Do you think you suffer?

I think everyone suffers. And if everyone suffers, then suffering can’t be as bad as we think it is. I think some people suffer better than others. I think there is an art to suffering, an art to suffering well.

But, we don’t know how to…

Suffer Well

Suffering is common.

Who hasn’t suffered injustice at some time or another? Who hasn’t gone through a major crisis? Who hasn’t felt insignificant at times?

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get a little depressed now and then. All of us know something about fear. Guilt and shame are a very real part of the human experience; we’ve all blown it, and we all know it. Confusion drifts in and out of our lives sometimes on a daily basis.

We all suffer today. It’s part of the human condition, and it’s not new. The ancients suffered too. For example,…

From Homer’s Odyssey, Ancient Greece, “’Hear me, my friends, for the Olympian Gods have given me pain exceedingly beyond all women who were born and raised in my day.”

From Discourse of a Man with His God, Ancient Egypt, “I have not passed away yet, but death is not the point! Surely, if you run away, you will not be cared for, with every criminal saying: “I will seize you.” Though death comes for you, your name lives on. My place of rest, my heart’s desire, is so far away.”

From The Lament of Urim, 20th Ancient Mesopotamia, “In his righteousness he destroyed Urim. The lament is bitter, the lament made for you. Your lament is bitter, O city, the lament made for you. In the destruction of Urim, its lament is bitter. How long will your bitter lament grieve your lord who weeps?”

From Job 3, Ancient Near East, “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.”

From Matthew 23 (37-38), Greco-Roman Empire, Jesus laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Suffering is not a new condition. Lament is not a new form of communication. And Jesus, even Jesus, suffered.

You think you suffer?  Do you think that makes you different? Do you think your circumstances are unique?

If so, I’m not sure you know how to suffer. At least, you don’t know how to suffer well. Jesus knew how to suffer well.

There are a few times in the New Testament where we get to see into Jesus’s suffering. Jesus is not afraid to lament over his suffering, but this lament we are looking at today, I think is…

The Ultimate lament

In our text, Jesus is nearing the end of his life. This is the night Jesus is betrayed by Judas. He enters the garden at Gethsemane to pray, to lament actually. Jesus laments to the Father (42),

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

I guess the first thing we ought to ask is, What’s in the cup?

When someone gives you a cup and says, ‘Hey drink this!’ you don’t usually just drink it. Even if it’s someone you trust, your curiosity always gets the best of you. You want to know, ‘What’s in the cup?’

Jesus is clearly using the term ‘cup’ figuratively. There’s no actual cup, but God has given Jesus a figurative cup to drink from; God has clearly called Jesus to something and this is something that he doesn’t want to go through with.

At a cold read, it appears that Jesus wants relief from pain. And this, I think, is a little out of character for Jesus. When you read the stories about Jesus in the Bible, he is always cool and collected.

He faces demon possessed men, fearlessly. He speaks to priests, governors, and kings without being intimidated. Jesus faces the devil and never panders, never waivers.

So why does it seem he suffers so much now?  Is it death? Is Jesus really so afraid of death?

We find our answer in the Bible. The ‘cup’ is a unique piece of imagery. There is always something ideological in the cup when it appears. Sometimes the cup is full of blessing. Sometimes the cup is full of comfort. Sometimes the cup is full of wealth.

But, sometimes the cup is full of suffering or full of judgment. We see this very clearly in Jeremiah (25.15), ‘Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.’ The Lord charges Jeremiah to bring a cup of wrath, of judgment to the nations. Again, this is obviously not an actual cup.

You know, when Jesus laments in the garden of Gethsemane, it isn’t the first time Jesus refers to the cup. Not a week before this, Jesus was walking with his disciples and he asked them (Matthew 20.21), “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”

Do you know how they responded?  They said yes! They said, ‘yeah, we can drink from the same cup.’

Maybe Jesus was saying to them, ‘Are you ready to die for my cause? Are you going to persevere to the end?

The interesting thing is, Jesus says to them, ‘Well, you are going to drink from my cup.’ He says, ‘You are going to die.’ And all of the disciples were, in fact, eventually martyred. John was actually martyred several times, because he wouldn’t die.

So, yes, in a sense the disciples drank from Jesus’ cup…But, they didn’t drink the whole cup. Jesus drank the whole cup, but they didn’t drink the whole cup. Yes, the disciples drank in death, and death for a very worthy cause.

But, what did the disciples receive in death? What great promise awaited them when they passed on from life?

The disciples drank in death, but they passed on into life, a greater life with Christ.

But, what did Jesus receive when he drank the cup?

See this is why I say they didn’t drink the whole cup. The disciples were sinners. They had their own sins to die for; they couldn’t die for the sins of the world like Jesus did. Only Jesus, the sinless one, could die for the sins of mankind. Only Jesus could drink in, not just death, but also the judgment due the whole world and persevere.

And that’s what happens. When Jesus prays in the Garden at Gethsemane and he asks God to take away the cup from him, he is looking deep into the cup.

He’s not afraid to drink in death, but as he looks to the dregs in the bottom of the cup, he imagines drinking in nothing less than the full wrath of God due all mankind for their sins. Jesus sees separation from the love and security of the Father.

Jesus sees separation from the Spirit. Jesus sees the condemnation which is eternal separation from God and everything that is righteous and good, everything that brings peace and joy, everything that is ordered and just.

Jesus sees, in his cup, nothing less than the full wrath of God due all mankind for their sins and he laments, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.’

‘Father remove this judgment.’

Jesus is begging God to find another way to deal with sin rather than casting the sin of the world onto him. Jesus isn’t lamenting physical pain. That’s not the problem. He doesn’t want to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath.

So, then, what does it mean that Jesus has to drink the Father’s wrath?

Peter looks back on Jesus’ suffering and writes this (1 Peter 3.18-20), “…Christ…suffered once for sins…that he might bring us to God…in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared…

Do you see it? Where did Jesus go when he died? And to whom did he go?

Peter says plainly, that Jesus went to preach to the spirits who were disobedient in the days of Noah. God was patient while Noah built the ark. What was the problem? Why did God have to be patient? In the days of Noah…

the sons of God [common term for divine beings] came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them… (Genesis 6.4)

Aside from the obvious immorality of this deed, you might wonder what the big deal is. We can create a number of theories, but it is clearly a huge issue for God.

The book of Jude refers back to this event and says that these divine beings ‘didn’t stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling.’ God apparently had rules for how these beings would operate in this world and they broke those rules.

What did God do about it?

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [divine beings] he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Psalm 82:1-2,7)

The Psalmist says that these beings will die like people do.

What does it mean that they shall die like people, like men?

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day (Jude 1.6)

…God did not spare angels [divine beings] when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment… (2 Peter 2.4)

So, I’ll put the pieces together for you. In the days of Noah, God had set up divine beings over the nations to watch over them, but rather than rule justly as God had charged them, they ruled wickedly.

They demanded worship for themselves as gods, and they committed abominable acts with human women, even impregnating them.

I apologize for anyone who has not heard these things before. Some of it seems really bizarre! But, it’s there clearly in the text, “the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them.”

If you want to know more about this, I would love to delve deeper into the subject with you this week, but there is not time to cover it fully today.         

So, the Lord God held a counsel, or a meeting, with these gods and He judged them for not ruling justly over the nations and committing abominable acts in their own names. So he took them and chained them up and cast them into the gloomy darkness—into hell.

I know it took us a long time to get to this point, but remember we are talking about the cup of God’s wrath. This is the cup that Jesus had to drink.

Can you imagine how horrible this place must be?

This is a place God designed specifically to punish those who tried to exalt themselves above the one true God. This was, if you will, the bottom of the cup, the dregs. This is the part that Jesus had to drink, but that no one who believes in Jesus ever has to drink.

And I want you to notice this, the problem is not so much the people in this place that Jesus had to visit. The problem is the place itself—the place set up for the worst of sinners. Jesus is the Lord; he can handle the gods that are chained up in this place. They aren’t the problem.

The problem is the place. The problem is hell. Jesus had never been without the presence of God. Jesus is the preexistent one; he has always been. He has never been without the fellowship of the Father. Even in life, Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and lived in the Spirit of God. He was always in fellowship with the Father.

But, hell is a place of separation. Whatever hell actually is—scripture isn’t super clear about all of the details—it is a place where the Father chooses not to reach. So when Jesus went to that place he went where the Father had no presence.

This may not seem so terrible to you, but think what wonders of God’s goodness exist around us even in life. We talk about how terrible the world is, but have you considered lately how marvelous the world is? Have you considered what great goodness of God resides in this place we call earth?

We call this common grace, that God allows you to live and enjoy the goodness of this world even if you don’t believe God exists. Atheists enjoy the goodness of the Father every day. Even the most wicked, hateful, and murderous people alive, they enjoy the goodness of the Father every day.

Do you see this? Jesus went to this place when he died, this place where not an ounce of God’s goodness reaches. Jesus went to a place reserved for the most wicked parts of God’s creation. This place we call hell.

Jesus suffered a separation from the Father that we will never have to experience if we believe and follow Jesus Christ as Lord.  

That’s the cup he drank. That’s the cup you and I don’t ever have to drink.

It’s a lot to unpack, but this was the most horrible thing Jesus could ever have experienced. So, why would he do it? Why would he go through with such a horrible experience? He did it, because…

Jesus trusts God

Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22.42).

Jesus trusts the Father and he isn’t interested in being outside the Father’s will. He prays, ‘…if you are willing…’ Jesus doesn’t ask for mercy. Jesus doesn’t ask for God to change his will and his purposes.

He doesn’t pretend to know better than the Father, but knowing the pain that lies ahead he asks the Father if it is his will.

That’s why he can say, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’

And this is why I say that Jesus knows how to suffer well. He’s not afraid to show that he suffers. It’s not weakness for Jesus to show his suffering, but he always hopes. He knows that whatever happens, it is best to be in the Father’s will, it’s best to be about the Father’s work.

How often do we beg and plead with God for our own wills to be done? I know many of you suffer from physical conditions that are very painful. How many times have you begged God to remove that ‘cup’ from you?

How many of you have broken relationships, either a spouse or another family member, and you have begged God to remove that ‘cup’ from you? You ask for the circumstance to change in hopes that the suffering will be removed and nothing changes.

Well, Jesus does this. He asks for the cup to pass, but he is only interested in the cup passing if it is God’s will. And as we know, it was not God’s will to pass the cup. Jesus was going to die on the cross and be utterly forsaken by the Father.

From the cross, as darkness falls over the land and Jesus was about to die, he cried out (Mark 15.34), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus prays that the cup of God’s wrath, the cup of his separation from the Father would be passed. But, he is forsaken by the Father. This is a prayer that God does not answer for Jesus.

But, God does something else. God doesn’t answer by relieving Jesus’ pain, but instead he strengthens Jesus so that he can endure the pain.

No matter how dark the clouds are…you know, clouds can get very dark. I’ll never forget this time some 13 years ago or so. Jami and I—and I think her sister Danyale—went to my grandparents’ house in Tehachapi the night before Easter to visit my family.

We went up the night before and planned to leave early Easter morning after visiting with my family and head down the hill into Bakersfield and over the grapevine to Ventura to visit with Jami and Danyale’s family.

When we left there was a little fog. But, before we could even get to the freeway it began to get very dark. We turned the headlights on, but it wasn’t long before we couldn’t even see the road directly in front of us.

I never thought it could get that dark while the sun was out. I never thought the clouds could be that thick. I had never experienced anything like it. It was incredibly frightening.

Yet, no matter how dark the clouds are, no matter how thick the fog, it doesn’t affect the sun. It doesn’t affect it a bit, not the slightest.

Have you ever been in an airplane while there is a storm?

If you’ve ever been in an airplane and you’re down on the ground and it’s thundering and lightning and they take off—which they shouldn’t, but sometimes they do—when the airplane breaks through the clouds and you get up to 30,000 or so feet, suddenly the storm is gone.

Where was the horrible storm? Where did it go?

Well, it’s down there below you. It’s far below the airplane.

When you were below the clouds everything was dark and scary, but now there’s a wondrous light. You see, the clouds haven’t affected the sun a bit.

And it’s the same here. No matter how bad things get in your life, no matter how bad things get in the world, no matter how much suffering exists, it doesn’t affect the sun or the loving purposes of God; not a bit. God’s love is no more affected by your suffering in life than the sun is affected by the clouds of a storm.

The point of this is Jesus. Here’s Jesus and everything looks as if it’s going wrong. He’s supposed to be the Son of God, but here he is pleading with the Father to make the suffering go away, and we may think that God couldn’t possibly use a man like this.

Surely God only uses great and fearless men! God couldn’t possibly be working through Jesus at this point in his life.

Jesus was in ‘agony’ over this and ‘his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.’

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him (43).

Jesus was suffering, so God sent an angel—a divine being—to strengthen him. Jesus didn’t get relief from his pain, he got help from the Father to endure it! And not just to endure it, but to excel in it. Got sent the angel and then, “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly!’

I wonder if you have ever considered your existence on earth in spite of all your hardships. I wonder if you have ever considered that your continued existence is because God is strengthening you?

Sure, your circumstances aren’t going away and you are still in immense pain of some sort—physical, emotional, or whatever. But, you are still here. Aren’t you still here?

God is causing you to persevere. He has you here for a purpose and He has sent His angel to strengthen you. Why? Because, in spite of suffering in the world, God wants you to do something.

What is it that God wants you to do? Well, God wants you to…and this might sound a bit odd at first, but God wants you to…

Go Fishing

In Matthew 4, Jesus called Simon and Andrew as his first followers. They were fisherman. Jesus called to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

And this is the same calling we all have. When Jesus calls us to himself—when we believe in Jesus, when we become Christians—he changes our vocation. We become fishers of people.

In other words, we take on the privilege of leading other people into God’s Kingdom. God leaves us here on earth where there is suffering and yet strengthens us so that we can bring people into God’s Kingdom.

That can seem like a daunting task to some of you. But, its simpler than it sounds. We often think that Kingdom work is reserved for people of special gifting. We think that the Gospel is the responsibility of pastors and evangelists.

But, it’s not only. God’s mission to bring people into His Kingdom has been given to all Christians to carry out.

This is why Christ suffered. He did his part to bring people into God’s Kingdom. In spite of suffering—a greater suffering than anyone else will ever suffer—Jesus did everything necessary for people to enter God’s Kingdom.

God strengthened Jesus to persevere through suffering in order to bring people into His Kingdom, and God will do the same for you and me.

So, I’d like to show you three things you need to bring people into God’s Kingdom: Opportunity, Preparation, and Boldness. In fact, these line up with three of the top reasons that Christians don’t share their faith so I’ll share those too.

The first is opportunity. Many Christians don’t share their faith with others because they rarely are around anyone who is not a Christian—at least not anyone they know.

Well, the Apostle Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5). The challenge Paul presents is to make the best use of your time.

Some of you are around people all the time who are not Christians. Paul’s challenge is to use that time well. Do people in your life know that you are a Christian? Do they know what you believe? Do you talk to them about the things God is doing in your life?

Some of you are rarely around people who aren’t Christians. Paul’s challenge to you is to go make some new friends. Take a class, join a gym.

Do something in the community to get involved with people who are not Christians, so that you can use your time well to influence people to know Christ.

And whichever circumstance you are in, pray that the Lord will open your eyes to see the opportunities around you.

You know, as Americans, we covet our busyness sometimes. We like to be busy and say things like, ‘There’s no time!’ because when there’s no time, we have a good excuse for not doing the things we know we need to do, like telling people about Christ.

So notice, Paul isn’t saying you need to cram this into your busy schedule. No, he says you need to make the best use of your time. You know as well as I do that you spend time on things that have no eternal value.

Maybe it’s time to cut some of those things so that you can redeem that time with something that has real purpose.

Opportunity is a big deal, but opportunity is only slightly helpful. You also need preparation. As often as people say that don’t have time to tell people about Christ, they say they don’t know how to do it.

Peter says, “…honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15). We know we should be able to do this, but many of you can’t do it. You don’t know what to say.

The biggest stumbling block here, I think, is that you might believe it’s your job to convince others that they need Jesus. Or you might think you need to be able to answer any question someone asks.

But, listen, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convince them, not yours. Your job is to be faithful to communicate as much as you know. That’s it.

And if there are questions or objections you can’t answer, that’s OK too. I don’t think anyone expects you to be a great theologian just because you are a Christian. It’s OK to say to someone, ‘I don’t know but I’ll ask someone and get back to you.’ You can ask me, another pastor, a life group leader and we can help you.

I had someone in the church call me one time and ask if I would talk to their friend about demons—she had some questions. I asked, ‘Is she a Christian?’ ‘No.’ ’Well, great, bring her in.’ We’re happy to talk to those who have questions.

So, we’re not talking about being able to defend your faith in any circumstance. We aren’t talking about being a great preacher or gifted evangelist. But, if you know the gospel, you should be able to give at least a crude presentation of it to someone else.

In your fishing guide we have exactly that. A basic format for you to use to share what you believe with others. So let’s review it really quickly:

  • God’s purpose in creation is that he loves you and wants you to have a full and meaningful life and live with Him forever. God’s purpose from the beginning is to create a Kingdom for His glory.
  • But you have a need. You can’t be a part of God’s Kingdom because you have broken God’s law, which we call sin. Because of sin, every person on earth is perishing—they are under God’s wrath—and no one can save themselves. No one can enter God’s Kingdom.
  • So, God provided. Because God loves the people He created, he provided a way. Jesus, God’s one and only son, came to earth and died so that your sins could be forgiven. You were perishing, but Jesus died so that you don’t have to die.
  • And that requires response, because Jesus’ death, where it is of infinite worth, does not immediately cover everyone’s sin. The Bible is clear that you need belief or faith. Everyone who believes in God’s Son, Jesus, is saved from the penalty of their sins and will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. Believing in Jesus means turning from your sins and confessing Jesus as your Lord.

Use this chart as you talk to people or just spend some time praying over it and memorizing the key parts of it so that you can share candidly with people in your life.

So many of you have opportunity and preparation, but you fall prey to a third excuse for not sharing your faith. You say, ‘It’s not my personality.’ Maybe you are kind of shy or not good with words or a bit on the quiet side.

What you need is boldness.  Thankfully Paul gives us a solution. He said, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12). Our eternal hope gives us the boldness required to fish for people around us. Hope results in boldness.

Now, you may say that you have too much pressure on you already. Maybe you are suffering in some way and the discomfort of sharing your faith is simply too much. Well, I would remind you that Jesus suffered and God didn’t relieve that suffering, but instead sent an angel to strengthen him.

God has not allowed you to continue in life just so you can suffer. Can you imagine how terrible that would be? If you suffer, there must be purpose in the suffering.

And this is the purpose: You are here so that you can be a part of God’s mission and God’s purpose to bring people into His Kingdom.

Do you believe that God is preserving your life? Do you believe that your daily perseverance come from Him?

Do you believe that God also gives you strength to carry out His purposes?

He did it for Jesus and He has promised this for you too. Be bold. Prepare, and make the best of every opportunity.

Sometimes we suffer and we think God is not hearing our prayers. We feel forsaken by God. We think, I prayed and prayed and God didn’t answer. I have suffered. I have been forsaken. I lamented and God didn’t answer. But, he has heard your lament. He may not take away your pain, but he will give you strength to persevere and strength to carry out his purposes in this world.