Connecting With Jesus
March 30, 2018
Verse: Philippians 1:29
Christ Lutheran Church
March 30, 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Connecting With Jesus
For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ, not only that you should believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake. Philippians 1:29
The goal of Good Friday worship is to better understand, and at some level to connect with, the sufferings of Christ. And so we recite the events, and even get emotional about them, as we consider the cosmic transaction that occurred that Good Day.
Speaking of the Lord’s death Isaiah the prophet says, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we considered him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:3-7)
Yes, it’s hard not to get emotional about it when we ponder the great love wherewith he loved us. But emotion is not enough. Like marriage, it’s one thing to put on an unforgettable event; but quite another to live out our vows day after day, year after year never wavering, never quitting, and never giving up. And that is what St. Paul teaches us when he writes: “For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ, not only that you should believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.”
Tonight let’s learn what that means, but first let us first learn what it doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean to inflict needless pain on yourself.
When our father in the faith, Martin Luther, was a young monk he would deny himself food and drink to the point of making himself sick. That’s wrong.
In more recent times some Christians have consented to having themselves nailed to a cross for three hours on Good Friday so that they might better understand what Christ suffered for them. That is wrong.
And locally a group of clergy made a pact that during the 40 days of Lent they would get up each day at 4 AM, take a cold shower, followed by a set time of prayer, and engage in a regimen of severe fasting for the rest of the day.
In the words of the mature Luther, such practices might be "fine outward training,” but they don’t make us worthy of God. But faith in the cross of Christ, does.
That said we still must learn to suffer with Christ and for Christ. “For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ, not only that you should believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.”
The Philippians, to whom Paul addressed this letter, were being persecuted for their faith. They were ridiculed, fined, tortured, jailed, and more than a few put to death for the name of Christ, but they continued steadfast in the faith.
The same thing is happening today in the Middle East where Assyrian Christians suffer at the hands of Muslims. Their sanctuaries are destroyed. Their life, liberty and property are stripped away for the sake of worshiping Christ. But they continue steadfast in the faith.
Today in America Christians are maliciously ridiculed for their faith. It is fashionable – even required – in entertainment, public policy, and especially on college campuses to disparage Christian faith, suppress Christian thought, and scorn Christian beliefs.
Our faith, to say nothing of our morality, is no longer welcome in the public square while Islamophilia, and heterophobia are welcomed with open arms. So that if you make no secret of your faith you will be “unfriended” by all; and like the Suffering Servant you, too, will be “despised and rejected of men.” And that is very hard to take because we love to be loved! O how we love to be loved, worshiped and praised by men.
Will it escalate to the point of civil punishment? Probably. And if it does we will be given the grace to bear up under it, but at the moment there is something more pressing.
We must not only be willing to die for Christ, but to live for Christ. In the words of St. Paul, “For me to live is Christ.” And so let us learn the lesson of the cross tonight: to deny ourselves, take up our own cross, and follow Jesus to Golgotha each day.
To suffer for Christ means to deny ourselves the pleasures of sin. The chief sin today is the sin of self-absorption; where everyone is entitled to live in his own, little, perfect world where there are no guns, no opposing views, and where nothing bad ever happens.
A world where we are meant to feel good, be happy, and only do things that are fun, interesting or exciting. That’s Page One of culture’s catechism – but Christians must not succumb. “For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ, not only that you should believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.”
To suffer for Christ means to reject the religion of culture and take up our Christian duties day by day. It means to dismantle our fortresses, open our hearts, swallow our pride and forgive other people the sins they perpetrate against us; and to seek their forgiveness for our trespasses against them.
It feels, for all the world, like being attached to a cross with iron hammer and crude nails. But that is what Jesus did, and that is what St. Paul teaches us to do.
To live for Christ means to accept the heart break, hardships, and injustices of life with equanimity and great faith. To understand them not as punishment for our sins – however richly we deserve it – but as discipline sent by God to test our faith, make us strong, and to turn our affections away from the things that are transient, to the things that are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18).
These are some of the ways that we suffer for Christ. But we don’t do it because we love to suffer, or to merit God’s favor. We have that! It is the gift of the cross! But we suffer with him, so that we might be glorified with him. That’s what St. Paul says in Romans 8:17ff. That we are “children of God, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
And glorified with him we are!
But not only do our struggles end in glory, but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ sanctifies and dignifies all the things that we must endure in this life: weakness, weariness, illness, pain, loss, disappointment, failure, frustration, and finally mortality. Like Jesus we, too, are meant to suffer and die. It has been “granted” to us in baptism. This is the lesson we learn on Good Friday. Amen.