The Meaning of Our Suffering
Holy Cross
14 September 2017
As people clean up in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes here in Southeast Texas and in Florida, many people feel that their trial is a sign of their weakness or sin or unrighteousness. Sometimes people are even unable to articulate this, though the anxiety and pressure of the context leaves them with this vague concern that their suffering is a divine judgment against them. When trial and testing comes upon us we so easily presume that they are a sign of God's wrath; that He is punishing us with such burdens and sorrows. Several people have said to me while I was in the most devastated neighborhoods, "Pastor, I know that God is trying to teach me something. But I don't yet know what it is." The human heart is geared toward self-blame. We fall into what we think of as a moral explanation for our sorrows: "I must've done something to deserve this." This, of course, is the flip side of moral self-righteousness which presumes that good things happen to me because I have been good. So, the human heart is also geared toward self-righteousness. Both are equally wrong.
 
Christians see their trial and suffering quite differently from those who do not know God's love in Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for our sins by suffering on the cross of Calvary and offering his blood for us. He has made the full payment for sin. Why would we think that are suffering would be some kind of co-payment? How could we consider the priceless blood of Christ to be in any way supplemented by the value of our suffering, sorrows, or trials? We would be looking at the moral value of our world through the lens only of the law and not of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. If we live only in the law, we will never see the blessing of the crosses that God sends us to exercise and strengthen our faith.
 
When I'm in the midst of trial or difficulty, I'm greatly encouraged by walking with Christ to Golgotha's hill. Here's the greatest trial, agony, and suffering. It dwarfs our own. I'm not trying to minimize the significance of our suffering. No, when I cannot understand the meaning of my own suffering, walking to Calvary with Jesus shows me that the most blessed person, Christ Himself, undergoes the greatest agony. It shows me that the greatest blessing flows out of the greatest suffering. If the sinless son of God can undergo suffering and agony for my sake, it changes the meaning of my own suffering.
 
His heavenly Father laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all, that we might be freed from our sin. His suffering changes the moral meaning of everything. It changes the meaning of our suffering. God uses it to strengthen our faith and make us all the more thankful confessors of His gospel. Our suffering cannot be a payment, because Christ has paid for every and all sin. So our suffering must mean something else. Our trials mean that God is urging us into greater faith, a higher confidence in Him, and an otherworldly certainty about His grace toward us. We are becoming blessed with the Blessed One, who sanctified our suffering. Only through the gospel will we ever know the meaning of our suffering.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
 
"When faith begins, God does not forsake it. He lays the holy cross on our backs to strengthen us and to make faith powerful in us. The holy Gospel is a powerful Word. Therefore, it cannot do its work without trials, and only he who tastes it is aware that it has such power. Where suffering and the cross are found, there the Gospel can show and exercise its power. It is a Word of life. Therefore, it must exercise all its power in death. In the absence of dying and death it can do nothing, and no one can become aware that it has such power and is stronger than sin and death. Therefore, the apostle says 'to test you'; that is, God inflicts no glowing fire or heat-cross and suffering, which make you burn-on you for any other purpose than 'to test you,' whether you also cling to His Word. Thus, it is recorded in Wisdom of Solomon 10:12 of Jacob: 'God sent him an arduous contest, so that he might know that godliness is more powerful than anything.' God lays a cross on all believers in order that they may taste and prove the power of God-the power which they have taken hold of through faith."

Martin Luther, Sermons on the First Epistle of St. Peter, 4.12
John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
 
"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
(ESV)
Collect for Holy Cross
Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For Susan Narr, as she undergoes chemotherapy, that she would be strengthened in body and soul
 
For all those bearing burdens and sorrows, that they would welcome testing to prove their faith by the crosses that God sends
 
For Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, who has been called to be the Associate Pastor and Director of Parish Music of Memorial Lutheran Church and School, that the Holy Spirit would confer His divine wisdom in his deliberations
Art: DAVID, Jacques-Louis  Christ on the Cross (1782)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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