Jesus said we are wrong when we try to find a cause and effect reason for every person who has a disability or is suffering.
Whenever you study the Bible you should always ask yourself these two words: SO WHAT? Now that I’ve learned this, what changes will this make in my life? Here’s a good answer: Because Jesus gave His life away for us, we should give our lives away in service to others. I’m so glad that when Jesus approached the cross He didn’t stop and ask, “What’s in it for me?” He knew what was in it for us—our salvation and our liberation. So, take off your WIIFM t-shirt and start living a life of service to others.
When the woman suffering from bleeding grasped Jesus’ robe, the Bible says, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.” I studied this miracle for many years before I picked up on this amazing nugget of truth. There were dozens of people crowding around Jesus. How did Jesus know someone touched Him in faith? He told Peter He literally felt healing power flow out of His body. That really opened my eyes to the fact that every time Jesus performed a miracle, power flowed out of him.
The Bible says Barabbas was part of the insurrection movement against the Romans and had committed murder in the process. There was a roman cross waiting for him. But in the last moment, he suddenly found himself free, and Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross that had been prepared for him. To be honest, I’ve never liked Barabbas. I’ve always been a little angry about this guy. He was a murderer and he got off Scot-free. I want the crowd to yell, “Release Jesus!! Crucify Barabbas!” But instead they yell, “Release Barabbas! Crucify Jesus!” Barabbas, a scoundrel, a sinner, a murderer, was declared innocent and Jesus took his place on a cross meant for him. When I look inside myself I realize the reason I don’t really like Barabbas is because I am Barabbas. We’re in the same sandals. You are Barabbas, too. We’re the guilty ones. We’re the scoundrels, but we get to go free and Jesus died in our place.
The biggest question about our suffering is not “Why?” but “What?” What am I going to do in response to my suffering? You have a choice in the matter. When pain comes, some people grumble, some people gripe, some people groan, others grieve. Some people grunt and growl, but there are some people, like Paul, who GROW. The choice is yours!
Let me give you a visual definition of “comfort.” Imagine an elderly man or woman is standing at the bottom of a steep set of stairs. They look up and wonder if they can make it. If you see their need and then come alongside them help them up the stairs, you are giving them comfort according to the Bible meaning of the word. If you see their need and just yell, “Use the handrail!”—that’s not comfort. Or if you yell, “Go use the elevator around the corner!” —That’s not comfort. In order to comfort them, you must come alongside them and physically give them your strength to help them.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. We could never fly! Instead, God allows us to experience struggles, pain, and suffering because He wants us to be able to float above our circumstances like a beautiful butterfly.
Imagine the shock of bearing all our sins to Jesus’ entire system—a sinless, holy man being defiled with the humiliation of every murder, rape, robbery, and lie every committed. It was the foul rottenness polluting His pure personality that killed Him—not the nails. Have you ever seen the significance in the fact that Jesus only survived the cross for six hours? It was common for crucified men to linger for many days before they died. The two criminals crucified with Jesus had their knees broken so they would die, but Jesus was already dead. If you were filling out a death certificate for Jesus and it asked for the cause of death, don’t write “crucifixion.” Don’t write “Roman Execution.” The true cause of death was carrying our sins. The strain of carrying that load overwhelmed His entire system and that’s what killed him.
WThe question, “What would Jesus do?” doesn’t work in every situation. First of all, we may not know what Jesus would do in any given situation. He was always doing the opposite of what people expected. In addition, if we knew what Jesus would do, that doesn’t mean we could do what Jesus would do. For instance, when Jesus saw his disciples out on the Sea of Galilee, He simply walked out on the water to meet them. If you’re fishing out on the lake and I’m standing on the shore, and I want to join you, I know the answer to “What Would Jesus Do?” But that certainly doesn’t mean I could do what He did! The only time we can be 100 percent sure we can ask and answer the question WWJD? is when we are suffering.
When you’re being tested it’s important to remember God set a limit to what Satan could do in testing Job. In the same way, our trials may come from Satan, but they are filtered by God. When I make coffee every morning, I put a paper filter in the coffee maker. I don’t want to have the coffee grounds in my cup. It’s good to know that all of your trials have to pass through the filter of God’s grace, and the filter of His mercy, and the filter of His omnipotence.
This is a message about terrorists and falling towers. Everybody still talks about that day; it was a day of tragedy and injustice. People were going about their business when they were suddenly and brutally killed. And what about the tower that fell suddenly? Towers remind us of strength and security—and when a tower falls and people are killed, we feel a little less secure. The initial reaction was shock; then we began to ask the inevitable questions: Why were those innocent people killed? Why did the tower fall? Where was God during all of that? Most of you think I’m talking about 9/11, and everything I’ve said does apply, but I’m really talking about 13:1. Luke 13:1. 2,000 years ago, Jesus talked about some innocent people who died at the hands of what could be called terrorists—and He talked about a tower that fell and killed people. In fact, the similarities between 13:1 and 9/11 are amazing. The same questions people are asking today were being asked 2,000 years ago. But more importantly, the answer Jesus gives is the same answer we need to hear.
God knows suffering makes us stronger, and it makes us depend on God. I’ve often said the name of God’s college is the University of Affliction, and although the tuition is steep, the classes and the degrees we receive are priceless. Some of you are enrolled right now in the University of Affliction.
Throughout my ministry, I’ve seen Jesus do the same thing. I’ve seen Jesus give a wayward rebellious son or daughter back to his or her parents. I’ve seen Jesus take a sorry, alcoholic husband, clean him up and present him back to his wife and children. I’ve see Jesus take a wayward wife and give her back to her family. Jesus is the business of healing broken relationships.
As long as we are cruising along, we have everything under control and we can handle it. We are not depending on God. So, one reason God allows suffering is so we will depend on him. I didn’t say God causes suffering, but he allows it. Here’s another reason, because suffering shows us the value of God’s grace. Sometimes, we think grace was just something way back yonder when we got saved. It was grace that brought about the forgiveness of our sins, but we forget that God’s grace is active right now, present tense.
I admire women and men who can take a piece of fabric, put it down on a table, and then can take a dress pattern and put the pattern down on the fabric and cut out along the dotted lines, and then sew it together, and have a beautiful garment. That’s a miracle to me! I want you to know that I could never do that. What God is saying, “Upon the fabric of human suffering, I have superimposed my Biblical pattern, and if you will understand what I am trying to do, the result will be something beautiful if you just don’t mess it up.”
We want microwave character. We want instant perseverance. We want God to shape us and change us and fix us right now. God is not in a hurry. If you are suffering or you know someone who is suffering, you ought to do what Joseph, the apostle, Paul, and Job did: Make the best out of it and say, “I will not let this make me bitter. I will let it make me better.” And you’ll let God take his time with you.
If I were to give you a choice between suffering a little bit or being free from suffering, you would say, “I choose to be free from suffering. I don’t want to suffer.” I don’t know anybody who has this attitude: “Man, I can’t wait to suffer some more. I am looking forward so much to suffering this next week, I can hardly wait!” No. The mystery is that even though we suffer, it can bring glory to God and it can work out for good to us.