The ways and the thoughts of God are often so very different to
our own. He tells us this in Isaiah 55.8 "For my thoughts
are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares
the Lord", and He goes on to tell us that it is not just
a matter of a different way of thinking, but that there is a
fundamental difference between us: "As the heavens are higher
than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts
than your thoughts".
The difference between man's and God's way of thinking is demonstrated
no more clearly than in the events of the death and resurrection
His different way of thinking was shown at the beginning of the week. When Christ entered Jerusalem for the last time He was heralded as the coming deliverer of the nation of Israel from Gentile rulers, a very natural assumption that the crowds had made, but one which Jesus had worked hard to disabuse them of. All that was left for Him to do, to start the revolution, they may have thought, was to go up to the Temple, and begin from there to remove all sign of Gentile rule in the city.
But what did He do in fact? He began to drive out those who were
buying and selling there, and to overturn their tables, saying
"My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.
But you have made it a den of robbers" (Mk 11.17). The money
changers and buyers and sellers had set up stall in the Court
of the Gentiles, where non-Jews were allowed to worship God, and
Jesus was clearing away all the tables, effectively making room
for the Gentiles. Far from removing foreigners from Jerusalem,
He was welcoming them.
The way of man to bring the Kingdom of God on earth is often
through force, ceremony or power, but God's way is entirely different.
God's way to bring the Kingdom to earth is set out in John 12.24-26. It is the way of productive suffering. Jesus is speaking of Himself when He says " I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed". He was going to fall to the ground, and die. As the seed disappears into the ground it loses its own life in order to produce the life of the growing grain. You can often see this when you are in the garden, the old seed potato maybe, is left as just a husk, a dried, shrivelled up skin with absolutely no possibility of life in it. But there beside it in the ground is the crop of large new potatoes. It has undergone the process of dying to give birth to life.
Jesus suffered to produce life in the same way. His body was wracked
on the cross. His soul knew the full anger of God against sin.
He died and was buried. His earthly body was destroyed so that
He would "see the result of the suffering of his soul"
(Isaiah 53) in the new life of the Kingdom of God springing up
all around Him; He himself being the firstfruit when He was raised
from the dead.
The idea of a Messiah who suffered to bring in the Kingdom
of God was not recognised or popular among the people of God of
In John 12.34, after Christ had spoken of His death, the crowd speaks up:" We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, how can you say 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this Son of Man?" They did not want a Messiah who would die, and certainly not one who would be "lifted up" - referring to His crucifixion. They were puzzled too. How could a Messiah who suffered and died achieve His aims?
The principle of productive suffering would be at work. Not only was Christ Himself raised as the first-fruits, but all those whom the Father had given Him were brought to life. We see in all the world around us the fruit of Christ's suffering; it is there in the world-wide church, where all over the world sinners are being turned to God from their sin and idols, and being raised to life from their death in trespass and sin. True, we see much that is still earthly and human in the Church, but she is the fruit of Christ's suffering none the less.
We see the life of Christ in individual believers, starting, and growing and producing fruit in their lives too. Yet may we not see this principle of productive suffering at work in the lives of Christians? It seems as if Jesus expected it would be. In John 12.25, immediately after He had spoken of his own death, He goes on to say "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Then He goes on to say that His servants must be where He is, and at that point He was on the way to the cross - His servants must be on a cross! "My Father will honour the one who thus serves me by following me to the cross". The Father honours the one who follows Christ to the cross by causing the life of Christ to grow and flourish and produce a crop in him or her.
This life that is produced is totally dependent on the life that
Christ obtained. We cannot by our sufferings gain eternal life
for ourselves, or for anyone else. Yet our sufferings can be productive
through Christ, in the same way that His were. As the Father honoured
the sufferings of Christ, so He will honour ours which are not
of the same kind or the same order.
Did the people of Jesus' day reject the way of the suffering
Messiah because they recognised this principle only too well?
They wanted the triumph, and the glory and the pomp of an earthly Messiah. Instead He offered them his death as the way to life, and their own death as a way of life. It was too much for them." Take him away! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar" they shouted. Can we accept a suffering Messiah? The principle of productive suffering is at work in us, just as His life is in us; but the same principle of laying down our lives that the Father might honour us must also be at work in us. Can we accept that?
"Tis mystery all, the Immortal dies" wrote Wesley. It
is raw theology, trying to find words for a truth that even angels
have difficulty wrapping their minds round, but expresses the
truth that God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our
thoughts. Whatever mystery Christ's atonement has, there is no
mystery about His love in dying for us. "Tis mercy all, immense
and free". His ways are ways of love, and His thoughts are
thoughts of mercy.
Rev. Chris Kavanagh (Palmerston North).
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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / firstname.lastname@example.org / revised March 96 / Copyright 1996