Sermons are born in different parts of the world and finished in pastors’ studies filled with books and quietness. Today’s sermon was born in my bedroom between 2:00 and 5:00 a.m. I had just learned that my 88-year-old legs aren’t what they used to be, and I was really hurting! Doctors can give us good medicines when we have pain, but their effectiveness is temporary, and then the pain returns. We may be able to have a surgery to fix what is wrong, but the fact remains that our bodies wear out.
One day I visited a good friend, a member of our congregation, who was facing a terminal illness. He was quiet and solemn, even a little bit glum. When he looked at me, he said, “It isn’t fair. You are healthy and have a long life ahead of you. I am just a couple of years older and about to die. Why do you get to live, and I have to die?”
In retrospect, I was very happy he presented his problem to me, for it was a problem to him. In fact, it was a problem to me, too, for I did not have an answer. I was not holier than he. We are all sinners saved by God’s grace alone.
However, Holy Scripture does have an answer for us and it is spelled out in today’s text. So I began to read it to him, and therein my friend found his answer. Although I couldn’t tell him why he was facing death at that time and I was being spared, I could tell him I was thankful he would be in the arms of Jesus and live with him forever. I knew that for certain because it is written in holy Scripture.
Today’s scripture passages tell us Jesus came to this world and put on a body. That body was tempted just as we are. It was hurt when they nailed his hands to the cross, and he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That body was killed and was laid to rest in a grave.
That same body, however, also rose from the grave on the third day. Now he is the resurrected Christ, and he gives us the promise that he knows what we are going through, for he has gone through it himself. He has done everything necessary for us to walk victoriously through death’s door and come out the other end where he will gather us into our heavenly home.
Remember Jesus’ hurting words as he looked out over the city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I would loved to have gathered you under my arms like a hen gathered her chicks, but you would not” (Matthew 23:37). He would have loved to give them the gospel, but they would not listen. They would not receive him as the Savior. They had to sweat out those tough days alone because they rejected Christ and would face a Christless death.
Because Christ himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are also being tempted. We look at St. Paul, a man who was dramatically converted. He experienced Jesus Christ walking with him. And like Paul, even though we know Jesus is with us and walks with us, we still have times when we wonder what it’s all about.
Paul once complained to God about his thorn in the flesh that, in some ways, made him less able, physically speaking, to serve the Lord. Some speculate a bright light shone down on Paul during his conversion causing a loss of good vision. Others think he may have had epilepsy. Paul does not identify his ailment specifically; he simply called it a thorn in the flesh.
Whatever infirmity Paul had, he also had God’s promise to be with him no matter what happened. And so in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, ” . . . there was given me a thorn in my flesh . . . to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ÔMy grace is sufficient for you . . .'” It is necessary that we understand that answer: You live with your thorn in the flesh; my grace is sufficient for you. No one ever cared for him like Jesus, and Paul knew that.
As Paul lay in his dungeon cell in Jerusalem, I am sure he must have thought of how he would like to get out, rush to the other congregations he had started, and perhaps start some more. Didn’t God want him to do that? But Jesus continued to speak to Paul’s heart, “Paul, my grace is sufficient for you.” And so, under Nero, Paul continued to be a servant of the Lord Jesus for a long time.
When we look at life carefully, we see it is really too difficult to go it alone. If we try to navigate life by ourselves, we fall and become angry and bitter. This is a great time for those who know Jesus and have experienced what he has done to share their faith with the hurting and angry.
A father once told me, “Why didn’t my children turn out well? We took them to Sunday school. Perhaps we didn’t make it to church every week, but we made it most of the time. We read the bible and prayed in our home. Even though it was difficult to find time in our busy schedules, we made time. And now at look them. They are out of the church. They seldom come to worship. Why?
“One day our son said to us, ÔI had enough of that religious stuff when I was a child. Every Sunday morning we had to get up and go to church. When some other activity in the community was happening, we went to church instead. I’m not going to do that to my kids.’
“Was I wrong to make him go to church?”
I told this father that he had indeed done the right thing by taking his son to church. However, sometimes wisdom is found in doing the right thing in such a way that bitterness is not incurred. But God still lives in their hearts, and they have a chance to turn from their rebellion as long as they are living. Perhaps someday they will remember the stability they experienced in their childhood home, then open their hearts and come to the Lord Jesus for help.
No one in all this world cares for us like the Lord Jesus. His disciples understood that. Dietrick Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, knew that. How must he have felt as he sat in a godless concentration camp, having been faithful to the Church, and yet realizing the day would never come when he would again enjoy his fatherland. Why did God not take Hitler earlier? Why did these poor, innocent people have to suffer as they did?
Men like Hanns Lilje and Martin Niemller could tell how much Jesus cared for them. Lilje endured some very rough days in the Confessing Church’s struggle against Nazi Germany. Martin Niemller had to face down his dictator leader, Adolf Hitler. Imagine the courage it too for him to tell Hitler, “The future of the German people is not in your hands; it is in the hands of Almighty God,” knowing he could have easily been sent to a concentration camp. But Niemller knew that, if and when he was sent to the camp, Jesus would go with him. Jesus is always with us.
When Jesus came into this world, he took on a human body. He has gone through every suffering we have, and he understands our pain. Take this message seriously and remember the words of the gospel song: “No one ever cared for me like Jesus.”