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TEXT: Philippians 3:1-11

SUBJECT: The Gospel Changes Everything #10: Suffering

Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our occasional afternoon series called The Gospel Changes Everything. The key verse is Romans 1:16-

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Does the Gospel change where we go when we die? It does: we are saved from hell and saved to heaven. This is the most dramatic change the Gospel effects, but not the only one. It also changes us before we die, and what it changes is.everything.

Including today's topic: suffering.

THE FACT OF SUFFERING

Suffering is a fact of life. Some people suffer more than others, but nobody is exempt from suffering. The Bible says so, and universal experience confirms it-

Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.

Suffering in a world made by a Loving God is not easy to understand, and some have tried to explain it away. Christian Science says it's all in your head-that if you could free your mind from the illusion of the material world, you would also free yourself from suffering.

Of course this is nonsense. At the heart of the Christian Faith stands a cross-a wooden cross-with a flesh and blood human body attached to it with iron nails. The Man is bleeding real blood, from his hands and feet, head and back. When He finally dies, a soldier sticks a spear into Him and the dead Man's friend sees blood and water gush from His side. The sufferings of this Man were not 'all in His head'.

The beliefs of Christian Science are denied every day by the people who subscribe to them. When they get a leg cramp in the middle of the night, they don't lie still knowing it's not real, but, like the rest of us, they jump up and walk it off. Because the thigh that is cramping in the night is really there.

Suffering is a fact of life that no fantasy can explain away. Some of the suffering is physical-the aforementioned leg cramp, for example. Some is non-physical-think of the pain we feel when a loved one dies or the fear that seizes us when we get bad news from the doctor. Other suffering is in-between the body and the soul. Depression often has an organic cause, but we make it worse by brooding and sleeping too much, eating too little, and so on.

I hope we can work through some of these particulars in the future, but for now, we'll look at the big picture, of how the Gospel changes all suffering, from sickness to bereavement to chronic unemployment to family problems, and the other things in life that hurt us so badly.

WHAT THE GOSPEL DOES NOT DO

Maybe the best place to start is on what the Gospel does not do. The Gospel does not prevent all suffering. People who believe the Gospel have the same problems as people who don't. We get sick, our parents die, we lose our jobs, our marriages fail, our kids run away from home, we get old and feeble and then we die. This is the human condition, life under the sun, for the believer and unbeliever alike.

If the Gospel does not prevent all suffering, it also doesn't minimize suffering. When a Christian breaks his arm, it hurts every bit as much as when an atheist breaks his. Pain is painful, and the Gospel is not an analgesic!

Worst of all-and contrary to what many Christians say-the Gospel does not remove all pain. Joel Osteen says God wants you to live, Your best life now, by which he means, a life without sickness or money problems or cars that break down. Of course, he has a hard time explaining Jesus Christ who.had no place to lay His head, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, and then died a hard, public, and humiliating death.

If it was necessary for Him to suffer so we wouldn't have to, Paul's life throws more sand in the gears. Here's a man who received all the benefits of God's Love and Christ's atoning death-

In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths more often.five times receiving forty stripes minus one, three times beaten with a rod, stoned once, shipwrecked, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils of his own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness.

Paul's tale of suffering is endless. Yet he's a man greatly loved by God, with a strong faith in Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.

Like all of us, he prayed for relief from his problems, only to be told, 'No, you can't have it'-

My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in [your] weakness.

Can the Lord save us from our sickness and pain and worries? Sure He can, and often He has. But the Gospel promises no relief in this life.

This is not how the Gospel changes suffering.

SUFFERING IS SERIOUS

The Gospel changes how we suffer, in the first place, by taking suffering seriously.

Cheerfulness and good humor are gifts of God, but they have to stay in their place. When they don't, they become unkindness if not cruelty. A Proverb says-

Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather.is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

The Gospel does not trivialize our pains, but takes them with the utmost seriousness. You know why, don't you? Because, in Christ, God suffers every human pain, and pains past any man's experience. The catalogue of Christ's suffering is a long one. On the cross, He was stung by intense physical pain; in the Garden He knew sickening fear; all His life he felt misunderstood and not wanted; He belonged to a slave race whose masters despised them; and what man can say what He felt when He cried-

My God, My God,

Why have you forsaken

Me?

Richard C. Eyer is a Lutheran pastor and chaplain at a hospital. He has spent His whole life meditating on the cross and how it intersects with human pain and death. Visiting the sick and dying every day, he says their only comfort is the cross, and all the smiling, laughing visitors do is depress them.

The Gospel does not lie to suffering people. It doesn't deny their pain and grief, and it doesn't tell them that they're sure to be better in no time. Some ailments go away and others only get worse. Time does not heal all wounds. You cannot help people you're also patronizing!

The Gospel does not patronize people! It says their problem is, in fact, worse than they think it is. So bad that no doctor or rich uncle or marriage counsel can set things right. Only the Cross and Empty Tomb can do it.

RIGHT FOCUS

In the second place, the Gospel changes the way we suffer by putting our focus on the right question. When things go bad, what we're most likely to ask is, 'Why me?'

Most people never find the answer, and some conclude that life is meaningless. Others think they have found the answer: Why me? Because I did something wrong. Why me? Because the Lord has it in for me. Why me? Because God wants me to learn something. Some answers are better than others, but it is best to not ask it at all.

So, what do we ask? The Gospel both tells us what to ask and gives the answer. What we ask is, 'Where is God in my suffering?' and the Gospel replies, 'He is with you'. How do we know God is with us when we're too sad to cry and in too much pain to scream?

Because of the Cross. God reveals Himself in everything-

The heavens declare the glory of God

And the firmament shows His handiwork.

But nowhere is He revealed more full than in Christ-

Who is the Image of the invisible God.

And nowhere does Christ reveal God more than when His body and soul were racked with pain. Some take this for a deep theological insight, but it's anything but deep. It was a pagan solider, who on seeing Jesus die, remarked-

Truly, this Man was the Son of God.

Thus, instead of wondering why God doesn't care for us when we suffer, or what He's got against us, or what we need to learn from it all, we need to ask, 'Where is God in my suffering?' And the Gospel tells us-not way off in the sky, but on the cross, suffering all your pain, and a whole lot more.

THE LAST WORD

In the third place, the Gospel changes the way we suffer by telling us there's an end to suffering. Though the death of Christ is of the highest importance, the Gospels do not end with a limp body, sacrificed for the salvation of the world. The end with Jesus, risen from the dead, and more than risen, but Victorious. With His Resurrection, Jesus entered into a new life, a life where all pain and suffering and tears and heartaches are in the past, and stay there.

The Gospel says we are united to Christ, both His death and His Resurrection. Thus, though suffering may last a very long time, and get worse, it does not have the last word!

Death brings relief from the pains of life, but this is not what we're hoping for-mere relief. We're aiming higher: we're looking for Joy with a capital J. That comes with the Resurrection-

In your presence is the fullness of joy,

And your right hand are pleasures forever more.

This hope comes-not from a life well-lived-but from the Gospel.

SUFFERING AND REDEMPTION

Finally, the Gospel changes the way we suffer by reminding us that suffering and redemption go together for God's people.

Jesus was Himself saved by His suffering, and in ways too mysterious to explain, our sufferings contribute to our salvation. Not in the sense of earning it, of course, but God uses them to bring us into ever closer fellowship with His Son and Himself, and this, after all, is what salvation is-not Hellfire Insurance, but communion with God.

Paul wanted to suffer for Christ's sake-not because he enjoyed pain-but because it brought Him into more sympathy with Christ, and having a part in His suffering, Paul assumed, would communicate the power of His Resurrection.

This can stay in the theological, but it doesn't have to. Every Christian knows that spiritual growth often takes place in times of suffering and loss and despair. For it is then, when we most keenly feel our need for Christ, that He comes to us in grace and love.

CLOSE

Does the Gospel make suffering fun? No. Painless? No. Tolerable? No. Suffering remains painful, no one can read of our Lord sweating great drops of blood and think otherwise.

The Gospel does not remove the pain of suffering; it redeems it. It doesn't turn suffering into good, but it works it together for our good.

Let us, therefore, accept the sufferings of life as part of God's Plan of Salvation, for-

It has been granted to us, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.

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