Blog Archives

Entering Into Christ’s Sufferings

“to know him and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, sharing in the sake kind of death as his —”

(Philippians 3:10)

What does it mean to be “found in Christ”? It means that in the context of his imputation of righteousness to us, we come into relationship with him — we know him — and that knowledge gives us a promise of the resurrection to come. He who was raised from the dead will also raise us that we may indeed experience the power of that resurrection firsthand.

Yet, the power of the resurrection also comes at a cost. Paul writes of a fellowship of suffering and entering into a death that is “like his.” How are we to understand this death? Certainly, one must not die on a cross to enter heaven? So, what does Paul mean by this? As you continue to read the flow of Paul’s language, he explains exactly what he means by this — Paul means the putting to death of his sins and the things of the world that he might boast in. That means suffering, when God calls him to suffer, that he might be found faithful in service and grow more like Christ.

Yet, this notion of suffering is something that often is difficult for us to hear. We have been accustomed to the notion that we are to seek the comforts of life and that suffering is somehow undesirable. Yet, did not our Lord choose to suffer for us? Did not our Lord choose to die on the cross for us? And did not our Lord enter into glory through the pathway of suffering? If it was good enough for our Lord’s entrance into heaven, is it not good enough for us? Is not suffering often the way that God refines those who are most precious to him? As C.S. Lewis wrote in his Problem of Pain, if we ask for less suffering and not more, are we not asking God for less love and not more?

We live in a world where many Christians are dying for their faith. And, these Christian brothers and sisters count it their privilege to “enter into” our Lord’s sufferings. At the same time, in the west, we live in a world where, while there is comfort for those who believe, people and churches are apostatizing faster than can be counted. While it is quite true that the freedoms we enjoy in this western world have been a great and profound blessing to the church, particularly in the realm of discipleship (formation of Christian Schools, Colleges, Seminaries, Book Publishers, etc…), with that freedom there has also been a fertile seedbed for false teachers and lazy believers. Let us be neither, even at the cost of persecution, that we may guide the church in a way that willingly enters into Christ’s sufferings — internally as we put sin to death and externally as we face persecution.

Abraham’s Fear: Genesis 20:11

“And Abraham said, ‘It was because I said, ‘no one fears God in this place and they will slay me over the thing of my wife.’’”

(Genesis 20:11)

 

“For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give you a spirit of cowardice, but of power, love, and self-control.”

(2 Timothy 1:6-7)

 

How often believers fall into the trap of fear. How sad it is when those who should know no fear of the things that can destroy the flesh of this world succumb to the terrors that it seems to present. Even here, Abraham, the “father of the faithful” (Romans 4:11), falls prey (once again) to the fear of what will happen if Abimelek finds out that Sarah is his wife, not his sister. And rather than trusting God, he falls back into his old sin of half-truths to try and cover himself.

As Christians, though, fear is not a character trait that should mark us. We have a God who is Lord of all of the heavens and who reigns sovereignly over his creation. We are in his hands and not under the power of the hands of our enemies. What confidence that should give to us, what boldness we should have as we share the Gospel of truth with our neighbors, friends, and co-workers. We, of all people, should be going out and sharing our faith; yet how often we adopt a fortress mindset and retreat our Christianity behind the walls of our church buildings. How sad it is that Christians who know the power of God in their lives can then doubt that power so greatly that they become timid and fearful and do not speak the truth into the lives of those around them.

Loved ones, love God. And whether the people in our communities love and fear God should not stop you from sharing the Gospel. What is the worst they will do? Make fun of you? Try and ridicule you? Was not our Lord ridiculed and made fun of for our sake? Will they attack you and harm you? Was not our Lord beaten for your sins and for mine? Will they kill you? Indeed, they may, but why fear those who can only harm the flesh when the God of heaven has the power to destroy both flesh and spirit? Loved ones, there is nothing to fear… go, make disciples of all men by seeing them baptized in the church and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. There is nothing to fear from men.

Shall I, for fear of feeble man,
The Spirit’s course in me restrain?
Or, undismayed, in deed and word
Be a true witness for my Lord?

-Johann Winkler


 

Faithfulness that Convicts (Luke 22:39; John 18:2)

“And coming out, he went, as was habit, to the Mount of Olives and the disciples also followed him there.”

(Luke 22:39)

“And Judas, the one delivering him over, knew the place, because Jesus would often be gathered together with his disciples there.”

(John 18:2)

“As was his habit.” What a wonderful picture of the prayer life of our Lord. Jesus would often excuse himself to a quiet and secluded place, taking the twelve with him, and pray.  As we mentioned before, the disciples knew about this place, not because it was some sort of privileged hideaway like the glade in Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, but because it was Jesus’ habit to come here. Yet, by the same token, it is this habit that informed Judas where Jesus would be so that the arrest could be made later in the night.

Of course, all of the events of the night are part of the Father’s plan from before the beginning of time, but I wonder, sometimes, on a more human level, as to whether our habits would be such that they would betray us in this way. Certainly, I suppose, we all have bad habits that our enemies might shame us for—and shame us rightly, but what about righteous habits? Daniel’s enemies knew of his habit of prayer and that habit was so regular and accessible that they were able to easily arrest him when he would not bow and pray to Darius (Daniel 6:10-11). Paul’s enemies knew that he was in the Temple purifying himself (Acts 21:26-30), remembering just how large the temple was and just how many people streamed in and out on a daily basis (it would be like trying to monitor who was going in and out of New York’s Grand Central Station). And, of course, Jesus’ enemies always knew where to find him when he healed on the Sabbath day or allowed his disciples to pick and eat a handful of grain when walking on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

So, I wonder whether our prayer life might get us in trouble were the laws different in America? If it were illegal to be a Christian, would anyone know to arrest us? If it were illegal to pray during daylight hours, would our enemies know when to burst into our homes as they did with Daniel? If it were illegal to carry a Bible anywhere but to church, would we stand guilty or would anyone notice? Our Lord and the saints of old were faithful to a point that such faithfulness could get them in trouble. Would that our faithfulness would also get us into trouble as well! Sadly, I think that all too often, we rob ourselves of the blessing of persecution by being way too cautious in our faith. It would have been easy, in human terms, to have said to his disciples, “we need to find a different place to pray tonight because Judas knows that he can find us here.” Yet, Jesus’ plan was to allow this arrest to take place and thus faithfully submitted to his Father’s will. May we be found guilty of the same faithfulness.

Blessed are you when they reproach you, persecute you, and say evil and lies of you because of me. Rejoice and Exalt!  For your reward is great in heaven. For thus they persecuted the prophets who came before you.

(Matthew 5:11-12)