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Worship Theme: Jesus is Our Intercessor
Sermon Theme: Encouragement for Times of Suffering
I have a really fun topic to discuss with you today. Suffering. Sorry. It’s not really a fun topic, but it is important.
Suffering happens. Suffering comes in the form of the unexpected bad news. A virus. A pandemic. A quarantine. A stubbed toe. An unkept promise. The loss of something or someone. A guilty conscience. A broken marriage vow. Suffering is… you fill in the blank. Suffering can hit you hard and fast like a train or creep up on you slowly and last for a long time. If you haven’t experienced an episode or season of suffering in your life, thank God for his mercy and just wait.
Suffering is a reality of life. It’s a real consequence of a broken and sinful world that affects you. It can be the result of your bad decisions and consequence of your own sin.
This first letter that the disciple Peter wrote was to Christians who were scattered throughout Asia Minor, which is present day Turkey, and were suffering persecution because of their faith in Jesus. He addressed a very real problem. Christians will suffer in this life. I know. I’d like to think that a believer in the Lord Jesus should and ought to have a blessed and easy life. No worries, no problems, no suffering. I mean we’re following and entrusting ourselves to the God and creator of all the universe. Why should anything go wrong? Why should anything go wrong?
But we’re not going to spend time on the why of suffering, because we may not find a satisfactory answer. God doesn’t allow us to always see behind the curtain of all of his ways and purposes. He is honest. You will suffer. So, it is better for us to address this question. How do you handle suffering? Wallow in a bowl, no let’s be truthful, a tub of ice cream? Do you vent to anyone who will listen? Do you trap it inside and shutdown, closing yourself off from the world, from others? Do you drink to the point of temporarily forgetting the problems? Do you lash out in angry frustration at those you ought to protect? The coronavirus with its fears along with the quarantine with its uncertainties has led to a surge in the divorce rate, a rise of domestic abuse, and an increase in suicide just to name a few ways that people are dealing with suffering. Suffering can fill a person with fear and uncertainty and anger and sorrow and stress and depression and anxiety and doubt. How do you handle suffering?
Far better than figuring it out on your own (which many of us like to do) is to listen to the words of encouragement that Peter sets before us today. He was a guy who knew suffering in many forms – a guilty conscience, loss of someone he loved, uncertainty of the future, imprisonment, and bodily harm. But while he knew suffering, he also knew his Lord. And that’s where his encouragement for you starts.
Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Suffering just by its nature is pretty humbling all by itself. Suffering knocks us to our knees. But sometime suffering can also make you angry at God accusing him of being unloving. Suffering can move a person to arrogantly and pridefully defy God, “I don’t need him. I’ll get through this or overcome it all on my own.” But God calls on you to be humble under suffering, placing yourself under his mighty hand. He calls on you to put yourself to the side and trust in him. You can rely entirely on God and his strength and he will in mercy lift you up and he will give you strength to endure the suffering. In the Old Testament book of Job we hear this promise, “The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (Job 5:11). Whether that lifting up takes place in this life or not, because of the living and ascended Savior, all believers will be lifted up to the everlasting glory of heaven.
Humble yourself not only to God, but to one another. There are a lot of different thoughts and reactions to the seriousness of this virus and how and when things should open up or not, and what to do or wear or not. And I’m not here to give an opinion, because I don’t understand this all either. But I’ve seen and heard reactions from Christian people that are unloving and arrogant from both directions. Let this encouragement from God’s word remind you to humble yourself to others, to put their needs first, to reflect the gracious love of God. May he lift us all up.
The next word of encouragement is one that touches the heart of many people. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Anxiety is very common and suffering can trigger those anxieties as a person wrestles with stress and uncertainties. For some, anxiety can be disabling as you feel a lack of control.
The current situation has caused anxiety levels in a lot of people to rise, and maybe that’s the case for you. You’re nervous about going out in public, concerned for your health. You worry about your finances, whether you’ll still have a job, and when can you go back to work. You’re uncertain about what the future holds. Anxieties aren’t just caused by a pandemic because when this is all over and normalcy returns, you’ll still have worries and anxieties. So, what should you do? I’m not going to flippantly tell you, “Don’t worry about it.” I don’t need you shooting daggers at me through your screens. That doesn’t help. But what does help is listening to God’s gracious invitation. Take all that worry, all that anxiety and throw it at him. Since most of you are in the privacy of your own home, go ahead and do it. Just throw it out the window. Get it off your chest. Throw your anxieties on Jesus like you are casting them into the middle of the sea never to be seen again. Cast them on the Lord because he wants them. That’s who God is. His heart goes out to you. He wants to bear your burdens and to give you comfort. Paul shares this same encouragement in the book of Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
God has a rock-solid commitment to you that is seen at the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus lived and died to rescue you from eternal death and he will carry you through this life with all of its worries and fears to your home in heaven.
Peter next encourages you to be alert and of sober mind because the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking to devour you. What a vivid picture! I tell you what. If I was dropped into the lion exhibit at the County Zoo there is no way that I wouldn’t be alert and on guard. You would not catch me napping in the corner or turning my back on a lion. Instead I would keep my eyes on that lion, keeping him at a long distance from me and you better believe that I would run for my life the second the lion twitched. God says do the same thing with Satan. The devil is looking to bring you down and to devour you. And he will be sneaky and cunning in his temptations. So, we need to be alert, but so often you and I are lulled asleep spiritually or into false security. I can withstand Satan on my own. Or the cares and troubles of this life cloud your view. It’s when you suffer that Satan will try to sneak in and attack you. Resist Satan by standing your ground by standing firm in faith. Martin Luther said it well in the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” when he said “one little word can fell him.” What is that one little word that can send Satan reeling? Jesus. It’s the gospel truth that Jesus has defeated Satan and rendered him powerless. Through faith in Jesus, be made alive, awake, and alert even when suffering so that Satan doesn’t tempt you to fall from faith.
One of the temptations that Satan will use and is a part of anxieties, is thinking that you are going through suffering all alone. That no one else understands what you’re going through or could help you. Satan wants you to think so and to lose hope. But, as Peter reminds you and encourages you, you’re not alone. Not only do you have the mighty Lord with you, but Peter reminds you that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And that is the beauty of being a part of the body of Christ, the family of believers. You’re not alone! Others have suffered just like you, others in our own church, and can offer support and encouragement to one another. If you are drowning in anxiety today, please know, you’re not alone and reach out to myself or another Christian friend to support you. Know that God is with you.
Now I know, these are all great sounding pieces of encouragement. And yeah, you would love to put them into practice in your life. But that’s hard! Especially when suffering and during hard times! The last piece of encouragement is the most important. The God of all grace, who called you to eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. You have been called through the gospel to know Jesus as your Savior and through that faith are assured of something far greater than this life and its sufferings – the eternal glory of heaven. God reminds you that earthly suffering is only temporary. He himself, the mighty Creator, sustainer God will give you strength to stand firm and weather the suffering of this life. It’s not on you to be strong when you suffer, but to lean on the one who is strong for you. God will restore you in Christ Jesus.
Suffering is going to come, if it’s not already in your life. When it comes, be encouraged. The God of grace is on your side. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
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