Lenten Series: “Having Our Mind Transformed Into the Mind of Christ”, Sermon #3–Faithful Suffering
Faithful Suffering: The Foolishness of the Cross
By Kristen Rae Nelson
Millard Community Covenant Church—March 19, 2017
1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Philippians 1:27-30; Luke 14: 25-27
One night while conducting an evangelistic meeting in the Salvation Army Citadel in Chicago, a preacher named Booth Tucker preached on the sympathy and empathy of Jesus. After his message, a man approached him and said, “If your wife had just died, like mine has, and your babies were crying for their mother, who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.”
Tragically, a few days later, Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck. For the funeral, her body was brought to Chicago and carried to the same Citadel he had just preached in.
After the service, the bereaved preacher looked down into the silent face of his wife, and then turned to those attending. “The other day, a man told me I wouldn’t speak of the sympathy and empathy of Jesus if my wife had just died. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is still sufficient. My heart is broken, but it has a song put there by Jesus. I want the man to know that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today, [and because of that, I know that He can speak comfort to you as well].”
(“Today in the Word”, MBI, October, 1991, p.10)
Have you ever had your heart broken, just to find out that the experience you walked through helped you understand and care for another who’s also had their heart broken? Have you ever experienced grief, and then years later find that same grief in the life of a friend whose hand you’re now able to hold? Have you been beaten-down, battered and bruised by this life, suffered because of the Gospel of Christ, only to find others who have the same experiences as you—and who need the comfort and encouragement that you bring from your experience of suffering?
We, as Christians, have been given the privilege of sharing in the suffering love of Christ for this world. But oftentimes, we shy away from that privilege, we hold onto our experiences, and we miss out on stretching our hands and hearts out to others who are so desperately in need of the healing hand of Jesus. I have to admit—even as I prepared the sermon for this Sunday, I wondered whether a talk on “suffering” was something that would be received well. Was “suffering” a topic that I could cover faithfully and honestly? Was “faithful suffering” something that I even understood?!
You might be in the same boat as me. After all—my guess is that “suffering” probably isn’t what many of us thought we were signing ourselves up for when we accepted Jesus into our hearts. And, to be honest, a lot of contemporary preaching nowadays doesn’t talk about faithful suffering—focusing instead on a message that is ultimately about “me”, and what I want and need. Many people place the Bible on the same shelf as their Weight Watcher’s manual and Stock Market guide—self-help manuals to get you what you want. But take the Bible off of that shelf, open it up, and inside you’ll find throughout all of the Old Testament, all of the Gospels, and all of the Epistles, the clear and strong call of Jesus to faithful suffering—the call that breaks away any “self-service” and “self-protective” mind-set, and instead instills a God-focused mindset into our hearts. (Luke 24:26; Luke 14:27; Mark 8: 34-35)
“Faithful suffering” is central to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It gets to the core of having the mind-set of Christ. Because in faithful suffering, our hands and hearts lift-up the burdens—the suffering—of another; just as Jesus did for us.
This is a concept that I want to dig a little deeper into. So let’s break into our text for today, and see what the Bible has to say about “faithful suffering”. We’ve been looking closely at Philippians chapter 2 these past few weeks—that wonderful hymn of the early church that Paul has been using to explain to the Christians in Philippi who Christ really is, and who we should be because of that.
The first word at the beginning of chapter 2 is “Therefore”. Now, when I was in seminary, they taught us that when we see the word “therefore”, that’s like a red arrow pointing to the statements made before and after the word. So, since we’ve looked at the “after” statement, today I want to take a brief look at the “before” statement—Philippians 1:27-30. Everything that Paul says in chapter 2 builds on this statement.
In Philippians 1:27-30, Paul spends time encouraging the believers to stand firm in their faith, living in a manner worthy of the Gospel that they have received—the revelation that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He cautions them that if they’re living like they should, they’re going to stick out in the world—and the world isn’t necessarily going to like it, because they’re different and unusual. They’re counter-cultural. And they’ll suffer because of it.
And here, Paul says something kindof crazy—he says that this suffering that they’ll likely endure, or that they’re enduring already, is a privilege. It’s a blessing. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:29-30) The Message paraphrases it like this: “There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for Him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.”
Paul lists “suffering” as a privilege. We’re given the privilege, as followers of Jesus, to share in the suffering love of Christ for this world. When we are a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit transforms our mindset into the mindset of Christ. That means that what breaks His heart, breaks ours.
Former South African Methodist bishop Peter Storey fought against the suffering of apartheid in his home country. Out of this experience, he wrote this tidbit of wisdom: “There is power in faithful suffering! Where most religions offer escape from suffering and increases in comfort, the Christian faith makes this astounding claim…If you want to know whether God is alive, you must go, not to where all is well, but into places of brokenness and suffering…” (Peter Storey, “With God in the Crucible”, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002, P. 80-81) This is the reality that Paul alludes to in the Philippian text—that we will know the love of God that sent Jesus to suffer on the cross, not when we escape suffering, but when we embrace the suffering of others.
This talk of faithful suffering can sound like foolishness to people who don’t understand the life of faith. But empathy often does make us seem foolish:
British statesman and financier Cecil Rhodes, whose fortune was used to endow the world-famous Rhodes Scholarships, was known to be a stickler for correct dress—but apparently not at the expense of someone else’s feelings.
A story is remembered of a young man invited to dine with Rhodes. The young man arrived by train, and had to go directly to Rhode’s mansion in his travel-worn and stained clothes.
Once there, the young man was embarrassed to find that the other guests were already assembled for dinner, and wearing full evening dress. But there was nowhere for him to change, and he was forced to keep on his shoddy clothes.
After what seemed to be a long time, the wealthy Rhodes appeared, dressed in a shabby old blue suit. Dinner commenced, and nobody said a word about Rhode’s strange choice in dinner-wear.
Later, the young man learned that his host had been dressed in evening clothes at the start of the evening, but ran upstairs to change when he heard of his young guest’s dilemma. This was empathy in action.
(Today in the Word, February, 1991, p.10)
In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul acknowledged to the young Christians that God’s way of doing things seemed like “foolishness” to the rest of the world. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18). At the same time, Paul declared that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1: 25, 27-28)
Walking with Jesus in the way of faithful suffering—suffering love—looks crazy and foolish in the eyes of the world. Who considers suffering a “privilege”? Who wants to take on the suffering of others?! It can often feel like too much, and many of us begin to reshape Jesus into someone who is more “palatable” for us.
A simple search on the internet for “images of Jesus” makes several pictures pop up of ways that different “artists” and internet characters have re-shaped Jesus into their own personal image. There’s the picture of “Jesus as the “A-okay Guy”, giving two-thumbs up. There’s Jesus cradling a gun. There’s a modern Jesus holding out a cell phone—maybe asking you to call Him? There’s Jesus laughing—one of my favorites. And of course, there’s Jesus found on a piece of toast. All of these images distract us from who Jesus is, and what He did for us. They are perfect examples of how we take Jesus and make Him into what we want Him to be, instead of who He really is.
Jesus is the One who did not see equality with God as something to be held tightly. On the cross, He emptied Himself—poured Himself out—for us in the ultimate act of self-giving love. He humbled Himself, coming alongside us as a servant. He was obedient all the way to death—even to death on a cross. The way that Jesus lived breaks Him free of any mold or image we place on Him. It shows us the strength a Savior who would suffer in love for us.
And we are called, as followers of Him, to that same love, that same faithful suffering. In Luke 14: 27, Jesus reminds those who were following after Him, “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Jesus called His followers over and over again to bear up their cross. And what does it mean to “bear your cross”? It means to not only bear your sufferings faithfully, but to—in love—help to bear the cross of others. It means to reach out in empathy to others, saying, as Paul said to the Philippian Christians, “you are going through the same struggle you saw I had…” (Philippians 1:30), and yet, have “encouragement from being united together with Christ”, have “comfort from His love”, have “tenderness and compassion”, and share together in the strength of the Spirit (Philippians 2:1).
Jesus came to a world full of suffering. And He loved us so much that He chose to step into this suffering and experience it with us. He experienced that suffering all the way to the cross, where He died for our sins. As followers of Him, we are called to lay aside our own lust for power and comfort, and to pick up the same suffering heart of the servant-Jesus. We are called to allow the Spirit to transform us, causing us to have empathy and compassion for the hurting and suffering world that Jesus came to save.
And so, I end with the same questions that I began with: Have you ever been heart-broken? Have you ever experienced grief? Have you ever been beaten down, battered, bruised by this world, or suffered because of the Gospel? God is calling you to faithful suffering—to rejoice, because through that suffering, God has shown you His presence and love. And through those experiences, one day, God will guide you to lift another up in their own suffering. God is constantly stepping into places of brokenness and suffering. Today, He’s calling us to do the same. Amen.
(*This sermon series for Lent is adapted from the book, “Living with the Mind of Christ” by James A. Harnish”. Many ideas have been used from this helpful book.)