May 7, 2017
Our Lord Jesus is a master teacher. Just look at how well he explains to his disciples what he means by "a little while." "When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world." It's hard to find physical suffering greater than the labor that accompanies a baby's birth. And you'll be hard pressed to find such joy as to hold your newborn child in your arms. And so Jesus teaches his disciples that "a little while" means that they will have sorrow, but their sorrow will turn to joy.
Jesus will himself experiences this "little while." He is the only man in human history who truly knows the pain a woman experiences in childbirth. Yet he has experienced an even greater pain and likewise an even greater joy. For a little while our Lord suffered. In the garden with bloody sweat he prayed that if possible his Father would take away this cup. But the Father answered, in a little while your sorrow will turn to joy. And so our Lord suffered abuse, crucifixion and death. He suffered the abandonment from his eternal Father and the punishment for all sins. Yet in a little while he broke death's iron chains and rose victoriously and joyfully from the tomb.
The disciples too experienced this little while. They watched their Lord be taken away from them into the darkness by a band of thugs and for a little while he was out of sight. For a little while he hung on the cross and then laid in the tomb the heavy stone shutting their Lord away from them for what they thought would be forever. For a little while they hid behind locked doors afraid of their Jewish countrymen. But after that while of fear and distress Jesus appeared to them alive and their sorrow gave way to joy. Yet Jesus didn't stay with them. After forty days he ascended into heaven and left his disciples again for a little while. For a little while they faced persecution from the Jews, persecution from the Romans, stonings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, beheadings, crucifixions, and exiles. For a little while these disciples had sorrow. But their sorrow was turned to joy.
The disciples are great examples to us of this "little while." For a little while they are away from Christ and they suffer. They long to be released from this suffering and be united with Christ. St. Paul writes, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Philippians 1:23) And yet he knew that God was using him to minister to his Church on earth. And so St. Paul teaches us, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain." And so we Christians learn how to endure the little while as we suffer and not lose sight of the great joy that is to come.
St. Peter writes in our Epistle lesson, "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21) And so Christians suffer. A student is not better than his teacher. Christ suffered. So did his apostles. So too will we suffer.
The worst kind of suffering is to suffer for doing wrong. There is no reward in that. To suffer for doing wrong is not to suffer as a Christian, but to bear the consequences of your own sin. We should all try to avoid such suffering. It is far better to suffer for doing what is right.
When Christians suffer for doing what is right they follow in Christ's footsteps. Christ did the works of his Father and for it he was crucified. When we do the works of our Father in heaven we can expect hatred from the world. When you teach your children sexual morality according to Scripture you will be called a bigot. When you confess that abortion kills a child and hurts a woman you will be called hateful. When you confess that Christ Jesus died for our sins and faith in Christ is the only way to salvation, you will be called closed minded. Now these words are far from the stones, blades, and wild beasts that met our fore-bearers of the faith, but words still hurt. And words are persuasive. Do not be persuaded away from this true faith. Endure the suffering. It only lasts a little while.
St. Paul compares the Christian to an athlete. St. Paul disciplined his body and kept it under control, so that he would not after preaching to others be disqualified. Many of us understand this. A runner runs a race, but gets winded during the last one hundred meters. It doesn't matter that he's lead the whole race. He doesn't finish first. I remember losing a wrestling match in double overtime. My opponent escaped with one second left on the clock. If I had hung on one more second I would have won. But I didn't. I let the exhaustion get to me. And so the devil, world, and your own flesh will try to exhaust you. But your Lord says, "in a little while your sorrow will turn to joy."
St. Paul writes, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) We suffer hatred and judgment from the world for confessing Christ, for practicing what Jesus has taught us to practice in church, at home, at school, and work. But God does not let us be destroyed. Rather, he reminds us that "this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison." (2 Corinthians 4:17)
When you suffer as a Christian you may desire to depart from this body and be at home with the Lord. All Christians desire this. And as our suffering increases our desire to depart grows greater. And then comes physical suffering. Old age. Death starts giving advances on the wages of sin while your still alive. Your body grows weak. Everything on you hurts. You can't do what you used to do. You can't help the way you used to help. Perhaps you think you've served your purpose. But whether you are young or old, whether you have sorrow because you are persecuted for your faith or you mourn those who have left Jesus' flock, God put you on earth for a reason. God determined to put you here. And he will determine to take you.
The Psalmist says, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." (Psalm 139:9). Yes our years may become difficult as Moses wrote, "For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away." (Psalm 90:9-10) But it is God who decides when we will be born and it is God who decides when we will die.
It is a sin for us to decide who will be born and who will die. This is why abortion is such a great crime that cries up to heaven. And now in our own state there are discussions by lawmakers to make assisted suicide legal. And many kind hearted people, who don't want people to suffer are tricked into thinking this is compassionate. But God does not give us permission to take life. He gives the government the authority to take the life of criminals, but not the authority to kill sick people, because we can't find value in their lives. God finds value in your life. And if you are alive God has a purpose for you to be alive. Even when all your physical powers fail you, your prayers and your example are beneficial to Christ's church. We do not determine the value of life by what we see, but by what God tells us.
You are a Christian. God has a purpose for you here on earth. In a little while, he'll take you home. But for now, "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10) So whether you are a mother, father, son, daughter, old, young, pastor or layperson, the God who has saved you has you here on earth for a good reason; to love him, to love your neighbor, to confess Christ.
The more I learn of Jesus and his kingdom from Holy Scripture, the more I want to escape this world, to live without sin, without pain, without worry and anxiety, to live with Jesus. But for a little while God has determined to keep me here. To preach God's Word to you and give you God's gifts. To love and care for my wife and children. And to pray for you, for my loved ones, and for anyone who hates me. And so God keeps you here for similar reasons. For a little while anyway, until we die and fly to the Lord or until we rise from the dead and live forever with our risen Lord.
But even during this little while, God gives us joy. Yes, he gives us spouse and children, home and food and stuff. But let's not focus on those lest we turn them into false gods. No, even during this little while that we do not see Jesus, we still get to see him. Not with our own eyes, but by faith. The same night that Jesus told his disciples that in a little while they would not see him and in a little while they would see him he gave them his body and blood to eat and to drink. And he gives us this same meal today. He did this so that we could make it through this little while. For a little while I suffer, but Jesus has given me his body and blood to eat and drink. I'm forgiven and will rise with Christ on the Last Day. For a little while I battle temptation and must repent daily of my sins, but Jesus spoke through his minister and has assured me of the forgiveness of my sins and that he will come again soon.
Jesus does not leave us high and dry. Here we get a foretaste of that unspeakable joy that will come in a little while. Here we get the strength to endure this time that Christ is hidden from our eyes. And until this little while ends Christ will continue to strengthen us through his preaching and Sacrament.