Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Was Jesus' Suffering Worse Than My Own?

Beloved, how can you complain when you see how infinitely greater was the grief and how much more painful the anxiety endured by your beloved Lord and faithful Savior, the Son of God himself, who yet bore all patiently and submissively and, more than that, prayed for those instrumental in causing that agony? Who with a single drop of Christian blood in his heart would not blush with shame to be guilty of murmuring at his sufferings when, before God, he is so sinful and is deserving of much more affliction? Martin Luther, Father of the Protestant Reformation

For a moment let me give you a picture of the wickedness of my heart. In my distress, I have thought on occasion how Jesus' death, while horrible and painful, does not compare to constant chronic pain or illness. Yes, He suffered and died, but that was a few hours He died. He didn't have to wake up and suffer again the next day and the next and the next like many of us on Earth. After reading these words by Martin Luther, I was struck and embarrassed by my sinfulness in thinking that Jesus' sacrifice was somehow easier to endure than my chronic pain

It seems I had come to believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus understands our sufferings because He has suffered and been tempted in every way that we are. However, scripture does not ever say Jesus knows exactly what it's like to go through every possible suffering known to man-kind. Hebrews 4:14 is probably the most common used passage that shows Jesus' sympathy in our suffering or as the King James translation puts it "feeling of our infirmities".

"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.".  Hebrews 4:14

This verse brings comfort to the suffering soul as we remember that Jesus, while God, was human and can identify with our struggles and pains because He also suffered and was tempted. He knew what it was like to be tired (John 4:6), to be poor (Matthew 8:20), to be thirsty (John 19:28), to be hungry (Matthew 4:2), to leave family and comfort as He left Heaven to come to Earth (Philippians 2:5-8), to be weak (Luke 23:26), to weep (John 11:35), and to be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11).

Was Jesus ever sick? Scripture doesn't say specifically, but since He became like us (Hebrews 2:17-18) and because sickness is most often a result of living in a fallen world, I think He probably did. The point is that we cannot take Hebrews 4:14 to mean that Jesus suffered exactly like us, because of course He did not know the trials of infertility or the pains of divorce, and scripture doesn't show us that He suffered from chronic disabling pain.

I often focus on the specifics of Jesus' exact suffering as if to somehow to compare it to my own, while missing three very important words -  yet without sin. And this is where Jesus and I are very different and where no human can stand as innocent before God. Jesus subjected himself to and endured great suffering and death for us without sin!

"When he [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly." 1 Peter 2:23

Deep down when those murmurings arise in my heart, I do not believe that I am really deserving of such affliction. How often do we think of people as not deserving to suffer - a child with cancer, a newlywed widowed, a young mother disabled? That is the problem. I do not understand the depth of my sinfulness and how completely separated from God I am apart from Jesus' death and resurrection. Can I go one day without complaining about my suffering or one hour and really trust that God is going to take care of me? Do I pray for the doctors who have mistreated me or the physical therapist whose aggressive techniques seem to have lead to my disabling pain? Jesus did (Luke 23:34). He was completely innocent (1 Peter 2:22). He paid a price I could never pay, so surely by His grace I can endure with patience and trust the suffering He plans for my good and His glory. Afterall, to this we have been called.

"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." 1 Peter 2:21

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