(I gave this talk one Sunday when the preacher brought a sermon on Job’s suffering.)
Each week we remember Jesus’ suffering by eating a piece of bread which recalls to mind His body on the cross, and drinking a cup of juice which reminds us of His shed blood. When we do this we remember that He went through the agony of the crucifixion for us. It was our sin and wrongdoing that put Him there. It was His death which made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.
But today I want to look at things from a different perspective. Instead of considering Christ’s death from the point of view that it was our sin which put Him on the cross, let’s look at it from the standpoint of His innocence. He suffered even though He had done nothing wrong. Sinlessness did not keep Him from suffering. There’s a lesson it that which we need to remember
There is something in the makeup of most human beings to assume that trouble is always the result or consequence of wrongdoing. When someone suffers an illness, a heartache, or some other kind of trouble or catastrophe we are tempted to ask what they did to deserve it. “If they hadn’t done something wrong,” we say, “they wouldn’t be in this fix!”
Conversely, when things go well – particularly when we come through a situation which had the potential to harm us, we have a saying, “Well, I must have been living right!”
In reality, however, there is no direct relationship between suffering and unrighteousness. Scripture tells us repeatedly that Jesus was sinless. He did no wrong at all, yet He suffered horribly. The Roman governor, Pilate, admitted time after time that Jesus was innocent, but he executed Him anyway.
The Lord’s Supper which we eat each week reminds us that if we suffer, it does not necessarily mean that we’ve done anything wrong. We may be suffering because we are innocent! Living for Christ and doing what is right may be the very things which bring trouble on our heads. “In fact,” Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (NIV)
As Paul reminds us, we are not immune from suffering just because we are Christians. When trouble comes, we should not be surprised or shocked. Yes, we should take the opportunity to ask why we’re suffering. Eating the bread and drinking the juice gives us an opportunity for introspection. We should examine ourselves. If our suffering is a result of our own sin or wrongdoing, we need to confess it and repent. But on the other hand, we should not automatically assume that we have done something wrong because we are suffering. The bread and juice are also a reminder that the innocent suffer, too.
This ritual we take part in each week reminds us of another truth as well: Suffering is not the whole story. Jesus not only suffered and died, He also rose and was glorified. In fact Jesus’ suffering was a precondition for His being glorified. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that it was because of Jesus’ obedience in going to the cross that God exalted Him to the highest place.
Since this is so, the bread and juice are not only a reminder, they are a promise. We may not always know why we have to suffer, but by remembering what Christ went through, we can look forward to the glory that we will one day receive because we belong to Him.
Peter writes, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:12-17 NIV)
Today as we take the emblems, lets look beyond the suffering they remind us of to the glory that they imply will one day be ours.