1.To Reveal and Deter – Flavel writes, "I heartily wish that these searching afflictions may make the more satisfying discoveries; that you may now see more of the evil of sin, the vanity of the creature, and the fulness of Christ, than ever you yet saw."
2.To Produce Godliness and Spiritual Fruit – Flavel believed that the most fruit producing soil in our lives is the ground of suffering. "The power of godliness did never thrive better than in affliction."
3.To Reveal More of the Character of God – God reveals his kindness (hesed) and character by how He cares for us in the midst of our suffering. Flavel writes in reference to 2 Cor 12:9 (where Jesus says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”), “By exposing his people to such grievous sufferings, he gives a fit opportunity to manifest the glory of his power…and of his wisdom."
4. To Relinquish the Temporary for the Eternal – Too often we cling to things that have no eternal value, so God removes them from us even when it hurts. "Thy affliction is a fair class to discover [the creature's vanity]; for the vanity of the creature is never so effectually and sensibly discovered, as in our own experience of it."
5. To Produce a Sincere Faith, Devoid of Hypocrisy – Suffering reveals what we truly believe about the kind of person Jesus is. He says that in suffering we have "an opportunity to discover the sincerity of your love to God."
6. To Encourage Fellowship with God through Word and Prayer – In times of suffering, we should be drawn to the goodness of God and develop a deeper faith than we have ever known. Flavel writes this amazing line, where he says, "I am sure the sweetest melody of prayer is upon the deep waters of affliction."
7. To Bear Witness to the World – How believers live in the midst of their suffering will be a great witness of the reality of salvation and the goodness of God. Rather than hiding or running, we embrace what affliction can teach us. In The Touchstone of Sincerity he writes, "The frequent trials of grace…prove beyond all words or argument that religion is no fancy, but the greatest reality in the world."
8. To Cultivate Communion with Christ, the Greatest Sufferer – We have a God who not only walks with us through our suffering, but suffered Himself for salvation by taking our sin upon Himself. When we understand that Jesus cared enough to die the death we should have died, it should humble us and draw us into deeper relationship with Him. In The Method of Grace, Flavel writes, "In all your afflictions he is afflicted; tender sympathy cannot but flow from such intimate union."The Puritans, as a group, were unique in their understanding of our suffering and the goodness, sovereignty, and kindness of God. Today it seems as though the American church wants to run and hide from any theology that touches near the subject of suffering and pain. We are told that God’s job is only to bless you…and “bless” is defined as whatever makes you feel happy and fulfilled. On the contrary though, we know the truth is that God does bless us many times, but that blessing comes either in the midst of, or as a result, of suffering. God isn’t too small to allow pain into our lives, and He is big enough to walk us through it to grow us in our sanctified afflictions.
I know, I told you last week that the last blog was my last for our What in the World Part 2 series, but I had three people ask me the same question after Eric’s message last Sunday so I thought I would come back and answer it. If you missed Eric’s message you can listen/watch it here.
The question Eric answered on Sunday dealt with Jesus cursing a fig tree in Mark 11:12. Eric spoke about how Jesus came not to attack Rome, but the fruitless religion of His people and used the fig tree as a living example of that judgment. In the course of this answer, when reading Mark 11;12 (which says, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.”), Eric made the comment that this was a time in Jesus’ life where you saw the humanity of Jesus. He said that Jesus went to the tree because He was hungry and He “didn’t know that the tree was fruitless.”
I was asked if I also agreed with that statement, that “Jesus didn’t know.”
Let me say that I love and respect Eric’s theology…and…there are many scholars that love Jesus, see Jesus as sovereign, and have written the same thing Eric said…that this is a moment where you see Jesus living out his humanity. Michael Houdman of gotanswers.org says, “Upon coming to the tree expecting to find something to eat, Jesus instead discovered that the fig tree had no fruit on it…” Wayne Jackson writes, “One must conclude that this circumstance reveals that though he was deity, Jesus did not exercise the full range of his divine powers constantly. He did not know the details regarding this tree until he was in close proximity.” There is nothing wrong with this assessment and it is part of an orthodox view of Jesus.
You also should know that I view Jesus in a particular way, that I always look for a reason why He would do something that would make others question His knowing things in certain circumstances. I have a bias; my bias is that Jesus was always sure of everything. So how could the text that reads, “he went to see if he could find anything on it” be anything different than Jesus not knowing? This could be a great What in the World question!
First off Mark writes his gospel account with a particular bent, he wants to declare the identity and authority of Jesus; this account in Mark 11 would then be part of that. In the New American Standard translation it even says that Jesus went to see “if perhaps he could find anything.” The English standard version omits the “perhaps” and just says “if” then says “he could find anything.” The word for “if” or “if perhaps” is the word ara and it is a word that is there in order show someone wants to draw a conclusion. “He could find” is actually one word: heuriskō. Heuriskō means to come upon something in order to bring about knowledge. When putting these two words together it can be translated exactly as it is in the ESV or the NASB, or it could mean something deeper…that Jesus was hungry, but He intended to use that hunger in order bring His disciples to a conclusion that He wanted them to see.
I know, it all sounds very confusing so let me un-muddy it as best I can.
As Eric pointed out, this event takes place at the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life. At the end of this week Jesus would return true worship to His people by His death and resurrection. He is trying to get the disciples to see that God longs for a fruitful people that are completely His (again, please listen to all of Eric’s message as this will make sense in that context). At the end of verse 14, after Jesus curses the fig tree for its barrenness, Mark records these words, “And his disciples heard it.” I would contend that Jesus and the disciples were hungry. Jesus took them to this fig tree which had leaves on it for the purpose of showing them what false worship looks like. I would contend that the tree’s barrenness didn’t surprise Jesus, it was exactly what He needed before the events of the coming week took place in order to grow His disciples in their understanding of true worship.
Willian Lane wrote, “If the incident occurred in the period approaching Passover, the parenthetical statement in verse 13c is incontrovertible and suggests that Jesus had no expectation of finding edible figs. Events have meaning beyond their face value; they become significant as they are interpreted. The unexpected and incongruous character of Jesus’ action in looking for figs at a season when no fruit could be found would stimulate curiosity and point beyond the incident to its deeper significance.”
There is no theological quandary in viewing it either of the ways I have talked about, I just thought I would do well to answer the question that some of you had. Thanks for being part of our What in the World series.