So the celebration of Jesus and the new year are over. And 2020 is here. The new year, the new decade, is beginning. I can’t think of a better way to begin the new decade than to learn more about how we can love God and love people the way Jesus did. If you’re interested in pursuing that path, the book Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus) is going to print in a week and should be available soon. It’s a book written to help people like me, people who struggle to follow Jesus’ commandment to love the way he did. If you want to, you can learn more about it here.
It’s also time to return to our study of the book of John. We left off at John 16:15 in a previous post: The Analytical Perfectionist and the Love of Christ. In today’s post we’ll look at what God usually does with pain and suffering.
Read John 16:16-22.
While Jesus Waited For Judas
Judas is gone. He’s already left the dinner table to tell the authorities where to find Jesus so they can arrest him. While Jesus waits for his betrayer’s return he prays and talks with his disciples.
Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”
Some of his disciples say to each other, “What does he mean by that? And what does he mean when he says ‘I am going to the Father’? What’s he talking about?”
Jesus, knowing what they were thinking and discussing, says, “Is this what you’re asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you won’t see me, and again a little while and you’ll see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You’ll be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.”
Then Jesus offers childbirth as an illustration of what he’s talking about. He says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Pain, Suffering, and Childbirth
It’s the perfect illustration of Jesus’ imminent death and resurrection for two reasons. First because in the Old Testament we often see the pain experienced during child birth used as an image of suffering. (Isaiah 13:8, 21:3, 26:17, 42:14, Jermemiah 4:31, 6:24, 13:21, 22:23, 30:6, 49:22-24, 50:43, Micah 4:9-10, Psalm 48:6) And second because the prophets sometimes used birth pangs to communicate the coming of a new messianic era. And in fact the term Anno Domini (A.D.) used for dividing the timeline, means “year of our Lord,” which is to say that after Jesus came we do in fact live in the messianic era. (Isaiah 66:7-10, Micah 5:1-4, Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 53:12-54:1, Hosea 13:13-14) (Keener, p. 304)
But it’s also the perfect illustration of what God generally does with pain and suffering in someone’s life. The lives of the mother, the baby, and the people around them are transformed as a result of the pain the mother endures during childbirth. New life is born into existence as a result of the mother’s pain. And that new life changes everything. Jesus was transformed through pain too. He became the resurrected Christ and the Savior of the whole world as a result of the suffering he experienced from the mocking and the beatings and the torture and his death on the cross. And not only was Jesus transformed but the lives of everyone who believes in Christ were transformed by his pain too. The whole world was transformed as a result of Jesus’ suffering. New life was born into existence as a result of Jesus’ pain. And that new life changes everything. These events we’re talking about today are the most important events in history. The very reason we call the new year 2020 is because 2,020 years ago Jesus was born. Time itself hinges on his existence. And Jesus’ importance and the new life that came from him was born out of his suffering. Jesus, his followers, and the whole world were transformed as a result of what God did with Jesus’ pain.
Maybe you’re like me. When I experience pain and suffering, almost always I immediately want God to take it away. But my life, and your life, will become so much better when we realize that’s not how God works. When it comes to pain and suffering, generally, God doesn’t take it away. He uses it to transform. Pain and suffering is the process through which God transformed Jesus and his followers, and pain and suffering is the process through which God transforms you and me. When we expect God to deal with pain and suffering by taking it away every time, we set ourselves up for anxiety and resentment and disappointment and unhappiness, and even depression and despair. But if we can recognize that this is how God usually works, not taking away the suffering, but using the suffering to transform us more into the likeness of Jesus, and influencing the people around us for Jesus, that shift in perspective can result in a much happier life.
Here, in Jesus, in today’s passage, we see the ultimate example of how God uses suffering to transform.
I pray He will use your pain and suffering and mine to do the same. And I pray He will help us to recognize and anticipate this is the way He chooses to work in our lives.
(You might also like He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched–Genesis 32:22-32)
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 304
Image of mother and new infant via Army.mil labeled for reuse in Google Images