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Rejoice in Suffering For Being A Christian

March 23, 2014

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Third Sunday in Lent                                                                                    Trinity Lutheran Church

23 March 2014                                                                                                             Murdock, NE

 

+ Jesu Juva +

 

Romans 5:3-4

 

St. Paul preaches a shocker.  When you heard it this morning you probably did a double or triple take.  Who would ever say such a thing as:  “and we rejoice in our sufferings”?  REJOICE IN OUR SUFFERINGS?  Did he really say that?  Paul can’t be serious, can he?  Is he out of his mind?  Perhaps rejoicing in suffering might be true in Paul’s day, but certainly not in our day and especially in our lives!  Right?

 

Well, I’m here to tell you that the apostle really did say it, he’s totally serious and he’s not going off the deep end.  No need to call 911, administer shock therapy to the apostle or call for an emergency voters’ meeting to call for his resignation  What he said to the Christians in Rome still applies to you today.  You 21st century Christians here at Trinity, Murdock are to rejoice in what you suffer because it has a purpose.  I’ll tell about that purpose in a minute.

 

Before I do that I want to be clear about a few things regarding suffering.  First, the only suffering that saves sinners like you and me from God’s wrath and the eternal damnation of hell is the divine Good Friday suffering of Jesus on the cross.  His suffering with and for your sin in His divine crucified Body is the only suffering that forgives you the sinner and gives you heaven.

 

Second, you suffer many things in your life because of your sin.  Yes, that’s right, you do!  You make bad choices and you suffer the consequences.  For example, commit adultery and you ruin your marriage and family.  That’s your fault!  Fornicate with multiple partners and you get gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes or AIDS.  That’s your fault!  Murder someone or steal someone’s car and you will go to jail.  That’s your fault!  Try Crystal METH, get hooked and you — YOU devastate your body.  Your liver stops working and your skin turns yellow because you chose to drink too much.  Your marriage is failing or has totally crashed and burned because you — YOU didn’t, wouldn’t and won’t put any effort into it.  Your spiritual tank is empty – because you choose to ignore God’s Word and blow off the many opportunities to hear it.  That’s your fault!

 

For all that suffering that you bring on yourself, you should be ashamed.  Nothing to rejoice in here!  You should never rejoice in such suffering that you have brought on yourself.  So, it’s time for repentance.  Time to tell the truth and confess the sin.  And then beg God to forgive you for Christ’s sake!  After all, “Christ died for the ungodly!  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”     

 

So, what sufferings are you given to rejoice in?  Remember, the apostle flat out declared: “and we rejoice in our sufferings!”  Well, what sufferings?

 

I’ll tell you.  Are you ready?  Good.  Listen carefully.  You’d better sit down for this.  It’s the suffering that you don’t deserve.  It’s the suffering that you didn’t ask for.  Innocent suffering.  It’s the suffering that seems to have no meaning.  It’s the suffering that you suffer because YOU ARE A BAPTIZED CHRISTIAN!  Suffering for the sake of the gospel and for the name of Jesus your Savior!  Suffering as a Christian!

 

Newsflash everyone!  Just in case you’re new biblical preaching!  To be a Christian means that you will suffer!  Suffering is a mark of the Christian life.  And it comes in various ways.  Confess Christ without apology – worship Him in spirit and in truth (spelled F-A-I-T-H) and you could lose your reputation, your scholarship, your job, your income and property, your friends, family and even your life.  A Christless Christianity the world will tolerate and promote.  But you’re all about confessing Christ crucified and risen as the only Savior of the world, right?  You acknowledge Jesus alone as God and Lord and no one else, right?

 

So be prepared brothers and sisters in Christ – TO SUFFER!  Jesus said it would happen:  “People will insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” (Matthew 5:11).  “If they persecuted me,” Jesus says, “they will persecute you also,” (John 15:20).  And when this happens, Jesus flat out tells you just like the blessed apostle Paul:  “Rejoice and be glad,” (Matthew 5:12)!

 

If you haven’t already, you will be targeted as mistrustful, worthy of suspicion, and even perhaps criminals and enemies of the divine and all-powerful state with all her fake claims to divinity because you refuse to obey the sick and depraved demands that unborn children must be murdered and that homosexuality and homosexual marriage is all there is to “life.”  The militant atheist and very popular author Richard Hawkins considers your God that you worship here at Trinity to be a “petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential megolomaniac, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully,” (The God Delusion, chapter 2).  Why he left out “fascist” I’ll never know.  But he writes such things about God so that people will hate you!  So that real Americans will avoid you like the plague.  Discriminate against you.  And eventually eliminate you dangerous-to-society-kind-of-Christian-people.

 

Openly disagree with Dawkins about God or confess in the public square that the baby in the womb is to be protected and that the only marriage that really counts is between one man and one woman and what will happen?  Exactly what Jesus said.

 

You could experience the various grades of wrath of the make believe divinities.  Unwelcome in certain cities and states.  Mockery.  Ridicule.  Demonized in public and behind your back.  Bullied into silence in the form of visits from the IRS.  NSA spied on to see what you’re up to.  Children taken away from you because of you one of those kinds of “Christians.”  The experts will justify such child snatching as “saving” the children from the dangers of those radical Christian parents.  Sent to some kind of a Siberia.  Solzehnityn-ed, if you will.  Rubber roomed.  Institutionalized.  Segregated.  Discriminated.  Perhaps even eliminated.

 

THIS IS THE KIND OF SUFFERING THAT THE APOSTLE DECLARES YOU CAN BOAST ABOUT AND REJOICE IN!

 

In a few weeks on Palm Sunday some of our young catechumens will publically turn their backs on the devil and confess Jesus as their Savior.  That day they will be asked:  “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to SUFFER ALL, even death, rather than fall away from it?”  I hope that when they say, “yes,” that they really mean it.  And I hope that’s the case for all of you too.  Did you too really mean it?  To suffer all?  Even death?

 

How many who call themselves Christians are unwilling to suffer anything or any inconvenience at all?

 

Here is where we as a church are quickly approaching a fork in the road where we will either have to %#* or get off the pot!  It’s time for Trinity to make a decision.  We as a congregation are going to have to choose between compromising and going all in with the Christless culture or bear our cross for boldly confessing Christ’s Name.  We have to choose between what the world calls success or suffer for Jesus’ and the gospel’s sake.  What do you want to be here at Trinity?  A religious country club for the comfortable?  Or the church founded on Christ crucified and risen that has a Word of life and salvation for sinners every Sunday?  Everything is at stake with your decision.

 

Jesus categorically gives this warning.  “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels,” (Mark 8:38).  So no sugar coating it today folks!  A congregation that is not willing to suffer for being Christian, “to suffer all, even death” rather than fall away from confessing Christ, HAS SIMPLY CEASED TO BE THE CHURCH!

 

So, I beg you to repent and believe the good news.  Lose your sin in the death of Jesus and you have eternal life.

 

Now, what’s the purpose of all this suffering for being a Christian?  I said I would tell you that.  I’m going to keep that promise.  Here goes.

 

The goal or purpose of such suffering that you as a Christian experience is ENDURANCE.  Endurance.

 

A good long distance runner’s lungs and chest cavity are stretched to the max.  When you start running long distance your body suffers.  Before you get very far your lungs burn and your body and legs fatigue quickly because you can’t get enough oxygen.  The body has to be trained to endure the pain — to keep on running through the throbbing and aching.

 

So too, you  as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, are disciplined in the way of bearing crosses in your life.  You must learn to receive Christ’s divine service in Word and Sacrament, pray, praise and give thanks to Him through whatever “pain,” “persecution,” “hardship” or even “death” that you suffer for being a Christian.

 

Patient endurance then is the prerequisite of character“Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character.”    Character is the quality of having been tested.  Like deep water that runs in deep waterways.  Deep channels get scored by the sluggish, deliberate and enduring process of erosion.  So, have you ever noticed that Christians with character have suffered deeply?

 

I noticed this immediately when I taught in Siberia.  Lutheran Christians in Siberia had their church buildings destroyed, their pastors murdered, and their families destroyed by Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and others who tyrannically ruled the atheistic Soviet regime.  It was against the law to practice Christianity in the Soviet Union.  One Polish Lutheran village deep in one of Siberia’s forests had been without a pastor for decades.  And yet these Siberian Lutherans had large sections of the Bible, their Small Catechism, and many hymns memorized even though they were forbidden to have their children baptized, catechized and confirmed – even when it violated the law for them to gather for worship publicly and to speak of their Christian faith to others.  They had nothing compared to us.  OR DID THEY?   Christians with character have suffered deeply.  Immensely.

 

Shallow suffering produces shallow character.  Shallow suffering produces a wishy-washy confession – a confession with no backbone — a confession that compromises the Christian faith.  Deep Christian character, however, is produced through long and patient suffering.  Depending on Jesus’ promise that He is the Christ.  That He is the living water who gives eternal life.  Through whom “we have peace with God,” (Romans 5:1).

 

This kind of character, a Christ-like character, nailed to the cross of Christ by faith, brings eternal hope.  This is not the shallow “smile, God loves you” wishful thinking that passes for pop Christianity, but a “Christ crucified for you” hope that does not fail.  Christian hope is not hope in spite of suffering.  Christian hope is hope in and through suffering for being a Christian.  Doctors, medicines, bank accounts, friends and family fail but not Christ and His promises.  What He promises He does and gives.  So Christian hope does not disappoint because it depends on the Lord Jesus who “has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.”  This pouring out of His Good Friday love into your heart by the Holy Spirit happened in your Baptism.  It continues to take place when you hear that your sins are forgiven in preaching, absolution and the Supper.

 

So, “since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

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