It seems to be strange, hearing Peter talk about Christians suffering after Easter, after we’ve celebrated the Resurrection of Christ. But because we are still in this fallen world, though Christ has passed into glory, we are still living out a movie, our life story that might be called The Passion of Christians.
The truth is that we as Christians suffer. As our Lord first suffered, we must suffer. This isn’t a very popular teaching. You won’t hear many other preachers preaching about it these days. But it’s one of the most profound and potent truths that God wants to teach us through His Son.
I want to preface all that I will say by making a qualification.
Much of what the New Testament has to say about suffering is that it is the result of our own sin. If that’s the case, then we’d better deal with it by confession and repentance. And much of what the New Testament has to say about suffering is about suffering that comes from persecution, and especially the reward that comes with this.
But I will be talking about the ordinary suffering that most of us undergo in life, the kind of daily suffering that many, if not all, of you face each day.
I can’t claim that God will miraculously take away all of your suffering this morning.
But I can claim, prophesying in the name of the Lord, that if you hear and believe His voice this morning, as He speaks about the suffering in your life, that He has the power to miraculously transform it by the power of His Son. I can proclaim that even the most mundane suffering in your life is overflowing with meaning and power – if only you would learn to suffer with and for Jesus Christ.
The most important truths about suffering for the Christian are these:
1. We are united to Christ in suffering
2. We are sanctified by Christ in suffering
3. We are glorified in Christ by suffering.
First, we are united to Christ through suffering. Through baptism and by faith, we are united to Jesus Christ. Guess what? When we’re so united to Him, we get all of Him. His resurrection, yes, but first His sufferings. We are united to Jesus Christ in His suffering.
Jesus Christ suffered for us. As Peter puts it: “Christ suffered that we might be saved” (1 Peter 2:24). We know that He suffered for us because He loves us – but so what? He suffered that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). His suffering unites us to God, but we must participate in this suffering.
How? By suffering with and for Him. If we really are one with Jesus Christ, then we really share in His suffering. We all know how it is possible for a husband or wife or father or mother to suffer sympathetically with one they love: the suffering of the beloved is the suffering of the lover. This is especially true of Jesus Christ and His Church.
Peter assumes that we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). How? Our suffering becomes His suffering. We share His suffering, but even better is that He shares our suffering with us. He suffered throughout His life – especially on the Cross – for your sins and mine. But as our High Priest, He still shares in your suffering. When we suffer, we suffer with Christ, and He with us: this is the mystery or our union with Him. And most of the time we miss it.
What’s more – our suffering actually brings us to Him. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in trouble, it leads me to rely on Him and cry out to Him (except for the times I’m being blind and foolish).
In your suffering, and I believe this applies to all of your suffering, and not just the supererogatory acts of suffering, you are united with Jesus Christ. When you remember that you are united to Jesus in your suffering, then you are never alone in your suffering. Jesus is with you. He was there, in suffering, before you, and He’s there now in your suffering.
This is how we can accept suffering, and, as Sts. Paul and James discovered, even rejoice in it!
It’s not just that we theoretically are united with Jesus in our suffering: there is real power to sanctify, and power to save us. We share in His suffering, and He in ours – not usually as punishment but as a means of grace, of Him sanctifying us and making us holy and obedient, as Jesus Christ Himself had to learn.
Without Christ, when we suffer, we are bearing the consequences of our sin or the sinful and fallen nature of the world. It’s because of our sinful passions that we suffer.
But when we suffer with Christ, and through Him, then our suffering takes on a redemptive nature because we are united with Him. Our suffering sanctifies us because it leads us to God Himself, that we might be holy as He is holy.
Our suffering leads us to God. Hopefully, it leads us to obedience, as even Christ learned obedience by what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). In His humanity, His obedience wasn’t automatic: He had to learn to actively be submissive, for example, to Joseph and Mary, and in the Garden of Gethsemane He had to actively learn to obey – partially through what He suffered.
Your suffering, if you allow God to use it for His loving purposes – will drive you to obedience.
Suffering also leads to faith. In 1 Peter 1:6-9 we see the pattern that suffering leads to faith which leads to salvation. In 1:7, Peter teaches that the testing of suffering refines your faith. Suffering is God’s sanctifying, purifying fire. I’ve seen this firsthand in the lives of the saints.
Suffering leads to consolation. In 2 Corinthians 1:7 Paul reminds us that if we are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, we will be partakers of His consolation. Where our suffering abounds, Gods’ grace and goodness to us abound even more. As St. Augustine said, in his famous Confessions: “greater suffering produces greater joy.”
Suffering leads us to God. In learning obedience, in crying for help, in giving thanks for deliverance and consolation, suffering is meant by God to lead us to Him. The goal is to submit our wills to His and learn obedience, that is, to be made like the Son.
Commit your soul to God when you suffer, Peter says in 4:19. Now where did He learn this? From Christ, who said, in His Passion: “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
We are glorified in Christ through suffering. Our suffering, if we suffer with Christ and for Him and if we are sanctified by our suffering, leads to glory for Christ and for us in Him. If we are truly united with Him and if we truly share all things, then in the end we will also share in His glory. If we cling to His Cross, His Resurrection will take hold of us. If we fast with Him in Lent and suffer on Good Friday, then Easter will certainly come! Even the prophets could see that Christ must suffer first and then receive glory (1 Peter 1:11), and His life is the pattern for our life in Him.
Therefore, even in this life we should “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (4:13). Christ is our hope of glory, and where He has gone we will one day go.
In this life of suffering, you must suffer with Christ – or surely you will suffer without Him.
I know some of your suffering of a few of you, and I want nothing more than for it to be used to bring you closer to God. But God knows all of the suffering of all of you, and He desires for you to receive it for the good of your soul.
Who among you, if you were watching in person the Passion and suffering of your Lord, wouldn’t gladly carry His cross for Him for an hour – or more?
In the same way, learn to bear whatever cross He has given you in this life.
If you learn to think of your suffering this way, as a suffering redeemed by Jesus Christ in the presence of Jesus Christ, then the Passion of Jesus Christ will become your passion.
If you learn to suffer through and for Him, then God’s promise is this: that the Jesus who suffered and died for you will be with you in your suffering, and out of it, He will bring health and life to your soul.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You created me and most lovingly care for me. I accept all my sufferings most willingly, and as a truly obedient child I resign myself to your holy will. Grant me the strength to accept generously your loving visitation, and never let me grieve your faithful heart by giving in to impatience and discouragement. Lord Jesus, for love of You I desire to suffer all things, because for love of me You endured such cruel torments. Jesus, I unite my pains with the ones which You suffered and I make an offering of them to the Father. O Jesus, out of the abundance of your divine goodness give me the virtues of meekness and patience, so that I may willingly carry my cross after You. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Meditate on the ways in which God desires to use your suffering to bless you by bringing you closer to Him: by disciplining you, teaching you obedience, uniting you with Him, consoling you in suffering, etc.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today in which God intends to bless me through my suffering and to find Him in my suffering that I may be united to Him.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
The Crucifixion – Matthias Grünewald – Wikipedia entry on Isenheim Altarpiece
Category: Give Us This Day