Suffering Well
March 10, 2024

Suffering Well

Preacher:
Passage: Psalm 69

Introduction: Suffering in the Church

Starting tonight, we’ll be spending the next few weeks walking through passages of the Bible that talk about suffering. And there are a few reasons it makes sense to do this now.

First, because just about everyone suffers. Whether it’s mental, relational, physical, or spiritual, suffering is a topic that touches all of us. Kids, it’s possible you haven’t suffered before. But you likely will. So it’s important for us to prepare ahead of time, before the hard times come, so we’ll be ready.

But second, this topic is timely because a number of us are experiencing hardship right now, or we’re still trying to make sense of pain from the past.

And third, it’s appropriate to think about suffering as we draw closer to Good Friday and Easter. Because Jesus Christ suffered. He knows our sorrows. And the sufferings of Christ are uniquely able to help us as we suffer.

So if you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Psalm 69. I’ll be starting at verse 1. But before I read the passage, please pray with me:

[PRAY AND READ TEXT]

The Psalms: A Divine Songbook of Human Experience

The Psalms in the Bible are actually songs. We have here 150 songs that God brought into being, through the pens of several godly men. The psalms speak to a wide range of human emotions and experiences, including suffering.

This psalm, in particular, was written by an ancient King of Israel named David. This is the same David who, as a teenager, killed the giant man, Goliath, in battle. But even though people often emphasize the successes of King David, he was unusually familiar with suffering. David spent years as a fugitive, running from a jealous king he had once faithfully served. David had to live with memories and consequences from some serious moral failings. Some of David’s beloved children died in infancy. Others were physically abused or murdered in adulthood. One of his own sons even betrayed him and tried to become king in his place. David knew suffering, and he knew how to take his suffering to God.

We don’t know precisely what trial David was facing as he wrote Psalm 69. But in verses 1-21, David prays about his righteous suffering. In verses 22-29, David petitions God to oppose the wicked. And from verse 30 to the end, David praises God for his future salvation. And from the outset here I want you to notice what David is doing in his suffering. He’s bringing his pain and hardship to God. He’s looking beyond the persecution he’s getting from his enemies. And he’s looking to the promises he has received from His God. And we’ll soon see that this Psalm doesn’t just tell us about how David suffered. It also tells us how Jesus suffered, and thus how we are called to suffer, with resilient faith and real hope.

Prayer About Righteous Suffering

In the first section, as David prays about his righteous suffering, we can immediately sense his anguish. He hides nothing from us. Instead, we see multiple discouragements that David is forced to grapple with.

No Rest from Suffering (vs. 1-3)

First, David can find no rest from his suffering. In verses 1 and 2, David isn’t literally sliding into a miry mud pit. But that’s what his suffering feels like. He feels like he has nothing solid to hold or stand on. Keeping his head above water is a constant struggle. And even then, the waves keep crashing over him, threatening to drown him. Minute by minute, month after month, he’s bombarded by the same despair, the same difficult relationships, the same temptations, the same chronic pain. There’s no rest.

And notice verse 3: “I am weary with my crying out. My throat is parched.” This isn’t David’s first cry for help. He’s been calling out to God, over and over again. His suffering hasn’t been a short sprint. It’s been a marathon! David has been watching and waiting for His God. But still, there’s no sign that God is calming the storm. There’s no rest.

No Reason for Suffering (vs. 5-9)

David also struggles because there’s no good reason for his suffering. In verse 4, David cries out, “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause.”

David insists here that he hasn’t done anything to deserve hatred and mistreatment. [He is hated without cause]. And it’s perplexing! If you knew that people were angry at you because you had done something wrong, then your suffering would at least make sense. But the people attacking David aren’t being reasonable. His enemies are being scandalously unreasonable. They’re hating him, not because he’s wicked, but because he’s good – because he’s loyal to God. This is why, in verse 7, David tells God “It is for YOUR SAKE that I have borne reproach, that dishonor has covered my face.”

No Respect in Suffering (vs. 6-21)

And related to this, David struggles because he realizes that there’s no respect in his suffering, even though he’s an honest man – a man of integrity. Instead, in verses 7 and 9, David says that he has become the object of reproach. And in case the word reproach here isn’t familiar, someone who bears reproach is someone who’s publicly shamed and dishonored, as we see in verse 15: “You know my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you.” And when people turn against us like this, it wears us down. It’s emotionally draining. As David says in verse 16: “Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair.”

David must have felt terribly misunderstood and misrepresented. Many men and women of faith throughout history have felt the same. And you may feel the same, too. Here we are, pouring out our hearts to love others in truth, and yet our family, friends, and fellow Americans may withdraw from us, or label us as hypocritical bigots, or criminalize us as menaces to society. Taking a stand for God and his word won’t make us popular with the world. A life of faithfulness, more often than not, will be a life of suffering – with no respect.

Petition Against Evildoers

David is burdened by these concerns, and he brings them to God in prayer. But in verses 22 through 28, the tone of his prayer changes. David is no longer crying out about his anguish. Instead, in this new section of the Psalm, raises a petition against evildoers. He recognizes that these evildoers are first and foremost not his enemies, but God’s enemies. And so David asks God to judge them. In verse 22, he prays that they would be trapped without release. In verse 23, he asks that they would be blinded and weakened. In verses 24 through 28, he prays that God would pour out his anger on them, and to punish them without forgiveness, and to subject them to death.

David’s prayer probably sounds a bit extreme. But notice what David is not doing. Even though David is a mighty warrior who has the rights of kingship, he doesn’t use his government powers to get vengeance. He doesn’t pick up his sword to repay personal enemies with evil. Instead, he entrusts his situation to the judgment of God. Though these evildoers are clearly in the wrong and justice is on His side, David continues to wait for God, even though it’s hard – even though it hurts, as David confirms in verse 29: “I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high!”

Praise for God’s Salvation

But notice, now, in the last section of our text – David’s tone changes again, dramatically. In verse 30 to the end, David’s petitions end, and he begins to praise God for his salvation. Verse 30, “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” In verse 34 he calls the heavens and earth to praise God, too. Why? – Verse 35, “For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it.”

The remarkable thing about this change in David is that He hasn’t been relieved of his suffering yet! The reproach and pain and shame and all those things – David is still in the middle of it! So what changed? Why is he suddenly so confident that God will save him?

The text doesn’t tell us explicitly. It could be that setting his mind on God in prayer helped strengthen his weak faith. It could be that he was reminded about particular aspects of God’s character – God’s kindness, God’s justice, God’s almighty power. Or it could be that David was reminded of God’s promises – that God would give life, blessing, and salvation, not only to David, but to all his covenant people. This would make sense of David’s words in verse 35.

But in any case, David reaches a place of joy and peace in the midst of his sufferings. He’s able to persevere in faith – he’s even able to praise God in the midst of his anguish – because He knows that light is coming after darkness, even though He can’t see it yet. But these words aren’t just written about David and his suffering. They also tell us about Jesus Christ.

Jesus, The Suffering King Who Ends our Suffering

See, many years after David, in Luke 24 (starting in verse 44), Jesus told his disciples “’These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ In other words, Jesus is saying that the Old Testament of the Bible is pointing to him, to his sufferings, and to his glory. We aren’t interpreting the Old Testament correctly if we fail to see Jesus promised and prefigured in it. This doesn’t mean absolutely every word or sentence is directly talking about Jesus. But many of the historical figures of the Old Testament – especially the prophets, priests, and kings – are prototypes of Jesus. They were intended to prepare God’s people to receive the ultimate prophet, priest, and king who was yet to come. When the Spirit moved King David to write about his sufferings, here in Psalm 69, the Spirit was also, knowingly, telling us about the future sufferings of King Jesus.

He wept over defilement and death. He was despised because of his zeal for God’s house. He was opposed by enemies greater in number than the hairs on his head. He was hated without cause. He was betrayed. He was falsely accused. He was given bitterness for food and sour wine to drink on the cross. His body was mutilated with whips, thorns, and nails. In countless other ways, Jesus suffered.

And the sufferings of Jesus help us in two ways. First, Jesus shows us how to suffer well – how to suffer in faith. In all his suffering, Jesus doesn’t use it as an excuse to lash out with vengeance, or to give himself over to self-pity and despair. He doesn’t sin in his suffering. Instead, He continues call out to His Father. He continues to entrust himself to his Father’s judgment. And this is how we as Christians are called to suffer, as well. 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

But Jesus also helps in our suffering, because his suffering is the very thing that guarantees that our suffering will end. See, the reason suffering exists in the world is because of sin. We aren’t just sufferers. We’re also sinners – we have missed God’s mark. We have violated his truth. We have despised his character and his commands. For as long as we’re defined by our sin and disconnected from God, suffering is what we deserve. The Bible is clear on this.

But when Jesus suffered, he suffered for sinners like you and me. He took the blame for our ungodliness. At the cross, he received the punishment and the suffering we deserved. And as a result, for those who trust in Jesus, the power of suffering has been broken. Though in this life you may face trials of various kinds, they won’t last. They won’t master you, or define you, or destroy you. Instead, the same power that raised Jesus from death will ultimately raise you from death and set you on high, where suffering is banished forever. God will keep his promise. Because Jesus has suffered, we will be saved. Our pain will be turned into praise. We will call, and He will hear us. So let’s call out to God in prayer together: