"No pain, no gain." Virtually every high school or college athlete has heard those words come from the lips of a coach.
While struggling with that last bench press rep, or gasping at the final 100-yard sprint of the practice, the athlete recalls that maxim and finishes the workout, knowing that he or she will ultimately be in better shape because of it.
Jesus said something similar to his disciples. He had just told them that "he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." (Matthew 16:21). But the disciples would have none of that kind of talk. In fact, Peter had the nerve to scold Jesus for making such a statement.
Suffering and dying did not fit in with the disciples' ideas of what the Messiah should do. They wanted glory, but without dying. They wanted a crown, but not at the price of the cross.
Jesus quickly set them straight. There could be no crown of life unless Jesus went to the cross and died. No amount of gold or silver, and no amount of good deeds and hard work could ever get rid of sin's stain. Only one thing could: The life of the holy Son of God, a life he willingly gave for us on the cross (and took back three days later).
If we are to receive the crown of life in heaven, then Jesus had to endure the cross of Calvary. The price of salvation was steep indeed. No cross, no crown.
But Jesus had something more to say to his disciples about the connection between suffering and salvation. He went on to tell them, "If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me." Those who believe, trust in, and follow the One who went to the cross can also expect to suffer. For instance, a Christian pastor in Iran by the name of Youcef Nadarkhani has been sentenced to death and is currently awaiting execution. His crime? Leaving the religion of Islam and becoming a Christian. Thankfully, Christians don't face that kind of cross in our country. But nevertheless, it's often difficult to live a Christ-like life in an increasingly godless society.
Christians should not be surprised when they face ridicule or even death because of their faith. Jesus told us to expect that. When we do, we need to understand that our suffering doesn't result in our salvation. Actually, it's just the opposite: We suffer because we're saved. Suffering, no matter how severe or mild, is never pleasant. But the crosses we bear in life serve to drive us to the cross of Christ, where find forgiveness and strength.
No cross, no crown. Don't expect following Christ to result in a problem-free life of outward success. But do expect this: "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you a crown of life." (Revelation 2:10).
- Brent Merten is pastor of Mountain Valley Lutheran Church, 802 Brush Creek Terrace, Eagle.