Richard Whitaker- Discipleship and Connections Pastor LHBC

2 Cor 1:8-11
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (ESV) 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Why God allows suffering is one of the most perplexing questions we must consider. For example, a person might ask ‘if God were truly loving, why does he allow a disease like COVID-19 to sicken people everywhere and take thousands of lives?’  Fully answering this question is hard, especially during this Easter season. Even in times of great uncertainty, we can experience the fullness of Easter when we discover God’s way of making the most of suffering. 

Paul’s circumstances in Asia led him to only one conclusion – his death was imminent.  The hardship and persecution were so far beyond his ability to endure that he felt death in his bones. Looking back, Paul can see how God used such incredible suffering in his life and in the lives of others.  Paul’s experience revealed two great purposes of suffering, but before we explore them, let’s consider the reasons why people suffer at all. The answers will help us make sense of suffering and learn why Easter helps us to suffer well.

First, suffering comes to everyone because we live in an evil age.  Because Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, our world is corrupted by the effects of sin (Romans 5:12). The apostle John explained this truth when he wrote, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (ESV) 1 John 5:19. People all over the world experience terrible suffering, including things like sickness and death from COVID-19, because we live in a world that lies under the power of Satan.  His earnest plan is to steal, kill, and destroy humanity using any available means (John 10:10).

Second, suffering comes to us when we identify as a follower of Jesus.  Paul put it this way to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (ESV) 2 Timothy 3:12  When you decide to follow Jesus and obey his every command without delay or excuse, people will reject, mock, avoid, unfairly label, and in other ways persecute you.  In some countries, letting people know that you are Christian is a death sentence.  

To understand why Easter helps us to suffer well, consider the words of Paul when he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (ESV) 1 Corinthians 15:19  Paul understood that suffering in this life makes no sense without the enduring hope of Christ overcoming death.  Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we too can face persecution and the threat of death knowing that we will be raised with him at the judgment. Now that we understand why suffering comes, let’s explore how God transforms suffering for his good purposes.

God grows our reliance on his resurrection power through suffering when we remember how Jesus overcame death.  Paul said that suffering taught him to not rely on himself, “but on God who raises the dead.” (v.9.) Paul learned that when God allowed him to experience the deepest suffering imaginable, that God was still able to deliver him.  Why did he know that? Because Paul knew that God raised the crucified, lifeless body of Jesus back to life on the third day. Through experience, Paul understood that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead was available to him.  This same power is yours and mine right now at this very moment.

Not only does suffering grow our reliance on God’s resurrection power, our response to suffering shows the world that our faith in Jesus is real.  Notice how Paul explains when he describes the outcome of his suffering, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,  so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (NIV) 2 Corinthians 4:8-10  

God will make himself known to our neighbors when we openly and unashamedly live as Christ followers, loving them through the power of the risen Jesus in times of suffering.   Our challenge this Easter is to pray for God’s grace to endure suffering well. By trusting in his resurrection power to deliver us from the suffering of this evil age, the Kingdom of God will be revealed through us into our neighborhoods and workplaces as it is in heaven.  When we do, we’ll be remembering Easter well all year long. 

Lord Jesus, thank you for providing resurrection power to live faithfully for you in this time.  Thank you for the truth that my life is not defined by circumstances but by your mercy and grace.  I need your grace today to endure suffering well. Help me to remember that I can live joyfully and hopefully as a member of your glorious Kingdom here on earth, revealing your Kingdom to others as I surrender my life to you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

1 Peter 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.