- Sermon Notes
God's Purpose in Our Pain
1 Kings 17:17-24
These last two weeks have been emotionally difficult for our family as we’ve gone through the trial and then the penalty phase of the one who killed our daughter.
Many of you are no doubt aware by now that the jury unanimously came back with the verdict of guilty in the charge of aggravated murder of our daughter. The jury was then asked to decide whether he should be given the opportunity of parole after 30 years. The jury voted 11-1 that he should be given the sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Our family waited a long time for this to come to a close so we can put all of this behind us. We knew the trial would be difficult, to have to relive that pain over and over, but it was much more difficult than I thought.
The trial itself was a long and difficult process and its adversarial nature only added to the pain. The last day of legal proceedings, however, was almost surreal.
Our family had the opportunity to speak directly to the jury during the sentencing phase of the trial. Our daughter, Chelsea, spoke about how close she, Nicole and Victoria were to each other and how that was taken from them. Chris, Nicole’s husband, told them that we held her memorial service on their four-year anniversary. He talked about how difficult it was to explain this to the children, how Ethan likes to sit in the window seat in an airplane in the hopes of getting a glimpse of his mother in heaven. He talked about Ethan not having a mother to be there for Mother’s Day tea, but thankful for a loving grandmother, that’s Jordi, to be there for him. And I had an opportunity to speak to the jury as well.
But the surreal moment came after the jury came back with the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The jury was dismissed and the judge was about to impose the sentence, but first, Jordi and I had an opportunity to speak directly to the man who killed our daughter.
I wanted him to understand how much hurt he has inflicted on so many people; on our family, on the woman he brutally raped in Eugene, on the correctional officers he attacked, and the pain he brought to his own mother, father, and brother and sister.
I then said, “Jamie, look at me… In behalf of my family, I offer you forgiveness. Take this as an opportunity to change your life. This has to stop. Your life is not over, there is yet an opportunity to redeem your life. Someday you will stand before the judge of all the earth and give an account of your life. If you want to do anything to help us, then change your own life. This has to end.”
Then, I was so proud of Jordi, because she also stood before him and offered her forgiveness and told him that she prays for him every day.
After that, the judge asked him to stand and said, “Do you have anything to say?” He responded, “I ask for forgiveness.” Those were the first words of remorse that he had ever spoken and I thank God for the opportunity to break through to him. It was truly an amazing moment.
Here’s what I’ve come to understand, God has purpose in our pain. Nowhere does scripture promise us that we will never encounter evil, or difficulty, or experience pain, but God does promise to be with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Even there, we fear no evil because God is with us.
The story of 1 Kings 17 takes place in the northern kingdom of Israel during their darkest and most evil days. They had rejected God and the result was predictable. Their hard hearts brought hard times. God had declared a drought through the prophet Elijah. During the drought, God instructed Elijah to go to Zarephath. There, he was told, a widow would provide for him.
She was kind to Elijah and allowed him to stay in an upper room on the roof, she provided meals from the bowl of flour and jar of oil that God miraculously replenished.
But tragedy strikes when the woman’s son became sick and died. This is where we gain insight for our own faith.
I. Don’t Jump to Wrong Conclusions
- We can understand her broken heart. She was a widow, she had already lost her husband and now her only son was dead as well.
- But when she confronted Elijah it's clear she had reached certain conclusions; she had it all figured out; why this was happening.
- But she had reached the wrong conclusion. And it's easy for us to reach the wrong conclusion about what is happening in our lives as well.
A. Wrong conclusion - God is punishing you
- There is no question this was the widow’s conclusion because she said it outright, “You have come to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!”
- This is as old as the book of Job, he suffered through many terrible tragedies and his so-called friends insisted that he had some sin in his life he was hiding.
- Jesus came upon a man who was born blind and the disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” They already decided that someone sinned; they just wanted to know who it was.
John 9:3, 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.”
- Are you going through something difficult or painful? Could it be that the works of God might be displayed in you?
- Don’t assume you know what God is doing. God may not be punishing you at all, God may be preparing you -- that the works of God might be displayed in you.
- There are several reasons why people often jump to this conclusion.
- Everyone has enough sin to “prove” this conclusion is “right.”
- They confuse consequences of their actions with the punishment of God.
Proverbs 6:26, Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?
- Jesus taught His disciples this very thing.
Luke 13:4-5, “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
- Or to say it more completely, “Bad things shouldn't happen to good people.”
- It’s common for people to come to this conclusion when something bad happens.
- Actually, it's the same kind of logic used in the first wrong conclusion; if every tragedy is the result of our sin, then every good thing is the result of our doing something good to deserve it.
- Therefore, bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. Good things should happen to good people.
Illus – If you hit a golf ball and it goes flying into the trees, then hits a branch and lands squarely in the middle of the fairway, someone will no doubt say, “Wow, you must be livin’ right!”
Illus - In the Sound of Music, Maria sang these lyrics when she discovers that Capt. von Trapp is in love with her, “Perhaps I had a wicked childhood, perhaps I had a miserable youth; but somewhere in my wicked, miserable past, there must have been a moment of truth. For here you are, standing there, loving me; whether or not you should. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must’ve done something good. Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth or childhood I must’ve done something good.”
- Many people believe -- if you’ve been doing something good, something worthy and honorable, then you should be protected from bad things happening.
- Shortly after our daughter was killed one of the reporters asked me, “You’re a pastor, how do you reconcile this with your faith?”
- The assumption behind that question is that because I’m a pastor, because I’m a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, only good things should happen to me.
Illus - No need for an umbrella, when I walk in the rain I never get wet, bugs never splatter on my windshield, I never get burned by the sun. Really? Then why was I raised in extreme poverty? Why did I have an alcoholic father who abused my mother? And why was my daughter killed by someone who simply wanted to know what it felt like?
Illus – This widow had been showing kindness to Elijah; she gave him an apartment above her house and made meals for him from the supply of flour and oil that God had provided. If she had been doing good then where is God’s love and God’s power? Many people cannot understand this.
- Another way to ask it would be; why do bad things happen to good people and why do good things happen to bad people?
- Jesus said in Matthew 5 that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, but we have grace in the midst of it. That’s the difference.
Matthew 5:44-46, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same?”
- God is gracious to those who don't deserve it and God extends mercy to those who don't deserve it.
II. God’s Purpose is Life
- Elijah didn't understand what was happening either. "God, are you causing her son to die?" He then prayed for the child’s life to return to him.
- The Lord heard Elijah's prayer and the child returned to life. This is where we need God's perspective.
A. God transforms us through our pain
- What God was doing had nothing to do with the widow at all. It had nothing to do with her sin, or whether she had been kind to Elijah.
- God's purpose was to transform and strengthen Elijah as a man of faith for the challenges soon coming into his life.
- This event was also a foretaste of God’s power over death so that when Jesus raised a widow’s son the people would know He was a man of God!
Luke 7:11-17, Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Fear gripped them all, and the all began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!”
- God has a purpose in our pain, He used it to transform Elijah and He will use it to transform us as well.
Illus - Sometime after our daughter was killed I was having coffee with my good friend, Judge Tom Kohl. At some point in our conversation Tom referred to the killer by name. I interjected, “I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t use his name.” Tom responded graciously, “I know that someday you will let go of this, you can’t hold on to anger.” And God did heal my heart. I went from not wanting to hear his name to standing in front of him in court and offering him forgiveness, by name.
- Our perspective is so limited. We commonly see things only in light of what is happening at the moment, but there is a bigger picture.
- It takes a long time before a child understands the concept of tomorrow or what might happen in the future. It comes with maturity.
- When God brings purpose out of our pain He is giving us an eternal perspective -- a perspective that is more than for this life only.
1 Corinthians 15:19, If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Illus - Fanny Crosby could see for only the first six weeks of her life. Doctors applied mustard poultices to treat eye inflammation, but it made her blind. Later, she wrote, “It seemed intended by the providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered to me tomorrow, I would not accept it.” She wrote more than 8000 hymns and poems; some of the most powerful in church history.
She wrote, “Blessed Assurance -- Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine… Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”
- There is more to life than this physical world in which we live. God’s purpose is higher.
C. Know in whom you have believed
- God wants to change your perspective.
- He knows that when difficulty comes many will rise up and accuse Him. “Why did my son die? This isn't right! This isn't fair. This is inconsistent; you say you love and yet my son is dead.”
- But if you could see from God's perspective you could also hear God's words of comfort, “Your child is not dead. I'm holding him in heaven and you will see him again.”
- This is what you must know… God is faithful in His love for you.
Lamentations 3:21-23, This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease, His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.
- This is what you must know… God’s purpose is for your good and His glory.
Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity; to give you a future and a hope.”
- What did God say through the Apostle Paul?
2 Timothy 1:12, For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have entrusted to Him until that day.