Jesus’ Death: What About Suffering

Matthew 27: 27-31

     27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.


  1.  For the past several weeks, excluding Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and others we have been working with the theme – “What is the least that I can believe and still be a Christian” – we have been addressing such topics as what matters most in our belief — Where is God when I call out? – what brings fulfillment in my life – all of these messages are easily available on our website, if you would like to dig deeper.
  2. Today – we are going to work with – “Where is God in our suffering” – a difficult topic and one we all tend to ask.
  3. The scene about Jesus being beaten and mocked that was just read in Matthew is not unlike something that might happen on a playground anywhere around the world.
    1. Certainly not with the crown of thorns or the scarlet robe — but with the best supervision on a playground, someone’s back might be turned, a child may be singled out for ridicule, perhaps even struck or beat up.
    1. I know it happened to me when I was in elementary school and it was hard to deal with. In those days, I did not know what to do and my father suggested that I slug the boy. – That was something I did not want to do – I do not like physical fighting — But I got up enough courage to slug him when he started on me again – I slugged him and ran away – problem solved.
      1. Today – it can result in death –as a gun is pulled because a young boy has been “dissed.”
    1.  Maybe it happened to you or your child or grandchild.
    1. The child comes home after school. Maybe he hides in his room.
    1. Maybe she doesn’t want to go to school the next day.
    1. Your child is suffering from the trauma.
    1. You are suffering as the parent.
    1. Eventually the problem may be resolved, but that does not undo the suffering that has occurred.
  4. We all know that the storms of life do not discriminate. Our age, our status, or our position in the church really has no bearing on who suffers and who doesn’t.
    1. Children are injured and abused.
    1. People are diagnosed with a terminal illness or are in auto accidents.
    1. One minute you’re surprised by joy; the next you’re overwhelmed by grief.
      1. The woman or man you love decides that they don’t love you anymore.
      1. You didn’t get that job that you were convinced God was setting in your path.
      1. The test results came back positive. Someone you love dies unexpectedly.
      1. Then, there are terrorist incidents or mass shootings at a mall down the street.
      1. Hurricanes, or floods or tornados that destroy everything in their path. The people who lose their homes are considered the lucky ones, and we hear about the people who have died.
  5. We all asked the question. Why? Why did God allow this to happen? How can a loving God permit it? If God is all powerful, why doesn’t God hit the pause button and fix it?
  6. Oh, if we had answers to these questions!
  7. We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some.
    1. One has to do with sin. God has given us free will. We are not robots. We are not marionettes with God pulling all the puppet strings.
  8. We have the free choice to love God and be in relationship with God, as opposed to being forced. We have the capacity to make choices, good and bad.
  9. When bad choices are made, people are hurt, and suffering occurs.
    1. We can injure ourselves through smoking, drinking, substance abuse, and a myriad of other ways.
    1. We suffer, of course, but so do the people around us, the people who love us.
    1. We can have the American mantra of, “I can do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody,” but inevitably it hurts someone if only ourselves and the people around us.
  10. Our actions can have further effects. The drunk driver that gets in a car crash, and people are killed. The effects that ripple outward and affect more people than we realize.
  11. Robbers, rapists, gossips, racists – and the list goes on.
  12. All of these are caused by someone exercising their free will and making a simple choice, one that will injure someone.
  13. Some things are caused by what we don’t do. Where we didn’t help, the problem we ignored.
    1. We didn’t intervene when we saw a bully.
    1. We didn’t help someone who needed food
    1. We bypassed an incident because we didn’t want to get involved.
    1. We lashed out a person of color because we wanted them to go back to their country.
    1. All of this inflicts suffering on others.
  14. Have you heard of John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules? 1) Do no harm; 2) Do good; 3) Attended to the ordinances of God, in other words pray, read your Bible, go to worship, help people, and so on…
    1. They help us make good choices, but free will is not exclusively about our choices.
    1. It is about everyone in the whole world.
    1. Some choices we have control over, but many we do not. We are in a car, we can obey all the rules, use good judgment, but we can still be hit by someone else.
    1. We still suffer even if it isn’t our fault.
  15. Sin as a result of free will is one cause of suffering.
  16. The Laws of Nature are another cause of suffering.
    1. The very things that allow life on Earth can often kill us.
    1. We need weather for rain and snow, distributing oxygen and other elements in the atmosphere.
    1. The lightning strikes that start forest fires also put nitrogen in the ground that allows us to grow food.
    1. The sun provides light for life, but it also has radiation that can cause cancer.
  17. The same things that cause volcanoes and brings up minerals from the lower parts of the earth and form new land are dangerous in themselves, spewing ash clouds, causing earthquakes, killing thousands, but without them, there would not be life on this planet at all.
  18. We can say, “Okay, fine, but why did God set it up that way?” That’s where it gets a little fuzzy. – We do not have an answer.
  19. The book of Job is renowned for its consideration of suffering but in the end,  it never gives an explanation that is satisfying, at least to humans. Mostly it ends with God saying, When you can do what I can do, you will know what I know, and you will understand.” And Job accepts the greatness of God.
  20. It comes down to what God says in Isaiah 55: 8-9, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’”
  21. In short, the reasons are beyond our comprehension.
  22. The Apostle Paul puts it another way in 1st Corinthians 13: 12. “For now we see in a mirror dimly.” We just do not know.
  23. Near the end of Revelation, we are reassured by the thought. “[God] will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21: 4).
  24. So, those are intellectual answers, and they may help a bit, especially when we consider someone else’s hurt or tragedy, when we consider something half a world away. But we still ask “Why would God let that happen?” These explanations don’t help so much when we are the ones suffering.
    1. Having the answers to “why” doesn’t really change anything. In Job’s case, his children are still dead. He’s still covered with open sores.
  25. When we are suffering and we understand that this broken world works this way right now, is not particularly helpful.
  26. A better question that might be helpful is “Where is God in the midst of our suffering? Where is God when it hurts?”
    1. When our hearts are broken,
    1. when a child is lost,
    1. when there is a tornado, an earthquake, or a tsunami that causes incredible loss of life.
    1. In war where there is needless death even in the most worthwhile cause of protecting others, where is God?
  27. Does God look away, not caring what happens?
  28. There are no academic exercises or quibbling here. There is no having to wait to see God face to face. We can see it on the face of Jesus on the cross.
  29. I have a question for you. How many crosses are there here in the sanctuary? What about in the stained-glass windows? On the hymnals? Are there places where they may be hidden in the architecture? 
  30. Some devout Christians I know don’t like to see the cross because it makes them feel the pain, the agony that Jesus endures on the cross. They also would like to focus more on the resurrection, and that is certainly a vital part of the Christian faith, perhaps a part we don’t focus on enough.
  31. Yet the cross remains the symbol of our faith, the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, what he was willing to do.
    1. Jesus the man could have escaped.
    1. He didn’t have to go to Jerusalem.
    1. Jesus the Son of God could have produced a different outcome, but he did not.
    1. He allowed it to happen for our benefit, for our salvation.
    1. The cross demonstrates God’s profound love for us. There is not a resurrection without the sacrifice. There is no Easter without Good Friday.
  32. There is no question that Jesus suffered all through the events that led to his execution and his crucifixion.
  33. Pause
  34. God’s Word, however, has a remarkable response to combating those times when the worst of our human nature wrestles with our heart.
    1. The Bible tells us we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re confronted with tough times.
    1. Jesus himself went through horrible experiences; why should we, his followers, expect an easier path?
    1. Jesus promised us that even though we would face tribulation, we can take heart for he has overcome. (John 16:33)
  35. When it comes to Scripture, Christians can rely on many things to give them encouragement and inspiration.
  36. But when it comes to how Christians deal with suffering; they can depend on one thing–the promises that God and Jesus offer in the Bible.
    1. God promises to be with us always. God guarantees to guide and strengthen us. God will never let us go.
  37. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible contains more than 3,000 promises that serve as foundation stones in a shelter that can weather even the worst storm.
  38. Not only are God’s promises of shelter fulfilled in Christ, but God is our shelter. God is the cleft in the rock. Christ promises not that he will give us shelter, but that he will be our shelter.
  39. These crosses all around tell us that through Jesus our God is a crucified God. God does not take away our pain but enters into our suffering with us and ultimately redeems it or helps us through it.
  40. Yet, when we suffer, God suffers with us.
  41. There’s a story that Martin Thielen tells in his book that we are using for this sermon series about a man named David.
    1. Twelve years before, David’s fourteen year old son Rob died in a tragic accident.
    1. Several days after the funeral, David, in agonizing grief, drove to a Roman Catholic bookstore. There he purchased a wooden crucifix, depicting Jesus suffering on the cross.
    1. David drove home, opened his toolbox, and grabbed a hammer and nail. He then walked to the kitchen and hammered the crucifix to the wall, right above his son’s empty chair at the dinner table. Every evening when he stared at Rob’s empty chair, David lifted his eyes to the crucifix and remember that God, like him, had suffered great grief. The crucifix did not explain his son’s death. Nor did it take away the pain of that death. But knowing that God suffered with him allow David to survive that horrible time of pain and grief. Twelve years later that crucifix still hung on David wall. It reminded him that the God of the cross is always with him, even in his deepest suffering.
  42. 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
  43. Thanks be to God!

[1] Paraphrased from Pastor Cherie Johnson