Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Matthew 16 and Exodus 3 message on suffering
August 30, 2020
Suffering, pain, and sickness are an ever-present reality, and so we cannot escape them. Suffering is the center of our faith because Christianity is based on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the beginning of Judaism, Jewish scholars have been contemplating suffering. For instance, the books from Joshua to second Kings explain suffering as a result of disobeying the law of God. As a result, God punished the Israelites several times. After the exile, the Jews were careful to observe the law, but they suffered terribly by the Romans, who occupied their land and exploited them. During this time, the Jewish scholars understood suffering to be the work of the devil. Christians understand the origin of suffering to be the sin that has broken our world. Pain, suffering, and death are the result of sin.
We cannot comprehend the reason behind our suffering. Part of our human nature seeks to know and understand the reason behind our pain because we want to be in control. Even though we do not comprehend our suffering, God comprehends it. Imagine if the Israelites had lived a comfortable life in Egypt, would they have left Egypt to go to the Promised Land? No. Would God Yahweh be their God and our God? I do not know, but I am sure that the salvation story would be different.
We might not understand the reason behind our suffering; therefore, we need to trust God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in a sermon preached in 1938, “God is righteous, whether we understand His ways or not. God is righteous, whether he punishes and chastises us or whether he pardons us…We do not see it, but our faith must confess it: God alone is righteous.” Surrender to God’s will, and God will make you see it through. All of us endured, is enduring, and will endure suffering. Our Lord Jesus suffered on the cross because his suffering is essential to our salvation. Jesus Christ’s suffering means your healing; therefore, he was determined to go to Calvary to carry your suffering and sin on the cross.
Peter tried to stop him, but Jesus rebuked him by saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus' statement implies that Peter is in the same league with Satan. Jesus called Peter a rock because he confessed that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Now, Jesus calls Peter a stumbling rock. With these two incidents between Jesus and Peter, the evangelist Matthew links the identity of Jesus the Messiah with his suffering, death, and resurrection.
Jesus teaches us that “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v.24). Jesus asks you to carry your cross, not his cross. No one can carry Christ’s cross. The cross means suffering and sickness, but for Christians, our suffering is not without hope because Christ is in solidarity with our pain. Christians are called to suffer for their faith, and as human beings, we are exposed to different types of sicknesses. Jesus is calling us to carry our cross, whether we suffer for his namesake or suffer from illness or any other challenges.
At the cross of Jesus, we receive not only mercy, peace, and grace, but also we encounter suffering. This is the irony of the cross. Bonhoeffer says, “That is the mystery of suffering in the church and in Christian life, that the very gate on which is written ‘abandon all hope,’ the gate of pain, of loss, of dying—that is very gate is to become for us the gate of the great hope in God, the gate of honor and glory.”
Through pain, sickness, death, and all tribulations, you encounter Jesus’ love and assurance of his presence in your life. You do not need to fear suffering or to stay focus on your sickness because the Lord is working with you to fight back. You will always receive courage and peace from Jesus Christ, who endured your pain and fear on the cross and won the victory for you. Count on God’s righteousness to overcome your fears.
Our Lord Jesus Christ might not solve your problem, or heal your sickness, but he promises you to go into your suffering with you and to strengthen your shaky heart. The apostle Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus cares about your suffering and pain. He feels your suffering and understands your agony. Trust in God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10 “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
No matter what happens in your life, our Lord Jesus Christ is there for you to strengthen you and to give you peace and hope.