March 13, 2005: Why Do Christians Suffer?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, because of sin all of us experience suffering in this life.  Sometimes it is caused by outside sources, sometimes we bring it upon ourselves, sometimes it is just a byproduct of living in this sin-filled world.  Lord, today give us help and hope amid our suffering.  Remind us that You are filled with compassion for us and that You have the power to help us and to alleviate our pain—even the pain of eternal death.  Amen


TEXT:  John 11: 17-27, 38-45

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

In two short weeks it will be Easter!  In two weeks we’ll be here at church celebrating the greatest event in all human or divine history—God announcing His victory, really our victory,  over eternal death.  Yes, in two short weeks He will once again remove our fear over that great unknown.  Today’s lesson serves as a transition.  It is an opportunity for us to begin to focus our thoughts on Easter joy while also providing us God’s answer to the age old problem of human suffering.  With that in mind, today let us turn our thoughts to this conundrum:



Jesus had been working for few months in the transJordan region of Israel, on the east bank of the Jordan river.  He had been spreading His message of help and hope and comfort to hurting souls.  Suddenly a messenger arrived from Bethany.  “Your dear friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha is sick and perhaps will die!”  What does Christ do?  He sends back a messenger with this announcement: “This sickness will not end in death.  No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”   Then He stayed where He was for another two days.  It took another two days for them to make it to Bethany where Lazarus lived.  Upon His arrival He was greeted with a sad announcement: “Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.”  The ever-energetic Martha hears of His coming and immediately goes out to see Him.  Mary remains home in her grief.  Then Martha confronts Christ with words of humble fact wrought by humble faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Her faith is evident by what she then adds: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Could she have been thinking about the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter and that young man from Nain that Jesus wrought?  Was she thinking of His earlier words that this sickness would not end in death?  Perhaps.  In any case, Jesus then says to her: “Your brother will rise again.”  How true!  Death for the Christian is like sleep.  It is a quiet interlude from life after which the believer will awake refreshed and made whole.  Jesus makes mention of this when He responds: “Your brother will rise again.”   And what does Martha answer?  “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Obviously she is thinking about judgment day and the resurrection to eternal life in glory.  She isn’t focusing on the here and now.  But, Jesus is!  He wants to solidify Martha’s faith and Mary’s faith and all those in attendance.  So, He uses this time to teach a wonderful truth.  “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

Confronted with such words of certainty and power, Martha gives voice to the faith within her.  “Yes, Lord, I believe that  you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”  So, even amid this tremendous blow of Lazarus’ death, Martha’s faith remains intact and whole.  Yes, faith triumphs over all things including death!


When I was a little boy, this lesson bothered me.  My thinking went like this:  Since Jesus is the Son of God and knows all things, obviously He knew that Lazarus would die.  He also knew the great pain and human suffering it would inflict upon Lazarus’ loved ones, Jesus’ friends.  So, why would He wait 4 days to get there?  Is Jesus like a cat who plays with a mouse?  Does He want to see us squirm?  Variations of that same logic play themselves out in our lives all the time.  “Why do I have to suffer in this life?  Why did I lose my house?  Why did I lose my job?  Why are my kids causing me to lose my hair?  Why did I get sick?  How long, O Lord?  How long will you let your beloved child suffer?  Why don’t You just fix the problem before it occurs instead of having me go through it?  Yes, Why Do Christians Suffer?”

As I have gotten older, and perhaps a bit wiser, I realize that God’s ways are far better than my own.  Our God is loving, not vindictive.  He is kind, not mean.  And He uses absolutely everything that happens in life to teach us greater truths.  Yes, He sees in advance the sadness and heartache that come our way.  He knows all of our future pain.  In fact, He has already felt that pain for us on the cross and died to save us eternally from it.  Think about that.  Jesus has already felt and experienced all the future pain that will ever come your way!  Amazing!  And yet, He lets it occur.  His reasoning is much like parents employ with their children.  That is, you can tell Suzy or Johnny not to play behind the shed because of the poison ivy growing there.  And yet, since they continue to test you and fail to listen, eventually when you see them going back there you conclude: “I’ll guess they’ll have to learn the hard way.”  And they do, don’t they?

St. Paul puts all this together for us in Romans when he writes about suffering.  “Suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope; and hope does not disappoint us.”  My Friends, that is exactly what is going on in our text.  Jesus waited because He wanted to strengthen the sisters’ faith and show forth God’s glory all the more.  Healing a sick man is fine.  Resurrecting a dead man is amazing!  And it would serve as a living example of what would occur with His own body in just a few weeks at that first Easter.

Well, you know the rest of the story.  Jesus goes to the tomb with a large retinue in attendance.  He tells them to remove the stone from the entrance.  They balk because human experience has taught them that decay has set in and a stench will waft out.  But, after voicing this objection, they obey.  Then Jesus prays to His Father and says: “Lazarus, come out!”  Of course, Lazarus does!  The dead have to obey the Victor over death.  And everyone is touched to the core by this miracle!  We’re told that many Jews who had come out from Jerusalem to see Mary and Martha put their faith in Christ.—See God is glorified by this and Christ’s original words are proven true!  We’re also told that Christ’s enemies, specifically many Pharisees are jealous, fearful of His power and now actively plot to kill Him.

The point is clear.  Christians suffer in this life.  But instead of getting angry with God over allowing it to afflict us, we should humbly trust in His goodness and learn from it.  And perhaps the most important lesson of all is to learn that: “His power is made perfect in our weakness.”  Amen