenly experiences, I’m trying to imagine what Jesus must have endured as He walked the earth. I’m attempting to imagine Jesus’ suffering, who had known heaven from a Kingly vantage point. He did not consider being equal with God something to be retained but turned loose of all His heavenly power and prestige to put on the fleshly mantle of a mere man, constrained by the physical laws of nature and time.
What was it like for Him, walking on earth with His mind full of Heaven? And yet He set aside His own desires for the higher call of serving humanity. Is there any greater demonstration of love?
Am I willing to suffer in such a way because of that kind of love? Can I become so aware of my status as a citizen of Heaven that earth loses its grip on me? Will I pour my own self out as a drink offering to God by answering the challenge to regard other people’s needs as more important than my own?
These are the sufferings of Jesus, to which we also are called. We are to be conformed to Him and in that conformity we find both suffering and power; extreme grief and profound joy; daily death and a life such as we have never known…a life that beckons from the depths of our spirit with promises most of us dare not acknowledge…a life infused with the very atmosphere of Heaven. We must lose the lesser life to gain the greater life.
Why is it necessary to have both the suffering and the power? Because suffering without power only repulses. Power without Christly suffering only destroys.
Christ calls us to a completeness that can only be found in Him, a wholeness comprised of two parts: suffering and power. We must embrace both if we are to fulfill our destiny and accomplish our purpose.