What is the cost of being a disciple? Jesus makes it very clear that carrying our crosses is a condition of being a disciple. Mike “Gomer” Gormley examines the importance of suffering and explains why the cross is essential to discipleship.
Snippet from the Show
You cannot follow Christ without denying yourself and embracing suffering.
This Week’s Question
Why is carrying our crosses the condition of discipleship?
Jesus put His suffering and death at the heart of Christian life, not only in our salvation for us, but in our daily life. We will examine this cruciform life and seek to understand that without the cross, we are nothing.
- First, we studied the words and deeds of Christ to see how he modeled the Christian life for his disciples.
- Second, we studied the explicit teachings of Christ.
- Third, we applied what we had learned about Christ to ourselves. We want to be disciples of Christ Jesus and we can help other people become His disciples as well.
Part One: John 12
In John 12, Jesus offers an unusual monologue that is set in motion by something subtle, but absolutely important. As with any good character study, we need to keep in mind the wider context of John 12 with what surrounds it.
- Chapters 1-11 covers about 2.5 years of Jesus’ life and public ministry.
- Chapter 12 is the hinge of the Gospel and has three major plot points. First, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and Judas complains it wasn’t sold and given to the poor. He complains because he’s a thief and used to rob the Apostles’ treasury. Second, there is a plot to kill Lazarus. Third, Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphant.
- Chapters 12-19 give us Holy Week, and 20-21 gives us the Easter Season.
Now Comes the Subtle Moment
John 12:20-22 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa′ida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus.
John 12:23-25 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
John 12:26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
John 12:27-29 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
First, the Greeks are here. The truest outsider, even more so than the Samaritans or the poor of the land, and they want to see Jesus. Jesus is reconciling all people.
Second, verse 26 highlights the intensity and singularity of focus for our discipleship: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall by servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
Third, a mature discipleship puts the Kingdom ahead of the world. Christ’s enemies are those who love money or the esteem of others. This is why he says, “He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Part Two: The Condition of Discipleship
And now the major theme of this episode and the central component of Christian Discipleship that we all collectively hate because we are all human: the role of suffering in discipleship.
Jesus said, The grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die to bear fruit. Jesus is laying out the conditions of discipleship because he is laying out the terms he is willing to pay for our salvation.
The condition of our salvation is his suffering, but Jesus applies this to us. Remember what he said about servants in John 12:26: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.” He is going to Calvary with his cross. We, too, must follow. We, too, must be with him.
Part Three: Modernity and Suffering
The Venerable Fulton J Sheen starts his famous television show on the topic of suffering by this quote: “In America today, we have great material prosperity and greater inner discontent.” We are living a false philosophy of life. We keep telling ourselves that the infinite desires of the human heart can be appeased by finite, shifting, weak things. That is insanity.
Modernity is afraid of pain and suffering and we don’t know what to do with it when it befalls us, except to run from it. We do not listen to the wisdom of the ancients, nor less of Scripture, to understand pain and suffering. Suffering can become a refiner’s fire to the virtues of our soul and body, rendering us men instead of children. Making us pure, unalloyed souls.
There are two attitudes towards pain: rebellion and resignation. One sees it and hates it; the other sees it and accepts it. This was figured by the two thieves crucified alongside Christ.
As CS Lewis put it:
“Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some way or other ‘up against’ the real universe: he either rebels (with the possibility of a clearer issue and deep repentance at some other stage) or else makes some attempting at an adjustment, which, if pursued, will lead him to religion.”
Material blessings, as the Bible repeatedly shows in the life of Israel, can be dangerous. Money and other forms of wealth are not evil in themselves, but in a fallen world can so often become objects of love and ends in themselves. The masterful Lewis put it this way:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Three Levels of Resignation to Suffering
Level One (Philosophical): It is everywhere in this life. Your wealth and health will only delay its ability to overwhelm you, but it will catch you all the more unaware. You will suffer. The question is not what will it do to you? But rather, what will you do with it?
Level Two (Christological): Jesus Christ put suffering at the center of his mission on earth. He did not have to embrace the Cross, but rather he chose to.
Level Three (Sanctifying): Since it is unavoidable, and since our Blessed Lord chose the Cross, we should embrace suffering ourselves. In Christ, any and all suffering is now redemptive. Not just suffering for your faith, but all suffering, because Christ united all suffering to himself.
Part Four: Suffering and the Way
This question of suffering and evil is why many turn from God and doubt his existence. “How could a loving God allow such evil?” All religions and all philosophies of the world have their own ways of facing the problem of pain, but Christianity provides a unique solution in the form of God’s willingness to suffer, turning it redemptive and opening up eternal life to us.
As Fulton Sheen says, “The grapes of the vine will never become wine unless they are first crushed. So also, we will never become what we are meant to be unless we are first crushed by suffering.”
If we are to become disciples of Jesus Christ, then the road that we walk always ends at Calvary. Jesus said to us, “If anyone would be my disciple, let him first deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” CS Lewis says:
“We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. The first answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain… Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive.”
Five Lessons Suffering Teaches Us
Suffering teaches us maturity, as children live from pleasure to pleasure, men must understand that no great task, no great work, no great accomplishment can happen except through the struggle born out through pain.
Suffering teaches us humility. It forces us to confront our weaknesses and limitations.
Suffering teaches us compassion. As we become more attuned to our own pain, it teaches us to be attuned to others.
Suffering teaches us dependency on grace. When we unite our sufferings more closely to Christ crucified, we understand the depths of the love of God and his redemptive mission.
Suffering teaches us true theology. The inner life of the Blessed Trinity is revealed to be love and love is more than kindness, but a consuming fire. This “love” is not niceness. This love is as hard as nails.
Part Five: Embracing Suffering in Discipleship Makes you Untouchable
Luke 6:40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher.
John 15 Jesus says “I am the True Vine and my Father is the Vine Dresser.” The Father cuts down all that does not bear fruit and for those that bear fruit He prunes so it bears more fruit.
John 15:18-21 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me.
Romans 4:2-5 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 8:17-19 And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;
Colossians 1:24-25 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known…
Philippians 3:8-11 Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:5, 7 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. …Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
2 Timothy 1:7-9 Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,
2 Timothy 4:3-6 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.
Hebrews 2:9-10, 17-18 But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
Hebrews 5:7-11 In the days of his flesh, Jesus[a] offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchiz′edek.
1 Peter 2:20-22 For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 4:1-3 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.
1 Peter 5:9-11 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
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Meet Your Hosts
Michael “Gomer” Gormley
Michael spent 17 years in full-time parish ministry and is now the Mission Evangelist for That Man Is You!, a men’s apostolate for Paradisus Dei. Michael is a frequent speaker at conferences, retreats, and parish missions all over the US and Canada.
He is the founder and creative director of LayEvangelist.com, and hosts two popular Catholic podcasts: Catching Foxes and Every Knee Shall Bow.
He is married to his college sweetheart, Shannon, and has four beautiful and hilarious children: Kateri, Cecilia, Noah, and Thomas.
Dave VanVickle fell in love with the Lord at the age of fourteen and has since dedicated his life to bringing others into a radical relationship with Christ.
He is a speaker and retreat leader who focuses on proclaiming the universal call to holiness, authentic Catholic spirituality, spiritual warfare and deliverance. Additionally, Dave has over ten years of experience assisting Priests with their ministries of exorcism and deliverance.
Dave married his late wife Amber in 2010. He now resides in Pittsburgh with his five children: Sam, Max, Judah, Josie and Louisa.