Rejoice in Suffering
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Delivered By
Rev. Jonathan Gruen
Delivered On
March 22, 2014
Central Passage
Romans 5:1-5
Description

Rev. Jonathan Gruen
Romans 5:1-5

Rejoice in Suffering

            Look at this glass of water.  You immediately noticed something about it, and what you noticed reveals a little something about you.  I’m going to ask you to raise your hand, and it’s ok to give an honest answer.  There’s no right or wrong answer.  How many of you thought of this glass, or know that in general you think of the metaphorical glasses in life, as half full?  How many of you thought of this glass, or in general think of the metaphorical glasses in life, as half empty?  Ah…that was telling.  Thank you for your honesty.

            Those who try to think of the glass as half full think of themselves as optimists.  They try to look on the bright side, to find the silver lining, to wish and hope against the odds, to make the best of every situation that they can.  Those who try to think of the glass half empty are sometimes called pessimists, although they like to call themselves realists.  They don’t sugar coat things, they don’t live in a dream-world or La-la-land.  They say it like it is.  They’ve been through tough things before, and they’re going to be careful.

            So, yes, there are the 2 famous perspectives.  The optimist sees the glass as half-full.  The pessimist sees it as half-empty.  But you know, there’s another perspective.  The chemist.  The chemist sees this glass as full! —half with liquid, half with gas.

            That perspective, my friends, reminds us that in the cup there will always be liquid and gas, even while we are longing for a cup full of refreshing water.  What I am saying, my friends, is that in this life—according to St. Paul in our text today—we have peace with God through Jesus Christ AND we have suffering to complete life in a very real way.  Now, such a Word from God calls us not to the syrupy positivity of the TV preacher and his “name it and claim it” prosperity theology.  Rather, the Word of God calls us today to know that suffering will come, and that we are to endure it faithfully, for it has a purpose.

            So, we are going to summarize the teaching of Romans 5:1-5 in four main points.  1) The solution comes from God.  2) We can rejoice, even in suffering.  3) Suffering produces good in us.  And finally, 4) hope in Christ does not disappoint.

            First of all, 1) we see that the solution comes from God.  Look at verses 1-2 of our text.  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  In just a few words, St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes it abundantly clear how it is that we have peace with God.  We have peace by the grace of God, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here and all over Scripture it is made clear that it is not our efforts, our picking ourselves up, our showing God our determination, our positive perspective that brings any solution.  In reality, we are powerless.  And, in reality, we are the problem.

            In fact, Paul has spent several chapters already laying out the nature of the problem and God’s solution.  You may recall some of these familiar phrases:  “None is righteous, no, not one…All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (3:10-12).  By works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (3:20).  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith (3:23-25).  [Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (4:24-25).”

            In fact, those last words are the words right before our text.  They assure us that though all of us were lost in sin, doomed to death, and headed toward hell, Christ Jesus has come for us, lived, died, and was raised for us that we might be justified (declared innocent) before the Father.  “Therefore,” Paul’s next words are, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.”

            Friends this peace is a full, comprehensive, peace.  It’s not just the end of a war, or the lack of fighting.  It’s not just that we are brought back to God, but it also means that we have a delightful inheritance.  We have God’s blessing, his provision. We have forgiveness for sin and the strength of God’s Spirit.  We have his protection.  We have his guidance.  We have a glorious future. We have the Promised Land.  The word peace in Scripture is a loaded word.  It means all of that.  It’s like an all-inclusive resort; it’s all included!  We have peace with God.  And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  We know we will attain our glorious heaven.  Not by our strength or holiness, determination or efforts.  But by the grace of God.  The solution to our sin and death problem was begun, continued, and will be brought to completion by God through Jesus and his cross.  And that should cause us to rejoice every day.

            This brings us to our second point.  2) We can rejoice, even in suffering.  Look at just the first part of verse 3.  It says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces…” We’ll talk about what it produces in a second.  But, here we see that St. Paul encourages us to rejoice in our suffering, for this is necessary.  We are called to suffer for Christ.  There is no being a Christian without the cross—the cross of Jesus, and the cross that he asks you to bear as you follow him.  This is a tough concept, and it calls for a mature faith.

            Luther has a way of putting things strongly.  Listen to this from a sermon given at Coburg in 1530, a sermon on the cross and suffering: “Every Christian must be aware that suffering will not fail to come…Such suffering as we really feel, which weighs us down; otherwise, if it did not hurt us badly, it would not be suffering… the kind of suffering which, if it were possible, we would gladly be rid of, suffering visited upon us by the devil or the world. Then what is needed is to hold fast and submit oneself to it, as I have said, namely, that one know that we must suffer, in order that we may thus be conformed to Christ, and that it cannot be otherwise, that everyone must have his cross and suffering.  When one knows this it is the more easy and bearable, and one can comfort oneself by saying: Very well, if I want to be a Christian, I must also wear the colors of the court; the dear Christ issues no others in his court; suffering there must be.”

            Luther doesn’t sugar coat anything.  Yet, he is still able to see Christ at work in the midst of the suffering, and is motivated to persevere.  We can learn a lot from that example.  If God calls us to suffer, then let us suffer faithfully.  We can even rejoice in it.  No, we don’t rejoice at evil or wickedness in our life, or rejoice for the suffering itself.  But even in suffering we can rejoice in God who will strengthen us to persevere, and who is able to bring good out of it, even if we cannot see the good.  For we are promised that he will work out all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28).

            Want to see an example of rejoicing in suffering?  Turn to Psalm 13.  It’s on p. 453 in your pew Bible.  Psalm 13, we are told, is a psalm of David.  We don’t know what exact suffering occasioned the writing of it, but knowing his life, it could be any number of things.  The first two verses are his bitter complaint.  Verses 3-4 are his request.  And then you will see something surprising in verses 5-6.  Read his complaint with me, v. 1-2: “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?  How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”  Notice how bitter his complaint is, that he says God has forgotten him, and hid his face from him.  Now the request, read v. 3-4, “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”  Notice how he tries to persuade God saying that if God does not intervene he will surely die and his enemies will rejoice.  David doesn’t sugar coat anything about the suffering.

            Yet, he is able still to know that God is at work, and he knows to call out to God even if it seems that God has forgotten him.  And that’s why David is able even in suffering to rejoice in God’s salvation.  In this way, he faithfully prophecies the work that Christ would do to make us all whole and to give us peace with God, even when we suffer.  Let’s read this rejoicing together, v. 5-6: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”  Beautiful!  Perhaps Psalm 13 would be a great psalm for you to pray over and over when you are going through a difficult time.

            By the strength of God and through faith in him, David could rejoice even in suffering.  St. Paul also could rejoice in suffering, and we know how much he suffered for Christ, being beaten, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, cold, imprisoned.  Martin Luther could rejoice as he suffered for Christ, even as some sought to accuse him, imprison him, yes, even kill him.  Friends, you and I (though no suffering is pleasant) can suffer faithfully.  We can wear it as a badge of honor.  We can know that God is at work in it, in spite of all the evil intentions of the Devil and the world and even our own sinful nature.  We can rejoice in the forgiveness and strength of God that has brought us peace and perseverance.  And we can give thanks in what suffering produces.

            This brings us to our third point.  3) Suffering produces good in us.  Look at our text, v. 3-4, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

            Martin Franzmann, a beloved pastor, theologian, and hymwriter says it eloquently.  Speaking about the sufferings that we must endure for Christ, he says, “They produce ‘endurance,’ that resilient and athletic temper which is so sure of the future that it can live of the future and bear manfully the pressure of the present.  It sees the present as the stairway to future glory and resolutely climbs the stairs one by one by the light that falls on them from the opened door at the head of the stairs.  This step-by-step living of the future leaves its mark on us; it produces ‘character’; the flustered raw recruit becomes the tempered veteran.  With every step we take, we know more surely that the light at the head of the stairs is a light we can walk by; it does not fail us.  And that is hope, no half-hearted wistful longing for a better day, but a resolute taking-refuge in God at every step of the way in the mounting and triumphant confidence that He will take us all the way.”[1]

            This is no empty motivation that promises you that if you work hard to pick yourself up that God will notice and be impressed and decide to help, for really God has been there with you and has already been at work!  Rather, this is the recognition that suffering is bitter, but because we have Jesus’ forgiveness for our griping and moaning, for our weakness and apathy, for our original sin and actual sins, we have peace with God.  This peace is the very light of heaven that encourages us, motivates us, and leads us on already now.  This isn’t a wishful glass-half-full mentality, nor a discouraged glass-half-empty outlook.  This is the perspective that says that our life is full of God’s grace, forgiveness, peace, and help in time of need.  Maybe there are good things in our life, for which we are thankful.  Maybe our life is over-half-full with suffering and misery.  But Christ, who bore the cross and the pain of hell for us, only asks us to suffer a little, for only a little while.  This is why he calls his yoke easy and his burden light.

            Therefore, we have hope, living hope in our gracious Savior.  And that is our brief, final point.  4) Hope in Christ does not disappoint.  Look at v. 5: “Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Hope in Christ does not disappoint because Christ does not disappoint.  He does not put us to shame or let us down.  St. Paul returns our focus again to the gift given through Christ, the gift of salvation, the gift that is assured us because we have the Holy Spirit.  So, that which encouraged us at the beginning and gave us peace with God is the same that encourages us all life through and makes good on the promises at the end.  When this life is completed, then begin the glories of heaven.  That which we glimpse by faith now through pain and suffering, we will fully behold with our eyes on the day ordained for us.  Jesus has come that you might have life.  And like the chemist, may you always rejoice that the glass is full already now, even as you look forward to the day when it will “runneth over” (Ps. 23:5).  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

[1] Martin Franzmann, Romans: A Commentary. p. 89-90.