April 19, 2010
Suffering in Your Calling
Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me." John 21: 18 - 19.
We often think of Easter as the end of the story. Jesus rose! He conquered death! Through his grace, we will too! Rejoice!
Jesus' resurrection certainly warrants jubilant celebration, but the day the stone was rolled back on the tomb was not the last page of the story. In these opening scriptures, the resurrected Christ is wrapping up a conversation with Peter. He has just commissioned Peter to lead and feed his sheep. foreshadowing Christ's ascension, when the care and nurturing of Christ's followers would be left to the Spirit-led Church. Peter is told here he would die a martyr's death. In fact, it's traditionally believed that all of the twelve died martyr's deaths except John, the youngest.
Peter's suffering is not decades in the future, either. In the fifth chapter of Acts we see Peter and the apostles enduring beatings for teaching in Jesus' name.
What's going on here? Where are all the happy Spring picnics filled with daffodils and chocolate?
First, after the resurrection we read of a very purposeful Jesus. We see him giving his followers glimpses into what it really means to be "called" by him. He is preparing them to receive the Holy Spirit and to embrace whatever unique plan God has for their lives. This is an exciting time of new life - new life in Christ as well as the soon-to-come birth of the infant Church at Pentecost.
Second, as Jesus begins to shed light on his apostles' long-term missions, we see clearly that Jesus' followers not only partake in his resurrection but also his cross. In other words, becoming a follower of the risen Christ isn't just about the empty tomb but the cross that led up to it.
In this second point, I think we can take away much for our personal lives. As members baptized into his Body, the Church, each one of us has a calling from God. I think it's accurate to say that God intends for our callings to match our gifts, talents, and interests. Most of us rightly anticipate a certain level of fulfillment to accompany our life in Christ.
But "calling" also seems synonymous with suffering. And Jesus doesn't cover that up. He says "Follow me" directly after he tells Peter he will die after being crucified upside down. As tempting as it is to brush this off as a hardship of being an apostle in the first century, I don't think we get off that easy. The New Testament is filled with proof that our unique callings will also bring sufferings unique to us.
Another point we can take away from this: So often we interpret suffering as a sign we didn't follow God's will. But here we see that sometimes suffering means you are following God's will.
Third, we see later in Acts that after the apostles were beaten, they rejoice that "they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus]." We read similar reactions from Paul in his letters when he suffers. Scripture doesn't reveal much surprise in Jesus' apostles here (which surprises me!). They seem to "get" that crosses are part of the plan for them and are joyful at the opportuntiy to imitate the Savior they love.
I have to say, as a 21st century American I'm not too comfortable reading these scriptures - even the parts about rejoicing (how on earth do they do that?). I very much want to see the Easter story wrapped up, neat and tidy. I want to see the apostles live happily ever after. I want to thank Christ for suffering and thank my lucky stars I won't have to.
But that's not really how being Christian works. New life in Christ is deeper and more profound than getting a free lunch. Thankfully, we can see here that our lives will not lack joy even when things get messy if we continually tap into Christ's love for us. It's those without Christ's love who find no joy or purpose in life's sufferings.
I personally also find some comfort in reading about the days following Christ's resurrection. Jesus is very consistent here; he did not make wild promises of a perfect life to his apostles only to let them down. No, he candidly and realistically spelled out his plans.
If I'm really honest, that's the kind of God I want to follow. A God of truth. A God I can trust. A God loving enough to give me joy even when life hurts.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Think back on all the trials in your life. Has any good come of them? Make a list of all the blessings that have flowed as a result of suffering.
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
Psalm 30:2, 4-6; 11-13