Bill Onisick, reflecting on sad childhood memories involving suffering and death, suggests that Jesus Christ has something that God the Father does not share, namely the capacity to suffer and to die. Jesus Christ, as our Advocate and High Priest, is able to empathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted as we are, though not yielding to sin. As we—as part of our sanctification process—follow the pattern set by our Savior and Elder Brother Jesus Christ, God prepares us for roles of great glory as members of His Family. Realizing that all things work together for good for those who have been called according to His purpose, we know that, through the sanctification process, He: (1) makes us perfect (perfectly fitted for our role), (2) establishes us, (3) strengthens us, enabling us to have empathy, and (4) settles us like a house built on a foundation of solid bedrock. Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our salvation, endured temptation without sinning, qualifying to be the perfect substitutionary sacrifice. Through His sacrifice Jesus established a pattern as to how we can become perfect and also qualify to be priests. Our suffering in all its variant forms is for our good. As we suffer on behalf of our Savior, we will also participate in His glory.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
Martin Collins, reviewing the significance of Christ's final post-Resurrection sayings, "Feed My sheep" (appearing thrice) and "Follow me" (appearing twice), emphasizes that these words apply to all of God's called-out ones). We have a mandate to study the Bible comprehensively and responsibly, not becoming self-proclaimed 'experts' in prophecy or esoteric mysteries. When we pray and study, we should be conscious we are meeting with God, allowing us to be sensitive to God's purpose for our lives. Like the apostle Peter, we are admonished not to compare our spiritual lot with that of our brethren, riveting our attention on Christ rather than on ourselves or on our spiritual siblings. God has called individuals with different temperaments (impetuous activists, contemplative thinkers, etc.), giving them a variety of spiritual gifts to work interdependently. If we take our eyes off Christ, we run the risk of bumping into someone else and becoming unprofitable. Following Christ involves self-denial and taking responsibility for what God has crafted in us through the power of Christ living in us through His Holy Spirit. John's Gospel provides a comprehensive witness from Christ's contemporaries. As the recipients of this reliable testimony, we are obligated to add our testimony, feeding God's sheep and following Jesus Christ.
David C. Grabbe: The fact that God Himself grieves over human sinfulness and the separation it causes—which we learned in Part Two—begs the question of why God created an order where even He and the Word are not immune to suffering. ...
David C. Grabbe: As we saw in Part One, Hebrews 5:7-10 describes a facet of Christ's suffering: "... who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications ..."
Martin Collins, identifying a list of infamous monarchs who had the title "the Great" affixed to their names, puzzles over the criteria historians employed when giving this designation to patently blatant tyrants, and contrasts this pretentious greatness with the genuine greatness inherent in God Almighty. Ironically, what the Gentiles call greatness—lust for power driven by an insatiable ego—is just the opposite of what God Almighty determines is great. The greatest, according to Jesus Christ, can be determined by the one who serves the most with an attitude of humility, generosity, and other-centeredness. Greatness cannot exist in the abstract, but must be demonstrated by selfless service to others. True greatness begins where self is lost and Christ is found. Jesus Christ is not limited by who we are; He is the one we emulate, enabling us to reflect the greatness of God the Father.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Romans 8 provides assurance that we are of God, asks us to consider that the sufferings we go through now are miniscule compared to the glory which we will later receive, completely eclipsing the glory of Adam and Eve before their fall. Our suffering is temporal, fleeting, and momentary, as compared to our glory which will be eternal. Though our outer body wastes away, our inner being waxes more powerful. Sadly, we are limited by our mortality and our materialism from seeing the full picture which God has been revealing to us; Paul wants us to take the time to think it though. The whole material creation has been subject to futility; we groan, Creation and the Holy Spirit, both personified by Paul, groan. Nature is not a self-perfecting entity, but an entity subject to decay and entropy. People who do not know God will either worship or destroy the creation instead of worshipping its Creator. Either way, they are slaves to nature, cursed by Adam's sin. We, as God's called out ones, also groan waiting for our redemption into spirit bodies, enabling us to see God as He is. Our groaning is more akin to the expectant groaning of a woman in childbirth, awaiting a new life. Childbirth pangs last relatively for a short time compared to the aftermath blessing. We groan in hope, realizing that our bodies will be delivered in future glory, when we experience adoption into the very family of God, the final trajectory of our hope.
Martin Collins, realizing that most people, both outside and inside the church, crave assurance , avers that we can have assurance that we are God's heirs and offspring if we are led by the spirit, remaining on the sanctified path of fellowship, growing continually in grace and knowledge. When we receive God's calling, God's Spirit bears witness that we are God's children. God has adopted us from the family of Adam (in which we had become bond-slaves to Satan) into His own family as adopted offspring, sealing us with a down-payment, (that is, the earnest-payment, or pledge) of His Holy Spirit, the means by which we replace our carnal nature with God's character on a kind of installment plan. In this new relationship, we are invited to view God the Father as Jesus Christ did—-Abba, which means Father or Daddy. We are, in God's sight, small, mistake-prone, but pliable children, encouraged to grow in grace and knowledge into the exact character of God as we bear the fruits of His Holy Spirit. At times, we are required to suffer as Christ did, in order to learn and to endure discipline, as God steers us away from deadly obstacles. Through much intense fire is precious metal refined. If we partake in Christ's suffering, we will be assured also to partake in His glorification. Trials often have the peculiar effect of making our testimony or witness more powerful.
Mark Schindler, acknowledging that movies and books contain unforgettable aphorisms to ponder or live by, focuses on a memorable line from the movie A League of Their Own, a movie about a struggling women's baseball team, when the coach tells a disheartened player, "It's supposed to be hard; if it weren't hard everybody would be doing it; the hard makes it great." This powerful aphorism should be inculcated by everyone called-out to follow the unique, rigorous, tribulation-laden path blazed by Jesus Christ. We live in a world in which everyone is under the harsh bondage of sin. We have been given the privilege of living God's way now, making the arduous struggle against the world's depraved system a great, memorable experience, enabling us to master some things which most in the world cannot yet do. The hard things God wants us to do are preferable to the harsh bondage to sin the world is now under. The hardness makes us hardy enough to be included in the first harvest. As Satan deceived Mother Eve that to choose for ourselves is better than following God, the rest of the world continues to follow that deception. We find it most difficult to live exclusively in the way God has chosen for us. The world's ways are the easiest roads to take; carnal human nature is enmity against God. Satan has been given the power to deceive the world to this day. Those who have been called to the truth will be on a collision course with the world. But it is the hard way that makes our lives great, to be in harmony with the Father and the Son. When David heard the devastating news about the attack of the Edomite's, he nevertheless trusted that God would give his armies the ultimate victory, rallying the people around the Lord's banner. In our battles against the world, faith must conquer fear. Soldiers have died to defend the flag; we must be prepared to die to defend godly standards. As Moses built an altar proclaiming Jehovah Nissi (God is our banner). We must also proclaim our steadfast loyalty to God in a patently hostile world.
Martin Collins discusses the apostle Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians, a group of dispirited, despairing Christians who had been bombarded by false teachings that the Day of the Lord had already come, prompting many to quit their employment, rest on their laurels, and become busy-bodies, as well as leading the leaders to express doubt and fear that the congregation would ever make the grade. Paul encourages the bewildered Thessalonians, suggesting that the purposes for the suffering they were now enduring consists of (1) growing in spiritual character, providing examples to the other congregations, (2) being prepared for future glory, and (3) glorifying Christ today. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to thank God for their salvation, surrender without complaint, ask God to give wisdom, and to watch for opportunities to serve, waiting patiently for God to work His purpose. We cannot be so excited about Christ's return that we neglect our own overcoming and character development. Because God's Church is under judgement now, we cannot rest on our laurels, but we must submit to God's summons to a life of purity and sacrifice. God can and will supply strength and power to all those who have been called, but our aspiration and goal of conforming to His image has to motivate our current performance. If we humbly trust in God, all of our works will bear fruit. In order for God to grow a church, the faith of its members must be strengthened through trials, love must increase, and hope must persevere, enduring under trial. Tribulation produces perseverance, which in turn leads to reciprocal glory with Christ.
Affliction seems to be an integral part of Christianity. Our Savior Jesus Christ and His apostles suffered a great deal during their ministries, and though modern Christians' burdens cannot compare to theirs, they are still significant enough to cause great pain. Pat Higgins demonstrates the relative nature of Christian affliction, urging believers to take the Bible's long view of their suffering.
Martin Collins, reflecting that Satan's perverted desire to ascend to the apex of the universe was totally opposite to Jesus Christ's desire to empty Himself of His divinity, becoming a human being and assuming the role of a bondservant, concludes that their ultimate fates are opposite as well, with Christ receiving glory and Satan receiving utter contempt. Jesus Christ, in His pre-incarnate state, was in the form of God, possessing all of God's attributes-omniscience, glory, and radiance. As a human being, Christ was subjected to the same experiences as the rest of us human beings, having the appearance, the experiences, the capability of receiving injury and pain, and the temptations of a human being. Yet, because He possessed God's Holy Spirit without measure and never yielded to sin, Christ provided us a pattern as to how to live a sinless life, enduring disappointment, persecution, and suffering for righteousness. Jesus manifested the glory of God by continuing in absolute obedience to the will of God and in maintaining a special relationship with the Father. We can begin to approach that glory as we reflect Christ's behavior in us by our obedience and Christ-like behavior, developing a special relationship with God the Father. Someday, we will be transformed into a similar glory as Christ received at His ascension, having the glory of divine moral character.
Clyde Finklea: Thirty-nine years ago, I observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for the first time. I remember during those early years, getting the leaven out was heavily stressed. Understanding that leaven represents sin and corruption ...
The apostle Peter provides valuable insight on the place of Christian suffering: "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. . . ."
David C. Grabbe: When we partake of the Passover each spring, part of that observance is for us each to drink from a cup of wine. The wine is symbolic of the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on our behalf, which accomplishes a number of tremendous things that we cannot do for ourselves. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the analogy or metaphor of wilderness wanderings, focuses on the role of suffering or persecution (pressure) in perfecting the saints. God the Father perfected Jesus Christ (our Elder Brother, High Priest, and Mediator) through suffering. Likewise, God the Father has determined that His called-out ones would also be prepared for the reward and inheritance through the same manner. We need to develop the character to govern ourselves because those who cannot rule themselves are not fit to rule anything. As we put on Jesus Christ, we also are required to put on His suffering. As we are called to suffer like our Elder Brother, we are similarly called to glorification. Glory follows suffering. Christ's suffering was not confined to crucifixion, but also consisted of rejection, snubbing, humiliation, and the duress of persecution. God is still with us when we are suffering, perfecting our character. Suffering comes with the territory of being prepared for the Kingdom of God. The path to glory lies through suffering for righteousness sake; there is no intrinsic value in any other kind of suffering. Since we will be working with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God, God the Father will allow us to have parallel experiences as our Elder Brother endured. The ultimate rewards of this temporary suffering are mind-boggling if we doggedly follow our Archegos, Prodromou, Scout, Forerunner, and Trail-blazer, Jesus Christ, who gave us the example of leadership through service. God is equipping and perfecting us to work with Jesus Christ, using the tools of suffering, tests, and trials to build the right kind of godly character.
John Ritenbaugh contends that our pilgrimage began with our calling and ends with our destination in the Kingdom of God as members of His Royal Priesthood. It seems to have been God's choice to call foolish, base, and despised individuals to confound the wise and mighty. Fortunately, God did not abandon our forbears in their weaknesses and shortcomings, nor will He abandon us. We become strengthened spiritually as we come to know God, becoming elevated to members of His family, thinking and behaving just like the Father and the Son. In the meantime, we are aliens living in a foreign country, keeping our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are pilgrims, continually on the move to a holy place. We must not follow through on our physical lusts or we will put down roots in this world, becoming worldly. The metaphors Peter uses, such as stone, priesthood, nation, and family, all demand that we fit into a larger unit or entity, fulfilling a particular role or responsibility. Even though we currently have citizenship in God's Kingdom, we are not there yet. We must have the vision of the world tomorrow, as had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conducting our lives as though we were already there, making moral and ethical decisions accordingly. We can conduct our lives appropriately because Jesus Christ lives within our minds, allowing us to tap into the reservoirs of His experience. We also share His suffering, realizing that glory follows suffering, if we suffer for righteousness sake. This suffering may involve enduring hardship, deprivation, duress, and outright boredom. Suffering, a kind of refining fire, (for righteousness sake) comes with the territory of qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
In this companion piece to his "Willingness to Believe" message, Richard Ritenbaugh provides an effective antidote to gullibility and simple-minded credulity. Both tendencies emerge from time to time in the greater church of God. Like advertising—which relies heavily on deception, hiding the down-side or defects and exaggerating the efficacy or desirability of a product—religious hucksters use deceptive tactics, using the bait or temptation of self-gratification, selling non-essential, twiggy or downright heretical positions. Like highly trained U.S. Treasury agents, the elect keep themselves undeceived by knowing the real article inside-out. If one knows the real article, the counterfeit will become readily apparent. Like a lamp rolling back the darkness (Psalm 119:105), the truth, revealed by God's Word, provides the best defense or antidote against deception and error.
John Ritenbaugh, defining providence as the protective care of God, suggests that the providence of God also touches on the pains and sufferings of persecution. To the elect whom God foreknew, all things- pleasant or unpleasant- happen for ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Tragic things, calamities, trials, anxiety, evil, and curses happen to Christians too, as well as blessings, in order to become fashioned and molded into the glory of God's image. As Christ learned from the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), we must also develop patience, refrain from murmuring, and realize that "time and chance" no longer apply to those whom God has called. Whatever it takes to bring God's purpose to pass, we need to develop the humility, obedience, and faith to accept.
How do we, as modern Christians, bear our cross as Jesus commands? He meant far more than simply carrying a stake over our shoulders! This article shows how vital denying ourselves and taking up our cross is in following Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh acknowledges that although many in God's church have gone through sore trials and tests of sorts, virtually no one has gone through the nightmarish persecutions suffered by the early Christians in Imperial Rome. Because most of us have lived our lives in modern Israel rather than a Gentile culture, we have been?to this point?shielded from the kinds of persecution (being put to flight, pursued, or martyred from an external source) experienced by the early apostles. This message explores both a time factor and a righteousness factor, explaining why intense persecution has not yet taken place. Paradoxically (a big horse pill to swallow), persecution may be regarded as a reward for righteousness, a kind of favor and kindness toward us, preparing us for a better resurrection and greater service as priests in God's Kingdom, following in the footsteps of our Elder Brother.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that physically emancipating people from slavery does not automatically unshackle their hearts or minds or preparing them for productive responsibility in a free society. Likewise, our emancipation from sin does not automatically remove our acquired spiritual shackles. We must gradually grow out of the slave mentality into liberty and freedom by committing our lives to the truth (John 8:30; Romans 8:6), replacing acquired insecurity and fear with faith and the love of God (I John 4:18). Like our forefather Abraham, we have to gradually or incrementally grow into a model of faithfulness. God's Spirit provides us the mechanism for transforming our enslaved, fearful, carnal minds to liberty (II Corinthians 3:17).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
John Ritenbaugh observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.