Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. — Luke 9:51-56
Lent is a time where we give lots of thought to the suffering that Jesus endured. For us, however, we know the outcome—an empty tomb. It was different for the disciples; it was a testing of faith. We see what God was doing in the garden of Gethsemane, and we know the great necessity of the cross of Christ. Otherwise, we too would fall asleep and run for safety. It’s easy to look back.
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Knowing what had to happen, Jesus stayed the course. If we are to have a serious reflection on his suffering, we must account for the fact that our Lord looked forward, never back.
We look back all the time, longing for comforts past, wondering what might have been. I’ve done it even as recently as reflecting on the lost year of Covid. Even though we have taken up life with Jesus, seasons of suffering challenge our resolve and fix our attention to how things used to be or how we imagine they might be. Our hunger for restoration and relief from burdens turns our heart to the past, but Jesus has only an eye for what is set before him.
The Isrealites experienced this in the 40 years they spent wandering in the desert. They argued with Moses, idealizing their life in Egypt and questioning the goodness of the Lord. They complained about the Lord’s provision, not because he didn’t provide, but because they weren’t content with what he provided. Oh how that truth can sting!
The paradox of suffering is that it is actually a gift – one we might like at times to give back – but a gift nonetheless. God gives us suffering as a way of giving us Himself, for it is in our suffering that we become acutely aware of His presence and power. Difficulties empty us of our self-reliance so that we might soak in what it means that we are children of God, chosen by God and in covenant relationship with Him—the very covenant purchased by Christ’s blood.
The Israelites in the wilderness and Christ on the cross both stand as a testament, old and new, that God does not forsake His people.
Ultimately, suffering is about learning to receive whatever God has placed in our hands as a blessing. Honestly, that is quite difficult in painful moments. For Jesus, the journey to Jerusalem was a gift. Gethsemane and Golgotha were gifts. They were not easy gifts to receive, which is why he had to say, “Not my will, but yours” (Mark 14:36). And it is why he taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10), because if we are not looking for God’s kingdom come, we always be looking back for our kingdom gone.
The season of Lent is a gift. Take time to receive it.