There is in our day a false gospel that promises us that our best days are here and now. This false gospel promises us that whatever we ask in faith, be it cars, or houses, or fat overextended bank accounts, we will have what we ask for. It promises us that we will be free of disease and be treated like the children of the king. By that is meant that the children of human royal families are an example of the kind of lavishness that all Christians can receive if they only believe.
I contrast this attitude to the life that our Saviour led. Hebrews 5:7-8 teaches us, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”
Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” When Mark describes the events of Jesus before the council of the high priest, just before they handed Him over to the Roman authorities, Mark 14:65 says, “And some began to spit on Him and to cover His face and to strike Him, saying to Him, ‘Prophecy!’ And the guards received Him with blows.”
But of course, the spitting, the slander, the mockery, the trumped up charges, the stripes upon his back and the torture of the cross, was but the culmination of a life of suffering. Isaiah describes Him as a man of sorrows. Suffering was His lot, from the first moments when His brothers and sisters did not believe in Him, until the final moments of His life, when He breathed out His last amid the cries of rebuke from the religious teachers.
And from the example of the man of sorrows, Paul writes Philippians 1:29-30. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” For Paul, the sufferings he experienced were a gracious gift from God that allowed him to express his solidarity with the suffering Christ. He writes the Philippian church who are beginning to feel the displeasure of their culture, reminding them that what Jesus experienced, and what he experienced, is what they will also experience.
But is this suffering for the sake of Christ only to refer to the times when Christians suffer persecution? Indeed, not! For as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, God directs all manner of sufferings at Christians, most specifically to train us to be the sons of God. Hebrews 12:7 says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure.” The NIV, I think, gets at the idea well, when it says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.”
Putting it all together, God the Father has so designed the Christian life, that we would be called upon to identify with our Saviour in His sufferings. We come to love Him when we suffer, for we understand what suffering means. And we also are being trained by suffering not to put our hopes in this world, but, like Jesus to fix our eyes on what is eternal.