Jesus The Suffering Servant

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.[John 12: 25]. 

This Biblical scripture has always confused me.  Why would anyone who loves their life lose their life?   Why would a man who hates his life keep it eternally?  It has always seemed to me to be some esoteric idea that is from a culture that is nothing like America or from a religion that is nothing like Christianity.   But I have never taken the time to read the scripture in the context of Jesus’ suffering or considered that the verses referred to Jesus as the “suffering servant”.   After many years of being confused, I think I finally have a better idea of what this scripture means.  John Stott’s Chapter 13 “Suffering and Glory” from The Cross of Christ concentrates on these verses and they finally make more sense to me.

My perplexity stems from the first sentence, “The man who loves his life will lose it.”  That sounds so extreme and I always assumed that it refers to making the ultimate sacrifice of dying for God but I should have read further and should have carefully considered the importance of the second verse.  Giving up one’s life for a cause is strange enough for someone from a western culture, but if one loves their life and loses their life that makes it even harder.  “The man who hates his life in this world adds new meaning to the first sentence.  Why would someone hate their life in this world?  Maybe the answer resides in the fact that they are merely passing through this world, on the way to their eternal home—God’s kingdom.  Real life occurs after this earthly life is over.

Jesus was (of course) the perfect model of suffering service.  He was chosen by God to show the power of gentleness, meekness and love for His fellow man.  When He was beaten, He did not retaliate.  When His beard was pulled out, He did not complain.  When He was spat upon, He did not react.  He had a mission and that was to bring Israel back to God and provide a light to all nations. 

Stott explains “What is particularly striking in this composite picture is that suffering and service, passion and mission belong together…. We see this clearly in Jesus, who is the suffering servant par excellence, but we need to remember that the servant’s mission to bring light to the nations is also to be fulfilled by the church” [Stott, 312].  Jesus’ mission is now our mission.   “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” [Matthew 28:19-20].

I find it very interesting that Stott focuses on Jesus’s agricultural metaphors to express his main point.   “Death is more than the way to life; it is the secret of fruitfulness.  Unless it falls into the ground and dies, the kernel of wheat remains a single seed.  If it stays alive, it stays alone but if it dies it multiplies” [Stott, 312]. 

When Jesus speaks of God being glorified in His death, He was not only speaking of Himself.  He wanted to communicate this concept to His disciples who followed Him and would also lose their lives for God.  But Jesus intended for all followers to understand this message. 

Stott admits that the role of the suffering servant is hardly ever taught today so maybe I am not alone in my confusion.   Stott writes that other ideas are more common.  For example, a preacher can experience death of popularity because they may be preaching an unpopular Biblical gospel.  A devout follower of Christ can experience death of pride due to the Holy Spirit encouraging them to be modest instead of self-centered.   Furthermore, God may inspire believers to forego material comfort in favor of a simple lifestyle. 

Even in these less severe examples, the servant must suffer some loss in order to bring light to others.  The seed must die if it is to multiply.

The idea of the suffering servant is the third way the cross relates to human suffering after patient endurance [October 20, 2022 St. John Studies] and maturity through suffering [October 29, 2022 St. John Studies].  Stott “pulls no punches” as he takes us through six possible answers about how God’s glory is displayed through Jesus’ suffering.  He describes the answers rising “gradually from the simplest to the most sublime.” 

Suffering service may not be the most “sublime” answer but it may be the most foreign to our culture. 

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” [John 12: 32].

If we follow Jesus, we know our best life will never be experienced in this world.  Even if we love our earthly lives, we should want to lose them because our best life is in heaven with God.  If we hate our life in this world, we know that a future life with God is our ultimate goal, our ultimate best life.  Why would we want to stay in this world and miss our best life?

Jesus suffers and the world is drawn to the light of His suffering …

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