9/1/02, P15A

“Why Did He Have to Suffer”
Matthew 16: 21-28

"From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go on to Jerusalem and undergo
great suffering.."
(v.21, NRSV)

It must have been difficult for Jesus to begin to tell his friends that he was going to suffer and be executed. It would be terrible for anyone to be aware of such a terrible fate, and much more horrendous to have to be the bearer of bad news about one's own death.

It must have seemed surreal to Jesus' disciples to hear that the one they were just beginning to believe was the Messiah would be killed instead of announcing himself as the new ruler. They had come to love Jesus and had forsaken careers and family to follow him, but now he began to talk about suffering, which must have sounded like failure to their pre-Easter ears. Later they would understand, but not yet.

After two thousand years we still sometimes secretly wonder why the story had to end in tragedy. Could an omniscient God not have planned another solution for dealing with the problem of human alienation and sin? If God is all powerful why could He not just snap His fingers and make things all better? We have memorized Scripture and studied various theological theories of the Atonement, but still at times we feel like crying, "Why Did He Have to Suffer?"

It is hard losing a friend, especially one who is vital and has so many more years to live. Just yesterday Marilyn and I joined with hundreds of clergy couples to mourn the untimely death of everyone's best friend, Randall Williamson. He was the best of us and one of the healthiest too, but a pure accident took him from us and our hearts were devastated. As we sat there listening to nine of our own eulogize the one of us who had meant so much to each of us, even seasoned veterans of hundreds of funerals wept and wondered why was he taken from us; "Why Did He Have to Die?" Yet, in our pain we shared anew the experience of Grace as it found another occasion to squeeze up next to us in the pew. If it had not been for Jesus' suffering none of the pain of life would make any sense, but because Jesus suffered, our suffering brings an opening for Grace.

A brush with death gets our attention more profoundly than any other event in life; and thus, most proficiently can become a conduit of Divine intervention. We know about death; Its finality, its universality. What better vehicle could God have used to deal with us on the deepest level of consciousness? Is it not true that coming to terms with death makes us finally able to get a grip on the brevity of life and the brief opportunity that we have to avoid becoming a "stumbling block" in the Church? (v.23)

So, Jesus had to suffer because the rest of humanity suffers and He had to share in our pain in order to take away our detachment from God. His incarnation would have been incomplete without sharing our human experience of death. By experiencing death He was able to completely identify with us. Through coming to terms with Jesus' substitutionary death we have been made children in the family of God. Yet, as do children, we need to grow in understanding, as did the first disciples.

Peter, whom you recall from last Sunday's gospel lection, had made a dramatic confession of faith: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Mt. 16:16) But today we hear Peter rebuking Jesus' talk about suffering by saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." Jesus turned to Peter and responded, "Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting you mind not on divine things but on human things." (v.23) It is clear that Peter's initial faith was based on a limited perception of Jesus' role as Messiah. In this we find hope, for at times we find ourselves leading with faith and struggling to understand. Not that it's bad to want to comprehend the complexities and mysteries of things theological, we really do want to know all things, but all the while we know that we will never fully know until Glory. Caught in this same quandary as was Peter, we can easily identify with his limited discernment. Of course, after his spiritual illumination on the Day of Pentecost his mind was quickened and as he grew in Grace his wisdom matured. God later used him as a megaphone of the Church as he was inspired to pen the epistles, the Letters of Peter that have helped greatly to form the Church. This was indeed a work of God and not by the brilliance of Peter who by faith, "Took up his cross and followed Jesus." (v.24)

Likewise, Christ calls us to follow Him in faith and understanding. It might help by employing Jesus' words to Peter concerning, "human and divine things." (v.23) There are not two sets of truth, or a dichotomy between religion and science. There is just one right answer, as in mathematics. However, there are two ways of looking at truth. Typically, much of what we call modern science limits itself to what can be seen and proven in today's world; however, through divine eyes we can see much further into a vastness of yet unknown truth that we can not yet dissect.

An example of the limited nature of relying on the science of 2002 is that there are many new things being discovered. Black holes in outer space and the probable variability of the speed of light is but one example. In a similar manner, it seems that only divine understanding has anything to offer in dealing with human sin. We read from our Holy Communion Ritual this morning, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I Jn.1:9)

Indeed, by submitting to God's higher truth, we gain the understanding that we fruitlessly have sought in human terms. By losing our hold on life we have found life in submission to the Father who gave His Son that we might become His dear children. The best news of all is that God wants to draw every one of us into His Family. Some of us have come kicking and screaming, with doubts and fears, but we have come.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/1/02, P15A