Are You Suffering Right Now?
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Are You Suffering Right Now?
1. Expect it
2. Embrace it
3. Endure it
Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19
“Why is this happening to me? Why do I have to suffer so much? Why do I have to go through this when I just went through that?” Doesn’t it seem like it never ends? One problem after another with no room to breathe and no end in sight.
Think about the prophet Jeremiah. His life was in the pits. Literally. You heard a few minutes ago how he was detained and tossed into a big cistern-pit in the ground. He must have been stuck down there with a lot of questions running through his mind. “Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Is this what my life has come to? Is doing the work of the Lord really worth it?”
Think about Peter in the second lesson this morning. He wrote this first letter in the early 60s A.D. Persecutions were heating up. Many were being detained or put to death. His fellow apostle Paul had been in prison many times over. So had Peter. And as he wrote this letter likely from the city of Rome, he was just a few years away from being crucified and martyred. Was this what his life had come to? Was it really worth following Jesus for three years as a disciple and being a missionary for these 30-some years after?
What about you? Are You Suffering right now? Maybe your response to that question is, “Suffering? Ha! Where do I begin? With my empty bank account? With all my visits to the doctor? With my family problems? With the pressures I feel at work? With the guilt of not living my faith enough? With my fear of sharing my faith with others? Suffering? You better believe it!”
Listen to what Peter has to say today about the suffering in our lives: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Do not be surprised by the suffering in your life, as if it was strange. “Oh! I can’t believe this is happening! I never thought this would happen!” Peter reminds us not to be surprised by suffering. Instead, expect it.
We might find this ironic that these words come from Peter. After all, he was the disciple in the gospel today who heard Jesus talk about suffering and pulled him aside to rebuke him. “No, Lord! Never! You won’t suffer! You can’t die!” Peter didn’t know how foolish he was, trying to prevent Jesus from suffering and dying. But quickly Peter learned his lesson that Jesus’ words were true and accurate. Following Jesus involves taking up the cross of suffering. Peter did just that as he suffered persecution, imprisonment, and finally being killed for because of his faith. This older and wiser Peter finally realized that suffering is to be expected for Christians.
So it is something that we can expect too. First of all, suffering reminds us that we live in an imperfect world. People lie and cheat and steal. The rich and greedy exploit the poor and needy. Anger and frustration tear apart relationships. Mortal humans face mortality—many times facing death sooner than we would like. We suffer because we are sinners in a sin-filled world.
But we can also expect suffering because Jesus promised. Perhaps you have seen some TV evangelists preach about Jesus making your life better: “If only you follow Jesus, your life will turn around.” “When you have Jesus in your life, things will get better.” That’s actually not true. In fact, Jesus says just the opposite today. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus promised that we would suffer. Just as the world hated Christ, so the world hates Christians. We will be made fun of. We will be the minority. We will feel like our beliefs are being restrained. Christians are being imprisoned and killed around the world, and someday it might even happen in America. But this shouldn’t surprise us. Are You Suffering right now? Expect it!
So what should we do now? Try to run away? Should we stop coming to church or stop being a Christian? Maybe since Christ promised sufferings I shouldn’t follow Christ? I’ve seen that happen too many times to count. Someone goes through a trouble or a hardship, and the first reaction is almost always to not come to church, deal with it alone, and see if maybe it will go away.
But it won’t. Even though Jesus promised suffering to Christians specifically, all people of this world suffer. Again, it’s unavoidable for imperfect sinners in an imperfect world. So rather than run away or become angry or get frustrated, Peter has a different encouragement: “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (Judgment Day). If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed . . . If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear his name.”
Are You Suffering right now? Embrace it! You can rejoice that you are blessed enough to be carrying Christ’s name as a Christian. You can rejoice that you are suffering just as Jesus himself suffered. Don’t be ashamed. Praise God that you are a part of God’s family!
The suffering in your life can be good for you. It’s a way for God to test and then strengthen your faith. It’s a way for God to bring you closer to him and remind you what is most important. Rather than running away, trust in God’s greater plan. Are You Suffering right now? Rejoice and embrace it!
Thankfully we are not alone in those endeavors. As we go through this life and suffer, we don’t have to do it alone. We have God to help us through! Here’s the last verse: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” We always have our Creator-God to turn to. He is faithful to us and faithful to his promises. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will work all things for our good. He will guide us like a shepherd with his sheep. The Lord will help us endure.
Yes this may be difficult. Verse 18 says, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Yes it is hard to walk the path to heaven. There are many sufferings along the way. But the ungodly and unbelievers don’t have God on their side. So if it’s hard on us, think how hard it is on them! We can endure what we suffer because the Lord is faithful and he is always working things according to his will. Are You Suffering right now? With God’s help, endure it.
Sounds good, right? End the sermon there? Say that magical four-letter word (A-M-E-N)? Phew! Short sermon today! Now we can go home and prepare early to watch the Jaguars lose to the Colts.
It’s very neat and tidy. Do you see how I made it nice and simple? I even threw in alliteration for you! Are you suffering? Expect it! Embrace it! Endure it! Great! Sounds good, Pastor! Thanks! Rah, rah team! Let’s go! See you next Sunday!
Then we leave this peaceful sanctuary and return to the world out there and suddenly normal, painful life smacks us in the face all over again. It sounds great on paper. “Yeah! I’m going to embrace suffering! I’m going to endure suffering! That’s right!” It sounds great.
But the problem is, this is really hard to do—really, really hard to do! We don’t like to expect suffering in our lives. We would rather have nothing to do with it. We don’t want to embrace and rejoice in suffering. Sometimes it feels like all we can do is be mad or be sad. We don’t want to endure sufferings. Sometimes it seems like we won’t even make it through.
Those are thoughts that come from weak and frail humans. Those are feelings from feeble hearts. Those are the failures and faults of sinners who need more trust in and more help from our faithful God.
Thankfully we have help from our faithful God. We have help in Jesus. Think of how much Jesus suffered in his life! And he didn’t just expect suffering. Because he is God, he knew exactly what kind of suffering he was going to endure. It’s no wonder that Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane while expecting his crucifixion within a few hours.
Yet knowing all the verbal abuse and persecution, and the eventual physical suffering and execution, Jesus still embraced suffering. Willingly he did what was his Father’s will. Willingly and silently he stood before his accusers. Willingly he literally carried the cross of Christ. Willingly he allowed himself to be crucified.
Jesus embraced and endured this suffering of pain and sorrow and guilt and sin and hell and death, all so that we would not have to embrace suffering. We may suffer here in this world. But we won’t suffer in hell where sinners belong. Because Jesus embraced and endured the suffering of the cross, we will get to embrace the joys of heaven.
It gives us a different kind of perspective on our suffering. We have a friend in Jesus, as we just sang, because he suffered just like we do. We have a friend in Jesus, because he can sympathize with our pain. We have a friend in Jesus, because he carried our guilt and nailed it to a cross. We have a friend in Jesus, because he will guide us to our heavenly home.
So maybe it isn’t so bad to be suffering for Christ. We might have aches and pains and sicknesses for a while. But heaven has no pain forever. We might have sadness and sorrow around every corner. But heaven has joy forever. We might face mortality and die, even earlier than we would like. But heaven has life forever.
Jesus didn’t promise us that this life would be perfect. He promised us that the next one would be. So we can expect sufferings here. But we can also embrace sufferings in this life. We can rejoice that we are a part of Christ’s kingdom and we share in his sufferings knowing that we will share in his heavenly kingdom. Finally we can endure sufferings because we know that we have a faithful God on our side. We have a Savior who will never forsake us. We have a Savior waiting to welcome us into heaven.
“Why is this happening to me? Why do I have to suffer so much?” Because Jesus promised this would happen. “Will it ever end?” Maybe not in this life. Probably not in fact. But there is an end in sight at the gates of heaven.
Are you Suffering right now? Expect it! Embrace it! Endure it! Jesus will be with you. Jesus will get you through it. Jesus will bring you safely home.
Posted on September 24, 2012, in Church, Sermons and tagged 1 Peter, 1 Peter 4, Church, Endurance, Endure, Jeremiah, Persecution, Peter, Sermons, Suffer, Suffering. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.