Blog / Book of the Month / Christian Suffering, Endurance, Character and Hope / Romans 5:1–8 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 12th 2023 / Season of Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Christian Suffering, Endurance, Character and Hope / Romans 5:1–8 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 12th 2023 / Season of Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Christian Suffering, Endurance, Character and Hope / Romans 5:1–8 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 12th 2023 / Season of Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 12th 2023: Season of Lent / Romans 5:1–8 "Christian Suffering, Endurance, Character and Hope"

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. When we read novels, or attend the theatre or watch TV shows or movies, or even maybe play video games the best characters are the ones that have what is called a “character arc,” they go through the beginning and middle of their story and when they arrive finally at the end they have experienced some kind of transformation physical, mental, spiritual maybe a combination of these things, maybe all of them together, they have grown, they have overcome, they are not who they were when they started out. If you read a novel, or go to the theatre or watch a TV show or movie, or even play a video game and the main character is the same at the end as they were at the beginning, without any change at any point along the way, this would be unsatisfying and boring. We want to see them struggle through adversity, figure things out, overcome challenging situations and gain competencies and skills; we want excitement and drama and heroics in the face of hardships and troubles, and then we want to close the book, turn off the TV, walk out of the theatre, power down the game and go back to our quiet life, a life where there isn’t much hardship or struggle, we want to have a life free of suffering, trouble and anxiety. A lot of people would prefer a life without the scares, the calluses and the pain that come with hardship and suffering through adversity.  Is that what you want to have? That is not what Saint Paul describes as the Christian life in our reading from Romans today.     

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Notice that here, and through this whole passage from Romans, Paul never says that the things we suffer are good, only that we are to endure them and then when we have endured them we will have character, character that produces hope in the face of suffering. This is reminiscent of that other bit of Romans where Saint Paul writes, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”[1] All things, all things would include our sufferings which we are encouraged to endure in our faith; building up our character, character that as a result produces hope and that is a good thing in The End. This is why Paul says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”[2] There’s it is again, suffering, endurance and in the end hope, hope of being set free, a hope in Christ for a final time of rest and restoration on The Last Day.[3]

Paul starts out our epistle reading today saying, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Facing suffering and trouble and anxiety without faith in Christ, without hope in the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus, which have been likewise made available to us in Him, is a daunting and dismal affair. Dear ones the Holy Spirit has called and gathered you into the church as He does with all Christians,[4] He delivers to you faith in Christ as a gift and this is what validates you before God and with that justification sorted out in your life you can then face the sufferings that beset you at this very moment, or will yet come before you on your path through this life, or the ones that have gripped you for so many long years along the way perhaps right up to this day.

Jesus in the Gospel of John says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; [Jesus says] I have overcome the world.”[5] As Christians we will not have peace with the World but what does Saint Paul say, as Christians resting in the faith given to us “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What can we say about this peace? First Jesus says that His peace is not like the peace of the World, Christ Jesus declares to His disciples and to you, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”[6] The peace of Christ then stands firm on the “relationship we have “toward” or “with God.” [This is why Saint Paul, leading up to our Epistle reading today in Romans, makes it] abundantly clear that the establishment of this relationship did not come about in any way from us to God, even for [people who are highly regarded in Scripture like] Abraham. This point is emphatically reaffirmed here [in our Epistle reading by Paul,] instead our relationship of peace with God is [set in motion] solely by [God the Father] declaring us righteous … “through [His Son] our Lord Jesus Christ.”[7]   

Now what benefit would it be to have a thing, like ‘peace with God’ and not know that you have it? For example having a snow shovel is great, without a shovel removing deep thick snow from your sidewalk or driveway is impossible. Of course, having a shovel but forgetting that you have a shovel, doesn’t mean the shovel doesn’t exist, it just means you aren’t even going to go looking for it and you certainly won’t be clearing any snow with it. It’s still there—it’s yours—you just aren’t enjoying any of the benefits of it being yours. If then the shovel is tucked away and you have forgotten that you have one you may look out the window at the snow of your suffering and sigh, a great big sigh, and think ‘how ever will I shovel all this snow of my suffering away?’ When you are snowed in with suffering, do not forget that you do in fact actually have peace with God even in the midst of your suffering, even in the midst of your troubles or anxieties. Furthermore that “shovel” of peace, if you will, is truly a gift given to you by Christ and this is a peace unlike the counterfeit “peace” that the World provides, the worldly sort of “peace” that fails to provide lasting hope, a phony ‘peace’ that is here today and gone tomorrow: rather this peace that Jesus gives is “not a subjective feeling of peace (though [such feelings] may indeed result),” but much more profoundly “[this Peace of Christ Jesus is the] objective state of being at peace instead of being enemies.”[8] Therefore, as Christians, who have this sort of relationship of peace with God, when we are faced with sufferings that we cannot easily avoid, and or when our sufferings are not trivial or manageable but are rather truly challenging and crushing, when they are like that, then we are called to stand firm in that peace and endure such sufferings because in so doing we develop character and that character, by the grace of God, produces hope. Hope in the promises of God.

Some of you might be saying, ‘Pastor I don’t want any more suffering, I think I am enough of a character already, and I already have hope in my eternal life in Christ, besides I thought, “God never gives anyone more than they can handle,”’ that’s basically a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13 where Paul says,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability …”

Notice this isn’t talking about suffering per se this is talking about temptations, ‘but pastor when I’m suffering I’m often tempted into sin’ yes this is true that is why I want you to remember that this paraphrase that people console themselves with, “God never gives anyone more than they can handle,” is only half of what the Bible teaches, if you only go so far as “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability” you may end up thinking to yourself, ‘well I guess then I can tackle anything by my own resourcefulness,’ but then you’d miss what comes next, stopping short of what Paul actually teaches, when the passage continues saying,

“… but [alongside that] temptation [God] will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”[9]

Now let’s apply this to the biggest thing that must be endured, which often involves much suffering that would be death. Death must be faced because “the wages of sin is death,” and because of sin you face death, yet Scripture also teaches that even though the wages of sin is death “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[10] This is hopeful Good News for us, but how is it possible? Well think on this, God provides the way of escape, that you may be able to endure the temptations and sufferings before you. The way of escape when it comes to death is simply never to sin, don’t be born with sin and then through all suffering and every temptation that saddles up alongside of such suffering to just not sin, rather to instead endure every temptation that accompanies suffering and overcome them without failure in any way. That’s the rout of escape from death.

As you might imagine this will certainly produces character in the one who accomplishes this, and that character will certainly produces hope in the providence and promises of God the Father? Are you the hero who is able to do endure every temptation that comes with all the hardships, troubles and sufferings of life without sinning, is this you, without sinning even once? God will not force someone to take the way of escape He provides but He will always provide it, so then the question is this ‘has there ever been one able to do this? One who perfectly took the way of escape provided by God the Father, every single time?’ The answer is yes, and that person is Jesus.

A couple weeks ago I talked about Jesus’ enduring His time of temptation in the wilderness, where He suffered extreme hunger after forty days and forty nights in the wilderness and the experienced the assaults of the devil and the devil’s temptations,[11] as we come to Holy Week we will see Jesus face numerous hardships and sufferings as He draws ever closer to His cross and crucifixion. Here’s an example of a way of escape provided by Jesus’ heavenly Father while Jesus endured the suffering of His crucifixion: if a person innocent of any wrongdoing is beaten to within an inch of their life, publicly humiliated, forced to march to the place of their death, stripped naked and slowly executed, surrounded by a crowd of people happy to watch them die they may be tempted, in their suffering, to curse the people who have done this to them, but Jesus at the cross with His own blood trickling into His eyes looks out at them and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[12] The way of escape is the option to forgive, to not hold a grudge, to not spitefully hold bitterness for what is sinfully being done you against the ones who are doing it to you. Here Jesus takes the way of escape, avoiding sin by forgiving His enemies. In that circumstance another temptation in the face of such suffering might be to curse God saying, ‘why would God allow such a thing to happen?’ but what does Jesus do? Even though His was in physical, mental and spiritual anguish Jesus with His dying breath trusts His heavenly Father calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!”[13] The way of escape here was to be faithful to God the Father and not curse Him. Here we again see Jesus taking the vary way of escape provided by His Father even under extreme conditions.

Here’s one that might seem a bit trickier: At the cross, before His death, after Jesus had already been suffering, and was already near death, the soldiers who were crucifying Him “offered [Jesus] wine to drink, mixed with gall,” this would have dulled everything and hastened His death in the same sort of vain as the current medical assistance in dying that might be offered to a person today, “but when [Jesus] tasted it, He would not drink it.”[14] He refused that counterfeit ‘way of escape’ that was provided to Him by the World as a ‘mercy’ and chose instead to endure the suffering set before Him[15] trusting instead His heavenly Father. Here we see the way of escape is to trust, as Jesus did in His heavenly Father for Himself and for you, to trust in the one, of whom Psalm 139 teaches:

         “Your eyes saw my unformed substance;

         in Your book were written, every one of them,

                 the days that were formed for me,

                 when as yet there was none of them.”[16]

Basically God knows my days even the day and the very hour and minuet down to the second that He appoints for my death, not necessarily the day or the hour or the minute down to the second that I might be tempted to choose to die or the time others might desire for my death. Jesus here at the cross is shown trusting in the one who Job confesses of when he says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”[17] Jesus trusted the way of escape provided by His Father, Jesus trusted that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life[18] and that His heavenly Father would raise Him from the dead,[19] that Jesus Himself, because He was without sin, could both lay down His life and take it up again even in the face of death.[20] Here you see the way of escape is to “fear, love and trust in God above all things.”[21]  

While a God pleasing way of escape, in whatever circumstance you find yourself in, is provided by God, we in our suffering are routinely tempted by Sin, Death, the Devil and the World to give up, to not endure, to be of weak character,[22] to set aside the hope we have available to us. We are tempted to forget the peace we have with God in Christ. So dear ones in the face of suffering: Don’t give up, don’t throw in the towel, and don’t go it alone: look to Christ Jesus see in Him one who endured suffering, who for your sake looked to His heavenly Father for help, who for your sake and your salvation hoped in His heavenly Father without fail.[23] In this Jesus you have forgiveness for the times you have not rejoiced in your sufferings, for the times you failed to endure, for the times you counted character as an unworthy achievement, for the times you’ve counted the Christian hope of eternal life in Christ as foolishness.

Your suffering will certainly not be as severe as Jesus’ suffering, and yet you’re called to endure it when it comes. Remember God the Father in Christ Jesus has given you your fellow Christians here to lean on, to receive help from, to help carry you in your time of need. And if you are able and you see someone suffering you then can reach out and provide the help they need. Together we are called to rejoice in our sufferings and it is much easier to do that together than it is to do this alone, and even if you feel desperately alone remember like Christ Jesus at the cross you are not truly alone, even in the most desperate hour you belong to Jesus, along with the heavenly Father He so perfectly trusted and with the Holy Spirit the comforter.

We don’t know how our life will unfold, we don’t know what adventures lay ahead of us, we don’t know what sufferings we will endure and we don’t know how the end of this life will come to us, and while our life may not be as dramatic and exciting as something we read in a fictional novel or see in a play or TV show or movie or in a video game we can trust that our hope is true, and this Christian hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who, Saint Paul teaches “has been given to us.” And thankfully God did this while we were still weak, when we were still sinners; Giving us His faithful Son Christ Jesus to rescue us at just the right time. Amen.    

Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen

[1] Romans 8:28
[2] Romans 8:18–21
[3] Revelation 21
[4] Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Page 17.
[5] John 16:33
[6] John 14:27
[7] Michael P. Middendorf, Romans 1-8 Concordia Commentary, Concordia Publishing House 2013, Page 391.
[8] Ibid, Page 390.
[9] 1 Corinthians 10:13
[10] Romans 6:23
[11] “You Don’t Need What The Devil’s Selling” Sermon on Matthew 4:1–11 from February 26th.
[12] Luke 23:34
[13] Luke 23:46
[14] Matthew 27:34
[15] Hebrews 12:2
[16] Psalm 139:16
[17] Job 1:21
[18] Third Article from The Nicene Creed, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Page 191.
[19] 1 Peter 1:21; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 1:1
[20] John 2:19-22; John 10:17-18
[21] Explanation of First Commandment from The Ten Commandments, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Page 13.
[22] Matthew 26:40-43
[23] Read and consider Psalm 22, not just the first verses but the whole Psalm. The first lines of the Psalm indicate to the hearer of Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 that Jesus was praying the whole Psalm during His crucifixion. This Psalm at verse 22 has a hard shift from describing the crucifixion to looking past death to Jesus’ resurrection and life risen from the dead. This then shows Jesus’ trust in His heavenly Father to be rescued from death. Here's a Sermon on Psalm 22: "David And The Crucified."  

Photo Credit: Main Photo detail of hands in prayer from rawpixel; detail of woman reading book from pexels; detail of stained glass window of Jesus with His disciples from picryl; detail of red snow shovel from pexels; detail of faithful dog with snow shovel from pixabay; detail of gravestones in cemetery from pexels; detail of stained glass window of Jesus tempted by the devil from flickr; detail of painting of Jesus led to His crucifixion from rawpixel; detail of mediaeval illustration of Jesus crucified from rawpixe; detail of photo of carving of Jesus crucified from pixabay; detail of painting of Christ crucified comforting a Christian knight from rawpixel.