Suffering and Discipleship

For followers of Jesus, retaliation and violence are not appropriate reactions to persecution. Rather than respond in kind, they must meet threats and assaults with humility, mercy, and forgiveness. That is what it means to “deny yourself,” “take up his cross,” and follow him wherever he leads. Doing good to one’s “enemy” is contrary to the “wisdom of this age,” yet doing so is how the disciple emulates his Lord and becomes “perfect as the Heavenly Father.”

The idea of “carrying a cross” is a fitting image of what it means to endure unjust suffering for the Gospel. When Roman authorities condemned a man to crucifixion, he was forced to carry the crossbeam on which he would be hung to the place of execution, just as Jesus did on his final walk to Calvary. This was done to further humiliate the condemned man (“Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame”).

Rough Trail - Photo by John Thomas on Unsplash
[Photo by John Thomas on Unsplash]

In stark contrast to the ways of this world, Jesus exhorted his disciple to “
rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you, and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” That disciple was especially “blessed” and therefore he should “exult greatly” since “great was his reward in heaven” - (Matthew 5:10-12).

By enduring trials and persecution faithfully, and with grace, the disciple emulates Jesus. Just as his enemies abused him, so the enemies of the Cross mistreat the man or woman who dares to follow the teachings and example of the Nazarene.

After his resurrection and ascension, his disciples took his instructions to heart. When Peter was hauled before the Sanhedrin and ordered to cease preaching, rather than give in to anger and hatred, he went his way “rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

On another occasion, after being abused and imprisoned, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell. At no point did they curse their persecutors or call down God’s wrath on them - (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).

Jesus provided the ultimate example of enduring unjust suffering for the sake of others. As Isaiah prophesied, the “Servant of Yahweh” was “oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” The Messiah did not “wrangle or cry aloud, nor did anyone hear his voice in the streets. He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick.” He was certainly no violent revolutionary! - (Isaiah 53:7).

FOLLOWING HIS EXAMPLE


Jesus exhorted anyone who would follow him to “love your enemies and pray for them who persecute you.” He was the only truly righteous man who ever lived. If anyone deserved respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet rather than be served or demand respect for his dignity and entitled privileges, he came “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This he did by suffering a horrific death on behalf of others. Not only so, but he chose to die for them when they were “yet enemies of God.” Conforming to this pattern is how his disciple would become “great” in his domain - (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

When an armed mob arrested Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear.” Jesus then did the unexpected. Rather than flee or join Peter in defending his “rights” and denouncing his persecutors, he rebuked him, commanded him to sheathe his sword, and then healed the wounded man who was part of the mob that had come to arrest him - (John 18:10-12).

Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While in his death throes on the Cross, he prayed for his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” - (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:34).

Opposition is something disciples should expect and endure faithfully. To suffer for Jesus is a great honor, a matter of rejoicing, not anger or despair. Today, through loud protests and legal machinations, Christians may avoid persecution; however, in doing so, they rob themselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life.

Country Road - Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]

We think as this world does when we insist that other men and even governments must respect our inviolate civil “rights,” but this flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, and suffering for the sake of Jesus and his people.

The man or woman who would be his disciple must daily “take up his cross and follow” the same path that Jesus did. Failure to do so will make the individual unworthy of the “Kingdom of God.” To become "greatest" in His realm, the disciple must first become the “slave of all.” The Cross means denying yourself that which is yours by right, and enduring unjust suffering and persecution when called to do so.

In contrast to the political ideologies and systems of the present age, the Kingdom of God offers its citizens the far greater privilege of self-sacrificial service for others, and the very high honor of enduring insults, hatred, and persecution because of Jesus. The rewards for doing so in the “age to come” will far outweigh any losses in this present life.



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