Suffering teaches us 1 powerful lesson about King Jesus!

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re going to see a passage of scripture today that describes in vivid detail some intense suffering. So really, we’re going to talk about suffering today, not the topic that everybody wants to hear on a Sunday morning, but this is just where we are in the Bible.

We’re studying through the book of John, and we’re in chapter 11 today. I want you to know something about suffering right out of the gate. You see, suffering is the great equalizer in human history.

Listen to me; you can’t make enough money that you can buy your way out of problems, and you can’t live a life where you’re never going to have to experience suffering. No human being will ever amass that kind of money.

You can’t be strong enough. The world’s strongest man can’t avoid it.

You can’t be fast enough Hussein bolt, can’t outrun it.

You can’t be powerful enough. The most powerful leader on the planet cannot escape suffering.

I’m trying to describe for you today that suffering is part of this universal human experience because we live in a broken, sinful world. So all of us are either going through it right now, just came out of some suffering, or God forbid you’re going to go through some suffering in the future, and it never ceases to amaze me how many people are unprepared when suffering comes.

I want to blame this on those prosperity gospel preachers. I like to call them false prophets who teach you that bad things won’t happen to you if you pray hard enough. I really want to slap those guys on the side of the head because there is no biblical evidence for that.

But the truth is when I look at my own life and see how some Christians respond to suffering, it usually goes down one of two ways, suffering is so difficult, and they are so unprepared for it.

It shipwrecks their faith, and their faith is never the same again because they went through something they weren’t ready for. But not everybody goes through that kind of suffering, throws their hands up, and walks away from the faith.

Some people go through that kind of suffering, and their faith comes out much stronger in the end. It seems like you have these two extremes. It’s either shipwrecking people’s faith or strengthening their faith. And I really believe that if you’re going to be prepared for suffering, my responsibility as a pastor is to prepare you for the moment that suffering comes. You’re going to be prepared for suffering.

When you wrap up this sermon, I want you to be absolutely convinced that this suffering teaches us one thing I know I wrote the number and not the word on purpose.

Suffering teaches us 1 powerful lesson about King Jesus!

Suffering teaches us one powerful lesson about King Jesus that I’m convinced you can’t learn any other way. We, mere mortals on planet earth, will have to learn this lesson through suffering. And, I wish we could, but I don’t believe we’re going to learn this lesson any other way than through suffering.

Jesus comes near in suffering

Have I got your attention? Do you want to know what that lesson is? We’re going to pick up in the Bible in John chapter 11. If you were with us last week, Pastor Troy started the discussion about this family. Two ladies and a brother, Mary, Martha, and a brother by the name of Lazarus.

Lazarus gets sick, Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus because they’re all really tight with Jesus, and they say, hey Lazarus is sick and Jesus, I don’t know what you’re doing, but you need to stop, and you need to come immediately because he is sick. Like on his death bed sick and Jesus intentionally drags his feet and doesn’t show up for four days when he shows up, Lazarus is already dead, and these ladies are distraught, and they are going to learn something about Jesus.

They would not understand any other way, then accept this painful moment where they wanted Jesus to show up and to heal their brother, he did not show up, and he did not heal them.

Let me tell you what the Bible says for us in John Chapter 11, starting in verse 28, Having said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” I have to stop for just a second because if you were with us last week, you’re saying to yourself right now, hold on, Jeff, you just missed a huge part of scripture, yep, going to cover that at the end. I skipped over it on purpose. And if you were with us last week and it felt like Pastor Troy just left you hanging right in the middle of the sermon, right in the middle of the story like a cliffhanger, I did that to you on purpose.

I asked him not to tell you the whole story because I want you to see the second half of the story, Mary and Martha is suffering over the loss of their brother, Lazarus, and they are about to blame Jesus for this.

As soon as Mary heard that Jesus had come, she got up quickly, and she went to him; Jesus had not yet come into the village, but he was still in the place where Martha had met him, the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw that Mary got up quickly and went out.

They followed her, supposing she would go to the tomb to cry there. As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet. I need to tell you; this is not falling at his feet in worship. This is falling at Jesus’ feet, absolutely broken and in distress.

She fell at his feet and told him, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, and when Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who came with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.

Jesus snorted. That is the exact description of what is happening here when he sees this pain and suffering around him. So Jesus asks, where have you put him? And he said, Lord, they told him, come and see.

Then the Bible describes the Son of God who is broken and hurting because the people around him are broken and hurting when the Bible tells us that Jesus wept. And so the Jews said, see how Jesus loved Lazarus, but some of them said couldn’t he, who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?

Look, the people in the crowds are convinced that Jesus is a healer. His disciples are convinced that Jesus is a healer. Mary and Martha are convinced that Jesus can heal. And the thing that’s convincing them is what we just read a couple of chapters ago in John chapter nine. A guy who was born blind has been healed and given his sight back. If Jesus can heal a man and give him sight back, certainly he can fix somebody who has a disease.

Everyone around him believes that Jesus has the power at this point to heal somebody who is suffering and has a disease. But I am convinced nobody understands who is really standing in their midst, not even Mary and Martha, until we get to the end of this story from John Chapter 11.

Jesus shows up, and there is nothing but sickness, suffering, and sadness. And what the crowd is saying is, I do not understand why Jesus wouldn’t have shown up earlier and stopped his good friend from dying. He has the power to heal somebody from disease.

The Bible is just showing us another vivid example, this sensical world that we live in. Listen, ever since Genesis chapter three. Since our first father committed the first sin, this world has been spinning out of control. There is sickness, and there is a disease, there is suffering all around us.

Sometimes that suffering is self-inflicted, but every time suffering is sin inflicted, meaning, you live in a sick world, and this world is going to throw hard times your way, and maybe you didn’t do anything wrong, and you don’t deserve it. That’s just because we live on a broken planet. But sometimes, this sensical world results from our self-inflicted problems.

John 11: 28-37

Having said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” As soon as Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw that Mary got up quickly and went out. They followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there. As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked. “Lord,” they told him, “come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”

Like I want to tell the people that have been smoking cigarettes like 20 packs a day for 50 years, don’t get mad at God when you get lung cancer, it’s not his fault that you got lung cancer, that one’s kind of on you. And this passage reminds me of my second favorite quote of all time.

You guys out there know that I’m a collector of quotes; I can’t really afford to collect anything else. So I collect great quotes. My favorite quote comes from a U. S. President when he was speaking in France more than 100 years ago when President Roosevelt gave this citizenship in a republic speech, and there’s a part of that speech that’s referred to as the man in the Arena quote.

My second favorite quote comes from a very famous actor, believe it or not, probably one of the most famous actors of all times. A guy named John Wayne talked about suffering when he spoke to a crowd of people one time. John Wayne made this brilliant theological statement. He said, this life is hard suffering, but it’s even harder if you’re stupid. That’s the famous quote, and sometimes the suffering you’re going through is entirely self-inflicted.

Every time we experience suffering, it is a sin inflicted, meaning Lazarus wouldn’t be dead right now if our first fathers, you and I, hadn’t sinned. Death is the just punishment for sin.

And Jesus took his sweet time and didn’t show up to heal him, and now Lazarus is dead, and Mary and Martha. These good friends of Jesus are broken over the suffering that they’re going through right now.

 

Jesus cares about your suffering

I need you to understand not only is Jesus near in the middle of suffering. “He cares.” Please don’t ever believe this lie that comes straight from hell, that when you’re going through hard times, it means that God doesn’t exist. Because if he existed, he would make all of the hard times go away. Please don’t ever believe this other lie that comes straight out of the pit of hell, that when you’re going through hard times, it means that God exists, but he doesn’t love you because if that lie were true when Jesus is going through the physical pain of the cross, it would simply say that God didn’t care about his son.

We live in this broken, sinful world, and suffering will happen. And when it does, I need you to know that Jesus is near to you right in the middle of that suffering, and just because you’re suffering, please don’t ever think to yourself, I guess God is mad at me. I guess God hates me. I guess Jesus doesn’t care about what I’m going through right now because I think that’s what was going through their minds when they were suffering.

Pick up where we left off in verse 38, then Jesus deeply moved again, he snorted again, so distraught, so disappointed, so frustrated at this sensical world, he’s deeply moved again. He came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it to cover the entrance of the cave, and Jesus says, remove the stone.

John 11: 38-42

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. “Remove the stone,” Jesus said. Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.”

Now Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, Lord, there’s already a stench because he’s been dead for four days. There are two things that I need you to understand. One, this is the hot desert, and there’s no ventilation. Can you imagine what it smells like in that cave right now? And Martha is getting a bit embarrassed. In fact, most bible scholars will tell you that she doesn’t want the stone to be removed because the smell would embarrass her and embarrass her family.

Just Jesus, just leave him alone because I’ll be embarrassed when people smell what comes out of that cave, and the fact that he has been dead four days in Jewish theology means the spirit has already left the body. No one, not God in heaven, can do anything about what happens next, Jesus, it’s too late. You waited one day too late. There’s nobody that can fix this now, Jesus.

Jesus says to the crowd, all of you roll that stone away, and Martha gets a bit embarrassed and says, Lord, there’s already a stench because he’s been dead four days and Jesus said to her, didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God.

So they removed the stone, and then Jesus raised his eyes, and he said, Father, I thank you that you heard me now. This is a prayer between Jesus and the father, but it’s a prayer out loud so that everybody around can hear this prayer, and in this prayer, now you know why Jesus delayed for four days. He heard about Lazarus being sick with plenty of time to get to him. And the Bible tells us that Jesus purposely waited four days.

Even his disciples were like Jesus, what’s going on. You need to see Lazarus. He waits four days, and now we know precisely why he waits four days. Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know you always listen to me. Still, because of the crowd standing here, I said this so that they may believe that you sent me; Jesus is about to do something so big, so bold that no one standing by can doubt who’s standing in their midst.

You and I will continue to experience this difficult sensical world until the creator of both cities, the heavenly city and the earthly city until he, comes back and fixes this mess in city number two that we live in.

For those of you who are wondering, does this church’s name refer to Columbus, Georgia, and Phoenix City, Alabama? Is that the 2 Cities? No, it relates to the city of God where we are supposed to be and this broken city of man, where we live right now until he comes back and fixes it.

You and I will go through pain and suffering like Martha and Mary, and that crowd around them, and Jesus goes through that pain right there with them, proving to you that he cares. I used the word near just a moment ago, and the truth is, I used that word improperly on purpose.

You see, I have read stories of hundreds of Christians that have gone through intense suffering. I’ve read the books, I’ve heard personal accounts of many, many Christians that go through this incredible hardship. I’ve heard dozens of sermons on this, and they all say the same thing when life was worst, Jesus was closest. That’s the moment where I felt him more than I’ve ever felt him before. And I’ve ever felt him since. It was when I was hurting the most.

And the truth is the word near it’s kind of not used appropriately here. It’s a lot like when you and I get up in the morning, and we say that the sun rises, but the sun doesn’t move because it’s stationary, and it’s the earth that’s moving. So while we’re here on this earth, it looks like the sun rises, but actually, the sun is in the same place all the time.

Have you made the connection, Christian? What I’m saying is it feels like God is a million miles away sometimes, but when you’re suffering, that’s the moment where you feel his presence. It’s not that he came closer. It’s not that he was farther away. It’s the moment where all of the other distractions, all of the other things that have your attention, they’re all burned away by suffering, and you are left with nothing but you and Jesus.

I can give you hundreds of examples of Christians who said, “in the moment of my worst suffering, Jesus was nearer to me than at any other time in my life,” and reminded me just how much he cares for me.

Jesus doesn’t waste your suffering

The sermon builds to this last point, and I want to camp on this for just a second because our God is so good. Our God is so big that he wouldn’t possibly waste the suffering that you’re going through when suffering happens, and it’s not like it’s out of God’s control and he’s forgotten what he’s supposed to be doing and not taking care of the world anymore.

When suffering happens, it’s God’s way of improving this one point, but I don’t think we could learn any other way. I script a huge point of scripture between Pastor Troy’s sermon last week and where I started today on purpose.

John 11: 43-44

After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.

Go back and hear this brief conversation between Martha and Jesus before Jesus gets there to the tomb before he tells people to roll the stone back before Jesus does what he does to end this story. If you were to go back in time with me just a couple of moments to John chapter 11 verse 21. Here’s the moment that Jesus shows up, then Martha said to Jesus Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.

Do you know what she’s saying right here? Jesus, I know you have power over sickness, yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give to you, your brother will rise again, Jesus told her, and Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Martha believes in eternal life. Martha just believes I’m never going to see my brother again because he’s dead and gone. I will see him one day in heaven. He is not coming back here.

Jesus is about to show something to her in the midst of intense suffering that I don’t think she would realize any other way. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life, the one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Jesus is referring to spiritual death right now. I have done away with spiritual death, and I’ll do away with physical death one day. Everyone who believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this? What you see in the Bible next is the clearest declaration of anybody in the Bible about who’s standing in front of them. Yes, Lord Martha told him, I believe you’re the messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.

She has no idea who’s standing in front of her at this point. All she believes is that God sent his son. He has the power over sickness. He could have healed my brother if he had shown up before my brother died, and I do believe Jesus that you’re the one who will raise people on the last day when people face suffering.

When Christians face suffering, it usually goes down one of two ways. It hurts so bad that they can’t stand the pain, and they run from it. Unfortunately, Jesus is right there in the middle of the pain. So guess what happens, church? If you run from suffering while you’re going through the pain, guess who else you’re running from? When you run away from the pain, you can say his name out loud. You’re running from Jesus when you run from suffering. And then some choose to accept the suffering as God’s way of getting your attention and maybe burning away some things in your life that don’t need to be there. And he redeems suffering and shows you something about him that I am convinced you cannot learn any other way.

Suppose we wouldn’t have got to this moment. In that case, I don’t think Mary and Martha or the crowd around them would have an idea of how powerful Jesus is until we get to the moment that he’s already dead. These women are broken because of the loss, and Jesus looks at the crowd, and he tells them, hey, I want you to roll that stone away.

Listen to how the story ends. Now to verse 43, after Jesus prayed, Father, I waited four days so that this crowd would know who’s standing in their midst, he shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus comes out.

Literally, what he said is come out here, Lazarus come to me, Lazarus and the dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth, and Jesus said to the crowd unwrap him and let them go.

If you’re reading the Bible, you should be able to shout out Hallelujah because of who’s standing in their midst. Jesus calls out to the dead, and the dead man comes back to him, Jesus calls the dead to him, and the dead comes to life and comes to Jesus.

I’m saying this to you because, for 2000 years, Jesus has been calling out to the dead men and women. Come out of that sin, come out of your sickness, come out of your self-worship. I want you to come to me, and dead men and women have been coming out of the grave.

They’re dead souls made alive and coming to him for 2000 years. Ever since this moment. This is the moment that Mary, Martha, and the crowd around them realize who’s standing in their midst. Yeah, Jesus, I know that you’re the son of God, I know that you’ve got the power to heal sickness, but I didn’t think you had the power to call the dead back to life. And only through this intense suffering are they able to see who Jesus really is.

I’ve been holding you on the edge of your seat if you’ve been following along with me on purpose because I’ve been trying to get you to wonder in the back of your mind, What’s this one thing, Jeff that suffering shows, but maybe I can’t realize any other way?

The one thing that suffering proves to you that I’m not sure mere mortals can learn any other way is that you’re not God. You’re laughing right now because intellectually and spiritually, all of us in this room, everybody who’s watching, says, I know I’m not God Jeff, I know I can’t call the dead back to life. I can’t do anything about tornadoes that just ravaged the state of Iowa. I can’t stop Russia from going to war in Ukraine.

Everybody knows that intellectually. I hope you didn’t miss what I was really trying to convince you; I’m not saying you’re not God of the universe. Suffering reminds Christians you’re not the God of your own life, and no human being in their right mind would willingly choose to go through the suffering that mary and Martha are going through. But suffering reminds us I’m not in control. I don’t call the shots. I would never willingly go through what these ladies are going through, but maybe God is bringing me through it because he wants to show himself to me in a powerful way in the middle of t