There once was a man who grieved so deeply he sweat drops of blood. A man who, despite his power to raise the dead to life, wept at the tomb of a friend. He was a man acquainted with sorrow and stricken with grief. A man whose greatest passion was suffering.
Grief is the unwanted guest every person will reluctantly host in this lifetime. Yet, many Christians assume Grief will stop by only briefly before leaving merrily on its way. And we’re surprised when it overstays its welcome.
Though we are a people characterized by joy and peace, who hope in a risen King and his eternal glory, we are also a people who identify with the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant. This seems most unnerving to some believers, which gives evidence to a poor theology of grief.
I have searched the Scriptures to find where we as followers of Christ are told we will not experience suffering or grief in this lifetime. I must say, I found evidence of the other truth — that we will experience suffering or grief.
Too quickly will people pass over suffering and grief in the Scriptures to revel in the joy. Yet this is what we were promised – not just joy and peace and the pleasure of God’s presence through the Spirit, but also suffering, trials and the intimate knowledge of Christ in sorrow.
The Apostle Paul once said that we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Have we fooled ourselves into thinking we are a people always rejoicing, but never really sorrowful? Do we fear that grief is an expression of a lack of faith? To grieve is not to question the sovereignty of God or His plans, as evidenced by Christ in Gethsemane. To grieve is to express our deepest pain over the depravity and depth of brokenness within us and our world — “far as the curse is found,” as that joyous Christmas hymn states.
In the Psalms David felt perfectly comfortable expressing his grief. He cried out to the Lord, “My God, My God! Why Have you forsaken me?” (22:1) and “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long with you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (13:1-2).
We are a people with a history of grief and suffering in this world. If we long to identify with Christ in his resurrection, we must first identify with him in his sufferings. Christ, in his human flesh, expressed grief more deeply than any of us can imagine. Here are a few examples.
Twice Christ lamented over Jerusalem. He mourned her stubbornness that would lead to her destruction, saying,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. (Luke 13:34-35a)
After his triumphal entry to Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city, he grieved the blindness that had fallen on the people and the result of death and destruction in their future (Luke 19:41-44).
Jesus wept, grieved and suffered. And it’s okay for you to grieve, too.
Standing at the tomb, Christ knew that he would soon call Lazarus to come out alive. But when he saw Mary and others weeping, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Scholars speculate all sorts of reasons why Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb, but the point is simple. When others were weeping and mourning, Jesus wept there with them. What a beautiful comfort, to know the Savior of the World wept at the tomb of a friend.
Think back to the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Christ was betrayed. Even though he knew and had foretold that he would rise on the third day from the grave, Christ asked the Father, if he were willing, to remove the cup from him. Luke then records,
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 14:44)
Jesus did not question the goodness of the Father, nor did his request rebel against the will of God. Christ asked for the suffering to be removed, for another way if it were possible, but Christ wholly submitted to the good will of God in so doing. And his grief drove him to physical anguish.
After praying earnestly in the Garden, Christ was arrested, beaten, mocked, scorned and murdered. In his final moments on the cross, Jesus echoed David and cried out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
These are not the words of a quiet whisper in the closet, but the loud cry of the deepest pain. In Andy Crouch’s book, Culture Making, he says this about Christ:
The core calling of his life is not something he does at all in an active sense – it is something he suffers. The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion – not a doing but a suffering. (142)
In his suffering, Christ drank the bitter cup and was baptized in death.
We, too, who call on the name of Jesus for salvation partake in the cup and baptism of Christ. In their short-sighted selfishness, James and John asked Christ to allow them to sit at his right hand and at his left hand in glory, to which Christ responds:
‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant…’ (Mark 10:38-40a)
I fear we often respond to Christ like James and John. “We are able,” we hastily proclaim, but we fall short in our understanding of the sufferings of Christ and our identification with him in those sufferings. Can we, like David, say “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot” (Psalm 16:5)?
Lest we forget, when we eat the bread and drink the cup of the new covenant, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). We identify with him now in his death, and one day we will fully identify with him in his resurrection. We are a people “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed… Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-13, 19).
Yes, Jesus wept, grieved and suffered. And it’s okay for you to grieve, too.
This article originally published on March 1, 2017.