Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church, December 17, 2017
“Our Suffering and the Cross”
Fifth of five sermons on ‘The Meaning of Christ’s Cross’
Scripture: Job 1:13-22 and 1 Peter 4:12-16
The painful reality of human suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith. The frequency, degree and unjust distribution of suffering causes peopel to ask how suffering can be reconciled with God’s love and justice.
On Sunday, November 1,1755, Lisbon Portugal was devastated by an earthquake. Within six minutes 18000 buildings were destroyed, including thirty churches, and 90,000people killed. One of the many people stunned by this disaster was the French philosopher Voltaire. He questioned the devastating injustice of such a tragedy in his Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon,which asked why, if God is free, just all-powerful and benevolent, do humans suffer under His rule? Voltaire was probing the familiar conundrum that God is either not good or not almighty. Either God wants to stop suffering but cannot, or God could but will not. Whichever it is, how can we worship God?
however, the problem of suffering is far from being limited to philosophers. It strikes nearly all of us in numerous ways: (1) Suffering may be the result of a childhood deprivation resulting in lifelong emotional turmoil; (2) Suddenly and without warning we are overtaken by a devastating illness, termination from work, or grief from the death of a loved one. Or perhaps, (3) we arr afflicted by involuntary singleness, a broken love affair, an unhappy marriage, divorce, depression, or loneliness. Suffering come in numerous unwelcome forms, and sometimes we not only ask God,”Why me?”, but like Job in the Old Testament, we are swift to accuse God of injustice and indifference.
It needs to be acknowledged from the start the the Bible supplis no thorough solution to the problem of evil. Its concern is not to explain the origen of evil but help us overcome it. There have always been those who insist that suffering is meaningless, and no purpose can be detected in it. In our modern world secular existentialists believe that everything, including life, suffering and death, is meaningless and absurd.
Christians cannot follow them down that blind defeatist alley. For Jesus spoke of suffering as being both “for God’s glory” that God’s Son might be glorified through it (John 11:4), and”that the work of God might be displayed” through us (Jn. 9:3). Just as God was at work revealing His glory in and through the suffering of Jesus Christ, so God is at work revealing His glory in and through your suffering (Romans8:28-29).
What then is the relationship between Christ’s suffering and yours? How does the Cross speak to us in our pain? The Bible speaks of many ways in which God operates in and through our sufferings. This morning I’m going to highlight only three of those ways.
First, Scripture teaches the the Cross of Christ is a stimulus to patient endurance.There is a paradox which operates in our sufferings which goes like this: Even though suffering should be recognized as evil and therefore resisted, there comes a time when it has to be realistically accepted In the moment of our acceptance, the example of Jesus becomes our imitation and inspiration. The Bible directs us to “fix our eyes on Jesus… who endured the Cross, scorning its shame… consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, sot that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:1-3).
Christians throughout history have gained inspiration to bear undeserved pain through Christ’s sufferings on the Cross. Take Joni Eareckson as an example. In 1967, when she was a beautiful, athletic teenager, she had a diving accident in Chesapeake Bay, which left her a quadriplegic. Understandably. after her accident she went through great depression, rebellion, and despair. One night, about threee years after her accident, on of her closest friends told her about Jesus saying, “He was paralyzed, too.” It had not occurred to Joni that on the Cross Jesus experienced similar pain as her; unable to move, virtually paralyzed. Joni found that thought deeply comforting.
Second, the Cross of Christ is the path of mature holiness. Extraordinary as it may sound, even Jesus was brought to maturity through suffering. Hebrews 2:10 says “It was fitting the God…should make the Author of our salvation perfect through suffering.” The Bible speaks of a process in which Jesus was “made perfect” through His sufferings. Not that He was imperfect om any sense the He committed sin. Rather Jesus’ sufferings were the testing ground which His obedience became full-grown. He was never disobedient, but His sufferings were the opportunities to develop maturity (Heb 5:8-9, 7:28).
God intends suffering as a means of grace in your life. For if God’s love is a holy love, the it is concerned not only that you act in holiness, but also to promote your holiness. So, if suffering was the means by which the sinless Christ became mature, how much more doe we need to experience suffering to increase our spiritual maturity (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4).
Third and finally, the Cross of Christ is the hope of the final glory. Jesus clearly looked beyond His death to His resurrection, beyond His sufferings to His Glory (Heb. 12:2) It is equally clear that Jesus expected His followers to share this perspective. If the world hatred Him and persecuted Him, it would hate and persecute His followers also (John 15:20) We should not , therefore, be surprised by it, as if something strange were happening to us.
Further, in suffering like Christ, we are suffering with Christ (Phil. 1:30; 1 Thess, 3:3; 1 Peter 2:21; 4:12-19; 2 Tim 3:12). Christians are now more than spectators of Christ’s sufferings; we are participants in His sufferings; and we will also share in His glory. AsRomans 8:18 tells us, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us,” because “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor. 4:17).
Sometimes people become confused this teaching on one’s suffering earns you eternal glory. Our future glory is not a reward for our sufferings, which might lead us to think, “No cross, no crown.” The future glory which Christians look forward to is Christ’s image perfectly recreated in us. (Eph.1:4; Rom 8:28-29; 1 John 3:2)
The cross of Jesus Christ is the proof of God’s love for us. On the Cross, God identifies with out pain. For the real sting of suffering is the misfortune itself, or the physical and emotional pain, or the injustice of our suffering. The real pain of suffering is the fear of being forsaken by God!. Pain is endurable – but the seeming indifference God is not so. So we return to the original question in this message: ‘If God is truly loving and in charge, why does God allow human suffering?’ Is God incapable of preventing our pain and suffering? Or, is God some cosmic sadist who delights in watching us squirm?
The answer is found i=on the Cross of Jesus Christ! Were it not for the Cross, I could never believe in God! On the Cross, God identifies with all the needy and suffering people of the world. On the Cross, God entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. The God who allows us to suffer, once suffered Himself in Christ, and continues to suffer with us an for us today. Our suffering become more manageable in light of His.
The playlet entitled “The Long Silence” explains God’s suffering
and our in words better than I could ever compose:
At the end of time. billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – with belligerence. “Can God judge us? How can God know about suffering?”snapped a young brunette. She pulled up her sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror.. beatings..torture.. death!”
In another group a Black boy lowered his collar. “What about this?” he shouted, showing an ugly rope burn. “I was lynched for no crime – but being black!”
In another crowd a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes murmured, “Why should I suffer? It wasn’t my fault.”
Across this great plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering God permitted in the world. How fortunate God was to live in Heaven, they reasoned, where all wa sweetness and light, no weeping or fear, or hunger or hatred. What did God know of all the pain people had endured in the world? God lead a sheltered life, they mocked.
So each group sent forth their leader. chosen because she or he had suffered the most: a Jew, a Black, a person from Hiroshima, a child killed by a terrorist bom in the Mideast, a deformed arthritic, a thalidomide infant, a young woman mentally damaged in a car accident. After consulting with one another, they were ready to present their case. It was extremely clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be be sentenced to live on earth – as a poor rejected man!
“Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted, Give him work so difficult even his family will think he has gone out of his mind. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At the last, let him be see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die in a vicious way that leaves no doubt the he intensely suffered.”
As each leader announced his or her portion of the sentence, loud shouts of approval went up from the assembled throng. And when the last accuser had finished pronouncing sentence, the was a long silence…No on uttered a single word…No one moved…Suddenly all knew that God had already served His sentence.