FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE
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Today we talk about suffering, first about Christ’s then about our own. We purposely approach things this way because His suffering is most imporant! It redeems us from sin, saves us from death, fills us with hope and gives us a pattern to follow in the things that we inevitably must suffer as well.
It is the heart of the Christian faith that Christ suffered and died for us. The words “for us” mean “in our place” and “on our behalf.” Jesus was our substitute in death. The price for sin had to be paid either by us or by Him. Thank God it was by Him, and that we are now redeemed, restored and forgiven. Our warfare with heaven is ended, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and we know that, in spite of our many wrongs, heaven is our eternal destination.
Our Lord’s suffering is not only more important than ours however, but also fundamentally different. Why? Because St. Peter tells us that He committed no sin. Because of this Jesus had no reason to suffer or die but this is what makes Him the Perfect Savior that He is. It was not His own wrongs that “He bore in His body on the Tree,” but ours. He did so in order to atone for them, make us dead to sin and alive to righteousness forever.
Neither should we overlook the fact that Peter refers to the cross as the Tree because it shows the logic and reason of God’s justice. As Adam brought death to all mankind by a tree, even so Christ brought life to all mankind by His death on the same!
The Lord’s suffering and death do not only provide salvation for us, but an example in patient suffering. Everybody suffers, no one is exempt. Sometimes the things we suffer are just, the result of our own bumptious behavior. Transgress God’s commandments, especially those of the second table, and the consequences will not be pretty. While Christ blessed those who persecuted Him it is unlikely that people whom we anger will be as charitable. Almost every call for police services comes because someone breaks the fifth, sixth or seventh commandment.
Though there is nothing glorious about suffering patiently for the things we bring on ourselves, it does not mean that we are cut off from God’s love or help. Please note that well. Even when we cause our own demise we should still ask God to be merciful to us, comfort us in our distress, give us relief from the self-inflicted consequences, and help us to avoid the sins that get us into such trouble. He is merciful and will never get tired of hearing us, or helping us; so we should never despair or let the shame of our stupidity deter us. Truly, if God did not help stupid people, He would have no one at all to be merciful to.
Sometimes we suffer unjustly. They say that no good deed goes unpunished, and while that may sound cynical it is also true; truer than those who believe in “moral progress” are willing to admit. Many times people have pure motives, especially when executing the responsibility of their offices, but the things they do are not always well-received. This is particularly true of parents, pastors, police officers and anyone who is charged with management responsibilities. Sometimes the quickest way to get into trouble is by doing the right thing, but this must never discourage us because this is what God has called us to do.
As Christians we can also expect mal-treatment for our faith. The world can tolerate us up to a point. If we quietly practice our faith and turn a blind eye to the world’s sin, we are likely to remain beneath its wrathful radar, but as soon as they hear our profession that Christ bore our sins in His body on the tree; that this death is the only cure for sin; and that salvation is found in no other name under heaven, then all bets are off. (Acts 4:12) When this happens we should do what Jesus did: entrust ourselves “to Him who judges justly” and wait for Him to act. Like a Good Shepherd searching out His scattered sheep, He Himself will provide us with all we need (Ezekiel 34), restore us in every way, and make us strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)
Other times we suffer because that is just the way the world is, and so no thinking Christian can approve of televangelists when they connect large scale disasters to the sins of the people affected. No doubt the people so-affected deserve whatever happens to them and more besides, but so do these con-men, and so do we all, but that’s not how God works. Christ suffered for us, and Christ died for us. All sin was dealt with on the cross and new life was given the world when Jesus rose from the tomb. Nothing more needs be done, nothing more can be done. Instead the perpetual message of the Bible is this: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31) Neither natural disasters, nor the other troubles of life great or small, are meant to punish us. Instead they serve a dual function of God’s mercy. For unbelievers they act as a wake up call so that they might repent, believe and be saved. For God’s children they serve as discipline and correction (Hebrews 12:5) which is something every Christian needs.
God uses the unavoidable sufferings of life to wake us up from our spiritual comas, make us see how fragile life is, and above all how much we need Christ to be our Shepherd, Savior, Comforter and Friend. He is all these things to us and more! Martin Luther (not MLK, JR), said that there are three ingredients that go into the making of a theologian. In Latin they are: oratio, tentatio and meditatio, that is: study, prayer and suffering. The first two, though indispensible, will only take us so far. We should all study God’s Word, and be as conversant as we can in all legitimate branches of knowledge. We should pray without ceasing: formally in church, and informally all day long for the constant stream of things we need God to provide us, but it is not until we suffer unjustly that we learn what a Good Shepherd Jesus truly is, and how blessed we are because He willingly laid down His life for us. This is what makes us theologians of the cross, and may we become so more and more. Amen.
~Rev. Dean Kavouras