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Spring/Summer 1999 Newsletter: Suffering – God’s Tool of Redemption
Publish date: Feb 24, 2009
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To love is to serve. To serve means to sacrifice, and sacrifice always brings suffering.
Suffering is a component of redemption. Before sin came into the world, there was no suffering. Suffering is the result of sin. But God uses suffering as a tool of redemption.
Suffering in the Plan of Redemption
Suffering runs through the whole plan of salvation. The first to suffer were two little lambs. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus left heaven, came to Earth and killed two lambs to demonstrate how He one day would be innocently put to death in our place.
Abel suffered when he was hated and killed by his brother Cain because he believed in the forgiveness of sins through the blood of the Son of God.
Isaac suffered when his father laid him down on an altar and was about to kill him in obedience to God’s command.
Jacob suffered when he heard that Esau was bringing 500 armed men to kill him and his family in revenge for the birthright he stole.
Joseph suffered when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he was thrown into jail.
Moses suffered 40 years alone in the desert with sheep and then 40 years in a desolate wilderness with a rebellious nation.
David suffered when his own son Absalom tried to kill him and take the kingdom away from him.
For centuries, lambs had to suffer and die every morning and evening in the temple, pointing to the suffering of the coming Messiah.
In Isaiah 53:7 we read, “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter.”
Isaiah 63:9 says, “In all their affliction, he was afflicted.”
Suffering in the Life of Christ
Suffering also ran through the life of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In John 15:25, Jesus said, “They hated me without a cause.”
Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:8).
For it became him, for whom all are things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).
Suffering in the Life of the Redeemed
Suffering runs through the life of the redeemed. You cannot learn to suffer through books or through hearing how others suffer, but only through experience. John saw in a vision the multitude of redeemed in heaven robed in white robes and he wrote, “These are they which came out of great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14).
This tribulation spoken of is not a long era of persecution. This great tribulation is the suffering that Christians experience throughout history.
Maybe you’re going through such a period of tribulation right now. Moses described the grain offering which is acceptable to the Lord in these words:
And if thy oblation be a meat offering baken in the fryingpan, it shall be made of fine flour with oil (Leviticus 2:7).
Fine flour is made of wheat. But wheat must first be grinded, broken, and crushed before it turns into fine flour. So our ego and self-love must also be first grinded, broken, and crushed through suffering and trials.
In the same verse, we read that the fine flour was offered with oil. Oil stands for the Holy Spirit. If you suffer without the Holy Spirit, you go into deep depression. But if you suffer with the Holy Spirit, drawing closer to Him, then it’s a glorious experience. God tests our obedience, not only through temptations but also through suffering.
Why was it fitting that Christ be made perfect through suffering? Christ was already perfect. But God never before had to prove His obedience and surrender under such difficult circumstances, namely living in the form of a human being, surrounded by sin, beset from every side suffering and privations.
The great question is this: How far is a person willing to go in enduring suffering? Every one of us reaches the maximum point of endurance at a different stage. Some give up earlier than others. Only a few endure to the very end like Jesus did. But this decides our own destiny. If we ever say to God, “I will go this far and no further, God. If you continue making me suffer, I will give you up,” we lose our salvation. God expects us to endure to the end. He will grant us the necessary power to endure any amount of suffering and humiliation.
To abandon ourselves completely to the leading of the Holy Spirit while suffering—without doubting, without rejecting God—is one of the greatest Christian virtues. It requires the highest degree of trust in God. The person who has an intimate love relationship with Christ—a strong hold on Him —knows that God’s mercy and help is always greater than difficulties, suffering, and obstacles. Only in that relationship can we endure to the end, like Job.
Active and Passive Power
Jesus had tremendous active power, which He demonstrated and exhibited by creating a universe, walking on water, turning water into wine, raising the dead, healing the sick, preaching and teaching with authority, and stilling a hurricane.
But Jesus also had tremendous passive power. This He demonstrated by enduring shame and suffering, When He finally went to the cross, He allowed Himself to be brought down to the second death.
In the last 12 hours of His life, Jesus needed more passive power than He did at Creation. The last 12 hours of His life were the greatest demonstration of God’s power in the history of the universe. Never before did God have to endure that much. It was so intense that He died of it.
Jesus had all the power of the universe at His disposition to destroy those who crucified Him, but He controlled it completely. On the contrary, He used that power to subdue Himself and endure the cross. For this reason, the angels sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Revelation 5:11-12).
God suffered meekly like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter. This Christian philosophy of life runs against the philosophy of our age. The world cannot understand that strength, power, and influence can be shown in enduring suffering and humiliation, that a person endowed with much power can walk the low road, the road of unpopularity, shame, and suffering, and still become the victor.
The world does not understand passive power. It only understands active power—the power that asserts itself and fights for its rights.
It takes more power to allow another person to slap your face without hitting back, than it does to retaliate. Some Christians become discouraged and give up when they are asked by God to endure humiliation and mistreatment. They become physically and emotionally ill. But not Jesus.
Remember? He stood erect before Pilate, before Caiaphas, before the mad and angry mob. He stood there as a King—calm, composed, Lord of the situation while enduring the most inhuman degradation, until finally a centurion exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
We all must obtain this passive power—this power to endure any suffering without breaking down. Only then are we equipped for the trials ahead. We must learn to conquer not only under favorable conditions, but to become victors under the most unfavorable circumstances.
Satan and the world hate the passive power of the Christian. The world wants you to assert your active power. If you use passive power, you are called a weakling. The world misjudges the character and power of the godly person.
Think for a moment about Judas and Jesus before Caiaphas, the high priest. It’s early morning and still dark. Caiaphas is the judge. Judas stands in the background. He was a man that believed only in active power. He listens intently as Jesus is being criticized, maligned, mistreated, and finally condemned.
Suddenly Judas becomes aware of the real power of Christ —His passive power—and he says to himself, “Only God could behave like this. He must be the Son of God after all.” And suddenly 30 pieces of silver mean nothing to him anymore. He throws the money down on the floor and yells, “I have betrayed innocent blood. I have sold the Son of God to you!”
Just like Judas, too many Christians recognize the value of passive power too late. They actually don’t want to submit themselves to this power. They don’t want to follow the humble Nazarene in this respect. They’re so fascinated by the glory, the praise of people, recognition, victory, and popularity.
Because of our lack of insight, we do not recognize the attraction of passive power, which expresses itself in abandoning ourselves to God and circumstances, subduing our urge to use force, giving up things for the sake of God and others, tolerating the intolerable, suffering willingly even if we do not see the reason for it.
Every promise of God contains its fulfillment. In the same way, every suffering contains the necessary comfort, strength, and glory. And this most Christians do not see. Therefore, they run away from suffering and difficulties. Paul wrote this of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2:
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Didn’t Christ have a sensitive nature? Wasn’t He ashamed to be treated the way He was? Didn’t He know it was a scandal to hang on a cross between two gangsters? His suffering—that scandal—was His greatest glory.
Jesus has glorified suffering, shame, and inhuman treatment by enduring them all while being innocent. When Jesus uttered, “It is finished,” He finished the greatest demonstration of God’s passive power, namely, love that endures all things. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope. It can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that stands when all else has fallen (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Only when we become newborn men and women by the power of the Holy Spirit, do we begin to understand and desire this new outlook on life. Those who reject this concept will always consider us fools, while we call it the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Are you willing to be nothing and unnoticed for Christ’s sake? When you reach that state of mind, then you are prepared for the real glory. Are you willing to take the low road, or are your thoughts geared only for the high road, the road that leads to earthly approval?
If you crave for the high road, you will always be in the company of the majority of humanity, for this is the philosophy of the world. God’s greatest people of character are usually considered small and insignificant in the eyes of their fellows. They go unnoticed by the world and are honored only after their death.
This is the secret of the victorious Christian life. The world calls victory what is really defeat, and calls defeat what is really victory. We desperately need a transformation in our outlook on life before we can become successful Christians, otherwise we will only become successful worldlings.
Today, we Christians stand in the same embattled place as Christ stood 2000 years ago. In desperation, we sometimes say to God what Jeremiah did:
Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth…O LORD, thou knowest: remember me…know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke (Jeremiah 15:10, 15).
God answered His prophet:
If you return,
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me;
If you take out the precious from the vile,
You shall be as My mouth (Jeremiah 15:19 NKJV).
All of us in the same position as Jeremiah must always remember this: we cannot tell God the circumstances and the way in which He should use us.
We Belong to God
You and I are in God’s possession. We must remain in His hands no matter what happens. We must say to Jesus, “As you permit difficult circumstances to surround me and my work, I want you to know, Lord, that I accept them all, and more, I even rejoice in them.”
We must remember all the good things, all the blessings, and all the benefits Christ allowed us to experience in our lives. Jesus Himself was not spared difficult circumstances in His life.
I, myself, let God wait for 34 years. I could have found Him in my own home. I had wonderful Christian parents, but I was not interested. I left Switzerland as a banker and came to New York to “live it up.” I was only interested in myself, in getting ahead, making a career, and building a big bank account. Yet Jesus waited for me. Then He brought suffering into my life, and He called me back to him.
Quenching God’s Longing for Us
God thirsts for our love. He says through Hosea that he longs for our love (see Hosea 6:6).
I wish I had heard His voice when I was young and had not wasted 34 years. It was not until I was on a business trip in the Dominican Republic, where a humble missionary spoke to me, that my heart broke. I considered all the wealth, influence, and the high position I had acquired in the pharmaceutical industry as nothing compared to the unsearchable riches of Christ. But then I realized also, that suffering was the only way that God could have used to draw me to Himself.
There is such a hard crust around our hearts that it takes suffering to break up that crust, so that the rays of the Holy Spirit can penetrate. Suffering came to me again and again. I was confronted with a very difficult new truth, and it was only through suffering and humiliation that I was able to accept that difficult new truth.
Suffering is an able tool in the hand of a loving God to draw us closer to Him. Sometimes it even seems that God goes opposite to our prayers. Through difficulties, opposition, shame, and disaster, God accomplishes the very thing you ask for. To understand this, to endure this, to accept this requires faith in Him. Some Christians can’t take it. They give up and lose everything. But if God chastises me exceedingly, it means He also loves me exceedingly (Hebrews 12:6).
Israel—An Object Lesson
The history of Israel is an object lesson for the follower of Christ. God wanted to educate the people of Israel. He desired to teach them love for Him, faith in Him, and trust in Him. He desired to use Israel for a special task in the world. God took this people out of Egypt, but He didn’t lead them into the Promised Land filled with milk and honey and the degenerate way of life of the sin-polluted Canaanites.
Instead He led them into a land where there was no milk, no honey, no bread, not even water. He led them into a dry hot desert. By day it was 125° F and by night it was 35° F.
Why did God do this? To show Israel what God can do with people who trust Him explicitly under the most difficult circumstances. To demonstrate how He can look out for and provide lavishly for those who trust Him.
But what did God get from Israel? Nothing but complaints. The Jews asked, “Can God give us water in this dried out place? Can He give us bread? Can He give us meat?”
They doubted God’s ability to take care of them. The Jews dreamt of Egyptian melons and Egyptian garlic and Egyptian fish. When they had those things in Egypt, they were slaves. Now they were free, but still they longed to go back into slavery.
But God reorganized this mob. He turned a horde of slaves into a powerful nation! God gave them the highest ethical values, the finest health laws, the best civil laws, and He gave them the Gospel of salvation through the tabernacle. No other people on earth received such superb revelations, such superb ordinances and teachings as the Jews in that desert.
God wanted to live among them personally in that beautiful tabernacle. By day, God spread a large cloud over them, which reduced the desert temperature. At night, God gave them a pillar of fire, which illuminated the whole camp and warmed them.
No one was ill in the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. Their clothes and shoes never wore out. Their feet did not swell from walking. All serpents were driven underground by God’s command. He rained manna on them daily as bread. He provided grass for the cattle. He provided water daily from unexpected springs. God kept their enemies far away.
What else did Israel need? Still the people were dissatisfied and talked only of the things they missed. They became rebels by nurturing a dissatisfied spirit. They never cooperated with God. And then they brought that false attitude to Canaan where everything flowed with milk and honey in abundance. Even there, amidst plentiful food, they remained unfaithful and dissatisfied.
What can God do with such a people? The answer is very sad. He can save a few genuine ones among them, and dismiss the rest. What’s the conclusion? If you fit yourself into God’s plans, even if it is a crisis, your reward will be unbelievably great.
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
Coping with Discouragement
When Satan tries to discourage you during your crisis, think of these two pillars of faith and truth:
1) God is so powerful that He can uphold the whole universe.
2) That same Person died on the cross of Golgotha for you because He loves you.
If the most powerful Person in the whole universe loves you more than Himself, what do you have to worry about? When we contemplate these two great truths, we need have no fear of the future, no fear that God will mistreat us or play with us.
We need difficulties to spur us on to spiritual growth. God is shaping us. You and I find ourselves sometimes in a desert where everything seems to be missing—no success in our wok, no friends, no loved ones, no acceptance, and no money. Sometimes we say, “I’m through, I’m finished.”
But God says, “No, you are not finished. I am everything to you. Only trust in me and I will supply your needs.”
we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Chosen for Victory
We Christians are chosen for victory. But we must have a Spirit in us that is much higher than what is in the world. The Bible says that, “Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him” (Daniel 6:3).
God cannot be defeated by anyone. And when God gives His Holy Spirit to a person, then that person can also not be conquered by his enemies. Christ has already overcome this world. God can give you the victory, either by leading you down the high road of success or the low road of unpopularity and suffering. Either way, God always reaches His goal.
After thousands of years of rebellion and planning to overthrow the work of God, Satan will stand helpless before the New Jerusalem and discover that everything he did only helped to promote the work of God. God is so wise that He can accomplish His goals through the activities of His enemies.
Jesus Stepped Down to be Raised Gloriously
Did Jesus go the high road or the low road? Jesus originally was not a Son. He was absolutely equal with His Father. We read in Isaiah 9:6, “his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (emphasis added).
But Jesus voluntarily stepped down and became the Son of God, being dependent on His Father the way you and I are dependent on Him.
Then He stepped down the second time and became Michael the archangel. As Michael the archangel, He fought against the third of angels that rebelled against Him in heaven (Daniel 12:1, Revelation 12:7).
Then He stepped down a third time and became a human being.
He stepped down a fourth time and became sin, not sinful, but sin for us.
He stepped down a fifth time and went to the cross.
He stepped down a sixth time and went into death.
He stepped down a seventh time and went into the second death. The second death
is the lowest place in the universe. You can’t go any lower. No being ever came out of the second death. It’s the end of the road. Christ stepped down from the highest point of the universe and went into the lowest point of the universe. Second death is hell—separation from God.
In the Gospel it’s called “outer darkness.” And He did it all for you and me. Down, down, down, seven times: shame, suffering, degradation, and humiliation. Followed by what? Glory. Up, up, up: the resurrection, the ascension.
At Pentecost, Jesus was crowned in heaven. He became High Priest, Mediator, Advocate, King, and Ruler of the Universe, equal again with the Father. Yes, glory is always preceded by suffering and shame.
The Lesson of Joseph
Take Joseph. As a young boy, he had two dreams. Shortly thereafter he found himself sold by his brothers as a slave into Egypt. In Potiphar’s house, he was innocently condemned and wound up in an Egyptian jail. He could have said, “Lord, wait a minute! Is this the way you fulfill your promises? I’ve had it.”
But instead, he accepted the circumstances God allowed to come into his life, remaining loyal to the Lord and serving his fellow prisoners in love and humility.
Because of a dream given to Pharaoh, within 24 hours, Joseph went from slave and prisoner to Prime Minister of the empire of Egypt. He sat beside the ruler of Egypt. His life spiraled down, down, down and them within 24 hours shot up to the highest point. That is the official road to heaven. This, you and I must understand.
The principle of heaven is that God chastens those He loves and disciplines those who call themselves His children (Hebrews 12:6-8). For those who mourn in trial and sorrow, there is comfort. The bitterness of grief and humiliation is better than the indulgences of sin.
Through affliction, God reveals to us the black spots in our characters, that by His grace we may overcome our faults. The difficulties we have to encounter can be very much lessened by meekness in Christ. If we possess the humility of our Master, we shall rise above the slights, the rebuffs, the annoyances to which we are daily exposed. And they will cease to cast a gloom over the spirit.
The highest evidence of nobility in a Christian is self control. Whoever under abuse or cruelty fails to maintain a calm and trustful spirit, robs God of His right to reveal in him His own perfection of character.
Six Reasons for Suffering
Let me suggest six reasons for suffering:
1) To make us willing to give up cherished sinful habits. Sometimes you and I are clinging to a sinful habit so tenaciously that the Lord has to strike us. And then we let go of it and can turn and say, “O Lord, thank you that you delivered me of that awful habit.”
2) To test our love. God wants to test us as He tested Abraham on Mount Moriah with Isaac. He wants to show all the inhabitants of the universe that are watching how far a person is willing to go in love for God. How much a person is willing to give up for God.
3) To show the universe that opposing God does not pay. We are giving a demonstration of the dreadful consequences of rebellion.
4) To train us for office in heaven. God plans to give us a high office on the new earth. The greater the future office, the greater the test now. The Bible promises that we will become coregents with Christ over the whole universe.
5) To help others who are suffering. You can be an example to other men and women who are suffering: comfort them and teach them from your own experience how God can help us when we are under great pressure (2 Corinthians 12:7).
6) To bring us into closer communion with Christ, a fellow sufferer. What does an intelligent, educated man do when he looks for a wife? Choose an uneducated, insensitive girl? No, there would be no communication between the two. He looks for a woman who’s equally talented and educated as he is—for the sake of communication.
God has chosen us from this planet as the closest co-workers in eternity. We are His bride. He is the bridegroom. Even the angels in heaven can’t claim this kind of relationship. But you and I have. And God, who has also experienced rejection, can empathize with us. And so He allows us to go through experiences that make us so rich in character that even a complex God will have satisfaction in communicating with us throughout eternity.
For these reasons, I rejoice. It would be absolutely absurd to become bitter and rebel against such a wonderful God just because I suffer. You and I must learn to “gather warmth from the coldness of others and courage from their cowardice” (5T, 136).
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able: but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
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