Jesus was not a stranger to suffering
Refocusing on Jesus always seems to ground me when frustrations about church crop up, or when relationships with fellow Christians become strained. In this post, I’m focusing on Jesus’ experiences of grief and abandonment.
Have you ever had an infuriating rash that burns and itches like crazy? When my eczema flares up, I’m driven to distraction by the itching. Clusters of tiny blisters appear on my wrists and elbows. Sometimes they burst open when rubbed (I’m careful not to scratch), leaving my skin raw and blood-speckled. There’s one special ointment that helps when the usual moisturising creams stop working. Oh, the relief this soothing salve brings to my angry skin!
In a similar way, my heart is soothed by one special fact: our Lord is not a stranger to suffering. “He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with the deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) When sorrow feels like an unbearable itch in my soul, leaving me raw and exposed, this fact has kept me hanging on.
How was Jesus treated by those closest to him?
Gethsemane was one of the darkest moments of Jesus’ life. There, he fought a raging spiritual battle: yielding to his Father’s will even though it involved gut-churning, spirit-crushing suffering.
As we know from the Gospel accounts, the disciples failed pretty miserably when it came to supporting Jesus. Over the next few posts we’ll look at what they did – and didn’t do – as Jesus suffered.
Jesus was abandoned by friends
Jesus spent hours in turmoil, crying out to God, in Gethsemane. He knew what was coming: an unjustified arrest, a sham of a trial, physical torture, emotional humiliation and a gruesome public execution. (Imagine knowing all that was about to happen, and still choosing to go ahead with it!)
As he pleaded with God to take away the coming pain, Jesus needed the support of his closest friends in the faith. He even asked them directly and specifically to support him. (Matt 26:36, 38)
But what did they do? These deeply flawed men on whom Christ later built his Church… They fell asleep. Yep. They did not travel the hard road with him. He had to do it alone. (Matt 26:40, 43, 45)
Jesus was abandoned by God
Not only did Jesus’ friends in the faith abandon him, but God also abandoned him. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. (Matt 27:46NIV)
Thankfully, you and I don’t have to face the ultimate suffering: separation from God. Jesus’ sacrifice reconciled us to our loving God, who has promised never to abandon us. (2 Cor 5:18, 21, Rom 8:38, 39)
Where to get help
Do you sometimes feel that your pain is too much to bear? Do you look at the road ahead and beg God to intervene; to provide a way out? Have you suffered alone, abandoned by your church, friends or family who just can’t seem to grasp the magnitude of your personal battle?
Take comfort in this: Jesus knows what it’s like to face an unimaginably painful future, alone. Jesus knows how it feels to be abandoned and left to fend for himself. He knows! I find that so reassuring.
[Jesus] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Heb 4:15-16)
Jesus, thank you for giving up your life so that we can be reconciled to God. Thank you for being willing to suffer, abandoned by friends and by God, so that we will never have to go through our own grief alone. Forgive us for the times we completely forget about the fierce battle you fought for our sake, and the great victory you won on the Cross. Help us feel confident coming to you with our sorrow, pain, fear, disappointment, and the anguish of feeling abandoned. Help us remember that you are with us, even when no-one else is.
For the people reading this who are feeling overwhelmed and isolated, I pray that you will fill them with your Spirit as they cry out to you. Please help them to know your love, not just intellectually but also deep in their hearts. Please give them comfort, hope, practical support, and the ability to endure.
In Jesus name, Amen.
Coming up next
In Church #3 – Dealing with Unhelpful Comments (coming soon) we’ll keep looking at what Jesus’ closest friends, the disciples, did – and didn’t do – when he needed their support.
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The Garden of Gethsemane. Painting by Giorgio Vasari, c.1570,