Friends,

I have been posting a series of essays I have been writing at another website under the heading, “A Theology of Suffering.” I have decided to move those posts here for more exposure. This is a very, very long essay that will continue to get longer and longer. I suggest you cut and paste it into your word processing program and print it for slow reading. Also, feel free to comment when you like. I confess, this is not easy reading. There is a lot to take in here. I welcome any and all comments.

Check back soon for more reading.

jerry

Pt. 1: Introduction to the Topic

“The iron enters our soul. The worst question rises, and the chief protest, when the disorder in the world touches our nerve in the shape of positive pain, evil, or guilt; when our personal life is deranged by that alien invasion, or is crushed, instead of stayed, by our connection with the course of things; when conscience rises in protest at the fate of the good, or the falsity of ourselves. Questions then come home about the connection of evil and suffering, sin and sorrow, grief and goodness. Then it is that the desire for a teleology quickens and deepens into the passion for a theodicy. Has the teleology a moral end? Is Gods goodness secure? The teleology of things is congested into a crisis which demands that revelation be the self-justification of God. Is the great end not only there but is it just, and does it justify the dreadful means?” PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 120I would like to open this conversation to the gathered members who post here in the hopes that perhaps we can move towards a theology of suffering for the church. I believe it is necessary to do so for reasons that I will enumerate over time.There are many fine books that have been written that have dealt with why human beings suffer. Among them, Mans Search For Meaning(Viktor Fankle), The Gift of Pain (Philip Yancey & Dr. Paul Brand), Where is God When it Hurts? (Philip Yancey), The Problem of Pain (CS Lewis), When Bad Things Happen to Good People(Harold Kushner), The Brothers Karamazov(Fyodor Dostoyevsky), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (John Donne), The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer), The Sunflower (Simon Wiesenthal), Night (Elie Wiesel), The Justification of God (PT Forsyth), Holy The Firm (Annie Dillard) and, of course, and certainly not least, the entire cannon of the Scripture.I have read all these books, and others, but I have found something still lacking when it comes to the reality of suffering in our world, the church’s response to it, and the Church’s participation in it. What I have found lacking is this: there is not a lot of conversation dealing directly with what Scripture says on the matter. There is much suffering and the world is want for Christians, for someone, to answer the questions concerning this suffering. I think the church is in the same position, but as I see it, the answers the church is getting from preachers are lacking in biblical content and theology of the cross. I think there are two different groups of sufferers in the world.The first group is those who suffer in the world, and the second, is those who suffer as Christians in the world. Concerning the latter, it seems that the church deals with suffering in one of two ways, and both are rather negligent and opposite extremes. On the one hand, there are those who say, God does not want you to suffer at all. Thus, a healing ministry is born and all sorts of miracles are perpetuated in the Name of God. On the other hand, there are those who say, God does not want you to suffer but there is nothing we can do about it. Thus, we turn people over to nursing homes, hospice, or we let them alone. In my estimation, the church is wrong on both counts. And if wrong is too strong a word then I would say that church is seriously misguided and lacks a proper theology of suffering. A better way to approach the suffering of Christians in the world is to examine Scripture carefully and see what the Scripture says on this matter. We may not always like what Scripture says, but we cannot deny that it does say it. Over the last 3 years or so my theology has been built upon this singular idea of Jesus: “And anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). And the positive version: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). This is the theology of suffering & weakness. Or as I also call it, The Crucifixion Driven Life.I think this is the alternative that is not quite in the middle, and one that does avoid the trappings of bad theology on the one hand and ignorance on the other. It is extreme, but it is neither a theology of glory or shame as is miracles and nursing homes. This approach allows that the premise God does not want you to suffer is not entirely true or accurate and that it must, indeed, be done away with in the church. Instead it changes that premise to read thus, God does not want you to suffer pointlessly. That is, suffering does indeed have a point, it is at times God-ordained, and the church is wrong to a) indiscriminately hand people off to faith-healers, b) hand the suffering over the hospitals, nursing homes, pills, and hospice and c) conclude that all suffering is evil and outside of Gods will. There is a place where suffering is necessary in our lives and we would be not at all the people God desires us to be apart from it. There is a place where suffering is not an evil and indeed, I believe, it is somewhat vocational. I think our suffering can be redemptive not, perhaps, in the sense of Christs universal atonement, but at least in the local sense that it might lead someone to Christ and might even save us. (I’m not opposed to nursing homes, I am using the terminology as a metaphor for the way we tend to ignore people who suffer, or get old, or who are ‘burdens’. It is not pejorative in my text.)True, there is evil in the world. It is rampant, far-flung, debilitating, and violently opposed to the will of God. The sort of suffering that most endure, in my estimation, is pointless. It is my conjecture that suffering apart from Christ is meaningless, suffering that does not lead to Christ is meaningless, and for the Christian who suffers and does not recognize the will of God, suffering is wasted. But therein, I believe, is the problem. The church is uniquely qualified to answer the objections of those who say that the presence of human suffering necessarily eliminates the conjecture that a Holy God governs the universe and that He demands our attention and allegiance. The problem is that the church has not answered the objections because we have tried to convince people that we can escape suffering (miracles) or ignore it (nursing homes, etc.). So at one extreme there has arisen a plethora of faith-healers whose only goal is to eradicate any and all forms of suffering as useless and meaningless and decidedly outside of Gods will, and at the other extreme the church has glossed over suffering as something merely virtuous that must be endured without assuming that God is actually using said suffering to accomplish His purposes. In other words, too many churches make suffering merely a philosophy instead of a theology. This, I contend, is wrong.When the church properly understands that the world exists at Gods command, that God uses all means necessary to accomplish his purpose for the world, and that this sometimes, oftentimes, includes suffering, then the church will have the authority and the right to address suffering in the general world as part of Gods redemptive work. First, however, we must answer the questions of those inthe church who object to a God who allows His people to suffer. In short, the church must confront people head on and explain why suffering must exist and why it has not been completely eradicated (and why it will not until the final consummation). The church has failed to acknowledge this in its desire to be appealing to those who suffer that is, we are more interested in people who might suffer than in disciples who willsuffer. (And, further, I think churches in general make far too many promises they are not authorized to make. Thus, we end up with the situation Jesus described in Matthew 13:20-21.). We figure, I guess, that if one or two suffer and end up lost that is somehow OK because we gained 8 others who did not suffer and stayed. We have told them of the glories and the crowns and we have failed to tell them of the suffering and the shame. Some have gone so far as to say, if you suffer it is because you don’t have enough faith. Personally, I think that it requires greater faith to say, Father, I will suffer for you. Forsyth wrote, It is a bold thing in the face of the proud, progressive, aggressive, warlike, Satanic world. It is an act of supernatural courage, in the face of all that to-day, to believe in the love and grace of God.PT Forsyth asked, Why in His creation must the way upward lie through suffering? (The Justification of God, 136) What I am proposing in this series of posts is to explore the Scripture on this very point. To do so, I would explore various passages of Scripture, dig into the work of others who have explored suffering from within and without the church, and interact with those who respond. I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers. I am suggesting I have many, many questions and that I would like to move towards and theology of suffering for the church. I believe it is necessary and that it must come from Scripture.Please forgive me if I make sweeping statements or broad generalizations. Some of this is reaction to the so-called miracle movement that is still prevalent in our culture and seems to continue gaining steam. I assure you my comments are not intended to be taken as a blanket criticism of all churches in the world.
 
Pt 2: Introduction Continued

I propose approaching this in two ways. First, Id like to see what Jesus or the apostles have to say about suffering in each of the books. I don’t think I will take time to explore too much of the Old Testament books, although, to be sure, I will highlight sections of Job, the Psalms, and some Prophetic literature. So, I would survey the books and highlight the various stories and teachings that come up and deal with suffering or with trials and suchlike.Second, I would go back through and select certain lengthy pericopes and passages within those contexts and explore them for explicit teachings on the matter of suffering. Thus we would deal with, at least, those passages I have highlighted in the below list. This will give us the narrow perspective whereas the first exercise will give us the broad perspective.Some of the general questions I would like to answer fall into these categories, but certainly are not limited to these questions. I think as we explore the Scripture together, we will find even more questions raised and more answers given about suffering in this world.*Does the existence of suffering in this world disprove the existence of God? Or is there a way it may actually justify and prove His existence?*The root causes of suffering are not always black and white, they are not always so Jobian in their meaning. Sometimes suffering is without a clear purpose or objective. How do we respond to those who object to meaningful suffering with the charge that all suffering is meaningless? (Must those who say all suffering is meaningless deny the existence of God?)*How does God use our suffering? And why through suffering? Isnt there a better way to teach us discipline and obedience?*What is the real story of Jobs suffering? What point was trying to be made when the Enemy caused Job to suffer? In the end, who was justified?*Man is called to suffer thus, Take up your cross daily, deny yourself and follow me. This is not a mere call to get out of bed and deal with all the junk in this world. It is a call to active participation in a life as a suffering servant. How do we begin?*Along a similar line, we must investigate Pauls discussion in Romans 12:1ff. Paul must be speaking here in more than metaphor.*How do we embrace suffering without being viewed as masochists? Or, Why do some view suffering as inherently good?*A proper theology of suffering is not rooted in the curse of Genesis but in the cross of Christ. The curse produced the world of suffering, the cross redeems the world of suffering, and Christ transforms the meaning of suffering.

*When Jesus told the disciples that in the case of the man born blind (John 9) sin was not the cause of his blindness he was not saying sin never causes suffering, nor was he saying that suffering is never the result of punishment for sin. Romans 1 proves this out when Paul makes his case that homosexuality itself is suffering for sin. Also see Psalm 51 and the story of David and Bathsheeba.

*What of so-called senseless suffering. That is, of children who get diseases and die or of families that get killed in car accidents? What of the Tower of Siloam? How do we respond to the evil that pervades this world? This is what some might call innocent suffering. How do we justify God in light of such situations? (I think it must start at the cross where God did not spare his own son.)

*Does God crush us that might trust him? See 2 Corinthians 1. Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.

*What about 2 Corinthians 4:16-18?

*If Jesus learned obedience through suffering, why should we not also? See Hebrews.

*He can we debunk the myth that health is membership? See Wendell Berry. Also Hebrews 2: He is not ashamed to call us brothers

*How is suffering a vale of soul-making? Or was Keats wrong in his assessment of suffering?

*If we had a proper theology of suffering would we be more inclined to risk our lives for the sake of Gospel? How does resurrection factor into our theology of suffering?

*Can our suffering be at all redemptive?

*Scripture passages that will be discussed:

1. Job 1 & 2
2. Luke 13:1-9
3. Romans 5:1-11
4. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11
5. 2 Corinthians 4:1-18
6. Psalm 51
7. John 9:1-41
8. Mark 5:21-43
9. Acts 5:17-42
10. Psalm 10
11. 2 Samuel 24
12. 2 Samuel 12
13. Romans 8
14. Philippians 1:27-30; 2:1-11; 3
15. 1 Peter 1-5 (he has much to say on this subject)
16. Revelation 1-3 (Revelation, like Peters epistle, carries the idea all through the book)
17. James 1:2
18. Acts 14:21-25
19. Genesis 3
20. John 12:20-36
21. Matthew 5:3-12
22. Matthew 10:17-42
23. Matthew 16:21-28
24. Matthew 27
25. Hebrews 2:5-18
26. Hebrews 12:1-13
27. 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10

I will do my best to keep these passages in context and Im sure there will be others that we should explore together. But lets start with this list. I realize this will take a long time to accomplish, but my point is very simple. We often use this website to argue about the finer points of our differences with one another and with those of other versions of Christianity. Id like to use this little space here to develop something unique: A Theology of Suffering & Weakness that befits the people of God. Id like to engage Scripture at its very root and learn why suffering is such an essential aspect of the faith we are called to. If we move along, and the interest begins to wane, I will cease posting here and move my thoughts to one of my blogs. Im not intending on taking up valuable space, but rather, engaging in conversationnot arguing and fighting and acting like childrenbut seriously engaging in mature conversation about a subject I believe the church desperately needs to develop, preach in its fullness, and practice in every day living. Offer yourselves, therefore, as living sacrifices Thats what the Scripture says. Where shall we begin?

In my next post, Ill explore the Gospel according to Matthew and see what is said there about suffering and trials. In this development of a Theology of Suffering & Weakness I invite your insights and conversation. Welcome.
 

[This next entry was a response to some folks who responded to my original posts. In a sense, it is an apologetic for my introduction. I have edited the original response I made. One person raised the question: What are we to say about those who do not suffer? Will we ‘say he is less Christ like if he doesn’t suffer the way Pentecostals accuse those who don’t speak in tongues the same?’ He warned against painting with too broad a brush. Another made mention of ‘free-will.’ I responded in kind to both, but I have left out their comments and names because I do not have permission to post them here, and I don’t feel like asking.]

Here is one final clarification on my intentions and objectives. I have no inention of replying tit-for-tat to every response and objection since that is not the point of this conversation. Suffice it to say, I’m not interested in Pentecostals and [ * ] you are off base to suggest that is where I am going, this has nothing to do with those who ‘don’t suffer’ because, in a manner of speaking, all do suffer whether they feel the physical side of it or not; all are wasting away; all are dying. (I’m interested in what Paul meant when he said ‘we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’ Does this mean some people might not suffer or will they be the exception to the rule? I don’t know right now. I hope to discover the answer to that, but all in due time.) Death, thus, is part of that suffering context. [ * ] I’m sure free-will plays a role here somewhere, but I will only address it when it comes up in the context of a passage being investigated. This is not just about the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores.’ It is about whatever Scripture teaches on the matter. But then again, I view Scripture through the Cross and not from the curse. I might not be satisfied with everything Scripture says on the matter of how much suffering I bring on myself or how much of it God allows to come my way or how much of it is divinely ordered discipline.As to ‘painting with wide brushes’, well, that’s probably why I said I’m hoping to develop a biblical theology. Everyone experiences suffering differently even if we all suffer. That’s why I’m not certain that we can develop a biblical theology from personal experience; we’d never solve anything or come to any conclusions at all. I’m interested in what the Scripture has to say on this particular subject and how the Scripture thus helps keep our focus in the real world. (Like Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endure the cross.) I plan on being as narrow as I can, as narrow as Scripture permits. That’s why it is called a biblical theology. I wish I could actually say something before people start raising objections.Please understand that my objectives may not be yours, that I may come to conclusions that are not yours, and that I’m not going to solve every practical problem that exists in this world, but neither is that my objective. This is an experiment to see if this website can be used for the development of ideas beyond the normal things we discuss. And it is an experiment to get feedback and to be accountable for things I intend on preaching in the near future. I am confident that no one here will agree with all that I say and write. I don’t expect anyone to. In fact, I expect balanced, carefully reasoned discussion and disagreement. That’s how we learn.For me, this is an opportunity to learn, grow, be corrected, and to an extent, teach others. I’m interested in Scripture because I think Scripture has more to say on this subject, positively and negatively, that the church really cares to admit or preach. I don’t want us to limit our conversation on suffering in the real world to days when airplanes fly into buildings or a lunatic goes nuts on a cafeteria full of Jewish folks or a bus full of school children bursts into flames. I think our conversation needs to be upfront about what Scripture says: That since the fall, the earth has been getting worse and suffering will continue, but that God intends to redeem our suffering and use it for His own glory, even as He did in Christ Jesus.I want to participate in that. Like Paul wrote: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” In this, and many verses like it, is the theology I am referring to because I think Paul is speaking in more than mere metaphor. We shall, hopefully, see.I will make this ‘first’ post concerning Matthew in a couple or three installments since it will be a rather long post. The first post, the one you are reading, is some of my preliminary observations from Matthew’s Gospel. The second post will be a survey of ‘suffering’ texts in Matthew’s Gospel. The third post will serve as a conclusion to sum up my thoughts on suffering after surveying Matthew.








A Theology of Suffering Pt 2
Matthews Gospel
Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Louis Rey, 7Introduction: Preliminary Questions Underlying the StudyThere are a couple of important questions to ask at the outset of development of a theology of suffering. I dont intend to answer them point blank, but rather I intend to let them sort of simmer beneath the surface. Furthermore, as with any exegetical project, I dont intend to let these questions drive the exegesis. I am, however, hoping that somewhere along the line these questions will find resolution from the Scripture. Before I travel with you through Matthews Gospel, then, I will note these questions:First, What is suffering? How shall it be defined? Can suffering be limited or should it be expanded? Do we include all kinds of suffering under the category suffering and should we?Second, Is there such a thing a vicarious suffering? Can I, for example, suffer for someone else? Is there a ministry of suffering that some Christians will be called to?Third, Why did Jesus heal people during His time on earth? Was healing an end in itself? (What did it point to, what did it mean?)Fourth, Is there a difference between the suffering of Christians and not-Christians? Can suffering ever be meaningless?Fifth, Is suffering an ontological necessity in this world? Can this world, cursed as it is because of sin, realistically exist without suffering, disease, and death? If yes, then why doesnt it? If no, how can we make sense of it? Escape it? Justify it?Sixth, Why is it the person of Jesus generates such opposition among humans that results in the persecution of those who follow Him?

Seventh, What does the presence of suffering, persecution, and evil say about the God to whom this world belongs?

These questions, and perhaps others, will linger in my head as this theology begins to develop. Im not sure if they are fair questions and Im not sure if the Bible will answer them. This is why I prefer to leave them dangling rather than approach the Scripture with these questions. Im not searching for answers to these questions necessarily even if I hope I find some answers along the way.

Part 1: Preliminary Questions Concerning Matthews Gospel

With respect to Matthews Gospel where this study begins, I do have a couple of questions that will seek answers for but only because they came out of the preliminary study I did on Matthews Gospel.

At the beginning of 2006 I studied the latter portion of Matthews Gospel for a sermon series I titled The Crucifixion Driven Life. (I did begin in Matthew 1:18-25, but after that I picked up in Matthew 16:21-28 and beyond.) These questions were born, to a degree, from that prolonged study of the life that Jesus calls his disciples to: Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me is the gist of it and plays a large role in the closing narratives of Matthews Gospel. (True, he also makes similar statements in chapter 10 of Matthew.) The questions are as follows:

First, Can it be shown over the course of Matthews Gospel that suffering is a qualifying characteristic of the disciples of Jesus? Suffering (& persecution) hits hard in Matthew right from the get go and all through till the end. It is difficult to read Matthew apart from the distress and turmoil of which the arrival of Jesus was a major catalyst (even though Jesus also testifies that the righteous have always been persecuted by the unrighteous).

Second, What do the numerous and varied healings of people by Jesus say about the nature of his ministry? The numerous miracles of Jesus that Matthew records for us teaches us, at least, that to some extent Jesus was opposed to suffering and that He did much to relieve it and defeat it. The question to ask is whether this sort of work demanded his full attention of it if was a preview of the Resurrection Life that was promised at some later date. In my estimation, the manner in which we answer this question greatly impacts whether or not we can claim such a ministry or healing for ourselves now.

Third, Is there a need to reconcile cross-carrying with this healing ministry of Jesus? There is little doubt that Jesus demanded much from his disciples. He said not once but twice that his disciples will be cross-carrying disciples (10 & 16). And he said at the very beginning of the Gospel (5:10-12) that those who will follow Him should expect a life of discomfort. Whether this means all who follow Him will suffer or not is beside the point. Clearly, Jesus expects that there will be great opposition to His message, His person, and His followers.

Fourth, Is there a difference between physical deficiency (blindness, etc.) and persecution because of adherence to Jesus? These questions I hope will be specifically answered as we travel through the text of Matthews Gospel. I think there is and as such I think that means that suffering serves different purposes in different people. What I dont think this means is that all suffering is necessarily equal. Im not necessarily inclined to believe that my suffering of chronic back pain or headaches is equivalent to someone in the Middle East being persecuted because of Jesus.

Fifth, There are many passages in Matthews Gospel that deal either directly or indirectly with the reality of suffering. There are also significant passages in Matthews Gospel that deal directly with the healing ministry of Jesus. I think to a certain degree it begs the question: Why didnt Jesus eliminate all suffering? Again, we might also ask: Does the healing ministry of Jesus at all contradict his clear summons for his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him?

Sixth, I can also reasonably ask this question: If Jesus promised that those who follow him will have to contend directly with much opposition, much difficulty, and that, even though in the long run suffering will be eliminated, they will not necessarily be exempt from the travails of the fallen world in regard to sickness, disease, and the like, and that those who follow will be persecuted, then why would anyone want to follow him? Furthermore, why would anyone continue to follow after such things happened? Partially these questions are answered in Matthew 13. There seems to be something highly illogical about a person continuing on when such are the promises made by the One they will follow.

There is one final note I would like to add and that concerns the reasons why the Scriptures were written and preserved for us. John states well that they were written so that we might believe in Jesus and have life. To that end, the question might arise: Are you asking the Bible to answer questions that the Bible is not interested in answering? Well, Id like to say no, but the truth is that I am probably doing that very thing. I hope not too, but where else shall I look? I hope to let the text speak for itself and to simply discern some of what is written concerning this very large topic. I know it is not always possible to remain above our own prejudices and biases towards the text. Thats one reason why I will post these thoughts here so that I may be reproved when necessary. I hope to see these thoughts develop not just announce.

This is all very preliminary and I welcome all comments on these questionseven those who happen to disagree. At this point, Im reserving conclusions until after I have surveyed the Gospel, which is my next task.

Part 2: Surveying the Gospel kata Matthew

“Today is Friday, November 20. Julie Norwhich is in the hospital, burned; we can get no word of her condition. People released from burn wards, I read once, have a very high suicide rate. They had not realized, before they were burned, that life could include such suffering, nor that they personally could be permitted such pain. No drugs ease the pain of third-degree burns, because burns destroy skin: the drugs simply leak into the sheets. His disciples asked Christ about a roadside beggar who had been blind from birth, Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? And Christ, who spat on the ground, made a mud of his spittle and clay, plastered the mud over the man’s eyes, and gave him sight, answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. Really? If we take this answer to refer to the affliction itselfand not the subsequent cureas Gods works made manifest, then we have, along with not as the world gives do I give unto you, two meager, baffling, and infuriating answers to one of the few questions worth asking, to wit, What in the Sam Hill is going on here?

“The works of God made manifest? Do we really need more victims to remind us that were all victims? Is this some sort of parade for which a conquering army shines up its terrible guns and rolls them up and down the streets for people to see? Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us of what God canand will do?” Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm, 59-61

Of one thing I am certain concerning the Gospel according to Matthew: It is decidedly about Jesus. It stands to reason then that we might ask the question: Does Matthew’s Gospel, which is about Jesus, have anything to say about suffering, the subject we are discussing in this essay? To be sure, Matthew does have something to say about suffering, but in hard fact, it may not be what we expect. The message of Matthew’s Gospel as it pertains to the life of one who would follow Jesus is hard, full of ‘What in Sam Hill is going on’ here type questions, and not easy to understand. I make no overtures here that I have somehow tapped into a keg of wisdom that somehow satisfies all of the questions that people bring to the text; least of all my own. In point of fact, the text itself may actually lead to more questions that we suppose possible for the text to answer.

The number one question, even though I have already posed no less than 7 questions above, is this: Why, after reading this Gospel account of the Messiah, would anyone choose to start following, continue following, and not give up following Jesus? What makes a disciple want to stay with him in spite of such a deplorable outlook on the manner in which said disciple will undoubtedly be treated in this world by those who don’t follow? It is a mind-boggling, mind-warping question for which I am certain an answer will soon follow.

Matthew’s Gospel begins with a genealogy of Jesus Christ. This is a strange place to begin. Most modern biographies are not written such; we care very little who were the parents of Churchill or Hitler or Gandhi. But Matthew ties the person of Jesus back to the man named Abraham and moves forward from that point. If we were to go back and survey the lives of those written of in this genealogy, lives written of in the Old Testament, we would certainly see lives that were filled with suffering and misery alongside their moments of blessing and glory. These people who form the family tree of Jesus were no strangers to suffering. But if the Bible has told its readers there will be suffering, why has it done so? Couldn’t we, in fact, learn as much about the coming Messiah, God’s Providence, Creativity, and Sovereignty, and man’s dilemma by reading about the successes of Abraham and David as we can from reading about their pathos? Why is Scripture, as hopeful of a volume as it is, so replete with accounts of man’s suffering, wickedness, and evil?

Immediately we are introduced to Joseph and Mary. Joseph is warned by an angel to take Mary as his wife even though she is already pregnant quite apart from Joseph’s intervention. Then we read: She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. At this juncture, we are perhaps a bit uncertain what this will entail; however, Matthew is certain to flesh it out for us in the remainder of the Gospel. The birth of Jesus into this world came with a steep price. No one has failed to be affected by his arrival. No one has failed to be touched in some way by his incarnation. Matthew makes certain we know of it. The Magi are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, but we are left to puzzle one thing: ‘When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.’ I am puzzled. Were the lives of these grown men more significant, more important than the lives of these children who had done nothing wrong? Why were the Magi warned and not the families of these children? (Even today we hear stories about people who were ‘warned’ ahead of time about going to work on September 11, 2001. Many have questioned: Why some and not all? I confess ignorance, save for a heavy reliance upon the Sovereign wisdom of God.) Or, is it enough to say that perhaps God preserved these men so they could take the message of this new king back to their native lands?

Joseph also has to flee for his life with his wife and son because ‘Herod [was] going to search for the boy to kill him.’ Then Herod dies and a new ruler, evidently worse in Joseph’s mind, takes over and begins to rule. Chapters 1 & 2 of Matthew’s Gospel do not paint a very easy picture of the arrival of Messiah. Many suffered just from the birth, many died, the world was turned upside down and He had not spoken so much as a word in judgment, or favor, or broken the Sabbath, or turned over a temple money changers table. ‘What was going on?’ the people must have thought. ‘Why are you killing our children? God, why?’ What we see in conjunction with this is that even getting Jesus to earth was no small chore. From the outset the unrighteous sought to dispense with Jesus’ life. I wonder what level of depravity wells up in a man to cause him fear of a child? Just how much did Herod know? Couldn’t Jesus arrival been a little easier?
* * * * *

When John the Baptist arrives on the scene, I assume many years later, things don’t get much better. John’s fiery preaching speaks of judgment on Israel and is intended to make preparations for the way of the Lord. He speaks of one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He speaks of one who will clear the threshing floor and burn up chaff with fire. This will be no easy message that The One John is preparing the way for will bring. It will be hard.

The Life of Jesus will be no easier. Immediately following His own baptism he is driven into the desert where he faces the Tempter and I don’t imagine that 40 days of fasting were an easy row to hoe! He then began to preach and call people to be his disciples: Did they have any idea what they were getting into? After his first public words, ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’, and his first calling, ‘come, follow me’, we see Matthew’s first hint of the miraculous in verse 23-25 of chapter 3: people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. So, early in the ministry of Jesus a healing ministry developed. We are not told why. We are not told how. We are only that he healed them. We will see this ministry increase throughout Matthew’s Gospel but I think with qualification. As the Gospel goes on, there will be more and more explanation and detail given to the nature of the diseases, healings, and whys of the illnesses cured. Carson notes, ‘The healings of various diseases among the people further attest to the kingdom’s presence and advance’ (121). So, the miracles in Matthew, like John, are pointers to something beyond themselves, here, the Kingdom’s advance. Carson goes on, ‘In the NT sickness may result directly from a particular sin (e.g., John 5:14, 1 Cor 11:30) or may not (e.g., John 9:2-3). But both Scripture and Jewish tradition take sickness as resulting directly or indirectly from living in a fallen world. The Messianic Age would end such grief (Isa 11:1-5; 35:5-6). Therefore Jesus miracles, dealings with every kind of ailment, not only herald the kingdom but show that God has pledged himself to deal with sin at a basic level’ (DA Carson, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Matthew vol 8, 122, 122-123).

So here we see the first inklings of the manner in which the Kingdom of God advances. It is a Kingdom that calls for repentance from sin, following Jesus and preparing others to do the same, and dealing with sickness and disease and the fundamental causes of sin. The chapter begins with the temptations and, what I will call, early sufferings of Jesus and ends (insofar as chapter 4 is concerned) with Jesus dispensing of the suffering in others through his work. We are not told, however, how Jesus healed these people. We might assume through miraculous intervention, but we are not told so explicitly. We are told that Jesus went from here to there preaching the Good News. I cannot help but wonder how much of this preaching of the Good News affected people physically.

Matthew wrote, ‘Large crowds followed him.’ Then, when He saw the crowds, he went upon a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them Then Jesus launches into one of the most spell-binding, counter-cultural, Kingdom-defining sermons contained in all of Scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. But watch out! We may not be ready for the sort of Kingdom that Jesus will speak of in these verses and the sorts of things that will mark those who belong to said kingdom.
* * * * *

I’d like now to make a couple of observations concerning what we have read so far in the first four chapters of Matthew’s Gospel.

First, I began by noting that Matthew opens his Gospel by reciting for us, at least in part, the history of, not only the Israelite people, but the personal genealogy of Jesus. He describes this as the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David more so than the history of Israel. However, it is difficult to differentiate or distinguish between the two. All of the historical figures described in the family tree underwent or endured some sort of suffering during the course of their lives. Some of them were the perpetuators of suffering (I am thinking of the kings like Manasseh and others who filled Israel with blood, 2 Kings 21, etc.). Others were at least the direct cause of it (David’s sin with Bathsheeba, for example, brought untold suffering to David, the illegitimate child, Bathsheeba, Israel, Davids family and more.) The question, I believe, that naturally arises from such a consideration of the history of Israel, and of the Messiah is this: Why did the OT characters suffer so much and why, when recording their history, did the authors of the books, no doubt inspired by God, consider it necessary to record their history of violence and suffering for us, or for anyone?

It might also be asked, justly, how their suffering was used by God, or ask what purpose it served, or, why were they so prone to bringing violence and suffering to themselves and others? I think Paul answers these questions in part in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:

1 ‘For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them didand in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them didand were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them didand were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it’ (NIV).

So to answer my question, and Annie Dillard’s question, in part, their history of suffering was so that we, on whom the Kingdom age has dawned, might not be so thick headed. It might sound strange, but I think this is part of the answer. We will not doubt have a greater insight into why suffering occurs and to its potentional causes. The book of Hebrews has another answer for us in chapter 11:

‘And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.’

Another part of the answer is, then, to show us this: We who suffer are in good company. We are shown their example here, positively, so that we will imitate. In 1 Corinthians we are taught what example not to follow; in Hebrews we are taught was example we should follow. In other words, some suffering is pointless and preventable; other is welcomed as a sign that we belong to Someone Greater, and are looking forward to Something Greater. To include these figures in the genealogy of Jesus Messiah is to show us that a) he rejects the sort of suffering we bring on ourselves (1 Corinthians) and embraces and redeems the sort of suffering exemplified by his predecessors, the sort of suffering that was endured because of righteousness and obedience to God (Hebrews). My point is simply this: We cannot discredit or ignore the historical lives of the people mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Messiah. We must remember what the endured, what they suffered, and how amazing it is that, although the suffered greatly and nearly, several times, extinguished themselves, yet God was able to preserve them and their line and bring Messiah to earth? In short, our suffering, our evil, our pathos, do not nullify Gods plans, do not trump His Sovereignty, or sidestep His Providence.

Second, through four chapters, then, what does Matthew’s Gospel say about suffering? It’s hard to tell because there are no direct references that say: ‘Here is why people suffer.’ Furthermore, we have to be careful not to read into the text something that is not there. Such actions have caused many an eager student to develop hypotheses and theories and theologies that are profoundly wanting for justification. We must be careful. I think it safe to say this much: Jesus advent brought suffering to a new level, but it is, at least, consistent (as the genealogy shows) with the suffering of the righteous throughout Biblical history.

Now this is not to say that people never slaughtered babies before or again (I think of our own abortion causes and purveyors and providers in America and around the world who justify killing babies before they leave the womb simply because they are inconvenient.) Certainly, given Herod’s historical record, he did not need too much impetus for the wholesale slaughter of people old or young, distant or close. Still, the slaughter of the children remembered by Matthew is directly attributed to the advent of Messiah and Herod’s somewhat irrational fear and theological misunderstanding of the Messiah. That is, had he not come, those particular babies might not have been slaughtered. Others would have been, yes; these ones perhaps not. His arrival, or even the hint of his arrival, stirred up great anxiety which led to the suffering of others.(This is not a criticism, but merely an observation. In my estimation, it is a preview of what those who follow Jesus can certainly expect. If his mere arrival as a baby caused the unrighteous this much consternation, how much more will his adult life, his teaching, his work, and his legacy? We should expect much, much opposition.)

We are also told that Jesus would save his people from their sins. We ask: How? What does this mean? And yet by the time we arrive at the end of the Gospel it is clear enough (even though we don’t have to wait until the very end!) how this will be accomplished. Jesus gives us plenty of hints along the way of what is coming and what his people can expect. I will say this: once the violence begins it does not abate. Forsyth is right to note that nothing in the history of man is more abominable than what man did to Jesus; yet God used even that to serve His own Will. (John’s Gospel, as we shall see later, also notes this escalating violence. Jesus himself warns his disciples that they will have trouble in the world.) I have no raw data, but I wonder if it could be shown that the world has grown more and more violent since the death of Christ? I wonder if we have and will continue to invent new ways to make people suffer, experience pain, and die violently? I wonder if anyone has undertaken such a study?

Finally, I note that whatever ‘kingdom’ means in the Gospel and in real time (today), suffering is not compatible with it (The Kingdom) forever. What I mean is this: Jesus called for repentance, followers, and he healed those with illnesses of their illness. I don’t think Jesus believed suffering was meant to be a permanent state of being. This is not to say that suffering is not useful or necessary now. It is to say that physical, mental, or externally provoked (demons or persecution by the unrighteous) pathos is not meant to be a permanent state of being that will never find recovery. Sin must not be overlooked here. I believe that Scripture clearly teaches that suffering came into the world as part of the sin in the garden (Genesis 3). Man may or may not have been the inventor of sin; but man has found ways to maximize its potential. And man has suffered immensely because of its presence in the world. When man sinned, he brought upon himself all the infection and disease and discomfort he could invent and that the fallen, cursed world would produce. The suffering world is the world where man decides and declares what is good. It is a world where we make judgments about what is right and what is wrong. The pathos in this world clearly shows us that our choices have had cataclysmic consequences not only for humanity but for the rest of creation as well (Romans 8, Job, etc.). In other words, we will continue to find new ways to kill, suffer, and die as long as we are on this planet. Jesus healing of all sorts of various diseases and maladies is his rebuke of sin and mans right to determine what is good and not. A world without suffering will be a world that is governed by Messiah because Jesus alone has the authority and power to dispense with suffering and render it powerless to control humanity (Hebrews 2:14-18). (I think this is also seen in Jesus constant rebuke of demons and the role they play in causing humans to suffer; see Matthew 17:14-21). If suffering will not be a part of the completely redeemed world (the not yet), and it is a part of the partially redeemed world (the now), and sin is always lurking, could this suffering be partial judgment on the earth and on those who sin to show us how far reaching is sins reach? (Yes, of course, there are innocents who suffer, but this does not negate the general point. There will always be innocents who suffer because of others.)

Next, we will move into Matthews second panel, Matthew chapters 5-7 and try to unravel a little of what he says will be defining characteristics of those who choose the kingdom way of life or at least what such people should expect will characterize their experience. In my estimation, Matthew 5-7 stands as a contrast and a rebuke of the so-called name it and claim ministry model, the health and wealth gospel, and the formalized practice of faith-healing. These ideas are simply incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus as presented in Matthew (and elsewhere in the NT).

(I have also encountered a couple of new volumes that I think might be helpful in these studies. One is called, How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, by DA Carson, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder, The House of the Dead, Notes From the Underground & Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dostoyevsky is brilliant in his searching of mans inner recesses. His depth of understanding of the psychology of mans torment is unparalleled.), One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Candide, Voltaire. I will be adding books as I remember them or come across them. (I have read all these with the exception of Carsons book which I only obtained 4 days ago.) I sometimes forget about them until I look at them again. So many stories deal with suffering that nearly all of them could be included at one point or another. Im listing the ones I have read, enjoyed, and learned from. Incidentally, The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a fantastic book that should be read in conjunction with Brave New World by Aldous Huxley & King Lear by William Shakespeare. You will find them to be a remarkable commentary on each other.)

____________

Friends,

Here is the first sermon in the series of sermons I will be delivering from Matthew’s Gospel over the next 10 weeks or so. I preached the first half of this sermon Sunday (9/9) and saved the second half for next week (9/16). I’m not exactly certain how I feel about these first two points I made in this message. I thought perhaps they were a bit muddled or perhaps they were too similar and therefore much of what I said was a bit redundant. Then again, I thought too that perhaps I should have formulated a different outline, one that would have had only three points instead of four. If I had gone with the three points they would have looked like this:

Theme: We serve a God who has not abandoned us to suffering and the ravages of evil. Instead, he shows, in Christ what he thinks of evil in suffering.

1. Jesus acknowledges the reality of suffering in people.

2. Jesus participates in the reality of suffering at the cross.

3. Jesus will ultimately eradicate all suffering from life.

These three points can be sufficiently made from the text of Matthew 1-4. He acknowledges the reality of suffering by being born into a world of suffering for the express purpose of ‘saving people from their sins.’ Not only this, but also we learn this indirectly through the geneaology. Finally, His name is ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God with us.’ He not only acknowledges suffering, but participates in it. He participates in the reality of suffering at the cross, but also it is previewed in the temptations in the desert. And finally, the last part of chapter 4 shows the reader a preview of what Jesus will ultimately do with all suffering and disease. But this only comes after we are told that he will ‘save people from their sins.’

I probably could have made this sermon ‘work’ a little better than my current outline, even the current outline contains hints and parts of the above outline. So, for what it’s worth, below is the first sermon I preached on ‘Towards a Theology of Suffering’ from the Gospel according to Matthew.

______________

Towards a Theology of Suffering

The Gospel according to Matthew

Pt. 1: The Advent of the Son of God and Suffering

Matthew 1-4

Introduction

“After 911 the entire world asked once again the age old question, ‘If God is good then why evil?’ The paradox of the Cross of Christ is the answer to all of the pained questionings of the human heart. The bottom line: God permits evil only to draw a greater good from it.”

___________________

“Today is Friday, November 20. Julie Norwhich is in the hospital, burned; we can get no word of her condition. People released from burn wards, I read once, have a very high suicide rate. They had not realized, before they were burned, that life could include such suffering, nor that they personally could be permitted such pain. No drugs ease the pain of third-degree burns, because burns destroy skin: the drugs simply leak into the sheets. His disciples asked Christ about a roadside beggar who had been blind from birth, Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? And Christ, who spat on the ground, made a mud of his spittle and clay, plastered the mud over the man’s eyes, and gave him sight, answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. Really? If we take this answer to refer to the affliction itselfand not the subsequent cureas Gods works made manifest, then we have, along with not as the world gives do I give unto you, two meager, baffling, and infuriating answers to one of the few questions worth asking, to wit, What in the Sam Hill is going on here?

“The works of God made manifest? Do we really need more victims to remind us that were all victims? Is this some sort of parade for which a conquering army shines up its terrible guns and rolls them up and down the streets for people to see? Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us of what God canand will do?” Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm, 59-61

__________________

We support a mission outreach called Training Christians for Ministry. Four of us will be traveling to Austria next year in support of this mission. Their most recent letter, dated August 20, reports on one of their students, Zaur Balaev who is from Aliabad, Azerbaijan, and who, recently, was sentenced to two years in prison for holding what officials called ‘illegal meetings under the guise of religious activity without concrete authority and without state recognition.’ He was also accused of ‘setting a dog on police during their raid of a Sunday worship service,’ ‘attacking five policemen and damaging a police car.’ TCM reports that ‘even though all charges are groundless, he has been held for two months pending trial. During this time he has been repeatedly beaten, suffered two heart attacks (he has a congenital heart condition), and now suffers severe kidney pain.’ He has, according to witnesses been kept at a place called ‘the frog pool’ where prisoners are usually kept for short periods. There is no toilet or ventilation….He is 44 years old.’ He has a wife and two children who have been denied even the basic courtesy of birth certificates.’ [Try: Forum18.]

__________________

Jacqui and Amadeo Saburido are on a quest. They’re trying to salvage Jacqui’s hands and eyes, restore her independence and, maybe, make her whole again after the accident. On Sept. 19, 1999, Jacqui got a ride home from a party in Austin. On a dark road, a drunken driver veered over the yellow line.

Two passengers died on impact. Two were rescued from the spreading fire by frantic paramedics. Jacqui, pinned in the front seat, burned. She woke up in a hospital in Galveston, blind and hallucinating. Her parents, estranged from each other, waited by her bedside, watching parts of their daughter die. But Jacqui lived. She emerged from the hospital unrecognizable and totally dependent.

She suffered third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body, according to her hospital discharge report. After 2 years, she’s had more than 40 surgical procedures. Her goals are basic but desperate. She wants her left eyelid rebuilt and her vision restored. She wants to regain use of her hands. She also wants hair, a nose and lips. But no doctor has the magic answer, and no surgeon has much to work with. Jacqui’s body is a mass of scars. “I know I’m not going to be the same,” Jacqui says, “but I want to recover what I can.”

Amadeo shuttles his daughter from city to city, chasing referrals and fourth opinions. As long as Jacqui has options — and the will — her search continues. “We’re in a life of wandering,” says Amadeo, who is 49. [For more on the story of Jacqui.]

__________________

Let us now turn our attention to the Word of God:

18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23″The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

I don’t suppose that I will answer all the questions that we bring to the text concerning suffering and evil in the world in the course of the mere four and a half hours I will speak to you over the next 9 weeks. I don’t even suppose that the Scriptures we will search will have all the answers, or any answers, to the questions we will bring to them.

Suffering is no easy reality to contend with; evil is no reality to grapple with. But my thesis is not that suffering and evil are easy to wrestle with, but rather that suffering and evil are not merely subjects we must study or concepts we must hypothesize about. No, in fact, my thesis is that suffering and evil are necessarily about people. It is, after all, people who suffer, not suffering that peoples. Now that may sound strange, but I don’t believe our responsibility on earth is necessarily to eradicate evil because, in fact, we cannot. Our responsibility is to point people to the Savior who acknowledges suffering, who participates in suffering, and who, ultimately, redeems and corrects and eradicates suffering.

In other words, I think that we Christians have to be realistic about suffering in this world. To be sure, this is not merely about developing an understanding of suffering and evil as if those two were disconnected from reality and people. It is about developing a proper response and action to evil: What then shall we do? is somewhat more important than, What then shall we say? Some preachers have a grand vision for Christianity. Rick Warren, the famous preacher of the Purpose Driven Life says at his website: Dr. Rick Warren is passionate about attacking what he calls the five “Global Goliaths” – spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease, and illiteracy/poor education. His goal is a second Reformation by restoring responsibility in people, credibility in churches, and civility in culture. He is a pastor, global strategist, theologian, and philanthropist. He’s been often named “America’s most influential spiritual leader” and “America’s Pastor.”

But even Jesus said, rather clearly, that in spite of our best efforts, ‘there will always be poor among us.’ So contrary to Warren’s assertion that the church has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to such things in the world. Said Warren in an essay in Christianity Today:

Around this time, Warren says he was driven to reexamine Scripture with “new eyes.” What he found humbled him. “I found those 2,000 verses on the poor. How did I miss that? I went to Bible college, two seminaries, and I got a doctorate. How did I miss God’s compassion for the poor? I was not seeing all the purposes of God.

“The church is the body of Christ. The hands and feet have been amputated and we’re just a big mouth, known more for what we’re against.” Warren found himself praying, “God, would you use me to reattach the hands and the feet to the body of Christ, so that the whole church cares about the whole gospel in a whole new way—through the local church?”

Well in principle, perhaps. I’m not being critical, but I do wonder if perhaps this is not a little over-reaching, and not a little beside the point. After all, what is the relief of suffering apart from faith in Christ by more suffering? That is why, for instance, Matthew begins his Gospel by retelling us the genealogy of Jesus. He is remind us of people who, through the ages of Christian faith, have suffered. In other words, Christianity is not about turning a blind eye to the fact of suffering; suffering is our history. And not only is it our history, it is the history of the Messiah, Jesus. As Bonhoeffer taught, When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

With the balance of my time this morning, I’d like to share some general observations I have gleaned from Matthew 1-4. I will share four thoughts. First, the advent of the Son of God necessarily brought a more focused and acute suffering for the guilty and the innocent. Second, those who belong to Jesus and follow him will necessarily endure more suffering from those opposed to Him. Third, the life of Jesus was necessarily characterized by suffering in many forms. And finally, in Jesus’ ministry, we have a preview of the ultimate ends he means to achieve and will achieve through the cross and resurrection.

_________________

 

First, we see from Matthew 1-4 that the advent of the Son of God brought a more focused and acute suffering into this world. This is not to say that suffering didn’t exist before Christ came: It most certainly did. But look at what happens:

There are innocent children who suffer at the hands of vicious Herod. There are the Magi undoubtedly having to endure some difficulty due to what they knew about the Messiah. I wonder why it is that the Magi were warned in a dream to flee Herod but the families of those young boys were not? Then there’s Mary and Joseph, forced to leave their homes and flee to Egypt. Then there’s this saying from John.

When John the Baptist arrives on the scene, I assume many years later, things don’t get much better. John’s fiery preaching speaks of judgment on Israel and is intended to make preparations for the way of the Lord. He speaks of one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He speaks of one who will clear the threshing floor and burn up chaff with fire. This will be no easy message that The One John is preparing the way for will bring. It will be hard.

For some reason, the embodiment of God’s righteousness and truth flipped a switch in people’s minds. When we read through John’s Gospel we were constantly encountering people who wanted to kill or arrest or stone or lay hands on Jesus and who eventually did. Jesus, for some reason, upset something in the status quo, something in the so-called balance of power, so that even today we see people being persecuted because of Jesus. Yet there are no apologies in Scripture for what Herod did because of Jesus. It is reported very matter of factly: When Herod couldn’t find Jesus, he took out his wrath on others. I think that this sort of evil and violence continues to be perpetuated by the hands of those who despise the righteousness of God.

And I think this means more than just physical assault. There is in place and entire system of unregulated, and somewhat unmitigated, violence being perpetuated against people who belong to God’s righteousness in Christ. Those children in Judea those days were only the first in what has proven to be a long lilne of people persecuted because of Jesus. But you will notice that it was in an effort to get to Jesus that these violences took place. The searches, the murders, the escapes: these were all because someone was trying to get to Jesus. I wonder if the same is not true now also?

______________

Second, those who belong to Jesus will necessarily have to endure more suffering by those opposed to Jesus than will others. I think the Scriptural attestation to this is abundant. In fact, Jesus will waste no time telling his disciples in chapter 5 of Matthew that this is what they can expect from the world. Matthew wrote:

13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18″A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

Look at all these people, from the get go, who endured suffering and violence at the hands of those opposed to Jesus. And as we continue to read through the Gospels, not just Matthew, and even into the book of Acts, we learn that the followers of Jesus will continue to face great opposition and persecution. It is inevitable that those who follow the way of the Righteous One will have to endure the same ignominious persecution that The Righteous One faced. This is why, I think in part, the genealogy is included in Matthew at the start. It shows us that when we suffer, we are suffering in good company. This is reiterated in the Gospel in Hebrews chapter 11 which was written, in part, to show us that those who belonged to Christ even in the OT days suffered for their righteousness and for the Righteous One. We should expect it because it has been our history from the beginning.

___________________

 

Third, we learn from Matthew 1-4 that the life of Jesus would be characterized by suffering. Indeed, he was the ‘man of sorrows’ who ‘carried our burdens.’ He was characterized by trials, temptations, and sufferings. So we read:

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6″If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9″All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” 11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

The book of Hebrews again says that ‘Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered.’ In other words, his suffering enables him to be a ‘perfect high priest’ because he fully understands our condition.

But this is also true because Jesus, Matthew wrote, ‘would save his people from their sins.’ We would only fully understand this statement near the end of the Gospel when Jesus was crucified, but even here at the beginning, we see how Jesus suffered when he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18). So Leon Morris wrote in his book The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross:

Our redemption was not purchased cheaply. This thought is to be discerned in the statement that ‘it became him…in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings’ (Hebrews 2:10). Again, there is the thought that Christ suffered through temptation (Hebrews 2:18; and see 4:15), and it is said that He ’suffered without the gate’ (Hebrews 13:12). In similar vein are passages stressing the humiliation of the incarnation; He was made a little lower than the angels for the tasting of death (Heb 2:9), He endured the cross despising its shame, and from many directions we see a stress laid on the cost of our salvation, and this should be borne in mind in estimating the writer’s thought on redemption. Even when he is not using that exact term, he has the idea of cost that it denotes.”

________________

 

Finally, we see here in Matthew 1-4 that in Jesus’ ministry, we have a preview of the ultimate ends he means to achieve and will achieve through the cross and resurrection; through His suffering:

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. 25Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

To put it simply, Jesus hated suffering and disease and evil and the waste that it lays to human life. I don’t really think people understand this, I really don’t. People say things like, “If God is good why is there suffering and evil?” A better question is, “Since God is good and righteous and just and holy, what has he done about evil and suffering in the person of Jesus?” This passage shows us, I think, not the norm of the Kingdom now, but rather a preview of what Jesus plans to ultimately do with all the suffering and evil in the world: Eradicate it.

Still, I think we have to remember this: He will save his people from their sins. If Jesus came to the earth to save his people from their sins, is there any relationship, ultimately, between suffering and sin? Ultimately, yes. It seems to me that the ultimate dismantling of suffering in this world will come when sin and death, the last enemy, is finally undone. So Hebrews 2:

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

And, finally, Revelation 21:

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.

______________________

Conclusion

 

These are preliminary thoughts, to be sure, but hopefully they remind us that we live in a flawed world. More importantly, I hope they remind us that we live in a world that has been, is, and will be fully redeemed by Jesus, and only Jesus. My point this morning is that only in Jesus does suffering even begin to make sense because only in Jesus can we a way out, a way through, or even peace and hope in the midst of.

But there’s one last thing.

Of one thing I am certain concerning the Gospel according to Matthew: It is decidedly about Jesus. The message of Matthew’s Gospel as it pertains to the life of one who would follow Jesus is hard, full of ‘What in Sam Hill is going on’ here type questions, and not easy to understand. I make no overtures here that I have somehow tapped into a keg of wisdom that somehow satisfies all of the questions that people bring to the text; least of all my own.

The number one question is this: Why, after reading this Gospel account of the Messiah, of Jesus, would anyone choose to start following, continue following, and not give up following Jesus? What makes a disciple want to stay with him in spite of such a deplorable outlook on the manner in which said disciple will undoubtedly be treated in this world by those who don’t follow? It is a mind-boggling, mind-warping question for which I am certain an answer will soon follow.

But I think the answer is found in Jesus himself. The answer is found in our hope that Jesus will eventually make all things perfect according to his will. Our hope is that some day, death will finally be trampled, death will finally die, and that Jesus will in fact be exalted and glorified by all. I say this because, I submit to you that suffering and evil will not finally be done away with in this world until Jesus is finally, fully, and forever exalted and glorified, and every knee bows, and every tongue confesses, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Only in that confession can we begin to understand the suffering and evil that we must endure in this world.

___________________

Friends,

Here is the text to Sermon #2 from the series: Towards a Theology of Suffering. This time our text was Matthew 5-7, although I spent most of the Message on the first 16 verses of chapter 5. Thanks for stopping by.

*  *  *  *  *

Towards a Theology of Suffering

The Gospel according to Matthew

Pt. 2: Suffering Will Characterize Those Who Pursue Righteousness & The Kingdom of God: Being a Disciple of Jesus

Matthew 5-7

Introduction

“God is no more blinding people with glaucoma, or testing them with diabetes, or purifying them with spinal pain, or choreographing the seeding of tumor cells through lymph, or fiddling with chromosomes, than he is jimmying floodwaters or pitching tornadoes at towns. God is nor more cogitating which among us he plans to place here as bird-headed dwarfs or elephant men—or to kill by AIDS or kidney failure, heart disease, childhood leukemia, or sudden infant death syndrome—than he is pitching lighting bolts at pedestrians, triggering rock slides, or setting fires. The very least likely things for which God might be responsible are what insurers call ‘acts of God.’

“Then what, if anything, does he do? If God does not cause everything that happens, does God cause anything that happens? Is God completely out of the loop?

“Sometimes God moves loudly, as if spinning to another place like ball lightning. God is, oddly, personal; this God knows. Sometimes en route, dazzlingly or dimly, he shows an edge of himself to souls who seek him, and the people who bear those souls, marveling, know it, and see the skies carousing around them, and watch cells stream and multiply in green leaves. He does not give as the world gives; he leads invisibly over many years, or he wallops for thirty seconds at a time. He may touch a mind, too, making a loud sound, or a mind may feel the rim of his mind as he nears. Such experiences are gifts to beginners. ‘Later on,’ as Hasid master said, ‘you don’t see these things anymore.’ (Having see, people of varying cultures turn—for reasons unknown, and by a mechanism unimaginable—to aiding and serving the afflicted and poor.)” (168-169, Annie Dillard,For the Time Being)

_____________________

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggled you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:29-30)

_____________________

Within the past couple of weeks, there has been a story making the rounds in the media. I have blogged about it a great deal and it has generated quite a few rather intense exchanges between myself and some others. The story I am referring to is about some remarks that an actress named Kathy Griffen made during a recent television broadcast of the Emmy Awards. Her remarks were rather vulgar and blasphemous and I will not repeat all of them here, but I’d like to share a little of what I wrote at my blog.

In her speech, Griffin said that “a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus.” She went on to hold up her Emmy, make an off-color remark about Christ and proclaim, “This award is my god now!”

Now, the reason I’m blogging about this is not because I care what Kathy Griffen says, but because I’m concerned about the response to what she said. Here’s one response:

The comedian’s remarks were condemned Monday by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who called them a “vulgar, in-your-face brand of hate speech.”

And?

Seriously, why should anyone be surprised? Was Mr. Donohue watching the Emmy’s? I’m not certain why he would be offended; I’m not certain why any Christian would be offended: This is what people who are not-Christians do (especially not-Christians on the D-list who are trying to drum up publicity). Oh, Mr. Donohue fell right into her trap!

So now, Ms. Griffen is evidently going to be censored when her speech is replayed on another channel. Why? What will that accomplish? Doesn’t everyone already know what she said? And who is it going to offend: All the Christians who will tune in to watch it so that the next day they can say, “Woe is us! Kathy Griffen doesn’t like Jesus and worships a small statue as her god!” Seriously. Get over it. Kathy Griffen hasn’t said anything that a good atheist or Muslim or Hindu hasn’t said.

I say that this censorship is absurd and Mr Donohue is wrong for making this such a big deal. I’m a Christian, I don’t watch any of Ms. Griffen’s shows (and couldn’t care less about the Emmy’s; I haven’t watched one for 37 years and I’m not going to start just because they censor someone’s language), but I still don’t expect anyone who is not of Christ to have any sort of respect for Christ or his church. Why would they? If people had ignored it, it would have all gone away. Here again we see the problem with modern Christians. Some think that they ought to be, or have a right to be, treated differently than those Christians who have gone before us. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12, NIV).

Truth is, she’s right: I can’t imagine for a minute that Jesus had anything to do with helping her show win an award.

_________________

Now please don’t misunderstand me. Her comments were vulgar and offensive and I have only read a part of them, but my point is what should we expect? Why should Christians get bent out shape when people who are not Christians say what they mean, say what they believe? Why should American Christians get a free pass? Why should we make demands of the world that most of us cannot meet? Frankly, I’m more concerned that Christians might be watching the Emmy’s than I am that someone receiving an Emmy had something nasty to say about Christians or about Jesus Christ. No. I think the biblically informed Christian, while disgusted, is anything but shocked or surprised or even morally offended. We may regret that she said what she said, but we are hardly so naïve as to think that she would do anything less.

__________________

The fact of the matter is, Christians are going to suffer—not because of anything inherently despicable about us though. Jesus says one of the main ways Christians will suffer is ‘when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.’ Verbal assault is one of the main weapons in the arsenal of the unrighteous.

Do you really think people dislike those among us who go around doing the right things, spreading good news, being helpful, worshipping God, and the like? I’m telling you that people are not so much opposed to Christians per se as they are opposed to Jesus Christ himself and the very righteousness of God that he brought. Isn’t this what Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Isn’t Jesus the real target when the devil assaults us through his people? We do well to keep our own persecution in its proper perspective.

Or we might take the example of the apostle Paul before he was Paul. Jesus confronted him and said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Well, clearly Saul was persecuting the church and yet Jesus says Paul’s real anger and rage was against Jesus himself. The point is clear whether the world, or even Christians, admit it: There is a worldwide, universal upheaval against the pursuit of the sort of righteousness that Jesus calls followers to pursue. The world is specifically opposed to Christ; it always has been. Herod was opposed to Jesus. In John’s Gospel it says that Jesus came to that which was his own and his own rejected him. They didn’t know him or accept him.

The world does not like Jesus and I think Kathy Griffen is one fine example of someone who just has enough courage to admit it publicly. But should we be surprised? Should we be shocked? Should we seriously sit around and imagine that we ought to be treated differently than was Christ the Lord himself?

__________________

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12-13)

__________________

Still, I think that for some reason modern Christians have this idea that we ought to be treated differently than those ancient Christians. For some reason, we Western Christians think we ought to be treated differently than Eastern Christians. We think, for some reason, that because we are Americans, and live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, that people ought to respect us.

But let me ask, if Jesus says that we are blessed when people persecute us because of him, are we missing out on some blessing when we are not persecuted because of him? In fact, do we really suffer terribly here in America? Are we Western Christians really subjected to all that much difficulty, all that much rage, all that much violence? Are we really the scum of the earth at this time?

Let me take it a step further, if Jesus says we will be persecuted because of him, because of our pursuit of righteousness and we are not being persecuted is it fair to ask to what extent we are pursuing righteousness? So D. A. Carson writes:

This final beatitude becomes one of the most searching of all of them, and binds up the rest; for if the disciple of Jesus never experiences any persecution at all, it may fairly be asked where the righteousness is being displayed in his life. If there is no righteousness, no conformity to God’s will, how shall he enter the kingdom? (The Sermon on the Mount, 29)

The real truth though, the profound, biblical truth, is that when it comes to the world we are outsiders. We are beside the point. We are out of the loop, we are out of the mainstream, we are the poor, the mourning, the merciful, the peacemakers, the hungry, the thirsty, we are the losers who follow the ‘invisible man’ in the sky. That’s who we are: Aliens, strangers, pilgrims, visitors. And we follow the crucified Messiah.

___________________

“Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the ‘must’ of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself. Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion. Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the Law of Christ which is the Law of the Cross.” (87)

___________________

This is what he says about the nature of discipleship, what characterizes it is all the things that the world despises: Purity that rejects the insidious vulgarity and unrighteousness of this world, hunger and thirst, that is appetites, that are not satisfied the things that satisfy this world, an unequivocal mercy that extends, Jesus will later say, not only to those who approve of us, but in fact to our enemies as well, and truly God-centered desire for peace and reconciliation such as the world of war cannot comprehend, a sort of poverty that is praised by God even if shunned and despised by the world, a marked mourning—although not as the world mourns—that seeks its comfort not in the places and ways the world seeks comfort, and a characteristic meekness that forges ahead in this world not by strength, not by might, and seeks to gain that which only God gives: The World.

This is what characterizes the disciple of Jesus Christ. And nothing less than this will do.

The people Jesus spoke of are characterized not by what they have but by what they lack and what they pursue; not by what is done to them, but by what they are. They don’t pursue these things in the way the world pursues them. They are poor in spirit, they mourn, they are meek, they are hungry and thirsty. These are the people who know mercy and show it, they seek purity and peace. And, perhaps because of all these things, they are pesecuted. They are persecuted because they hunger and thirst for righteousness, something Jesus says a true disciple will pursue first (6:33). But these people, despite these characterizations, are also quite well aware that there is relief forthcoming.

Perhaps the world hates Christ and his disciples so much precisely because we are and do these things with no other motivation or ambition that to please Him.

__________________

Now here’s what I find to be amazing about this Sermon on the Mount. I’ll read some verses for you, 13-16:

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

Well, how can we reconcile all of these thoughts? That here is Jesus on the one hand saying that the characteristic life of his disciple is one of poverty, mourning, and persecution because of Jesus and yet on the other hand He fully expects that we will, in the midst of suffering and persecution ‘so let our light shine before men.’

This is distressing is it not?

___________________

“Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace. The acts of the early Christian martyrs are full of evidence which shows how Christ transfigures for his own the hour of their mortal agony by granting them unspeakable assurance of his presence. In the hour of the cruellest torture they bear for his sake, they are made partakers in the perfect joy and bliss of fellowship with him. To bear the cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. This is true for all who follow Christ, because it was true for him.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 91)

__________________

Despite all of this, Jesus says we are ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world.’ One can scarcely imagine what this must mean! Not only are we going to be treated as the outcasts and dregs of society for our beliefs, but we are meant to shine and witness for Christ all the more as we are! This makes discipleship nearly an unbearable proposition. In all seriousness, how can one be expected to let their light shine before men when those men are bashing us over the heads with sticks and rocks or giving us a verbal tongue lashing that might make the devil blush? Even so, when it all said and done: The Father in Heaven gets all the glory. So Leon Morris:

With them the emphasis is on the final freedom of the redeemed; here it is rather on the truth that the redeemed are paradoxically slaves, the slaves of God, for they were bought with a price. This thought is a necessary supplement to the former one. Believers are not brought by Christ into a liberty of selfish ease. Rather, since they have been bought by God at terrible cost, they have become God’s slaves, to do his will. (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching the Cross, 54)

“This way of regarding the atonement stresses the new life in Christ. It is because we are Christ’s slaves that we are introduced into this way of living, and we are His slaves because we were bought by Him. There is no stress on substitution in this conception except to the extent that a price paid is an equivalent for the thing purchased. The main emphasis is on the fact that the redeemed are God’s.” (Apostolic, 55)

And as God’s redeemed, we live life differently, paradoxically. And in the midst of our suffering, God himself is not ashamed to call us his children, Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. So let us, then, with great perserverance, join him in suffering outside the camp. And in so joining him, let our light’s shine for the Father: Glorifying Him as Christ did in the cross.

__________________

There is a lot more to these chapters than one might at first expect. I think Jesus gives a rather frank assessment of what life for the Christian is going to be like. Perhaps anyone who is considering becoming a follower of Jesus ought to have to sit and these chapters over and over again and listen to countless sermons on these chapters in order that they might fully understand and appreciate the life that Christ Demands of us when we become His?

To be sure, the demands are costly. There is no such thing as a nominal Christian. If we expect that Jesus will save us from the coming wrath, he expects also, I believe, that we will join him in carrying the cross. That is the testimony of Matthew 5-7.

I have quoted liberally from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship this morning. I shall end my thoughts with one more paragraph from him:

“If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life committed to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from the beginning, he has only got to pick it up: there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself, no need for him deliberately to run after suffering. Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 88-89)

There are probably a thousand and one or two things I could talk to you about thismorning. I believe that it is important that you have a realistic idea of what Christian discipleship is and what it means. Make no mistake: this is no cake-walk he has called us to. We do well to count the cost.

Soli Deo Gloria!

[Friends, here is the third sermon in the series and fourth overall. You will notice in here that I make reference to some folks that have been around the blog so to speak. Jeff is one another is ‘sarge’ and still another is Joe. I used their words to illustrate my overall point and my inclusion of their words is neither an endorsement nor a criticism of them personally.  Sarge’s words were written at Jeff’s blog and Jeff’s words were posted at his blog, and Joe’s were at mine. The Scripture sections are from Matthew 8-9. You’ll notice I didn’t do any real exegesis of the text this week. I let it ‘speak for itself’. My quotation of these passages follows their appearance in the text of the NIV. Enjoy.]

Towards a Theology of Suffering
The Gospel according to Matthew
Pt. 3: Jesus Will Eradicate Suffering in the World: The Healing Ministry of Jesus
Matthew 8-9

Allow me, for a moment, share some of the headlines from September 28, 2007, 8:05 PM: (These headlines are from www.foxnews.com at the time and date posted.)

Rescuers Find Woman Alive 8 Days After Crash
Manhunt for Suspect in Texas Coed’s Murder
FDA Puts Stop to Cough Medicines for Children
Bush Urges Worst Polluters to Reduce Greenhouse Gas
Cops Arrest Neighbor After Texas Girl Found Hanged
Police Confirm Body Found Is Missing Chicago Woman
Brain-Eating Amoeba Claims Sixth Victim

That should be enough, but it is not. This following paragraph is from an internet post. The man who wrote it is named ‘sarge’. He wrote:

I have a friend who is going through a very bad patch. This man is one of the finest men I know, generous, kind, I am fortunate to know such a person. He is a nurse, also an ordained minister. He has told people who leave me be in my unbelief, he asked several of them if they, themselves, would really consider spending eternity with condescending pains in the ass. Has been one of a ‘prayer circle’ which for some reason credits itself with restoring the sight in one of my eyes.

For eighteen months This man has been enduring Lyme disease. Complications from misdiagnosis, inappropriate treatment, reaction to the treatment, the loss of work due to immobility, and loss of resourses is causing him a lot of distress. In the middle of all this, his parents sickened and died in debt, literally within days of each other, and he had to take care of that, too.

Last time we talked he told me he understood my contention that the life/lemons/lemonade bromide was bunk. If you don’t get some sugar, why bother to make lemonade from the lemons life hands you? It’s undrinkable. Lately, he has been showing the strain, and the churched don’t visit as often. They report that when they advise more intense prayer he proposes that they go soak thier heads. When they advise him that their diety doesn’t load on more than a person can stand, he counter advises that they should “pound salt”. He stands to lose his property, his life, his ability to ever support himself, and he is terrified at the trials his family is facing, but according to “them”, the worst is that he’s “losing his faith”.

What this story is meant to show is that God, does not, in fact, exist. Or at least that God’s people are complete dunderheads when it comes to those who suffer in this world. To be sure, many of us are.

_________________

When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Richard Dawkins is an eminent theologian who happens to not believe in the God he writes so much about. He is wonderfully witty and he does like to chuckly a bit every now and again. In his book The God Delusion he quotes the words of Oxford Theologian Richard Swinburne. Dawkins writes that Swinburne is trying to ‘justify suffering in a world run by God.’ Swinburne said:

My suffering provides me with a the opportunity to show courage and patience. It provides you with the opportunity to show sympathy and to help alleviate my suffering. And it provides society with the opportunity to choose whether or not to invest a lot of money trying to find a cure for this or that particular kind of suffering…Althought a good God regrets our suffering, his greatest concern is surely that each of us shall show patience, sympathy and generosity and, thereby, form a holy character. Some people badly need to be ill for their own sake, and some people badly need to be ill to provide important choices for others. Only in that way can some people be encouraged to make serious choices about the sort of person they are to be. For other people, illness is not so valuable.

Dawkins responds in his characteristically generous way with these words, “This grotesque piece of reasoning, [is] so damningly typical of the theological mind…” (64)

14When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. 16When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”

28When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29″What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” 32He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

I have been spending some time with atheists. Dawkins’ take is typical of the atheist response and conclusion that there is no God governing this world. Their main contention is something like this: There is suffering in the world, we cannot make sense of it, there is no god. Consider my internet friend Joe. Joe and I have been having conversations about a great many things, but ultimately we always come back to God. What I cannot understand about Joe is why he doesn’t believe. Don’t get me wrong, I get it, but I don’t. I asked Joe the other day, “How do I know I’m here? Where did intelligence come from? Where did self-awareness come from?” His response is typical of atheists in general:

There is no why. There just is. The mistake is the assumption that anything that is has to have some kind of essential purpose. The atheistic world view does not contain that assumption. What is, is. We are just here trying to make sense of it.

So here’s the point of telling you these things, just in case you are considering atheism as an alternative lifestyle. Atheists claim, as a major hurdle to belief and as a major plank in their platform, that since there is suffering in the world there can be no god or God and specifically the God and Father of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What sort of god, after all, especially one that Christians claim to be good and just and holy would permit such evil and suffering to have any place in this world.

At first glance, that’s not a bad argument. The problem comes in at this point: They provide no solution. Atheists have no answer or plan to relieve the suffering they so loathe, the suffering that proves to them God’s impotence. Atheists cannot solve the problem of death and dying and suffering. Worse, the provide no ultimate redemption for the suffering of the people of the world. In other words, all suffering is meaningless. This is, in my opinion, the worst problem that atheists and unbelievers face: their suffering is just one more meaningless phase of their lives that they have to face, endure, and eventually succumb to.

Say what you want about me for feeling this way, but I think this world stinks. I hate suffering. I hate pain. I hate suffering. I hate the way the world continually plunges itself into evil, kills, rapes, mutilates, strangles and sucks the joy out of life. I hate murder, death, suffering, infanticide, homicide, suicide. Abortion and euthanasia are horrifying concepts to me. And what of all the diseases we are entangled in: cancers, anemias, diabetes, heart disease, and so on and so on and so on. I watched for nearly two years of my time in college as my wife suffered from one painful indignity after another. I have had close friends die. I have buried more than I care to remember. I have seen it—but you have too! None of us is exempt or immune to suffering, to evil, to pain. And pain is unpleasant. So CS Lewis wrote,

If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already: they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design. (The Problem of Pain, 105)

______________

1Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” 4Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7And the man got up and went home. 8When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

_______________

You can call it wishful think if you like. I don’t really care. Accuse me of believing just so I can escape all this: I don’t really care. I want something more than the waking up in the morning and knowing that my head is going to hurt all day long and worse knowing there is really nothing wrong. I’m tired of knowing people I love who suffer. I don’t know about you, but I want hope. I want to know that all of this pain and suffering is not a pathetic waste of time. I don’t want to live my whole life and see all that my eyes have seen and all that they will see only to find out that my life has been meaningless.

What is frightening to me though is that the world continues to plunge itself into dissipation and invent new ways to suffer and kill. The world continues to search out new ways to die, new ways to kill, new ways to maim, new ways to exploit the weak, the powerless, the fatherless, and the widow. The world continues to invent new ways to cause misery, pain, and degradation.

You know, the United States is one of the best places in the world for medical care. There is a hospital on every corner. There are probably 10 pharmacies in Mad*, another 10 in G**, and probably 20-30 in P** and M**. But you know what? The Presence of hospitals and pharmacies, the accumulation of doctors is not a sign of our wellness—it is a sign of our misery. Hospitals proliferate in places where people are sick, not where people are well.

___________________

While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” 19Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” 22Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. 23When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, 24he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. 25After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. 26News of this spread through all that region.

“If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees that the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable. A Christian cannot, therefore, believe any of those who promise that if only some reform in our economic, political, or hygenic system were made, a heaven on earth would follow.” (Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

But here’s the good news! The good news is this:

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

You see, the message we proclaim is not that we have all the answers but that we belong to one who knows exactly the suffering that exists on this planet. We may not have answers, but we have the answer. So he says

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus knew our suffering. He participated in it—he redeemed it! He turned our suffering and affliction from one meaningless track of life into the salvation of the World through the cross. In the cross we see the final redemption, the greatest crisis. So:

‘The great Word of Gospel is not God is love. That is too stationary, too little energetic. It produces a religion unable to cope with crises. But the Word is this—Love is omnipotent for ever because it is holy. That is the voice of Christ-raised from the midst of time, and its chaos, and its convulsions, yet coming from the depths of eternity, where the Son dwells in the bosom of the Father, the Son to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth because He overcame the world in a Cross holier than love itself, more tragic, more solemn, more dynamic than all earth’s wars. The key to history is the historic Christ above history and in command of it, and there is no other’. — Peter T. Forsyth, The Justification of God: Lectures for War-Time on a Christian Theodicy (London: Independent Press, 1957), 217-8.

I mentioned that I have some atheist friends. One is name Jeff. Jeff and I talk back and forth at our respective blogs: he from his world of atheism and me from my world of belief. He recently shared how he has faith in his lack of faith. I wrote back to him that I don’t understand how he manages in this world apart from any hope. I asked him how he gets along in this dry and weary lang. He wrote back:

…What is “weary” about this land? I find life to be amazing, beautiful, fascinating, enlightening. It isn’t perfect, and it isn’t easy. But who ever said it was supposed to be? The world is pretty awesome, and your life is going to be what you make of it. I don’t need some deity to “make things right” for me. And, frankly, I don’t need nor want your prayers, with all due respect to you I’m not someone for whom to feel pity, and I don’t need an invisible being’s help. I’ll help myself. And I’ll be just fine.

…We don’t live in a dry or weary land. Sarge’s story is nothing more than that: a story. As usual with Sarge, it’s a great one, but it certainly doesn’t prove that we live in “a dry and weary land.” Life is pretty awesome, and it’s different for everyone. I’m not going to live my life while looking for something better ahead of me. I’m going to live like this is my last chance. Because it is.

Some are content to remain in their bliss. Some are not. I visited Sally last Monday. I know Sally is not content to remain. I know Sally doesn’t think life is awesome right now—or maybe she does, but I suspect Sally would be even more content to not be hooked up to so many machines.

All I wanted you to hear this morning are the various stories from Matthew 8-9. I don’t need to comment on them because they stand on their own. They tell of one who did what no one else can do. They tell of one who doesn’t need machines and hospitals and drugs and pharmacies to make things right. They tell the stories of one who came down and lived among us. They tell one who shared in our plight. They tell the stories of one who didn’t think life was all that great for every one. They tell the stories of one who did not think this was the last chance, who didn’t believe suffering would get the last word, who was absolutely convinced that we cannot under any circumstances help ourselves. They tell the stories of one who was disgusted by the suffering he saw around him and the suffering that people have to endure. They tell the stories of one who came to combat that ills, the evils, the pain, the sufferings—the degradation—that plagues us.

The Apostle will have the last word concerning Jesus:

17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Call me a fool if you like: I want to live with hope. And I thank God that Jesus, the One these stories tell us, the one these stories preview for us, will one day, finally, forever, eradicate suffering and set all things right.

It’s only in Jesus.

___________________

Towards a Theology of Suffering
The Gospel according to Matthew
Pt. 4: Suffering as Persecution by the Unbelieving: Jesus Warns His Disciples
Matthew 10-13

Introduction

1He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

11″Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

17″Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21″Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24″A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

26″So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32″Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. 34″Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

 

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

_______________

What would you think of Christianity if I made this statement: “The coming of Jesus to earth will not make life easier for you”?

What would you think of Christianity if I made this statement: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”?

What would you think of Christianity if I said to you, “The single greatest proponent of Christianity said that everything that the world considers gain, he considered loss for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus,” and that he wanted to “know Christ and power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, so as to somehow attain to resurrection from the dead”?

What would you think of Christianity if I said to you, “You shouldn’t be surprised when you go through painful trials as a Christian as if something strange were happening to you, but you should, instead, rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ then you will be overjoyed when His glory is revealed”?

What would you think of Christianity if I said to you, “Blessed are you when are insulted, persecuted, or falsely accused of all sorts of evil because of Jesus”?

I have made a lot statements to you over the past nearly eight full years, which by the way, we will finish on October 31, 2007, concerning this Christianity I am speaking of now. None of those statements I just read to you are inventions of my own. They are periphrastic questions of Scriptural statements. These are fundamental tenets of the Christian way of life. They sum up, in a practical, real life, experiential way, the words of Jesus: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

I’m not trying to make the life hard, any harder than Scripture declares it will be. But these verses reveal to us a very significant fact: The Life that Jesus calls us to is not one that will always be filled with daisies and roses. I want so bad to be able to say: Life will be become perfect once your life belongs to Christ, and in a manner of speaking it most certainly will be, but the fact of the matter is: Jesus promised us something more. And I think these verses teach us, beyond doubt, that we had better consider carefully if we fully understand what we are getting into when we get into it. So Jesus, when he speaks with John the Baptist’s disciples at the beginning of the next chapter, ends with these words to John: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

_________________

 

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

There is this notion in existence that Jesus is a myth, that God is even worse, and that we have been around forever, that we will live, die, and the world will go on as it has from the beginning. There is this myth, quite a popular myth, that there was no such thing as the first coming of the Son of God so there cannot possibly be a second coming of the Son of God. There is another myth that states God didn’t create the first earth and heavens so how can God, since he doesn’t exist anyhow, possibly create a second, new, heavens and earth?

And finally, there is this myth that even if Jesus was real, which is highly doubtable, his message was only always entirely about love and peace and joy and happiness.

But I think the message of Jesus is a little more than that, to be sure. He warns in these verses that he is not afraid to level the judgement against nations, against people, against cities that reject him, his work, his authority and his messengers.

I thought about this yesterday for a little while. There are a lot of people in the world. There have been a lot of people in the world since the world’s inception. This world, because of sin, has seen death. Now I want to put this in perspective for you. If all these people have died who have lived, and Scripture makes clear that all will die once and after that face judgment, and if Jesus is the only Way…that means that a lot of people are, have been, and will remain, unsaved.

At the beginning of chapter 10, Jesus called together his disciples and said, “1He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness … 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” So, we are faced with two inter-connected thoughts. On the one hand Jesus sends forth his servants and says, “Go, bring healing to the nations. Drive out the demons that control the culture, the people, the world. Bring wholeness to them—while you are preaching the Good News of the Kingdom.” On the other hand, when Jesus went out himself at the beginning of chapter 11 one of the first messages he had was that of judgment because the cities neglected to repent. Oh, he promised a gentle, hungle restful walk. But this walk is accompanied by the understanding that “no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Apart from this, there is only judgment.

___________________

 

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions without first tying up the strong man? Then his house can be plundered. 30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy. But blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in them, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in them. 36 But I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Chapter 12 opens with a story that is so absurd that it must be true: The disciples of Jesus were getting in trouble for picking a few heads of grain to much on while they walked with Jesus. Presumably, Jesus was doing the same, although we are not told and cannot be sure; it seems a logical conclusion. People will find any reason they can to mock and persecute: You’re eating the wrong food on the wrong day, you’re watching the wrong movie with the wrong rating, you are wearing the wrong clothes, speaking the wrong words, you believe the wrong things about the origins of the world: You Christians are lawbreakers all!

What the majority of this chapter teaches us is this: Jesus came to bind the strong man. We may not understand it completely, but this world is under the control of something dark, insidious, evil, malevolent. It’s more than the curse of sin, but less than a sovereign devil. Yet we see the strong man involved in the lives of people. Demons have been driven out, left and right, and yet they say, “I will return to the house I left.” And why not? The world does well at driving out demons, but it does poorly at filling the vacancy with the Spirit of God. We either leave it empty, or we fill it with something that can be easily shifted and moved. So? We try to fight the strong man without binding him properly. “When the demon arrives, it finds the hosue unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live in there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

You get this? We are good at ridding the world of evil, we are terrible at holding evil at bay because evil knows that all it needs is reinforcements. It knows that all it needs is a few friends, a few rowdies. If we drive out the one and it comes back with seven, then we drive out the seven, likely it will come back with 49. Jesus’ point is that there is always evil out in the arid places looking for habitation—looking for someone to live in and control. There is no small supply of places for evil to dwell; there is no small supply of demons willing to take up residence. And no man is too small to hold all the demons that are available: If one man can old one demon, and then seven demons, then there is nothing to prevent that man from housing a legion of demons. And if there are a legion of demons enough for one man, do you think there is any less for the rest of men?

Do you understand from these verses that evil is restless? It is relentless. It pursues it’s goals to the end. It is not content to be driven out: It wants to live in the flesh of men. And men are only too accomadating. We think we can just Dr Phil demons away and all will be well in the world. We think we can just put in some nice new furniture, give a new address, dress up the windows and all will be well. Jesus is saying to us: “That is not enough.” Demons like familiarity it appears. They don’t like knew things. They like comfortable places and people. They like places where they know they will be welcome.

And so it is with people. We like old friends. Evil persists. Jesus says it is not just a matter of sweeping the house clean. You must tear down the old house and build a new one: “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and it’s fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say aything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Do you see that evil will continue to prevail as long as men remain the same, as long as you remain the same, as long as I remain the same, everything will be the same. Until we are changed, and I don’t care if it is because God overrides your will or because you freely choose to submit to God—until we are changed, evil will have a home.

And as long as it is, things will go from bad to worse and worse to worst and from worst to hell.

___________________

 

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in their own towns and in their own homes are prophets without honor.” 58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Chapter 13 could be a decidedly happy chapter, but I don’t think it is. In fact, chapter 13 reminds us that as we go about ‘making the world whole by healing, driving out demons, warning of the coming judgement, binding the strong man, and planting seeds of Gospel grace,’ as we go about this, we will meet with awful, terrible rejection. In fact, it seems hopeless. 3 out 4—75% of the seeds we plant, are bound to fail. Here the Word of the Lord:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When people hear the message about the kingdom and do not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to people who hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to people who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to people who hear the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

3 out 4! And we see Jesus rejected even by the people of his hometown: So little faith did they have that he could do nothing bring them wholeness, nothing could he do to bind the strong man who ran their town, only a little could he do there that would bring them the relief they needed, little could he do to lift the heavy, oppressive burden they carried and replace it with his own burden: Light and Easy.

The sad, scary, frightening reality is this: The world likes it’s misery. The world likes its suffering so much that they will reject calls from the Gospel to see it changed. Tell them you have medicine for their AIDS and they praise you and worship you. Tell them that the cure is Jesus Christ, and they reject you out of hand. Tell the world the way to bind the strongman is to change the tree, fill the house with the Spirit instead of demons, carry Jesus’ cross burden and the world will likely kill you before the words are out of your mouth.

_________________

 

Notice that in chapter 10 Jesus said, “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” Then, in chapter 12 the crowds say, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that he drives out demons.” The world, just so you know, thinks that we, you and I, are the very servants of the demons we mean to liberate this world from. You and I are the cause of the problems of this world. We bring suffering because of Christianity. We bring hatred and divisiveness because of our faith. I saw a story just this past week where people in Europe think that the very teaching of Creation (Genesis 1) is a major contributer to the ills of this world! You and I: We are the devil. We are the demons who infect the minds of children with our indoctrination and brainwashing.

It matters little what we bring, it is worse, in the eyes of the world, than what the world currently has. I truly cannot understand this. So when Ann Coulter said last week that the world would be better off if everyone were Christian, she was met with a firestorm of criticism—from secularists and Christians! And when the president said that Jews, Muslims and Christians all worship and pray to the same god, he was met with welcome and applause—except from those of us who know better. The cure to the world’s ills is not to make us all the same in spite of differences, but to make us all the same in Christ. Coulter was right; the President was wrong. Coulter was condemned; the president applauded. What a strange world!

(Story of Rami Ayyad from WND)

This is our world. And this is the world Jesus sends us into. He says, “Go, bring healing, forgiveness, wholeness, blessings and peace. Freely you have received, freely give.” And still the world rejects. Still the world hates.

________________

Friends,

In part five of this series on a Theology of Suffering, we look at the nature of evil and try to understand why we humans cannot solve the problem ourselves. We see how Jesus embraced and transformed suffering at Calvary. By and large the world still rejects God on the basis of suffering alone because they will not submit themselves to the cross. –jerry

Towards a Theology of SufferingThe Gospel according to MatthewPt. 5: Suffering Embraced by Jesus and TransformedMatthew 14-18

Introduction

6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

13One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Sometimes I wonder if all suffering doesn’t start out this way. You know, first the enemy lashes out against those we love the most: Friends, family, neighbors, or someone else then only after he has made life difficult for others, and for us through others, he begins to assault us directly.

__________________

1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

3Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.

6On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much 7that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10and had John beheaded in the prison. 11His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

__________________

The question that I keep encountering is something like this: What is evil? Indeed, I had a man challenge me this week on what basis I find the holocaust to be evil. He went so far as to suggest that it might have been part of God’s ‘plan’ and that if it was it was not evil, but ultimately, good. Albert Mohler commented recently: “The frightening specter we now face is of a postmodern world that is losing the last vestiges of confidence in moral judgment.  Be advised  . . . and be afraid.” In other words, it is becoming more and more difficult for people who have abandoned God to make judgments about what is and is not evil. Mohler wrote: “When belief in God recedes, confidence in moral judgment inevitably recedes with that belief.”

Indeed, Ralph Winter, well-known Missionary strategist, comments in his essay The Religion of Science: The Largest Remaining Frontier, the following:

Rather, I would ask a larger question. There are very many people, even Bible believing Christians (not just non-Christians), who are to this day profoundly puzzled, perplexed, and certainly confused by the extensive presence in the created world of outrageous evil, created apparently by what we believe to be a God who is both all-powerful and benevolent. In coping with this, they may frequently attribute to God what is actually the work of an evil intelligence, and thus fatalistically give not the slightest thought to fighting back.

Winter laments that too many Christians sit back and do nothing but glory in the ‘plan of God’ and the ‘will of God’ and the ‘wisdom of God’ as if God is thoroughly pleased and happy with the presence of evil in this world. He writes that when his wife died in 2001 of cancer “more than one person tried to console me by observing that, and I quote, ‘God knows what He is doing.’”

I’m not convinced of all of Winter’s conclusions, but I do agree with him that we are not supposed to just sit around and wait for evil to happen and then quietly succumb to it’s malevolence. Nor are we supposed to simply endure—I don’t think that is the point of ‘turn the other cheek.’ But I do believe that to the extent that we are imbued with power from on High, Filled with the Holy Spirit, and that it is our specific faith answer, evil should be combated. The Strong Man must continue to be bound, the house must continually be swept clean, we must continue to pray and thus wage war against the principalities and powers of this present darkness.

________________

The fact is, we live in a world that is oppressed by evil. The world claims to be opposed to evil, but the facts remain clear: The World is doing nothing to abrogate the onslaught of evil. The question remains: Can the world do anything to abrogate the onslaught of evil in this place? Can the world shed light in darkness? Well, only if you think that more laws and higher taxes are a solution.

But I’m interested in Jesus. Herod heard about Jesus and the work he was doing. Herod thought that Jesus couldn’t possibly be someone better than John the Baptist whom he had murdered. And what does evil do when evil cannot win an intelligent debate? It resorts to violence: Herod had John executed. Evil is cowardly—seeking always to do away with whatever stands in its way.

Well, Jesus heard that Herod thought that John had merely risen from the dead. Herod couldn’t see something better. And when Jesus heard about Herod’s thoughts—his thoughts that John had been raised—he went off by himself. I suspect perhaps for prayer. But what takes place in chapters 14-18 is not merely Jesus going here and there trying to figure out what to do. In these chapters Jesus goes from place to place confronting all sorts of evil, all sorts of violence, all sorts of sickness, all sorts of demonic oppression, all sorts of darkness. In these chapters Jesus launches an assault on evil.

Now I know there are particular details that we could focus on this morning, but as we take a rather broad look at what is going on in these chapters we see that Jesus is not content with the evil in this world, we see that Jesus is not impotent to deal with evil, and we see that Jesus is not contaminated by the evil that he confronts. Finally, we also see that Jesus has an ultimate plan to take evil into himself, defeat it, transform it, and ultimately end its persuasive and ruling power on this earth.

___________________

34When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

___________________

Evil has no power over Jesus—and if evil and suffering were a part of God’s plan, then why did Jesus spend so much time confronting evil? If evil is something God delights in, then why is it that Jesus was powerful enough to merely exist and have evil’s work undone? They touch his cloak and they are healed? What sort of power is it that we are ultimately dealing with in this Jesus? Is this someone who has no power over evil? Is this someone who is upended by evil? Is this someone who shrinks in the face of evil? And in this short paragraph we also see a Jesus who is not contaminated by evil, by disease. We see a Jesus who takes it into himself and vanquishes it.

It’s like death. The Scripture declares that death has no hold on Jesus. It cannot keep a grip on him. The Scripture declares that when Jesus was crucified it was impossible for him to stay dead. This prompts Paul to later write: I want to know that power of His Resurrection! You want to know the sort of power that prevents death and suffering from having any claim on us?

Jesus is not content with suffering. Remember his weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. But we live in a land and in a world where suffering and evil seem to be rampaging unmitigated throughout our lives. We get up each day and wonder if today will be the day when our lives will be turned upside down. Too many fear that God’s sovereignty has been nullified because of suffering and evil in this world. When Christ comes will he find faith?

___________________

I noticed that Jesus went form place to place. He went to Gennesaret, Tyre and Sidon, down by the Sea of Galilee, Magdala, Ceasarea Philippi, up on a mountain, Galilee, and Capernaum.

I noticed that in this trekking about from place to place Jesus did a lot of work. He fed people: 5,000 one time, 4,000 another time. He healed diseases—all sorts, some by direct confrontation with evil, and other times by simply allowing himself or his clothes to be touched. He drove out demons: he drove a demon out of a boy who threw himself in fire; he drove a demon out of the daughter of a woman of Canaan without even being near her! He walks on the waters of a raging sea. He confronts the evil of graceless teachers. He heals Jews and Gentiles alike. He heals one. He heals multitudes. Imagine such power flowing so freely!

I see in these chapters a direct confrontation, a direct assault, a full out ransacking of the Strong Man’s house. I see Jesus, after hearing about the death of John, showing his strength, showing his resolve, showing his commitment to rid this world of the evil that controlled it for so long.

I could be wrong, maybe I have misread these chapters. Maybe Jesus didn’t ratchet up the assault any more than he had already planned, or was already doing. But I know this: He hates suffering and evil. And the problem in our world just now is that we have lost the capacity or the stomach to call evil what is evil. I have a friend that I blog with and against. I asked him the other day why his only complaint is ever against Christians and never against Islam. He said he didn’t know enough about Islam to make any real judgments about them. How can this be? I posted three stories at my blog yesterday. One was a Muslim teacher explaining to young Muslim boys how to properly beat their wives. Another was about a Muslim judge in Iran approving of the beating of a Christian woman who was ‘evangelizing.’ The third was an Egyptian Muslim teacher advocating the capital punishment, death, for adulterers—the female. For the men it requires 4 witnesses against him! And I could talk about 9.11.

So how much education do we really need to call evil evil? Sadly, we have left it up to our governments to deal with the rancid, insipid spread of evil and suffering in this world. But Jesus confronts evil head on: Heals the blind, heals the deaf, heals the lame, drives out demons, feeds the hungry, puts in their place those teachers who tell us we can do this on our own apart from God’s grace, and, the greatest of all, Jesus puts a stop to those who would only advance the things of men. Let me explain.

_____________________

21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

You see, if it were up to men and the devil, Jesus would have just continue strolling around the countryside healing, curing, exercising, and feeding. Well, we think that is enough. We think that the mere absence of suffering is sufficient. We think that the mere absence of hunger is sufficient. We think that the mere absence of pain is sufficient. What we don’t realize is that the mere absence is not the overwhelming victory. We think because we are well fed and clothed here in America that evil has been defeated. We think that if the church would just feed the hungry, cure all the AIDS in the world, help all the homeless—if the church would just give away its money, if the church would cooperate with the federal government’s faith based initiative programs—well, if we’d just do all this: Then the world would be A-OK.

No, Lord, this shall never happen to you. But Satan had in mind the things of men, no the things of God. We want vaccines for our diseases so that we can continue to live under the oppression of sin. We want money to throw at this war or that war. We want to give every homeless person a bed, give every senior citizen a prescription, and every child a doctor. Look, as much as these things are somewhat necessary, they do not solve the problem. They do not get at the core of the problem: They do not tell us why old people are ravaged by diseases, they do not tell us why children are in such dire straits as to need doctors, they do not tell us why people are homeless, or why AIDS is destroying the world, or why floodwaters continue to rise, or why fires burn out of control. And worse, they don’t deal with the heart of the matter.

They will not call evil evil.

No, Lord, this shall never happen to you. Lord, you cannot succumb to evil. Lord, you cannot give in to death. You must stay alive and continue feeding the thousands, healing the multitudes, and casting out demons. You must continue to bind the Strong Man. You must continue to rebuke the graceless teachers. You must continue to walk on the water or allow your shadow to pass by so people can touch your cloak. You must continue to storm the gates of Hades.

22When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

__________________

If I may say it so crassly, Jesus had bigger plans. And I will further say that those plans cannot be accomplished by the wit and skill of man. No, for Jesus to accomplish His goal, His plan, His complete conquering of evil in this world he had to embrace it and in this embrace he made suffering and evil the very thing that is our salvation: The Cross, His death. There in the cross Jesus dealt with the sin, the evil we have perpetrated. There Jesus confronted evil on His terms and vanquished it. It is in the Cross that Jesus forever condemns suffering and evil.

Don Carson wrote, “What do we do with a God who loves us so much that he sends his Son to bear that kind of suffering? How must these realities that lie at the very center of our faith bear on our understanding of the problem of evil and suffering? From any Christian perspective, our theoretical and practical approach to evil and suffering must fasten on the cross, or we are bound to take a false step.” (HLOL, 35)

Or David Wells,

“If we grasp the reality of God, it will be on his terms and not on our own…And unless God is understood to be transcendent in his holiness, the world can have no objective moral meaning, no accountability beyond itself, no assurance of salvation from guilt through Christ’s death, and, in the end, no assurance that God will be the final line of resistance to all that is evil. And without this assurance, the hope dies that one day truth will be put forever on the throne and evil forever on the scaffold.” (GITWL, 117)

What I am saying to you is this: We cannot solve the problems of this world even if we are called to mount an offensive charge against the gates of hell. I am suggesting that the solution to the problem of evil and suffering is found in the cross of Christ because it was there that Jesus embraced suffering, gave in to evil, and eventually in the Resurrection transformed evil and suffering. But if we are going to grasp this, we must grasp it on God’s terms and not ours. No Lord, not you. Get behind me Satan, you have in mind the things of men, and not God.

If we are going to understand God we are going to have to accept God on the terms that he has established and revealed. Ours is a cross life. Ours is a cross faith. Ours is a faith that begins and ends at the cross. Ours is a faith that understands Jesus’ goal was for the Strong Man not only to be bound, but defeated. I think perhaps we need to get out of the way of Jesus.

___________________

Friends, in part 6 of this series discussing a Theology of Suffering from Matthew’s Gospel, we focus on the neglected word of God Jesus repeatedly asks in these chapters, “Haven’t you read?” But he also makes the point that they killed the prophets, rejected the Word by their conduct. The question I kept coming back to was this: How would the world be different if the Word of God were accepted by all people? This question is even more significant when you consider that Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my Words will never pass away.” In conclusion I offer a selection from David Wells’ book Above all Earthly Pow’rs. jerry

Towards a Theology of Suffering

The Gospel according to Matthew

Pt. 6: Suffering and the Word of God: How to Best Prepare

Matthew 19-25

Introduction

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And so we say what suffering shall be afforded us today? How shall we honor Christ by persevering through this trial or that? If nothing can separate us from Christ then we must somehow be attached to Him. If nothing can separate us from Him, then we must somehow be a part of Him. If nothing can separate us from Christ then there is nothing that is greater than Him. If nothing can separate us from Him then He is the best place we can happen to find ourselves at any given moment; any given time.

________________

1When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4″Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 7″Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 10The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

I read this week about a book that has been published by a Jewish Rabbi Meachem Kohen. The book is called Prophecies For the Age of Muslim Terror. The author of the book relies on the Torah, the first five Old Testament books and something known as the ‘oral Torah.’ In this book the author says that the Torah prophesied about such things as:

The attack on the Twin Towers with the exact date and numbers of buildings.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by coalition forces.
Saddam Hussein’s fall from power and the exact year it would happen.
Operation Desert Storm, the code name and the combatants involved in the conflict.

But the thing is, the Bible makes no such prophecies because this is not what the Bible is about in the first place. The author of the book said,

“People need to understand current events,” he writes. “People need to know how to respond to events during this frightening period of time, and Torah provides the instructions. I thought by discussing such information, I might be able to lift people’s spirits, because Torah truths can help people comprehend current events and become less anxious and less frightened.”

But will this really help? Do people really want to listen to Scripture? Do people really care if someone discovers that the Bible prophesied such things after such things happen? Wouldn’t it be better if this book had been published in 2000 instead of 2007?

This is, in my judgment, an illigitemate use of Scripture even if we do happen to live in particularly strenuous times. But why, I ask, should we listen anyway? People have never listened to the Word of God, so why should they listen to it because some rabbi happens to use some magical tricks to uncover some supposed ‘prophecy’? I’ll explain in a minute.

__________________

As I read through Matthew 19-25, I continued to notice something was wrong. These chapters are filled with turmoil, corruption, suffering, and the perpetuation of evil. Obviously I cannot read all the passages that pertain to this conjecture, but I’ll summarize as best I can.

There is corruption at the level of family (divorce).
There is corruption at the personal level.
Corruption in worship.
Corruption in nature.
Corruption in the leadership.
Corruption at all levels in general.
Corruption at the theological level.
Corruption at the cultural level.
Corruption at the disciple level.

Frankly, Jesus was preaching to a world, a people, who were filled with about every kind of evil, corruption, rebellion, and mayhem possible. He was preaching to a people who over and over again did the wrong thing. There was rampant divorce, greed, selfish ambition—even among his own disciples!–, idolatry, pathetic leadership among the learned, and more. Jesus was preaching to a people who were not altogether righteous. Yet Jesus’ solution to this cultural decay and corruption, the root of which was sin, was not what we might expect. I’ll explain in a minute.

__________________

20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21″What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22″You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.

23Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Even among his own there was some corruption and some tendencies to act like the world.

___________________

12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13″It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” 14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. 16″Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,” ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” 17And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

__________________

Then there’s this:

33″Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35″The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38″But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40″Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41″He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

” ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

In other words, there are certain things that God has been saying all along and people haven’t listened. Never once.

There is a refrain in these chapters that Jesus keeps repeating. I count six times. I’ve read 3 of them.

In 19:4, he said it.
In 21:16, he said it.
In 21:42, he said it.
In 22:29, he said it.
In 22:31, he said it.
In 19:17, he implied it by saying he ‘knew’ the commands, but proves the man didn’t really know them.

And it all comes to a head in chapter 23:

29″Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

33″You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

37″O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

In other words, those who were charged with the responsibility of the speaking forth the Word of God were ignored, and killed. The Word of God itself was neglected—that is, it wasn’t read. That is the refrain, ‘have you not read?’ And, finally, when God tried one last time, they killed Jesus too:

38″But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Jesus keeps going back to this: You have neglected the Word of God, you have killed the Prophets who spoke to you the Word of God, and, when it all comes down:

17Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18″We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

These people wanted nothing to do with the Word of God, but they continued to wonder why there was so much corruption, so much oppression, so much evil, so much contempt for righteousness. I submit to you that it is not much different in the world today. There is so much corruption, so much violence, so much hatred, so much contempt for righteousness, so much wickedness, so much injustice and why? My contention is that we have neglected the Word of God. We haven’t read it. We have slaughtered the prophets. We have killed the Living Word, God’s last testimony to us according to Hebrews.

___________________

So into this mess will come those with solutions, not good solutions, but solutions. Pastor John Hagee, a popular television preacher in Texas, has a new book titled In Defense of Israel. In the book he makes the following statements:

If God intended for Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel, why didn’t he authorize Jesus to use supernatural signs to prove he was God’s Messiah, just as Moses had done? (p. 137)

Jesus refused to produce a sign … because it was not the Father’s will, nor his, to be Messiah. (p 138)

If Jesus wanted to be Messiah, why did he repeatedly tell his disciples and followers to “tell no one” about his supernatural accomplishments? (p. 139)

The Jews were not rejecting Jesus as Messiah; it was Jesus who was refusing to be the Messiah to the Jews. (p. 140)

They wanted him to be their Messiah, but he flatly refused. (p. 141)

He refused to be their Messiah, choosing instead to be the Savior of the world (p. 143)

Jesus rejected to the last detail the role of Messiah in word or deed. (p. 145)

Does this sound reasonable to you? Does this sound like something that will help alleviate suffering and misery on earth? What does Jesus tell us in Matthew 24:

4Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.

9″Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Of all the things Jesus could warn us about, he chooses to warn us about the false prophets that will come our way—those claiming to have a word from God, but in fact, having none. And what does he say to us:

35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

__________________

Suffering is all around us and we are the cause of all of it. We have trusted in ourselves to solve the world’s problems and we have neglected and ignored the Word of God. He gives us all the answers we need but we refuse to listen. We refuse to hear. We refuse to welcome the prophets who are telling us the truth. And Jesus says that because we are more interested in ourselves than God there is a suffering that will outlast this earth because we want it to. You see all that is necessary for the suffering of this world to end is submission to the Word of Christ: Haven’t you read? But we won’t do it. So many will be cast into the place prepared for the devil and his angels, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I’ll end with these words from David F Wells’ book Above All Earthly Pow’rs:

To the Church, then, has been given the charge of proclaiming the Word of God. This revelatory Word is not a [chain] of human opinions and ideas but rather is God’s own proclamation, the very means by which he speaks, even into postmodern society. It is, therefore, the making possible of what would be entirely impossible without the grace of God and the powerful working of the Spirit through whose work, and despite the stammering and faltering lips of the preacher, is heard once again the divine summons to stand before God and hear his Word. Here is hope. We have not been cast adrift upon that infinite ocean but, rather, we find ourselves in a universe not of our own making where all of our best thoughts of God are swept away as upon a ferocious current only to be replaced by the eternally simple speech of the triune God. He draws us near through his Word, he lifts the fallen, he feeds the hungry, he corrects the wandering, he rebukes the self-sufficient, and everywhere there is found the sweet fragrance of his grace where he has spoken through his Word and ministered by His Spirit. (176)

This is why Jesus asks: Haven’t you read?

Advertisements

  1. Can one have a theology of suffering?

    I don’t know. Theology being a pursuit after God and that of God wanting suffering? Or why does God allow pain to exist? I don’t know if I can really formulate a solution. Just a question.

  2. I appreciate the question. I don’t think it is a matter so much of God wanting us to suffer because that assumes that suffering is inherently good and part of God’s created order. I don’t think it is. I think there is a better answer that will be explained and explored as these essays develop. Why God allows pain to exist is, in fact, a better question and not one without an answer. These essays, I hope, will bring clarity to this point in particular.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Friends,

    I will begin my sermon series on ‘Theology of Suffering’ this coming Sunday. I will be posting the messages and any research that I conduct here. There will be 9 messages total from Matthew’s Gospel. If you are interested, stop back and starting next Monday.

    jerry

  4. Jill

    jerry,
    today’s sermon (oct 14)was overwhelming…that jesus came to such a dark dark place…how much more a sacrifice of leaving the glory of heaven…how much more of a reason to love Him more..
    abiding still
    jill

  5. Jill,

    Thank you, thank you. This series of sermons is hard because the very content of Scripture paints a grim picture of the world that God ‘gave to man.’ We too often work in conjunction with the devils and sin even while pretending to be against it. The world will never understand until it beholds with its own eyes the work that Christ has done on the cross. Thanks again for stopping by.

    jerry

  1. 1 Updates to Life Under the Blue Sky « Life Under the Blue Sky: The View From Below

    […] A Theology of Suffering ****(Updated: Sermon #’s 5 & 6)**** […]




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: