Romans 5:1-5 (12 June 2022)

At some time I think we have all sung the song, “At the Cross”, including the chorus with the line, “And now I am happy all the day.”

When you sang that, how did you feel?

I am deluding myself? I am a hypocrite? I am a liar?

Let’s be honest: none of us is happy all the day.

It would probably be nearer the truth and more honest to sing, “And now I am hanging in there all the day”.

Jesus told his disciples, including us, “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’”

In this world you will have trouble.  It’s a statement of fact.  It’s universal, unavoidable. You will have trouble.

What does Jesus promise new Christians? Remember the conversion of the apostle Paul, blinded by the light when Jesus appeared to him?  

The Lord sent Ananias to pray for him and give him a message.

Acts 9:15But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’

What a welcome message to a new convert! Glad to have you join us — now let me tell you it’s going to be far far from happy, happy, happy, joyful every day.

Sadly, there are still people who try to win converts by telling them to come to Jesus and all their problems will be over.  Some even try to tell people that Jesus will promise them wealth and prosperity and complete healing of all their physical ailments.

It just isn’t true.

What Jesus promised is that you will have trouble.

That doesn’t mean we should swing to the other extreme and look for trouble just so we can tell Jesus and everyone else how much we suffer and therefore how much consideration we should get.

We don’t want to be masochists, people who simply enjoy suffering, nor do we want to be ascetics, people who renounce material comforts and lead a life of austere self-discipline, especially as an act of religious devotion.

Like the lady who said, “I am afraid I enjoy poor health.”  Her problem wasn’t that she had poor health but rather that she enjoyed it!

We will not avoid suffering during our lifetime.  There are causes which bring suffering to everyone who happens to be there at the time.  Floods, fires, famine, families, friends can all cause us to suffer - but we are not the only ones who have those problems. Then there’s accidents and illnesses. It’s not our fault and often there’s nothing we can do to avoid those troubles.

Of course, we can bring suffering on ourselves in ways that do us no good and bring us no credit. Heed the warning in 1 Peter 4:15-16 -

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

There’s no credit when you bring troubles on yourself. Sometimes you get what you deserve.

Run a quick, honest check: Satan prowls like a roaring lion and seeks to trick us into sin so be sure that your suffering is not your fault.  If so, repentance, confession, reconciliation and perhaps restitution may be necessary.

If sin had never entered the world there would not be any suffering for anyone or anything.

However, don’t ever jump to the conclusion that an example of suffering is due to a personal sin. Jesus explained this in John 9:1-3

As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’
said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Christians in Australia might experience put-downs, dismissal, some mockery but in some parts of the world there are Christians who really do suffer because they bear the name of Christian, of Jesus.

Suffering can show up in many ways and  the Bible doesn’t diminish our experience of suffering. Instead, it recognizes the complexity of suffering and how it comes upon us. Scripture tells us, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). 

So Paul coped and wants to draw us into his experience but when the trial comes we find ourselves in the same position as Job.  To him there were two ways to choose in response to suffering. One way is to curse God because of our suffering and the other is to praise God, even in the midst of our suffering.

By way of encouragement note that the last chapter of the book of Job, Job 42 is to the rest of Job what Revelation 21–22 is to the rest of Revelation.  There is the promise of a happy ending!

As Paul wrote, “This light of momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look to the things that are not seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

If we want to want to be able to respond the way Paul did then we need to call on the resources available.

It’s always very important to know you are not on your own.

Times of suffering may be prolonged.  Others have suffered, too, and are suffering.  Their experience may be of help to you. There will be some who have not suffered as you do and so cannot really understand you and your pain but they can still stand by you and support, help and even encourage you.

In that sense, the Church is a refuge to those who are suffering. Often suffering draws people into isolation, separation from others who could be of real help to them. Don’t isolate yourself from others when you suffer; let your brothers and sisters in Christ love you.

Suffering happens in community and we have a responsibility to be of support and aid to those who are suffering around us. Paul alludes to this in Galatians 6:2, when he writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 

The church is not meant to be an association of loosely bound individuals but a community of individuals bound together, a refuge for those who are suffering. When someone in our church is hurting, the church tends to that member’s wounds. When a member is down and discouraged, the church is called to lift that person up. When someone in the church is in need, we are to come alongside them to help them through their suffering.

We do not like the feeling of being out of control, of being powerless to help ourselves or even to help others.

The temptation to those who suffer is to blame God for their problems and walk away from him but the truth is that God is sovereign and totally in charge of whatever is happening to you. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28).

It can be very hard to accept that our loving heavenly father knows best.

The gospel reading for today is John 16:12-15

Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

In this message Jesus is telling us that we are not alone, that he is in us, close to us, that his Holy Spirit is here at all times to support us, to speak to us, guide us into truth, to declare Jesus’ words to us, to help us to turn our minds and spirits to the glories of Jesus.  Because Jesus has all that our Heavenly Father has and the Holy Spirit brings us into direct relationship with the Father.

But a common fault on our part is we fail to follow the very ordinary practices of reading, learning, meditating on, and memorizing the Bible when we are not suffering, let alone when we are. Let God speak to you through the inspired writings in the Bible. They are there to teach, to remind, to support, to correct and strengthen you.

We should keep praying consistently, intentionally and honestly, with repentance, humility, and dependence. These sensible daily practices help to keep you in touch with your heavenly Father and help you keep your thinking on the right track.

We need to keep being part of a local church where we can receive what we need from God through the other members of Christ’s body, the church, which is “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part…for the building up of itself in love.

These practices of Bible reading, prayer and Christian fellowship are so badly practiced by so many of us that it’s no wonder we get lost when troubles come.

The other reading for today is Romans 5:1-5

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

To be honest, I would rather become a Christlike Christian without any suffering.  but, unfortunately, I read here that it doesn’t happen that way. 

Suffering brings about changes in us - too often negative, even destructive changes, too often to anger, bitterness and hopelessness. 

But if we can adopt the attitude Paul had the changes become positive, valuable changes. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.

When that happens we can boast, not about our suffering or the way we handled it, but boast while we are in our suffering because through that God brings about those positive results leading, ultimately to hope - hope in the form of a certainty of the eternal future that lies ahead of us which we will have sharing in the glory of God.

It arises from the faith that we have in the presence of the Holy Spirit and the lordship of Jesus in our lives which gives us peace with God, peace even in troubled times.

Remember, too, that Jesus suffered.  He suffered the humiliation of a mockery of a trial and the disgrace of crucifixion.  The deepest of his sufferings was while on that cross when he uttered the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The very Son of God who was with God, was God from the beginning of time was wrenched away from heaven in order that in doing so he would experience the death you and I were destined for.

He was the Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). We are united to the One whose destiny was crucifixion. We are united to the One who calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). And the New Testament makes it clear in several places that you cannot know this Christ apart from suffering.

But remember, God was not blindsided by Calvary.

As Peter pointed out in Acts 2:22-24 

Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

Jesus totally overcame the worst form of suffering possible making the efforts of sinful men foolishness and loss in the face of the most wonderful and eternally potent victory of all in the hands of Jesus.

And the great news for us is that this same victorious, risen Jesus will support us in our trials and bring us, too, to victory with him.

1381 Modified: 10-10-2022
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