This is a sermon I preached a bit ago. I wanted to share it please ignore the improper grammar I did not correct it. I believe the message speaks to trouble we as a world, but even more pointed as THE CHURCH, are going through today.
“Today I want to speak about suffering I want to speak about grace and our need for both. The question is how do we act in suffering? Do we accept grace? Are we willing to follow Christ no matter what? If the unreasonable is asked of us are we willing to do this?
Suffering is something everyone goes through. Some go through more than others but it seems that when we are going through suffering no one else can ever understand. Lets be honest there is nothing new under the sun. Sorry teenagers we are not able to understand your angst. We were never teens, we never went through hormonal changes and we were never tempted with things that are sinful. We never had parents who could not understand. And worst of all Our parents had the gall to tell us that we would have to suffer from our own kids in the same way we made them suffer. Now that is scary. Teens think about that before you put your parents through anymore suffering. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Often times we get so lost in our suffering that we are not able to see others and the suffering they are going through. We often lose perspective. We get lost in ourselves to the degree we actually get mad at God or even question God’s existence because we do not believe that the suffering is fair or that if God was good we would not go through this.
Lets be honest sometimes the suffering is not fair. Bad things happen to us to no fault of our own. It is true sometimes we do not deserve our suffering. I know an eight year old who suffered through years of molestation by her father she did not deserve that. BUT sometimes our suffering is fair. Sometimes we do deserve our suffering. Have you ever known that person who makes very unwise choices and gets themselves in all kinds of trouble? I am sure we all have. Once they get into trouble they go looking for someone to help them. Someone usually steps up and helps. Then they are okay for a bit and get right back into trouble again because they just keep making the same unwise choices. They are suffering a lot due to their own choices. On top of that those who are helping them are suffering a lot because of the choices they are making.
If you claim to believe that God is who He said He is then does it matter? I say this because if He is who He says He is then He knows and has allowed the suffering to take place. He has a purpose for that suffering. He is trying to accomplish something and this is the only way it can be accomplished. He needs something from you or out of you or in you and this is the only way to have it done.
Are you willing to accept unfair suffering? Are you willing to accept a suffering that is on you because of someone else? Are you? Are you willing to accept suffering that you have caused yourself? Are you willing to accept the suffering you deserve? Are you?
Often people complain that they are suffering but they caused it themselves and they say it is not fair. Christ suffered. He did not deserve it. He did not earn it. He did nothing in any way that would justify His suffering.
Are we not supposed to follow the example of Christ? Are we not to desire to be like Christ? Are we not to follow the example that Christ shared with us?
I Peter 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps
Christ who was without sin still had to suffer to be made perfect. So why do we think we do not need to be made perfect?
Hebrews 2:10 For it is fitting for Him, for whom all things, and through whom are all things, in
bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.
I want to bring this to our minds so we can think through this. If Jesus , who did not sin, had to suffer to be perfected how much more suffering do we need to go through to be like Christ. Even though He was without sin He still had to be perfected for the purpose of satisfying the offering. So think of it this way not all imperfection is sin. I know we often think that all the imperfections in us are sin but that is not true. Christ’s example is proof of that.
To understand the concept of Jesus needing to be made perfect and how not all imperfection has to do with sin lets take a look at the military. When someone joins the military they are sent to boot camp. The purpose of boot camp is to re-educate someone on how to think how to obey. If they goof up is that a sin. NO. If they do not know how they are supposed to act is that a sin. NO. They are trained this is the purpose of boot camp. In this way Jesus had to go through training to be prepared for the cross. Remember He was human he had to learn proper grammar, math, reading and so on. He was not born with this information. Was He sinning when he misspelled a word? Or got a math problem wrong? NO of course not. In the same way He was not sinning just because He was born not able to die on the cross it was a process. This process He went through was tough. It brought a lot of suffering to Him and He learned endurance. He learned how to endure suffering by keeping in good relation with the Father. He learned that the more suffering He had the closer to the Father He had to be. Was it sin that He did not know this? NO. How would a 8 year old know this? It took Him 33 years to be ready to die on the cross. That was 33 years of preparation for His main purpose death on the Cross. He suffered through out. He was our example.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer while delivering a sermon in 1934 entitled “Our God is a suffering God” says this:
“I realize that the concept of our God being a suffering God is to many abhorrent but to me it is beautiful. It is through suffering that we are able to be made ready for God for heaven for life and for Kingdom building. How else do we expect to be free from sin free from bondage free from this world and wholly Christ, wholly heaven bound, wholly whole. Suffering is the vehicle our God has chosen and He is participated in this in that He sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die for us because of us because of our sin. Without the suffering there would be no forgiveness no grace no mercy no joy.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who understood suffering. He understood what it meant to suffer unjustly. When he stood up to the Nazis and publicly stated they were evil. He suffered for that. He was given the opportunity to leave Germany and escape persecution but chose to stay. He chose the path of greatest suffering for the purpose of Christ. In the end he died for his stances but also in the end he gave one of the strongest public examples in the 20th century of suffering for the cross.
There are two types of suffering general suffering and Christian suffering. General suffering covers all the misery, sickness, pain and death which is part of the human condition. To some degree we all go through this as did Jesus. I am sure Jesus had a cold or suffered from allergies or some sort of bodily suffering. General suffering we all partake in is something addressed in:
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
General suffering gives Christians a great opportunity to help others…. to show the love of Christ without reservation.
It is Christian suffering we must participate in if we are going to follow Christ. I understand that to some, what I just said is diametrically opposed to what they believe. They believe that Christians should not suffer and that if we are truly following God all suffering would go away and the only reason we suffer is because of our own sin. I hope the fact that Jesus had to suffer did not pass you by. If Jesus had to suffer what sin caused His suffering. Let me restate this one more time. We must participate in Christian suffering if we are going to truly follow Christ. Remember we just read Hebrews and 1 Peter where it clearly states that to follow Christ we will suffer.
Now I know there are folks who hate what I just said but I also know there are folks who know and appreciate what I just said. Folks who have suffered both of their own accord and from no fault of their own. They understand suffering.
What is Christian suffering. This is simple. Christian suffering is our participation of God’s suffering at the hands of an ungodly world. The degree we suffer because we identify with God is the degree we participate with Christ in the suffering He had to endure.
Often we ask why is there so much suffering in this world? Fair question. Oft though we get the pat answer that it is because of sin. This may be true but it is easy and does not struggle with the very real problem with pain. This does not struggle with the purpose of suffering. The answer of “it is because of sin” does not have any struggle in it at all.
We must struggle we must suffer and we must have an answer when someone ask the legitimate question of why is there so much suffering in the world. I realize that most people will not be satisfied with the answer. They may not understand your answer. BUT if your answer comes from the point of being as a result of suffering then it will RING true and they will know that. Their spirit will testify as to the validity of what you are saying and then a real conversation will be made possible. Even though often that question is a smoke screen to the real question they have. The real problem they struggle with and the real reason they do not want to serve God or admit God. The real question is simple. Why has there been so much suffering in my life? They personalize it. Once someone gets to the point of personalizing their problems then you have made it. You now have the opportunity to use that suffering that you have been through to serve someone else. To help someone else. To fulfill your Kingdom responsibilities.
People do not want to get to personal. If they do they will have to address things that they have buried deep. They will have to face sins they have done and sins that others have done to them. They will have to come out of the darkness into the full light of day. Where nothing can hide.
There are things in life we want to hide from. We place it up in the proverbial attic way in the back in a box but it is really never gone. We always know it is there we always are aware that it has some sort of power over us. That deep in the recesses of who we are there is some evil that has root and is trying to take over.
What do we do? We hide. We deny. We run. We pretend. We ??
We need grace. What is the purpose of grace? unmerited favor to put it simply. Grace is not easy it is not a quick prayer one says that will inturn free them from all things that are bothering them. With grace comes suffering. With grace comes hardship. This is why so many run from grace. They run they hide they try their darndest to keep the status quo. sooner or later it catches up. Grace brings to the forefront all the darkness (thankfully not all at once) and releases you from it. This is why it is unmerited favor. You have not earned this but God gives it to you anyways. The problem comes when you run from it. When the suffering comes you turn and hide. You deny. You pretend. You do what you have to do so that you can protect yourself how you think you need to be protected. Eventually though it catches up.
Has it ever caught up to you? Have you been in the deepest darkest night and there it is? I am sure you understand what I am saying. That thing that has power over you. Could it be a lie you spoke? How about a lie you live? How about something sexual you have done or something sexual someone else has done to you? Could it be pride? Sin brings suffering true even if it is someones elses sin. You can suffer for someone else’s sin.
We come back to grace. Grace is costly and hard. Easy grace is cheap and has no value.
Dietrich Bonhoefffer states in his book The Cost of Discipleship:
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
When we understand that last sentence “Costly grace is the Incarnation of God” then WOW our lives are about to change. We are not able to learn that and stay the same. We are not able to understand that statement and stay the same we must make a decision and that will either draw us nearer God or we will have to turn our back on Him. There is no in between with God.
When we understand that God considers grace to be costly so much so that He gave us His only begotten Son to die upon a cross. The death of a criminal. The death that you and I deserve not the death He deserved. He did not deserve any death. Death came as a result of sin the Garden. The reason Jesus could not be held the in the grave is because He had no sin to hold Him in the grave. Christ suffered for us so that we can have grace to be forgiven to be freed to be whole.
Grace is not cheap because God is not cheap. The work that Jesus did is not cheap. The cross is not cheap. The nails in His hands are not cheap. The nails in His feet are not cheap. The thorns in His brow are not cheap. The stripes on His back are not cheap. The blood He shed is not cheap. The hatred that was heaped upon Him is not cheap. The anger that was heaped upon Him is not cheap. No friends grace is not cheap and it is not easy. It is hard. Hard as nails. Hard as thorns. Hard as whips. Hard as flesh being torn from His back. Grace is hard it brings suffering. We must participate in His sufferings to find perfection. To be made perfect we must live in grace. The beauty is when we find grace…… we find Jesus is there with us. He shows us the way the path the center. We were lost and He opens the way. We were blind and He gives us site. Suddenly the storm the hardness the suffering is not so bad. His burden is light His yoke is easy.
Okay friends suffering is a must otherwise we would not grow. We would not change. We would not be able to be more like Christ. In the end our Goal is to be more like Christ.
Lets switch modes for a moment. When someone has surgery there is pain and suffering involved. We find this normally acceptable, because the point of the surgery is to fix us. We are to be made well through this surgery even though it is painful and will often cause a lot of suffering afterwards.
My point here is that suffering is not always bad. God uses suffering to refine us and do surgery to our lives both physically and spiritually. God sees us for who we are and He understands the mess we really are. In fact He understands our mess more than we do.
C.S. Lewis put it true when he said , in his book The problem with Pain, this:
“I have been trying to make the reader believe that we actually are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves. This I believe to be a fact: and I notice that the holier a man is, the more fully he is aware of that fact.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Yes our character is a horror to God. Sin is a horror to God. Our character is racked in sin and needs to be cleansed thoroughly. Needs to be completely transformed. We need to be a new creation. The closer one gets to God the more real this is. The more we understand the necessity to die. That there is nothing of myself that is good. Ouch that is hard. Nothing at all. Nothing.
Romans 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells with in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
Romans 3:10 As it is written “There is none righteous, not even one;
Isaiah 64: 4-9 ….. for all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away……..
Is there any doubt. We can’t be good enough. We can’t please God by being good or by doing good or by any means that is within us.
The degree we suffer is directly proportional to the degree we fight God in this process. There will always be suffering in our lives there will always be pain in our lives. The more we fight God as He uses this pain and suffering to change us the more pain and suffering we feel.
I say to you today. One simple thing. Let go of it. Let go of having to be right. Let go of the pain someone else put on you. Let go of your hidden sin. Your shame. Your lies. So what if others know. So what if you are embarrassed. So what. Truly they have their own shame and guilt to deal with. They have their own embarrassments to deal with. You have to stand before God and be judged. You have to answer for yourself they are not going to pay your penalty for you. They are not going to hell for you. Be Honest, Be faithful, Be Honorable. Let go of it. Let it all out. Do not hold back be FREE,
I say to you today what Joshua said to the children of Israel thousands of years ago.
Joshua 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
God gives this to you today. Choose make that choice. No longer sit on the fence but choose you today whom you shall serve. Do not allow suffering to sway you but grab on with both hands and be excited about what God is doing.
there is an Old Negro spiritual and it makes a simple and pure statement :
Free at Last
Free at Last
Thank my God I am Free at last.
Who wants this freedom?”