2 Timothy 2:1-13 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 23—Series C)
“Endure With Suffering”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 13, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 2 Timothy 2:
1You, then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus 2and which you heard from me through many witnesses. Set these things before faithful people who will be able to teach others also. 3Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No one serving as a soldier entangles himself in the affairs of civilian life in order to please the one who enlisted him. 5And an athlete is not crowned unless he competes by the rules. 6It is necessary for the hard-working farmer to receive a share of the crops first. 7Think carefully about what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things. 8Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead, from the offspring of David, according to my gospel, 9in which I suffer even to the point of being imprisoned as a criminal. But the Word of God is not bound. 10Because of this, I endure all things for the sake of the elect, in order that they also might obtain salvation with eternal glory that is in Christ Jesus. 11The Word is trustworthy: for if we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we will deny him, he will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he is not able to deny himself.
There is a common refrain in our society and culture. It goes something like this: “If I’m not successful or happy, I should be. If I am hurting or unsatisfied, something is wrong. I deserve happiness.” More and more, people are buying into the idea that God is too kindhearted to punish us or to interfere with our lives. But He is on stand-by to be used for our own health, happiness, and prosperity. What we need from God, then, in the sense of help with our problems is reduced to therapy. It is claimed that if you just follow certain steps, family problems will disappear, our bodies will do what we want, our financial problems will vanish, and we can live happily ever after. Success and victory, health and wealth can all be yours if you just get on board with the program found in the myriad of Christian diet books, “Management Techniques of Jesus Christ,” solutions for child raising problems, and society improvement guides. Encouraging. Inspiring. Affirming. Supportive. That’s a therapeutic god who is offered to overcome life’s difficulties.
So why is it that not all Christians experience success and victory, health and wealth? Why is it that not all Christians are happy or satisfied? Some would say that if that’s the case, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not following the right steps, doing the right things, putting your needs first. What a bunch of nonsense! Even the best of Christian families experience conflict and embarrassing failures. Very devout and faithful believers in Jesus Christ go bankrupt, have anxiety or depression, and live with mental illnesses or heartbreaking diseases.
Consider Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth in today’s Old Testament reading. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died. Her two sons, the husband of Orpah and the husband of Ruth, also died. Ruth and Orpah at least had the opportunity to return home and to find another husband. But Naomi could not. She was no longer able to bear children and so could not remarry. Her father would no longer be alive. Naomi would have no way to make a living. She was a widow who had been deprived of the blessings of old age—impoverished, vulnerable, without a protector, and a stranger in a foreign land. She endured suffering in this world even as a believer in the Lord.
So do you and I and other Christians the world over. When we are presented with the idea of a “victorious Christian life,” we find that it is impossible to attain. There isn’t a complete life of health and wealth, success and happiness. Rather, there is suffering and hardship. The result for those buying into the lie is that they end up suppressing their failures. They keep trying harder (and buying more books to solve their problems!), and simply putting on a happy face for the world. They live in the lie and come to believe that God isn’t what He’s supposed to be because they are not happy and satisfied. The reality is that life is not all happy, easy, rewarding, or even enjoyable.
Like everyone in the world, Christians do endure suffering. And that is where God is found, in the midst of suffering. Martin Luther wrote: “This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. . . . God can be found only in suffering and the cross.”
Jesus Christ, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” endured the ultimate suffering for you. He bore the sins of the world, the very consequences of sin—heartache, guilt, pain, sorrow—the very embodiment of sin, in His own body on the tree of the cross (1 Peter 2:24). In “the incarnate and human God,” we find a Deity who enters our human condition. Jesus subjected Himself to evil and suffering. More than that, He took the evils and the suffering of the whole world into Himself on the cross. He bore our suffering as His own. Isaiah 53:3-5, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Jesus Christ endured this unsurpassable suffering for you.
The problem of evil, the problem of suffering—on the cross, Jesus takes it into Himself. He bears the sin, the death, the hell, the God-forsakenness, the anxiety and depression, the disease, the heartache, the hunger, the loneliness, the fear, and the guilt. From both our sins and our sufferings, we are healed because Jesus died and rose again for our salvation. So the best view of reality is not of a therapeutic god. It is not found in all the so-called Christian self-help books promising happiness and success if you just follow these three steps. No, the best view of reality is from the foot of the cross.
It is at the cross of Christ where God reveals who He is and who we are as people redeemed and forgiven by the death of Jesus, God-Made-Flesh. At the cross, salvation is found. Rather than bringing glory to ourselves by trying to win God’s favor or fixating on the possibility of success without suffering and trouble, the cross shows us God’s salvation from suffering, sin, and even death itself. And so it is that we know God most profoundly in weakness and suffering, both our own and that of Jesus.
As Christians, we endure suffering with Christ and with one another. The death of God incarnate, Jesus, ushers us into eternal life in which sin and suffering will be no more. But until the Last Day, sin and suffering remain in this world. But they have been dealt with. St. Paul commands Timothy, and us as disciples of Jesus Christ by faith, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Timothy is to share in the sufferings of Paul who had been imprisoned for proclaiming the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we also share in the sufferings and troubles of one another. You are not alone with what you experience in this life. We are united with Christ in His death and resurrection through our Baptism. We are united we one another as members of His body, the Church. As they say, “We’re in this together.”
And together we speak God’s Word of truth in Jesus Christ to one another. We come together and look at life realistically from the perspective of the cross, knowing that what is difficult to bear—suffering—reveals the power and glory of God in Christ Jesus at work for you. “The Word of God is not bound.” His Word is present and active in the midst of our struggles in this life, assuring us that this is not our end. Our end is in heaven, in glory, with God, forever, without suffering, sin, and death. Here, we must struggle against our sins, but we always have the forgiveness that is ours in the cross. Here, we must bear our own crosses and sufferings, but these sufferings, these crosses, are taken up into Jesus’ cross. The victory is already won. “Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead!” St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided 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” (Romans 8:16-18). And we are looking forward to that glory with faith and trust in Jesus.
Our Lord and Savior Himself is acquainted with the worst we can go through. Jesus went through that and more for us to save and to rescue us from sin, death, and hell. “The Word is trustworthy: for if we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we will deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he is not able to deny himself.” Christ our Savior is with us in our anguish and pain. He is with us in the days of trouble and sorrow. He stands with us in our trials and He helps us through them all by means of His Spirit through Word and Sacrament, through brothers and sisters who comfort us with the Word and who pray on our behalf.
Know for certain that you will live with Him in glory and victory. Suffering will come to an end. You will reign with Christ Jesus in the new creation. He remains faithful to you, always. The proof is in Jesus’ cross and the empty tomb, in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Amen.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 53.