This past weekend, the Vineyard Church of Delaware County held a men’s retreat. The retreat was entitled Courage. While I was unable to attend the full conference, I was there for several hours on Friday night. And it was the most powerful time I’ve ever spent with Christian brothers.
I went to the conference anticipating that I would hear from God in some form or fashion. And I did. But not in a way that I imagined. I expected to listen to one of the pastors speak. Instead, I was surprised to hear Dennis Stranges announce that we had a guest speaker: Jesus himself. For the next hour, over one hundred and fifty men sat together in silence as scriptures and minimal commentary were displayed on the overhead screens. The narrative was of Jesus’ life as he neared the time of his betrayal. It was a time of great tribulation for our Savior. But it was also a time of great courage. And it was during this time that Jesus modeled for us how we must handle trials in our own lives.
God himself, in the form of Jesus, was not murdered for our sins. His life was not taken from him. He gave it up freely for us. This is something that I have known for a very long time. But until this past Saturday, an important piece of truth was hidden from me. And that truth is that Jesus has to enact enormous restraint at all times.
When many of us picture Jesus during his last days, we picture a man who was helpless, one to whom God turned his back for a time. But that image of Christ is completely wrong. We need to remember that Jesus, even as he was following the Father’s will to his own death, was still fully God. During his last days, Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, falsely accused, humiliated, mocked, beaten, whipped and nailed to a cross. And at any point during that time, Jesus could simply have annihilated all who opposed him.
How did he do it? How did Jesus allow himself to be put through such trials? How did he keep his anger in check? How did he deal with the unimaginable suffering all the while knowing that he could simply stop it at any point? As God in flesh, Jesus gave up all his rights – for us, no less. And he did so because it was the will of his Father. And that is exactly what we are called to do.
I look at my own life right now in comparison. I am in a season of great suffering and trials. I am losing nearly everything that I hold dear to me. I am being wronged in so many ways. And how have I responded? How have I responded historically when I was wronged? In anger.
I am blessed in that I have not let anger rule me during this time. But I would be lying if I did not say that I have spoken far too many words in anger. Jesus, who suffered far more than I, did not respond to trials in anger. Not even once. And while much is being taken from me, Jesus gave up far more. God humbled himself as a man. And he allowed himself to die the death of a common criminal. He gave up his rights. He gave them up without a fight. And he did so because it was God’s will.
I know God’s will in my life right now. No, I do not know everything that I should do. But I know some things. And I know who I am to become. And my circumstances do not change that. And so I must learn to give up my rights. And I must do so without a fight. To do so is not, as some might say, rolling over. Would it have been harder for Jesus to give up his rights, or to act out against his aggressors? It took courage to follow God’s will to a place of humility. Power under control. That is the example that Christ set for us.
And that is the type of man I am to become."