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The Good Friday Surgeon

My definitions, rules for “how life works”, standards for what “you have to do”, methods for how “you must…” have pretty much all been placed under the microscope and sliced right open this year by God’s dissecting knife. Some deeply unquestioned assumptions about who I am and what is “good” and “necessary” in the way our family moves forward through life have been questioned and redirected. It is a very disorienting and disruptive experience. It is not just surreal and draining to sit with these long held world views as they waste away in hospice, so to speak, but very sad and scary to say good-bye without really knowing what life will be like without them. Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matt. 26:49-54

The Scriptures need to be fulfilled in this way. That is a concept I may never fully enjoy with my limited sight and understanding. But it is hard to miss it throughout all of Scripture. It is only through judgment that redemption is possible…Genesis 3 first demonstrated this, the flood illustrated it as did the life of Israel. The person and work of Jesus completed the mission, fulfilled the reality, and brings me through death to life with Him.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luke 24:25-26

Here is what I am seeing more and more and more…we the church are Peter, zealous for the life of Christ but totally opposed to the suffering of Jesus. It makes sense, really. Suffering for suffering sake is wicked and evil and rightly called bad. But all through Scripture, God turns the wickedness of suffering upside down and uses it as a tool for abundant life. Here is a fantastic illustration shared yesterday at the church I attended in Columbus, Georgia:

A person in a mask with a knife knocks you out, cuts you, and takes all your money. We call that assault and battery.

A person in a mask with a knife knocks you out, cuts you and takes all your money. We call that surgery.

The difference between the two? The purpose for it.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Romans 6:4

Because of God’s plan for redemption, initiated in the Garden, fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, any suffering we endure is the good intention of the Surgeon who is making us look more like His Son. He said as much through Joseph to his brothers, about Pharaoh and about those who crucified Jesus. Yet, like Peter, I am paralyzed with anxiety at the prospect of the unknown, the uncertain, the potentially disillusioning, toilsome or decision that will certainly bring loss of some kind. All I can see is the terror of the cross without the promise of the resurrection. But without the cross, there is no resurrection.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 2 Cor. 4:10-11

Like Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus, I too want the glory of God’s Kingdom without the prerequisite suffering. That is not how it works. Tim Keller once called suffering “a servant of our joy”. No longer is suffering, in any form, a terrifying master to be avoided at all costs. Now, because of the resurrection, we trust that suffering and death is in fact the door to abundant life…not in a masochistic way, but for a holy, redemptive purpose. We no longer “share in Christ’s suffering” as if they were not complete, but because they were complete in absorbing in the punishment they are now the birthing process for true life.

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor. 15:53-58

As overly dramatic as it may sound, I have experienced a whole lot of death of self this year. It hasn’t been delightful but to the contrary, really stressful at times and wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night terrifying at other times. Just because you know the resurrection is coming, doesn’t mean you don’t beg God to take this cup from you. The pain is not numbed by knowledge or hope. But do you know what? Hope is still there in there in the groaning and is made complete on the other side. I am getting a slight taste of the resurrection these days…freedom on the other side.

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

If death has been swallowed up in victory, so have all the smaller tastes of it we experience in the course of a day and even in our lifetime. We are told “do not fear” more than any other command in the Bible because it is true. What can mortal man do to me? If even the wicked intentions of the masked man with the knife can become the surgeon for God’s purposes, maybe I can spend less energy avoiding the operating table. Only by going to the cross can Jesus declare, “It is finished!” and only by remaining on the cross through burial in the tomb can we celebrate that “He is risen!”

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