A Counterintuitive Grace

My little town had its share of parades when I was a boy—the Homecoming parade, Kiddies’ Day parade, and of course, the Fourth of July—all of them kindling warm smiles and a shared sense of community. Yet Memorial Day was different; there we soberly gathered to honor those who sacrificed everything in times of war. Most of the marching vets at that time were of the WWII era, men who had enlisted in droves to fight the expansion of totalitarianism. Their silent salutes through 21-gun salvos conveyed an understanding of freedom that only they could know and an enduring bond with those who suffered alongside them. We held these men in highest esteem.

If we’re going to have a conversation about grace, we must recognize it in its most counterintuitive form: suffering. There is something about suffering that heightens our appreciation of—and deepens our devotion to—a good and right cause. It augments our strength and directs our focus as nothing else can do. To the gathered crowd, Jesus promised, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”1 The apostles would understand this soon enough, for when later flogged for proclaiming the risen Christ, these men left “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus] . . . They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”2 For why would we suppress the truth of Christ for the conditional acceptance of His enemies?

On the eve of His betrayal, Jesus told His followers, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”3 Yet this Christ for whom in grace we suffer is the same One who by grace sustains us in our suffering. God will not abandon us in such times—“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”4 So like those who have gone on before us in Christ, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”5 And if we must suffer on His behalf, then “rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”6

Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . . Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.7

Father, amid our suffering, You are still God and you are still good. Move us to receive and celebrate Your grace in all circumstances. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Matthew 5:11-12
2 Acts 5:41-42
3 John 15:20
4 1 Peter 5:10
5 Hebrews 12:1-2
6 1 Peter 4:12-13
7 2 Timothy 2:1-3 ESV

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