PEOPLE WITH ATTITUDE #2 Attitude to Suffering


Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Here is the second distinctive kingdom attitude. It is supposed to make its presence felt when a situation arises that warrants sadness and grief. That happens a lot in our world as it did in the world of Jesus. It was pronounced enough to get a special prophetic mention. Isaiah talked about the coming Messiah, more than seven hundred years before it happened. His repeated statements caused considerable problems for the religious leaders of Israel at the time and later because they referred to the fact that the Messiah would experience great suffering.[1] Here is a sample: “….. a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)  All of us know something about personal loss. I am aware that our culture preconditions us to think about most things from an individual point of view, but I don’t think we should be ready to limit our understanding to that assumption.

When I read what others have written on this matter, I am surprised to find that they mainly talk about the sufferings associated with Jesus trial and crucifixion. There is no surprise about this. I have no idea at all as to the measure of that suffering. At the same time, as I have hinted above, I am not sure that Jesus was referring to that in his call to us to become people moved only by personal sadness. My appeal is, again, to the record of Jesus life and ministry. I ask the question of the stories in the gospels as to whether the experience of the cross was the main thing Jesus was grieved about. And I am sure you would come to the same conclusion as I. The answer is that Jesus was grieved on many different circumstances. So, to understand how this “attitude” works inside of us, we need to look at the record of Jesus’ grieving.

1. Jesus grieved over human lostness.  Jesus walked throughout the region with the joyful message of God’s kingdom realm. He taught in their meeting houses, and wherever he went, he demonstrated God’s power by healing every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. ” (Matthew 9:35-38)  We have to pause a moment to read this story lest we miss the information that is telling us about something that kept on happening all the time. I’ve been a pastor for nearly fifty years and have been in the presence of people with all kinds of needs. Many times, those circumstances evoked a very natural sense of sadness and grief for what had happened. There have also been times when my job required me to get up and go out in all kinds of circumstances when I would have preferred not to, so I went and did my “duty.” Other times I have given my heart and soul to some situation only to find that people were using me for their own destructive self-gratification. This story tells me that Jesus went to a lot of places around the province of Galilee and every time he saw a crowd of people, his compassion was stirred by their sense of lostness and helplessness. They were like sheep without a shepherd, weary and helpless. And he gave them the very best of heaven’s compassion. It had nothing to do with how tired or depleted he might have felt. The voice of lostness called out to his heart, and his heart responded with deep and unending compassion.

We need to have an honest think about this. It seems to me that most Christians I know in my nation of Australia don’t have much of a feeling for lostness at all. They can quite successfully pursue their careers, raise their families, go on vacation and the like without feeling what is around them every day the way Jesus felt. We have often gone one better and hurled judgements at lost people. Every time Jesus witnessed human lostness it filled his heart with sadness, and from that sadness he responded to them.

2. Human heaviness and depression. 28 “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. 29 Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways, and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. 30 For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” (Matthew 11:25-30) Jesus made the experience of his Father’s love accessible to all. The religious system and its protectors shut people away from God through a ruthless system of demands. They portrayed God as distant, aloof and/or repulsed by sin. The only tangible connection with God was likely to be his disapproval and disgust. There have been times when the church has been obsessed with the same ideas. If you read the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” you will undoubtedly be persuaded to think that way. It was especially so for the multitudes of very poor people whose poverty, though often contributed to by the authorities and their taxes, was construed as the judgement of God on their sin. The reference above stands in its own judgment on such an attitude. Instead of shame, blame, guilt and punishment, Jesus was calling on those who were weary with the complex burdens of life to come to him and experience rest. Notice he didn’t give them a ten point plan of how to deal with stress. His solution was for them to draw close to him so that they could experience rest.

In our own day, we are still plagued with the weights and burdens of the day, and it seems so common for people to be crushed by them. How sad, that a society like ours that seems to offer so many ways to be happy is exposed by a seemingly endless line of depressed people. Often, they are led to that horrible place where the only source of release seems to be to take their own lives. Jesus didn’t offer advice on how to avoid depression. He didn’t point out all of the things they might have done to avoid getting in such a state. He offered himself and his presence, his love and compassion as the answer. And he invited them to journey with him, be yoked to him so that they could learn from walking that journey WITH him. His willingness to open the door to people loaded up with cares meant that he would be carrying their load until there was no more load to carry. And he was going to do it without making them feel obligated and guilty for doing it.

Paul shares a similar sentiment while writing to the church in Thessalonica: “With a mother’s love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives—because you had become so dear to us.”[2] All of this is the outworking of what Isaiah was shown about the ministry of the promised Messiah-King: For sure He took on Himself our troubles and carried our sorrows. Yet we thought of Him as being punished and hurt by God, and made to suffer. 5 But He was hurt for our wrong-doing. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so we would have peace. He was beaten so we would be healed (Isaiah 53:4,5)  The beautiful attitude modelled by Jesus with regard to human load-bearing is to invite them to unload and find rest. He is moved by the weight and touched by the tiredness. If we are willing to come to him, we will not only NOT be pushed away, as we so often find in our own community, but we see someone willing to relieve the burden and carry the load. 

One of my character flaws relates to my ability to put down my keys and then forget where they are. When all my children were growing up, it was a legendary proneness. So when I shouted out in a house full of wonderful fellow humans asking if anyone had seen my keys (and I was always rushing to get somewhere), I would be met with grunts and comments lacking in any form of compassion. And it was even harder to raise a search party. Everyone was too busy asking me where I had left them. Everyone knew exactly who to blame. And they were right. This story of human load bearing is not complete without referring to a particular occasion. When I had looked everywhere without success, I didn’t know what to do – so as a last resort I cried out with a loud voice to Jesus. I acknowledged that he knew exactly where the keys were and would he tell me so I could get on with my ‘important’ job of serving him. Immediately, into my mind came the words, “They are in the garbage tin.” I searched the household bin with no joy. I went to the bin outside but nothing. Then I went over to my office and in the little paper bin by my desk were the said keys. Voila! As I said, Jesus’ offer is for us to come to him so that he can give us rest – and this rest is available not only to the spiritual giants who never lose their keys, but to those of us babes who seem to make it a habit. And the postscript to the story is a habit I have now developed of always putting my keys in the same place at home, and at the office. Not a problem.

3. Sicknesses: 13 On hearing this, Jesus slipped away privately by boat to be alone. But when the crowds discovered he had sailed away, they emerged from all the nearby towns and followed him on foot. 14 So when Jesus landed, he had a huge crowd waiting for him. Seeing so many people, his heart was deeply moved with compassion toward them, so he healed all the sick who were in the crowd. (Matthew 14:13,14)  Have you ever spent an extended period in a hospital, perhaps in the emergency department? Human sickness creates a huge burden. From a personal point of view, it can dominate the life of an individual along with the members of their family. A large city hospital represents a concentration of sadness and suffering that cannot be measured. On the occasion recorded here Jesus had decided it was time to get away from the crowds and their needs. He sailed across the lake with his disciples. When they saw what was happening, the crowds simply followed around the edge of the lake. Perhaps the wind wasn’t very strong that day so while Jesus had a slow boat ride the crowd was gathering at the place he was about to land. They were waiting for him. That very statement doesn’t fill me with much excitement. I can imagine the disciples being moved, not by compassion but by anything from frustration to anger. Today we would go into some room, close the door and turn off our mobile. It wasn’t so easy in those days.

Regardless of how inconsiderate it might have been and even though Jesus was worn out from the previous ministry demands, something characteristically beautiful surfaced: an attitude of deep compassion. He was moved more by what he saw in them than he was by his own needs and emotions. Now there’s a challenge for people like us who measure out our availability based on convenience and personal preference. A challenge for those whose doors close at 5:00 and whose phones go to message bank; for those whose sense of responsibility is governed by some set of workplace agreements; for those who never answer their phones and don’t often respond to messages. Jesus felt deep compassion, and that compassion didn’t run dry until the last sick person was healed. What they felt from Jesus was not just the opportunity to be well, but the opportunity to be in the zone where they felt the compassion of heaven rather than the often indifference of this world. While grubby human selfishness makes it hard to connect with them, divine compassion is always accessible and welcoming.

The attitude Jesus was referring to regarding human sickness was not the sorrow of the sick persons themselves, but the compassion for those who are sick within the ones who are well. The blessing is not that Jesus heals sickness, but that the kingdom of God should be made up of people who are not able to live around sick people without moving to relieve their burden because of spontaneous and consistent compassion. Comfort happens because they find the presence of Jesus there.

4. The death of a family member or close friend: When Mary finally found Jesus outside the village, she fell at his feet in tears and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus looked at Mary and saw her weeping at his feet, and all her friends who were with her grieving, he shuddered with emotion and was deeply moved with tenderness and compassion. He said to them, “Where did you bury him?” “Lord, come with us, and we’ll show you,” they replied. Then tears streamed down Jesus’ face. (John 11:32-35)  There is a lot about this story that is unusual. Jesus was told that Lazarus was sick, but didn’t leave immediately. When he was told that Lazarus had died, he said he was sleeping. When he came near to Bethany, he waited outside the town rather than going to the home of Mary and Martha even though they were grieving. He was deeply moved with compassion, having seen Mary’s sadness. When they took him to where Lazarus was buried, and he saw the people filled with grief he began to weep also, even though he knew that Lazarus was about the be raised from the dead. Instead of getting obsessed about finding the answers to those questions I would instead allow the information to tell me something about Jesus and the personal life of someone who is proclaiming and advancing the kingdom of God. 

It is typical of western culture to see that Jesus was overcome by emotion, even though he had already told the disciples that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. The fact is that Jesus’ display of emotion and the outcome of the incident are two very different issues. More to the point, it shows the way “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” works in practice. Regardless of the large story going on, people are grieving for their lost brother and friend. That’s what Jesus connected with. It shows empathy, not analysis. The empathy for Jesus was immediate. Being surrounded by people experiencing the pain and loss brought about by death was something that belonged to the very core of his personhood and mission. He had come to destroy the power of death. Like Paul would say a bit later, “Death, where is your sting, grave where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55,56) So Jesus looked at the sorrow and was immediately and deeply moved to tears.

We often lock away our feelings, especially those of us on the male side of the gender line. God isn’t locked up. We know that by what we witness here. Jesus wasn’t feeling sadness for himself; He was feeling the grief of those around him. This identification is another example of “blessed are those who mourn.” Kingdom people will have an attitude about the sufferings of others. They will readily and fully identify with those feeling. On that basis, they will not only share in the circumstances of others, but bring the very presence of the King of the kingdom of God. Jesus knew the big story and the big picture. It never prevented him from registering and sharing in the feelings of the smallest story – in this case, a small group of Lazarus’ friends gathered around his tomb in mourning. What Jesus does, God is doing. As Jesus wept with the mourners, he was making the unseen heart of the Creator and Father God known. That is amazing. We are the people of God when the sadness and grief of others genuinely moves us. I am not talking about sending a sympathy card or writing some nice words in it. I am talking about something that comes from inside your heart and meets or resonates with their hearts.

Kingdom people have attitude about the sadness and suffering of others. We are deeply touched by it.

5. The stubborn resistance of the people of God  34 O city of Jerusalem, you are the city that murders your prophets! You are the city that pelts to death with stones the very messengers who were sent to deliver you! So many times I have longed to gather your wayward children together around me, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—but you were too stubborn to let me. 35 And now it is too late since your house will be left in ruins. You will not see me again until you can say, ‘We welcome the one who comes to us in the name of the Lord.'” (Luke 13:31-35)

41 When Jesus caught sight of the city, he burst into tears with uncontrollable weeping over Jerusalem, 42 saying, “If only you could recognise that this day peace is within your reach! But you cannot see it. 43 For the day is soon coming when your enemies will surround you, pressing you in on every side, and laying siege to you. 44 They will crush you to pieces, and your children too! And when they leave, your city will be totally destroyed. Since you would not recognise God’s day of visitation, your day of devastation is coming!” (Luke 19;41-44)

There are a variety of reasons for experiencing grief. We have no trouble relating to the previous example outside the tomb of Lazarus. Here is a very different set of circumstances. Luke records these two occasions. There were at least two occasions where God mourns the stubbornness of the people he has called to proclaim his nature and purpose to the families of the earth. If you were to read the whole of the Old Testament in a couple of sittings, it would take you a bit more than 52 hours. But if you did that you would notice how prone these people were to forsake their special relationship with God and how they were so easily compromised by turning to worship idols and adopt the values of the nations around them. Then read the gospels. Jesus, the awaited Messiah, comes. Tellingly, John writes these words to describe what happened, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13). Jesus came to people who should have been the ones most likely to recognise him but was rejected by them. I don’t know whether anyone has ever rejected you? Worse still, to be rejected by a whole group of people, or worse, rejected by your own people – but Jesus was. In human experience, it is the stuff that breeds resentment, bitterness, separation and retribution. With Jesus, it was tears of sadness. Please read the two passages at the beginning of this section and soak up the environment created by Jesus attitude. No slighted anger. No abuse. No threats. Just sadness at what they were doing and the consequences they would experience.

There is a particular poignancy about the second of the two statements. In the narrative, it comes as he finished entering Jerusalem on a donkey. He saw the sad prophetic act of triumph as they waved palm branches and then burst into tears at what was about to ensue. Even the atmosphere of victory could not cover the deep feeling of remorse. In a week these people would be part of a different crowd with very different intentions. In his book, “Postcards from Babylon,” Brian Zahn has made the profound observation that it is likely that two different kings were entering Jerusalem at about the same time. From the west came Pontius Pilate, representing the Lord Caesar. His credentials of office were displayed by his armed soldiers marching before and after his chariot and showing off the might of Roman oppression. On the other side of the city, a rabbi from Galilee entered on the colt of a donkey. His feet were likely dragging on the ground. A very different King representing a very different kingdom. As he entered, I think Pilate might have looked at the gathering crowds of pilgrims and strengthened his resolve to keep the Jews under control until the Passover was finished. Jesus looked at the same city and burst into tears. They were from different worlds and saw different things as they entered.

My point is to note the attitude. Jesus was filled with grief, not for himself but for the people who thought they represented God but were as lost from him as the older brother in the story of the prodigal son.[3] When we become sons and daughters of the kingdom what is going to be released in us is the same attitudes to rank stubbornness and arrogance. Not the passions associated with personal hurt but the flow of sadness for the people who remain in peril. Within forty years the city would be sacked, the temple destroyed and the people massacred. I want to feel the same way toward the people who resist and reject my message and ministry. I want to make tangible to them the way God feels. It’s funny how we, as followers of Jesus can be compassionate toward people with no commitment to Christ but show hatred to those people who follow Jesus but disagree with us. Here is a ‘heads up’ on how God feels toward them.

6. The unbelief of Jesus’ disciples Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41)

This statement may well mark the deepest expression of sadness and frustration from Jesus apart from the events leading up to and including the cross. Jesus had just come back from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John. They found the remaining disciples surrounded by a crowd of people and a demonised boy. The disciples had unsuccessfully tried to cast out a demon and were engaged in a verbal altercation with some religious leaders. When the boy’s father told Jesus, he responded with an expression of deep grief. There is an obvious question needing to be asked here. Was Jesus upset at the disciples or the generation of people who had collectively contributed to the chronic level of unbelief? A literal translation of the text would be as follows, “O generation (of) unbelieving and perverted (people). Until when will I be with you and bear with you.” My own conclusion is that he was referring to both. It was the disciples who couldn’t cast out the demon, so we can only assume that they were the ones directly implicated. It is very easy to understand that their level of faith was connected to the collective views of their ‘generation.’ The shallow demonised religious system that weighed people down with obligation and locked them away from knowing God had played its part. Compromises with both Hellenistic and Roman pressure and influence had also played a role. The outcome was displayed in the fact that the disciples he said and done everything they knew how to do, but the demon remained. The gospel record will show that they had had previous experience at casting out demons before. This demon was able to resist their efforts. More correctly, they were not able to operate at a level of authority needed to give the maleficent presence its marching orders. When they ask Jesus about it later, he explains that the only way for them to gain that level of authority is through prayer (and perhaps prayer with fasting). In other words, a change is needed in the relationship between God and the disciples for them to exercise the full measure of his power.

I guess some people will assume that Jesus is merely expressing disappointment and/or anger at the remiss of the disciples. They should have been able to cast out the demon. No teacher or parent will scold a pupil or child if they have been asked to do something that is impossible. Would I ask my ten-year-old son to jump over a two-metre wall and then berate him as he is lying on the ground after a failed attempt? I would be cross with the same son if I asked him to pick up his clothes from the floor of his bedroom and found that he was still playing on his Xbox. In the latter case, the problem was nothing to do with ability but will. The same must be true for the disciples. Their lack of faith must have related to their lack of commitment rather than ability.

This is not the place to become embroiled in the broader issues of living a life of faith in Jesus. On one occasion some people came and asked Jesus what they should do to do the works of God. Jesus said their most significant and most important task was to believe on the one God had sent (i.e. Jesus himself).[4] I am convinced that faith is not just some kind of temporary mental posture or less still, an affirming emotion. At the same time, it is a measurable state. Jesus talks about little faith and great faith in precisely that way. As here, he also talks about unbelief as a measurable human condition. The famous words from Hebrews 11 tell us that faith is the “substance” of things hoped for and the “evidence” of things that are not seen. So, faith is a level of conviction about something we can’t see. We see it as reality, even though it has not yet happened. This phenomenon is everywhere in the Bible from the beginning to the end. We are also told that “without faith, it is impossible to please God.”[5] On this occasion, recorded by Luke, the disciples were able to exercise faith but had allowed the “unbelief” of their generation to override the trust they should have had in what Jesus had modelled for them and taught them. I think that makes sense, both for them as well as for us. We also live amid a generation that has worked hard to convince itself of its own independence and self-reliance. 

It would be wrong for us to assume that “unbelief” should be thought of as an empty space or a vacuum created by the lack of faith. The word for unbelief is “apistos” (and the word for faith is “pistos”). The prefix works like our English prefix “anti-.” It is an active state, not a passive one. A contemporary idea would be a phrase used to describe people who oppose the idea of climate change. They are called, “climate-deniers.” That term more correctly carries the idea of “unbelief.” A person manifesting “unbelief” is a “belief-denier.” They are actively opposed to the idea of faith in (or faithfulness to) God. They have chosen an alternative belief system, one which they are actively pursuing.

To get back to the point of all this, we learn from this incident in the Gospel of Luke that when Jesus own disciples choose an alternative belief system than the one that Jesus was showing and teaching them, the response from Jesus is deep grief -, not anger or resentment.

When Jesus teaches about the second of nine attitudes that will be trademarks of the citizens of the new kingdom, one such expression of grief will be toward unbelief – our own or other people’s. The grief is understandable when you think that the Creator, Father, Redeemer, Provider, Purposer has made known to us the way we are to live as sons and daughters of God – and we take the capacity we have to respond to that love by rejecting it and trusting in a humanly contrived system, such a rejection is met with an outpouring of grief. That such a thing should happen? The reward for those who share this sadness is going to be blessed. Notice that we are not told we will see everyone we care about putting their trust in God. What we will experience will be the comfort of that very God who feels precisely the same as we do only more so. This grief doesn’t cause Jesus to give up or turn aside. He doesn’t pick up his ball and go home. He challenges that unbelief by continuing to fulfil his Father’s purpose. He continues to model and teach how to exercise faith. Such comfort is precisely the blessing we need. God intended deliverance for this demonised boy. As soon as the demon in the boy realised Jesus was present the boy was thrown into a convulsion. When Jesus drove out the demon the process demonstrated the effects of the struggle. When he told the demon to go, the boy fell on the ground as if he was dead.[6] Then, the boy revived and was totally set free. When the disciples settled for something less than what God intended, Jesus called it “unbelief.” That is hugely sobering for all of us who trust what is written for us in Scripture. Then they started arguing with the religious leaders. Now, there is a definite example of unbelief. They should have grieved as Jesus did. So should we. When they were told what do to get from a place of unbelief to a place of faith – i.e. prayer (or prayer with fasting), we should heed the same advice.

So all of these are examples from the life of Jesus where he was giving expression to this attitude. We need to check out our own hearts. We need to measure how we are doing soberly. Otherwise, we will do what most people do who don’t know God or his attitudes. We will grieve for ourselves and a small group of family or friends and conveniently close our hearts toward the needs of people we meet every day in every place. Let us pursue God until this compassion is fully released from deep inside us so that we make God known in this compelling way.

[1]         These are called the “Servant Songs.” They are also referred to as the songs of a “Suffering Servant.” They are found in Isaiah 42, 49, 50 and 52,53.

[2]         1 Thessalonians 2:8

[3]         See Luke 15

[4]         See John 6:29  “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

[5]         See Hebrews 11:6 “, And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

[6]         See Mark 9:26,27

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About Brian

Passionate follower of Jesus. Member of a family that keeps on growing because I keep on meeting up with more great people from every nation and background who I belong to because of Jesus. Husband of an amazing woman, father of four forgiving kids and eight almost perfect grandkids. And loving it.