In worship this morning my elder posed a fascinating question; a question that is easily answered, but little thought of: Would you like to be like Jesus? Certainly one would reply without hesitation that this question must be answered affirmatively. However, we never stop to consider the path that Jesus chose. If we are to subscribe to a Biblical worldview then we must embrace the life of Christ. Christ’s mission was to suffer in a unique way. In fact, we read the text to say that Christ chose a path of suffering. This reality is portrayed in several passages such as Acts 14:22, Galatians 3:17, Philippians 3:10, Romans 8:19 and so on. The point of these passages is to pose the life of belief as a life of struggles. But at this point it is important to understand that the sufferings of our Lord are not to be compared to the suffering of His people. Though persecution, mockery, and wordly abuse may be part of our earthly ministry, it may not be. It is essential that we realize as Christ’s followers that suffering per se is not defined merely as a form of torture as the kind experienced in war camps, rather to suffer also entails familial animosity (as in mother being against daughter), a spiritual battle with sin, a struggle to excel in all of life for the glory of God though the whole world finds themselves pleased with mediocrity.
The form of suffering endured by our Lord was unique. It was once and for all, as the writer of Hebrews puts it. Though He was persecuted, abandoned, and condemned on our behalf, the suffering we are called to endure is a different calling or as Paul puts it a “gift from God” (Phil.1:29). It is a suffering that pales in comparison to our Lord’s, but it is a form of suffering nevertheless. The God-man had to dress himself in human flesh and suffer so that our suffering would not be as His.
First century ascetic theology taught that only martyrdom would be the ultimate form of suffering. According to some teachers in the early church, martyrdom was the way to free the body in order to truly be like Christ. We dare not err as they did. We dare not suffer as our Lord for His suffering was a holy suffering. Our suffering is a life of self-denial that places others before ourselves, that loves enemies, and that hates the misery of our sins. I guess the answer to that question is not as easy when it becomes practical, is it?