The subject is large, the questions momentous, and the take-away can be life-altering.
In Part One of our study on the issue of suffering, we looked at Romans 8 and what Paul said under Holy Spirit inspiration as he weighed what we are going through here on earth against what we will experience for all eternity in Heaven. We looked at the curse that rests upon all the earth—animals, humans, plants, even the earth itself. We looked at some hard questions about why God allows evil, about our freedom of choice, and “why doesn’t God just kill the devil and make this suffering end?”
Paul wants us to get an eternal perspective about the suffering we experience. Admittedly, this is difficult when you are in the middle of it.
If you missed Part One, I urge you to first read that study, so not to be at a disadvantage.
We talked about three words: bondage, liberty, and hope. Bondage is what we and our earth are subject to under yesterday’s curse (resulting from Adam’s fall). Liberty is tomorrow’s conquest. Hope is today’s comfort.
1. Turn to Isaiah 50:10-11. We will examine these two verses, central to this study, phrase by phrase. Fill in the key words.
10“Who is among you that ______________ the Lord, that ______________ the voice of His servant?”
Most of us would raise our hand and say, “Me, Lord. I reverence You, and I obey the voice of Your servant. When my pastor preaches, I listen.”
So far, so good. Then comes the next phrase:
“that walketh in ________________ and has no _________.”
Wait a minute. Something’s wrong here. Shouldn’t it say, “that walks in the light and has light”? I mean, if you’re following God, you should always have light—right? Then why do we sometimes feel enveloped by darkness? After all, the Bible is filled with verses about light, relating it to God the Father (“the Father of lights” James 1:17) and Jesus Christ (“the light of the world” John 8:12). So to say we are sometimes in the dark seems to be a contradiction. When our lives have been plunged into darkness, if we’re not careful, we’ll become disillusioned. But there are things that are only seen in the dark.
As you study the Bible, you’re going to find that the greatest saints from time to time found themselves surrounded by darkness. As you grow deeper in faith and in your walk with God, you’ll be at that place sometimes as well. Let’s look at the struggles of Job, Habakkuk, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul. How did these saints, two Old Testament and two New Testament, come through these times with their relationship with God intact? They are examples God has provided to show us how.
2. Turn for a moment to Job 1:1. (The obscure word “eschewed” means to avoid, evade or shun.)
a. What sort of man was Job?
b. Yet in Job 19:8 he laments,
“___ hath set __________________ at my paths.” WHO set it? _________
Job says “I’m just stumbling—with no light.” He suffered trouble, confusion, heartbreak, pain, and he never understood why until he got to Heaven. For Job, the question was, “Why, God?”
A CLOSER LOOK: “WHY, GOD?”
I want to tell you, why is not our question. Why is God’s question. How is our question. How are we going to react to these things when we are left in the dark, when the lights go out?Think now about the possibility—the probability—of the darkness that comes to the child of God. Contrary to popular opinion, the Christian life is not all sweetness and light. Sometimes people get the distorted idea that if we give our hearts to Jesus Christ, from that point onward it will be joy and light, and we’ll move through life in an ever-ascending scale of health and success. Then we’ll have a serene old age and a glorious exit right into heaven. Be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. There’s no need to pretend that people who fear the Lord and obey the voice of His servant don’t have problems. They do.There is much truth in the Word of God to comfort us in times of suffering, but times of darkness will come in your life, times when you are perplexed, cannot understand, and spiritually you will not be able to see your hand before your face. You will cry out, “Oh, God, why?” Even sermons dealing with pain and suffering in Scripture will not really be of help to you. I have learned that human beings can bear almost anything if they see a reason for it. But if we don’t see a reason, then we are bewildered and can become demoralized. I’ve been a pastor long enough to know there are questions neither I nor anyone on this earth could answer, and we would be better off not to try when people ask, “Why did this happen?” I generally don’t try to get philosophical. I just try to be helpful; to pray, encourage and love.
3. The prophet Habakkuk was deeply perplexed and didn’t understand when certain things that happened. Turn to the small book of Habakkuk. In the Old Testament, if you go past Psalms, you’ll find Habakkuk is the eighth book past the book of Daniel. Look at the opening of Habakkuk.
a. What is he lamenting in 1:2?
b. What is he asking in verse 3?
c. What does he find to be unbearable in 4?
We’re going to come back to Habakkuk in a moment, but now, what about Jesus’ first cousin…
John the Baptist
What an incredible statement Jesus gave about the character of John the Baptist.
4. Turn to Luke 7:28. Jesus Himself said,
a. “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a ___________ ______________ than John the Baptist”
Yet even John the Baptist came to his moment. Herod was winning the day temporarily, and he had imprisoned John. Thrown into a dungeon, John the Baptist was in such darkness and confusion, he sent a question to Jesus. Still in Luke 7, go up to verse 19 (or see Matthew 11:3—these are two accounts of the same event). John asks:
b. “Art Thou He, or should ____ _______ _____ ______________?”
John even began to doubt Jesus was the Messiah—and John was the one who had performed Jesus’ baptism!
Look at what John had declared in Matthew 3:3,
c. “Prepare ye the way of the ________, make His paths straight,”
d. And in Matthew 3:11,
“He that cometh after me is ______________ than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall _______________ you with the _______ ___________, and with fire:”
e. Matthew 3:14, “I have need to be baptized of _________, and comest Thou to me?”
John went from these declarations of faith to asking, “Are you really the Son of God?” eight chapters later. If John, the first cousin of our Lord, who had been sent to prepare the way for Him, could be in such a dilemma, you know you can go through times like this as well.
5. By the way, let’s not leave John the Baptist in the dungeon in his despair. What did Jesus instruct John’s men to go back and tell him? (Read His reassuring words in Matthew 11:4-6)
4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see:5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.
Notice that Jesus does not answer with a “yes” or “no,” but leads John to logically come to what conclusion?
A CLOSER LOOK AT VERSE 6
“What does verse 6 mean?” you ask, “‘not offended in Me’”? Jesus is saying, “Blessed is everyone who doesn’t reject Me because of what I do,” or “who doesn’t stumble along the way because of Me.”The Amplified Bible gives it this way, “Blessed is he who takes no offense in Me and who is not hurt or resentful or annoyed or repelled or made to stumble, [whatever may occur].”J. B. Phillips version says, “And happy is the man who never loses his faith in Me.”
The Apostle Paul
Outside of the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ, there was never a greater human mind on earth than the apostle Paul. Yet in Paul’s epistles he admits to being perplexed.
6. Turn to 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. We are encountering light and darkness again. Circle these where they occur in this passage in your Bible.
5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.
6 For God, who commanded the _________ to shine out of ________________, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Now Paul uses 4 words to describe his state of mind:
8 We are _______________on every side, yet not distressed; we are ____________________, but not in despair;
9 ___________________, but not forsaken; _______________, but not destroyed;
You see, Paul didn’t always have answers for the things that happened. He was perplexed. If you’re perplexed, you and Paul are kindred spirits. If you read the biographies of the great saints, you’ll see that they went through what was called “the dark night of the soul.” Darkness is not unusual.
7. You are still in 2 Corinthians. Turn forward to 11:24-26. Paul reports,
24 _______ times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was _____________, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep [floating in the Mediterranean Sea]. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;…
8. Paul experienced beatings, persecution, and physical harm so often that once he was even left for dead.
Turn to Acts 14:9. Paul is on his first missionary journey, accompanied by Barnabas. They have preached boldly in Antioch and Iconium, but in Iconium, some men’s reaction to them was violent. They moved on to the town of Lystra. We pick up the action here:
19And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having ____________ Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been ____________.
The mob thinks they have finished him off and are dragging a dead body to dump him outside the city.
9. Back to the 2 Corinthians 4 passage, see verse 10:
10 Always bearing about in the _________ the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the _______ also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
What is this verse saying? Having several versions available to compare when you are studying Scripture in depth is most helpful. J. B. Phillips renders the verse this way:
“Every day we experience something of the death of the Lord Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours.”
The Amplified Bible says,
“Always carrying about in the body the liability and exposure to the same putting-to-death that the Lord Jesus suffered, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown forth by and in our bodies.”
Another version interprets Paul as saying,
“We always carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies [Remember, Paul was in constant danger of the kind of violent death Jesus experienced] so that the life of Jesus [resurrection life] can also be seen [revealed; manifested] in our bodies.”
Paul understood that he truly “carried the death of Jesus in his body.” He might be called home at any time!
The suffering and trials we experience are:
We’ve looked at two Old Testament saints and two New Testament saints who went through severe trials, equal to or greater than those you are experiencing. Job certainly did. Weighed against the experience of the saints throughout the ages, can you agree that what you are going through at least is not unique? Here in the United States, compared to Christians in other nations, we live relative lives of comfort and ease. But worldwide, it is not that unusual.
This time of suffering will not be unfruitful. There are some things that are only seen in the dark. After a period of darkness, you will see more clearly than you’ve ever seen before.
10. Thank God, it is an experience that is not unending. If you’re in the darkness right now, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay in darkness.
a. Turn to Psalm 112:4. What arises in the darkness?
b. Who does it arise for?
c. Turn to Psalm 30:5, a familiar and comforting verse.
“For His anger is but for a moment; His favor is for _______. _____________ may endure for a ___________, but _____ comes in the _________________.”
If you’re in darkness now and have a broken heart, it will endure for a night. But one day God is going to flood your world with light. The real test of character is what you are in the dark.
d. Remember what David wrote in Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk”—what?
Just because you cannot see now doesn’t mean you will never see. Just because you cannot understand now doesn’t mean you will never understand. A hymnist once wrote,
“Not now, but in the coming years.
It may be in the better land
We will know the meaning of our tears,
And there someday we will understand.”
Someday. I promise you, someday the Lord Jesus will pull back the shades of night, pin them with a star, open the window of your heart, and flood it with the sunshine of His light.
If you are a child of God and find yourself in darkness, perplexity, and cannot tell which way to turn, what to do, and nothing seems to make sense, you’re in good company. It has happened to the best of saints.
11. Turn back to Isaiah chapter 50, where we began our study. Remember, this passage says you can fear the Lord and obey the voice of his servant and still be in darkness. It’s important to understand that. It does not necessarily mean you are not right with God. Thank God for Isaiah 50:10,
“Let him ____________ in the name of the Lord and ________ upon his God.” for it tells us THREE THINGS TO DO when this happens:
1. TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD.
Look to the Lord. You do not have to understand, just trust.
TRUSTING WHEN WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND
The great Bible teacher Dr. Warren Wiersbe said, “We do not live by explanations. We live by promises.” Simply trust the Lord. Just because things do not make sense to you doesn’t mean they don’t make sense. And just because they don’t make sense to you now doesn’t mean they will not make sense to you someday. The old Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Where reason cannot wade, faith must swim.” Keep trusting and keep obeying. If you have feared the Lord and obeyed the voice of His servant, keep doing it.
CONTINUE PRAYING—even if you don’t understand and your prayers don’t seem to get through. When you come to the Lord in prayer and it’s dark, and you don’t feel like praying, come with both hands filled with the incense of Jesus’ worth, and pray anyway.
CONTINUE WITNESSING.—If you’re in a valley, your heart is broken, and there’s darkness all about you, just keep on witnessing, telling people about Jesus. Even if no one seems to respond and nobody gets saved, keep witnessing. If you have an unsaved spouse, and you have witnessed and prayed, just keep witnessing.
CONTINUE GIVING—Perhaps you’ve been a tither; you’ve been giving. Your pastor has taught you ought to trust God with your finances, and you have a financial disaster. Just keep tithing. Keep giving.
CONTINUE PRAISING—If you’ve been praising God, singing “No One Ever Cared for Me like Jesus,” and the bottom falls out and life caves in, keep praising. When you don’t feel like praising, praise God anyhow. Look to the Lord.
2. STAY (LEAN) UPON THE LORD.
Look at this verse again. “Let him trust in the name of the Lord and stay upon his God.”
The word stay there literally means to lean for support. It’s the same word translated staff in Psalm 23. His staff is what the shepherd would lean upon.
God may keep you in the dark so you’ll keep your eyes on Him.
Sometimes God will put you in a place where you won’t have anything else but Him to lean on, and you’re going to have to lean on God. You’re not going to be able to understand. But it would be better to be in a dark valley leaning on Jesus than on a sunlit mountaintop without the Lord Jesus. Stay upon the Lord. The relationship is more important than the reason.
Sometimes God will not show us why in order that we might have to know Who.
12. The 23rd Psalm begins, “The Lord is my shepherd. He leadeth me.” David, the Psalmist, is talking about the Lord. But by verse 4, once David walks into the dark valley, he is not talking about the Lord, he’s talking to the Lord, saying, “_______ ____ with me.” No longer He, no longer the Lord, but Thou.
God will never be nearer to you than when you have found yourself plunged in darkness. Standing somewhere in the shadows you’ll find Jesus. Darkness may hide, but it cannot divide.
We looked at the life of Job. Job was perplexed. His life went upside-down, inside out, everything was darkness, blackness, and Job did not know why! He says, in effect, “God, You owe me some answers!” The book ends with Job still not knowing, but Job declared, (Job 13:15) , “Though He _______ me, yet will I __________ Him.”
Job is leaning upon the Lord. Sometimes we don’t know why so we might come to know Who. “Who” is the Lord. At the end of the day, we might have, not a reason, but a relationship. That is more important than a reason.
3. LEAVE IT WITH THE LORD.
Look in the next verse of Isaiah 50, verse 11.
13. Isaiah goes on to say,
Behold, all ye that ___________ a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of ________ fire, and in the sparks that _____ have kindled. This shall ye have of Mine hand; ye shall lie down in ____________.”
What does this mean in plain English? If you’re in darkness, don’t light your own fire. If you do, what you’re going to have from God is to “lie down in sorrow.”
Why not light your own fire? Because the darkness you’re in has been ordained of God. If you are walking with God and darkness comes, it can only be because God has ordained it.
You’re not out of the will of God. Isaiah here is not talking to a person living in rebellion but one who fears God, who is obeying the voice of God’s servant. He’s talking to a reverent, obedient, godly person. He says, “When you’re in darkness, just trust in Me, lean on Me, and don’t light your own fire.”
To understand this Isaiah 50 passage better, an example from Dr. Rogers’ own front yard will help. He wrote one time,
“You shouldn’t light your own fire because manmade fire is deceptive. Joyce and I have a sundial out in front of our house. From time to time I go out and see if I can tell what time it is. I can do that in the daytime, but I cannot go out there at night and find out what time it is by shining a flashlight on the sundial! A flashlight can make it say any time I want it to say. It just doesn’t work that way. Manmade light is deceptive. If you kindle your own fire, if you bring your own knowledge and your own wisdom rather than trusting the Lord and obeying the Lord, you’re going to make a mess. “This shall ye have of My hands; you shall lie down in sorrow.”
14. We can think of many times in Scripture where great saints of old did this and lived to regret it.
a. Remember the time Abraham (Genesis 16) thought he’d help God out when God didn’t produce an heir for him in the time frame Abraham wanted? He’s in darkness. He takes matters into his own hands. What was the result, one that has affected the Middle East now for 4,000 years?
b. God told Moses he was going to deliver his people, Israel. But Moses became impatient. When he saw an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave, what did Moses do? (Exodus 2:11-15)
Moses took matters in his own hand. He lit his own fire. Starting out to be a missionary, he ended up a murderer and set the plan of God back by forty years. He spent forty years on the back side of the desert in exile as a result.
c. Simon Peter. In dark Gethsemane before His crucifixion, Jesus asked Peter, James and John, His inner circle, to do what?
But Peter and the others fall asleep. Then come the guards into Gethsemane to take Jesus away. Peter, awakening out of his stupor in the darkness of night, with perhaps the noblest of intentions—or perhaps yielding to his own temper—sees Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Peter does what? (John 18:10)
Not only was it wrong, it put Peter in such jeopardy, he “goes undercover,” flees, curses, swears, denies he’s a follower of Jesus Christ, goes out and weeps bitterly concerning that terrible night. What happened to the brave, stalwart Peter? He lit his own fire.
Here is the bottom line. There will come times—I’ve been there, and you’ll be there sooner or later—when you can be right with God, loving God, obeying God, yet in darkness saying, “God, I don’t understand.”
Like Job you may say, “God, You owe me some answers.” You may not get the answers. Job didn’t. But you still need to be like Job and say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
You need to make a decision now, before that time of confusion and darkness comes—and it comes to every life. You must decide, God helping you, you will keep trusting Jesus. NOW is the time to make that decision.
Never doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light. You will go through that dark valley. You’ll come out on the other side. Just
Trust in the Lord, lean upon the Lord, leave it with the Lord.
Many taking this study are saved, born-again members of God’s family. Yet this has spoken to you and you say, “I am in darkness. I don’t understand. I don’t know what to do.”
Let me pray for you.
Dear God, I lift these dear believers to You. I ask You, Holy Spirit of God, to guide them, for You’ve said, Lord, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God, the daughters of God.” Father, help them just to obey You when You speak. But, Lord, if You don’t guide them in ways where they are perplexed, just help them, Lord, to wait upon You and trust You, not barge in and begin to manipulate things.
Help them to stay upon You and leave what we do not understand in Your hands. Help each one to keep on doing good. And in the thing that perplexes them, help them, Lord, to trust in You until You see them through.
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