This first Sunday in Lent, we focus on the brokenness and suffering towards which these 40 days are journeying. As I read the 3 readings set for this Sunday, please listen for the brokenness and suffering they contain and especially let these words remind you of your own brokenness and suffering……and be encouraged to bring your brokenness and suffering to the Cross of Christ.
Brokenness and suffering, some of it completely undeserved, some of it (in Peter’s case) deserved – he deserved the rebuke of the Lord. Some of our brokenness and suffering is deserved……some is undeserved……the invitation of grace is to bring all our brokenness and suffering to the Christ who suffered and was broken.
Jesus introduces His Kingdom towards the end of His Ministry as a kingdom which is inaugurated,.... which comes, ......through suffering, brokenness, rejection..... and to His first followers this is so shocking as to be incomprehensible. The Kingdom of God in our midst, turns everything upside down, we've seen that as we've looked at the parables the last few weeks.
And now Jesus tells His Disciples that this long awaited kingdom can only be launched through His death, and again, His first followers were completely unprepared for that, and indeed, they refused to allow it:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Suffering lies at the heart of the Gospel……and at the heart of what it means to be Christian. It shouldn’t surprise us – though many are surprised to hear this – that the early Christians understood their calling as Jesus' followers to include, as a central element, their own suffering, misunderstanding and likely death! It isn’t just that as followers of a misunderstood Messiah, they themselves would naturally expect misunderstanding and persecution (although this true) but it is rather that the suffering of Jesus followers is, like Jesus’ own suffering, the way by which God’s purpose is achieved.
To put it another way, suffering is not just sometimes a consequence of being a Christian, it is actually the WAY through which God brings TRUTH and LIFE. This is true of deserved and undeserved suffering – God can use it.
When Jesus tells His followers to pick up their cross and follow Him, we see a line straight through the New Testament to the theme of suffering and martyrdom. Listen:
We don’t like this message, but it is the message of the whole of the New Testament: our suffering somehow has the positive effect of carrying forward the redemptive effect of Jesus’ own death, not by adding to it, but by sharing in it.
Jesus has chosen His followers as those who share His work of bringing His Kingdom – that’s why He sent out the 12, then the 70, then all those who came and come to believe. But if we are to bring His Kingdom in His way, we will be people who share His suffering and who always see our suffering as an opportunity for God’s Kingdom to come.
We are to be suffering Kingdom-bringers, suffering Kingdom-sharers. Sharing His suffering is the way in which we extend His Kingdom on earth……it remains the way His Kingdom comes.
Now, a closing word to those of us who suffer because of our own serious mistakes.....what some would call "deserved suffering". We live in a world which loves to put a mark on us, to try and identify us forever, by mistakes we might have made. I’ve seen that mark on all kinds of people: unmarried moms, divorcees, ex-church members, people who've had abortions, married people who have had affairs, people who've made serious mistakes with their children, and countless others, like this preacher, who have made serious mistakes. There is too little around to help people who suffer in this way. Where do you turn to when you live with someone who says, or who you know is thinking, "you should never have done that"....it can break us. We need a theology of brokenness, a theology which teaches us that even though we cannot unscramble an egg, God’s grace and ability to use our mistakes and our “deserved” suffering, the suffering we bring on ourselves, let’s us live happily and even with renewed innocence far beyond any egg we may have scrambled.
So……the amount of suffering (“deserved” and “undeserved”) in this sanctuary……is HUGE.
But please hear this: The amount of grace (from God) in this sanctuary……is HUGER.
Bring your suffering, your pain, your brokenness to the Cross and know this……in the great mystery which is our God and His grace……He can and probably already is using it so that His Kingdom may come. Be encouraged, suffering Kingdom-bringers, suffering Kingdom-sharers.
Tom Wright's How God became King has been an invaluable resource
and inspiration regarding the call to be
Suffering Kingdom-bringers, Suffering Kingdom-sharers.
Buy it here