EXPECT TO SUFFER FOR JESUS
Dear Christian friends,
Luke chapter two is the beautiful Christmas story that begins with "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Excuse the King James translation, but that is firmly engrained in my head. The story concludes “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke doesn’t stop there. If Luke two were some kind of fairy tale as some actually believe (many say it is a myth), it would read that Mary and Joseph and the baby went to Nazareth to live happily ever after.
That’s not what happened. According to Jewish Law Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and was named Jesus. On the fortieth day the rite of purification for his mother, Mary, took place. On that day, the couple and their world-changing forty day year old baby met a man by the name of Simeon. God had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Savior. The Spirit revealed Jesus the moment Mary and Joseph and their baby entered the temple. Simeon cried out he could die in peace because his eyes beheld his salvation and the salvation for both Jew and Gentile alike.
But then came the-not-so-happy part. “Behold this child will cause the fall and the rising of many in Israel and to be a sign spoken against… and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Even if you know just a little about the life of Christ, you know what those words meant. Jesus would suffer and die and his mother would be a witness. Mary would suffer.
Peter tells us that suffering was not limited to Mary. All who would follow will too. “Don’t Be Surprised that You Have to Suffer.”
Every Christian is the object of good news/bad news. The good news is that because of Jesus we get to heaven; the bad news is that the road along the way is very bumpy. I like to compare our lives to a two dimensional painting. There is a glorious background to the painting. That’s where every Christian is going – to eternal glory. But because a painting is shows height and width, we don’t know the depth. We don’t know how far it is from where we are to that glorious background. We don’t know how long it will be for us to go to heaven, but the time until then is filled with all kinds of potholes. It is filled with all kinds of trials. That includes taking it on the nose for Jesus. Peter says it like this, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
Jesus said suffering for him is reality. He once said, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” The apostle Paul was called to follow Jesus in a most stunning way - from persecutor to preacher, from murderer to missionary. Ananias, God’s point man to instruct Paul was told by the Lord, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” The book of Acts teaches us how deacon Stephen became the New Testament’s first recorded martyr. After his murder the floodgates of persecution were opened and Christians were driven from Jerusalem.
This is the way it has been throughout history. Abel, son of Adam and Eve, was killed by Cain, son of Adam and Eve. Why? Abel offered a better sacrifice to God. Cain was jealous and killed his brother. History books record the insults and the blood shed over he ages against the people of God.
This causes confusion. Why does a good and gracious God who loves his children allow such a thing occur to his children?
But all of this simply demonstrates the enormity of the tragedy that took place in Eden. Those who preach a theology of glory where Christians have a Midas touch and all turns to gold are seriously misrepresenting the truth of Scripture and the reality of life. When preachers preach that if you have enough faith you will be healthy and wealthy and satisfying the itching ears of many, just don’t speak the truth. Satan has not left the building. Satan has not left the world. The eternal curse of sin has been wiped out, but the earthly effects are still reality. Christians will suffer for their faith. Christians will suffer on this side of the grave in all kinds of ways. Only in eternal glory will that change. We must persevere in the meantime.
Also remember this: the suffering we incur is evidence of the God given faith that we have. Jesus once said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” It isn’t surprising that Peter, who was with him when Jesus said those words then writes, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
The word blessed means to be happy. You can be happy to be persecuted because your faith is showing. There was a time when Peter and the other apostles were jailed for telling the people of Jerusalem the truth about Jesus. God opened the prison doors during the night and told them to go back into the temple courts and continue to preach the Gospel. That God-given perseverance of the apostles was frustrating to the Jewish leaders. They had a face to face with the leaders. Gamaliel, a Pharisee, stood up and said something wise. He said to his fellow Jews that if what the apostles were teaching was false, it would die a natural death. If what they said was true and came from God, nothing the Jews would do or could do to stop it. No truer words were spoken. When they were released, the Scripture says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Peter notes that people ought to suffer if they are murderers or thieves or criminals. They ought not whine or complain their suffering is somehow unfair. When suffering for Christ, however, suffering is an honor. “You are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Faith is evident, faith that was created by the Holy Spirit. When you suffer for Christ, it proves the Holy Spirit lives in you. Peter says it like this, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
I had a conversation with someone this week about why Christ is hated so much. Christians are about loving one another, even our enemies. Ten Commandments teach us to respect authority, life, marriage and family, people’s God-given possessions and the reputations of others. We sure don’t do that perfectly, but as redeemed children of God we strive to do so. So why do Jesus and his people have so many enemies? Allow me to provide a list.
• Because you believe in God; that irritates the atheists and agnostics;
• Because you believe in the Lord Jesus; that irritates all who aren’t Christian;
• Because you believe that God gives us his word as truth; that irritates the evolutionists who don’t believe that there is a God much less create all things out of nothing in six normal days. It also doesn’t sit well with historians because the Bible makes Jesus the center of all of history. Many don’t want to believe that.
• Because you believe the commandments reveal God’s will.
o They call homosexuality sin and perversion;
o They call the abortion sin because unborn baby a gift from God who needs Baptism and was granted life to serve God and not have his life cut short.
o They commandments call laziness and dishonesty sin that damns and needing the blood of Jesus to forgive.
• There is so much hatred against Christianity because the truth is
o No one can save himself or herself; Jesus is the only one who saves.
o Yes, anyone who speaks and believes otherwise will be damned. That doesn’t win us too much favor with the damned either.
The Christians suffer but it gives evidence of the faith we uphold.
The Christian’s suffering will end on the last day. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Judgment Day is coming. No one is exempt. Believer and unbeliever will go through the final judgment.
Peter quotes from a Proverb when he says, “And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’” Those words are really striking, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Jesus saves. Only Jesus saves. He did all the heavy lifting. Through the Holy Spirit it becomes ours by faith.
Yet the road along the way is tough and brutal to stay faithful. The temptations to fall and fall away are constant. The sinful nature, which will never leave us this side of heaven, causes doubts that last a lifetime. Paul himself acknowledged it, “The good that I want to do I don’t do and the evil that I don’t want to do, that I keep on doing.” It is a 24/7 battle. It seems like we are always losing the battles as sin barges in on life. We are tempted to ask, as many do, “How can God actually save me?” The answer is , however, God does save us. That’s the beauty of grace. Jesus did all the dirty work
That’s why the last words Peter leaves us with are these, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” God allows us to suffer. That’s his will. I say this all the time: If life were easy, we would never want to leave. God wants us to leave this life because he has much better things in store for us. We simply don’t have the comprehension how good it will be. Commit yourself to the God who gives us the patience and endurance to make it to the finish line.