33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Purity of Endurance"
Looking at the gospel reading today, we hear about things and we can say, “This just can’t be right. This kind of stuff doesn’t belong in the Bible.” Jesus is saying, “There is going to be a time when fathers will turn their sons over to death or children will turn over their parents over to death.” I can’t imagine this and this seems not to be right. Why would it be like this? Jesus said, “The time will come.” What in the world is going to go wrong? Scriptures also said something strange, “They will flogged you in the synagogues.” It hurts to be flogged, and it is bad enough when it happens in the courts in some cities, but it says that you are going to be flogged in the Church – in the synagogue. Something is not just right when we go to Church and be beat up.
The Old Testament said, “It will be times of great distress.” We say that this is not just right. This is not God’s plan. We can get all theological and think of when these things are going to happen. If we sit back and be honest, and maybe not to disagree, we can say that we all have times of tribulations. There is not a future time of tribulation to come where there are a lot of hard times, but there are no hard times until that. We have gone through some stuff where we felt that it isn’t just right and it shouldn’t be happening. The kingdom of God is not just for a future time where everything is perfect and all sin is dealt with and everything is love, peace and joy. This is not just a time for the future, but for a time here.
The tribulation that Jesus is talking about in the gospel and that Daniel mentioned in the Old Testament reading is not just something for the future time, but it is something that happens to us today. To deny it is just simply to deny truth. Tribulation actually happens. Unfortunately, pain is a part of life; hurt is just a part of life; even death is a part of life. Sometimes, we are going through things in our lives today and we say, “This just can’t be right. Something is wrong and there is no way in the world that it can be right.” We can look at a situation and think of thousand reasons why it is wrong but not think of a single reason why it is right.
We would ask as Christians, “If God is God, can’t He stop the pain or the hurt we face?” The answer is that yes, He can, but the fact that He doesn’t should tell us something. He could stop it; He will stop it; but in between the now and then, He doesn’t. If He has got it all, if He is Lord of all, and yet, pain and hurt is part of our experience, this should tell us something. God has a reason for them. If He didn’t have a reason for it, He would stop. We ask, “If God is God, why does He allow it?” We can answer, “Because God is God and He allowed men to choose.” Pain, suffering and death weren’t God’s choice. He left certain choices in the hands of man. God is not the One that drops the ball, or the One who picked a bad plan, or the One who caused all things into existence. It was His creation when He said, “I am giving you the choice. I am allowing you to pick. Here is My way; here is the way of suffering, sin, and death.” It is called disobedience. God said, “The day you disobey Me, you shall surely die.”
Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to die. Your parents or your grandparents weren’t supposed to die, but they did because Scriptures tell us, “Through the disobedience of one man, Adam, all died.” It wasn’t God plan, but through one man’s disobedience, all died and pain and suffering entered the world. It was their choice. It is a part of our existence and experience.
Hopefully, we won’t experience what Jesus was talking about, but we all face troubles. Hurt happens, and there are a lot of ways to react or to respond to it. One thing very common people do when they are hurt, especially Christians, is to deny the pain. We say, “No, I don’t hurt. I am perfect. It is alright.” But, God puts it there for a reason. If we deny it, we miss out on that reason. As an illustration, God put pain sensors in our bodies. It usually tells us that what we are doing is dangerous. If we put our hands on a hot stove, the pain sensors will tell us that it is not a good idea to put it there and it keeps us from experiencing something that will be painful to us. Pain in our lives is sending a message. If there is a pain in our body, we can’t deny it and it might be a message that the Lord is giving us.
A second reaction to pain is to run away from it. We try to look for a place where pain is not existent. Sometimes, we spend our time running away from pain, but we can’t get away from it because there is no such thing as a pain-free area. Wherever we go, we will find discomfort and hurt somewhere because God has purposes for them in our lives.
The third reaction to pain is to blame other people for it. We like to point fingers. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Whose fault is it that this man was born blind – him or his parents?” We think that if we can just find somebody to blame for the pain, it won’t hurt anymore. This is not true. We can absolutely prove that somebody is at fault, but the pain is still there.
The fourth thing that we do when we encounter pain is to quit. In the Garden, Adam, before he disobeyed God, could work in the Garden, tend and cultivate with no problem at all. No sweat, not an ounce of an aching muscle. However, part of the curse was when Adam works, it will be a lot harder and he is going to sweat from his brow because his body is overheating. Sometimes, we wake up with sore muscles, and what we do is to quit and not work anymore. Adam did not quit for there wouldn’t be a Cain or an Abel and he wouldn’t be able to feed them. If he had stop working because it hurts, they will starve to death and it would be the end of God’s creation.
It is important to realize that even though pain is there, we don’t quit. We do “play through pain.” Pain is there, but we play through it. The pain can’t be ignored for a day, a week, or a year; and we can’t just stop it and wait for it to go away. Playing through pain brings us to a higher level. It brings us from glory to glory.
In Hebrews 5:8, Jesus learned obedience through the pain He suffered. It was through playing through pain that He learned to obey God. It is not true that Jesus knew how to obey God from the womb because God gave Adam a choice to obey or to disobey. If Christ was made in the image of Adam, and He is the Second Adam, this means that Christ also had a choice either to obey or not. If Jesus had disobeyed like Adam, we will still be looking for redemption. What set Jesus apart was that He faced the choices just like Adam; He faced the temptations just like Adam. Jesus was tempted in every way just like we are. He was tempted to quit, to sin, and to take the easy road. Quitting is always the easy road, but Jesus faced temptation, playing through the pain by obeying the Father. He learned what Adam never did, and He, being the Second Adam, succeeded. In the first Adam, we all die; to the Second Adam, we are all made alive. Jesus learned to obey and the first thing that He did was to face the pain. It was painful for Him to be accused that He did not know the Word of God. He was the Word of God! Through the obedience to the Father, He continued to reach out to man instead of calling the angels and finishing the mess. He learned to obey through the suffering.
We need to know when to stop from the pain from happening and when we need to play through the pain. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and one of them is discernment. It is easy to get away from discomfort, but sometimes, the Lord says to stay there for a purpose. Sometimes, we need to get away from the situation for it is going to affect us in a bad way. Reading the Holy Scriptures helps us to know when to stop the pain from happening and when we need to play through it. The Collect of the Day says, “Blessed Lord, Who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written from our learning; Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” It is important for us to know how it is to understand the Word of God so that we can understand what is going in the world around us. We need to be aware of what is going on, and this leads us to know the things that we are facing whether it should be resisted or to overcome. Sometimes, we just need to listen to the Spirit that will whisper what we need to do. God gives us pain, trials to help us grow, to learn obedience, and just like Adam and Eve, we can be stubborn that we don’t listen and we make the wrong choice.
God gives us these things to overcome them not to overcome us. We know that the curse is done with. Jesus Christ overcame the curse, and this is true and it is good; but we also have to do it. This doesn’t mean that we make the curse disappear, but when we say that we overcome the curse, we overcome the pains of the curse like the sweat of our brow. When we overcome the curse, even though sweat is there, we keep working and we don’t stop. Whatever the element of the curse is, we keep working through it, we overcome, and we don’t quit. This is what overcoming the curse is all about.
The gospel says that we will endure and we will overcome these things, and when we overcome, this is when we will be saved. Hebrews told us to hold fast, to endure and not to give up. We don’t quit and we keep going through all the things that are seemingly against us. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering. We can do this because He who promised is faithful. We hold fast to our hope. Whatever we face, we need to know that God has a reason for it. God has a plan for it and if there is a way to remove this situation, He will tell us if we just listen to Him.
Hebrews 12:2 says to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross. Jesus knew He would endure because God has a purpose, that is, for our salvation. Through one man’s obedience, all are made alive. If Jesus didn’t face that pain, the cross, salvation wouldn’t have happened. Christ endured and Scriptures tells us that he who endures to the end shall be saved. We know we can endure because Christ endured. Through the struggles, God is perfecting us and making us more than we are right now because it has a purpose in God’s great plan.
The hope of the gospel is that the great tribulation is not forever. The things we face that seem so wrong and so off and so backwards are not forever and this is the promise of God. Revelation 21:3-4 says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” This can be true in our lives to a degree, but there is a time when there is not just any more of these things. It is not forever. These kinds of things won’t be coming to us forever.
Verse 7 says, “He who overcomes will inherit these things.” He who overcomes shall endure. We can’t overcome something that is not there. The fact that we are overcoming means that it is something that we are not enjoying. We don’t overcome things that we enjoy; we overcome things that are tribulation. He who endures to the end shall be saved.
As Peter would say, “Do not be surprised if you are coming up with tribulation.” God has ordained that our lives are made up of some of these things. It is there for our matriculation, for our learning, and maturity. It is there for our good; for the good of the kingdom of God. The habitation of God is with men, and He will dwell among them and He will be their God forever. He works through what we experience so that we can be the people of God in truth and in Spirit. Be not discouraged with things that we think are not in line with God has promised. We just say that the Lord is in them somehow, and we just need to keep trusting and believing, and keep obeying, and in the middle of these things, we endure forever.