The Ninth in a Series of Sermons on Select Passages in Second Corinthians
No one wants to suffer. If there were some way for God’s people to avoid suffering, you would think that Paul would have figured it out. Paul experienced a number of extraordinary events that might have given him answers to the mystery of human suffering. Paul was taken up to the third heaven and heard things he was forbidden to tell. The resurrected Christ appeared to Paul while Paul was on his way to Damascus to hunt down and arrest Christians. People were healed because they merely touched Paul’s personal items. You would think that if there were answers to the mystery of why we suffer and how we could avoid it, Paul would have discovered them. And yet, Paul suffered horribly. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us why.
As we make our way through the closing chapters of 2 Corinthians (chapters 10-13), Paul has learned that certain men, whom he identifies as false apostles, were wreaking havoc on the church back in Corinth, soon after Paul had departed from the city. Paul warns the Corinthians that these men are servants of Satan who masquerade as servants of righteousness. After reminding the Corinthians that these false apostles will get exactly what their deeds deserve (v. 15), in the balance of 2 Corinthians 11, Paul discusses his own suffering as an apostle. Throughout his spirited defense of his apostolic calling, we learn a number of amazing things about the Apostle’s own recent history of suffering and tribulation.
No doubt, the question of human suffering is a difficult one. In a number of places, the Bible addresses the problem associated with the apparent injustice of the suffering of God’s people, while the wicked seemingly prosper–often times at the expense of the righteous. Throughout the Psalms, and especially in the Book of Job, the Bible tackles the subject of suffering head on, revealing to all who will accept the answer that all human suffering ultimately traces back to the fall of our race in Adam. The Bible also gives us hope in the midst of suffering. We are told that God has a purpose in our suffering (even if that purpose is not known to us). God even promises to turn our suffering into good–cf. Romans 8:28-39.
Our own Savior is identified as the “man of sorrows.” Jesus suffered physical pain and spiritual anguish beyond anything we can imagine that Friday afternoon when he hung on a Roman cross, forsaken by his father, to save us from the guilt and power of our sin. Although we may not get the answer we want when we raise our questions about human suffering, at least it is clear from the doing and dying of Jesus that God is not some cruel sadist who delights in tormenting us. In the cross of Jesus Christ, we find a suffering Savior who knows firsthand what human suffering is like. Because the suffering servant died in agony, and yet was triumphant over death and the grave through his resurrection, we get a hint of God’s way of resolving the suffering of the saints–the suffering we experience in this life, will give way to a resurrection unto unspeakable glory in the next. Christ’s triumph over sin and death, will be our triumph.
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