This is the third installment of a short blog series titled Redemption or Relief. I hope that this will be an encouragement to our church as we follow Christ together. As you read I encourage you to ask yourself this question, “Would I be satisfied if the only thing redeeming in this suffering were that it gave glory to God?” If you have not read the first two installment of this blog series click here to read them.
Is redemption really better?
As a quick review in our first two installments we began by examining God’s story of redemption as it relates to human suffering. God’s desire is to redeem mankind’s suffering by restoring His relationship with them through Christ’s work on the cross. Then we took a look at the world’s distortions of this story. The world offers the mirage of relief through distraction, but God offers to redeem our suffering. He does not always take it away, but He does promise to strengthen the sufferer spiritually despite physical weakness (2 Cor 12:9-10). At this point in the series every sufferer must be asking, “How is the offer of redemption really that much better than relief?” The concept may seem like rhetoric. To understand the beauty of redemption through pain and suffering let’s gaze for a moment at the ultimate display of suffering, Jesus. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Is 53:3).” The suffering that Jesus faced on the cross provides the perfect example for sufferers to follow. Jesus suffered as no other man, yet he suffered without sinning. Jesus did not revile or threaten his accusers, he trusted himself to the just judge (1 Peter 2:18-25).
This is beautifully pictured in John Chapter 12. The week of the Passover had come and Jesus rode into the city on the colt of a donkey. Imagine the turmoil that Jesus experienced in his soul as the crowds proclaimed His praise. The reality was that on this day, when the rest of Jerusalem was setting aside the lamb that would be sacrificed for the Passover, He too was being chosen by the people as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (Heb 10:14). He knew that in just a few short days those shouts of adoration would be transformed into murderous cries for His crucifixion. His disciple’s excitement was starkly contrasted with the looming prospect of the cross, the cross on which He, the sinless Son of God, would bear the sins of the world.
Exemplary Pattern for Suffering
Jesus tells the Greeks who came to seek him, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (Jn 12:23).” Jesus presents His perspective of suffering. He does not say, “The time has come for the Son of Man to suffer.” He presents the suffering of the cross from the standpoint of redemption and its resulting glory. He follows this with instructions for His disciples to follow by first of all presenting them with the exemplary pattern for suffering. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).” The pattern presented here is death that brings life. He reminds sufferers of the price of redemption, death. The suffering and death of Jesus on the cross would bear much fruit. Jesus looked through the suffering to the fruit that it would bear. The fruit that He speaks of is all who would believe in Him. Jesus died so that we could live. Jesus’ suffering breathes life into the discouragement of the sufferer. While suffering is painful it has a purging effect upon the sufferer (1 Pet 4:1). “Believers can face death with the same attitude their Lord had, that when it comes they will have entered into an eternal condition of holy perfection, free from all sin’s influences and effects.”
Eternal Principle of the Heart
Jesus continues by secondly displaying the eternal principle of the heart. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn 12:25).” Jesus dives into the motivation of the heart. To love this life, is to love this life more than the next. Jesus had an eternal perspective on His suffering. He willingly gave His life on the cross in obedience to the Father for the payment of sin. He looked forward to the eternal rather then becoming engrossed in the temporal. The tendency of a person suffering is to focus on the present remedy for the suffering. Jesus calls believers to hate their lives. This refers to a comparison. A sufferer should hate their life when compared to the eternal weight of glory that Christ offers (2 Cor 4:17). A person suffering must continually check their heart motivation. “What does my heart want, long for or crave? Am I motivated by eternity or engrossed in the current?”
Exclusive Path of the Humble
The third principle that Jesus presents is the exclusive path of the humble. “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:26a).” Jesus calls believers to pursue hard after Him. This is incredibly important for a person suffering. It is easy to be so consumed with suffering that a person stops serving. Jesus is calling sufferers to live their life with Jesus and eternity as the object of their desire. The amazing thing is that when a person follows hard after Christ they will receive just that. They get Jesus. The pursuit of their life will be given as they are finally reconciled to God after the resurrection. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2).”
Extravagant Payment of Honor
The final exhortation that Jesus gives to His disciples is an extravagant payment of honor. “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (Jn 12:26b).” What exactly is this honor? The fullness of this honor will not be realized until a believer is in heaven with Christ (1 Cor 13:12). This is why Christ was the perfect one to offer this promise. As God Jesus had experienced the glory of heaven. He knew what heaven was like and offered a perspective that no other human could match (Jn 16:28). Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, The Portion of the Righteous, explains the rewards that believers will partake of in heaven in heaven,
For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others… there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those that are lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness, because they will see most of the image of God in them.
A believer’s capacity to enjoy heaven is contingent upon how he or she followed Jesus here on earth. Jim Fain applies this concept to suffering in reference to 1 Peter 4:12-13, “To the degree that you share in Christ’s suffering you will rejoice in his presence.” Suffering is like air being forced into a balloon that expands its capacity while increasing its tension. Suffering expands a believer’s ability to enjoy Christ by increasing tension in this life. Those who share in Christ’s sufferings most closely in this earth will appreciate Christ most fully for eternity.
Unwavering Commitment to God’s Glory
The next two verses demonstrate the suffering of Jesus and His unwavering commitment to the glory of the Father. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name (Jn 12:27-28a).” Our frail human minds can hardly understand what Jesus meant when He mentioned the trouble in His soul. “In His humanness, Jesus felt all the pain associated with bearing the curse for sin (Gal. 3:13).” The author of Hebrews refers to this prayer of Jesus, and others like it, when he wrote, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:7-8).” Jesus did not waver one moment in His obedience to the Father. He cries out, “Father, glorify your name.” And that is exactly what God did with Jesus. Through His sacrifice God was glorified. As a voice from heaven confirmed, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again (John 12:28b).” The focal point of the suffering that Christ endured was giving glory to God through redemption.
A sufferer must ask, “Would I be satisfied if the only thing redeeming in this suffering were that it gave glory to God?” Jesus Christ was the perfect example of a sufferer. In His suffering He never sinned. He never got angry and shook His fist at God. He never pursued relief, but instead paid the hefty price for redemption. As Jesus, by choice, faced unimaginable suffering from which there was no escape His faith was unwavering and His focus was fixed upon the glory of the Father. As we counsel men and women, like those mentioned in the introduction, we must call them to suffer like Jesus did. We must help them to understand their suffering on the timeline of God’s story of redemption, despite the distraction of the world’s distorted story, and beckon them to follow Christ’s perfect example when faced with the prospect of relief or the promise of redemption. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).”
John MacArthur, 1 Peter, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2004), n.p.
 Jim Fain, “Biblical Counseling and the Exclusivity of the Gospel” (lecture, Grace Chapel, Englewood, CO, April 1, 2016).
John MacArthur, John 12–21, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 2008), n.p.