Kanye, Vaccines, Suffering, and Sandwiches
Alright right off the bat I’m just gonna warn you. In this sermon I’m going to talk about a lot of things. We’re going to explore a lot of Scripture. We’re going to talk about Kanye West, sandwiches, suffering, and vaccines. I tried my best to make sure that some of you were triggered by something.
But we’re also going to talk about glory, beauty, majesty, hope, peace, comfort, and joy. There is so, so much here, y’all. I had a really hard time cutting this sermon down to size because this passage is so rich with meaning and significance, I honestly think I could get about three good sermons out of this one passage. So, just know that even though we’re covering a lot, we’re only skimming the surface here. So put on your big boy and big girl pants on and let’s go.
I’m going to do something I never imagined I’d ever do in a sermon. I’m going to quote Kanye West. As I’m sure many of you know, Kanye West has been in the news a lot lately. For those of you who are unaware, Kanye West is a billionaire rapper who used to refer to himself as “Yeezus” and wrote similarly sacrilegious songs like his particularly blasphemous “I Am a God.” But Kanye has recently professed faith in Christ. Apparently, he has repented of the ungodly and blasphemous behavior he engaged in in the past, and he even recorded and recently released an incredibly Christ-centered and sound Gospel album titled “Jesus is King.”
But recently, James Cordon interviewed him and asked him what he would say to those who are skeptical of his conversion. Kanye replied, now keep in mind, Kanye isn’t a philosopher, okay? “I say, when you go to sleep, would you agree that you are asleep when you are asleep?” Cordan said “sure.” “And when you wake up, would you agree that you are awake when you are awake? Would you agree that those are two different states?” “Yeah”, said Cordan. Kanye concludes, “I’m awake now.”
Kanye West is making a profound statement, even though it doesn’t sound that profound. What he’s saying is that he’s seeing reality and the world as it really is now. He’s not dreaming, he’s not deceived by an illusion. He has seen the truth, and the truth has set him free. He now see’s things the way they truly are: Jesus is King, not Yeezus.
Now in our text, Peter, James, and John had a similar experience.
EXEGESIS OF THE TEXT
Jesus Embodies the Kingdom of God
Let’s look at our text, Mark chapter 9, verse 2:
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
Stop right there. Notice the first three words here: “After six days.” Now, in the Gospel of Mark, this kind of precise language is NEVER used. Mark always gets straight to the point. Throughout the entire book he only ever says, “this happened, then this happened, then they went there, then they went here.” This instance where he says, “after six days” is the ONLY time in the Gospel where he places an event that he records within a specific moment of time. That signifies something very important that we need to explore if we’re going to understand this text.
So all before this throughout the book of Mark there’s been this tension that Mark has been building. Jesus comes on the scene and the disciples follow Him because they believe He is the Messiah, but all along the way, and especially in chapter 8, Jesus has been making these strange statements about being delivered over to the elites to be killed, He’s going to be rejected by everyone, He’s going to die, etc. And the disciples are just confused about all this. If He’s the Messiah who is going to save us from Roman oppression, then how can He do this if He’s dead? And in chapter 8 right before this we saw Peter finally speak out against this, but Jesus rebukes Him. The overall theme of chapter 8 is the suffering of Jesus Christ.
Look back with me at the last verse of chapter 8. Do you notice how Mark separates that last verse from what Jesus said prior? Chapter 9, verse 1,”And He said to them.” Jesus teaches the crowd about what following Him looks like and then Mark separates the last sentence from the rest. He’s drawing our attention to this one sentence. Look what he says
“And He said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
“And after six days…”
This is huge for us to see, guys. Mark singles out that declaration, that some would see the Kingdom of God come with power, and then he immediately follows that declaration with “six days later.” Mark is intentionally utilizing literary devices that he has never used before in his Gospel to make us hone in on this moment. He’s connecting Jesus’ statement that some would see the Kingdom with the event that happens “six days later.”
So let’s read:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
Do you see what Mark is doing here? He’s connecting Jesus’ statement that some would “see the Kingdom of God coming with power” with Jesus’ divine transfiguration on this mountain. What Peter, James, and John witnessed on that mountain was a revealing of true reality. The veil was peeled back and they were able to see Christ for who He truly was, the radiant, beautiful, glorious Messiah. Moses represented the Law which was the prototype of what life in the Kingdom of God would look like. And Elijah represented the Prophets, which foretold what the Kingdom of God would be. And in their presence, God tells Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus. No longer were they to listen to Moses or Elijah, meaning no longer were they supposed to submit themselves to the Law and the Prophets because Jesus Himself was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. It’s in HIM that the Kingdom of God has come and is embodied in. Everything that the Old Testament was predicting and pointing to and foretelling has been fulfilled in Christ. The advent of Jesus Christ is the advent of the Kingdom of God and here, in this moment, on this mountain, the Kingdom of God embodied in Jesus Christ is seen in power, in divine splendor and beauty.
But quickly so we can make this connection while it’s still fresh on our minds, let’s keep reading:
“And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
Here the disciples are descending the mountain and they’re still not understanding the suffering of Jesus Christ. They’re asking questions: “What does it mean that He’s going to raise from the dead?” And Jesus again confirms that the Son of Man, whom they just saw in His unbridled splendor and glory, was going to suffer many things and be treated with contempt.
You see the theme of the story returns back to the suffering of Jesus. So look at the progression here. Mark begins in Chapter 8 with a discussion of the suffering of Jesus and those who will follow Him. Then that theme is interrupted with the transfiguration in which we see a glimpse of true reality; Christ in all His glory. Then the theme returns back to the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
This is a very frequent literary device used throughout the Gospel of Mark in which he begins a discussion with one theme, interrupts that narrative and introduces another theme, then returns to the theme he was previously discussing. This is so prevalent throughout the book of Mark that scholars have determined for thousands of years now that it was intentional by Mark. And as I was researching this, I read a white paper written by a team of scholars who coined this literary device used by Mark as, get this, a Markan Sandwich. He introduces a theme, puts a slice of meaty narrative right in the middle of it, then returns back to the previous theme. A Markan Sandwich. (Not the kind of sandwich you were thinking I was going to refer to, huh?). And the main point that the authors of this paper made was this: that the middle component of each one of these Markan Sandwiches provides the theological meaning to the surrounding themes.
So listen if you want me to send you the paper I will, but right now for the sake of time I’m asking you to trust me on this okay? And besides, if you’re really interested in reading about Markan Sandwiches, I can hook you up! And I’ll hook you up with some counseling too. But no here’s the point that Mark is making:
By surrounding the glory of Christ in the transfiguration with the themes of the suffering and death of Christ, Mark is making the point that the glory of Jesus Christ is not diminished by His suffering. That His rightful place as Messiah and Savior of Israel is not derailed by His suffering and dying. That His pain and suffering did not rob Him of His dignity and honor as King of the world.
Elisabeth Elliot said:
“It’s only in the cross that we can begin to harmonize the seeming contradiction between suffering and glory. And we will never understand suffering unless we understand the love of God.
We’re talking about two different levels on which things are to be understood. And again and again in the Scriptures we have what seem to be complete paradoxes because we’re talking about two different kingdoms. We’re talking about this visible world and an invisible kingdom through which the facts of this world are interpreted.”
That last line, “an invisible kingdom through which the facts of this world are interpreted”, that’s what we need to see here at the transfiguration. That despite what the disciples had seen the entire three years of following Jesus, they were only seeing through the lens of this world, not through the lens of the invisible Kingdom.
And that’s what I want to help us do today is to try and look at the life of Christ, and then our lives, through the lens of the invisible Kingdom rather than the lens of the world. What we see with our eyes, what we feel in our hearts, what we experience in our minds—that’s not all there is to this life. There was something going on underneath Jesus’ ministry and his suffering that the disciples didn’t understand. And I’m going to make the case that the same is true for us.
CHRIST’S SUFFERING RESULTS IN HIS GLORY, HIS GLORY RESULTS IN OUR GAIN
Christ’s Suffering Brought Him Glory
Now the first thing we need to understand is how Jesus’ suffering is connected to His glory. Jesus’ life was certainly one of pain and sorrow. There’s a reason we sing that song: “Man of Sorrows.” It comes from a prophecy concerning Christ in Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
It’s speculated that perhaps He lost his father. Last time Joseph is mentioned in the Bible is when Jesus was 12. Later at the wedding at Cana, Joseph was not there. Jesus was referred to as the son of Mary at that event, not the son of Joseph, which would not make sense in that culture unless Jospeh was out of the picture.
He begins his ministry and is immediately hated by the religious elite, lied about, gossiped about, etc. Goes to Nazareth – rejected by siblings and those he grew up with – attempted to throw him off a cliff. He lost dear friends – Lazarus – Jesus wept.
When he knew what was to come, he was in agony, “my soul is in anguish.” He pleaded with the disciples to stay awake and pray with him, but they didn’t. Abandoned by his disciples. Dragged through the streets like a criminal and given an unfair trial. He was exchanged for a murderer. Beaten viciously. Utterly alone on the cross.
I know we quote this verse a lot but it’s one of what scholars call the “High Christological” passages because of how much majesty and glory is contained in it. Philippians 2:6-11:
“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [There’s the suffering, now see the reward] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Christ’s suffering brought Him glory. And the point of the transfiguration was to convince the disciples, and us, that Christ’s suffering and His glory are not at odds with one another, they are mutually necessary for either to have any significance.
And we celebrate this and for good reason! We benefit greatly from the glory of Jesus Christ. His glory is our gain. Check this out:
The Transformation of our Bodies
“He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the same power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” – Philippians 3:21
The kindness and glory of Christ is on full display here. Christ has the “power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself.” This is part of His glory! And rightly so. He conquered sin, death, and the grave, what other enemy can pose any kind of threat to Him? What other power or authority can come close to His? He faced the crucible of the fury of hell, wickedness, and the wrath of God, yet He came out on the other side not only unscathed, but radiant, as we have seen, exalted as King and Lord over all.
Yet, according to the Apostle, He won’t use His power to exert dominance over us. He will not exercise His right as Lord to subject us to servitude. He doesn’t rely upon His status and power and position to exalt Himself, He knows there is Another who will take care of that (John 8:54). Instead, He will use His power to make us like Him, dispensing amongst us the very glory that merits His position of honor and authority. He shares with us the glory that gives Him power, He doesn’t hoard it. “To this He called you through our Gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). As if His righteousness wasn’t enough…
How unlike us He is! How undeserving we are! And still He seeks to make us like Him. He assumed our form so that we could one day assume His. In fact, this was the plan from the beginning (Romans 8:29). Yet it is His sacrifice that, even after our transformation into His likeness, will cause us to consider Him as even still greater than ourselves.
But think about it. Isn’t it by Him giving us equal beauty that we would see Him as more beautiful? Isn’t it by giving us equal dignity that we would see Him as more dignified? Isn’t it by bestowing on us equal value that we would see Him as more valuable? The shedding of His blood not only paid for but covered our sin. The breaking of His body not only absorbed, but absolved the wrath of God for us. He stepped out of Heaven, lived within the confines of a human body with human limitations, suffered the most severe affliction, loneliness, hunger, pain, isolation, hatred, betrayal, and sorrow; all from the hands of the ones He came to save. Yet isn’t it by sharing in our condition, submitting Himself to our abuse, yet still choosing to take upon Himself everything that makes us unworthy that we see Him as more worthy?
I wonder—as those soldiers dressed Him in purple, placed a crown of thorns upon His head, spat on Him and mocked Him—I wonder what kind of eyes Jesus looked at them with. He would later plea to God for them, for their forgiveness. They didn’t know what they were doing. They labeled the King a “king” and made Him a spectacle for the world to pity. They didn’t know that He didn’t want anything from them, only something for them. He wanted to give them Himself. He wanted to give them His glory.
Which is exactly what He has done. “He has transformed our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.” We broke His body, He turned these wretched clay vessels into glorious sculptures of His grace. We betrayed Him, He calls us friend (Matthew 26:50). We mocked Him, He honors us. We spat upon Him, He showers grace upon us. We pierced His heart, He gives us new hearts. We killed Him, He gives us eternal life. We abhorred Him, He glorifies us. But the very act of giving away His glory heaps more glory upon Him. The very thing He loves, He shares with us. And He asks for nothing in return for this gift. Just that we receive it gladly with joyful reverence. Christ loses nothing in this exchange, but we both experience immeasurable gain.
His glory, our gain. And if you think that’s cool, check this out. Paul makes another connection between suffering and glory in Romans 8:18-21:
Christ will Shine Brighter Still
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” – Romans 8:18-21
There’s something amazing here. It’s glory. It’s a glory that is so magnificent that it makes all of the sufferings of these present times seem trivial when set side-by-side (Romans 8:18). None of the tornado-damage, none of the miscarriages, none of the terminal diseases, none of the 50 million murdered babies every year, none of the drug addictions, none of the house fires, none of the punches or the bullying—even when all combined throughout the history of this Earth—will seem to matter to us when we are introduced to this glory. Every ache, every pain, every tear will be swallowed up by this glory and any attempt to compare the two will make our sorrow here in this life seem like the most meager price to pay for such a reward. And the shocking thing is that I am not at all minimizing the suffering that’s going on in the world. Things really are as horrible as they seem and probably even more so than we realize, but just as horrible as things are now, the weight of glory awaiting us will be a million times heavier.
Let me try to show you.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from the bondage of corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).
This passage of Scripture is profound because it tells us quite a few things:
“The creation was subjected to futility.” The fall of Adam and Eve in the garden didn’t just introduce sin into the hearts of mankind but it also affected all of creation. Sin taints every aspect of the universe. The most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen is actually a disfigured portrait of something that was once much more beautiful. Stars are not a bright as they should be and oceans are not as blue as they once were. The whole creation exists in a diminished state of beauty.
“Not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.” Some have said that the “him” in this passage refers to Adam who plunged all of creation into sin when he disobeyed God’s command to abstain from the tree. But I don’t think that interpretation is the strongest. It’s actually God who subjected the creation to its current futility. The strongest indicator of this is that this subjection was done “in hope.” Adam disobeyed God out of rebellion, not hope. Only God was capable of orchestrating the events of the fall as a means of looking to fulfill a hope of something greater. Which leads us to the next point…
“In hope that the creation itself will be set free from the bondage of corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And this is the most profound statement here. If you’ll remember, each day of God’s work of creation was approved by the Creator as “good” with man being considered by God as “very good.” The creation as it was initially brought forth by God was wholly pleasing to Him. But when sin entered the picture, God, who according to Ephesians 1:4 had already orchestrated a plan to redeem mankind before He even laid the foundations of the Earth, then decides to bring creation in on this whole ordeal and also allow it to obtain the same “freedom of the glory of the children of God.” God, who created a world that was wholly pleasing to Him, a world that was completely untouched by sin and futility, looked ahead at what would come and considered it as something far better. We can’t imagine what the pre-corrupted beauty in this world was like, we only know the illusory facade that it is now, but however amazing this sinless creation was, it isn’t as amazing as the redeemed world that is awaiting us.
We understand that the Bible refers to this enhanced creation as the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1). This is a place where God will dwell in the presence of man. With his own hand He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Having already overcome sin and death by the resurrection of the Son, sin and death will not exist in this place, nor will there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. All of these things will have passed away (Revelation 21:3-4).
Can you imagine the sunsets in this place? Can you imagine the colors and the smells and the sounds? Nothing will be corrupted by sin, but yet this is nothing at all like the sinless creation in Genesis 1, this is far greater than that! What kind of beauty will our eyes behold? Oceans will roar mightier than they ever have and mountains will soar taller than ever before. Never before will we have tasted water so pure nor food so satisfying. Our wildest dreams will not even be able to even hint at the splendor that the skies will contain.
And yet we haven’t even gotten close to what the glory that will be revealed to us is. No, there is still something greater in that city that is awaiting us; something beyond all comprehension.
“THE CITY HAS NO NEED OF SUN OR MOON TO SHINE ON IT, FOR THE GLORY OF GOD GIVES IT LIGHT, AND ITS LAMP IS THE LAMB.”
Its lamp is the Lamb.
God, who dwells in light unapproachable (1 Timothy 6:16), will dwell with man. The inhabitants of this city, the righteous, will shine like the sun (Matthew 13:43). The stars in the sky will glow a million times brighter than time has ever known, but even in all of this, just like on that mountain 2000 years ago, Christ will shine brighter still.
Peter said, referring to the glory of Jesus that He saw at the transfiguration: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” – 2 Peter 1:16
Not too long now and that sentence won’t be so mysterious to us; we’ll be able to say the same thing. We’ll be able to bask in this glory for all of eternity, which, for those of you who have had your eyes opened to the glory and beauty of Jesus is a thought that is exhilarating is it not? It’s not too long now.
OUR SUFFERING RESULTS IN OUR GAIN
What This Means for Us Right Now
So what does all this mean for us now though? Well, just as Christ’s suffering brought Him glory, the same thing is true of us. Our suffering results in our gain.
Now I understand that all of what we’ve just talked about is future. But don’t downplay that. There’s a reason I started this with all of the future benefits first, is because hope is powerful. It’s hope that allows us to endure. It’s hope that motivates us to keep going. This glorious King that we’ve gotten a glimpse of? He’ll be ours for eternity. Now we see Him only in a mirror dimly. This sermon—well, every sermon ever preached—none of them will ever come close to truly capturing the majesty and beauty of Jesus. But there is coming a day when we will see Him face to face. And it’s that hope, that He’ll be infinitely more glorious, infinitely more kind, infinitely more accepting and loving and compassionate; it’s that hope that will carry us through this life.
But this has present implications for us now, too. You know, as I was sitting in the Mezzanine at Dorothy Lane Market writing this portion of the sermon, my mind wandered to you all. I was thinking of you and thinking of how best to apply this to you. I was wondering how to tie in the suffering of Jesus and His glory into something applicable to you, something helpful, something encouraging. Because I know you—I know we need it. I need it.
Just looking around this room, I’m aware of some of you who have recently lost loved ones. And you’re hurting. Some of you have children with terminal illnesses that you’ll probably outlive and that thought haunts you. Some of you have already outlived some of your children and, although I’ve not experienced that, I know that pain is one that never goes away. I’ve spoken with some of you who are wracked by the guilt of your past sins and wonder if you’ll ever be free from feelings of condemnation and shame. There are some of us who have walked through marital infidelity, divorce, and family trauma that has brought mental and emotional trauma into our families and lives that we just don’t know if we’ll ever overcome. Miscarriages, infertility, job loss, cancer diagnoses, mental illness, suicidal ideations, depression, anxiety, insecurity, abandonment, loneliness, fear of the future, haunting thoughts of the past, sexual, mental, and emotional abuse. The list goes on and on. These kinds of sin and suffering fill the stories of the lives in this room and I just…I want to try and encourage you, I want to try and help you.
There are several biblical truths that I want to remind you of that I pray will help you. So here we go.
Our Suffering is Not an Indicator of God’s Absence
I heard a brilliant insight from a pastor out of New York City named Jon Tyson. He pointed out something peculiar about how Jesus began His public ministry. If you’ll remember, we covered this back in Mark chapter 1 at the very beginning, but it’s recorded for us in the other Gospels as well. It’s Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist marked the beginning of His public ministry. And at His baptism something interesting happened, do you remember? Something very similar to what we’ve just read in the transfiguration account.
When Jesus was baptized, the clouds opened up, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, and then God the Father spoke from heaven, saying “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Now the point that Jon Tyson makes is this: Jesus’ ministry began with blessing. He operated out of the blessing of God, not for the blessing of God. How brilliant is that?
But for our purposes, do you remember what Jesus did immediately after He was baptized? He was sent by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness to suffer and be tempted by the devil for 40 days. God says, “I’m well pleased with You. Now go suffer.” And as we’ve already covered, Jesus’ entire ministry was one that was filled with suffering and pain. But it certainly wasn’t an indicator that God was displeased with Him, it couldn’t be, otherwise the blessing that God pronounced on Him at His baptism, and then again at His transfiguration would’ve been a lie, which we know God cannot do.
So you must get this: your suffering is not an indication of God’s absence from your life. Janet Erskine Stuart, she was a Catholic nun, she said, “Joy is not the absence of suffering but the presence of God.” This was true of Jesus’ life and ministry. The Spirit descended upon Him, He had the presence of God, He also faced immense suffering, but He also experienced unmatched joy.
No, your suffering not an indicator of God’s absence, in fact, the Apostle Paul argues that your suffering is an indicator that God is working in your life.
Paul tells us as much in Romans 5:2-4:
“…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
Look closely enough at this and you see that what Paul describes is quite an amazing process. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (v. 2b). This is the beginning of the Christian’s walk with the Lord. Upon recognition of our depravity, repentance of our sin, and placing our faith in Jesus Christ for the atonement of our sins, what are we left to do but to rejoice in hope of the glory of God? This rejoicing is the first posture of worship that the new Christian takes and then strives to maintain throughout the rest of her life. This is where we must begin in our walk with the Lord. But notice the rest of the process that Paul lays out for us. Rejoicing in our newfound hope is not all that we rejoice in, “but we also rejoice in our sufferings.” Why? “…because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
Notice that the product of suffering is endurance, and the product of endurance is character, and the product of character is hope. Work that backwards and you’ll begin to see the importance of what Paul is describing. Do you want hope? Build character. Do you want character? Strive for endurance. Do you want endurance? Experience suffering. What Paul describes for us in Romans 5:2-4 is a process of growth. We begin our Christian walk by rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God, we begin our Christian life with blessing, right!? Then as we follow Christ, we experience suffering (2 Timothy 3:12). If we successfully endure that suffering, then character is produced—we become more like Christ; we actually grow. And all this results in a greater hope, which brings us back to the first step, to repeat this process all over again.
So you see you shouldn’t run from your suffering or think that your pain is an indicator of God’s absence in your life. It’s actually an indicator of His love for you.
I once had to take my daughter Lyla to get some shots. I took her to the doctor against her will, held her down even though she tried to fight, and allowed a stranger to inflict pain on my child. Lyla screamed and looked at me with a very confused look wondering why I was subjecting her to this. She screamed and begged for me to make it stop, but I didn’t. I held her there until it was over. I did this because I knew that the pain she was experiencing then was for her own good. I knew the benefits of her receiving the vaccines would far outweigh the problems that she might face later on if she were to forgo them. I did it because I loved my child. There was something good right on the other side of those shots that I was aware of, but she wasn’t.
Paul understood this when he said that he “consider[ed] the sufferings of this present time not even worth being compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). He said something similar in Romans 8:17, saying “we will be glorified with Him, provided we suffer with Him.” In other words, there’s no glory without suffering, but there’s also no suffering without glory. There is something greater than your pain that is waiting for you on the other side of it. We don’t understand all of the specifics of how this works now, but we will one day. For now, we trust and we believe that God is who He says that He is: a loving Father who works to do good for His children.
A Glorious, Sympathetic High Priest
In closing I want to remind you, or introduce you if you’ve not seen this before, of the comfort of Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
I’ve tried hard to sympathize with you, church. I genuinely love you and care about you. Now, I may not be able to sympathize perfectly with all of you and all that you have gone through, but you should know that there is Someone who identifies with everything that you currently or have ever experienced. There is a man who knows exactly what you’re going through and knows exactly why you feel the way you do. His name is Jesus. He’s the King of all Creation, the Darling of Heaven, the Radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and this Jesus has felt the fullness of your pain, your sin, and your struggle.
The Scripture tells us that on the cross, Jesus didn’t merely take on sin, He became sin. All of the complete depravity and brokenness of man, He didn’t simply feel it, He became it.
The Bible explains it this way in 1 Peter: “Surely he bore our sins in His body on the cross.” In his body. Have you ever hurt so bad that it felt like your bones were wasting away? If our Lord partook of all of the fallenness of humanity and in His body he became everything that He was never meant to be, then why wouldn’t He be able to understand what you’re going through?
Jesus and the Father are united in such an intimate and close way that we consider them both the same exact person. But when Jesus hung on the cross and bore the penalty for your sin, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” In a moment, the identity that Jesus had for eternity past, as being One with the Father, that identity was taken away. He didn’t feel at home in His body, He didn’t feel secure in His identity, He didn’t experience the harmony of rightly balanced, rightly ordered desires. He was broken. He was broken for you. And for me.
But the Scripture says that this brokenness, this disconnect, this disharmony did not last forever. For it was through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection that Jesus exhausted the full power of sin, removed it, and thereby He reconciled all things to Himself. He brought order to the chaos. He brought unity and cohesion. Things that were once out of order and misaligned are now properly balanced and made right.
Jesus Christ has been exactly where you are, but now at this moment, He is alive and well on the other side of it. And He is inviting you to come to Him. He is inviting you to leave behind your dysfunction and disorder and join Him in His peace and restoration. And if you’re exhausted, don’t give up, keep going, keep running, He will give you the grace you need to continue firm until the end.
St. Augustine captures this idea for us perfectly. Speaking to God, he cries out:
“Oh the twisted roads I walked! But look, You’re here, freeing us from our unhappy wandering, setting us firmly on Your track, comforting us and saying, ‘Run the race! I’ll carry you! I’ll carry you clear to the end, and even at the end, I’ll carry you.’”
The solution for all of us, no matter what our hurts, habits, or hang-ups, no matter the nature of our struggles, that one choice you have that will lead to your greatest freedom, joy, and flourishing is the choice to leave behind your sin and cleave to Christ.
Now I’m not going to give you any false promises…
This world will not offer you restoration, but Christ offers you wholeness. This world will not offer you relief, but Christ offers you enduring rest. This world will not offer you ultimate fulfillment, but Christ offers you eternal significance. He offers you His glory. He will transform your body to be like His glorious body. Your face will shine like the sun. The darkness will not win. The shame will not overcome you. The pain will not consume you, because it has already consumed Him, and He overcame it. If you unite yourself to Him, then that victory becomes yours. The question is will you accept Him as King? If so then you’ll see things, even your pain, as they truly are: small pieces of a grand story that will one day culminate in His greatest glory and your greatest joy.