Why did the disciples not understand Christ’s words about cross and tribulation? Probably, they still thought that Christ’s kingdom would be an earthly one. In their more enlightened moments, they saw that Christ was coming to redeem the world and shed His Blood for forgiveness. Yet a part of their sinful minds still harbored the idea that He came to restore the political kingdom to Israel. Even on the day of the Ascension, that is what some of them said.
Silly disciples! How could they so badly misunderstand the purpose of Christ? How could they impose their own ideas of an earthly kingdom upon the holy work He came to do? We would never do that!
But we do - not in exactly the same way, of course. We create our own kind of earthly kingdom that we expect Christ to establish and defend. We so easily maintain illusions about this life, as if we have the right to expect certain benefits in this life. We may expect that when we pray to Christ about certain things, Christ must answer “Yes.” After all, if we are so dear to Christ, would He withhold from us the things we ask? In times of trial, would He delay in helping us?
But sometimes, He does delay. Sometimes, He hides His face from us. Sometimes, we must experience a little time when we must mourn.
The disciples might have felt that Christ was here, so now they would never have to experience sadness again. Christ knew that His coming Passion would be a terrible challenge to their faith. So He gave them advance warning. “The world will rejoice, but you will be sad.”
He also sees that we are challenged by the crosses we must bear. Our faith will be shaken at times. There is a part of the old Adam in each of us that likes to fall for the lie that now that Christ is here in our lives, we do not have to experience great sadness again. This makes us vulnerable to question God’s promises. This may make us wonder if God is really on our side. We are certainly not stronger men than Saint Peter, who denied Christ three times in his time of trial. We are not greater than the other apostles, who ran away when the Lord was arrested. We also may fall in our little time. As soon as we say, “I would never fall,” then satan knows that he has his opening.
In such times, when darkness comes to you, remember that Christ has warned you in advance. He knows how vulnerable His saints can be, and His heart is moved to tender love towards us. He tells us that such times must come, when the darkness seems to be winning. Sadness must have its day.
But why does this have to be? Why even allow the little times of sorrow to come? Christ’s power is sufficient for Him to simply stop all tribulation from reaching our lives. Yet He does not.
The reason that troubles must come is this: Our life and our death are connected to His. We are joined with Christ, and connected to God because we are connected to Christ. So we, like Him, must pass through Good Friday to get to Easter. We must carry our cross as He carried His.
If we want to be in Christ, then we must carry a cross. If we instead expect only happiness and earthly peace in this life, then we may reject our cross, and with it, Christ.
Of course, a part of us will never want to carry a cross. We never like troubles. That is what makes them troubles. We may, God willing, be at peace with our trials, or we may even learn to rejoice in the midst of them. But that serenity and peace may elude us.
For now, we must walk by faith, not by sight. We do not judge God and His promises by the troubles we experience. They may seem too painful for us. They may be too much for us to handle at the time. Yet God is still with us. His love is certain, in spite of what our eyes tell us.
His promises are not that we would always have earthly happiness. On the contrary, He promised that there would be times of trouble. He promised that we would bear crosses. But the foundation of His promise is Christ and Him crucified. His love is not confirmed by whether I feel happy at any particular moment. Instead, His love is confirmed by the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.
Because it is, after all, just a little while. Our grief and toils in this veil of tears will not last forever. He will release us from whatever cross we carry. Either He will release it during this lifetime, or He will release it when He carries us to our eternal home. This present life is only a brief time, however long it seems.
So we must live in a life of prayer. Prayer is a mighty, strengthening contact with God. When trials overwhelm us and the darkness is all around us, there is Another who always hears us. We lean upon His strength in prayer. We may not feel or see that He is listening and answering, but it is always so.
We pray best when we are like the humbled tax collector. We do not pray well like the Pharisee, lifting up his voice to heaven to rejoice at how good his life is. Instead, we pray best as people who are so beaten down by life that we can do little else but say, “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” So He sends troubles to drive us to pious, humble prayer. He knocks us down to our knees because that is the best place for us. There we understand the right relationship we have with God in this life. He is mighty, and we are weak. We are insufficient, but He is always more than enough. We cannot overcome alone, but we are never alone.
This gracious, sufficient God gives all that we ask in Jesus’ Name. But when we do not ask in accord with His will, He instead gives us what is best for us. We do not know better than He. So we must continue to carry crosses even when it seems best to us that they be removed.
Remember that Christ had His own “little while”. He experienced terrible troubles, the likes of which we will not have to experience. He carried the hardest, heaviest cross so that our crosses are lighter. After all, He has conquered death and hell for us. So we know that we are safe with Him through life and death, through darkness and sorrow. He crushed satan’s head, and stepped back out of the grave. We have hope in Him that no tribulation can take away.
Shall we despair, when our Lord is risen? Shall we think that darkness has beaten us, when we have the Light of the world whom no darkness can overcome?
Sometimes, our sinfulness may let bitter thoughts come into our heads. At those times, let us flee again to Christ. He forgave Peter, who denied Him. He gladly forgives us as well. For these sins He suffered His little while of tribulation and darkness. Most certainly, He is ready to forgive us when our trials overcome us.
In His Name, the gracious Lord. Amen.
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