Dean's List: Your Suffering God

By Aaron T. Fenker

It's not "if." It's "when." You will experience suffering. Now I'm not talking about persecution here, where you suffer because of the Gospel and your faith in Jesus. That's a whole different article! No, this is suffering that we will all experience at some point because of sin. The ultimate and final expression of this suffering is death, but it's everything that leads up to that, too--sickness, cancer, tragedy, old age. Eventually you'll die, but before that comes the dying. True suffering.

There's sadness there, worry, even fear, and maybe some anger, too. There's nothing great about it. It's terrible, horrible, tragic. Every suffering, every death. Each person who goes through dying, death, and the grave is one too many. We realize this when it's happened to those we know or love. We'll realize it, too, when you or I go through it. Remember, not "if," but "when." So, then what?

The Lord hates death. He hates what death does to the person who's died, and He hates what that person's death does to the people they knew or loved. What's Jesus’ reaction to the death of His friend Lazarus, when He was at the graveside, surrounded by weeping Mary and Martha, with a crowd of mourners? "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Then He destroys death: "Lazarus, come out" (John 11:43). But Jesus doesn't just deal with death from the outside, like a doctor who heals his patients, though Jesus is the Great Physician. No, Jesus gets His hands dirty.

Jesus suffered FOR YOU.

"Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him" (1 Peter 3:18-22).

The Lord isn't absent from your suffering. He's not unaware, oblivious, ignorant. He suffered for your sins. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). But He also "took our illnesses and bore our diseases" (Matthew 8:17). "By His wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). You have a suffering God. He suffers in the way you and I do. Our lives end in death, and before that we go through the process of dying. So did Jesus. When you're surrounded by darkness, you have the God who went through darkness. "Darkness covered the whole land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour" (Matthew 27:45). When you're wasting away, you have the Jesus who wasted away at Calvary: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue sticks to my jaws" (Psalm 22:15). When you feel all alone, you have the abandoned Son: "My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?" (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1)

In fact, you are never alone. "I will never leave you or abandon you" (Joshua 1:5). That's His baptismal promise to you. Jesus promises, "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to cherish all I have commanded you, and I am with you always until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). He gives you of His life and strength in the Supper of His Body and Blood, the actual Body and Blood that He gave and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins. Through this Body and Blood Jesus remains with you and you with Him, and He will resurrect you on the Last Day (John 6:44). He will strengthen you in faith toward God and sincere love for each other.

You can't be lost in the darkness. Nothing will be able to cover you up so that Jesus can't find you. As David praised Him, "Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you" (Psalm 139:1). "In the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea...And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ’Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid'" (Matthew 14:25, 27).

Jesus also promises, "I give My sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). "I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:6). "He showed them His hands and His side" (John 20:20). "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see" (Luke 24:39). "I have called you by name. You are mine" (Isaiah 43:1). "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27).
"Christ goes with us all the way--Today, tomorrow, ev'ry day! His love is never ending!" (LSB 395:5) When you go through suffering, Jesus suffered. When you feel alone, Jesus was alone. When you go through dying, death, and grave, Jesus did, too. He went through what you go through so that you would go through what He went through. He went from Cross to death, from death to grave, and from the grave He came back to life! You will, too. He will bring your body back from the dead. Cancer, sickness, death can't stop Jesus from saving you. He rules the universe now, "all authority in heaven and earth have been given to Me" (Matthew 28:18), "angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him" (1 Peter 3:22). Now He rules the universe and history to save you. He moved history just the way He did so that you would be baptized. He certainly rules it now for your good, too. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Jesus literally went through hell and back for you. He's not going to leave you now. He will never, ever do that. He loves you. He cares for you. He's your Suffering Savior, your Darkness Deity, your Graveside God. He'll carry you through. That's His empty-tomb promise that He made to you at your Baptism. Now nothing can separate you from Him, nothing can separate you from your heavenly Father. You're baptized! Jesus isn't just Immanuel, "God with us." He's Immadiel, "God with you," so that you would be with Him.

If you've got a beef with Him or His Father, pray about it. You can be honest with Him about it (He already knows anyway). But no matter what, Christ's tomb is empty--He rose! You'll rise from suffering, death, and grave, too. That's what His empty tomb and the baptismal font say about you. No matter what, "He's by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict'ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth" (LSB 656:4).

"And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). He "will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and  the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken" (Isaiah 25:8).

Rev. Aaron T. Fenker serves as pastor of Bethlehem and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Bremen, Kansas. He is also the dean of theology at Higher Things. 

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