Rejoice in Your Suffering: Romans 5:1-11

Note: This sermon has a quotation from the Apocrypha and treats that quotation from Sirach as Scripture.  This is simply how our Confessions treat the Apocrypha.  Ref: Ap XXI, 9: “We grant that angels pray for us.  For there is a passage in Zechariah 1:12, where an angel prays, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem?’  To be sure, concerning the saints we grant that in heaven they pray for the Church in general, just as they prayed for the Church in general while alive.  However, no passage about the dead praying exists in the Scriptures, except that of a dream recorded in 2 Maccabees 15:14.” Note that our Confessions call 2 Maccabees, a book in the Apocrypha, “Scripture.”

Now the sermon:


Everything in our faith-life hinges on these words: “Since we have been made righteous.”  But what does that even mean?  It means that, despite all our mess-ups with God, He has straightened them out, so much so, that we are even now righteous.  That’s what it means.

Think of a courtroom [which isn’t the only valid redemptional motif, but is a biblically valid one].  God is the judge, and we are on trial.  Everyone knows we’re guilty, but for some reason, God acquits us anyway.  Now, He doesn’t acquit us because He overlooks sin or considers it trivial.  No, He acquits us because someone else has stood up to take the guilty plea for us: Jesus.  That’s why we aren’t guilty.  That’s why God the judge declares that we are, instead, righteous.

Since God has made us righteous, we have peace with Him.  Yet, this peace with God is not our normal way of life with Him.  For we are born, as St. Paulsays, as His enemies.  But Jesus has stepped in to do what we could never do ourselves, to make peace between us and God.  And, because of that, we are righteous.

It’s as Paul tells us, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”   But then Paul more-fully fleshes out what being in God’s graces means: “Since we have been made righteous … we also rejoice in our sufferings.”

Wait a minute; I can barely get my head around this idea of being righteous because of someone else, because of Jesus.  But now because of that we rejoice in our suffering?

Who rejoices in suffering?  I don’t.  You don’t.  We’ll do whatever we have to do to avoid suffering.  But that’s not what Jesus tells us.  He says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it” (Matthew 16:25).  And Jesus even says more.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, [that means not to indulge or make life easier for himself] take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

So, why do Christians suffer?  It’s because we follow Jesus who suffered.  Jesus didn’t have to suffer; He chose to do so.  That wasn’t because He had some strange yearning to suffer.  No, it was because you and I needed Him to suffer.  For if Jesus didn’t suffer, we would have no have peace with God.  That was the only way we could be righteous.

But our faith-life goes beyond Jesus’ suffering.  We also need to suffer.  Now, that’s not because Jesus needs to see us suffer.  We don’t need to suffer to pay for our sins.  Jesus already did that.  But we need to suffer because it’s for our good.  This is a hard truth to take: we need to suffer because it’s for our good!

Suffering, Paul says, produces endurance.  Endurance: that’s patient waiting–patiently waiting for the Lord to help.  Sometimes endurance means that you have to wait on the Lord for many years.  Yes, rejoice in your suffering because suffering produces endurance.  And in this fallen world, you need endurance!

And endurance produces character.  Until God tests our faith, you and I won’t know how strong that faith is.  Now, testing doesn’t show God how strong our faith is.  God already knows; after all, He’s the one who gave us that faith.  Testing shows me, and you, how strong that faith is.  It teaches us to learn that we can trust our Lord no matter what, or whom, we may be asked to give up.

Remember that when your Lord lets you go through trouble, He’s refining your faith.  He’s getting rid of the impurities, giving you a stronger trust in Him, so no matter how hard life gets, you learn to hang on to Him.  Jesus tells you, “You will have suffering in this world.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

That’s what Paul means by “character.”  That’s what he means when he says that “suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character.”  Character is a forged and tempered faith, which shows itself as true.

And character produces hope.  Hope is to have confidence that, even when you are suffering and it looks as if nothing useful can come from it, the Lord is at work turning suffering into our eternal benefit.  How can you be sure?  Look at the cross!

If we were at Jesus’ crucifixion, we would have said, “There’s no way God can bring anything good out of this gruesome crucifixion.”  But our Lord used that to carry out the greatest good in all of history.  For through the death of Christ, God the Father has made us righteous in His sight.

Consider this: If God has used the cross of Jesus for our good, then he can–and will–use the crosses we have to endure for our eternal well-being.  That’s the assurance, the hope that He give us.  But let’s be honest.  No one wants to suffer.  Peter didn’t.   But Jesus told him that “the Son of Man would have to suffer a great deal and be rejected by the elders, the high priests, and the scribes.  Then he would be killed, but, after three days, he would rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Peter said, “No, that can’t happen.”  But how did Jesus respond to Peter?  He said, “Get behind me, Satan!”  For it was for Peter’s own benefit that Jesus suffered.  It was also for our own benefit that Jesus suffered.

So, rejoice in suffering.  Rejoice in your suffering.  Rejoice in Jesus’ suffering.  But also rejoice when a Christian you love has to suffer.  For most of us, that’s the hardest of all to take, especially when it’s your husband or wife who’s suffering.

We understand how Peter felt.  Several of you have watched someone you love in pain.  You’ve said, “I would give anything if I could be suffering instead of him.”  But our gracious God has laid a cross on that person you love for a reason.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me; whoever loses his life for me and the Gospel will save it.”

Our crosses and our salvation are linked, for these crosses teach us to hold on to our salvation for dear life.  When God lays them on us, those crosses are for our benefit, whether it’s you or someone you love who is carrying that cross.  Although you may not understand it all now, in eternity, it will all be clear.

So, when you see those whom you love carrying their crosses, cry out to God for them.  Pray day and night for them, but don’t stop there.  Assure them also of our Lord’s promises.  Point them to the Last Day, when Christ will raise the dead, and we will spend eternity in a new heaven and a new earth.  But don’t try to remove the crosses that God has given them for their eternal well-being.

Now that doesn’t mean that you don’t take someone to the doctor if he’s ill.  For the Old Testament book of Sirach tells us, “Honor the physician according to your need of him … The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them” (Sirach 38:1,4).  What it does mean is that we recognize that God allows, and even brings about, suffering in our lives for our eternal benefit.  That’s why we can rejoice in our suffering.

When you try to take away someone’s suffering that is for his eternal benefit, he should say to you, “Get behind me, Satan.  God gave me that cross.”  And if someone tries to remove a cross that God has given you, if he says that it’s unfair for you to suffer, say, “Get behind me, Satan.  My Lord gave me this cross.”

Today, we live in an age where many see comfort and wealth as a reward from God for being faithful.  When you think like that, suffering then only becomes a curse, not a blessing.  But Scripture unabashedly says that we are to rejoice in our suffering.

But how can you be sure that when you suffer it’s a blessing from God and not a curse?  Look at what God did through Jesus’ suffering.  “While we were still weak, at just the right time Christ died for the ungodly”–which is to say, Christ died for us.

For whom would you be willing to die?  Perhaps, you would die for a friend.  But would you die for an enemy?  I doubt it.  But your Lord did.  He died for us when we were still at war with Him.  “God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

“While we were still his enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”  That shows that God loves you.  That’s why “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  That means God wasn’t counting your sins against you, because He counted them against Jesus.

Your life as a Christian may be hard.  People may look down on you or ridicule you when you do what is right.  You may have to sacrifice when you stand up to be faithful.  People may even hate you.  But whatever crosses you must bear, you know the Person who matters in the end is the one who loves you.  You know it’s true, because from the depth of God’s love, He gave His own Son for you.

Since God has made you righteous, you are at peace with Him, not at war.  That’s why you can rejoice in your suffering, for God is using such suffering for your eternal well-being.  And despite such suffering, you can still know that God loves you.  Suffering doesn’t change that.  After all, God used nothing less than Jesus’ own suffering to reunite you to Him.  That’s why you are righteous in His sight!  Amen.