Summary: Learn how to finish life well from the example of Jesus Christ on the cross.
We continue our message series to prepare us for Easter. Because we live on the other side of Easter, that is we know Jesus has risen from the dead, we can easily overlook the sufferings of Jesus. But knowing the sufferings Jesus can benefit us.
My parents with my sister and I came to America with very little money. My parents didn’t speak English, and in the beginning they did not have many of the conveniences I now have. Because of their hard work, patience and diligent study, they eventually became US citizens. And because I was under 18 years of age, I became a U.S. citizen automatically. My parents’ hard work and disciplined saving also enabled me to go to the university of my academic ability.
I benefited from their hard work and from their overcoming many obstacles. But I also realize that I missed out on the benefits of working through similar obstacles required for their success. As a result, I’m not as diligent, disciplined or confident in succeeding regardless of obstacles and limitations in life.
Today’s Christians can benefit greatly from knowing the sufferings of Jesus and that of His disciples prior to His resurrection. Their experiences would train us to delay gratification, to persevere through suffering, to endure injustice and to be bold in the face of death. Seeing Jesus endure unjust suffering and finished well can change a person’s life.
Jesus suffered more than the physical torment from scourging and crucifixion. He suffered misunderstanding, injustice, emotional pain and spiritual loneliness. Yet, he didn’t allow these to be barriers or excuses for his obedience to God the Father. Jesus finished what God the Father intended for him to complete in his earthly lifetime.
Steve Brown spoke about the problem of "Prosperity Theology," the belief that God wants us to be wealthy, healthy and happy in this life. He says, "I just can’t see how things could be so good for the followers of a religion [speaking of Christianity] whose founder ended up on a cross and whose chief spokesman [the Apostle Paul] had a physical problem that God wouldn’t remove."
And I would add, “I just can’t see how we, the followers of Jesus Christ, could be spared evil done against us when our Lord endured so much evil on the cross.” Yet, Jesus did not stop loving, nor did he turn away from God. He finished well in the midst of suffering and evil. And we can learn from Him how to finish well in the midst of our suffering and evil done against us.
To finish well in the midst of suffering and evil, we must know and do what God expects us to do. John19: 28-29.
Many live without considering what God expects of them. And when suffering or evil enters our lives, most respond even more selfishly. In difficult times, rather than finding out what God wants, we often tell God to do what we want. Few know and do what God expects in the midst of suffering and evil.
Jesus knew what God expected of him in good times and in bad times. When Jesus was treated unjustly, he prayed for his enemies. When one of the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus repented, Jesus forgave him. When people, including Jesus’ disciples, deserted Jesus, he did not forsake them. He resolved to die for their sins anyway. Jesus did what God expected him to do.
God predicted the mistreatment of Jesus in Psalm 69:19-21, “You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” So, when Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” he was fulfilling God’s word.
Jesus did everything God expected of Him, even on the cross. Most of us are willing to do what God expects when we see immediate benefits associated with the actions or circumstances to which God calls us. Instead of living by the cliché, “No pain, no gain,” many today live by a new cliché, “No pain, no pain.” We run away from inconveniences, discomforts, pains or difficulties.
When we suffer or when evil is done against us, our natural response is to seek relief or retaliation. There is nothing wrong with seeking relief, unless immediate relief is not God’s will. He might want us to grow in character through the trials of life. The example Jesus gives us in the face of suffering and evil is to know and do what God expected him to do.
Knowing and doing what God expects will enable us to finish well. In the face of injustice, God expects us to pray for our enemies and to help the helpless. When conflict occurs, God expects us to seek peace and reconciliation. In physical and emotional pains, God expects us to seek healing but to put our ultimate hope in eternity, when permanent healing. When we are spiritually empty, God expects us to trust Him rather than our feeling or circumstances.