5th Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 425, 571, 698
Text – Philippians 3:10
That I may know Him & the power of His resurrection, & may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.
SHARING HIS SUFFERINGS
Suffering is not now, & never has been, a very popular pastime. Think of the countless hours we spend in conversation about the things that go wrong in our lives. The car broke down, the children have been in trouble at school, your best friends are moving away, things at work aren’t going really well, the neighbors are upset with you, some health issues have come up.
If you write down all the things going wrong in life, just on a daily basis, it can drive you to depression. Certainly, that fits right in with the devil’s hopes & dreams for our lives. In the reading from Philippians, St. Paul shares a very different hope for the lives we live here on earth. And he’s in prison when he writes this letter.
Most of us would consider that alone as suffering worthy of a long list of complaints. Yet, the words from Philippians 3 reveal quite a different attitude:
“For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things & count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… that I may know Him & the power of His resurrection, & may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8a, 10-11 ESV)
What’s happening is that Paul is so encouraged, & strengthened, by knowing Jesus was raised from the dead, that this former persecutor of Christ now looks at all of life from a totally different perspective. Instead of bringing suffering to the followers of Jesus, Paul is now telling them why, & how, they can endure suffering.
Paul is so certain of the glories of eternal life that anything of this world pales in
comparison – in fact, he considers the ‘things’ of this world as mere rubbish. Yet, he also knows that people inherently look for answers. The fears & doubts of life in a sinful world are very real. We cannot look past them; we cannot overcome them, unless we are certain of the power of Christ’s resurrection to restore the creation of our heavenly Father to its original perfection.
Looking for answers, it often appears to us that God is silent during our struggles, suffering & sorrow. The poem Footprints in the Sand  deals with one aspect of that ‘silence’ when it asks of God, “Why, when I needed You most, You have not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”
Another aspect of how God responds to our suffering is dealt with in the following illustration.
An old Christian woman had a dream like this. She saw three people at prayer asking God to deliver them from their suffering & sorrows. As they were praying Christ drew near to them. When He approached the 1st, He bent over her in tenderness & grace, with a smile full of radiant love. He spoke to her in accents of purest, sweetest music.
Leaving her, He came to the next, but only placed His hand upon her bowed head, & gave her one look of loving approval. The third woman He passed by almost abruptly without stopping for a word or a glance.
The woman in her dream said to herself, “How greatly He must love the 1st one, to the 2nd He gave His approval, but none of the special demonstrations of love He gave the 1st; & the 3rd must have grieved Him deeply, for He gave her no word at all & not even a passing look. She wondered what her Lord had done, & why so much difference in His response to the three.”
As she questioned His actions, her Lord Himself stood by her & explained. “O woman, how wrongly you have interpreted me. The 1st woman needs all the weight of my tenderness & care to keep her feet in the narrow way. She needs my love, thought & help every moment of the day. Without it she would fail & fall. The 2nd woman has stronger faith & deeper love. I can trust her to trust me however things go & whatever people do.
The 3rd woman, whom I seemed not to notice, & even to neglect, has faith & love of the finest quality, & her I’m training by quick & drastic processes for the highest & holiest service. She knows me so intimately, trusts me so utterly, that she is independent of words or looks or any outward indication of my approval.
She’s not discouraged or dismayed by any circumstances through which I arrange that she will pass. She trusts me when sense & reason & every finer instinct of the natural heart would rebel because she knows that I’m working in her for eternity. She believes that what I do, though she knows not the explanation now, she will understand hereafter.
I am silent in my love beyond the power of words to express. Also, I am silent in my love for your sake that you may learn to love & to trust my wisdom & grace.”
The aspect of suffering which that illustration deals with, is how easily we assume that we are capable of accurately evaluating of our heavenly Father’s actions. In our mind we ‘see’ the result. It’s usually something like, God did not take away the struggles like we prayed for Him to do, therefore He must be angry with us, or with something we did.
First off, that response on our parts assumes that suffering always has no good outcome. So it should always be God’s will to remove it. That’s a knee-jerk response on our part & once the suffering is over, we commonly have the wherewithal then to look back & ‘see’ the good which our heavenly Father was able to bring out of it.
The more troubling response that illustration reveals is that we do believe we are
capable of evaluating the work of God. From our extremely limited view of history, we judge the actions of the eternal Creator of the universe. From the brokenness of sin, where our own mind constantly fails us, we assume that our wisdom is capable of measuring all the things God is doing. From our self-centered view of life, we trust our own opinions over the Word of God.
So to really challenge us in our following of Christ we need to hear these words from Hebrews 5:8, “Although He was a son, [Jesus] learned obedience through what He suffered.” Could our suffering also be a path to obedience? Accepting things we do not like, might that be a test which challenges how much we ‘really’ trust our Lord & Savior?
We appreciate the last part of that phrase – Savior. It is a much greater struggle to appreciate the 1st part – Lord. Everybody can love Jesus as long as He’s allowing us to lead the way. When push comes to shove, it’s a little bit tougher to love Jesus when He is Lord.
From Luke 9:23, “And [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross daily & follow me.’” Luke 9:59, “To another [Jesus] said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me 1st go & bury my father.’” Luke 9:61, “Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me 1st say farewell to those at my home.’”
From Luke 18:22, “When Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have & distribute to the poor, & you will have treasure in heaven; & come, follow me.’” It’s fairly clear in that selection of Bible verses that Jesus’ command to follow Him is all inclusive. He leaves nothing out. Yet, we also see the struggle people have in following.
Jesus is Lord. He gets to make all the decisions if we really want Him to be our Savior. Now, that doesn’t mean we have to follow Him perfectly to be saved. No, Jesus saves us from those failures too. My point is that ‘sharing His sufferings’ is what our heavenly Father, in His eternal wisdom, has called us to. We will fail at that certainly, but we shouldn’t fight so hard against it. That causes more problems for us, & for the people around us. Obedience is a virtue after all. The point St. Paul is making is that, even though none of us enjoys suffering, it is possible to look at it with a very different viewpoint than the unbelieving person does.
After all, shouldn’t believing in Jesus make a noticeable difference in our lives? Shouldn’t unbelievers be able to tell that you follow Jesus? What better way for that to be obvious than in the viewpoint we take regarding suffering? What better way for that to be obvious than in how we respond to our own suffering?
Yes, it is difficult. Paul isn’t saying this is a cake walk, but he doesn’t just tell us to do it by sucking it up & being a man. Where does that leave the female followers of Jesus? No, St. Paul tells us why we can share in Christ’s sufferings & not lose our faith. He tells us how we can share in Christ’s sufferings & still be a winsome witness to our Lord & Savior:
“That I may know Him & the power of His resurrection, & may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”
If we are only followers of Jesus in the easy times, hardly anyone will notice, but if we still follow Jesus during times of suffering, that makes a statement which is a lot more difficult to deny. Yes, the fears & doubts of life in a sinful world are very real.
We cannot look past them; we cannot overcome them, unless we are certain of the power of Christ’s resurrection to restore the creation of our heavenly Father to its original perfection. Looking ahead to resurrection, there we will for the 1st time see God’s creation in its original glory & beauty.
Since we know that is true, by Jesus’ own resurrection, we are empowered through faith in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, to share Jesus’ sufferings. Hebrews 12:1-2 tell us how Jesus endured His sufferings: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, & sin which clings so closely, & let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, & is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Heaven was set before Jesus in all its perfection, glory & goodness, but especially heaven with all of Jesus’ brothers & sisters, God’s children, joining Him there. For that reason the only-begotten Son of God endured the cross.
As God works through us, does He use our suffering to reach other people with His love? Seems like the answer to that is yes, but when our suffering begins, when it drags on & on & on, are we still thinking about that? At times like those, we need to lean upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ for the strength to continue. That’s why our celebration of Easter is such a big deal.
There is a day coming when each one here who trusts in Jesus as Lord & Savior will experience their own resurrection from the dead. Our sufferings will then appear as but a blink of the eye compared to the glories of heaven. Until then, we have the power of the resurrection of Christ to instruct us & lead us home.
The resurrection of Jesus’ dead body was merely the beginning of the new creation. One day, all of the universe will once again be surveyed by God & declared to be good. You can be part of that declaration. Amen.
Christ Jesus is the ground of faith, Who was made flesh & suffered death; all then who trust in Him alone are built on this chief cornerstone. God loved the world so that He gave His only Son the lost to save, that all who would in Him believe should everlasting life receive. Glory to God the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, Three in One! To You, O blessed Trinity, be praise now & eternally! Amen. LSB 571:2, 1, 6
 Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.
 Dr. John Sound, adapted from Charles E. Cowman, Streams in the Desert (Vespery, Madras, India: Evangelistic Literature Service, 1982), 44-45.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet