This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
If you could change one circumstance in your life, what would you change? That’s the question I posed to the Sola5 students last night before we began our study of John 18:1-14. Often, we think that if we could only change this or that about our lives, suddenly everything would be a lot easier and life would be better. This is the natural, human reaction when our circumstances in life seem to disintegrate. But what did Jesus do when the circumstances of his life fell apart? How did he react when the hour that he would be betrayed by a close friend and brutally tortured and executed finally came? The answer is one that calls us to turn away from our circumstances and place our focus squarely on the God who is in control of all things.
In John 18, Judas brings a squad of soldiers to arrest Jesus. However, last night we focused on the careful attention to Jesus’ attitude that John paid in his description of the event. We see in Christ a man who is not cowering in fear of what is coming or trying to frantically change it, but a man who submits to the plan and purpose that the Father has given him. Notice the details John chooses to give us. First up, in verses 1-2, we’re told that Jesus – knowing Judas was betraying him - went with his disciples to a place that they all visited frequently. He’s not hiding from Judas, but instead he goes to a place that Judas knows well and would find him at easily. Next, in verse 4 (after John reminds us that Jesus knew all that would happen to him) once the soldiers arrive, he approaches them, and when they say that they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, he simply steps up and says, “I am he.” When they cower away, he repeats the statement a second time, telling them to leave his disciples alone and do what they came to do. Why would Jesus be so calm in the face of those who came to take his life? Well, if we’ve been paying attention throughout John’s gospel, the better question is “why wouldn’t he?” Consider what Jesus has constantly stated was his purpose and mission in passages like John 2:18-19, 3:13-15, 6:51, 7:33-34, and especially 12:27-28. Jesus knew for what purpose he had come to the earth, and he was focused on fulfilling the charge given to him by the Father. Thus, when his circumstances turned south, his focus was not on them but on the God of those circumstances, the one who had orchestrated them for his good purpose – namely the salvation of the human race.
But what about us? Our first instinct when things go badly for us is to react like Peter in verse 10, seeking to change our circumstances in the way that we see fit. Peter charges into the crowd of soldiers, sword drawn, and hacks off a guy’s ear. He aims to change the circumstance that he sees as unfavorable by killing those who have come after Christ. We often seek to change the circumstances that we see as unfavorable in all sorts of ways, when what we need to do is to remember what the purpose of those circumstances is. Now, obviously we haven’t been sent to be killed for the salvation of the world, but we have been given some specific ideas about the presence and purpose of suffering in our lives. Passages such as Romans 5:1-5, 2 Timothy 1:8-10, James 5:10-11, and 1 Peter 4:12-13 tell us that God uses suffering and difficulty in our lives to build us into the people that he intends for us to be. Our suffering builds character and faith in us in a way that ease and comfort cannot. As people who believe that God is in control of all things – and is working all things together for our ultimate good - we need to remember that belief during difficult times.
Remember that circumstance you wish you could change in your life? We closed last night by asking the better question, “What do you think God might be teaching you through that circumstance?” This prompted some great discussion at the close of our study, and it prompted some great meditation for me personally last night. God is sovereign and he is good, and though we don’t always understand why some things happen (and sometimes we never will – see Job) we can trust his love and grace and seek to see his face more clearly through suffering. Next time suffering comes your way, don’t ask how you can change it, ask how God could use it to change you.
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