The Outcome of Sorrow
A Sunday Morning Address
Opening Reading: Hebrews 12:1-11
Here we read the words of the Apostle Paul in writing to the Hebrews regarding the place of shame and chastisement in the walk of the Believer. As verse five and six states, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the LORD, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him. For whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” Though our lives are a blessing from Yahweh, troubles are no stranger to every descendent of Adam. Most individuals of this world do not understand why God allows pain and suffering to exist. For many this leads to a rejection of God altogether. But for one exercised in an appreciation for the ways of God it is understood that the troubles of this life, whether deserved or not, are a necessary part of training us to overcome the corruptible flesh nature. As this chapter in Hebrews points out, it was even necessary for Jesus as a descendant of Adam to suffer the trials and troubles that are a part of the human experience. The familiar memorial passage of Isaiah 53 states prophetically of Christ that he was to be ”despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief….he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
For the only begotten Son of God, the future High Priest and King of the entire earth, His first appearance was to be characterized by sorrow and grief. Often when we see Christ portrayed by popular interpretations we see a man of a radiant and fun loving enthusiasm. But such a view does not fully depict what is revealed in the scriptures as to the seriousness of what He was sent to do and the great resistance that He would experience at the hands of those He had come to save. The weight of the world was on His shoulders and though Son of God, he was also a Son of Man, born of a woman, bearing the same condemned and corruptible flesh and blood nature as the rest of mankind. Knowing that Christ was of the flesh and blood nature, and if we understand the teachings of the scriptures in relation to the characteristics that are connected with the flesh, we understand that man does not naturally gravitate to the righteousness of God.
But one may interrupt here and say, “surely you do not suggest that Christ had the ability to commit sin.” We answer that since He possessed Sin Nature itself, which was already viewed as unclean by God, then most certainly He was capable of committing transgression. If the flesh is left to its own direction it will sin many times over, but if the flesh is trained through principles that are against its natural likings then it is able to overcome that which is against the righteousness of God. The thinking of the flesh and the righteousness of God are incompatible. The flesh has to be made to do what it naturally does not like to do in order harmonize itself with the God like attributes. For the flesh this is not a pleasant experience. This is the principle set forth to us in Hebrews chapter 12 – “For whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” There is no doubt that God loved his only begotten Son – “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” And though Christ never committed an act of Sin, nonetheless he bore the flesh nature and would be in need of direction and of a course of life that experiences the sorrow and pain of life rather then the sensual joys and distractions that lead one to forget the dependence that all men have on God. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that Christ was “made perfect through sufferings”. From Christ’s own words we read, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” This does not mean that Christ hated his life or that we are to hate our lives in the sense of waking up everyday with misery in our hearts. But it does mean that we are not to put an appreciation for our current lives above the much more joyous hope of eternal life to come. The sufferings of this life are allowed to help us keep this in mind, if we choose to heed the lesson. That Christ followed the direction provided by His Father is without question. As Christ stated, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” (John 5:19) May we resign our own will to the will of the Father after the same example set by our Elder Brother.
As we prepare to give remembrance to our Master through partaking of the Bread and Wine we would like to consider this principle of suffering as it developed our Lord and as it is to develop us. In the April 1895 Advocate a short clippet appears under the title of “The Effect of Trouble”. It states:
Sufferings make or mar one’s character. Troubles make men either love or hate God. Grief will turn them into either optimists or pessimists in proportion as they see an economy, a ministration in suffering. Pain will sweeten or sour their disposition in proportion as they see a service in it. Sorrow may make men melancholy and morose; and it may give them a chastened joy, a refined happiness. We can only justify suffering in that we see in it a purpose, a mission, necessary and beneficial.
In Hebrews 12:5, which is a quote from the book of Proverbs, we read, “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him.” And then in verse 11, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peacable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” The word “exercised” can be more fully understand by the word “trained”- those who are “trained” by their sufferings. And here it is we have our lesson. Why is the reason given for sufferings, for chastisements? So that it may yield “the peacable frut of righteousness”. But it can only yield such fruit if the individual is exercised or “trained” by the experience. Considering the comments we have just quoted we see that sufferings can lead down two different roads. One is the “fruit of righteousness” if the sufferings are understood in the proper context - If it is recognized that such experience is for our benefit. It is important for man to realize that we cannot provide our own happiness. We cannot provide our own salvation. Whether or not God directly or indirectly introduces circumstances into our life to test us, punish us for improper action, or otherwise; it has to be understood that without sorrow or trouble in our lives it is impossible for flesh to rise above its self consumed ways and see beyond the current fleshly needs and observe further into the everlasting rewards of righteousness. The other road or view is to see life’s unpleasant experiences as evidence of either no God at all or of an unfair God who randomly punishes either for His own pleasure or out of uncontrolled anger. Such views as these are evidence of a self-consumed individual without the vision to properly see above the self-pity that the fleshly man naturally gravitates towards. So instead of seeing God’s love and care, all they can feel is self-pity and despair.
Now there are several questions that we can ask. Did the sufferings that Christ went through “make or mar” His character? The scriptures clearly answer that question by telling us that He was made “perfect through sufferings.” Did Christ’s troubles make Him “love or hate God”? In His prayer shortly before His betrayal and crucifixion he prayed to the Father, “the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.” When Christ, bludgeoned and bleeding, trod onto Calvary did he blame God in anger for what had befallen him? Did he blame anyone in anger? His words were, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. There is no anger displayed here towards anyone, but humble acceptance as to the necessity of the situation - “Father, thy will be done.” Did grief turn Christ into an optimist or a pessimist? Again we refer back to Hebrews 12:2 where we are told that “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame”. Jesus shared the hope of the Faithful mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven who by faith, “desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city” and a city “whose builder and maker is God”. Now to be such an optimist is not to fit into the mold that the world considers to be an optimist. An optimist in the things of God still understands that the present situation is not good and will not and cannot be corrected by the solutions of men. We know that the present world situation cannot rectify itself. We see that within the brotherhood things are declining in accordance with the prophetic words of Christ when he posed the rhetorical question “will I find faith?”, as to the situation of the Household when He returns. Such an attitude is not pessimism but realism, in that we have been told through the scriptures that these things would be so. But a spiritual optimism is not blinded by the short-term conditions and is convinced of the joys that God has promised. This is what kept Christ motivated to do the will of the Father, and what is to motivate us as well. No matter how bad things get, we know that such things are only temporary in the larger scheme of God’s Plan.
Did sorrow and pain make Christ “melancholy and morose”? We see no evidence of such a thing. No doubt he was very serious and focused on His mission but we know that through prayer He was refreshed and able to continue on His daily tasks. As concerning His apostles, after the ascension of Christ, we know that the sorrow and pain that accompanied being Disciples of Christ had the opposite effect of being “melancholy or morose” on them. In the Book of Acts we are told after some of the Apostles had been beaten by the Jewish leaders that, “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” - What a mindset to have and so completely opposite to man’s natural tendencies. When we suffer it naturally pulls our whole being down into a sense of despair and loneliness. And there is no sin in allowing the emotion of sadness but it cannot be allowed to foster in our character so that it undermines our faith and becomes a permanent fixture into our being. As the Advocate quote mentions, suffering may give a man a “chastened joy, a refined happiness”. It is a refined and spiritually mature attitude that allows us to understand that life’s more unpleasant experiences are for our own good in our attempts to overcome the flesh. We know that the pain of Christ (both emotional and physical) was necessary so that he may condemn sin in the flesh by completely overcoming it, thereby opening up the way for eternal life for the human race. Death came by the sin of Adam, everlasting life came by the righteousness of Christ.
The final statement of the Advocate excerpt states, “We can only justify suffering in that we see in it a purpose, a mission, necessary and beneficial.” We have already briefly shown that Christ’s suffering had a very necessary and beneficial purpose. Like Christ, we also are working to overcome the flesh and be obedient to the commands that have been given us – for our benefit. What is that benefit? Eternal life - Everlasting life in God’s Kingdom of God on earth. An environment restored to an Eden like status. An infinite life unmarred by the troubles we now face. As is mentioned in Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passes away.” This was Christ’s joy and our joy as well if we overcome this life and are not brought down by the sorrows that we experience. As Paul states in Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
As Christ was a man of sorrows and “acquainted with grief”, and knowing that He is our example then we should expect similar things in our life as well - though not to the extent of what Christ had to go through in accomplishing what needed to be done as a representative of the fallen race. Paul also states in Romans 8 that “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.” Christ stated in John 15 that “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
If we are to follow after Christ we have many things that test us. The wickedness of the world, the world’s dislike for us, the natural sorrows of sickness and death that plague the entire human race, God’s testing of our faith, God’s loving punishments to us if we disobey his commands, and the troubles we see within the Household of Faith. All these things are a part of the process in truly overcoming. We are not to despise these unpleasant things for if we live a life free of any real struggle then it is evidence, as mentioned in Hebrews, that “if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” These struggles we face are evidence that God is working in our lives and if this is not perceived then we are not allowing ourselves to be “exercised” or trained in the direction that God is trying to propel us. In I Corinthians 1:5 we read, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ”. And in verse 7, “And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” And in Philippians 3:10 we see further how Paul viewed the benefit in sufferings by saying, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” And in I Peter 4:13, “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
There is much to contend with in this life, much of it out of our control. But though we often are not in control of the circumstances of life we can control our reaction to them. And what is most hard to react to is the deterioration that we see within the Brotherhood, doctrinally and spiritually. Where we would hope to find a source of strength and comfort in an environment characterized by sound doctrine, strong moral fiber, and clear prophetic vision we see compromise, weakness, shame, and confusion. This makes our test that much more difficult in our minds on top of all the other sorrows of this life but again, how we react to such things is the key. We face nothing any different or more challenging then what Christ faced or any other disciple of His that has chosen the way of God over the way of men. We have to keep in our minds that we are not alone in our sufferings or in our chastisement. We are not unique in our problems in that Christ has faced these issues – but he overcame. He was exercised, trained by life’s experience. He overcame out of the joy that His faith provided Him. Keeping Him in our constant remembrance let us realize the benefit of the proving ground that is our probation and for the joy set before us let the effects of suffering on our own selves have the proper influence on our lives.