IN NOMINE JESU
In our understanding of the term, suffering encompasses a number of things. Suffering can be physical. We witnessed such suffering recently in the court-sanctioned murder of Terri Schaivo. Many of us go through physical suffering as the effects of aging creep up on and nag us, suffering such as what I witness when I visit our hospitalized and shut-in members. There is no doubt in my mind that they are suffering in one way or another. There is a suffering that is emotional, the mental anguish one goes through as a result of a tragedy or a series of tragic events, events that can weigh us down and drive us out of our minds. Until one is able to get past the tragedies in one's life or bring them to some kind of conclusion or solution, then there is little doubt that he will continue to suffer.
The blessed Apostle St. Peter speaks of suffering, the suffering that one endures for his faith, suffering for the Name of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel. This is the suffering only Christians can know and endure. This is suffering as a Christian because you are a Christian. Another term of this kind of suffering is persecution. When we think of persecution, we tend to think in terms of people overseas being martyred, like Christians being killed by evil Islamic regimes, by evil men who follow this false religion's teachings to the letter and kill the "infidel" Christians. We think of oppression placed on Christians by godless Communist dictatorships. We think of Christians killed by bloodthirsty warlords in Africa. Peter tells us in our text that such suffering is commendable before God, only when it is done for the Name of Jesus and for the Gospel.
While the persecution of Christians in foreign lands is the most extreme kind of persecution, Christian suffering is not foreign to us. At one time we could say with some accuracy that ours was a Christian nation. Such cannot be said today. We as a nation have become more diverse, as many people have immigrated to this country, which is fine in and of itself, provided that they entered the country legally. However, our society has, alas, also become "politically correct." This means that Christians, including you and me, would not be allowed to give a witness for the hope that is in us. You see, those who claim to be politically correct claim that they want to put all religions on equal footing. But this is one of the devil's greatest lies. The truth of the matter is that they and their father, the devil, do not want to merely reduce Christianity to the same level as the false religions. No, they want to eliminate Christianity and its spread. The cross is a scandal to them, and they seek to crucify us on it. They want to put Christianity to death, just as we all put Christ to death. They won a major legal victory 43 years ago, when prayer was banned in the public schools. Since then the mere mention of the Name of Jesus in the public square has been declared unconstitutional many times. They are punishing us for being Christians as they seek to take away our rights. Have we suffered as a result? Indeed, we have, as we have become timid in our witness. We are afraid of talking about Jesus. We may think we wear our faith on our sleeves, but we wear a coat over it. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way" (Is. 53:6a). It is commendable to suffer for the Gospel, but it is condemnable to cower from it.
Suffering for the sake of Christ is commendable to God because Christ suffered for our sake, serving as our example to follow. He is our Suffering Servant, and Peter picks up on this theme from Isaiah 53, weaving it throughout our text. Christ, our Good Shepherd, laid down His life for us, His sheep. He suffered and died so that we would live eternally with Him. It was God's will that His Son would suffer and die for us, His sheep. He did not protest His suffering, but He quietly and willingly endured it for us. As a sheep before its shearers is silent, He did not open His mouth. He did not pronounce vengeance on those who nailed Him to the cross, but He prayed that His Father would forgive them. He died so that His Father would forgive us. Thanks be to God that He has done so! Thanks be to God that He raised Jesus from the dead! Not only is Christ our example in suffering, He—more importantly—is our hope for everlasting life, and He has brought us back to Himself—the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
This morning the Lord added to our number those who are being saved. He added the name of Evan Jeffrey Harr to the Lamb's Book of Life through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. He has been brought before the Lord, and our Triune God has placed His Name upon him. Evan now bears on his brow the seal of Him who died. For this reason, Evan can expect suffering for his faith at the hands of the devil, the world, and his own sinful flesh. The road of the Christian is not a smooth one, but by the grace of God he will endure. It is my hope and prayer that his parents and sponsors will arm him for this battle by bringing him up in the ways of the Lord as they devote themselves to the Apostles' teaching, the breaking of the bread, and the Prayers of the Church—that is, by coming here, to the Lord's house in the worship life of the Church—in Word and Sacrament. Like us, he will suffer for the Name of Jesus and will receive his crown of glory, as we will ours, on the Last Day. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA! Amen!
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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