Pentecost 17 September 23, 2012
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me. His point was that your Christian life is going to be like carrying a cross. It will sometimes be painful, so painful that you want to give up. It may look like there is no one on your side, and you may perhaps even feel like God himself is not helping you. At times like that, life can seem very dark.
When you’re walking in the dark, it’s always good to know that someone is with you. Christ is with us, and he has been there before. He experienced pain. He knew the pain of disappointment, because all of his work amounted to so few followers. He knew the pain of being abandoned by all, even those closest to him. He felt the physical pain of the beatings, the thorns, and the nails. Then he felt the pain of knowing that God had left him too.
Through the prophet Isaiah, Jesus gives us some insight into what he was thinking when he suffered, and an encouragement for us in our suffering. Now, since Jesus is God, he must know everything, but he talks as if he had learned something from his suffering. I think this is what he meant: He has experienced what we suffer, and now it isn’t just that he knows how to help us. He knows from experience. When you are suffering, if someone tries to sympathize or offer advice, you might think, ‘He doesn’t even know what I am going through.’” A person might have even thought that God doesn’t understand, because God hasn’t suffered like we do. He is God. He doesn’t suffer. Now, in Jesus, we see that God has suffered. He has experienced it, and he knows how to help. This is his advice to you when you walk in darkness: Trust in God.
The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?
Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.
1. How do you know that God will vindicate you?
Maybe we should back up a step first—do you even want God to vindicate you? It sounds painful. What does it mean? The meaning in Webster’s dictionary that comes closest to what is meant here is this: “to provide justification or defense.“ So, yes, we want God to vindicate us when we suffer. We want him to prove that we have not deserved this difficult life.
When Christ was suffering, he put his hope in God, and God vindicated him. God raised him from the dead, proving that he had not deserved to suffer and die. Romans 1:4 says that “he was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”
Now if Christ trusted that God would vindicate him, and God came through for him, we should too. But it isn’t as simple as that. Of course Christ could trust that God would vindicate him. He never actually did anything wrong. We do. We have sinned against God and man. There are always reasons why we deserve the difficult, disappointing life we get.
When you find yourself mired in the disappointment of things not working out the way you hoped, you have to ask yourself if you maybe didn’t deserve it. Have you been the best parent you could be? Have you been selfless and patient, loving but firm? Have you done what God would do, if he were in your place? Or if the disappointment is that you are not the person you want to be, could it be your fault, because you have not obeyed God and your parents? When you are at school, on the sports field, or in your career, have you been as faithful and energetic as you should be, or have you been lazy with your time and talents? Have you carried your faith with you to your school, to your sports, or to your career? If you haven’t done that and done it perfectly, why would you deserve God’s blessing? When you are frustrated that the nations politicians are destroying Christian values, you have to ask yourself how faithfully you have fought for those same values. How well have you even taught those values to your children? If you have failed there, then you have no right to complain about what God is letting the rest of the country do. On top of all that, when your life is dark you may doubt whether or not God even cares to help. We may scoff at the idea of praying, because in the darkness of our troubles prayer doesn’t seem to help. We are the ones whose faithfulness and good nature should be in doubt, not God’s. He is not the one who is sinful. Now if, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we have already written him off as a God who doesn’t care, we would have to ask why in the world he would ever help us?
Christ has felt our pain. He knew the pain of disappointment. Everyone was disappointed in him. He was not the Savior they wanted him to be. They wanted a king to rule in power. He came to serve us by his suffering and death. For all of his work, so few believed, and so few followed. Christ knew the pain of being abandoned. Even those who followed him left him when he needed them most, when he was suffering in the Garden. His friend Judas betrayed him. Even God left him all alone to suffer on the cross. Christ knew every pain that we feel, and it was worse for him. He truly did nothing to deserve it. Through all of that, he trusted in God and God vindicated him. God proved that Christ deserved none of it, because he raised him from the dead. Now his advice to you is this: “Trust in God.”
Trust in God, because Christ was not suffering for his own sins. He didn’t have any. He was suffering to take away yours. Like John the Baptist said, he is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” It isn’t that you don’t sin anymore. It’s that he has taken your sins away from God’s sight. Believe this, and when God looks at you he will not see sin anymore. Trust in God, because Christ has taken away your sins. Though you may struggle and suffer as a Christian, God will vindicate you.
2. But how will you bear up under your suffering?
It seems like too much for you to take. You don’t know how your faith will hold firm when it just looks so much like God doesn’t actually care. How can you believe that your sins are forgiven when it looks like God is so far away? Christ’s advice is this: Trust in God, because it was God’s will that Christ suffer first and then enter into glory. For the Christian who follows Christ, God’s will leads down the same road. First the suffering; then the glory of eternal life in heaven.
As Christians we suffer and struggle with our old sinful nature. As I said before, Christ has taken our sins out of God’s sight, but we still struggle with the desire to sin more. Many times we look and feel so helpless to resist the temptations to commit the same old sins. We might feel like being a Christian has made no difference in our lives. Remember Christ, who looked so helpless to resist what sinful men did to him. God showed his power, though, when he raised Christ from the dead. God will show the powerful change he has begun in you too, when he raises you from the dead. You will be perfect, and you will never sin again. For now, struggle and suffer patiently when you are tempted, and trust that God will vindicate you. In the resurrection, he will show how true it is that your sins have been taken from you.
As Christians, we struggle with the futility of our lives. All our efforts seem to accomplish so little sometimes. Where is the glory of being a Christian and having God on our side? Remember Christ, whose efforts during his life seemed to accomplish so little. So few followed. We don’t see it that way, though. To us, it is glorious. When his life of seeming futility was over, God revealed the glory in it all. His life and death are the payment for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the world. His advice to you is “trust in God,” because in the end it will be worth it. You are accomplishing something great and glorious. Every day that you live, God is displaying his grace in you and in everything that you do. You are part of his masterpiece. After this life of struggle and suffering is over, you will see how glorious your life really is.
As Christians, we struggle with persecution. When we do carry our faith out into our lives as we should, we are going to catch some hostility because of it. Where is God to defend us? Why doesn’t he open up the heavens and tell everyone to start believing? That would shut them up. Remember that Christ, too, was persecuted. They crucified him because they did not accept him. But he was also vindicated—God the Father appointed him to be judge over all creation, and he will return to judge all who have not believed in him. God will vindicate you too. When Christ returns to judge, those who persecute us will be judged. Jesus said, “Whoever rejects you, rejects me.” Trust in God, and stand up for your faith, because glory is waiting for you after your suffering. Jesus also said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, him will I acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
As Christians, the last struggle we have is our own mortality. We grow old and weak. Everyone else leaves, and it may seem that God has forgotten you too. Some people may eventually say it is time to ‘die with dignity,’ but since you are a Christian you must wait patiently for God to take you. And so you wait, but the days drag on. Where is the glory of being a Christian? How will God vindicate you here? Remember Christ. He too, had to drink the cup God gave him to the last drop. He might have wished that it had ended sooner, but it was not God’s will. But after he had done all that God asked, then he was glorified as Savior and King in his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. His advice to you is this: Trust God, that when this is all over and you have lived every day that he has asked you to live, you will be richly rewarded.
Everything that we suffer, Christ suffered too, and his suffering encourages us to press on. Through his suffering he trusted in God to vindicate him, and God did. God the Father showed everyone that Christ did not deserve his suffering when he raised Christ from the dead. He will do the same for us, because in Christ we do not deserve our suffering either. Christ’s suffering took our sins away. God sees Christ in us, and he considers us to be holy with him. Even though you suffer now, trust that God will stand by you. We will be raised from the dead just like Jesus was, and given glory in heaven. Just like Jesus, when you walk in darkness, trust in God.