Christmas is always a time of reflection for me and that isn’t always a good thing because of the hardships, struggles, and suffering that I’ve endured. This year though with a lot of prayer, my feeble attempts to lift up a long distance friend during a time of family suffering, and yet more daggers from satan himself I have come to a different view. Maybe, those of us who suffer are actually closer to Christ in many ways than those who use His generosity and His gifts to them selfishly and for their own luxury and happiness.
As I was studying, a view of the original sin of Adam and Eve was illuminated that I’ve never thought of before. Their sin was indeed one of selfishness instead of trust in the One who created them. God had given them EVERYTHING that was good and yet they wanted the one thing for themselves that God had forbidden. As we fast forward through the bible we see how the selfishness of man turned violent and perverted, with horrific greed, selfishness, perverted indulgence, and lustfulness. The filth of sin just spiraled out of control and has continued to do so through the millennia.
As I was preparing for Christmas this year I saw an interesting question posted by someone. “Why was it so important that Mary was a virgin?” After thinking and praying about that I have only one explanation for my own satisfaction. We are told in Exodus 33:20 that no man can look upon God’s glory and live. Thusly, it stands to reason that if God’s Holy Spirit was to “over shadow” Mary and to fertilize her egg so that she would conceive God’s Son that she had to be totally pure or God’s glory and purity would surely end in Mary’s death.
That’s the whole point of Christ’s death is it not? To cleanse us so that we are pure and holy enough to stand before Father God on judgement day and not die?
To get to the next part of my message in this post I have to move to a different part of this message to me. It too is one that is wrapped as a Christmas gift. It is an illumination that I received while struggling with my own suffering and while trying to uplift a family of friends in theirs. My gaze fell upon Christ in the garden when He cried out to His Father 3 times for “the cup” of suffering and death to be lifted from Him. In that moment I was reminded of Abraham’s pleading with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for lesser and lesser numbers of righteous people. As I meditated on those two contrasting events I couldn’t help but wonder if the conversation between Jesus and Father could have gone something like this; “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me…” Answered simply by Father God with, “But, My Son, what about Joe’s sin?” And again, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me…” Answered simply by Father God with, “But, My Son, what about <your name>’s sin?” and every time Jesus simply answered, “not My will but Your’s Father…”
The next part of my awakening has come through conversations with a friend over why some of us seem to be made to suffer while so many have every good thing handed to them freely only for them to take those things for granted and to complain even in their abundance. During the course of this conversation God seemed to be saying “I’m refining you, I’m showing you My love, and I’m showing You Christ’s wounds for Your sin.” During this time a new light seemed to shine down on the apostle Paul’s words in his letters to the Philippians in chapter 3 verses 7-11 “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
In these verses there seems to be the gentle reminder that to live the life of a true Christian means to share in Christ’s sufferings as much as it does to live like He showed to us. This is further illuminated in the very earliest Spirit filled growth of the church just after Pentecost.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,” Acts 2:44-46
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” Acts 4:32-35
In the next chapter of Acts we’re shown that even after Christ’s death and resurrection man’s sinfulness and greed draw God’s wrath. I’m reminded of the words of Christ where He says in Matthew 19:24 “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” In Acts 5:1-11 we are told about a couple who are apparent believers in Christ named Ananias and his wife Sapphira who had sold a possession but in their greed lied about the amount. In those moments God killed both husband and wife not because they didn’t give the money to the church but, because they let their greed and sinfulness come before their relationship with Christ.
So, what’s my point in this whole message… My point is that maybe those of us who are suffering but holding on to our faith should take heart, grab big handfuls of Christ’s cloak like a child, draw Him close, and like Paul rejoice in “the fellowship of His sufferings”. Who knows, maybe there is greater and even deeper meaning for us in Christ’s words from Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
My pain and humility tell me that this isn’t something to boast in and is terribly difficult to be joyful over as Romans 5:3-5 tells us to but, it’s something that those of us who partake in should pray about constantly and maybe even cherish.
While I feel confident that God will raise those of us who suffer in His appropriate timing 1 Peter 5:6 we must remember just like God showed Job;
“I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job 42:2-3
Just like Job confessed to God; even if my life is one of complete suffering with no joy, no love, and no goodness returned my way… even if everything is taken away from me… even if I’m rejected, abandoned, taken advantage of, bullied and abused by everyone around me… even if my rightful inheritance is taken from me and I’m used like a ladder for others to live in luxury, even if I look upon other’s hopes and dreams given to them in spades while mine are crushed to dust and I see nothing in this life but bitter suffering… I must remember that God is God and I am not!!! I must hold on to the agony of Christ and God’s pure and unadulterated love for me in Christ’s torture, crucifixion, and death.
I will leave you with this thought… Just like God turned His Kingdom upside down and made the lowliest to be the greatest. Maybe the point is that just like the serpent lied to Eve in the garden to lure her away from God’s pure goodness what I think is good is actually death wrapped in beauty. Maybe my “fellowship in Christ’s sufferings” is the true and sweet love and gift of God.
Sovereign Yahweh God, I come before You in brokenness. I confess my love and adoration for You and I give You thanks and praise for all that You do for me. I am nothing without You and I need You for everything! Even the very breath I breathe and every beat of my heart comes from You. God, I am Yours wholly and completely. Your will be done in my life! Please help each and every one of us to see You and to know You for who You really are. Shine Your glorious face upon us today and help us to see You at work in our lives. Give us each a heart of discernment and help us to understand and to gain from the words of this post what each of us need to hear. Let us remember that all glory, honor, and praise belong to You and that You are ALL powerful, EVER present, and ALL seeing and knowing. Help us to remember that You know everything about us and that we cannot hide anything from You. Please God, convict us in the ways that we need to be convicted so that we may repent and change our ways. Soothe those of us who are suffering, heal our wounds, and show us Your love, affection, goodness, and blessings. Raise us up at the proper time as Your Word says. Thank You for another opportunity to come before You, please bless my brothers and sisters in Christ and help each and every one of us to know what it means to die to ourselves and to lift one another up. Help us to remember that EVERYTHING belongs to You and that You both give and take away just as quickly as Your will dictates and as Your Word says in Job chapter 1 verse 21 “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I love You God and I pray all these things in the name of Christ Jesus my Savior and Lord; AMEN!