Serving the King: Suffering

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Suffering (Isaiah 53)

In the first section, in 1 Samuel 15, we met Israel’s first king: Saul, a king with human tendencies and human abilities.  Saul demonstrates so well the potential of the human heart to fall victim to power, success, temptation and glory.  In this section we will read one of the most powerfully prophetic scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53 shows another sort of king, a “suffering servant” who is the complete opposite of Saul.  This individual, innocent of sin, is the most glorious and most praiseworthy figure in history, yet received nothing but suffering, disgrace and shame in his mission to save the world.

The Bible can be difficult to digest because it is an ancient text, but it also can be difficult because of what it demands of us.  The Bible and, more specifically, the teachings of Jesus Christ, establish a bar of behavior that is intimidating at best.  Christians are called into a life of service that no human being could ever live up to. Jesus Christ’s depiction of true Christian character seems superhuman and impossibly unrealistic.

Unfortunately, many Christians and non-Christians leave the expectations and frustrations there.  They see expectations and demands and never move beyond the daunting realities that those demands present.  But this mistake can be resolved if we understand Isaiah 53.  In the Gospels we don’t encounter a list of demands and orders from a distant and judgmental deity.  Rather, we meet Jesus.  The suffering servant came into our world and lived alongside us in order to model a way of life so that we could follow him and not simply the commands.  Jesus never preached orders.  On the contrary, Jesus preached repentance, change not to harm us but change that can free us.  Jesus announced “good news,” not “new rules.”

Jesus preached himself because only in him can we truly live the way he expects us to.  He is the savior of Isaiah 53 who did far more than we will ever be expected to do, simply so that we wouldn’t have to.  In Jesus we have a God that suffered, felt pain, and understands us completely.

Why did Jesus choose to come into the world? The question can be confusing.  If we view his life as a platform by which to give orders and make demands, then his sacrifice and the way he lived falls out of order and lacks purpose or rationality.  For thousands of years God spoke through the prophets, like Isaiah, to deliver important messages to his people.  Therefore, what necessity would there be to send someone as valuable as his son to do the same job?  However, if we think about the life of Jesus as he himself proclaimed, his purpose begins to fall into place.  The mission of Jesus Christ was not only to save his children, but to be with them and love them by living alongside them, and finally, by dying for all of them.

In our social lives, the people that we are closest to are typically people who share the most in common with us.  We are drawn to these people; we depend on and trust them.  Therefore, knowing our hearts, God knew that the only way to reach us was to be a “God with us.”  He came as a servant to show us that he was willing to serve in a way we could never serve.  Only through the reception of his life and service as a free gift, undeserving and unearned, will we find the ability to live the life that he desires for us.  Jesus Christ came into our world to serve us with only God’s approval in mind.  Through the life of Jesus we see that God understands us: our trials, our sorrows, our tribulations. Not only has he experienced them all himself, but he can truthfully say that he was tested beyond anything we can possibly compare with.  Lack of understanding and empathy does not emanate from a God who demands too much from us without knowing us.  The lack of understanding is ours, directed toward Jesus, who gave more for us than we could ever give him in return.  He suffered in ways we never will be required to.

Jesus was the teacher of all teachers for many reasons, but one of his most powerful qualities was his ability to lead by example.  He led us into salvation by his example.  All that is left for us is to do is be moved by his life and begin to follow in his footsteps one step at a time.

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