Did anything actually change when Jesus ascended to his Father?

If Jesus hadn’t ascended to his Father after he was raised from the dead, nothing in this world of ours would have changed. We would have carried on as before, still stuck in the same old cycle repeating itself over and over again, of people just living and dying and disappearing into nothing, with no guarantee of a life after death. We’d also be stuck in the same old grim struggle for survival against odds we have never been able to conquer, like poverty, disease, violence, bullying, greed, insanity, and the suffering we cause each other by our inability to control our emotions. As a race we had no future. We’d have done the planet and each other a huge favour by becoming extinct long ago.

But something changed when Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” because, Acts 2:33, that’s when he “received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit.” And what the Holy Spirit then did was enable people to “save themselves from their corrupt generation” (verse 40), and “turn from their wicked ways” (3:26). The Spirit would provide humans with the ability to not be corrupt and wicked.

All of a sudden, then, the chance was being offered to us humans to break free of the unrelenting grip of wrong desires, and we wouldn’t want to bully people or manipulate others to our own advantage. A new type of human, therefore, would begin to appear, that showed remarkable similarities to the human Jesus, where love – not self – would become the driving force.

The one key proof, then, that the ascension happened is the Holy Spirit’s effect on the world. And the one key evidence of that Spirit’s effect is this new human that emerged – “clothed,” as Colossians 3:12 says, with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And where a group of these new humans mingled together they could be seen “bearing with each other and forgiving whatever grievances they may have had against one other” (verse 13).

The Holy Spirit’s effect can be seen playing out in very practical terms in these new humans’ marriages too, where husbands aren’t harsh with their wives (verse 19), and as Dads they don’t do anything to make their children feel discouraged (verse 21). These new humans would make great employers and employees too, because they’d treat each other with respect and fairness (3:22, 4:1).

Sounds very much like a different world to me, a breaking of the same old, mouldy, worn out cycle of human behaviour that saw no change at all up to the point of Jesus’ ascension. But with Christ’s ascension “old things passed away” and “new things have come,” 2 Corinthians 5:17, the clear evidence of which is the “new human” that has emerged since then, who is a pleasure to know.

“If only Jesus had NOT been raised from the dead…”

I imagine a lot of very bright, intellectual people have thought to themselves, “If only Jesus had not been raised from the dead,” because they’ve had to spend a lot of time in heated and often fruitless debate with Christians trying to win the argument that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

They’re up against a formidable wall, however, because Christians know Christianity rests or falls on whether Jesus was raised from the dead, or not. So with so much at stake Christians have used every tool and argument possible to prove Jesus’ resurrection was real. And that has put huge strain on human brainpower to refute that Christian claim, because how do you prove that billions of Christians through the ages have all been deluded?

On the other hand, maybe that’s not such a hard task, because more recent history has shown us that billions of people CAN be easily deluded. People en masse still vote for politicians, for instance, because they believe what politicians say is true. The shattering proof of our own experience, however, is that what politicians say and promise has little connection to what they do when voted into office, but people keep on voting for them anyway. Delusion is easy, then, when people want to believe something is true. But does that apply to Christians?

Well, awkwardly not, because Christianity didn’t begin with people wanting to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. According to the Biblical record, no one, not even Jesus’ closest friends and followers, believed he’d been raised from the dead. They totally dismissed it as nonsense, and even ignored eyewitnesses. And for the first few days no argument convinced them it was true.

Even when Jesus actually “appeared to two of them while they were walking in the country,” Mark 16:12, and they “reported it to the rest (of the disciples), they did not believe the news either,” verse 13. So later on when “Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating, he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen,” verse 14.

So Christianity itself got off to a really shaky start, because the idea of Jesus actually coming back from the dead at such a time was too fantastic for even Jesus’ followers to believe. And it was so disappointing that Jesus wasn’t the great Messiah they were hoping for, that several of the disciples went straight back to their fishing boats as if Jesus was dead and gone forever, and the story of Jesus would have faded away into nothing.

And for many critics of Christianity that would have been a much better ending to the Christian movement. But instead they’re stuck with all sorts of people who believe Jesus was resurrected, because what other plausible explanation is there for why this disconsolate, unbelieving group of disciples suddenly believed Jesus really had risen from the dead – and put their lives on the line to spread the news of it too?

And what has made billions more people through the ages believe it’s true too? Is it the simple question, that “Without Jesus’ resurrection what would be the point of our human existence?” I wonder how the brightest of the intellectual elite, and the best of their brainpower, would answer that question too.

Rise up Christians, the war is won

Colossians 2:15 tells the world and all its venomous purveyors of evil, both human and spirit, that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” In other words, the war against evil has been won.

And Jesus’ resurrection proved it. Hate-filled people and evil spirits used every trick in the book to get him killed – false accusations, a kangaroo court, mob madness, corrupt politicians, and all the usual stuff we see repeated today to twist good into bad – and only three days later, in the greatest triumph ever, Jesus came back to life again. 

No wonder Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And “the one” Jesus is talking about in that verse is now himself, because on coming back to life again, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” Matthew 28:18

But this was the “reason the Son of God appeared,” 1 John 3:8 – “to destroy the devil’s work.” And now in his resurrected state he has all the powers of the heavenly realm at his disposal to do it. And he’s displaying that power and making it known through us, his disciples, who, knowing that “we are children of God” means he will “keep us safe” so that “the evil one cannot touch us,” 1 John 5:18.  

So rise up Christians, the war is won. “The world (for now) is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), so expect evil to hate us like it hated Jesus, and it will keep on trying to destroy us, but only in our bodies, never our souls. Our souls live on, eternally safe and indestructible.

We also know in Romans 6, that if we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, joining him in the crucifixion of our bodies – in our case the crucifixion of our old selves ruled by the evil one (verse 6) – we are “certainly united with him in his resurrection,” verse 5, so what have we got to lose? Because as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:6, we are already “raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms, and in Colossians 3:3, our lives are “NOW hidden with Christ.” 

So when Paul says in Ephesians 5:11, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them,” what are we afraid of? 

Physically speaking, exposing evil can be a frightening prospect, as we’ve seen in the reaction of the powers that be to those even hinting that the measures mandated during the Covid pandemic have done more harm than good. But Christians recognize evil when they see it, and know the source of it too, that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” Ephesians 6:12.

But our Christian defence against such evil is simple. It’s just three words, “He is risen,” and we, the billions of his disciples worldwide, are risen with him, with nothing to lose in this life but our bodies, which one day die anyway. 

So how do we expose evil without resorting to evil ourselves? In 1 John 5:4, John tells us that “everyone born of God has overcome the world.” How? “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” 

But faith in what exactly? Verse 5: “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” And it’s that undying belief in his disciples that Jesus is the living, indestructible, resurrected Son of the mighty God of the universe and beyond, that constantly proves to evil that it has lost the war against God. And try as it might to wipe out the good people and wreck the plan of God to restore our world with his kingdom instead, the powers of evil cannot destroy those through whom Jesus is doing that restoring. 

So rise up Christians, the war is won, and it’s our belief in that, that makes us fearless, no matter what happens to us physically.   

Why is the cross so important to Christians? 

In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul told the Corinthians “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and him crucified.” And later, to the Galatians, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Galatians 6:14. But why was the cross so important to Paul? 

His letter to Timothy gives us a clue. In 1 Timothy 1:12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord,” because “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” verse 13, but (thankfully) “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst,” verse 15. And what a change that had made in his life, to the point he was now personally experiencing Jesus “giving me strength, considering me trustworthy, and appointing me to his service,” verse 12.

In other words, it was going through the experience of knowing what he was before he understood the cross, and what he’d become because of the cross that had made the cross so real to Paul. The change in him had been dramatic, and there was only one source of it, “The grace of our Lord being poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” verse 14

And what made this even more real to Paul was realizing “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” 2 Timothy 1:9-10. In other words, this had always been God’s plan, before we even existed as humans, to make Jesus the one who could rescue us from whatever mess we made of our humanity. Jesus, would be our guarantee, that if we broke down we could and would be repaired. 

And Paul was the perfect example of that. Despite having the best religious training available he still broke down into a blaspheming, violent man “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” Acts 9:1. If he’d had his way we’d have no knowledge at all of what Jesus came for, or any personal experience of Jesus repairing us. 

But Jesus died to “unite us with him in his death,” so that “our old self” could be “crucified with him,” and the messed up “body of sin” we were stuck in “might be rendered powerless,” Romans 6:5-6. And Paul could say that because he’d experienced it. His “evil desires” (verse 12) against Christians and Christianity had evaporated. He’d experienced a literal “dying to what had once bound him,” Romans 7:6

It was remarkable, and shocking too, to those who’d known what Paul was like before (Acts 9:13, 21). But this is what Jesus accomplished through the cross, so that Paul could now teach through personal experience that we humans can “put off that old self of ours, so corrupted by its deceitful desires” and “be made new in the attitude of our minds, putting on a new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” Ephesians 4:22-24.

God made it possible “in Christ Jesus” to have our old nature and the stuff we hated in it killed off on Jesus’ cross, so that we could experience having a “new nature,” Colossians 3:10, that constantly grows too, “as we learn more about our Creator and become like him.”

No wonder Paul wrote in Galatians 6:15, “what counts is a new creation,” because this is what God planned for us to be. It took the cross to make it possible, but what a guarantee of his love and commitment that he’d go to that length to repair the wreckage in our lives and restore us back to what he created us to be. 

Which is why the cross is so important to Christians.

We “take up a cross” too, but how? 

In Luke 9:23 Jesus told his disciples, “If you wish to become one of my disciples then it means denying yourselves, taking up a cross daily, and following me.”

But what did Jesus mean by that? Well, dissecting that verse bit by bit, it was a huge honour, first of all, for a Jew in Jesus’ day to become a disciple of a famous rabbi. It was also a huge responsibility. To quote one source, “Disciples would live with the rabbi twenty-four hours a day, walking from town to town, teaching, working, eating, and studying. They would discuss the Scriptures and apply them to their lives. The disciples were also supposed to be the rabbi’s servants, submitting to his authority while they served his needs. Indeed, the word ‘rabbi’ means ‘my master,’ and was a term of great respect” (‘Discipleship in the context of Judaism in Jesus’ time’ Part 1, page 217)

So that covers the “denying yourselves” bit, because a disciple meant having to give up job and family to dedicate his life to his rabbi. But what about “taking up a cross daily”? What does that mean?

There’s a clue in verses 24-25 when Jesus adds, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

From Jesus’ perspective, gaining the whole world doesn’t compare to what he has to offer. According to his teaching, the best thing for you and me cannot be found in anything in this world, or in trying to preserve and fill our lives by what the world has to offer. 

That’s quite a statement, and especially when Jesus compares what he has to offer instead to “taking up a cross.” Because a cross to a Jew of Jesus’ day meant pain, humiliation and death. To take up or carry a cross meant you were opening yourself up to public ridicule, contempt, and even hatred. But according to Jesus that would not remotely compare to the awful loss to oneself of choosing anything above him, including one’s own family (Luke 14:25-27). 

And why would that be? Because we’ve learnt from bitter experience that there’s nothing in this world that can stop the madness. Year after year we do terrible things to each other, and we live much of our own daily lives in subjection to our weaknesses, frustration, and slavery to our emotions – and with no solution in sight or the means to stop it either.

But Jesus showed us there is a solution. It’s taking up a cross, which he pictured in his own life as giving up his life for others. He emptied himself of all personal ambitions and the desire to impress, and chose a life of service, tenderness and compassion instead, even if it killed him (Philippians 2:3-8).  

And the proof that such a life worked was his resurrection from the dead and “exaltation by God to the highest place” (Philippians 2:9). Oh, so it’s God who notices, God who appreciates such a life, and God who rewards it. To take up a similar cross willingly and daily, then, has God’s appreciative attention too, as we see in the life of Cornelius in Acts 10:1-4. 

Jesus lived the solution to our madness, and then, remarkably, by making us his disciples, he enables us to live and learn that solution too. And, as Paul realized, it has everything to do with taking up a cross daily, or as he phrased it in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” 

So how do we take up a cross daily? By Christ living everything that he lived in us, and depending on him faithfully doing that for us, every day.  

“The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”

The above is a quote from Paul In Galatians 6:14, which came to mind when thinking about the mess our world is in right now and how we Christians react to it. 

Does the first part, for instance – “The world has been crucified to me” – mean we don’t care about what happens to people, or to the planet? Is it all just dead to us? I’ve often found myself thinking that this world is merely an illusion, or an ugly dream that has to happen, but one day it will all be over and real life begins. So why take an interest in what’s going on, or get involved, because what difference can I make? The world will carry on in its self-destructive ways, with or without me.

And didn’t Jesus hint at this too when he said, “Let the dead bury their dead” in Luke 9:60? Did he too view the world as a lifeless corpse? In which case why would his disciples waste any time even thinking about it, let alone getting involved in it or following its traditions? 

And maybe that has huge appeal to those who believe we’re off to heaven forever and we’re leaving this mess behind. But in context Galatians 6:14 starts off with, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So boasting was what stirred Paul to write this verse. It’s written to those who “want to make a good impression outwardly,” verse 12, by their coercive efforts to have everyone circumcised, much like people during the pandemic pushing to get everyone vaccinated. Because in both cases it gave the impression that they, the pushers and demanders, were the ones who truly cared.   

But Paul wasn’t the least bit interested in trying to impress people. That kind of self-righteous, “I’m on higher moral ground than you,” had no appeal to him. That world was dead to him. He wasn’t trying to be something or be a notable somebody, because if Jesus hadn’t been crucified he was a lifeless corpse too. He was nothing without the cross. He’d be like every other human being, clanking and wobbling along a conveyor belt like so many drink bottles, completely oblivious to any purpose or plan to human life – and then die and disappear.   

And how embarrassing that all this boasting by the “holier than thou” crowd was actually to “avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ,” verse 12, just like people who went along with the prevailing narrative during the pandemic to avoid being picked on for questioning or challenging it.

No wonder Paul boasted in the cross, because Jesus’ death had freed him from being driven by what people thought of him, or the impression he was making on them. That awful world of fragile egos and obsessive selfie-images that divided and destroyed people was dead and crucified to him. 

But what about the second part of Galatians 6:14, “and I to the world”? Did that too mean Paul didn’t care, or that he was oblivious to what was happening to people? In context, however, he was talking about “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation,” verse 15

Paul was dead and crucified to anything but the new creation that Jesus’ death on the cross had opened up to people. Because it was a whole new world that people could experience, rather than arguing endlessly about who’s right and who’s wrong, or who holds the higher moral ground. 

Paul deeply cared for people, which is why he suffered hugely to get that message of good news to them, of a world that’s so much better than the world we worship and the gods we create and depend on. And it’s ours to experience because of the cross, so that we become “a new creation,” because isn’t that what the world needs to see – it’s people who aren’t driven by what divides and destroys us.   

What would have happened if Jesus hadn’t been crucified?

In Hebrews 9:26 Jesus came “to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself,” a sacrifice needed just “once to take away the sins of many people,” verse 28

According to Scripture, then, if Jesus had not been crucified we’d all still be stuck with sin – sin being defined by Paul in Ephesians 2:3 as “doing whatever suits the wishes of our own bodies and minds,” Adam and Eve being the first to get that ball rolling, and none of us since being able to stop it (Romans 3:23). 

The results of that can be seen clearly in the Old Testament, in relentless and groaning detail in the lives of the Israelites. No matter what God did to bless them or warn them, they were incapable of resisting the wishes of their bodies and minds. 

All the Israelites were not like that, though. They had good people among them, like King David, and even good times too, like the reign of Solomon when the nation prospered and was held in high regard by others. And we in the West have experienced several decades of relative peace too, with some of our nations being a huge help to others. And when crises strike many good people surface to do all they can to help. 

But it’s one crisis after another, isn’t it? Just when a pandemic looks like it’s over, thanks to many good people trying their very best to help the weak or prevent people getting ill in the first place, another crisis opens up, like the war between Russia and Ukraine. And all this is happening AFTER Jesus was crucified too, so how much worse would it have been had he NOT “triumphed” over evil “by the cross” (Colossians 2:15)?  

Well, God told us how bad it would be in Deuteronomy 31. He knew exactly what would happen. People would follow the same rut Adam and Eve trod, of trusting evil rather than God. And the Israelites would fall for it too. After the good man Moses died, God knew the Israelites would “soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they’re entering,” verse 16. God would then “become angry with them,” verse 17, resulting in “many disasters and difficulties coming on them,” and the people crying out, “Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?” 

And for the next 1,300 years or so that’s exactly what happened, including the entire kingdom of Judah being destroyed in 587 B.C. by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. The temple in Jerusalem was looted and burnt down, the city walls flattened, and most of the Jewish people deported to several sites around the Babylonian Empire. It was a monumental disaster. 

And that dreadful threefold cycle of Israel abandoning God, God becoming angry, and disasters taking a massive toll, would have continued all the way up to “the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” Romans 2:5. God’s wrath would also have remained unassuaged and unabated on anyone else who put their wishes of mind and body and the gods of this world before God too (Romans 1:18). This, then, would have been our world if Jesus had not been crucified. 

And there was nothing we could do about it either. God in his anger would have “given (us all) over to the sinful desires of our hearts,” Romans 1:24, and even his law would be powerless against our sinful nature (8:3). We’d be dead in the water with no help in sight. 

But can we leave the story there? Yes, and why not, when scripture tells us clearly what would have happened if Jesus hadn’t been crucified. We were all “objects of God’s wrath headed for destruction,” Romans 9:22. Or put another way, we were all on an unstoppable train thundering through the darkness heading for a cliff (Romans 6:21). 

”What must I do to be saved?”

In Acts 16:30 a jailer asks this rather desperate question after an earthquake frees all the prisoners he’d been told to “guard carefully” in verse 23. He was so frightened that “he drew his sword and was about to kill himself” (verse 27), but Paul yelled out, “Don’t harm yourself (for) we are all here” (verse 28).

Despite the fact that none of this was the jailer’s fault and none of the prisoners had run off, the jailer knows this is a death sentence for him. Paul and Silas had already been “stripped, beaten and severely flogged” (verses 22-23) for throwing the city of Philippi into an uproar, which could have brought the wrath of Rome crashing down on them. So Paul and Silas had been charged with being a serious threat to security, and because of it been locked in foot stocks in a maximum security inner cell with no chance of escape. 

No wonder the jailer cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” – because what could he do? He’d be treated like a sentry who fell asleep allowing the enemy to sneak through. Or the servant who forgot to check if the king’s drink was poisoned. He was a dead man for sure, and so were the rest of his family. 

So why ask “What must I do?” – when his first reaction was to pull out his sword to kill himself, knowing there was nothing he could do to save himself. What prompted him to ask at all, then, “What must I do to be saved” when there was no “must do” he could do to save himself, and he knew it?

Was all this orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, therefore, to get the point across that there is nothing any of us can do, or must do, to be saved? Because here’s a memorable story about a man who realizes he’s facing a death sentence and there is nothing he can do to prevent it. 

And that, to Paul, was the perfect starting point for getting his message across, that there IS a way “to be saved” for people who recognize they’re dead in the water because of what they’ve been or done. And what was that way? It was the same way Paul had been telling people wherever he went. It was the great news, that despite what people had been or done in their lives, “believing in the Lord Jesus,” verse 31, guaranteed their salvation, and in the jailer’s case, the salvation of his doomed family too. 

From Scripture Paul then explained all this to the jailer and “to all the others in his house” (verse 32). So this was clearly what Scripture said, and going through it time and time again with people finally got Paul to write it down in Ephesians 2

And it all starts with where the jailer was at, with the recognition that we’re all “dead in our transgressions and sins,“ Ephesians 2:1. Like the jailer, we all faced a death sentence because of what we’d been or done in our lives – or, as Paul phrased it in verses 2 and 3 – because of the way we “used to live, following the ways of this world.…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” And because of it we brought the “wrath of God” crashing down on us (verse 3), just like the wrath of Rome would come crashing down on the jailer. 

“But,” verse 4 – and this is what Paul so wanted people to understand – it’s “because of God’s great love for us” that, verse 5, he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” So, saving us from our death sentence had already been done before we even knew we were dead, to get the point across that it’s “by grace you have been saved.” We have no worries about what “we must do to be saved,” therefore, when what needed to be done to save us was done by God through Jesus (verse 7). And to hammer that point home, Paul adds that all of this is “God’s gift” to us, verse 8, and we contribute nothing (verses 9 and 10). 

When the jailer got Paul’s point, he and his “whole family” were “filled with joy, because they had come to believe” it, Acts 16:34. No more wondering what they must do to be saved; just believing what God had already done to save them through Jesus. And a salvation that far exceeded escaping a physical death too. This was salvation from a forever death, that the jailer didn’t even know existed, and wouldn’t have known if the Holy Spirit hadn’t allowed – or caused – Acts 16 to happen. 

And we now have an answer to “What must we do to be saved” too.

Carrying each other’s burdens

In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (loving one another, John 15:12).”

Taking all our own burdens to God is what Paul highly recommends in Philippians 4:6, because God answers with peace. But here in Galatians Paul extends that to taking other people’s burdens to God too, because God answers with healing and peace for them as well (“pray for each other, so that those we pray for may be healed,” James 5:16). 

It made me wonder just how many burdens I’ve been given relief from because of other people going to God on my behalf. Some of those people I know about because they told me they’re praying for me, but I wonder how many people through the years have asked God without me knowing, that he would “guard my heart and mind” (Philippians 4:7) when I was going through stressful times, or carrying a heavy emotional load, and my prayers for myself at the time were sporadic and muddled.

But Jesus set that precedent back in John 17:15 when he said, “My prayer is not that you (Father) take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” And to Peter in Luke 22:32 he said, “I have prayed for you Simon (Peter), that your faith may not fail” when Satan was out to get him (verse 31). Jesus knew the weight of evil that would press down on Peter – and on all his disciples through the ages – so he took that to God in his prayers on their behalf. 

And look at the power of Jesus’ prayers too: Hebrews 7:25 says, “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them.” Carrying our burdens is what Jesus lives for and does “completely.” But that’s always been the job of a High Priest, from the time of Aaron taking all the burden of Israel’s sin into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement and having that burden lifted off Israel (Hebrews 9:7), to Jesus now being our High Priest forever (Hebrews 7:24) doing the same thing for us. 

Right now, and every day, Jesus is “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1), “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” Hebrews 4:16. Or as Jesus said publicly in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” As our High Priest Jesus lives to do that for us. It’s what High Priests do. 

And it’s what his prayers for us as our High Priest do too, which is enable us to “Love each other as I have loved you,” John 15:12, because we’re in training to become priests too. In 1 Peter 2:5 we “are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood,” so just like Jesus we can carry the burdens of others and through our prayers take the weight of them so that people aren’t overwhelmed by them. 

And that extends to our enemies too. Rather than condemn and hate them, we can actually “love” them and “pray for those who persecute us,” Matthew 5:44. Because they are the ones being weighed down by evil, not us. They are the ones who desperately need help, and we’re the ones in a position to help them, because that’s what God made us his children for (verse 45). 

And Paul experienced amazing things happening to him as a result of “you helping us by your prayers,” 2 Corinthians 1:11. I can see why he wrote in Romans 15:30, “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers” who had it in for him, because he knew the power of people’s prayers on his behalf. 

So, if all this is exactly what God intended, can we expect amazing things to happen for others too? Look what happened to Peter in Acts 12, for instance, when ”the church was earnestly praying to God for him,” verse 5. It really made me think about those in my own family and their burdens, and what amazing things God would love to do for them when I carry their burdens to him.  

“Pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up,” Ecclesiastes 4:10 says. But what a discovery when we do have friends willing to carry our burdens, and God answers their prayers because of it too.

Sharing in his sufferings

In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and fellowship (with Jesus) in the sharing of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow (or “in one way or another”), attain to (or experience) the resurrection from the dead.” 

So, according to Paul’s wish, if we suffer and die like Jesus we can then experience being resurrected from the dead like Jesus too. Paul makes a similar statement in 2 Corinthians 4:10-11, that “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”

And Paul was saying that from experience – on both counts, both the  suffering and death, and being raised from the dead – because in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 he writes: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure. We expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.

So Paul experienced very personally the suffering and death Jesus experienced, but also the amazing experience of being brought back to life when all seemed lost and his suffering had become unbearable.

And that put Paul very much in “fellowship” with Jesus. But what a place that is, because in Mark 14:33-34 Jesus was so “deeply distressed and troubled” that he reached the point of crying out, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” 

So even he, Jesus, was “crushed and overwhelmed beyond his ability to endure.” But not surprisingly, when he also knew what he was in for from Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. And here he was at the very point of having his “heart melting away within me” (Psalm 22:14) as he experienced the crushing weight of all evil suffocating the very life out of him (Isaiah 53:5, 8, 10).

But why on earth would Paul wish for that kind of suffering to happen to him too? Because when it happened to Jesus, Jesus experienced the power of God. When Jesus took the weight of all evil on himself and evil crushed and overwhelmed him, God raised him from the dead, enabling Jesus from that point on to deliver millions of people from the crushing weight of evil on them.  

And Paul wanted “fellowship” with that, so the same thing could happen to him. As he explained in 2 Corinthians 1:6, “If we are distressed it is for your comfort and salvation, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” Paul could say to people with absolute confidence that God would get them through their suffering, no matter how crushing and overwhelming, because that’s what had happened to him. He was as good as dead, but he experienced being raised from the dead too. 

Or, as he phrased it in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” In other words, “we suffered so you’d have the confidence, seeing God raise us from the dead, that you could receive the same power too. And when other people see that happening to you, they might want the same thing happening to them.” 

That’s why Paul could say in Colossians 1:24, “I fill up my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” In other words, what Christ suffered was meant to have a huge continuing impact on many other people, as they too feel they’re as good as dead in their suffering, but then experience being raised from the dead too. And Paul’s life was proof of it, so that others would pick up on it and want “fellowship” with it too. 

You might say it’s our turn now, then, that, in our suffering from the crushing weight of evil, the power of Jesus raising us from the dead can be seen in our bodies. Because that’s exactly what Jesus knew would happen from his suffering, that “He will see the result of the suffering of his soul, the light of life” (Isaiah 53:11). The result being, that many more people will experience “the light of life” and being raised from the dead and “knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection” too, just like Paul.