April 12, 2018 Chapel Service — Rev. Michael Aitcheson

Posted On April 17, 2018

Michael Aitcheson
“Comfort for the Afflicted
—2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Rev. Michael Aitcheson is church planting pastor of Christ United Fellowship (PCA) in Orlando, Florida. He has served in several ministry capacities since 2004 and he completed his Master of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando in 2011. He was ordained a PCA Teaching Elder in 2013.

 

Transcript

Well, good morning, friends. What a delight it is to be here with you all at chapel, and thank you so much, Dr. Nichols, for that warm introduction. I cannot promise that I will be as able and strong as I once was to participate in that [student life soccer] game, but if you invite me and there’s opportunity, I’ll do my best.

I bring greetings to you from Christ United Fellowship. We are a church plant of the PCA in south downtown Orlando. As you heard before, I grew up in Miami, matriculated through the school system there, went to Reformed Theological Seminary, graduated, also graduated from the University of Kentucky. I’m married to Lucy Bergin Aitcheson. We have three beautiful daughters and one on the way, so life is very interesting for us, in the Aitcheson household, with three girls, ages 7, 4, and 2.

This morning, our text comes from 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, but I’m going to ask the Lord’s blessing over our time as we consider some thoughts from His word. Our God and our Father, we thank you for your goodness and mercy toward us. We pray that you would bless us now as we ponder the treasures of your word. We ask for open eyes, open hearts, hearts of stone turned into hearts of flesh. I pray, O Lord, that you would empower me for this, your service. May my words be yours and what is not of you, let it fall to the ground. I boast now in my weakness, that your power may be perfected in me. Not to us, O Lord, be the glory, not to us but to you alone. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen. Hear these words.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

 

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

The word of the Lord.

It was a few months ago now, my family and I traveled up to Kentucky to do a wedding, and you know how it is when you go back to your old stomping grounds. Of course, as a minister, people say, “Well, if you’re in town, would you go ahead and preach for—” fill in the blank, to which I gladly acquiesced. While there, we were hanging out with some old friends, and my daughters, they are a precocious set and very full of life and very active. They love to find the nearest playground and give their full force, full effort in everything they do.

My youngest at the time was on the cusp of turning two, and we placed her on the swing, and she swung back and forth with her older sisters. They wanted to go higher and higher, and she wanted to go higher, but then she reached a threshold where maybe she thought she should just come down quite a bit. She gave us that good old cry, and we took her off, and then Lucy and I proceeded to sit down on the bench while the other two remained on the swing.

Then my daughter came and hovered around my kneecaps. She was bumping into me like that and bumping into me, making sure that I understood she was close by. I took notice of her, but then my wife leaned in and said, “Michael, Carissa wants your attention.” I said, “Oh, is that that thing you talked about where they need a little affirmation, they need a check-in, they need a slight reassurance that their father cares about them?” She said, “Yes, that’s exactly what it is.” My wife is well versed in dealing with little kids. Part of her career was involved with working in the NICU, so she loves kids and she understands these little nuances that people like myself sometimes overlook.

Well, you know, we’re all like my daughter in times of uncertainty and times of chaos, and times of high action and tidal waves of affliction in our life, where we need a reassurance that God cares about us. We need reassurance that God will comfort us in our times of trouble. We need reassurance that God sees everything that we are undergoing, and occasionally we need a word of comfort from the Lord, that He does care about us in our troubled times. Paul offers us just that this morning.

As we consider this idea of the God of comfort, Paul invites us to come and to bring our troubles, to bring our afflictions to the Lord, and to hear a comforting word from Him. I have three points for our consideration this morning: the God of comfort in affliction, the comfort of God through affliction, and then the purpose of God in affliction. Again, that’s the God of comfort in affliction, the comfort of God through affliction, and the purpose of God in affliction.

If we look here first of all at the comfort of God in verses 3 and 4, we see, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” If we look re, Paul bursts out in praise to our great triune King. We see that littered throughout this passage, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see Paul’s Trinitarian theology burst forth in praise as we consider this comforting God.

He mentions two members of the Godhead, and then he proceeds to talk about their character. The God we serve is a comforting God. The God we serve is a merciful God. As a God who is merciful, He oftentimes gives us what we don’t deserve and doesn’t give us what we do deserve. As a God of comfort, He’s one who’s aware of all the troubles in our life, and desires to draw near to us, and desires that we understand of His care and His compassion, of His fatherliness if you will. Scripture all throughout the Bible depicts God as such.

We see in a general sense that God is merciful to all of His creation. In fact, for even a nonbeliever to have a glass of water is God’s mercy. The fact that we are breathing air right now is God’s mercy. The most mundane and ordinary and seemingly menial things in life that we get to experience and enjoy are all parts of God’s mercy.

We see in Genesis 16 after Hagar, the maidservant of Abraham and Sarah, gets pregnant, she looks contemptuously at Sarah, and Sarah gets upset and treats her harshly, and she flees from the presence of the covenant family, and God hears her cry. Now, we don’t know if Hagar accepted the Lord or not, but as she sat down there, she said, “Beer Lahai Roi,” which means the Lord sees. The Lord saw the affliction of this woman. The Lord heard the affliction of this woman. The Lord was very aware of the trouble that she was facing.

Matthew tells us that the Lord reigns over the just and He reigns over the unjust. There’s a general sense in which God is merciful to all of His creatures, but we do know of a mercy that is particular to His covenant people. Exodus tells us that the cry of the Israelites reached the heavens as the Pharaoh that arose who knew not Joseph afflicted the people of God and increased their labors out of fear that they were growing too big and would take over. Their cries reached the heavens. The Lord saw. The Lord heard. He was very in tune with their situation, and He raised up a leader, a deliverer, in Moses to settle business with Pharaoh, to show mercy to His people, to deliver His people from their bondage to the oppressor. They experienced a special mercy of God. They experienced deliverance from their great enemy, Egypt.

As we move on, we see God’s mercy just showered more and more over His people. We get to Mount Sinai, and Moses and the Lord are doing business together. At the foot of the mountain, we see all sorts of trouble breaking loose. We see an idol being constructed, and God says, “I tell you what, Moses, I’m about to bring some judgment on these people. They’re misbehaving greatly.” Moses petitions the Lord, “Lord, can you please take it easy on us? You destroy us, there’ll be nothing left. Remember your covenant with Abraham, will you? For the sake of your promise, will you remember us and have mercy on us, Lord?” God says, “I’ll send an angel before you to clear out the land, but you go without me.”

Moses pleads with the Lord that His presence would remain with them. Moses did not want the Promised Land without the One who made the promise. In that exchange, God said to Moses, “The Lord is merciful. The Lord is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Beloved, we serve a merciful God who does not give us what we oftentimes deserve. God would have been fully right and just to take out all those people right there at the foot of the mountain, but He gives them mercy. He gives them what they don’t deserve. God gives us what we don’t deserve.

We see this comforting character of God in Isaiah 40, where Isaiah says, “Comfort my people—Comfort my people.” This is a word to Israel on the tail end of Assyrian oppression with the view of Babylonian captivity ahead of them, and God gives them a comforting word from the prophet Isaiah.

We know that this is a forecast to John the Baptist who would come and be the forerunner to Jesus Christ, where we see the fullest expression of God’s mercy at the cross in Jesus Christ. The judgment we deserve, He took to Himself. The mercy we don’t deserve is what we got, Beloved. That’s the good news. We see the mercy of God at its highest in Jesus Christ, who took the punishment, who took the wrath, who took the justice of God that we deserve. I tell you, we don’t get what we deserve. Oftentimes, God gives us what we don’t [deserve].

Beloved, I want to say to you that not one of us in here, there’s not one of us in here who has not at some point in our life wondered if God cares about us. There’s not one of us in here who have undergone seasons of stress, seasons of difficulty, tsunamis of suffering that have wondered if God cares about us. I don’t care how much money you have. I don’t care how much social standing you have. I don’t care how much education you have. Every last one of us in here have wrestled with that great question— God, do you care? God, do you see the trouble that I’m facing?

We all know that life can bring trouble, which many temporal blessings, sweet they may be, cannot provide comfort. There are some things in life where material blessings are of no use when we’re going through difficult times, no matter how great. Only recalling the mercies of God in Jesus Christ and casting ourselves afresh on Him in our seasons of burden will provide us with this comfort. Only considering what God has done for us in Jesus Christ will provide us with this comfort that we so desperately long for in our times of trouble.

Paul also tells us that God provides comfort through the affliction of others. Paul says here in verses 4-6 the “comfort of God through affliction.” We see in verse 4 that He “comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted.” We’ve read 5. Jump down to 6, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”

Beloved, the sovereignty of God reaches to the very sufferings that we face in life. Sometimes we think of God’s sovereignty as this great thing. He’s just ruling the nations. He’s ruling the world. He’s bringing about all of His plans, and He’s carrying out all of His purposes. We neglect to remember that His sovereignty extends right down to the minute details of our life, our everyday life, right down to the very simply sufferings. As insignificant as they may seem to others, they are under the care of God’s providence.

The Westminster Confession tells us that God’s providence is His most holy, wise, powerful, preserving, and governing of all His creatures and all their actions. God’s superintends the affairs of every situation in our life. His sovereignty is not just this distant abstract concept. It reaches down to the troubles that we face on an everyday basis.

You know, Beloved, I think that one of the things that we are wrestling with now particularly here in the American church are teachings that convince people that suffering is a sign of small faith, that trouble in your life is a lack of not giving God enough money, or you don’t believe in God enough, you know, the so-called prosperity gospel, or the so-called health and wealth gospel. I want to reject that wholeheartedly and tell you that it’s quite possible that the most faithful servants may experience the most suffering. God may call you as a faithful servant to suffer for His name that His glory might be revealed in your life.

I don’t want you to think for one second that the suffering you face in your life is necessarily a result of small faith or necessarily a result of some sin in your life. Yes, it is true that sometimes our sin results, our poor actions result in God’s chastisement. There is no doubt about that, but I want you to understand that you, it is quite possible, could be walking faithfully with the Lord and He want to visit you with suffering for the sake of His glory and your good.

God does not waste any time in our life. Is this not the pattern that our Savior has set for us? The Christian life involves suffering simply because this is the paradigm that Jesus Christ set for us. It was suffering before glory. It was cross before resurrection. This is the paradigm of our Savior, suffering before glory and cross before resurrection. Jesus said, “If the world hated me, the world will hate you. If anyone would follow after me, he must pick up his cross. He must deny himself.” If you follow after Jesus, you can expect that there will be suffering in your life.

I have a settled conviction now as a young pastor, my few years in, that we all can expect trouble in our life. We’re certainly not above our Savior, whose ministry was characterized by such. Jesus Christ said that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve as a ransom for many. He was born to die if you will. Paul tells us that He humbled Himself, that He left His place in glory, left all the praise and honor and glory that was due Him, took a human nature to Himself, became fully God, fully man. The humiliation of Christ, not only that, but He died for us and died a shameful death on the cross reserved for thieves. You see, Beloved, the Christian life is characterized by suffering. It’s a paradigm that our Savior set for us. We can expect troubles in this life.

This quarter for me has been a particularly challenging one in my own life. I want to say to you all that even ministers are not exempt from dealing with afflictions and trouble. I had to call a dear friend of mine who is my accountability partner, my encouragement when I’m going through difficult times, and he knows that I’ve had a suicide in my family. There are people who are struggling with marriages. There are friends whose parents passed away. Then, just Saturday between Friday night and Saturday morning, somebody stole my laptop with all my life on it. I walked back in the house filled with anger, and I said to my wife, “You know, quite honestly I want to cry.” I said, “I’m angry. I’m upset.” Everything going on all at one time. That felt like a tidal wave of challenges this past quarter, one thing after the other.

I told my friend and he said, “Mike, you know, people think that as ministers we have some sort of special line, special connection with God, but hey, we’re a part of the priesthood, too. We have to experience trouble in our life, and we also have to deal with this truth about which we preach on a regular basis to our people.” Beloved, I want to let you know that even the ministers of God have to face affliction and hardship. We are not exempt from it in our lives either.

But Paul encourages us in verse 6, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.” We see that through affliction, through suffering, through troubles that God uses it to minister to other people. He uses it for the sake of their spiritual welfare. We see here that Paul was a man who was filled with all sorts of trouble on his missionary journeys. If we were to look at Acts 19 while they were in Asia, it’s possible that Paul here is referencing some of his trouble when he was in Ephesus and a riot broke out. He was accused of all sorts of things throughout his missionary journeys. We look more closely at his suffering in just a second, but Paul tells the Corinthians that we experience these things to bring comfort to you. The purpose of our affliction is that God might use us to comfort you in your affliction.

We know the story of Joseph. He was Jacob’s favorite son. Jacob was obviously guilty of a little bit of favoritism, and Joseph’s brothers envied him. He had a dream that one day they would be serving him, and it incited more hatred and animosity in the hearts of his brothers. One of them said, “Well, why don’t we just kill him?” Reuben, the oldest, stood up and said, “No, we shouldn’t kill out brother. Why don’t we just bury him, put him off, send him off, and sell him off or something?” We don’t know if Reuben had Joseph’s interests in mind or if he was trying to curry favor with Jacob as the oldest, but what we do know is that Joseph, who did not deserve the harsh treatment he got from his brothers, was sold into slavery.

While in slavery, God stood right by Joseph’s side and gave him favor with Pharaoh, so much so to the point that he became the second in command of Egypt. Everything was entrusted to Joseph’s command and authority. Only he was second on the throne to Pharaoh. When a famine struck the land, he had a vision that a famine was coming, so he was able to help Egypt prepare. That famine reached back to his family, and they came, and because of God’s favor he was able to bless his family and spare them from the famine.

Then as Jacob’s life came to a close, Joseph’s brothers got worried. They got worried because they thought that maybe Joseph would avenge this wrongdoing. Joseph said to them, “Am I in the place of God? What you meant for evil, God meant for good. As it is now, many lives have been saved.” He tells them not to worry, “I will take care of you and I will take care of your family,” and they make themselves servants of Joseph’s God. There’s a conversion that takes place there.

You see, Beloved, it’s very difficult at times to know where God is going when you’re facing trouble in your life. It’s very difficult at times to know if God is going to do anything with this. But I want to encourage you all this morning that very often God tends to work through our affliction to the benefit of others. That’s the kind of God we serve. He works through the very afflictions we face in life, and sometimes he uses the affliction of others against us to save those very same people, as we saw in the story of Joseph.

Perhaps you are dealing with stress in your home. Perhaps you have unrest with certain family members. Maybe there are some folks that have transgressed against you. Maybe there’s some folks who have afflicted you in some hurtful ways. Well, let me tell you all this morning, don’t underestimate God’s ability and perhaps God’s desire to use those very afflictions to minister to those people who have hurt you.

Yesterday, I had to give a mini sermon at a public event in downtown Orlando at a place called Grace Medical Home. It’s a Christian clinic that’s committed to helping the working uninsured. I gave my message, and then afterwards we had testimony time. I was so moved by this one lady who got up boldly and with remarkable clarity, and said to everyone with a great deal of vulnerability that, “I was suicidal, that I was depressed, that I was jobless, and this place, Grace Medical Home, ministered to me.” As a result, I was able to lead that young lady sitting in the second row to Christ.

You see, Beloved, sometimes we cannot see at the beginning of our trouble what God is up to, but I pray that in your time of trouble right now, that you would have a remarkable testimony like that woman who got up and said that God met me through this ministry. And as a result it led to somebody else coming to Jesus. God works through our afflictions to the spiritual wellbeing of others.

We see here as we move on the “comfort of God through affliction,” but now we move down to the purpose of God in affliction, somewhat related to the second point. Verse 8, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Do not take lightly what the apostle Paul is communicating to us. The apostle Paul wants us to know the real side, the real treacherous, the real complicated, the real dangerous, the real suffering-oriented side of his missionary journeys.

Sometimes, I believe we read the Bible so fast that we don’t take time to pause and think about just how much this dear brother ours, the author of these numerous books in the New Testament, underwent in his service to Christ. He despaired life itself. You see the heart of a real man. You see the heart of a real person. You see the heart of a pastor here. This is an honest, vulnerable individual right now saying that, “I despaired life. That’s how great our afflictions were.”

Some of you may be able to say sometimes living just takes the life out of you. That may resonate with you. This was part of his missionary journeys. This was part of his ministry life. What an invitation to enter into the sufferings of Christ, but what a warning. I understand that many of you in here have interest in vocational ministry. I do not want you to think for one second that you are being called to a petal of roses, a yellow brick road to joy and happiness. The call to ministry is a call to suffer. It is a call to experience some trouble in your life. You will not be exempt from dealing with the hardships of life. You will not be exempt from the despair that comes from hearing of the trouble in other people’s lives that you yourself do not have the ability to repair.

There will be many brokenhearted days. You will see people in their sin, and you will desire desperately for them to move from this point to that point in their sanctification. You will wonder if your ministry means anything. These are all realities that the apostle Paul faced. These are all realities that you can expect in the ministry. Let that sober you. Take courage, but let that sober you, that there is a call to affliction in the ministry, and that’s in addition to your own personal problems and your own struggle with sin that you will face.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11 a litany of things that he underwent, 2 Corinthians 11 and we jump down to verse 25. He says, “Three times.” Excuse me, 23. Let me jump up even further.

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

You thought you had a bad day. You might be having a bad day. Maybe your day is as bad as the apostle Paul’s. Maybe you’ve had multiple bad days like the apostle Paul. Cheer up, Beloved. You’re not the only one that has suffered or will suffer in this life. Perhaps you may be thinking about a job loss. Perhaps there may be marital conflict in your life. Perhaps your health is failing you and you are concerned. Paul tells us in verse 9, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

What have we? What is God’s purpose in affliction? What is God up to? He’s up to multiple things, but one of the chief things that God is after is our trust. God wants us to depend on Him. God will oftentimes bring a tsunami, a tidal wave, a hurricane of troubles in our life so that we will depend on Him and not our own strength, so that metaphorically speaking when we experience death in our life, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will be a power at work in our lives, to raise us above our situation or to give us strength amidst it. God doesn’t always take away the trouble. Sometimes he gives us the strength we need to endure the trouble. He’s a good God, Beloved. He does this to remove the kickstands. He does this to remove the self-reliance.

We here in the American church are so inundated with self-reliance, self-industry, “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, that we think we actually can handle all these burdens in our lives better than God. And the Lord invites us to try Him and see. He does this by bringing trouble in our life so that we will see we in fact need Him, so that we will in fact see that we are weaker than we thought. Weakness is not always bad, Beloved. It’s in our weakness where we see Christ’s strength magnified. It’s in those times when we diminish where we see Christ elevated, so God wants us to depend on Him.

Paul says here in verse 10, “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope.” My dear brothers and sisters, this is not an unfounded optimism. This is an assurance that God, just as He has cared for us in the past, just as he cared for the Israelites in their time of affliction, He will care for us in Christ. Just as He has delivered us from our troubles in the past, in the present, He will deliver us from all of our troubles in the future.

We have the assurance that God will care for us, that God will comfort us, that God will be everything that we need Him to be in our times of trouble. Paul tells us that we can actually rejoice in our sufferings because it produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, character, hope, and hope does not let us down because God has poured out His Spirit into our hearts. Whenever we see God deliver us from our trouble, it strengthens our assurance. It strengthens our confidence in His ability to care for us.

Oh, Beloved, try God and see. The Hebrew writer tells us, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with all of our weaknesses. He’s been tempted in every way as we have, yet without sin, so we can draw near to him in our time of trouble.” We have a God who’s well acquainted with the trouble of our life. we have a God who is well acquainted with every minute, or seemingly minute affliction, you face. He invites us to receive his comfort. He invites us to draw near to him.

As I close, Paul tells us that this light and momentary affliction is achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs anything. He says that we are to look to the things that are not seen, for the things that are seen are transient, they’re fading away. Beloved, there will come a time when Jesus will return and establish His kingdom here on Earth, and all the troubles of this life will give way. All of our afflictions will dissolve. All of your pain will be addressed. All of your tears, all of your heartache, all of your sorrows will cease forevermore, for we will be in the comforting presence of our triune King for all eternity. Paul invites us to come and know this God of all comfort.

Would you pray with me? Our God and our Father, we thank you for your goodness and mercy toward us. We thank you that you are a comforting God who does not waste time with our troubles. Holy Spirit, we ask that you would seal this word to us, that we would serve you with joyful obedience, and that our hope would be strengthened amidst our affliction. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.


Transcripts are lightly edited.