The Identifying Christ
John Telgren

I remember reading an essay several years about the suffering of God. The title shocked me. Looking back, I am not sure where I got the idea that God does not suffer. Unlike some religions which claim that god is incapable of suffering, or that god is an impersonal force and that suffering is all in the imagination, the true God of the Bible not only suffers, but he also identifies with our own suffering. I am not sure where I initially got the idea that God does not suffer. I supposed if I had spent more time reading my Old Testament when I was younger, I would have known better. If I had considered more closely the identity of Christ, I would have seen that God does indeed identify with the suffering of humankind. Nowhere is this demonstrated more than in the person of Jesus Christ himself. As the incarnation of God, Jesus identified fully with our humanity.

In John 11, Jesus suffers the death of someone dear to him. Lazarus died and was buried while Jesus was away. When he returned, he was greeted with mourning, tears, grief and wailing. I had only been to one funeral before where there was a lot of wailing. You could just feel the anguish and the grief in the air. No one held it back. When Jesus saw the distress and agony of those that were dear to him, he himself wept as well. I find it interesting that he never scolded Martha or Mary for crying. They believed that Lazarus would rise from the dead at the resurrection, but not that Jesus could bring Lazarus back from the grave to the land of the living. Yet Jesus did not rebuke them. He did not tell them to stop weeping. He did not minimize their pain. Instead, he wept with them. Even though Jesus had the power to bring Lazarus back, and would do so, he still identified with their sorrow. After doing so, he demonstrated the glory of God in showing that he was indeed the resurrection and the life by bring Lazarus back from the dead.

If we are disciples of Jesus, then we not only listen to his teachings, we follow his example. Paul made it clear that the Gospel, which is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, was a pattern for life. We are crucified and risen with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom 6). As imitators of Christ, doesn't he call us to identify with other people as well so that we can bring them to God? Paul understood this, which is probably why he writes that he identified with others and "became all things to all men" so that he could save some (1 Cor 9:22). In doing such, he became a "fellow partaker" in the Gospel (1 Cor 9:23), which means he has followed in the footsteps of Christ in identifying with those he is bringing the Gospel to. For humanity, Jesus became flesh and lived among us so that we could behold the glory of God (Jn 1:14). To those without the law, Paul became like one without the law so that he could save them (1 Cor 9:21). This is identification.

In his example through the Gospel, Jesus calls us to identify with others, whether it is ethnic, social, economic, etc., so that we might save them.