Todays topic is something we can all relate to: suffering. We have all suffered in one way or another–a physical illness, a death in the family, or even persecution for being a Christian. In the gospel of John, we find examples of each of these. I want to examine an account of each, and glean insight from the narrative as to why we go through hardships, and how God can still shine through our darkness.
John 9:1-3 “As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in Him.”
John 11:1-4 “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
John 21:18-19 “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.”
What is common in each of these accounts? The purpose of their suffering. The glory of God! It is for God’s gain of fame, and not ours! That makes sense, doesn’t it? If God was simply looking for our earthly benefits and financial gain, there would not be a trial in the first place! But no, God values His own glory far more than our comfort–and so ought we!
First, what is the glory of God? Put simply, the glory of God is the display of Who He is. It is just like if we said, “The glory of the sun is sunlight.” So basically, when Psalm 19 says that the heavens are declaring the glory of God, it means that the stars and all creation shows us something about the Creator. Or as Paul speaks of creation “displaying His hidden attributes and divine nature,” in Romans 1.
So, just as God’s creation shows us something about God, our trials can also show how the world God’s greatness. We need never feel that our trials are meaningless. The man was born blind so that the works of God will be displayed; Lazarus was sick and died for the glory of God and the Son; and Peter’s martyrdom was a death by which he glorified God.
1. The man suffered blindness for the glory of God (John 9)
We are not told exactly how old he was. The only clue we can get is from verses 21-23 where his parents say that he is of age. We know that he went many years without sight, having never seen anything. This man always needed to depend on the aid of others to get around. From the fact that this man was a beggar (verse 8), we know he was poor also–and that makes sense for he would not have been able to work. This man suffered a lot in his life. A skeptic would say that no good God could exist because of this senseless suffering.
God made this man born blind so that He could display His works through him. If this sounds unbearable and unattractive, remember who this God is. Deuteronomy 32:39 says, “It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal.” Or God’s words to Moses in Exodus 4:11 “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” God has the right to do as He pleases with that which He has created. If “my pain for God’s glory” sounds like a bad trade, remember the words of godly men. John the Baptist says of Jesus “He must increase, but I must decrease,” and that in Jesus’ presence “my joy is made full” (John 3:29-30). Or how Paul’s desire was that Christ would be exalted in his body, whether in life or death (Phil. 1:20).
Simply check out the results of this man’s healing! This blind man came to believe in Jesus, as did many others!
Verse 16– Many realized that Jesus must be from God because He did such a miracle.
Verse 17– The man testified that Jesus was a prophet.
Verse 31– Many saw that Jesus was a God-fearing man.
Verse 33– They also learned that Jesus is sent from God.
Verses 35-41 Jesus has a one-on-one conversation with the man, where he confesses that Jesus is the Son of Man.
If we do not see souls being saved as “worth it”, then we have a twisted perspective on life and the gospel. His temporal sorrow lead many to everlasting joy; his momentary suffering freed others from eternal suffering in hell.If saved souls doesn't make suffering 'worth it,' we have a bad persective on the gospel. Click To Tweet
Now, what is interesting to note is that the term the glory of God is used elsewhere in this chapter. In verse 24 the Pharisees say “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” They too desired God to be glorified by this miracle! Now obviously they got it all wrong because they did not know that Jesus was God, etc., but the common sense logic is still the same: A miracle is done —> God gets glory!
2. Lazarus allowed to suffer death to the glory of God (John 11)
This story is interesting because the events were intentionally orchestrated so that Lazarus died. Verse 6 says that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, “He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Wow! He didn’t seem to care! He wasn’t in a rush! Again in verse 15, Jesus says that Lazarus is dead and that He’s glad that He wasn’t there. We learn that it was “so that you may believe.”
What do we see from this? Jesus was in total control. We know from other miracles that Jesus had the power to heal long distance (Matt. 8:8; John 4:46-54). So Jesus didn’t even need to go to Lazarus. And even when Jesus could have gone to Lazarus personally and heal Him, He opted not to.
Just think, Jesus could have still glorified God by doing a miracle to heal Lazarus! But Jesus wanted something bigger! He wanted to let Him die, and remain dead for 4 days, so that this could be an even more remarkable, unfakeable miracle! Again, the purpose was for the glory of God.
Right before Jesus raises Lazarus, He says to Martha “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” And so she did! Notice also that He then prays out loud. He didn’t have to, for God always hears Him. Jesus even says that this out-loud prayer was for the sake of those who hear! That makes sense: Jesus prays and asks for Lazarus to rise, then immediately after that Lazarus rises. That proved indisputably to the crowd that it was God who raised him!
So that is one way God gets glory: He shows His power through a miracle. But what else? Well we also learn that Jesus has authority over the dead. Jesus gives life to whom He wishes. We learn that whatever Jesus asks, the Father gives, for the Father loves Him. This is all found in Chapter 5 if you wish to read on your own later.
3. Peter suffered martyrdom for the glory of God (John 21)
All we’re told is that Peter’s death glorified God. The Bible does not record his martyrdom, and we don’t know much about his death from history. All we know from history is how he was killed (crucifixion upside-down) and perhaps where (Rome). But we can learn one plain, important truth from this: That those who suffer for Christ glorify God.
So let me just quickly list 3 ways that martyrs for the faith glorify God, and then I will conclude our study:
- They glorify God by showing their persecutors who their King is! They will not allow men to control them. When a Christian is martyred they show their killers that to obey God and preach the gospel is much more important than obeying man (Acts 4:18-20). God is the one to fear, for He kills both soul and body in hell, whereas man can just destroy our body (Matt. 10:28).
- They glorify God by showing how valuable the gospel is! Jesus says that those who suffer for the gospel sake will receive 100 times what they lost (Matt. 19:29). The gospel goes far beyond any temporary, physical comfort we may experience. Jesus thought very little of His crucifixion because He was looking past that shame to the future joy (Heb. 11:1-3). Remember this: No pain can ever outweigh the goodness of heaven, and no comfort can ever make hell worth while. People’s eternities are at stake.
- They glorify God because they preach God’s Word. We must declare His precepts, works, and ultimately the gospel of Jesus. Remember that God’s glory is the display of Who He is. When we share the gospel, even if those who hear never get saved, we still displayed for our hearers the amazing love of God shown at the cross as Christ suffered God’s wrath in the place of His people. God is glorified any time His Word is preached faithfully. For just one person to hear the gospel, it is worth being burnt alive.
God glorifed even when He doesn’t miraculously end our suffering
So to close, let’s look at this a little differently. We saw two examples of suffering where those hurt individuals were healed. And we may think, “Those lucky ducks! What about me?!” because God does not always intervene in such big, noticeable ways. God does not always raise our family members; God does not always heal our diseases and disabilities. So is God still glorified even when we are not healed? Is there any purpose for my life-long suffering?
Let us look at two examples from Paul’s ministry that God doesn’t need to heal our pain in order to be glorified by it.
The first is in 2 Corinithians 1:8-9. They went through much hardship and even came close to death so that they would trust in God. Our hardships show us our frailty–our inability to protect ourselves. When we go through a trial so awful that we lose all hope from human means, we can give up and let God take care of us. God glorifies Himself in our own hearts when we realize that God is all we have.
Again in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells of how he had “a thorn in the flesh” and he begged God 3 times to remove it. Sure, Paul would have given praise to God had He healed him, but God had other plans. God placed that thorn in Paul and kept it there to keep him from exalting himself. God showed His greatness through Paul’s weakness saying, “My power is perfected in weakness.” So God was preventing Paul from giving glory to himself for his own giftedness. God made him a broken vessel whereby if anything good comes out of it anyone can conclude that it must have been God’s doing.
So with us and our suffering. If God so chooses to perform a miracle and heal us, He will be glorified by the display of His power outwardly. But if He does not wish to heal us, but leave is in a condition of pain, may He be glorified as we remain humble and dependent upon Him! May God be glorified as the world sees our unwavering character whereas they would be bitter! May God be glorified as those around us see what an anchor our hope is!