The religion of suffering — why it hurts to follow Jesus

Matthew 27


Hard work hurts. But it’s relieving when you’ve finished it.

This is a truth that many Christians conveniently ignore: if you’re really following Jesus, your life is going to get harder.

I know, I know.  Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” But He is talking about a spiritual rest — we no longer have to strive to gain equal footing with Jesus. That work is done; heaven is coming.  But our work on earth? Harder.

There are a lot of very big churches that will not tell you this, because if they do, their church will not grow in numbers. This scares me, because this means there are thousands of people in churches across America sitting on padded chairs thinking they know Jesus, and they, in fact, know Him not.

The Bible, especially the gospels and Paul’s epistles, is full of inconvenience and hardship.  For example, Jesus told his followers that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, the majority of them flipped out and left.

The most adamantly righteous people (at least, in their own eyes) became infuriated with Jesus’ mere existence, even when He taught a message of accessibility and grace.

Furthermore, Jesus told His disciples that in order to follow Him, that they must deny themselves and pick up their cross (a symbol of death and punishment). Sound like fun?

People say the best way to test a man’s character is to put him under fire and to see how he responds (not literally, of course).  In Matthew 27, Jesus faced the most strenuous torment in His entire life.  But something truly fascinating happens: He proceeds to encourage it.

1) He willingly endures mockery. Jesus called Himself the “King of the Jews”, and the Roman soldiers give Him a pretty hard time about it.  Rather than arguing, He lets the guys pummel Him with scornful remarks.

2) He refuses pain-killers at the outset of His crucifixion. When offered wine and gall, He just says no.

3) When being provoked to take Himself off the cross, He stays put. Wouldn’t you want to get down and roundhouse kick everyone yelling at you?

4) He dies in a place of shame: as a criminal, a target of insults, and wrongfully accused. He allows a painful death, knowing the future reward would be great. And it is.

In one chapter of this gospel, the evidence for suffering is staggering. There are several other instances (this and this come to mind immediately), but the example of Jesus should be enough.

Have you encountered mockery? Have you endured pain through your self-discipline and relentless obedience? Have you ever felt like it might not be worth it, that your work is all in vain? Do you sometimes feel embarrassed, but persist nonetheless?  Then you’re probably doing it right. If you associate yourself with Christ, you inherently associate yourself with suffering. And NEVER forget: for your suffering, the reward is great. Don’t give up.

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