Suffering and the Gospel

I am sharing this week, something Kerry shared with our congregation a few weeks ago at a special Lament service we had. It was an opportunity to worship God and His goodness in times of sorrow, difficulty and illness. We were able to come together as a body to pray, sing, read scripture and worship. These were the words that Kerry read as he shared the beauty of the gospel in the midst of suffering. We are ever grateful to God for His grace and the HOPE we have in Him regardless of our earthly circumstances and suffering.

Suffering and the Gospel of Jesus Christ – March 31, 2019

         Suffering is something that every person will go through in their life. If you have people in your life that you care about or if you interact with people on a regular basis, you will encounter suffering. I don’t see anyone really denying that suffering is present in this world. We’ve all be touched by it. I want to briefly address suffering Scripturally.

         The suffering in this world is a result of evil entering this world in Adam’s sin. We can say that suffering is a result of sin. We can say, in a sense, that suffering itself is a judgement upon sin. I am not trying to make a correlation between a specific sin and a specific disease here. That isn’t the case. Suffering in this world can include persecution, sickness, disease of all types, birth defects, cancers, the effects of aging, and even death. John Piper explains it this way based on Romans 8, “God subjected the world to physical futility and misery to make a point about moral and spiritual reality” (Lessons from a Hospital Bed, p. 63, see also Don’t Waste Your Cancer). Piper goes on regarding physical suffering, “this physical pain points to how ugly sin is” (p. 64). We must confess with God’s Word that suffering comes by the will of God. The Bible affirms God’s sovereignty in everything, including suffering. (Isa. 45:7).

          We read in Romans (8:18) “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Or in 2 Corinthians (4:17) suffering is referred to as “a light momentary affliction.” Or in James (1:2) we read, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” How is it that in the Bible we get suffering that is “not worth comparing”, “a light momentary affliction”, or be joyful when we suffer? How are we to be joyful when the pain is horrible, and death is approaching?

          God has given us the answer in His word. God uses suffering in the life of a believer to conform them into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). In James we are told that the testing of our faith through suffering leads to us becoming more like Christ. But Scripturally, how does this take place in a believer?

          Looking at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 gives us further understanding. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

This tells all believers how we should view suffering in our own life. Outer vs. Inner difference. Our inner self can be renewed even while the outer is wasting away. In verse 17, we see a crucial truth; our current suffering is light and temporary, but our future glory is weighty and eternal. As believers, our viewpoint should consider the great difference in degree and duration.  The future glory is so great in degree that by comparison any current suffering is to be thought of as light. Our current suffering may last decades in this life, but by comparison we have a hope of future glory that for all eternity. Verse 18 goes on to remind us that we must not focus on the things of this world that are quickly passing away, but that the unseen things that last eternally matter most.

Suffering does not automatically result in glory for everyone, but suffering does produce a greater glory and Christlikeness for all believers who, by the grace of God, respond rightly to suffering. We respond rightly to suffering when:

  • We focus on the eternal and not the temporary.
  • We focus on spiritual health, not just physical healing.
  • We seek comfort and find hope from “the God of all comfort”, not from medicine to ease our symptoms.
  • We allow the Lord to remove idols and crutches through the times of suffering.
  • We go to the “throne of grace” “to help in time of need.”
  • We allow suffering to turn our attention and affections off the things of this world.
  • We cling to the Lord as our only hope.

I say our only hope, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims to be The only hope. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is this. The Gospel first is News, it is a proclamation of the Good News of what God has already done by the person and work of Jesus Christ for all who believe in Him. The Good News is so good because you first understand the bad news – that you are sinner by nature and who has in thought, word, and deed rebelled against an infinitely holy, righteous, and just God who must punish evil. That is the bad news that makes the Good News so good. God, in his great love and grace sent His Son Jesus to live a sinless life that no one else could live. Jesus lived, suffered, and was tempted as other people, but kept perfectly God’s law. Jesus came as the image of the invisible God, and He was rejected. He was crucified, dying the death that you deserved. On Jesus, the wrath of God was poured out for all who would ever believe in Him. Jesus died for our sins, He was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. And He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. God will either justly punish sinners in hell or the punishment for sinners has been completed at the cross of Jesus Christ. John 3:16

     This is why our only hope that we cling to is the Good news of Jesus Christ. This is why we believe that suffering in this life is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Being told we have cancer is not the worst news we can receive, we’ve already received the worst news ever. We were once told that we are sinners who rightly deserve the just wrath of God in hell. We no longer saw or see disease and physical suffering as our greatest problem, but our greatest problem was us…our sinfulness. But God did for us what we could not do for ourselves in saving us from the wrath of God.

This is why when we encounter suffering in our life, we need not respond as the world responds. When we are told we have cancer or even that death is approaching, we need not live or die as those who have no hope. We can face suffering humbly trusting that God in His wisdom and power will do what is good and right. Even if that good does not involve healing, we have a certain hope in Jesus Christ and the glory that lies ahead for all eternity.

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