Suffering to Be Glorified
Romans 8:12-17 (ESV) So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Epistle Reading for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity)
The second type of soil Jesus describes in the parable of the four types of soil (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) is when the seed falls on rocky ground with only a thin layer of topsoil, which springs up quickly but whose roots cannot go deep enough to get sufficient water and nutrients, so the sun quickly kills it. Jesus explains, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”
This situation involves a shallow faith in Jesus, one that says, “Oh, Jesus is great, I love Jesus,” and maintains enthusiasm as long as times are good, as long as he does not face any challenges or trials. I am afraid that many Christians who buy into the health, wealth, and success theology of false teachers like Joel Osteen end up burning out when times get tough. Contrary to teachers who would make the Christian life out to be a cakewalk with a heavenly conclusion, Jesus says we may be persecuted for His sake (Matthew 5:11). St. Paul encouraged the Christians at Antioch to continue in the faith but also said “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Tribulation does not sound like a blessing, but Paul comforts us in the Trinity 8 Epistle reading by saying, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Suffering and trials precede glory, just as they did for Jesus and Paul. This is God’s will for Christ and for us, and that is God’s gracious working in our lives, for our good. Tribulations call our rocky soil to repentance. So we should not have any false understanding of the Christian life: it will be filled with troubles, and the Gospel does not include a provision for great wealth, perfect health, and emotional happiness.
In fact, health, wealth, and happiness can choke God’s Word in our lives and snuff it out. The third situation Jesus describes in the parable is the seeds that fell among thorns. After the plants grew up the thorns choked and killed them. Jesus explains, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
One theme that resounds throughout the Bible is the deceitfulness of riches and worldly pleasures. If we place the accumulation of wealth or personal happiness before the Word of God, we will be choked to eternal death through these fleshly things. As St. Paul says in our Epistle, “If you live according to the flesh you will die.” The flesh describes all of our sinful ventures for worldly success and happiness that take the place of God’s Word in our lives. That doesn’t only include money. Anything we put ahead of God’s Word becomes an idol, or a thorn. Worrying about day to day things like food and clothing is just as thorny as greed. So the thorn-infested soil calls us to repentance as well.
Jesus concludes the parable, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23). May the Lord always grant us grace to be good, fruitful soil!
Prayer (LSB 685: 2, 4):
Let us suffer here with Jesus
And with patience bear our cross.
Joy will follow all our sadness;
Where He is, there is no loss.
Though today we sow no laughter,
We shall reap celestial joy;
All discomforts that annoy
Shall give way to mirth hereafter.
Jesus, here I share Your woe;
Help me there Your joy to know.
Let us also live with Jesus.
He has risen from the dead
That to life we may awaken.
Jesus, You are now our head.
We are Your own living members;
Where You live, there we shall be
In Your presence constantly,
Living there with You forever.
Jesus, let me faithful be,
Life eternal grant to me. Amen.