This weekend I preached a sermon on suffering (we will be podcasting soon). Not the most popular topic but one we can all relate to, eventually. The sermon was based on some research and writing I’ve been doing on Luke-Acts. In this message, I reflected on the numerous conceptual and verbal parallels between the suffering stories of Jesus and Paul.
My aim in this message was to develop a practical theology of suffering, not to deal with theodicy (the problem of evil). However, as with most of my messages, I am trying to keep the non-Christian perspective in view. What is it like for them to suffer? Well, there is a lot of overlap as well as some significant differences between how Christians and non-Christians should suffer. My main two questions were: 1) Should all faithful Christians suffer? 2) If yes, how can we suffer with purpose?
These were my closing comments:
The gospel offers us purpose in our suffering in two main ways: purpose that is redemptive and purpose that hope-giving. Suffering is redemptive for people who hope in Jesus. Purposeful suffering comes through Jesus by redeeming our pain and our sin. Through his life and death Jesus suffered and died in a way that no man will ever suffer and die again. Not only was he rejected, scorned and crucified, but he was also separated from his father’s love as he bore the weight of sin and evil in his death. As a result, Jesus can redeem your suffering by comforting you in your loss and pain. He is the “great high priest who can empathize with our every weakness.” He offers consolation, comfort, and acceptance in the midst of loss, pain, and rejection. He redeems our pain. Jesus gives your suffering purpose because he redeems it. He also redeems our sin, our escapism, our self-reliance, our bitterness, our pride by dying the death we should have died as a substitute sacrifice for our rebellion against a just God. Jesus offers us purpose in suffering by redeeming our pain and our sin. But that’s not all…
Jesus gives our suffering purpose through his resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus we have the hope of no more suffering. Once and for all, he conquered death for all those who hope in him. In Acts 14:23, just after his stoning, Paul tells us: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” The kingdom of God is not escape from this world, an entrance into Nirvana, nothingness, but the renewal of all creation, bodies, culture and creation. The grand program of God is a new creation, and all who persevere through suffering by treasuring Christ, will inherit the world in which there will be no more sorrow and no more tears. Those who look to Jesus have hope in suffering, hope of final deliverance from all suffering and inheritance of a new creation. Our suffering is purposeful in Jesus’ redemption and resurrection, which makes him the center and source of all meaning. Ultimately, our suffering magnifies Jesus, in his death and in his life, as the King of the greatest kingdom to ever exist.
Of the three books on suffering that I read, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands was most helpful. In fact, chapter 8 from that book is worth a whole post. Remember, this sermon was not dealing with theodicy, but developing a practical theology of suffering. I read chapters from these three:
- Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer (Tripp)
- God of Promise in the Life of Faith (Hafemann)
- The Reason for God (Keller)