Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Job had his troubles

In one short sentence spoken by Jesus and recorded in John’s gospel account, the paradox of his message is powerfully pronounced. For our generation fixated with instant sound-bites and pithy digests this utterance is a kind of one-stop-shop summary of Kingdom teaching. The statement in John 16 begins prosaically enough as Jesus turns to His followers to proclaim “In the world you will have trouble…”. Hardly a mind-blowing revelation you may say, as the one thing we all know is that life is not always a bed of roses! As far back as Job the trials and tribulations of the human experience was a familiar theme and that much put-upon man himself declared that “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards…”. Even further back, just after the Fall ,there was the realisation that life was tough, especially as the these words from God in Genesis began to kick in “ All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from the ground. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:18-19). So when Jesus spoke to his hard-pressed disciples and told them that they were going to suffer in this world surely one of them was tempted to ask “so, tell us something we don’t know!”.



Perhaps at that time it was necessary to correct the excesses of expectation that the Jewish Scribes and teachers had for the coming Messiah. As they studied the Old Testament Scriptures they began to read into the text their own wish-list for Messiah, a powerful deliverer who would restore Israel to its former glory and throw off the oppression of the Roman invader! They missed the ‘suffering servant’ prophecies that described the promised Saviour as ‘a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’, and read the verses ,as we sometimes do today, not for what they actually said but for what they wanted them to mean. So, to alert His followers to the realities of suffering and tribulation Jesus was doing them a favour, nailing any residual illusionment they may have entertained from a wishful reading of Scripture. Can’t you picture the disciples hearing this, bracing themselves and trying to take this bald statement of real-talk on the chin ! Ah but there’s more, with Jesus there’s always more. We half-hear and miss the wonderful paradox of the teaching, we walk away having a handle on half-truth. “but”, He continues, “ be of good cheer…”, if He pauses for breath here you might hear the gasps of His audience who must now have been very confused. They could have thought, “He’s just told us we would suffer in this world and now He wants us to be happy !” But happy for a reason as He explained, “for I have overcome the world” ...Now here’s the paradox, God does not promise those who trust Him an easy journey, but he pledges that just as He has overcome the world we will also through Him.




Today there is a school of thought that says God meets every financial need, heals every sickness and lifts every burden…I don’t think so ! Certainly He is able to do all of the above and does so from time to time, but not ‘every’ and not ‘always’. Living for Christ in this world we will be tested and troubled, but our confidence is that He will see us through. The trials may not disappear but neither will His abiding presence which is our enduring source of victory. As Paul reminds us “We overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:33). Jesus was telling His disciples that because He loved them and was about to give His life for them, they can confidently share in His victory over this world and even death itself. Love is the key that unlocks the liberating effect of His sacrifice on the cross. In fact the accusing worldly spirit that sent Jesus to the cross was the same persecuting spirit with which the Disciples would have to contend - “If the world hates you,” He said, “know it hated me first.” (John 15:18). God is with us through every tortured step of our lives, He doesn’t always rescue us out of our afflictions, but He is always with us and carries us through. It is His presence that empowers us to persist and endure until we overcome. As we sit at his feet and hear all He has to say, we can embrace these paradoxes and learn to exclaim with the Apostle, “But praise be to God who gives us strength to overcome through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).


Gerard O'Shea


Tony said...

Glad you burned the midnight oil!

Mike said...

It is too easy to get caught in the "trouble" stuff and ignore the what Christ gained for us.