The Lord's Day Morning
February 3, 2013
“Surprised By Suffering?”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 2. We’re going to be looking at verses 10 to 13 together this morning as we continue this series called, “Better.” We took the title of the series, “Better,” from the book of Hebrews itself. We've already seen that word appear in Hebrews chapter 1 where there is a repeated emphasis on Jesus being better, superior, more excellent than. That comparative, that superlative, is used by the author of Hebrews to emphasize to us that Jesus is enough, that Jesus is all that we need. “Less would not satisfy; more is not to be desired,” William Guthrie once said of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that message is emphasized over and over again in Hebrews chapter 1.
In Hebrews 2 verses 5 to 9, the passage that we studied last week, we saw the Lord emphasize who it is that we're dealing with when we deal with Jesus Christ by teaching us that God has placed everything under Jesus’ feet, absolutely everything, even when it doesn't look like it. Even when there are things in life that don't make sense, the author of Hebrews presses home the trust, “God has put everything, absolutely everything, under Jesus’ feet, even when it doesn't look like it.” Now he picks up on that thought in the passage that we're going to be studying today. In fact, if you’ll look at the transition phrase in verse 10, the very first few words of verse 10, he says, “It was fitting that he…For it was fitting that he.” He's picking up on the language. It's almost like he's saying, “Therefore, in light of the fact that God has put everything under Jesus’ feet, absolutely everything, even though it doesn't always look like it, it was fitting that he should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Now we’ll explore the meaning of that phrase.
The passage really comes in two parts. Verse 10 emphasizes that God has ordained the sufferings of His Son to perfect Him as Savior and to save us for glory. Now there's enough depth in that sentence right there for us to meditate upon the rest of our lives and we’d never ever be able to exhaust it. But that's the truth of verse 10. And then in verses 11 to 13, if you haven't gotten the encouragement that verse 10 is supposed to give you, the author circles back around and he hits you from another angle and he says, “Do you understand what it means that you are united to this Savior who was perfected in suffering so that you could be saved for glory? Do you understand what it means to be united to Him?” And then both in this amazing statement that we're going to read in verse 11 and then in the three Scripture passages that are quoted in verses 12 and 13, he just says over and over again what it means to be united to Jesus.
Now all of this helps us when we are trying to figure out difficulties, trials, struggles, and suffering in our own lives. So let's look to God in prayer and prepare to read and hear His Word. Let's pray.
Father, this is Your Word and we need it. It is possible, O Lord, that we can read Your Word and miss its glorious comforting, saving truth for us, maybe because we're distracted — we're thinking about other things — maybe because we're so troubled that we can't even see straight, we can't think straight, we can't even listen because we're so preoccupied with something that's burdening our hearts. Lord, especially if there are people here this morning that are struggling with that, their own circumstances are so overwhelming to them they can't even hear, I pray that by the Holy Spirit You would block out the noise of life so that they can hear the Word of life and be restored. Now bless the reading and hearing of this Word in Jesus name, amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it, beginning in Hebrews 2 verse 10:
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’
‘I will put my trust in him.’
‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I want to ask you a question this morning. When trials and disappointments, when difficulties and losses and crosses, when crises and suffering come, do you ever find yourself surprised? Does it ever hit you out of the blue and knock you off balance? And I'm not just talking about that gasp for breath when you’re just trying to survive; I'm talking about your spiritual response to it. You know, do you ever wonder, “Lord, what in the world is going on? Why is this happening to me? This makes no sense. I don't see Your hand in it. I don't see any good that can come out of this. I almost feel like You’re against me in this.” Are you ever surprised by your suffering?
Well one key to coming to grips with our disappointments and losses and crises and sufferings in this life, one key to our coming to grips with those sufferings and losses and crosses is to consider Jesus’ suffering and ours. And I don't just mean to say glibly, “Well, Jesus suffered more than we did and therefore we ought to put our sufferings into perspective.” That's not how the author of Hebrews addresses suffering in this passage. He addresses it in altogether a more wondrous way. And I want you to see four things that he says to us in these words.
THE ONE AT WORK IN JESUS’ SUFFERING
The first thing I want you to see is this. Just ask yourself this question as you look at the first few words of verse 10. “Who is it who is at work in Jesus’ suffering? Who is it who is at work in Jesus’ suffering?” And then listen to what the author of Hebrews says because this is going to help you come to grips with your suffering if you understand who is it that is at work in Jesus’ suffering. We read, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist.” Just stop right there for a second and think about that little phrase. Now I know that when you look at that phrase, “For whom and by whom all things exist,” you’re tempted to say, “Well that's just a very poetic way of saying God. The author's talking about God there. God's the one who's doing something. He's the subject to the verb in this sentence and he just says it in a poetic, eloquent way — ‘the one for whom and by whom all things exist.’” But if you pass over that phrase too quickly my friends, you’ll miss a blessing that you need in your trials and suffering because the author of Hebrews is telling you that the one for whom and by whom all things are is the one who is at work in Jesus’ suffering and yours. And that means your suffering has meaning and it means that your suffering is not without meaning. And that is huge.
I want you to think about that for a second because without God the cruelest things that happen in this world are simply something else that happened. If there is no one from whom and by whom and for whom all things exist, then everything that happens in this life, the most obscene, cruel, horrific, horrible things are just something else that happened. If this universe has no Creator from whom and by whom and for whom all things exist, then there is no one for whom all things exist and there is no purpose for which it exists. And unbeliever, you have to face that. I'm so glad you’re here with us today or perhaps listening to us on radio or watching on television. I'm glad you’re here and listening. But I do want you to understand that if there is no one God from whom and by whom and for whom all things exist there can be no ultimate meaning in this world. And that means that when a father is holding a child who has been slain at Sandyhook by a madman, it means nothing. It's just something else that happened because there is no ultimate meaning.
If there's not one from whom and for whom and by whom all things exist, imposing at it were, His meaning on this reality that He has created, there is no meaning. But for the believer, because there is one for whom and by whom all things exist, and the believer knows that, and because that one for whom and by whom all things exist is at work in Jesus’ suffering we may be confident that He is also at work in ours. And we may be assured that nothing we endure is wasted, nothing is unpurposeful, nothing is meaningless, and nothing doesn't matter to Him. Not the smallest thing that we're undergoing in our life is a matter of non-concern to Him. He is concerned about every iota of His people's trials and it is all part of a grand design because He is the one for whom all things exist. You see, he's just given you the first key to grappling with trials and crises and suffering in your experience. The one who's behind everything invests everything with meaning.
THE GRACIOUS PURPOSE OF THE FATHER
Second, don't miss this phrase. It's still in verse 10. “It was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory.” Now what do we learn about the one for whom and by whom all things exist in this little phrase? What do we learn about Him and His designs? We learn what He's up to! What's He up to? What's His purpose? His purpose is what? “To bring many sons to glory.” What we're seeing in that little phrase is the kind and gracious purposes of the loving heavenly Father at work in His plan. We’re being told that when you look at Jesus’ sufferings and when you look at Jesus on the cross and you say, “Why, O God, would You allow Your Son, Your only Son whom You love, to go through that?” He says, “Because I want to bring you to glory, because I want you to be My sons. I want you to be My inheriting children. I want you to be a part of My family. I want you to be in your Father's house. I want you to be gathered around My knees and I want you to enjoy blessing and glory forever. That's why I'm doing that; I'm up to something.”
And when we can see Him at work in Jesus’ sufferings that way we can also know that He is up to something in our lives. If He can use that to bring many sons to glory, is there anything He can't use? If I can get you to think in the Pauline categories and language of Romans 8:32 what does he say? “He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not, with Him, freely give us all things?” If God has given His Son in order that He might bring many things to glory, He will — many sons to glory — He will not waste a single solitary event of suffering in your life in order to bring you to glory.
PERFECTED BY SUFFERING
Now we finally get to the third point and that's what the whole verse is driving at. Just read it without those two clauses intervening. Verse 10 — “For it was fitting that he should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” We ought to all just fall on our faces right now and worship! You will not in this world understand the profundity of the sentence that we've just read. You and I will never in this world understand how profound it is to say that it is appropriate that Jesus be perfected through His suffering. The question that the author of Hebrews is pressing on his audience, his readers, and you and me is simply this. “How is it that God brought about this grand design of His to bring many sons to glory?” And the answer is absolutely shocking. The answer is – He brought about this grand design by making the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. He made the perfect, perfect. He perfected the perfect one, Jesus Christ.
Now this is the passage, if you study different English Bible translations, or if you remember like I do hearing the King James read in your ears growing up in church, you know this is the passage that's translated in the King James, “the captain of our salvation.” And modern translations grapple to do justice to this little Greek word. Our English Standard Version that's the pew Bible here says, “the founder of salvation.” The New American Standard says, “the author of salvation.” The NIV says, “the pioneer of our salvation.” The King James says, “the captain of our salvation.” You can see the English translators wrestling to do justice to the richness of this world. He is the captain, the founder, the author, the pioneer of our salvation.
But here's the mind-blowing thing that we're told. God perfects Him through suffering. What in the world does that mean? It cannot mean that He moves Him from being imperfect to being perfect. He's already dispensed with the possibility of that idea in chapter 1. He's already said Jesus is better than anything. So how do you perfect perfection? The point that's being driven home for those of you who are suffering is that He is the perfect Savior for you in your suffering because He Himself has been perfected in suffering. Do you understand what the author of Hebrews is saying? That when God comes to your rescue in your suffering He does not do that from outside. He doesn't say, “You there, you there who are suffering, I'm going to help you with My power. There, I helped you.” The way He has rescued us in our suffering it to come inside that suffering and He has done that in the person of His Son.
Do you know how it is when you are going through some excruciating experience where you have dear friends, dear friends that you love and that you know love you tenaciously and are going to be with you every step of the way through whatever it is that you’re going through. And at some point you’re talking to them and they’re trying to comfort you and they’re grasping for the words and sometimes something like this comes out, “I know what you’re going through is hard.” And you genuinely appreciate those words and those hugs and those tears and that presence, but one of the things that's going on in your mind when that friend says, because that friend hasn't gone through what you’re going through right now, one of the things that's going on in your mind is, “You have no idea how hard what I'm going through is because you haven't gone through this.”
Do you understand what the author of Hebrews is saying? You can never say that to Jesus. He could say it to you, but you can never say that to Jesus because when you begin to look up to God and cry out to Him with hot tears for help in the middle of your suffering, He's not out there somewhere; He's right next to you. You turn your head and He's right there, and He's experienced things that you have never experienced and will experience. God has subjugated Satan and sin and Satan's purposes in your suffering by subjecting Himself in His Son to suffering and so He has exploded Satan's designs and sin's dominion, even in your suffering, and has won victory in what the captain of your salvation has done. That is why He is made perfect in suffering! The perfect got perfecter. He is exactly the one you want to cry out to in your time of trouble. What did we just sing? “Friends may fail me and foes assail me, but He, my Savior, makes me whole because He's gone through this in me and with me and for me and He will never leave me and He's there when I need Him.” You see, how does God bring about His design to bring many sons to glory? Through the perfecting suffering of His Son He saves you to glory.
But if you still haven't gotten comfort, if you still haven't gotten help he's waiting for you one more time to get you again from the other side. Look at verse 11. And here again is a sentence that I could never ever do justice to. Listen to this sentence! “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.” Can I have a semester to talk to you about that? “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source!” Do you see what he's saying? He's speaking about Jesus as being the one who sanctifies us. It's so interesting; so often in the New Testament it's the Holy Spirit who's emphasized as the one who sanctifies us but here it's Jesus. And that's because the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, always work together in everything that they do for our salvation. So when the Holy Spirit is working for our sanctification, and He does, and He is, Jesus is working for our sanctification. And so he speaks of Jesus as our sanctifier. “He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified,” that's us, that's those who believe in Jesus, “all have one source.”
You see what the author is doing? He's asking you, “How is it that your sufferings and Jesus’ sufferings connect? What's the connection there?” The connection is, Jesus the sanctifier, in His suffering, has been united to you by faith by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel so that you are now part of His body. You are one with Him. You are united to Him. You are in communion with Him. So that His sufferings belong to your benefit and your sufferings are His. That's why Paul could call the sufferings that the church was experiencing “that which is lacking in Christ's sufferings.” Isn't that beautiful? That the sufferings of your life, believer, Paul says are Jesus’ sufferings. That's how closely identified He is to you.
Watch the flow of argument. In verse 10, he says this. God saved you by perfecting His Son through suffering so should it surprise you that He prepares you for glory through suffering since He saved you through the suffering of His Son? Since He was gathering many sons to glory through the suffering of His Son, should it surprise you that He prepares you for glory through suffering?
And then if you didn't get that he says, “Okay, let me tell you another way.” You are so closely united to Jesus, so closely united to Jesus, that Jesus, your Savior and sanctifier, who is serving in His sufferings to gather you to glory, your sufferings are part of His sufferings and they are part of what God is doing to bring you to glory. And look how he emphasizes that. Look at verse 11. First he says, “He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.” So he identifies you and Jesus and emphasizes that you come from one God whose purposes are to bring many sons to glory. Then he says, “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.” He's talking about Jesus. Jesus is not ashamed to call you brothers. You know, one the last day when the accuser points his boney finger at you, you know one of the things that Jesus is going to say is, “That's My brother that you’re pointing to. That's My sister that you’re pointing to. I would you suggest you put your hand down!” He calls you brother! That's how united to you He is.
And not only that, notice he says, “I will tell of your name to My brothers!” He says to God, “I'm going to testify to You amongst My brothers and sisters! I'm going to tell them how faithful You are in suffering because You were faithful in My suffering!” And not only that, “In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.” Do you ever walk away from worship service and you say, “You know I could have reached out and touched God today. He spoke so clearly and powerfully in the Word I could have reached out and touched Him.” One reason why, do you understand, that Jesus at the right hand is not only ever living to intercede but He's worshiping with you in this congregation? He's worshiping with you! He's worshiping God the Father with you, for you, helping you worship. That's how identified He is with you.
And then he says, “I will put my trust in Him.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “I had to put My trust in God. There came a day when I cried out, ‘My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?’” All Jesus had was the trust of God's Word! He says, “When you’re at the end of your rope and all you can do is cry out and hang on and trust,” Jesus says, “I've been there.” “And behold, I” — it's that little Hebrew word. You know it's the same thing that Abraham says. When God calls out to him in Genesis, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Behold, I! Here I am!” And here's Jesus saying, “Behold, I and the children God has given Me.” You see that ties into what we read in verse 10. What's God's purpose in all of this, even in our suffering? To bring many sons to glory. At the end of time Jesus is going to say, “Here they are, Your children, God. I brought every single one of them home. Not a one of them is missing. Here I am and Your children, the children You have given Me.” That's how closely identified to us Jesus is.
So what's the author of Hebrews saying? He's saying, “Do you realize that it was fitting that Jesus be the perfect Savior you need in your sufferings by enduring perfectly suffering for you? And that He is so identified with you that what is His is yours and what is yours is His?” And so when you’re hit out of the blue by the pain and the loss and the suffering, the Father is saying to you, “I made His sufferings serve to bring you to glory and I will make your sufferings serve to bring you to glory too because by faith your sufferings are now His and I will not waste a drop of His sufferings.”
Our Lord and our God, help us to believe what You teach us in Your Word and help every brother and sister this morning in the throes of suffering to trust in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's sing about this. Paul Gerhardt was a Lutheran pastor who knew suffering. Turn with me to number 609, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?”
Believer, receive God's benediction. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.