In His mercy, Jesus redeems our suffering. Some of the sorrow we submit to Him is not of particularly noble origins—it may be, as we have seen, the bad fruit of our sin, or the normal wounds and losses we sustain this side of Heaven.
He loves us to the extent that He will take every opportunity to invite us to surrender our sins and wounds. He grants us ‘cross-time’: an opportunity to receive and extend mercy. He makes us that much more fruitful in love.
But suffering for what is right: that is the highest form of suffering, and one to which the Christian seeking mature identification with the Crucified must aspire.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: ‘The cross is suffering that comes only from our commitment to Jesus Christ…the cross is not the normal suffering tied to natural existence but the suffering tied to being Christian.’
That is what Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount when He spoke of persecution for the sake of righteousness. (Matt. 5:10)
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On Palm Sunday, Lent becomes Holy Week—the seven days leading to the cross. Perhaps the parallel between Jesus’ 40-days in the desert and His commitment to crucifixion is becoming clear.
Jesus sanctified the desert for us. He made a way in our wilderness. Instead of a place of temptation unto despair, He transformed ‘the desert of loneliness into a garden of solitude’ (Leanne Payne). His reliance upon the Father there grants us grace to encounter Him in the harsh realities of our lives.
Jesus’ 40 days in the desert had another purpose–it helped prepare Him for Calvary. Enduring harsh circumstance and demonic temptation was a practice run for His ultimate desert: the bitter cup of abandonment unto death. Just as He made the ‘burning sand a pool’, so shall He transform the grave into the ground for new life.
As we followed Him into the desert, so shall we follow Him to His death. Our hope lies in mercy: the first fruit of Calvary. We already believe that He died and rose again in order to unite us to the Father’s unfailing love. Yet partaking of the benefits of the cross does not exempt us from the crosses He asks us to carry.
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