Suffering for the Sake of the Body

Session 1

The Pursuit of People Through Pain

Thank you so much for coming. I feel, as I begin this seminar — I don’t know how many times I’ve done it, maybe half a dozen or so — that this is the one where I’m most concerned that my heart be right. That’s always important, isn’t it? But here, as I’m looking at you, some of you come so fragile to this seminar, so on the brink of survival, emotionally. You want to hear something helpful about suffering, and I could really blow it if I beat you up or if I shrink back from the truth. So I feel vulnerable that I would not do it in a way that would be pastorally helpful, or that it would not be true. So I would especially like to pray that God would help you to cut some slack for me, and also be very discerning, and pray for me that I wouldn’t say things that are untrue or that would be insensitive or unhelpful.

The Need for Suffering

I have so many preliminary things to say, I wonder if I’ll even get to my talk tonight. Because every time I get ready, I say, “Okay, what should just be off the front burner. From all the files that I have and all the texts that there are, is there anything I should just start with that I didn’t start with last time?” So here’s the first thing that I believe came from the Lord to my mind.

Martin Luther said that three things made him a pretty good theologian. Really, it applies to making someone a pretty good Christian. I’ll give you the Latin first, because that’s the way he gave it, even though he spoke German. First is meditatio, and you can hear what that is, meditation. Second is oratio, and you probably can’t hear what that is, although it sounds like oration. It’s prayer. The third one is tentatio, which means trial. It’s meditating, praying, and being tried (or suffering). The German, as he explained it, was anfechtung (attack from the devil). He said these three things made him what he was.

Do you know the text that he used for that third one? We all believe the first two. Nobody’s going to doubt those and say, “Meditatio (meditation) on the Bible is not good for you, and oratio (prayer) is not good for you.” But some people might say, “I don’t think trial is good for you. It kills faith, as well as builds faith.” He got it from Psalm 119:71, and it goes like this:

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
     that I might learn your statutes.

So in becoming a doctor, a theologian, a thoughtful, useful Christian, he said, “It was good for me that I was afflicted because I learned his statutes.”

Just leave the Bible aside for a minute and study your life. The scary thing about life is that all of you, if you’re over 25, or maybe even if you’ve had enough experience as a teenager, would testify, “I have learned most about God and the deepest and best things about God in the hardest of times.” I wonder if any of you would want to stand up and say, “Over the course of my life, the deepest, most beautiful, most wonderful, most helpful, most spiritual things about God I’ve always learned are when I’m in total health, the sun is shining, the marriage is perfect, I’m on vacation, I’m on the beach, I’m looking at skin everywhere, and I’m really being sanctified.” Well, that is a trial, but it’s not the kind the Bible’s talking about. The reason I say it’s scary is because if you want to grow in grace and knowledge, it means you’re almost by definition asking for trouble. So that’s the first thing I thought I should say by way of a preface

Coming to Terms with God’s Pervasive Sovereignty

The next thing is that I’m aware that there are a lot of young people here. I thought I would pull together just a few stories so that you could connect, because I’m sure given the fact that I’m 62 and I’ve had lots of experiences, most of my illustrations are going to come out of my life, and they won’t stretch back to my time when I was 15, although some might. So I pulled a few out.

Do you remember in 1999 the Staines missionaries in India? Here’s the picture. You probably can’t see it from where you are, but you can just get the idea. This is the family. There’s the dad right there, and there’s the mom, and there’s the 13-year-old daughter and the two boys. I think one was six and one was nine. I forget the details. It’s all in this article here. They had worked for almost 30 years in leprosy ministry, loving the people in their district in India, and a radical Hindu sect cornered Mr. Staines in his Jeep with his two sons and burned them alive. They poured gasoline all over the Jeep, set it on fire, and wouldn’t let them out, and they died.

The response of Gladys and Esther, the mom and the daughter, was staggering. I just mention it because the mom said, “No, we’re not going back to Australia. We spent 30 years of our lives here. We’re here to serve the people. We’re going to forgive and press on in ministry.” The daughter was asked, “How do you feel?” Her response was, “I feel thankful that my dad was honored to die for Jesus.” You take a deep breath and say, “Is that made up? Is that a fairy tale? Is that somebody trying to make Christianity look unrealistic?”

God gives grace for moments. I’ve often thought, if I had to suffer for Jesus, be tortured for Jesus, could I possibly endure? At any given moment, I feel like the answer is no. I mean, I get angry if my shower turns cold when I’m trying to take a hot shower and it’s cold. I think, “What if I had to stand under that for an hour?” So I don’t feel like I’ve got it in me. My only hope is there are graces for every trial. There’s a dying grace, a suffering grace, and tomorrow’s grace is for tomorrow. You don’t have it today. So if you say, “Given today’s resources, I cannot do tomorrow,” then no, you can’t. His mercies are new every morning, and there’s always enough just to get by. Sometimes there’s a reserve.

Well, I think probably, even though I have lots of such stories here, I’ll give you one more. I have to stop, because we have to get going with our text. I realized I didn’t start my clock, so how long have we been going? About 10 minutes or so? I’ll add 10 minutes to my clock. We have to take a little stand-up break for video purposes.

Comfort in the Will of God

This is an email I got from a young woman. I could tell you who it is and she wouldn’t mind, but I won’t, just in case. She’s not here anymore, so I don’t want to identify who it is. Some of you will know. She had about 40 surgeries in her life because of certain disfigurements. She had one more to go, she thought, to see if they could fix one more problem that she dealt with from her birth. She wrote to me after it didn’t work. She said:

I feel complete peace and absolute closure for the first time in my life. The doctor was completely honest with me and said nothing could be done. I left the doctor’s office truly rejoicing in the Lord. I realize now, with full assurance, that this is exactly the way God wants me to look, and no good plan of his for my life will be thwarted on the basis of my appearance. If I needed to look a different way in order to accomplish his purposes, then I am confident he would allow those changes to occur.

I love her and I am deeply strengthened and moved by her, and there are a lot of such people at Bethlehem. I don’t take them for granted. I don’t presume upon you that it would always be that way. Every day’s a new battle. But I just want you to know that when you persevere, your pastor is mightily encouraged.

Helping Each Other in Suffering

This is the syllabus, and I hope you picked it up when you walked in. If you didn’t, you can get it when you leave. It describes the expectations for track one and track two, the seminary track and the non-seminary track. It’s got the outline of the topics. They’re in a little different order than in the booklet, but I’ve got the pages of the booklet that correspond to them so you don’t have to get lost. I’ll try to mention those when we look at the overheads as well.

The name of the seminar is Suffering for the Sake of the Body: The Pursuit of People Through Pain. In other words, I don’t want to just treat this issue theoretically, like, “Why is there suffering? What does the Bible teach about suffering?” But rather, with those kinds of reflections and answers, how do we help each other? How do you take your suffering and make it significant for somebody, or how do you benefit from somebody else’s pain? Because God clearly in the Bible is not treating your suffering as an isolated, individualistic affair.

It is a community reality, and he means for it to be dealt with in the church as an action that does something good for us. Disabled children are a communal issue. Adults who can’t function wholly, like 200 of them who live two blocks away from here and a few who come over, they’re good for us, and so on. That’s the reason I’ve given it that slant — Suffering for the Sake of the Body: The Pursuit of People Through Pain. I want it to have a pastoral thrust, not just a theoretical one.

What does Paul mean when he says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of his body, which is the church, in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24)? He says, “in my sufferings, in my flesh, I do my part in filling up, for the sake of the church, what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” That’s a hugely important verse that we will look at later. Is your vision of God and your understanding of the biblical theology of suffering sufficient to sustain you when God calls you to suffer for the sake of his name here on the home front, or perhaps on the mission field? This seminar is designed to prepare you for such suffering and to help you count it all joy. Then the course outline is on page two, and we’ll start that as soon as we look at just a few books here.


I know that you don’t have time to write these down. I just want you to know this is available if you want it. These are books on suffering and the sovereignty of God that I think would be helpful. Some of them are very old, and some are relatively new:

So that’s a flavor, and if you want to look at that, you can get it from me or ask Matthew back at the book table.

Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering

Let’s jump into the first unit. Here are 10 aspects of God’s sovereignty over suffering and Satan’s hand in it. This will fill up, I think, all of tonight’s session. The plan, by the way, is that we’ll go two hours tonight. That is, we’ll go until 9:00 p.m. without a break, except maybe just a minute or two to change the tapes. Whereas tomorrow, we’ll start at 9:00 a.m., Lord willing, we’ll go for an hour and a half or so, take a break for 10 minutes, and then we’ll finish up around noon. That’s the plan. If you need to leave during this session, I’ll understand. But it’s so short tonight, and it goes by quickly, and there’s so much to say, I don’t want to take a break.

The first thing we’re going to talk about is the 10 aspects of God’s sovereignty over suffering and Satan’s hand in it. The great aim of Satan is to prevent, weaken, and, if possible, destroy faith. God’s great aim is that he be glorified through your trusting him. When you trust him, you make him look trustworthy. So faith is the aim of the ministry and what God is doing in your suffering. Satan’s design is exactly the opposite. He wants to destroy faith. In 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul says:

For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

He mentions the connection between faith and the tempter. If he can destroy faith, he can destroy the mission of the Church to the people of the earth. Jesus said in John 8:44, “Satan is a murderer from the beginning.” He wants to destroy faith, destroy missions, destroy people, and thus dishonor God. That’s his aim.

Satan uses pleasure and pain to do it — pleasure to make us doubt God’s satisfying greatness, and pain to make us doubt God’s sovereign goodness. I’m not sure which is more dangerous. I think the first one is. I think more people lose their faith through pleasure than through pain. Otherwise America might be a more godly place than it is, because we have it pretty easy here, even in the worst of times.

To triumph over Satan in pleasure and pain, we need to know the word of truth that teaches God’s sovereignty over Satan. By the Word of God, we will triumph. John says:

I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one (1 Jn 2:14).

That’s the way we overcome the evil one, by the word of God. May God teach us now his word, that we may triumph for our own souls and for the sake of our neighbors and our nation. That’s my pastoral longing for Bethlehem. I would like to so teach the word that your faith would be sustained through suffering, and that we wouldn’t lose people in their pain. I want people to not rebel against God and throw in the towel and say, “If that’s the way he treats his children, I’m out of here.”

Part of that teaching is answering the question, is God sovereign over Satan’s ability to do things? I’m starting like this lest we don’t take into account the reality of Satan. Satan is permitted right now to do unbelievable damage in the world. If you don’t think about it this way, you’re liable to become a dualist, which is a person who believes in two alternate realities. They would believe that Satan and God are duking it out, and you’re crossing your fingers that God is going to win, because right now it feels like God is out of control. That’s the opposite of what I want you to see in the Bible, and I don’t think that view is helpful, to picture that kind of dualism. I think we are made much stronger by saying, “God always has the upper hand in Satan’s life.” So here we go. There are 10 of these, I think.

1. God’s Sovereignty Over Satan’s Delegated World Rule

First, I look at texts for evidence that he has some world rule, and then I will bring up texts about God’s sovereignty over it.

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

There’s the phrase that I want you to see. Satan is called “the ruler of this world.”

Luke 4:5–7 says:

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

Now, he’s a liar, so you might look at that and say, “That’s not true. He’s lying. It hasn’t been given over to him.” But Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Jesus here in John 12:31 says he’s the ruler of this world, and so in some sense, God has handed over the world to Satan. I think he means this pretty truly here in Luke 4:5–7. If he could get the Son of God to bow down and submit to the devil, the devil would be happy for the Son of God to own the world, because he would be bowing down to the devil, who would own the Son of God. As long as we keep the authority structure in place with the devil at the top, the Son of God can have anything he wants. That’s the trick. That’s the temptation. And Jesus won’t go there. But the point is, the devil’s got a lot of power in this world. A lot.

Satan’s Limited Power

Now, does he have ultimate power in that rule? Romans 13:1 says:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Nobody gets elected, except that God ordains it. Satan does not rule the world at that level, except that God is in control. Daniel 2:20–21 says:

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
     to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
     he removes kings and sets up kings . . .

So God is doing this. If Satan takes somebody out, God is behind him, ordaining it.

Daniel 4:17 says:

The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.

God’s Decisive Ordination

On and on it goes. I don’t think I’ll read all of these. Maybe I’ll go to Proverbs 21:1:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
     he turns it wherever he will.

So even when he’s put in place, he can’t do anything, except what God ordains that he does.

Ezra 6:22 says:

And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

The Lord had turned the heart of the king of Assyria. This is an illustration here of Proverbs 21:1. God ordained that the king of Assyria help build the new temple in Jerusalem.

Psalm 33:10–11 says:

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
     he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
     the plans of his heart to all generations.

Any time God wants to, he can nullify the counsel of the nations. He can frustrate the plans of the peoples. His counsel stands forever. Even though Satan may have huge authority in the world, he doesn’t have ultimate authority. He can’t do what God, in that moment, doesn’t ordain that he does.

Now here’s just a comment about vocabulary. I’m using the word ordain there. I could use the word permit, and I have no problem using it. But here’s the issue with permit. I could say, “God permits wicked rulers to do a certain thing that is sinful,” and that’s not a false statement. But if God has the power to restrain them from doing it, which he does, and he knows what they’re about to do, which he does, then to permit is to permit with design and intention, which is why I’m using the word ordain. You could use another word if you want, just some word that folds in the big picture of secondary causality, but not ultimate, decisive causality. Satan has real causality. It’s just not ultimate. It’s not decisive. Any time God wants, bang, he’s stopping him. I’ll show you lots of texts to that effect before we’re done.

2. God’s Sovereignty over Satan’s Angels (Demons, Evil Spirits)

These are tremendously encouraging. Here’s this strange text from Daniel 10:12–13. You may remember it:

Then he (an unnamed angel) said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.

Daniel had prayed and God sent this angelic being. It continues:

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days . . .

So you have a 21-day battle between two angels, and God’s emissary is held up. That’s weird. Isn’t it? It’s called spiritual warfare in the heavenly places. Twenty years ago more than now, people were writing books about territorial spirits. It got all out of hand. It’s true, probably. You just shouldn’t programatize the whole thing and build your whole missionary world around, “Oh, we have to figure out the spirit over Minneapolis, a spirit of corporate greed. We all gather and pray every night against the spirit of corporate greed.”

Well, you just don’t find any of that in the New Testament. You don’t find Paul and Silas and Barnabas going into any city and trying to check out what the territorial spirit over that city is, and then having big prayer walks through the city to bring down the territorial spirit so that they can do successful evangelism. That’s just not in the Bible. People tried it all over the world 20 years ago and had little amazing things happen here and there, and then finally I think, I hope, have drifted back into normalcy. Normalcy is that the gospel brings down the devil. You preach the gospel in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Athens, and the heavens shake when the gospel is preached. You don’t have to have these little tactics. Daniel 10:13 continues:

The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia . . .

All God has to do is say, “boop”, and this fella is out of it. He’s just dead in one little snap of God’s finger. So why does God permit, or ordain, this heavenly conflict that holds up the answer to prayer for three weeks? We will talk about the “why” of Satan’s ongoing existence, the why.

Control Over the Powers of Darkness

God could just clean house on the demonic realm, as you can see right here. I love this text. I just love these stories in the Gospels.

They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).

There’s the key. He commands unclean spirits and they obey him, so you wonder, what’s going on back here? All he has to do to this prince of Persia is say, “Get out of the way. I have a prayer to answer,” and he would get out of the way. He would. God didn’t say it. He didn’t say it.

Whenever Jesus commands an unclean spirit, they obey. No question. In Matthew 8, he’s gone to the man who is insane, breaking chains, and nobody can control him. He delivers him. Then this is what the demons reply:

”What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” . . . And he said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine (Matthew 8:29, 32).

That is absolute authority over the demons. One word and they obey. Wear that. Own that. You’re going to have some really bizarre demonic experiences in your life before you’re done. I mean, pictures moving on the wall, weird sounds, crazy thoughts of suicide, trains running under your garage, and green things on the ceiling. Don’t be bent out of shape about these. He who is in you is greater than he who’s in the world (1 Jn 4:4), and you just tell those green things, “You can’t hurt me ultimately. In the name of Jesus, leave me alone.” I’m doing this all the time, not necessarily to green things. But worse than green things — green thoughts. Because they’re from the devil. That’s what fiery darts are, right? When they get through, they get through. What do you do? You do this. “Go, in the name of Jesus.”

This little conflict back here was simply allowed by God. It didn’t have to happen. God could’ve said, “Go, prince of Persia,” and he would’ve gone. I underlined this. I love this. What do you think they meant when they said, “Have you come here to torment us before the time”? Demons and evil are irrational. These folks, these demons, know there’s coming a time when this is going to happen. They’ll be thrown into the lake of fire forever. They know that’s coming. And they don’t repent. They love evil so much. They’re totally committed to evil, even though they know they’re cooked.

Have you ever talked to an unbeliever who was so hard, so irrational, so unresponsive, you just shake your head and say, “Oh, this is scary”? Those blank eyes. That completely out-of-touch brain, mind, and heart with regard to what you’re trying to say about spiritual things. They are totally not there. They’re totally sold out to their present lifestyle, and it is in control of them, and you realize you don’t have any power on this planet. Jesus has it all, and oh, how we need him, to be full of him. That’s number two. He has authority over Satan’s demons.

3. God’s Sovereignty Over Satan’s Hand in Persecution

Satan causes a lot of persecution. Here’s an example. First Peter 5:8 says:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Okay, so now you have the devil, prowling around like a lion trying to devour someone. Now, what is that? What’s he talking about? You can see what he’s talking about if you keep reading:

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9).

So the lion is seeking to devour believers, and he’s doing it by suffering. He’s stirring up mobs, and he’s stirring up officials that hate Christians, so that they do horrible, irrational things. I mean, what happened in Rwanda was demonic to the core. It’s the horror of what happened in a moment between friends. Longtime friends were hacking each other to death. Where did that come from? It came from hell. That’s where it came from.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

I think that probably means in heaven. After you have suffered a little while, namely, in your life, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory, will come for you, after all your suffering, and he will bring you to himself and make you whole.

Suffering According to God’s Will

Now look at these verses with regard to the will of God.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4:19).

So even though I have attributed this suffering to the roaring lion and said that it’s hellish, it accords with the will of God if God lets it happen. God could restrain it. I mean, when you read the book of Acts and other parts of the Bible, the first martyr is Stephen, and he was the best. He was the rising star. They could not resist his wisdom. His face shone like an angel. He was the best. And they took him out. The next was James. They chopped his head off. Herod saw how it pleased the Jews, and so he planned to do it to Peter after the feast. Then God opens the door of the jail and just walks Peter right out.

Why not James? If you try to solve that by saying, “James had a bad day. James sinned some that morning,” I would get angry at you, really angry. Because that means you’re going to talk to people in this church that way. And you better not while I’m around. That is not the only way our death is divvied up and our suffering is divvied up. I’m not saying there is no discipline. I’m saying God’s not in a box like that. We have no evidence that James was having a bad day. God is sovereign. Stephen went, James went, and Peter didn’t go, and that’s the way you look at life.

I had a professor who was maybe not even evangelical, but on German standards, he was faithful to the gospel, if not wholly where he should be. He was 63 years old. He was running. I was one year from finishing my program, and he was my doctoral father. He was running for the subway and got nauseated, and within an hour, he was dead. I remember hearing that, and I sat there and I thought my whole program was jeopardized, but forget me. That’s not the point at all. I thought, he was 63 and Rudolf Bultmann and Ernst Käsemann were in their 90s — radical critics of the Bible who didn’t think Jesus said six verses that were in the Gospels — and they lived happily ever after until they dropped. I said to the Lord, “This is really strange, why would you take out one of the more conservative, faithful scholars and leave two of the most radical critics of the Bible?”

So it is with James and Peter, and in your life. You won’t be able to explain those kinds of things. God is inscrutable in the way he applies his sovereignty. Or another example:

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17).

So if you are suffering for doing what is right, not because you had a bad day, you can know God has willed it so. If God has willed it so and you suffer for doing what is right, God has his purposes. 1 Peter is full of suffering and full of wisdom, and I commend the whole book to you.

Appointed Seasons of Darkness

This statement of Jesus in Gethsemane is one I love because of how, at the worst and lowest moment, it is so full of sovereign confidence. He says to the soldiers who’ve come to get him and take him away:

When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.

In other words, “You get one hour, and then I’m coming back.” Do you feel that? He is saying, “This is your hour. My Father and I have decided. We give you an hour, just the unit of time from Gethsemane to Sunday morning. That’s your hour, and you will do whatever you want to me, and I will accept it. And nobody takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord, and if I lay it down, I will take it again.”

I mean, I just love keeping in mind the horrors of submission to the Father’s will here and the glories of the confidence. I hope you feel that way when you walk into times of trial and it feels to you like Gethsemane to the max, sweating blood out of your pores and saying, “My God, my God, if there’s any way, let me out of here.” Nevertheless, they get an hour, or a lifetime, and then he comes for you.

4. God’s Sovereignty Over Satan’s Life-taking Power

Satan can kill you. John 8:44 says:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning . . .

Jesus chalks up Cain’s murder of Abel to the devil, and his own murder. It was Satan who entered into Judas, was it not? He’s a murderer.

Revelation 2:10 says:

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

There he’s not saying it is going to definitely happen, I don’t think, but it might. And if it does, they’ll get a crown. The devil can throw you into jail, and the devil can take you out. But does he have the final say in life and death? He doesn’t. Ever.

In Deuteronomy 32:39, God says:

See now that I, even I, am he,
     and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
     I wound and I heal;
     and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

First Samuel 2:6 says:

The Lord kills and brings to life;
     he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

James 4:13–16 is also a very important one, because it’s just so down-to-earth practical about what you do tonight and tomorrow. It says:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Maybe you say, “Today or tomorrow, we will go to Duluth and look at antiques.” That’s arrogant, he says. Because, at least implicitly, if not explicitly, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we won’t have a wreck and die.” Because that’s what it says. “If the Lord wills we will live and do.” So, clearly in James’s mind, staying alive from day to day is a gift of God. He can take it and he can give it. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Power Over Life and Death

You have to be so sensitive here. Death is a very painful thing for those who stay behind. It’s very very painful. The Bible admits that it is. It says, “We grieve, but not as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). So we really grieve, we really cry, and it really hurts. Loss is very painful. It’s like an amputation, and the closer the relationship, the bigger the wound. So I’m not making light of it. I’m just saying, don’t treat it as though you have been wronged, or as though God has done something that he has no right to do. All life is in his hands, and all death is at his disposal, even though Satan is a murderer.

Are you putting it together? I’m not denying one or the other. Satan is a murderer, and if the Lord wills, you will die in prison. So if Satan ever jumps up and down and says, “I killed James! I killed James!” The Lord will watch him and say, “Well, yes, you did kill James. But you wouldn’t have been able to kill James if I hadn’t let you kill James. So get off your high horse.” The pride of human nature and the demonic nature is very great.

Let’s go here to the bottom just to save some time. These are the three resurrections that Jesus performs to show his authority over life and death:

  • Lazarus, come forth! (John 11:43)
  • Young man, arise! (Luke 7:14)
  • Talitha kum! (Mark 5:41)

Jesus raised three people from the dead. He could’ve raised 30, 300, or 3,000, but he raised three because he was giving pictures. He was giving foretastes. He was pointing to the final resurrection day when he would do that for everybody. We are to see that and say, “He is absolutely in control of life and death.”