Sunday, April 22, 2007

Coming to Terms with Suffering

Third Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Luke 24:33-43

The slaughter at Virginia Tech this past week was one of the worst in American history. I don’t think those mourning the loss of their loved ones care about that fact, they’re just trying to come to terms with their pain and their loss. I don’t think it softens anything for them either that similar kinds of tragedies occur often in some parts of the world. When we’re faced with our own suffering we’re not comforted by those who tell us that things could always be worse.

There’s one question in heaven we’ll never ask: Why? In this life, though, we’re troubled with certain things that happen. Why did the student brutally murder so many innocent people? Why couldn’t he have dealt with his problems in some other way? Why is there so much suffering in the world? And when we ourselves suffer we wonder why it’s happening to us.

We don’t do well with suffering. And we’re Christians. Imagine how those who have no hope in Christ deal with suffering. Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel reading that we don’t know how to deal with suffering. Not only everybody, but even us Christians. We don’t know how to suffer. We don’t understand why we suffer. And most of all we don’t want to come to terms with suffering.

We’re so used to rejoicing in the event of Easter that we forget what all was involved in that day. We’re well-familiar with the main thing—Christ rose from the grave. But there was something else going on that day: suffering. But wasn’t Easter Sunday the day of joy and happiness? Wasn’t Good Friday the day of suffering? Yes, all that’s true. But even though Jesus’ suffering was done when He died, the disciples were suffering even on Easter Sunday. Even after Jesus had risen from His tomb!

First, they were locked in their room. They were scared for their very lives. They thought any moment the same powers that hauled Jesus off to trial and crucifixion would come for them. They thought all their hope and faith was pummeled with the scourging and death of Jesus. Here He had promised them He was the Messiah and would redeem them and now He was dead. Not even the message of the women that His body was not in the tomb and that the angels said He was alive could change the facts of what they knew—Jesus was gone; they had no hope.

Here is where we see the cause of their suffering: their own sinful flesh. Their lack of belief in their Savior. There are actually multiple reasons why there is suffering. We always want to know why there’s suffering or why it happens to us. Every time we hear what the reasons are that doesn’t lessen the suffering. It doesn’t make it easier to bear. Maybe it seems even worse because we now know why we’re suffering—either it’s meant to be or we’re the cause of it.

Because what we really have trouble with is God allowing us to suffer. Even if He isn’t the cause of it, why has He saved us only to allow us to experience severe trials? The reason we have trouble with this is because our sinful flesh wants to have no part of suffering.

Jesus does something remarkable. Well, everything Jesus does is remarkable, because He is God. But while it’s a supernatural act of Him coming into their presence without going through the door, the really remarkable thing He did was eat that broiled fish. Because while He had already stood before them so they could see Him… And while He had invited them to touch His hands and side so that they could feel that it was really Him… When He ate the fish He showed us what suffering is really about: He remained in His body. It was glorified now, of course. But it was the same body.

He did not disdain the body He carried from birth that had been beaten and bloodied and nailed to the cross. He did not cast it off as He had the linen cloths that had wrapped Him up in the tomb. He remained in His earthly physical body when He didn’t have to. Because that’s how He comes to us—real-ly, if that’s a word.

The fact is Jesus prepares us to suffer, so that we may be glorified. It was only through His suffering that there is the glory of salvation. It is only through suffering that we even realize we need God. A Savior, a Helper, a Fortress. God knows we do enough suffering because of our own sinful things we do. We bring much suffering upon ourself. But there is suffering that God brings upon us and also allows to happen to us.

What is Jesus’ answer to us in our suffering? He comes to us with Himself. He speaks to us of His peace.

In the first reading Ananias felt like the disciples did. Jesus was telling him that he needed to go to Paul and Baptize him. But Ananias feared for his life. How can you place this kind of trial on me? You know what Jesus’ response to him was? I will show Paul how much he must suffer on account of Me.

Now that’s some kind of call, isn’t it? Here Paul, you’re this hot-shot religious leader that’s going to stamp out the heresy of more and more people following a false god. You got everything in control. You’re smart, you’re talented, you’ve got power, you’ve got it all. But I’m going to convert you, and you know what’s going to happen? You’re going to suffer.

Did Paul say No thanks? Nope. He rejoiced in his new life in Christ. Jesus is the one who really suffered, and didn’t have to. If I am called to suffer, it’s not anything I don’t deserve. If I must suffer, it’s not anything that will last. If I must suffer, it’s not anything beyond what God will enable me to bear.

Search your heart and mind. Do you really believe you’re better off without suffering? If you’re unwilling to take up your cross and follow Jesus, who are you following? If you don’t know the answer, when you get home today look in the mirror. That’s all you’ll need to know. Christ offers a better way. It’s the way of suffering, yes. It’s hard and not always enjoyable, yes. It’s seems like it’s more trouble than what it’s worth, true.

But it’s God’s way and therefore the right way and the best way. It’s the way of eternal life. It’s the way of holding out your hope in Him and Him alone. Your suffering won’t be easier when you trust in Him alone. But it will be the very means by which God Himself strengthens you beyond what you can describe. It may not give you peace of mind, but you will have peace. Peace that passes all understanding. Peace that guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

That’s what Jesus gives. Because He doesn’t just say He gives peace, He gives Himself. And when He gives Himself, He gives peace. Amen.


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