Christmas Hope: Hope for the Suffering

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here and it’s a great pleasure to speak with you today about the most overlooked Christmas passage in the bible.  No one ever reads this.  Christmas is the time when we like to talk about warm fires and we use words like peace on earth and goodwill to mankind!   We talk about Hope and Love and family.  And it’s all of those things, for sure.  But it’s not the whole story.

Let me read from the book of Matthew and then we can talk about why this is an important part of the Christmas story.  We pick up the story in Matthew chapter 2.  Jesus has already been born – the angels and shepherds have come and gone.  And now we have the story of the Magi.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some Magi from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 

Now – these words – the first verse, would have sent chills down the spine of a person reading this section.  Why?  Because everyone in the first century would have recognized the name King Herod.  It would be equivalent to us reading – that Jesus was born in Berlin in 1933.  Jesus was born in Moscow during the reign of Lenin.

Herod was a wicked, murderous, brutal ruler.  At the time of Jesus birth, Israel was part of the Roman Empire – the Romans installed Herod to rule Judea.  When Herod came to power he rounded up all the family of the previous ruler and had them executed to secure his reign – to make sure there would be no challengers.  One time, fearing his family was plotting against him, he murdered his mother, an uncle, his wife because he thought she was plotting with his sons against him.  He also had two of his sons strangled to death.

This paranoid, brutal, evil man had executed hundreds of people in Judea in an effort to secure his power.  And one day – into the palace walks some astrologers from probably Babylon – who had seen a sign in the sky that they had been told – probably by Daniel – and they walk in to ask – where’s the newborn king?

You think Herod was excited to hear that a rival king has been born somewhere right under his nose?  When the Bible says that King Herod was disturbed – that might be the understatement of the bible.  And when it says that everyone in Jerusalem was disturbed?  They know what he’s capable of…  Of course they are concerned.  He’s a homicidal maniac.  And there was no telling what he might do.

After learning from the religious leaders that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, Herod plays along and tells the Magi to come back when they find this newborn king so that he too can go and pay his respects.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Do you think Herod was flummoxed?  Hardly.  He knew where they were heading – Bethlehem.  He would not rest until this threat had been eliminated.

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother.

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.

Based on the size of Bethlehem at the time, it’s estimated that 20 to 30 children would have been massacred in Bethlehem.  Why is it that Matthew includes these horrific details?

This time of year the last thing we want to think about is suffering and pain.  We want a respite from the harshness of life.  We prefer Luke’s account – that is filled with Shepherds running in from the fields – but yet, Matthew is careful not to leave out the sad reality of life in this kind of world.

So what does the Christmas story have to tell us about pain and suffering?

  1. It shows us the inescapable reality of pain and suffering in this world.
  2. It points us to a savior who fully entered into our sufferings.
  3. Christmas is the beginning of the end of suffering.

First – the Christmas story reminds us of the horrific presence of evil in this world.

The reality is that Jesus – Immanuel – God came near – wasn’t born into a fairy tale.  He was born into a world filled with evil.  Filled with pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering are part of the Christmas story, and that means they are part of your story too.

Every once in a while I see these ‘preachers’ out there who preach a message that – if you place your faith in Jesus – then it is God’s desire to make you healthy and wealthy – no pain.  No troubles.  Oh, you’re suffering?  You must lack enough faith to put you over the top.

And I will tell you that it’s absurd. Ridiculous. It’s a tremendous farce and an embarrassment to the Gospel of Jesus.

Tell that message to Mary and Joseph – who are in Bethlehem on a short trip – they don’t live there.  And they go from there to Egypt – leaving everything behind.  His profession, their homes and families and friends – everything – they have the clothes they packed, a new born baby.  The magi brought with them gifts that could be sold in order to provide for their years living as refugees in Africa – literally running for their lives.

Try telling Mary that real Christians are supposed to be exempt from suffering – who when she brings Jesus to be dedicated in the temple runs into a man named Simeon who prophesies over her – gives her a word from the Lord.  And he says to Mary…in Luke 2 – this child will cause many to rise and fall, a sword will pierce your own soul.  Thanks Simeon – thanks for ruining the child dedication.

Tell that to Jesus who prayed in the garden of Gethsemane moments before he would be betrayed by his best friends and sent to the cross to die – he prays these powerful words…   “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Matthew 26:39

But there was no other way for us to be freed from the eternality of pain and suffering and so Jesus humbly submits himself to His Father’s plan and willingly suffers and dies for us.

Pain and suffering is part of the Christmas story and it’s part of our story as well.  Jesus promises us that in this world you will have trouble.  John 16:33  Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

So pain and suffering were part of the Christmas story and they are part of our story as well.  This world is filled with it and we are not exempt – but did you notice hat Jesus tells us?  He isn’t being depressing.  He’s giving us a message of hope.  We will suffer in this world but take heart – our faith is in one who has defeated it.

The biblical message is not – you will suffer so, good luck with that.  It’s you will suffer but I will be with you.  You will suffer but my grace is sufficient for you in those times to be able to see you through it.

Yes, Christmas is a reminder of the reality of pain and suffering – but it is also

  1. Points us to a Savior who fully entered into it. He was willing to enter into the grief and pain. He did not exempt himself.

In the Old Testament Israel is enslaved by the Egyptians and God raises up Moses.  And God tells Moses – in Exodus 3:7  Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land.

We serve a God who is aware of our suffering.  Not only was he aware – but he himself entered into our suffering in order to be able to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 2:18  18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.  Jesus is the only shepherd who understands what it feels like to be a sheep.  He understands the reality of pain and suffering and willingly entered the fray.

Now perhaps you are thinking – I’d rather God simply eliminate all suffering.  Isn’t He able to make this world more tolerable by eliminating pain and suffering?

I’d answer with two things.  First –

But I don’t think we’d say that – I mean – in this life we know that some pain is good pain.  I mean – childbirth, for instance – hey moms – was the pain you endured giving birth to a child worth it?  (That’s not a loaded question, by the way – I assume you would agree.)  The pain associate with a child cutting their teeth – worth it?  Yea)  The pain involved with surgery or dentist visits.

Some pain gets folded into our lives and we can see it as purposeful and useful.

And here’s the difficult part for us to understand.  God tells us that those who have given their life to God – never need to worry about whether or not their pain and suffering is senseless.  Because God is able to work all things together for Good.

I think we have to say that suffering and pain is part of our story but not the whole story!  The whole story is that we have a God who did not shield himself from the pain of life and promises that he will somehow, in some way, weave times of suffering and pain for good.

It’s true – we have to be human enough to admit that sometimes suffering and pain appear pointless from our perspective.  And we are only left with the sometimes difficult reality to admit – that our perspective is rather limited compared to God’s.

Ultimately, if God was able to use the suffering of Jesus for Good, he can make sense and give meaning and purpose to the pain we might be experiencing today.

And secondly – we want an end to pain and suffering, and the good news is that ultimately, that’s exactly what Christmas is all about.

  1. Christmas is the beginning of the end of suffering.

Someday Jesus will return.  Next time, not as a baby in a manger but as a victorious king.  And he is going to once and for all make all things right.

Revelation chapter 21.  1. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared.  I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

I’m going to close

Let me read this section of a paper written by Timothy Keller and let him explain… He writes,

Years ago I had a terrible nightmare. In my nightmare, every member of my family was killed in terrible fashion. I woke up at 3 a.m., panting from the nightmare. It was as if I had lost my family and awakened to discover I had them back. I wanted to wake them all up and hug them.

I loved them before the nightmare, but not like I did after the nightmare. Here’s the point.

The joy of finding them alive and well wasn’t a joy in spite of the nightmare but a joy enhanced by the nightmare. Because of the nightmare, my joy was intensified.

The nightmare was engulfed into the joy of having them back. The nightmare actually heightened my joy.

But if the new heaven and new earth is our hope—and it is—it will make everything horrible we’ve experienced nothing but a nightmare. And as a nightmare, it will infinitely, correspondingly increase our future joy and glory in a way it wouldn’t have been increased if we’d never suffered.

That is the ultimate defeat of evil.

“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” There has never been an understanding of suffering that was more hopeful or encouraging.

Christianity is unique because it doesn’t teach us that we must stoically accept suffering.  It doesn’t tell us to try to dodge or avoid suffering.  it doesn’t teach us to embrace suffering.

It teaches us that faith in God engulfs our suffering and somehow will make sense of it all.

Pain and suffering is part of the Christmas story and it’s part of your story and my story as well.  But it’s not the whole story!   And it’s not the end of the story.  The whole story is that – in spite of evil and pain and suffering, nothing can thwart God’s purposes.  And even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death itself – we fear nothing because – Christmas is the celebration of Immanuel, God with us.

I’ve asked Gary to share…

  1. First – share the story – Prayed to go on a trip – about the battery cable and your son wanted to go with you – car accident – and ramification –
  2. Gary – How did you get through these times?

* Settled in my heart before the incident that God is trustworthy. Proverb 16:33 amplified version.

* It was important for us to acknowledge that God was involved and trustworthy.  Joseph – Gen 50:20

*  We didn’t go through it alone.  God’s family – Friends surrounded us and loved us through it.

  1. Looking backward – Using Joseph’s line – how have you seen God use this for good?

Important to know that time is required – it’s not immediate…

  1. Developed an empathy – small groups and ministries
  2. Ministry to families –
  3. All of our children’s faith were stronger.  God provided for us.

Usually it’s not immediate.  Immediately there is hurt and doubt and fear and worry.  But there is time required.

  1. Any words of advice to someone going through the difficult time of suffering today? (It takes time)

Will you close our time by praying for us?