May 3, 2020
What is the worst-case scenario? We’ve heard a lot about worse case scenarios in the past couple months. Back when the government first began the lock down, there were fears of 2.2 million deaths in the United States due to the coronavirus. Some sources warned of much higher numbers. Early warnings claimed that 3 maybe even 4 percent of people who contracted the virus would die. By God’s grace the mortality rate is much lower than that. Others fear the economic repercussions from the current crisis. Tens of millions of Americans are already out of work. In some areas of the country nearly a quarter of workers are jobless. There are fears that the economic hit could last months or years; that we could enter a new Great Depression. Others worry about possible food shortages and many people going hungry. Mass death, poverty, hunger. What is the worst-case scenario?
The worst-case scenario is to be without Jesus. Jesus says to his disciples, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Jesus says that his disciples will have sorrow. Why will they have sorrow? Because Jesus will be away from them. That is true sorrow. Unless you know Jesus and have faith in him, you cannot understand this sorrow. No one has sorrow like a Christian has sorrow. And no one has joy like a Christian has joy.
Jesus compares this sorrow and joy to the sorrow a woman feels during labor and the joy she feels after a man has been born. There is no naturally occurring pain that is worse than the pain a woman feels when she delivers a baby. We husbands don’t know how our wives feel, no matter how sympathetically we look at them and hold their hands as the pangs of death come upon them. And I doubt we know of such joy that a mother has when she holds her newborn baby in her arms for the first time. Children are the greatest physical blessing we can receive on this earth. They have immortal souls for which Jesus died to save. By God’s grace we can take our children to heaven with us. Sadly, the current generation in its madness despises children and cherishes junk that breaks instead. But this generation doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Jesus does.
For part of my family’s morning devotions, we memorize portions of Scripture. We say a Bible passage every morning until we can say it by heart and then we move on to another Bible passage. The passage we are working on right now is from Galatians chapter 5 where St. Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit. One of the fruits of the Spirit is patience, but our New King James Bible translates it long-suffering. To be patient means to have endurance to suffer for a long time. Long-suffering is a fruit of the Spirit, because it is a quality obtained when you have faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, it is a quality of Christ himself. No one is more patient that Jesus Christ. No one has endured greater suffering than our Savior Jesus.
Jesus suffered more than any human being on the cross, when he not only endured excruciating physical torment, but bore the wrath of God against all sins laid on his soul. Yet, he did it patiently and willingly, because he knew what joy he would receive for his suffering. Hebrews 12 states, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.” Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. That joy is our eternal salvation. By Jesus’ merits, we will be present with Christ and the Father and Holy Spirit in inexpressible joy for all eternity!
This faith produces the fruit of patience; long-suffering. The world has sorrows. It deals with pain and death. And we earthlings aren’t very patient. We take pills to cover our pain. We hide from hard work and avoid our problems. We find what is comfortable. Yet, we can’t escape pain and sorrow. But the world doesn’t really know sorrow. Because the world doesn’t really know joy. We know sorrow, because we know what true joy is.
St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
We do not fear death, because we long to be with Christ. This is different from those who despair without faith in this world, who want to shed this earthly tent and be naked. We do not want to be naked, but further clothed. Our earthly tent is our body. In our body we suffer. We get sick. We feel anxiety. We desire what we cannot have. We lose friends. We die. We Christians, who have turned to Christ in faith desire to please Christ with our bodies; living in purity and holiness. Yet, we often don’t understand our own actions. The good we want to do; we do not do. And the evil we do not want is what we keep on doing. Our sinful desires constantly remind us that we are clothed in a body of death.
This is why we do not truly fear death when we trust in Christ. We look forward to the shedding this earthly tent. Not because we long to be disembodied spirits. Not because we want to cease to exist. Rather, we long to be further clothed. We long for the restoration of our bodies after the image of Christ. Bodies that will be perfect, without sickness, without pain, without sin, invulnerable to any virus, immortal. We know that our bodies will be like this, because Christ Jesus died to sin and is risen imperishable forever. And whoever trusts in Christ shares in his glory.
Those without this faith still suffer. They feel the pains of the body. Anxiety and depression rock their souls. And sadly, some seek to destroy this earthly tent thinking they will then escape all suffering. Of course, that is not the way it works. After this life comes judgment. It is only those who trust in Jesus Christ who escape judgement. Only through faith in Jesus can we escape the suffering of this world.
As long as we live in our earthly bodies, we seek to please our Lord even as we suffer. We seek to help our neighbor, to repent of our sins, to be kind, patient, and loving. We know that it is God’s decision when we will die, not ours. As long as we live, we live for God’s purpose. And when we die, we know that our sorrow comes to an end and our endless joy begins. So, we Christians need endurance until that perfect joy begins.
The coronavirus is most deadly to old and sick people, but even young healthy people can die from it. Of course, even young healthy people die. Even young men grow weary and faint. But consider our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 40. The Lord never grows weary. He never gets tired. That means we, who must suffer here on earth as we are away from the Lord, have a source of strength and energy that we can look to for endurance. And Christ gladly feeds us and sustains us during this little while of sorrow.
You can’t muster endurance to suffer by digging deep inside you. Patience, that is, longsuffering is not a quality that comes from your naturally born sinful flesh. It is a fruit of the Spirit, born in faith in Jesus Christ. That means you receive the strength to endure this present turmoil from Jesus. Jesus strengthened his disciples for that first little while of sorrow by feeding them his very body and blood, which would be given and shed for them on the cross. And he strengthens his entire Church for the little while we must now endure through the proclamation of his Gospel and the distribution of his body and blood, both of which give us the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith.
St. Paul wrote from prison, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13) It is Jesus who strengthens us. He is the one who makes us strongest when we are weakest. We suffer because of our sins. Yet, God in incredible patience bore with our sins for generations and Christ Jesus himself bore them personally on the tree. We suffer because of sickness and worry. Jesus bore in his body and soul every burden we bear. When I exhort you to patience and long-suffering, I am not telling you to lift yourself up by the boot straps and suck it up. I’m telling you to cast all your anxieties on Christ. Lean on him. Listen to him. Hear his forgiveness. Eat his Sacrament. Trust in him!
We’re all suffering now by various degrees. But the worst sorrow we can have is to be away from Jesus. We are all away from Jesus in the sense that he is physically away from our eyes in heaven. Yet, Jesus comes near to us to strengthen us and cheer us with his holy word, his forgiveness and mercy which we receive through faith. Jesus himself strengthens us for this little while of sorrow, so that we might endure until we see him face to face and our joy is fulfilled forever. May God grant this to each and every one of us for Christ’s sake. Amen.