Call to Worship
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Selected verses from Psalm 118)
Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find thy mind in thy Word, of neglect to seek thee in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, But I bless thee that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ; Go on to subdue my corruptions, and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but do thou rule over me in liberty and power. [VOV]
And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man?’”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33)
Lent is the season leading up to Easter. It is a time of preparation and repentance in which we remember Jesus’ suffering and anticipate his resurrection.
The question you often hear is, “What did you give up for Lent?” Throughout history, Christians have observed Lent by fasting or other acts of self-denial. The danger with tradition, of course, is that it can become mere ritual, or even a source of pride. We want to recapture a spirit of faith in this season. Unlike repentance and humility, which happen in and through us, suffering and persecution simply happen to us. The former is a response of faith to the grace of God at work. The latter requires a response of faith in the goodness and wisdom of God, even when it seems he is not at work.
The subject raises a difficult question: Why does God allow us to suffer? We are always searching for answers to this question, for ourselves and for our world. Not knowing “why” is part of the suffering.
One day when Jesus and his disciples were walking, they passed by a man blind from birth. “And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). They were looking for answers.
Based upon God’s covenant promises with Israel, Jews were inclined to expect God to invariably bless them materially in response to pious living. Conversely, they expected that those who did evil were to experience divine discipline in various forms. In short, they expected God to bless them for doing good, and to punish others for their sin.
We see this mindset revealed by Job’s friends in the book of Job. In truth, Job was being tested with adversity because of his piety, and not because of sin (Job 1:1-12). Job’s friends persisted in trying to force him to confess that his suffering was the result of some sin he had committed. If he but forsook his sin, they insisted, then God would again bless him.
Perhaps Asaph had the same assumptions about prosperity and poverty. He was frustrated and angry with God because the wicked appeared to prosper while the pious did not (Psalm 73:1-14).
This is why the disciples framed the question the way they did. Their explanation for suffering was that someone was being punished for sin. But Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Jesus was not offering a trite explanation of all suffering, but rather pointing to his own suffering that would explain the love of God. Jesus voluntarily and unjustly endured suffering, even unto death. Not because he sinned, but because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He did this so that the works of God might be displayed in him, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:25-26).
We do not have all the answers about why we suffer, but we do know what the answer cannot be. It cannot be that God doesn’t see or care, for he sent his own Son to enter into our suffering. And it cannot be a hopeless situation, for he conquered sin and death by raising his Son from the dead.
1. How does the reality of suffering challenge your faith?
2. Have you tried to explain suffering in ways that might be unbiblical?
3. How does Jesus’ death and resurrection give you strength and hope?
Help me to be resolute and Christ-contained. Never let me wander from the path of obedience to thy will. Strengthen me for the battles ahead. Give me courage for all the trials, and grace for all the joys. Help me to be a holy, happy person, free from every wrong desire, from everything contrary to thy mind. Grant me more and more of the resurrection life: may it rule me, may I walk in its power, and be strengthened through its influence.