The following is adapted from our 2018 graduation address, but this encouragement is for all the church! You can watch the video here.
In my last post, we looked at three ways to grow in persevering faith, so that we would be like the saints in Revelation 12:11 who overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of their testimony, because they didn’t love their lives even unto death. And so now, we want to elaborate on our central point, that one of the key ways to grow in enduring faith is to not avoid suffering, but to choose to purposefully and continually love, even when that involves incredible sacrifice and death to self.
And so we began looking at the ultimate example of persevering selfless love, that of our Lord as He went to the cross. Jesus was incredibly purposeful and intentional in walking straight into and persevering through the most difficult circumstances possible, knowing full well what He was doing.
Take a moment to think through what Jesus walked into. Of course we know the physical horrors of the cross. We are all aware of how painfully gruesome the cross was. We all know that crucifixion was popularized by the Romans because of how painful and drawn out the process of dying was.
But we don’t often meditate on other aspects of the cross. Take for example the humiliation of the cross. Jesus was lifted up naked for all to see and repeatedly mocked and sneered at through the process. Although He alone was worthy of all honor, He was shamed and degraded. Or take the abandonment and betrayal of the cross. Even Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends denied and abandoned Him. All of the 12 fled away. No one stood by him. And of course, Judas one of the disciples, is the one who betrayed Him with a kiss.
None of us have experience betrayal like this. To have the people who are supposed to support and help you, the friends that are supposed to have your back in time of greatest need, the very ones who you have laid down your life to serve, to have those people abandon, reject, and betray you. That hurts. That kind of pain goes very deep.
Or think about the gross violation of justice that was the cross. In the trial Matthew shows us that Pilate himself knew full well that Jesus was innocent. He knew that the Jews handed Jesus over because of envy. Pilate’s wife even warned him that she had a dream that Jesus was righteous. And yet Pilate condemned Him anyway.
Have you ever been falsely accused? Everything in our nature cries out for justice. When we are accused wrongly, everything in us wants to scream for vindication. We long to be proven right. We ache to prove our righteousness and defend our rights.
And yet Jesus didn’t speak one word to defend Himself. So in the cross we see that not only did Jesus laid down His life physically, He also laid down every single one of our most fundamental and deepest desires as humans: our desires for acceptance and honor, our desires for comfort and peace, our desires for relationship and love. These are not bad desires. But ultimately, God wants us to find all these things in Him. God wants to be our all. And only when we are truly satisfied in God can we truly give up all these desires. So Jesus showed us what that looks like by giving up every aspect of self that could be lived for in this life in complete selfless sacrifice.
And Jesus never for a moment gave way to self-focus. He never pitied Himself. He made no room for bitterness. He didn’t even complain. There’s a whole sermon right there. If ever in the history of the world there was a time for complaining, this was it. The sinless Son of God who is worthy of all praise was abused, mocked, and crucified by the people who He came to love and save. And yet He continued to focus on others and not Himself.
Jesus was showing us what true love looks like. True love is completely selfless. True love gives up every single aspect of self for others. True love gives and gives and gives and gives, expecting nothing in return.
The Real Source of our Sin
It’s so tempting to think that we sin because of the circumstances around us, because of the hard things that come into our life. We think that we sin because the situation was hard. But meditate on Jesus’ example. He didn’t sin even when faced with death of every kind.
You see, it is so easy to think that we sin because of our circumstances instead of realizing that sin always comes from selfishness, from idols in our hearts. We don’t sin because we are tired and in pain, we sin because we are loving comfort. We don’t get angry and impatient because other people aren’t kind to us, we get angry because we are loving being treated the way we think we deserve.
This is so subtle isn’t it. We blame our sin on circumstances all the time. But the reality is that our circumstances are only revealing our proud and selfish hearts. When a circumstance comes into our life and steals our joy, it reveals that our happiness was found in that idol. If we think that we get impatient because we are tired, then the solution is to sleep more. But really, lack of sleep is not the real problem, and getting more sleep only masks and hides the deep heart idol that drives us to impatience in the first place.
And so here’s the point. If we think that circumstances cause sin, then we will arrange our lives to avoid hard things to stop sinning. But hard circumstances never cause selfishness, only reveal it. So one of the major lessons we learn from Jesus as He goes to the cross is how He dealt with His heart before purposefully walking into the hardest things imaginable.
You know how Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Training for Obedience
Jesus was fully man. He was in unimaginable grief, to the point of death. He knew full well all the pain, rejection, and injustice that He was walking straight into. And yet He wrestled with God and gave up all of those most fundamental human desires to do God’s will.
Speaking of this very prayer, the book of Hebrews says, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”
Meditate on this. Let it wreck you. Feel Jesus’ full humanity in the garden. But notice what the author of Hebrews says. He says that Jesus learned obedience. What does that mean? We know Jesus never sinned. And yet, He learned obedience. Jesus grew. And the author tells us that He grew through the things that He suffered. What does that mean? It means that Jesus was not ready at 12 years old to willfully choose the cross, walking straight into and persevering through all the pain and suffering that it would entail. No, Jesus had to learn, He had to grow. He had to graduate from trial to trial over His entire life until He was ready for this ultimate test.
As Jesus lived His life, He never backed away from hard things, but kept choosing what God wanted for His life, no matter how hard it was. And so now as we come to the end of Jesus’ life, He comes to the ultimate trial of the cross.
This is the moment Jesus has been preparing for His whole life. And so in the garden He wrestles with God one more time over the agonizing pain that He is choosing. And so He ends His prayer with the statement, “Not my will but Yours be done.” Jesus fully understood the cost. Yet He chose to walk straight into it. This is what persevering faith looks like.
No one can just get up one day from being out of shape and run a marathon. No, it takes training. It takes hard work. Every day we must kill our selfish pride to grow in love. Jesus says to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Mat 16:24). You will not be ready to take your cross and sacrifice it all unless you enter into training now. Jesus learned obedience from the things that He suffered. And we must too. So don’t shy away from hard things, but live your whole life choosing sacrificial dying to self to love others, no matter how hard it is.
And as we continually die to self, kill our pride and selfishness day after day, we will grow in persevering faith. As James tells us, we should consider it pure joy when we fall into and are surrounded by all kinds of trials, because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3). As we live our lives, we don’t avoid hard things, but like Jesus, we continually choose the most loving things, no matter how hard they are. And as we do so, God refines our faith and causes us to depend more fully on Him, and weans us from the desires of this world so that we are more fully satisfied in Him alone. So the more we grow, the more we will be able to lay everything on the altar, following Jesus in His sacrificial love. May we continually choose selfless love over our selfish pride, continually delivered over to death so that the life of Jesus is shown in us (2Co 4:11).