“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Have you ever considered the sufferings of Christ? How may we share His sufferings? We know that in the Incarnation Jesus laid aside His glory willingly, not clinging to it. Yet, even more than that, He willingly gave Himself into the hands of His enemies — both the readily apparent and the not so apparent.
Jesus suffered the deprivation of all the comforts of His glory — having not even a place to lay His head. He suffered the hatred of the religious leaders of His own chosen people. He suffered the rejection of His own family and neighbors. He suffered the abandonment of followers who were easily distracted and dissuaded. He suffered the misunderstandings and weakness and selfishness and inattentiveness of His disciples — even the betrayal of and denial by His very own. He suffered the false accusations and injustice and mocking and condemnation … and then the horrific brutality of the Roman system that scourged Him into a bloody pulp and nailed Him to a cross to suffocate in agony. All of this, yes, Jesus suffered.
Let’s go a step farther — God the Father suffered the immeasurably exquisite anguish of watching … beholding … knowing it could all be stopped with a word … a breath. Indeed, ever since the fall, God has beheld as His creation turned against Him and upon itself in selfishness, pride, hatred, and vile wickedness — humankind, the very pinnacle of God’s creation, leading the charge to its own destruction. And then He beheld as His only Son took all the sin of all creation upon Himself — the pure becoming impurity — the lamb becoming the scapegoat.
But perhaps there is a suffering we underestimate — one that we may be unfamiliar with and possibly cannot bear to face.
“Father, forgive them …” (Luke 23:34)
The suffering of forgiveness … to forgive is to relinquish my rights — to be humbled — to let loose of my claim on just satisfaction for some loss or grievance — to give mercy in response to ruthless injustice — to give honor in response to humiliation — to give love in response to hate. You see, the deeper the wound — the more grievous and offensive the sin — the more spiteful and heinous the actions and words of the perpetrator — the deeper the suffering of the victim who chooses to forgive. This is a suffering that can be crushing — feeling like one’s very soul is being torn apart. In this process, more and more of self dies as it is surrendered in obedience to the Cross. And what is that obedience to the Cross? In a very powerful sense, it is compassion — quite literally, to suffer with. And we may not suffer with Christ unless we will forgive as He did. To look upon the Cross with pity may stir up the most powerful feelings; but, unless we move beyond pity to compassion, there is no action and without action there is no obedience … there is no being … there is no “becoming like Him in His death.”
There is only one motivation to move beyond pity to compassion — forgiveness itself. Jesus illustrated this for us in the parable of the unjust servant who, although he was forgiven by the king for his debt that was the equivalent of 200,000 years labor, refused to forgive the debt of another that was the equivalent of a day’s wage. No wonder Jesus said, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:15) When Jesus said, “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47) I’m inclined to believe that He wasn’t speaking only of the quantitative measure of forgiveness so much as the recognition of the weight and consequence of forgiveness.
This forgiveness is for the meek, not the weak. It demands response, not reaction. A reaction is nothing more than that which naturally occurs when a stimulus is applied. A response is quite literally an offering (Latin: re– “back” + sponde “drink offering” ) — indeed, it is something poured out as an act of worship. Jesus describes the response of the Christian to wrongdoing in selfless and intentionally active terminology. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28) Harboring unforgiveness or failing to seek reconciliation preempts any ability of the Holy Spirit to enable you to love and bless and pray. (Matt. 5:23-24) Forgiveness is essential to any reconciliation. God did not wait, but freely offered forgiveness — reconciling us to Himself through the Cross while we were still sinners and enemies. (Rom. 5:8-10)
Only as we come to fully know the forgiveness we receive as our own through Christ can we truly, completely forgive. Conversely as well — only as we truly forgive as we have been forgiven can we begin to grasp the fullness and power of the forgiveness we receive from God our Father. As we truly forgive, our self will continually be put to death — and therein, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be raised to new life with and in Christ and come to “know the power of His resurrection.” That which is resurrected in us is indeed new life — life overflowing with joy and peace that even death cannot conquer.
Then we can proclaim with Paul, “to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
Jesus, my risen Lord, makes living worth dying for and dying worth living for!