Tag Archives: suffering

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

jesus-poverty

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trying to find sense when it seems we’ve lost our minds (a response to the election one week out)

observer.jpg

a week ago we reached the end of a difficult and particularly toxic election for the united states.  we were hoping to move on. however, when the results were called we woke up to a different reality.  for some it was triumph and feeling emboldened for others disbelief and dissent.  for many anger…at “the other” side (i for one experienced more anger before the election then after).  we didn’t know our divisions could actually get worse.  

(WARNING: this is a long read so feel free to read in parts.)

WHY ARE PEOPLE (AM I) HAVING SUCH STRONG REACTIONS TO THIS ELECTION AND ITS RESULTS?   

there’s all sorts of craziness happening.  there is so much division, even amongst believers.  but, I know that no matter what, we as the people of God’s Kingdom know that only His Kingdom lasts so we must be the people in this world that hold the tension of not giving into despair (whether that’s giving up on people we disagree with or giving up hope of any kind) but not dismissing pain.  it is the pain however that is getting us most riled up.  pain dismissed is what got us here.  there must be space to deal with the pain if we are ever to move to a place of healing.  there are 4 thoughts we’re tempted to have but we must not give in to.    

1. we ought not be so upset, we shouldn’t be crybabies.

yes, we don’t despair because God is in control.  but why shouldn’t we cry?  where does this stoicism come from?  not from God.  the people of Israel were familiar with lament and maybe we can learn something from them.  Job asked God questions in his pain.  Jesus wept (even when He knew it was going to work out for good).  The early church was familiar with tears.   Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  

yes, we may not need to cry over some things that can be better said in words.  but sometimes we may need to cry because that expresses more than our words could ever say.  the hand of God responds to the cries of his people.  we need space to grieve or else our pain will harden into something worse.  

2. but Romans 13:1 says we should submit to governing authorities God has put in place so we should just accept it

yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. however, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver (i.e. in our president-elects case, the need to love the most vulnerable of our neighbors as opposed to insulting them and proposing laws against them. if he has changed, awesome!  let him apologize and set things right).  by dissent, i do not mean violent resistance but civil protest (the early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances. Jesus himself confronted the establishment of the temple authorities by overturning the corruption of money-changer tables).  

when God appoints a leader that DOES NOT always mean God anoints a leader.  let us remember God appointed pharaoh with a hard heart to oppress the israelites,  nebuchadnezzar with an arrogant heart to kidnap daniel and his people, and will appoint the anti-christ (i’m not saying we know who the anti-christ is) with a defiant heart to persecute his saints.  but again we are not hopeless because he always has and always will work things out for the good of those who love him.   

3. none of these policies have been put into place yet, and it’s not such a big deal as there are people in the world with greater suffering.

yes, there is a scale of pain but that doesn’t mean that we must then disregard the lesser pain.  yes, the suffering of others gives us invaluable perspective and we are poorer without it but that is the very thing i am appealing to: perspective.  you may not be strongly affected by things that were said but that doesn’t mean others can’t be strongly affected, especially those who are dealing with a real history of real pain.  there is real pain for them, not so much because of legitimate results of our electing system, not because laws have come into effect already, but because the election results can be read as an approval of a president, by this united states, that thinks it’s okay to dismiss many who live in them – a realization of fears these very people have worked so hard to overcome.  in fact, if we pivot perspectives, many were surprised in this election precisely because they did not take into account the pain of working class / poor whites in the rust belt states that swung the vote.  yes, we can not make everyone happy, nor should we, but telling someone their pain does not matter is certainly not a solution.

4. sometimes God subjects people to pain that they deserve…they have brought it upon themselves.

this may be, but this is the judgement for God to make not ours.  even such pain is not pointless. this side of heaven and hell there is still hope of redemption.  we are ALL made in image of God and we ALL fall short.  once we begin to demonize the other side as ignorant, insane, and/or irreversibly immoral we’ve put them in the category of beyond redemption.  we do not know that.  secondly, there are real beliefs and values at play on both sides, to ignore that is for us to be stuck in an endless cycle of greater division.  we may not agree with the beliefs and values of the “other” but they are motivated by what they think is right as we are motivated by what we think is right.  we may not all be right but let us work this out and not give up on each other.    

to my fellow christians in particular, let us keep in mind that neither political party is the party of God.  God is not left or right, liberal or conservative.  both sides, all sides, must answer to Him.  both sides have faults.  both sides also have some truth and issues that align with what God cares for – here are just a few (please keep in mind that i’m not saying either side doesn’t care for these issues or that the application of these values in terms of policy is the best way, but i’m talking more about emphasis of platform as it relates to biblical principles):  

“conservative”

“liberal”      

i long for the Bride of Christ, not to be beholden to either political party but to hold ourselves and our institutions accountable to a more holistic Kingdom vision.  for the time being though, inevitably, with the way our secular party system is currently formed and our tendency toward tribalism, someone is bound to lose.  there are costs to be paid.  this leads to the next big question.    

 

GOD, WHY WOULD YOU ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?  

whatever “this” is for you, we are faced with this question in the face of real evil and suffering that we witness not just on a personal level but on a systemic level.  as i’ve wrestled with these questions with God in the past week this is what i’ve sensed.  

1. suffering reveals his saints

  • in trial, it shows what/who we really trust in.  
  • in this past week, God’s been causing me to appeal to and put my real hope in his eternal character and kingdom more than before.

2. suffering refines his saints

3. suffering tests his saints

His Bride shines brightest in suffering not in comfortability.  

 

So then, this leads to the final big question

HOW THEN DO WE MOVE FORWARD?   

1. let us take our pain to God first.  

2. let us seek God for what’s important.  

  • let us ask God what do we need to let go?  
  • let us ask God what we must not compromise?  
  • let us allow liberal/conservative adorations and divisions to die.  there are three things that are eternal: God, people, and His Word.  all our answers to what is important must be measured by scripture.  we need a deeper theology of orthodoxy and orthopraxy of what it means to love God with all that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.       

3. let us walk the walk not only talk the talk.  

  • let us commit ourselves to unceasing prayer because the power of a right life in Christ comes from prayer, not people pleasing.  daniel, even under threat of the lion’s den in a broken government, never forgot who he was and continued to do his thing, as was his usual practice for decades, of seeking after God and His Kingdom.  prayer to the Father was the God-given private nexus behind Jesus’ public authority and power that he modeled for us.
  • let us not be afraid to enter into the suffering of others unlike ourselves, without which there is no resurrection.  Jesus tells us that if we are to follow him, we must take up our cross (instruments of death) and follow him.  we are saved by faith alone but a faith without works is dead.
  • let us first be faithful to what God has put before us before we engage the broader discussion.  this one is such a challenge for me because, if i am honest with myself, sometimes the work right before me of loving my own family, my own ministry, my own community is harder then to engage in larger scale dialogues and policies.  not that we ought to neglect the latter but that we must not lose sense of our God given responsibility before us.   as we do that better we are better equipped to have something of more substance to offer to the broader conversation.   

we don’t always understand why there is suffering when God is a good God.  but just because we don’t see a reason for the suffering doesn’t mean there is no good reason.  we don’t know the full story, no one does except God.  but in humility let us trust in His goodness because His goodness will always win.  let’s not give in to despair or hate.  let’s keep on doing good because He is good, He gives us power to do good, and good WILL win.    so no matter what we’re facing let’s persevere in Jesus because HIS Kingdom is already being unleashed and it is indestructible.

she reminded me of Jesus

q.s.  when i first met her last week she was working diligently in mr. r.b.’s class afterschool.  she is a special day class student.  when you see her having to walk with arm crutches you know.

this week on tues. students were to write an obstacle they’ve been through and how they did or did not get through it.  i looked at q’s paper.  she wrote that she has not gotten through it because she is going through it now…people who make fun of her.  i told her what i try to remember when i am going through a hard time: God is with me.  i think i saw her eye tear up.

this morning she came in early.  she is almost always by her self as she makes her way across campus, much more slowly then everyone else.  she let me know how it’s been hard: the ridicule, that she is only one with crutches on campus, that everyone knows her as “that” girl, that she thought she was going to graduate last year and was on her way to graduation when a staff member told her that she still needed to do two more years of high school.  no one told her this before.  she was crushed and humiliated.  but here she is back at school.  she says people can encourage her but they don’t always understand.  what gets her through, she said was her faith…that she feels better when she remembers she is actually not alone because God is with her.

i am humbled by q’s example.  she reminds me of Jesus.  she walks forward by herself through ridicule by people that don’t understand her.  just like Jesus did for us.

**

q walks alone through ridicule but presses on…because she knows she is not alone, that she is being made strong.  Jesus walked alone to calvary carrying a cross as people ridiculed him…He would be completely abandoned…but He was strong for us.

suffering and the revelation of God

the redemptive nature of suffering has recently been on my mind a lot.  suffering – as a means to know God more, have  deeper fellowship with Him (Philippians 3:10) and its redemptive nature as the  Son of God was perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2:10).

in rev 5:9-10 it states:

9 And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign[b] on the earth.”

by the suffering and death of Christ he was able to save many.   he paid the price for our sins by his own suffering and death.  without that suffering and death we would be doomed to eternal suffering and death.  he took it on so we wouldnt have to…to save us and also to understand us.

maybe this explains the purpose of godly suffering for us as christians…we can help others and bear some of their suffering, we can connect with those who are also suffering, but most of all it can point us to how much God loves us that He was willing to suffer to be with us…to make a way so that He could be with us forever.

rev. 2:8-11 -> what are you made of?

To the Church in Smyrna

8“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

****

WHAT DOES THIS PASSAGE TELL US ABOUT JESUS?

v. 8 – He is the First and the Last. This title was used of God in the OT (Isaiah 44:6, 48:12, 41:4) equating Jesus with God.  the First and Last of what? Of everything.  He is the first word as well as the last word on all things.  He is the creator and the completer.

*Do I live with Christ as the First and the Last of all things in my life?  Of me?   Too often I think of him as on the side of my world and I forget I am just an agent in His world.  It is so comforting when I relinquish myself to recognize that whatever situation I find myself in, He is the first and the last word on the matter.

v. 8 – he died and came to life again.

Christ is the only one who rose himself from the dead.  He is the only one who actually defeated death, so that those who trust in him might also be raised.

*I can entrust my future, my life, into his hands as I fully embrace that he can carry me beyond death. His resurrection proved that He was telling the truth, that he has authority even over death.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

WHAT IS GOING RIGHT WITH THIS CHURCH?

In all accounts, from the world’s perspective, this church is in the pits…it is in a totally undesirable situation: afflicted, slandered, poor, and persecuted to the point of death.  Yet THIS is the church for which Jesus has no criticism.  This is the church that Jesus considers rich.  They are true to Jesus. In the midst of the most terrible suffering, they have shown how loyal they are to Jesus.  Indeed is this possibly how they have been so refined?

*this total upside down value system of God just continues to blow my mind.  I still don’t think we get it.  I don’t get it. I don’t like being uncomfortable.  I don’t like to be slandered…and this for doing right.  It infuriates my sense of justice.  It sucks to be poor.  As for persecution…what do I even know about real persecution?  Now I don’t think that Jesus is saying that these things are good in it of themselves, yet these things have a way of really showing our true colors…what we really hold on to.  I think in this way the Smyrnans are rich.  They know where true life comes from, they don’t have any delusional/false securities.  When grapes are crushed, sweet juice is revealed. When jars of clay are crushed, the treasure inside is revealed.  When we are crushed what will come out? This reminds me of the story of how James, the brother of the writer of this revelation, died.  The very person that was responsible for bringing James to the authorities to be killed, was so moved by James’ faith, he asked for James forgiveness and they were beheaded together.  God help me to be true to you, to hold onto to YOU in the midst of suffering.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF THEY CONTINUE?

He sees their suffering but does he promise that suffering will relent for their faithfulness?  No, in fact he tells them that even more suffering will come.  However, even if they die, they will have shown their true faith and would receive “the crown of life.”  By going faithfully toward death they are actually going toward true life. By facing the hurt in this life, they will not be hurt at all by the second death.

*I need a transformation of my paradigm…by dying to myself now I can have real life.  By holding onto my security now more than Christ, I will be letting go of eternal security (Luke 9:23-27).


rev. 1:9-20 -> from the gatekeeper of life and death

One like a Son of Man

9I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,”[b]dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[c] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

****

a guide to reading this post: if you want the gist, just read the bold.  If you want explanations and applications (indicated by the s*symbol) of the bold, read everything else around it.

SUMMARY

John recounts how Christ spoke to him to deliver this message to the 7 churches of asia


WHAT DO WE SHARE AS CHRISTIANS?

V. 9 – The following are ours in Christ: Suffering, Kingdom, Patient endurance

We are in Christ as well.  We are a part of His kingdom.  The bible, especially I think of in the book of 1 Pet. talks about how suffering would be a part of our walk.  We are to be patient people.

*do we think this way?  The kingdom part is nice.  I need help though to see suffering and patient endurance as something I am privileged to share in my relationship with Christ.  Granted, not suffering for doing something wrong for that is not how Christ suffered, but suffering for what is right.  Why suffer for what is right?  Because sometimes to stand up for and live for what is right, invites suffering…it is not an easy path.  However, we can be refined through it, it may cause us to place our hope in him not in ourselves or other things, and it can be a blessing for others.   Because Christ suffered for us, we get to experience the blessing of God rather than His wrath.  Maybe when we suffer on behalf of others, they get to experience the blessing and mercy of God.  Maybe we learn more of the heart of God through suffering.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE IN THE SPIRIT?

V. 10 – We know as a xian John has the Holy Spirit in him.  However this seems to be something different.  If it meant simply he had the spirit, there was no reason to make a distinction that he had the sprit this day.  It doesn’t say the Spirit was in him, which should be always, but rather that he was in the Spirit…like in step with the Spirit.  He was in some sort of state.  A special communion.  “In the Spirit” seems to be some sort of state, a state of communion with the Lord such that he could receive a vision.

*Have I ever been in the Spirit?  Can I be in the Spirit or is that something just from some people at a particular point in time?  At the very least, I know from Galatians (gal 5:25) as well as Romans (Romans 8:12-14) that I can choose to live a life in step with the spirit or led by the Spirit.  So am I led by the Spirit these days?

WHO IS THE SPEAKER OF THIS VISION?

V. 10-20 – Jesus (“God is my salvation”) Christ (“the messiah” aka the anointed one).  Evidence:

1) v.13 – someone “like a son of man” is a reference to Daniel 7:13 that speaks of an exact person who comes before God’s throne and also is worshiped.  (this is a great verse to show that we see the glimpses of the trinity in the old testament too.  someone who is God but seems to be a certain expression of God)

2) v. 18 – someone who was dead but is now alive forever.  someone who has authority over death and the abode of the dead (aka hell).

WHAT AUTHORITY DOES HE HAVE (as stated in this passage)?

1) v. 16 “In his right hand he held seven stars…” we know from v.20 that the stars are angels.  The right hand, the stronger hand, means strength and authority.  Who are these angels that God exerts special strength and authority over?  There are a couple interpretations of this:

A) these are actual angels connected to churches (to do God’s bidding, to guard, to send messages) because stars are often    symbols for angels (Fruchtenbaum) as well as a likely interpretation from the context of the book.

OR

B) these are key messengers of the churches, since the word angel means “messengers.”  MacArthur also points out that it seems strange that God would use a John, a man, to write to an angel when God usually speaks directly to angels.

*in either case what does this mean for us? Ultimately that God has control over the safety and anointing of his church.  We can depend on His power for us, or not.


2) v. 18 he has authority, specifically decisive power, over death and the place of the dead

Hades is the Greek word for the underworld or the abode of those no longer living (Sheol being the Hebrew equivalent), and according to Fructenbaum a temporary state not an eternal state – the eternal state for those unsaved being the lake of fire.  It is somewhat another word for hell, which is an English word for which there is no Hebrew or Greek.  The concept of hell seems to speak specifically to the abode of the dead who are not saved (aka abbadon or the pit).

What do key holders mean?  Without a key holder we are unable to enter into life, exit death and hell.

*Do we believe this, that only Christ has decisive power over who passes from death to life, who moves from the underworld to heaven?  Do we then treasure and share Christ as the only hope for life after death?  Do we seek Him on behalf of others, or do we leave them without the person who holds the keys to their life?

WHAT IS THE CONTENT OF THIS REVELATION?

v. 19 – this is how many scholars actually break up this book of revelation

1) “what you have seen”  – Rev. 1:9-20

2) “what is now” – Rev. 2:1-3:22

3) “what will take place letter” – Rev. 4:1-22:21