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Rethinking Suffering Under the Cross

Sermon Theme: What Should I Do About Suffering?

Suffering is a part of life. Living in a sinful world means that there will be hardships for people to go through, pains for us to endure. In Romans 5:1-11, Paul gives us some advice concerning our sufferings. Paul answers the question “What Should I Do About Suffering?” in an almost unthinkable way.

There hasn’t been a single person that has ever walked the face of this planet that hasn’t been forced to consider the question – What Should I Do About Suffering?” And for the vast majority of us, it’s a question that is considered often.

Suffering is a part of life. Living in a sinful world means that there will be hardships for people to go through, pains for us to endure. That means that like it or not, you will have to ask (and answer) the question What Should I Do About Suffering? So, “how are you going to answer?”

There are lots of answers out there. Some people choose to just ignore their suffering. They think: “If I just pretend that it isn’t there in my mind and then maybe it will start to shrink away in reality as well!” Some go the opposite way and fixate on their sufferings. It’s all they can think about, day and night, until they are barely able to function at all. Their sufferings consume them like a hungry hippopotamus. Some people try to drown their pain away by drinking alcohol excessively, others try numb themselves through the use of pills or drugs. Some try to make themselves feel better by blaming their struggles on others. Some try dragging others into the same pain that they are enduring thinking “If I can’t be happy, at least someone else will be unhappy with me” as if there is some sort of comfort in company. Others fume in anger at the injustice: “Why do I have to endure all this pain, when those people over there are living easy and happy lives?” Some wallow in grief like a pig in the mud and then they wonder why they are teetering on the edge of despair.

In today’s Second Reading, Paul gives us some advice concerning our sufferings. Paul’s advice is not like any of the world’s proposals. Not even close! Paul answers the question What Should I Do About Suffering? in an almost unthinkable way. He says quite simply: “Rejoice!”

“How can he say that?” “How can Paul say ‘rejoice, revel, glory in suffering?’” Either Paul is crazy or he doesn’t know what pain really is! But neither one of those suggestions about Paul is true! He’s not crazy! His words actually come directly from God! And he does, in fact, know what real pain is. If you need proof of that, maybe just take a stroll again through the closing chapters of the book of Acts. It jumps off the pages, the number of times that he was ridiculed and rejected, accused and abandoned, pursued and persecuted, beaten and bloodied, scarred and stoned. He was imprisoned in some towns, dragged out of others, and left for dead. He was put in pain and in peril, all on account of the message of Christ that he proclaimed, a ministry that he finally gave his life for. Paul knew much more than a thing or two about pain. He was the posterchild for Christian suffering. He bore crosses that are heavier than most of us will ever be asked to carry, and he did it willingly.

And even knowing all that…Even in the face of all that pain, Paul tells us to follow his lead and rejoice in our suffering. “How in all this painful and pitiful world am I supposed to do that?!?” My pain is real! I know yours is, too. The searing pain of betrayal, like a knife to the back, the sharp shards that cut deep as a broken relationship slips away. There’s great pain in physical ailments and chronic diseases. There’s trauma in the news of a life-altering illness. There are the hopeless feelings of not being good enough, the emotional struggles of our own shortcomings. The powerlessness of struggling with an addiction. There’s the heavy hollowness of experiencing the loss of a loved one. We could stay here for hours cataloging the pains that we all go through living life in this world. It’s different for all of us, but this much is the same: The struggle is real and life can be just plain hard!

Paul is not being flippant or idealistic when he tells us to glory in our sufferings. We can boast in them, we can rejoice because we understand something that others in the world just don’t understand. God is up to something in our lives! He’s not just randomly dispensing hardships like they are shrapnel from an exploding bomb. God has a reason for all that he does and all that he allows into our lives.

God had a reason for the hardships that he allowed into Job’s life. He was drawing him closer to himself and making him stronger in the process. God had a reason for the persecutions and trials that the Christians in Rome experienced, not the least of which is that they gave Paul the opportunity and the platform to address them, and through them us, with these words of comfort: We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

God is up to something in your life. It might be obvious, or it might be something you have to wait until heaven to ask God about. But God is working something in your life, something for your benefit. Perhaps he is drawing you closer to himself, making you stronger, or giving you an opportunity to better serve others in the future. We might not always see it so clearly, but God does!

Paul’s words continue: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. There’s a whole sermon in those 17 words, but I’m halfway through this one so we’ll stick to just the highlights. At just the right time: God’s timing is always perfect! What an incredible reminder for the hurting, for the downtrodden! Your suffering isn’t because God is asleep at the wheel! It’s not because God has forgotten about you or your situation. His timing is always perfect. God is in control and he’s working for your good! when we were still powerless: There was nothing that we could do to come to God. We’ve considered many of our weaknesses and frailties, but we haven’t yet hit the biggest one– that we are incapable of living life up to God’s standards. We are sick with a debilitating disease called sin and it leaves us with the biggest hurt and deepest hopelessness, until…Christ died for the ungodly: We were as far away from God as a person can get and as undesirable as a person can be, but that’s when Christ came to us. He desired that we be close to him, here and forever. He desired that we have forgiveness and healing and hope. And how did he accomplish that?…by suffering… by suffering for the sins of the world…by taking our ungodliness, and our arrogance and our unbelief and paying the dear price that we owed…by giving up his heaven and experiencing our hell…by showing us an out of this world kind of love. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus shows us a love that is rarely seen in this world. People just don’t normally give up their lives for someone else. There are a few examples that you could come up with of people who have shown heroic love for someone else, but those are certainly the exception and not the rule. It is absolutely unheard-of that someone would give their life to save an enemy. Except Jesus. That’s exactly what he has done for us. He’s shown us an out of this world kind of love – one that is extraordinary and 100% undeserved. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

 Good Friday shows us the extent of God’s love for us, that he was willing to give up his Son, that Jesus was willing to suffer bitterly so that we could be spared from the wrath of hell. Easter shows us God’s love as well, that the payment price has been accepted and that in Jesus’ life we too have life – here to live for God and there to live with God in glory forever.

This life that we live is not defined by our hardships. It’s not about finding the most comfort or earthly peace. It’s about the connection with God that he has secured for us. It’s about lost ones being found by him, weak ones being made strong, the hopeless being given an unshakable foundation. It’s about the lifeless living, the guilty being declared innocent and sinners being forgiven. It’s about the undeserved love, that only God can give, being given to us in fullest measure. …we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Does it make sense now? Boasting in sufferings? If God is in control of my life, and if his timing is always best, and if his power knows no limits and if his love goes even farther, and if all things are a blessing for me, and if he has defeated my greatest enemy and if he has taken away the eternal unbearable suffering that I deserve, and if God is up to something in my life and if nothing can separate me from his love… and because all those “ifs” are reality in Christ, then would I want my life any other way?

What Should I Do About Suffering? I can boast, glory, and rejoice, in God and yes, even in my sufferings, because in Christ I have all that I need. In him I have forgiveness, in him I have peace, in him I have everlasting life. God strengthens our bodies and minds to endure the temporary pains of this world and all the while he points our eyes heavenward, to the perfect and pain-free existence that awaits us, at Jesus’ side in glory. All of this is ours in Christ! All of this…All of this is reason for us to rejoice! Amen.

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