Teaching for Tough Times

‘In this world you will have trouble’


The time was the spring of AD 30 (or, using an equally valid reconstruction, the spring of AD 33). Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the last time during His earthly life. This visit to the capital city began with a clear statement of purpose: “As the time approached for him to be taken up into heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51, emphasis added). Jesus had an appointment to keep on that city’s Mount Moriah—an appointment set on our behalf before the foundation of the world, an appointment on which all human history hinges.

Most of our crisis moments come unannounced. Jesus knew clearly and precisely what time it was, as well as its portent. The specter of a Roman cross must have been burned into His mind. The whole gruesome process of crucifixion, invented by the Assyrians, was carried out with regularity, if not relish, by the Romans for the specific purpose of fixing the image into the minds of all its subjected people and nations.

When The Passion of the Christ came to movie screens in 2004, it quickly differentiated itself from any of the earlier Hollywood versions of the crucifixion. Here we saw Jesus beaten beyond recognition and then crucified with ropes pulling His arms to stretch them out taut and hold them in place for the executioner. It was a ghastly vision for most of us; I recall moments when I turned my head away and wept. Yet almost every inhabitant of the Roman Empire saw crucifixion up close.

Our faith as Christians centers on the horrific crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth with all its pain, its humiliation, and its shame. The apostle Paul wrote that he aspired to know nothing except Jesus and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Now, if Paul claimed to have lived intentionally with such a fully ripened and permeating knowledge, certainly something parallel might be said of Jesus. Jesus came to this moment almost obsessively conscious, His mind permeated with the realization that He, the Lamb of God, would be crucified on a Roman cross on Friday morning at nine.

On Thursday night of that week, He taught about tribulation: “‘In this world you will have trouble.’” As He met with the disciples for what He knew was His last meal with them, Jesus sought to coach them—by word and the example of His own life—how to encounter the moments in their lives when tribulations come.

Jesus told them in the upper room that a radical change was coming with regard to prayer: “‘I tell you the truth, the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.’” Why will the Father give us what we ask in the Name of Jesus? The answer is simple enough: He will do this if and when we are engaged in fulfilling the mission that Jesus gave us. If we return to an earlier moment in the evening, when Jesus was discussing the vine and the branches, we will understand why: “‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name’” (John 15:16, emphasis added).

What Jesus then told the disciples about the Holy Spirit required another paradigm shift. No longer would the incarnate God be present with them in physical form; He would be with them spiritually in the form of the Holy Spirit of God, the same Spirit that indwelled Jesus. This was necessary for a very practical reason. As long as the church, the family of God, was limited to 11 men and a few friends, it was possible for God the Son to be with them, protect them, provide for them, comfort them and instruct them. As the church stood on the threshold of an explosive growth curve, the incarnate Son of God could not be with each of them, as they and thousands of others would be scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The incarnation was severely limiting, and while the disciples experienced the physical presence of God the Son, they would soon need the unbounded presence of God the Spirit. This is why Jesus told them: “‘I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you’” (John 16:7).

We are not always spiritually, emotionally and psychologically prepared for trouble. So with the anchors come the admonitions Jesus gave to the Eleven that night: learn to trust God—to really trust God, and don’t proudly presume for a moment that you are immune to a great storm in your life. And He added a thought that is so curious because it is at the same time chilling and comforting: “‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear’” (John 16:12).

It is chilling because Jesus reminded the Eleven that there would come times of overwhelming circumstances. The disciples were right on the edge that night and would reveal their emotional exhaustion on the garden. The next day would certainly bring more than most of us can comprehend as the watched their master and their friend scourged and crucified.

Just as the disciples faced a terrible storm that night and the next day, we can anticipate encountering “more than you can now bear” crises, crises that drive us to the core of our being. God allows us to be “knocked silly” so that we find out where the anchors truly are.

While this is chilling, it is also comforting. Jesus knew the disciples’ limits; and while there was more He might have said, He spared them so they would not be overwhelmed. The sovereign one who is with us what we can endure without Him, and what we can endure with Him.

What is remarkable about Jesus’ statement is what it reveals: Jesus was intensely focused on the trials facing His disciples (rather than His own) and the grief the disciples were experiencing (rather than His own). He earnestly wanted to share the Passover that evening to prepare them, equipping them for what was coming. He was already prepared and they were not yet.

Jesus had been tested by Satan many times, but his three distinct temptations in the wilderness uniquely prepared him for the great trial of the cross that awaited him. He learned the absolute priority of the spiritual realm over the earthly realm; He learned to stay on the difficult path and not take a shortcut; and He learned the discipline of not calling on the angels of heaven to come to His aid. Jesus knew that He came from God and was returning to God. His lifetime of growing selfawareness brought Him to a level of absolute certainty that He was God in human form. He also knew that God had put all things under His authority.

Because we belong to Jesus, we should not be surprised when hatred and persecution invade our lives. Jesus warned His disciples so that they would be prepared and not lose faith. While it is not possible to be prepared for all the contingencies of life, we can be prepared in the all-important general sense for whatever is around the corner As Jesus concluded His discourse, He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Compiled from material published in Navigating Your Perfect Storm by Bob Wenz, which provides readers with anchors to help them get through the spiritual storms in their lives. (©2010, Biblica Publishing, Colorado Springs, Colo.) Used by permission.

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