SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
December 18, 2005
Jesus Offers Hope for Those Who Suffer
Isaiah 54; Luke 1
Key Verse: His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. – Luke 1:50
To be human is to suffer. All people suffer. Since there are different kinds of suffering, the suffering of one person may be very different from that of another. Some people live a full, healthy life without much physical pain. Others may endure dreadful physical pain all their lives.
The English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning endured great mental and physical anguish. Distraught by the drowning of her beloved brother Edward, she became an invalid and a recluse for years.
her father to marry,
Distressed because her father had disowned her, she wrote letter after letter to him, asking for forgiveness and reconciliation. Upon the death of her father she found that none of her letters had ever been opened. The loss of her father’s love was excruciatingly painful. Such suffering of the soul is often more agonizing than bodily pain.
Suffering wears many different faces but it finds each of us and all of us struggle to understand why we must suffer. If God is love, if God is good, why does he allow us to suffer? The finest theologians have failed to offer satisfying answers.
God, however, has not left us alone in our tussle with the mysteries of life. He offers to be “with us” and that ultimately is more helpful than answers. He tells us in his Book that he has come to us in the person of his only son whose name is Immanuel, God with us. We do not have to “cross Jordon” alone. We have the promise of Jesus, “I am with you always.” Most of us have found, by faith, that his comforting presence is enough even when our pain will not go away.
This lesson joins Isaiah and Luke together. One is the towering prophet of the Old Testament, the other a disciple of the risen Christ and author of the gospel that bears his name. Both speak brilliantly to us about the Messiah, the Son of God whose name was Jesus.
the trouble of assuming that Isaiah thought the “servant” he wrote about was
the nation of
The New Testament writers Luke and Paul believed that Isaiah had described Jesus. Philip believed it for he explained to the eunuch in Acts 8 that the one he was reading about in Isaiah 53 was in fact Jesus. Over the centuries many nonbelievers upon reading Isaiah 53 have been inspired by the Spirit to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. I tremble inside every time I read the prophet’s description of my Savior who suffered such cruel torment for my sins.
Mary’s remarkable Magnificat helps us to handle our own suffering. She was a good and obedient servant of God, yet she suffered. Who can imagine the pain she endured as she stood near the cross watching her own son bleeding and dying? Mary’s faith can encourage us to have faith even when we do not understand our circumstances. We shall be wise to follow Mary’s example. Rather than ask a lot of questions, she trusted God and rejoiced in “God my Savior.” Doubt demands to know why. Faith cries, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
As we struggle to understand suffering, the Bible points us to the cross. The cross teaches us that God suffers, and he uses suffering for his purposes. As difficult as it is to understand, our salvation was costly. It cost God his own Son. His suffering and death upon the cross was the price God paid so that we could be saved from our sins. Jesus bore our sins upon the tree.
In his book How to Be Born Again, Billy Graham shares a poignant story about bearing punishment. His associate, Cliff Barrows, told Billy about the time when he took the punishment for his children for having disobeyed him.
“They had done something I had forbidden them to do. I told them if they did the same thing again I would have to discipline them. When I returned from work and found that they hadn’t minded me, the heart went out of me. I just couldn’t discipline them.
“Bobby and Bettie Ruth were very small. I called them into my room, took off my belt and my shirt, and with a bare back, knelt down at the bed. I made them both strap me with the belt ten times each. You should have heard the crying! From them, I mean! They didn’t want to do it. But I told them the penalty had to be paid and so through their sobs and tears they did what I told them.”
Cliff said, “I must admit I wasn’t much of a hero. It hurt. I haven’t offered to do that again, but I never had to spank them again, either, because they got the point. We kissed each other when it was over and prayed together.”
Perhaps that story can help us to understand that by his suffering, Christ paid the penalty for our sins. God had a purpose in the suffering of his Son. Surely he has a purpose for our suffering. In our darkest hour he comes to us and gives us hope. With that hope, and his strengthening presence, we can make it though the worst of our nights. With the hope that God provides, we can to our pain, “You will not win, for God has given me hope that joy cometh in the morning!
+ + + (Contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org)