Jesus Takes a Faithful Church from Bad to Worse

In America, too often we believe following Jesus equals comfort and prosperity. When we sign up to walk after Christ we sign up for a life of occasional problems, but mainly ease and peace. Church is the place we gather to talk to like-minded folks and hear some nice words about the Bible but not a place to regroup and then go fight. We do not expect our Christian faith to cost us. This also means that when we do run up against something difficult or a time of hardship we expect Jesus to deliver us. This can be something as small as a broken vehicle or something as large as cancer. Our assumptions about discipleship mean we expect Jesus to rescue us, especially when we are faithful.

But in this life Jesus does not always deliver the faithful. The church at Smyrna (Revelation 2: 8-11) found this out. When Jesus comes to them they are a church that has already suffered. Jesus says he knows their works. He knows their “tribulation and poverty.” Because they followed Him they have already sacrificed. Their love for God has made them poor. Though there is not direct praise, it is clear from verse 9 that Jesus is pleased with their steadfast faith in the midst of persecution.

What do you think is going to happen now? Surely Jesus is going to swoop in like one of the Avengers and rescue this faithful church. Smyrna has been faithful now they will be rewarded with peace, right? No. In fact, he takes them the exact opposite direction. Jesus says, “Do not fear the things you are about to suffer.” More suffering is coming, a suffering  so great they will be tempted to fear and possibly abandon the faith. Jesus is not promising them an easy time. But it gets better. The Devil is going to throw some of them into prison. You are already poor, but you will become poorer. You have lost your possessions. Now you will lose your freedom. Then comes the crowning moment, they will die. Jesus says, “Be faithful until death.”  The implication is clear. “I am not going to rescue you this time.”

There are a lot of lessons in these few verses. Jesus knows our suffering. Jesus is with us in our suffering. Because of that we need not be afraid. If we overcome, we will not be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:11) because our Lord was dead and came back to life (Rev. 2:9). If we are faithful to death we will receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

But the lesson most of us need to hear is that Jesus does not always rescue the faithful in this life. We all know this in our heads, but our day to day life does not reflect this truth. We expect ease and comfort. But he does not always take us from green pasture to green pasture. Sometimes he takes us from very little grass to no grass at all. Sometimes he moves us from loss of a job to cancer or from one friend stabbing us in the back to being lynched by a whole bunch of former friends. We can be faithful to Jesus and become poor. We can be faithful to Christ and enter tribulation. We can be faithful and Jesus lets the Devil throw us in prison. We can be faithful and Jesus says, “I want you to die.” Is this the Jesus we follow? A Jesus who might tell us, “Good job suffering. Now I want you to suffer more.”

Kissing the Cross~Quotes on Suffering

Tomorrow I will be preaching on why our good Father allows us to suffer. Here are some quotes from men of faith and from the Scriptures about suffering. Of course, these are only a few Scripture verses on suffering from the hundreds I could have chosen. Without suffering we cannot be sons, which is hard to hear because we often think that being a son will keep us from suffering. 

Scripture

Exodus 2:23-24
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 

Job 3:1 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 

Psalm 69:1-3
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. 

Psalm 119:71  It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

Psalm 143:3-4
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. 

Luke 23:32-33
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 

Acts 5:41
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

II Timothy 3:12
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

Hebrews 2:10
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 

Hebrews 5:8
Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which he suffered. 

Revelation 1:9
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

Quotes

God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering. Augustine

Holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh, by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. Martin Luther

It is indeed a singular consolation, calculated to mitigate [lessen] the bitterness of cross, when the faithful hear, that by sorrows and tribulations they are sanctified for glory as Christ himself was; and hence they see sufficient reason why they should lovingly kiss the cross rather than dread it. John Calvin 

Christ did not suffer so you wouldn’t suffer. He suffered so that when you suffer you will become like Him. Tim Keller

God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis

To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering, which is the fruit of exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.  Richard Sibbes

The secret formula of the saints: When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines. Samuel Rutherford

I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable … Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library. Charles Spurgeon

I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.” But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep in him, has come through suffering.” John Piper.  

Participation in Christ’s glory can only come through participation in his sufferings. Douglas Moo

Our Greatest Fear is Not Loss of Life, But of Reputation

I am preparing to preach on suffering. This topic led me back to John Calvin’s sermon on Matthew 5:11-12, which can be found in this book. In that sermon I found this quote about how it is easier to endure death than humiliation.

Moreover we are not only encouraged to put up with personal injury and trouble, but also with criticism, slander, and false report. This is perhaps the hardest thing to bear, since a brave person will endure beatings and death more easily than humiliation and disgrace. Among those pagans who had a reputation for courage were noble souls who feared death less than shame and dishonor among men. We, therefore must arm ourselves with more than human steadfastness if we are to calmly swallow all the insults, censures, and blame the wicked will undeservedly heap upon us. That, nevertheless, is what awaits us, as St. Paul declares. Since, he says, our hope is in the living God, we are bound to suffer distress and humiliation; we will be objects of suspicion; men will spit in our face [I Cor. 4:11-13]. That is God’s way of testing us. We must therefore be ready to face these things and to take our Lord’s teaching here [Matt. 5:11-12] as our shield for the fight. 

Calvin understood that often our greatest fear is not loss of life, but loss of reputation.  For those of us fighting the battle against sexual immorality, gender confusion, sodomy, the traditions of men, our government, and increasing compromise in the church, we know this is true. Would you rather live branded as a bigoted, hateful, man ostracized from society like a leper or malignant sore or die a hero? I think we would all rather die heroes. But our reputation is the first thing that will be lost in this battle. In the end the question will be, Do we love Jesus more than we love our good name?

Giving Us What is Necessary

“We can be sure that the development of Christlike character will not occur in our lives without adversity…[God] will not remove the adversity until we have profited from it and developed in whatever way He intended in bringing or allowing it into our lives…God does not delight in sufferings. He brings only that which is necessary, but He does not shrink from that which will help us grow.”
Jerry Bridges, Trusting God