When Jesus was crucified, He paved the way from the suffering, sin, and death of this life into the Kingdom of God. He became the way for all of us to follow Him into the light. In addition, He gave all of the pain we experience in our human existence new meaning and purpose.
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
Here, Paul is expressing joy in his sufferings (aka LOTS of persecution because of his faith). He says that his joy comes from the realization that when he offers up his persecutions and afflictions to God, he becomes a partner in Christ’s work on the Cross. Paul’s suffering took on a new meaning—it became a unique way for him to be part of God’s Kingdom.
The most powerful image of this way of suffering is Jesus’ death on the Cross. When Jesus was crucified, He wasn’t numb to the pain of the nails in His hands and feet; He wasn’t immune to the feeling of suffocation on the cross; He thirsted while hanging in the burning sun. Even through his dying process, Jesus did not curse those who killed Him—He forgave them. He even brought one of the sinners dying next to Him into Paradise that day. If we choose to suffer this way each day, we will become more and more like Jesus.
But, the journey didn’t end on the Cross for Jesus. After He lived a fully human, fully divine life, Jesus was resurrected from the dead! Obviously, this is GREAT news for us. Jesus’ Resurrection provides us with hope that our human suffering is not in vain and will one day cease. It also means that we can now have a personal relationship with Him, and He can walk with us through our lives. Who better to teach us how to live (and suffer!) in a way that glorifies the Lord than Jesus? After all, He has experiencesd it all and lived it perfectly.