Good morning! We have lots going on this morning. First, this is All Saints Sunday when we remember those faithful Christians who have gone before us. They witnessed, ministered, suffered, and died for the name of Jesus in the place and time God gave them.
This is also Prayer for the Persecuted Church Sunday. More Christians are suffering and dying for Jesus today than ever before in the history of the church. We must not abandon them.
Finally, this is Shepherd’s Hand Clinic Sunday. For over 20 years every Monday night, Shepherd’s Hand Clinic has become a family, a community, a home where care givers and people in need of care are brought together by the common experience of human suffering to share good food, medical care, love and the grace of God. If you’ve never been here on Monday night, you should come. You’ll be amazed at what happens.
With all that in mind, let’s open our Bibles again to Romans 8. The chapter starts with these words, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Rom 8:1
Paul spends the first seven chapters of Romans convincing us that there is no difference between Jew, Greek, barbarian, religious, irreligious, believer, unbeliever, rich, poor, healthy or sick, all of us stand before God as sinners and the wages of sin is death, eternal separation from God and from everything that makes life worthwhile.
But God has made a way for sinners to be forgiven and made righteous again through Jesus’ death on the cross for us. This righteousness cannot be earned or merited; it can only be received by faith as a gift. Jesus is the hope of the nations, the only hope!
Let’s jump down to Romans 8:18. Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom 8:18
Suffering is a universal human experience. Young, old, rich, poor, religious, pagan, we all know about suffering. We experience it. We watch it in the lives of the people we love. In vs 20, Paul tells us that God subjected the world to frustration – that means suffering. Why?
Remember the lie Satan told Adam and Eve? “You, too, can be like God. You don’t need God. He’s just interfering with your freedom. Trust me, I’m on your side!” Satan
But God loves us to much to allow us to be pulled into Satan’s lie. Suffering is God’s “no” to all our attempts to be god! God subjected the world to suffering to save us from ourselves.
We suffer from our own sins. We suffer from the sins of other. All creation suffers from human sin. But God has not abandoned us. Jesus left the glory of his father’s side to come, be born into our skin, live among us and share in our suffering. Then Jesus send the Holy Spirit to leave the eternal bless of the Father’s side to move into the heart of every believer.
I am amazed that the Holy Spirit would love me enough to move into the sinful mess of a heart like mine! Look at Vs 26, “In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
Have you ever wondered how to pray in the throes of suffering? “Should I pray to be delivered, or pray for strength to endure?” I don’t know, but the Spirit does, and he is praying for me!
In vs 28 Paul writes, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Rm 8:28
Paul isn’t saying that the terrible things that happen to us are always good. He’s saying that no matter how terrible our suffering; evil will never have the final word! God has the final word, and even the most hideous thing Satan can devise, like crucifying the only sinless man who ever lived, will in the end, be redeemed for good. When I finally understand that, it puts a whole new spin of my suffering. If God is for me, what can evil men ever do to me?
Let’s jump to verse 31. “What then, shall we say in response to this?” Rom 8:31 Paul’s actual words are “What shall we say in response to all these things?” All what things? All the suffering I endure, all the suffering in the world around me - the injustice, the war, the disease, the disasters. What shall we say in the turmoil of all this horrible stuff?
Paul isn’t just talking through his hat. He’s been stoned, shipwrecked, illegally beaten, falsely imprisoned. He’s been sick, hungry, homeless; all because he was following Jesus. Yet through it all, he’s learned something. Jesus has always been there - not only for him, but with him and even in him.
In these terrible places of suffering, Paul has learned he had a choice. He could either turn inside and become bitter and filled with despair or he could trust God’s promise to be with him and ultimately bring grace, depth, hope, peace through the suffering he was enduring.
In the latest issue of WORLD magazine, Mindy Belz gives us an update on Pastor Saeed Abedini. Pastor Saeed is suffering for Christ in an Iranian prison. The brutality he has suffered is beyond comprehension. Recently, Pastor Saeed was transferred from a notoriously brutal political prison to the most deadly prison in Iran. After his transfer, his father was permitted to gather a few belongings from Saeed’s former cell to give to his wife.
It included a journal, a few clothes, a wooden cross he had made in his cell and a handmade poster that read, “Privilege of Suffering for Christ”. The poster had hung above his cot. It was the first thing he saw every morning and the last thing he saw each night.
Let me read these words of Paul to you again, beginning Rom 8:31. “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? (What things? Our suffering) If God is for us, who can be against us? He 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? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
Who then is the one who condemns? No one! 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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither 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.”
Suffering reminds us that we aren’t God, but we have a God who refuses to abandon us to our sin. Suffering reminds of the cost of our sin and points us to Jesus who died in our place and has become our only hope. Suffering unites us as a human family and if we are willing, suffering can teach us compassion, grace for others who are suffering.
As we approach the holiday season, words like “family”, “community”, “home” evoke warm feelings even if the places we grew up were less than perfect. We’d like to believe that family, community, home are the places where we can escape the pain of suffering.
But as I look back on my own family, the times that were the most precious, most filled with love and hope were not when things were easiest. It was when things were toughest, when suffering was the deepest that love grew best and God seemed to be the closest.
Maybe that’s part of the reason God allows suffering in our lives. Maybe the fellowship, family, home we really long for is found when we become courageous enough to share in the suffering of others rather than running away. Will you pray with me?
Thank you, Lord, for the suffering you allow to enter my life. I don’t understand it all, and I certainly don’t like it, but I trust that you are with me in it, just as you promised. I believe your promise to Paul, that your grace is sufficient for me. And I believe you will help me grow more deeply into you through this painful experience. Soften my heart through the suffering you allow into my life. I invite you in again today. Take control of my life, sit on the throne in my heart. Make me more like yourself in my compassion for others and let the suffering I endure draw others to you. In Jesus name.