Jubilate, The Fourth Sunday of Easter: God Uses Suffering for Good, Resulting in Joy

Lessons: Lamentations 3:22-33, 1 Peter 2:11-20, John 16:16-22
Hymns: LSB 463, 548, 487, 466, 490

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      All three readings today deal with different forms of suffering and good that results in it. Our Good Shepherd works to condition us so that we can face suffering in a godly way, yet there are many around us who are trying to shepherd us in another direction—to reject suffering or to conclude that suffering means a lack of God’s grace. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, know who your true Good Shepherd is and how He shepherds you through times of cross and trial. Do not succumb to the false shepherds out there who would have you believe that suffering means you lack God’s grace or His peace.

      For it is written, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). This flies right into the face of what we naturally want religion to be, and it goes against what many religious leaders would have you believe. Their message sounds good and promising, especially when they claim Christians will enjoy health and happiness all their days. All of us long for peaceful times and security. That’s why we now expect it from our government and wish that’s what God would grant to all people all the time.

      When God created this world in six days, He made a place where there was no suffering, no hardship, and no pain. He made it a place where everyone could enjoy all aspects of life without any trouble. But then through the rebellion of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world. With sin came death. Now there’s suffering all around us.

      Who should escape suffering? Is there anyone in this life that should be entitled to a life of ease? What about God’s chosen people of the Old Testament era? Did the Hebrew people escape hardship? No, they endured slavery in Egypt, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, warring neighbors in the Promised Land, and destruction from the Babylonians as the book of Lamentations records. Yet, as we also heard in Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

      Satan, when he wreaks havoc in peoples’ lives, expects God’s people to waver and turn from God in despair. Satan tries to attack our Christian hope in the promises of God, but God uses hardship to build us up in hope, for it is written, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom 5:3-4). So, even the Israelites couldn’t escape suffering. Then again, Satan couldn’t take their hope away, either. God kept His promise. He sent the Messiah.

      During the time of Christ, the disciples could not escape suffering. Jesus spoke of it when He was with them on Maundy Thursday. As we heard in our Gospel, He told them they will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. Then He adds, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). These disciples faced a twofold sorrow and a twofold joy. The first was immediate. Jesus will be crucified the following day. Yet, their tears will turn to joy on the third day when Jesus rises victoriously from the grave. Then, as they conduct their ministries, preaching the Gospel, many will reject them. Most of the disciples died martyrs’ deaths. They will have sorrow as they face persecution. At the same time, they will have joy, knowing that Christ has triumphed over death and the grave, and grants them the victory. After the Jewish council flogged the Apostles for preaching in the name of Jesus, it is written in Acts 5:40-41, that the Apostles “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Jesus. Ultimately, they received the goal of their faith—the salvation of their bodies & souls. They have joy in Heaven.

      In a sense, Peter echoes this joy in the final verse of our Epistle, “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:20).

      Even Jesus could not escape suffering. Many were seeking His life, and ultimately men who hated Him crucified Him. While they meant to get rid of what they thought was a menace to society, God was fulling His plan—to take away the world’s sin—even our sin of rejecting suffering as God’s way of strengthening our faith and increasing our hope.

      When we are called to be disciples (followers of our Lord), Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Matt 16:24-26). This means our Christian life will not be easy. In fact, some things are more difficult. We live contrary to the world’s ways when it comes to life, love, and pleasure. We forgo sleeping in on Sunday mornings so that we can gather in God’s house. We refrain from locker room talk. We abstain from the passions of the flesh. We subject ourselves to those in authority over us, honoring everyone, especially those in government. We are, in fact, outsiders to the world. But it is good to be an outsider, for we are inside God’s family, rescued by Him, and granted the peace of God which the world cannot give.

      This means that many aspects of our current life are far better for us Christians as we live in this fallen world. We know Jesus did not die on the cross so that He could grant us an easy, care-free, happy life. Instead, Jesus came to give us eternal life. He came to take our sin away and reconcile us to the Father. He came to open the gates of Heaven to us. He came so that we can be saved from our sin and be blessed to live with God forever. He came so that we will join our Lord in Heaven and then rise bodily when He comes again on the Last Day. For God redirects our expectations and grants us hope.

      Our Gospel reading concludes with these words of Jesus, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). This certainly happened when the disciples witnessed our Lord’s death and resurrection. And, as we already heard, the Apostles rejoiced when they suffered in the name of Jesus.

      The devil seeks to wreck your faith, diminish your love, steal your hope, and destroy your joy through suffering. But Jesus won’t have that for you. He gives you joy. And as you continue in joy, Satan’s motivation to cause suffering decreases. In fact, when we leap for joy in the midst of suffering, we are forcing the devil to face head-to-head the victory Jesus won at the cross. He scowls at that.

      Last week, I pointed out the very personal nature of Jesus as our true Shepherd. He is present with us, even as we face any kind of hardship. You see, the suffering we endure is never disconnected from the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus suffered to earn our salvation. Jesus now suffers alongside His Church. As we suffer, we suffer with Christ and in the name of Jesus. And just as Jesus was, so are we. There are times when we face insults, persecution, or rejection. Just like Jesus. When we are despised and hated by the world, we are not only numbered with the prophets and apostles, the saints and martyrs, but we are also numbered with our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Instead of succumbing to Satan’s ploy to get us to turn away from our Lord when we face sorrow, suffering, or any type of hardship, we as God’s people turn toward our Lord. From hardship, we learn we cannot save ourselves or make this world a perfect place. We learn we are weak and need a Savior. We listen to God’s Word—a Word which grants us true hope, lasting confidence, and knowledge of the true way to salvation. We become grounded in the Word and planted on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus being our cornerstone.

      Those who fall away during times of cross or trial often had a shallow root. They probably knew a few Christian cliches or occasionally opined on eternal matters when convenient, but could not survive the intense heat of temptation, persecution, or suffering.

      Our grounding in the Word of God must be more deeply rooted than this. Our confidence is not in the circumstantial evidence around us, but in the sure and certain Word of Christ.

      If you endure suffering (whether it’s spiritual turmoil, aches and pains, persecution for being a Christian, or any other kind), I invite you to do three things. First, do not lose hope. You are baptized into Christ. Satan will throw His fiery darts at you, but the Lord has triumphed; He prevails. Know that any cross is temporary and the blessings you have in Christ are eternal. God will get you through it. Fix your eyes on Jesus, instead of dwelling on the troubles you face.

      Second, pray to the good Lord who hears your pleas and answers them according to His good and gracious will. Pray the Psalms, for they are filled with prayers by those who suffered and were blessed with the joys that followed, namely the joy of salvation.

      Finally, be grounded in the Word through studying Scripture daily, attending the Divine Service, and allowing yourself to be shepherded by your pastor whom Jesus sent. And I encourage you to read 1 Peter. In just five chapters, Peter offers six counsels to those who suffering, including, 1) God uses suffering to refine our faith. 2/3) We are called to suffering and God prepares us 4) Suffering curbs sinful passions. 5) Suffering is not a surprise. 6) We do not suffer alone.

      Joy comes after cross and trial, suffering and lamentation. This joy is always ours and is given to us because Christ is risen and grants us the victory. Suffering lasts for a little while. But joy given to us in Christ is eternal. In a little while you will see Jesus and all your sorrow will be turned into pure joy. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen