In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
God silences evil-doers by goodness. He shames those who are wicked by the suffering of the righteous. Sometimes you will be privileged to see it in your own life after you have suffered for the name of Jesus and the sake of what is right. You will be so blessed as to witness the repentance of those who have wronged you. But sadly that is rare. Your sorrow becoming joy may not happen on this side of eternity. But it will happen. In the resurrection of the dead when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). The books will be opened (Revelation 20:12). Wicked hearts will be revealed. Then those who did evil without repentance will be put to shame by those who suffered at their hands for their faith in Christ. They will shamed by seeing the object of their scorn being exalted by Christ Jesus, and their own high state being brought down to the depths of hell.
That means you. You don’t deserve it. We would like to paint ourselves as ones who have suffered for Jesus’ sake. Maybe you have. That indeed is God’s grace to you, if while suffering for Him you do not sin against those who put you to grief. But you are like me. Too often when you have suffered for what is right you get angry. Anger is not wrong, but in your anger you have not wished for justice to occur, for the righteous to be vindicated. You have wished for the unrighteous to suffer the way you have. And more. This is not the way of love. This is not the way of life. This is not for you to determine. You must leave their judgment in God’s hands praying that His will be done.
But you like me, have played God. You have determined what is just in your eyes. You have not been satisfied with God’s judgments and ways. You have even taken their punishment into own hands. Seeking to mete out your justice by making them pay as you exact vengeance on them. Be that emotionally on your spouse or family members; or upon their reputation via the gossip you’ve spread, the slander you’ve uttered, the liable you’ve written on social media or elsewhere; or maybe even the physical harm you’ve inflicted in the back alleyways of life. You are not God. You are not judge, jury and executioner. Vengeance is mine saith the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19-13:4). Not yours. Repent.
But like a sheep before it’s shearers is silent, so our Lord opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32-35). He who is the Lord of heaven and earth was silent before Pilate, the Roman governor (John 19:9). Pilate sputtered, “Don’t you know I have the power to free you or put you to death. Why won’t you talk to me? Tell me your side. I want to help you here.” Our Lord said, “You would have no power if it were not given you from above.” (John 19:10-11)
He did not need defending. Truth stands on its own. Those who deny truth will not hear it no matter how loud you shout, or how logical your arguments. The sinful heart of man will not turn of its own accord. Repentance is a gift of God’s grace granted to those whom He calls.
A complete, eternal, perfect joy. Joy that He was back from the dead, and they too now had eternal life. For as soon as He rose He brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10). Their life. Their immortality. For as soon as you are raised spiritually in Holy Baptism you have never ending life. Starting now through the deposit of the Holy Spirit in you (2 Timothy 1:14). It is completely yours in the resurrection at the final judgement when death will be banished from your flesh (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 51-53). You will live in Him, with Him, never to die, never to suffer again (Revelation 21:3-4).
The disciples had their “little while” when Jesus was dead. A “little while” of sadness. You too have your “little whiles” of sorrow which will be turned to joy by His resurrection. You can not be a Christian and avoid this. For as soon as you are a Christian you have a higher calling, a different life. A life of doing well in all the callings God gives you. A life of confessing Christ your life to those you love. As you live this new life given you, you will suffer as Christ our Lord did. It will come as surely as the death of your loved ones. And just like your loved ones’ death it hurts. But just like in the moment of birth when the child has been swaddled and placed at its mother’s breast the pain of what got you to this moment is forgotten, crowded out in that moment by the joy of this new life in your bosom. That’s why we suffer these “little whiles”. For by your continuing to confess Jesus to them you will birth eternal life in your children who turn away from Him who is the life of the world.
Suffer their anger patiently in love for them. For by it you may save them. And your sorrow will be turned to joy.
These “little whiles” of suffering are a grace to you. For they cast you on His bosom to depend on Him alone. All such suffering in faith puts you to death, so that in faith Jesus lives more and more in you. The more you die to sin by repentance the more you live in Him.
Of course you can not do this by your own reason and strength. It is your Heavenly Father’s work in you, which is why we daily pray “hallowed be thy name” that by His strength we might have the strength to honour Him in all circumstances. It is why we pray “your kingdom come” to me. “Your will be done” in me. And “lead us not into temptation” for when we suffer there is the constant temptation to lash out. It is also why we daily pray “forgive us our trespasses” for whose witness to Christ is as perfect, gracious, kind, and long suffering as Christ Himself, and if it were up to us, no one would be saved. But Christ suffered perfectly for a little while that you might be His, that those who put you to pain for His sake might also be His. His perfect suffering covers over your imperfect witness, saving those we suffer for.
In the end your suffering turns to joy when continuing to confess your saviour you heap shame on the heads of those who have caused you to suffer and by the grace of the Holy Spirit bring them to repentance. The resurrection, which ended the disciples “little while” turning it into joy, is your joy too. For this is what we confess. It is what brings those painful sufferings. And it is what saves those we suffer for turning our sorrow to joy in the resurrection when Christ comes again.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON