God operates with purpose. There is always a plan behind the madness that is in our lives. Our initial and most important job is to adjust our attitudes to theocentric ways so we can discern and respond appropriately to Him and others.
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Read the seven verses below and tell me if you see what I see. What I want you to look for is the sequential logic of the passage. As you read one verse, you should be able to predict what is going to happen next.
For example, verse nine says Jesus came to be baptized. Then it says He was baptized. That makes sense. He came to be baptized, and He was baptized. Read on. Anticipate the “ways of the Lord” as you progress through the passage. See if the text meets your expectations.
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:9-15
This passage is stunning. It is sobering. It is also scary. The three verses that do not fit into my flow of logic are verses 12 -14. I never anticipated Jesus going from experiencing God’s pleasure at His baptism to intense suffering. The transition from good to horrific seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.
Jesus had spent 30 years preparing for His big moment on the public stage. He was on the precipice of building His ministry. The Father affirmed Him. John baptized Him. He had made all the right moves. He had favor with God and with people (Luke 2:52). Now it was time for Him to swing into gospel action.
- He had come of age.
- John baptized Him.
- The dove came down.
- The Father broadcast His favor.
- He came up from the water.
The next thing you would expect in the flow of thought would be for Jesus to step out of the water, stand on the banks of the Jordan, and tell everyone about how the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15).
This intersection is where the Spirit of God threw me a curveball. He interrupted my thought process. He caught me off guard. Preaching the kingdom of God was not the next thing on the Father’s calendar of events. The next thing was personal suffering. There is an echo of Job in this passage. (See Job 1:13-22)
A Drive On the Wild Side
The text says the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness where Satan tempted Him for forty days. There were also wild beasts in the mix, along with ministering angels. It’s an unexpected and unfathomable scene.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
The first time I saw this passage in this way, I was dumbfounded. It made me afraid. What was the point? Jesus seemingly had done everything He needed to do to be prepared to fulfill the will of His Father.
Just when you thought it was safe, things turned dark and dangerous. Isn’t this how it goes for most of us? We believe we are okay. We think we’re ready for “come what may.” We even assume we know how things should move forward for us.
- The newlyweds expect to live happily ever after.
- The new convert expects all things to work together for good.
- The wife expects her husband to love her well.
- The husband expects his wife to respect him.
- The children expect their parents to represent Christ honorably.
- The healthy person expects a few more years of good living.
Then God throws us a curveball. We find ourselves not enjoying what we expected while toiling under the burden of unforeseen challenges. These kinds of surprises can be devastating and discomfiting to the person with a limited view of God’s sovereignty and an inaccurate understanding of the theology of suffering.
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. – Matthew 8:23-24
Just when you thought the sailing would be smooth, the Father throws turbulence your way (Jonah 1:4). While I don’t want to make you suspicious or paranoid every time you hear the wind blowing, I think it would be wise for all of us to grapple well with the mysteries of God (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Nobody knows us as God does, and nobody knows what we need like Him (Hebrews 4:13). If the Father was to leave us to our preferences, there is no question we would miss out on some of the most essential and satisfying blessings of life.
Our inherent desire is to avert the steep seasons of our lives. I understand this. Who’s looking for trouble? Even though there is an equipping element to the suffering that is essential if any of us are going to be used by the Lord.
Though we should not ask for suffering or live our lives under a cloud of paranoia, it would serve us well to have a biblical perspective on personal pain. Changes, challenges, and hardships are not an anomaly in the Lord’s worldview (1 Peter 4:12). Suffering is a gift (Philippians 1:29), a promise (John 16:33), and a calling (1 Peter 2:21) from God.
Many Sides of Love
Have you ever heard the expression, “Just when things were going well, the other shoe fell?” Its meaning conveys the idea of having your life the way you want it, and then suddenly, from out of nowhere, your life goes awry. Like Goldilocks finding the perfect bed, only to awaken and alarmed by a family of bears.
Some people live in a pessimistic worldview–a form of paranoia, accompanied by a morbid expectancy that God is out to get them. It’s a freedom sapping mindset that marginalizes the power of the gospel in anyone’s life (Galatians 5:1, 13). In the Savior’s most famous sermon, He told us what to expect from His Father.
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:9-11
The conclusion we should draw from this passage is that if there is trouble in our lives, we should find assurance that the Lord is there and He is writing something good into our stories. It is upon us to trust Him while responding biblically to the crucible of suffering.
Personal suffering is one of the most oft-used means the Lord implements to accomplish His useful purposes in our lives. You see one of the most profound illustrations of this in the suffering Savior (Hebrews 4:15).
Sovereign Lord was not only in the suffering of Jesus, but He caused it (Isaiah 53:10). As the pain escalated in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked for a way out of it (Luke 22:42), though He quickly submitted Himself to the shaping of His Father’s hammer.
It is possible you did not anticipate the trouble you are experiencing. God did. He ordained it because of the need to fulfill His plans for you. One of the most effective and profound lessons you’ll ever learn in life is how to steward the suffering God permits in your life.
To fall short of this wisdom is never to realize all that God could do through you. The person who misses this essential and transformative lesson will grow in their hearts a garden of bitter herbs.
The humble and pliable soul will be broken by the suffering as they are learning to rejoice in the darkness. Their pain will begin to reshape them into rejoicing lights that radiate the glory of God (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Blessed By Weakness
The passage in Mark says some angels ministered to Jesus while He was suffering in the desert (Mark 1:13). There is a glorious paradox here: God ministers to those in need—a core tenet of the gospel: God helps the needy.
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. – Mark 2:17
I think if most of us were honest, we would prefer not to suffer, which means we would be willing to forego a rich experience with the Lord that can only come through disappointment and challenges.
But therein lies the problem: we despise being weak. One of our greatest fears is finding ourselves in the position of not being able to extricate ourselves from our difficulties.
When we find ourselves in that place, the most important thing for us to do is experience God at the moment. How are you experiencing God in your suffering? What is He teaching you? How is He ministering to you? How are you changing? Trying to escape your problems may seem wise, but discerning the Lord’s plans for you is wiser.
It is not wrong to try to extricate yourself from your troubles, but it is wrong to miss the Lord’s purposes for your problems. The path to being redemptive in the lives of others is a path of suffering. As Christ was beginning His public ministry, the Spirit of God drove Him into the wilderness for essential testing.
The tested man or woman, who has been transformed by the Lord through the testing, is the most qualified person to be redemptive in the lives of others.
Suffering is the path that leads to public ministry and your greatest usefulness to God and others. The people in the Bible that God used the most were those who suffered the most.
People whose first response is to get out of their trouble do not understand or accept the necessity of experiencing the Lord in the crucible of suffering. Though their chief aim is to save their lives, the result of their actions may lead them to “losing” their lives.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. – Mark 8:34-35
There is a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), but it comes with a condition: You have to die to yourself. Nothing will challenge you more or let you know where you stand with the Lord and others than how you respond to your trials.
- What are you going through right now?
- How are you responding to your trial?
- Is your heart guarded against the traps of grumbling and bitterness?
- What has the Lord revealed to you about you?
- How do you need to change?
I wish I could make your trouble go away. I cannot. Sometimes our problem is as surprising to us as what happened to Jesus in the early stages of Mark’s narrative. We never saw it coming.
Just when everything was going fine, the other shoe fell, and now you’re out for the count. Or, are you? Is your trouble drawing you closer to the Lord? How can we help you during this season? Will you let us know?
Also published on Medium.