Paul and Barnabas finish up a successful trip to Derbe and then make the return trek back through the cities they had previously visited to strengthen, encourage, warn and equip the churches planted there, appointing elders to provide ongoing spiritual leadership. Returning to Syrian Antioch, they out brief the church with the exciting news of God’s work among the Gentiles.
The churches that Paul and Barnabas planted were all deep in enemy territory. They had crashed the gates of hell and rescued many captives. And while those captives had been freed and while they had changed their allegiance and served a new King, they were still living their day-to-day lives in cities lying within the serpent’s dominion…in a culture hell-bent on destroying them. No wonder Paul warns them about tribulations to come…no wonder he warns them about persecution and suffering. The more they look like Jesus, the more the enemy will pursue them. Darkness hates the light…the brighter the light, the more vehemently the attempt to extinguish it. But they need not fear. Jesus has already won the day! Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning! Suffering may come, but it’s just the prelude to glory.
We like the glory part. We like the kingdom part. But if we’re honest, we’re not really down for the suffering part. In fact, often we will do whatever we can to avoid it. We want to follow Jesus without cost or consequence. What we really want is the American Dream with a Christian veneer, and suffering doesn’t jive with that. Some of us may even wonder if we’re doing the right thing as a Christian if and when we face trials because of it. We’ve forgotten that this world is not our home. And yet the constant testimony of Jesus and the rest of the NT is that suffering is a fundamental part of the Christian life.
The good news is…we are never alone in suffering for Jesus. Somehow Paul says that we can experience the perfect peace of God in the midst of chaos, joy in the midst of pain, hope in the deepest darkness. We don’t have to give up or give in because Jesus has already won the day. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He will see us through until we see Him again. And we have a heavenly Father who delights in us and desires our good…who loves us so completely that we will spend an eternity trying to comprehend His amazing love for us.
For some of us the idea of suffering for our faith aka persecution may be a foreign concept. Everyone who walks this planet has at some time or will at some time suffer. Guaranteed. That’s part of living this side of the garden where my sin and your sin and our sin and the brokenness of this world collide in some pretty nasty ways to create all of kinds of chaos in our lives. I’m not talking about that kind of suffering. I’m talking about the kind of suffering that comes because you are a Christian. It’s the kind of suffering that comes when your light shines in a dark place. It’s the kind of suffering that comes when you dare to share your story…to share the gospel with someone else. That’s something very different.
If suffering for your faith is a foreign concept, maybe you have a “Who is Jesus?” problem. Maybe you are looking for a Jesus who meets your expectations. A Jesus who will rescue you from your sins, but not One who will change you too much. But Jesus didn’t come just make your life easier or more comfortable…He came to radically transform you, to make you into a new creation. To unleash you against the armies of hell. He bids you to come and die so that you may truly live.
Maybe today is the day that you need to recommit to following Jesus, no matter what the cost, remembering that suffering comes before glory.
This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster