Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Suffering Savior: Embracing the Theology of the Cross

Today, I want to talk about a hard part of our faith, Suffering. We as a church are suffering. We lost Cliff Saturday morning. As a community, we are no stranger to suffering and loss. It has been a big part of our lives. It has drawn us closer to Christ. We have endured suffering and continue to endure suffering. It has drawn us closer to our Savior and to each other. We understand that in all things, nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.

We as a church have the faith resources and connection to Christ to endure suffering. We are blessed to have that. Sadly, it seems that much of the greater Christian community in the U.S. has lost the resources to minister to suffering people. It has been replaced with the idea that we somehow inherit or receive God’s blessing in our success and wellbeing. When we are born again, we are born into blessings. God gives us health and wealth. God pours riches upon our lives. We receive the prestige, power, strength and victory in life that reflect God’s glory. That has not been my experience of following Christ and when I look out over our community, it isn’t yours either.
Pastor and author Bob Hamp writes about the theology of glory versus the theology of suffering. He says that churches who teach primarily the theology of glory have a hard time seeing Jesus in suffering. Surely, God is with the blessed! When we believe this glory theology, it is a real shock to look into the jaws of death and feel like God is present. When you believe God is found in blessing, It is hard to be suffering a terminal disease and feel like you do not have enough faith for God to heal you. It seems like, you lack sufficient hope, and your prayers lack power. You are unworthy. You have lost your blessing. It is hard to find God in suffering when you think God is only present in blessings.
Church, we prayed fervently for Cliff. We loved Cliff. Our prayers for healing were not answered with healing. God did not bless and return Cliff to health. Why was God’s glory not upon us? Is there something wrong with us? Did God abandon us and move down the street to more faithful and blessed people that reflect God’s glory better?

Let’s read about the Suffering Servant depicted in Scripture.

Isaiah 53:3-5:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
This passage is speaking about Jesus. We have a Messiah, a Savior, who suffered and who suffers with us. Our God became human. Jesus took our misery, pain, loss and suffering upon himself. God has always entered our pain and suffering. Our God is a God of the cross.

God does not give us God’s glory in this life. God fills us with the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit does not fill our piggy banks or give us perfect bodies. The Holy Spirit comforts us and strengthens us to endure a real life of struggle, pain and loss. At the bed of a dying loved one, we don’t see glory. At that moment, we need a God who lived our pain and accepted all of life including fear and death. When we look for God in our suffering, we find God is present in abundance. And we have the hope of our salvation, the assurance that someday we will be with our loved ones and Christ in the glory of heaven and God’s presence.

With Cliff, God answered our prayers. Decades ago, God answered our prayers and healed Cliff for all eternity when he accepted Christ. Today, the heavy presence of the Holy Spirit answers our prayers as Cliff passes into the arms of our Father God.
A few weeks ago, I said that the only thing God measures is our mercy. Another way of saying that is God only measures our love in action. Church, our prayers for Cliff, Marsha and Cleo are filled with love. God does not measure our faith and dole out blessings based on us having the right amount. God does not withhold healing if we fall short of perfect holiness. God measures the loving act of our prayers. God hears us and responds with mercy, peace and love. Our prayers and faith acknowledge that God is on high and every outcome belongs to God.
Friday evening Jan and I said good bye to our dog Hazy. I like to think of our love for Hazy as an illustration of God’s love for us. We loved Hazy. Yet, Hazy never obeyed us. She knew two commands; Come—sort of and Stay—sort of. We didn’t care, we loved her all the same. She may not have ever obeyed us, but she loved us completely. I think God is similar, we obey God— sort of, we have faith—sort of and we have hope—sort of. But if we love God and we love our neighbor, God smiles on us with beaming joy.

We do not serve a God who curses us. We serve a God who loves us. God is our provider, and we do receive blessings from God. However, in this life, God does not promise to relieve all our suffering. Sometimes we receive miracles that restore our wellbeing and sometimes the chaos and uncertainty of life plague us with pain, suffering and death. I cannot tell you why that is so. I can tell you that our walk with Christ is not measured by the blessings that bring us prosperity or alleviate our human suffering. Only our mercy measures our walk with Christ.

In Jesus’ day, people thought that physical ailments represented a curse from sin.

John 9: 1-5

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
We can see in this passage that the man’s blindness had nothing to do with his sin. He was not judged by God to be unworthy of sight. Jesus came to a suffering man and performed a restorative work in him that put God’s mercy and love on full display.

Many years ago, I was a chaplain at a big hospital in Chicago. I was called to a woman and her husband who had just lost twins in their second trimester. They had been trying to have children for years and kept losing them. This time, it felt like they’d gotten past the danger zone, but they had not and the mom lost the twins.

As I approached her room, I saw their pastor outside the door just wrecked. He was not prepared for what he walked into. The anger, loss, sadness and utter despair was just too much for him. I am pretty sure that their church had been praying for them. They may have even claimed God’s blessing once the couple entered the second trimester. The pastor sat there, dealing with the failed prayers and the lack of blessing. I spoke to him for a while to help reassure him and thank him for his support of the couple. He could not reconcile the results he expected from the glory theology of his church with the reality of the cross we bear as human beings.

Look at our church. Glory, wealth, prosperity and growth fill churches all around us, but we struggle to stay afloat and keep our doors open. Preaching the glory of God can be found in a blessed life, filled seats and owning great buildings. But it does not bring God into the moment of our lives when we really need God.
After speaking to the pastor, I entered the room. The couple was crying uncontrollably. They were sad and confused. They wondered where God was and why their prayers were unanswered. I had no answers to give them. I sat with them and listened. I tried to reassure them that in the depth of their immeasurable pain, Christ was with them. At some level, they believed that and accepted it. In the midst of their deep pain, I could feel the heavy presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ was there with them in their room. Christ didn’t depart the couple because of their loss. Christ joined with them in the depth of their pain.

When encountering people in despair, many who follow Christ are afraid of the pain and want to get away as fast as possible. They don’t want to come near a couple so cursed. Like the blind man in John, Christ was with the couple and consoled them. At that moment, I was aware that our God does not give us God’s glory; God gives us God’s presence. Our God enters into our pain and suffering. Our God is a God of the cross.

In this next Scripture, we see the depth of our connection with God and how far Christ Jesus will go to endure whatever life brings us.

Romans 8: 31-35:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Last time I checked, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword were not blessings. Yet, no one can condemn us because God is for us. Christ intercedes on our behalf. We can never be separated from the love of Christ. The suffering of this life never, and I mean never, measures Christ’s love for us. Just the opposite, Christ joins us in our suffering. If Christ’s love is never separate from us, then it carries us through our suffering. It is with us through all of life’s many challenges.
When Christians believe they inherit God’s glory, they believe they are under God’s blessing. Then, like the pastor outside the grieving couple’s room, they encounter the suffering of the world. Suffering interrupts their glory narrative. Their positivity is covered by a cloud of gloom, negativity, hurt and pain. They cannot come alongside those who suffer and truly help. They may fear that they too might come under the cloud of gloom, hurt and pain. They may feel like a failure, that their prayers didn’t work, and they have nothing left to give. These Christians tend to avoid the suffering of the world. Unlike the Good Samaritan who risked it all to help a severely injured Jewish man, Christians expecting God’s glory risk becoming like the religious rulers in the parable who pass by the victim not dirtying their hands or their spotless souls. Because if you believe that you have received God’s glory, you must protect your inherited glory. When we try to protect our glory or avoid the world as it really is, it becomes impossible to be merciful. The perfect world does not need our mercy. It is the suffering and cursed world, the unblessed world, that needs our love and mercy.

God’s glory was never meant for humanity. Christians are not promised glory, not here, not now. Rather, we are meant to carry the cross of Christ and to reach into the suffering of the world and make a difference through our mercy and love.

Church, with Cliff and with so many others in our church family, we extend our love and prayers. With our food bank, Griefshare and other ways we serve our community, we reach into the suffering of the world and make a big difference. We are a church of the cross. Because we accept the cross of Christ, we make a difference in a world in desperate need of mercy, love and healing.

We do have a God who blesses, but more importantly we have a God who saves, who redeems, who forgives, who restores, and who ultimately brings us through death to eternity with Christ. We have a God who yesterday brought our beloved Cliff through death to life eternal. We have a God who heals, and we will always pray for healing, as God instructs us to do. We have a God who has made us temples of the Holy Spirit. We have a God who shunned glory and embraced human suffering. We have a God who physically entered humanity and bore all the suffering life could dish out. We have a God whose love will never depart from us. We have a God of miracles, yes, and the greatest miracle of all is the grace and mercy of God we receive when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Cliff finished his earthly journey, but he received his healing many decades ago, and his suffering and death do not diminish the glorious brilliance of that miracle. 

Your prayers and your cries to God and your lamentations matter. It expresses your love for hurting people and your faith in God’s power to do a healing miracle. Also, I want you to recognize the miracle of a God who hears and receives your prayers. Your prayers are a profound communication and connection with a God who loves you.

Place of Grace, we are powerful, not because of our blessings, our filled seats, our rich bank accounts or any other measures of glory. We are powerful because we are a church that understands suffering. We can face it, accept it and extend mercy into the depths of the pain we encounter in others. We can look at a person who has lost a loved one, or struggles with addiction, or has endured any number of life’s struggles, and we can welcome them and love them. We don’t shy away. We extend empathy and compassion. We show mercy. Church, we are powerful because we have suffered. We are powerful because we have carried crosses. We are a church of the cross. It might not fill our seats, but it does mean we do the work of Christ here in San Antonio.

Seventeen years ago, the couple who lost twins needed a person of the cross. They needed a person who did not see suffering as a curse. They needed someone who believed that Christ joins us in our suffering. If, for even a moment, I believed they lost their blessing or were somehow cursed, any mercy I could have given them would be gone. They would have felt my discomfort or questioning, and they would have separated from me and asked me to leave. Their pastor was ineffective because he could not face the suffering of humanity in all its pain. My faith that Christ’s love never separated from them and filled their room in their suffering allowed me to minister.

Church, we are powerful because we have faced many troubles. I want to close with a Scripture passage that says our suffering allows us to experience God’s comfort and extend that comfort to others.

Corinthians 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father,

We come before You in humble gratitude, recognizing Your presence in our lives, especially in times of suffering and loss. As we reflect on the message of Your Word, we are reminded that You are not distant from our pain but deeply intertwined with our struggles. Your love and grace sustain us, even when we walk through the darkest valleys.

Lord, we thank You for the comfort and hope found in Jesus Christ, our Suffering Servant, who bore our transgressions and carried our sorrows. Through His wounds, we are healed, and in His resurrection, we find the promise of eternal life.

As we leave this place, may we carry with us the assurance that nothing can separate us from Your love. Empower us to comfort others with the comfort we have received from You. Let our lives be a testament to Your mercy, love, and redemption.

May Your peace, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit, guiding us to be beacons of Your light in a world that desperately needs Your healing touch.

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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