“The Son of man must suffer many things[…]”1
What must we do in life? As the old saying goes, “There are only three things you must do in life: be born, die, and pay taxes.” I don’t think anyone actually lives like that though. We all have hopes, desires, expectations, plans, responsibilities, schedules, etc. The most needful things are the ones we have or feel like we have control over and that affect our happiness. If something affects our happiness negatively – not just our feeling of joy or contentment – and we have no control over it we should probably reexamine why it seems so important.
When we hear Jesus say that He “must” suffer, how are we to understand that need? If suffering has nothing to do with Jesus’ happiness, why is he so intent upon it? The finality with which Jesus speaks of his destiny is off-putting when we consider that as God He is in complete control over everything. Why should God have to do anything at all? It doesn’t make sense. What’s worse, God says He has to suffer and that I should follow Him in that way. The cross is literally torture, and Jesus is telling us to willingly accept torture the same as He did.
Most of us hear these words about needing to suffer and react like Peter, “Don’t be ridiculous Jesus, you are in charge here, you are performing miracles, you are more powerful and wiser than anyone who has ever lived. Oh, and by the way, you created me with a body, soul, and spirit that were by nature set to hate, flee, and fight any suffering that comes my way. How could you expect me to go along with suffering when you designed me to do otherwise?”
Jesus takes the consequences of sin upon Himself. The consequences are suffering and death. In saving us, He gives these consequences a new purpose where they had none. Though God doesn’t need us, He has willingly involved us in His own happiness. Jesus needed to suffer for us to increase the intimacy of His compassion and manifest the fullness of His Love. He needed to transform human suffering from something pointless into the means by which the heart is stretched and expanded to greater and greater love. When we follow Jesus into his passion, carrying our own crosses, let us allow our hearts to be stretched and dilated by the Holy Spirit, surrendering into the arms of our loving Savior.
“For we must deny ourselves and take up the cross of Christ and thus follow him. Now self-denial involves the entire forgetfulness of the past and surrender of one’s will—surrender which it is very difficult, not to say quite impossible, to achieve while living in the promiscuity customary in the world.”2