March 17, 2014

Suffering Pays Eternity’s Bills II: The Nexus to God

The praxis / practice of suffering as an act of love is the nexus to God. Although there are undoubtedly many aspects of the Christian life that are absolute joy and happiness, our daily ministry in a world hostile to us is a constant reminder that we don’t belong here. The world is enemy territory. Whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached, the Gospel and the one who proclaims it will be under threat. Sometimes, in America (even in our churches) it risks ridicule. In foreign nations it risks suffering, social stigmata and even death.

Due to the very real threat of harm, many will opt to not continue to suffer for the Gospel. They will not persevere. The visions to John in the Apocalypse to the seven churches are replete with the exhortation to persevere. Regardless, many will apostatize and fall away. The apostasy is not accidental, it is choice. It is an unwillingness to do what? Persevere through the suffering and pain for Jesus’ namesake. The Bible is clear…

2 Timothy 2:8-13 ~ “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Unless a Christians is ready to renounce the easy path to pursue Jesus, they very well may not have the conviction to actually be true Christians. We must be willing to denounce and cut relationships if they will jeopardize the relationship with the Lord. We must be willing to lose property, dignity, or even our lives. Not just for ourselves but for others also. Specifically, others in the faith. We cannot serve two masters.

To truly be in the faith we must not only accept suffering and discomfort in this life, we must be able to embrace the suffering. Why? Because we are to be like Christ and Christ suffered. Sorry folks. No wiggle room here. We must embrace the word of God especially when it tells us that pain and discomfort in this life are necessary and there are many places in the Scripture were this principle is clearly spelled out.

The preaching of the word of God incites hearts. Sometimes in a positive manner, sometimes negatively. We need to deal with both outcomes. When we preach or explain the Gospel which is our responsibly as Christians (Matthew 28:19-20), the principles and demands of Scripture place demands or restraints on fallen sinful people. These people (even believers) are naturally wicked and rebellious. We should expect that it will have an antagonistic effect on people…even believers, even family members, even ourselves. This is why even we as individuals must measure ourselves against the standard of Scripture…or even we will go astray and walk wide of God.

Because of the difference between the way man was originally created (pre-Genesis 3) and the way we are now (post-Genesis 3), humanity puts the diss in dysfunctional. Broken is the name of the game. Evil and evildoers will slander, malign and even attack. Even our own sinful worldy mind will attack or ignore our conscience. The Satanic of this world will take special pleasure in derailing God’s plans but any detours will only be temporary because God is sovereign. The fact of this temporary derailing or detour must be firmly understood. Why? Because if God controls all as sovereign and He will eventually right the wrong as just judge…suffering for a believer will only be temporary in this life. It will end at some point based on the sovereign control and providential plans of a loving God. This inevitably should be tremendous reassurance for those now in pain or in the pits of despair. If God did not spare his Son the Cross but exalted Him in glory in the Resurrection…we can only stand to benefit from the suffering in the eternal scale of things.

Additionally, the εὐαγγέλιον or the proclamation of the Gospel that is intended to express the awesome and amazing grace of God will be scorned and blasphemed by those that are pitted against it or don’t understand it. Most will not “get it” or grasp the Gospel…including many in the church that claim Christianity as their own but show no signs of it. When only a handful of congregants in a church family truly get it there will be backlash from those in the church that don’t and there will be division. Division is not of God so one side of the debate will always be wrong. Unity in the Spirit prevents division. Sadly, this division is often glossed over to the detriment of the entire Body because in our modern society no one wants to be viewed as confrontational or divisive. No one wants to be viewed as intolerant. Sometimes the suffering required in the Christian life….is that conflict to purge the satanic element from the Body. It is often like the painful excising of a malignant demonic cancer infecting a body.

Jesus is in our suffering. How? Simple actually. We need to read Isaiah and the suffering servant of Isaiah 50.

Isaiah 50:5-8 ~ “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty?

The words about Christ here written down by Isaiah under the inspiration of God are remarkable. How is it that Jesus while being appallingly sinned against can he say that He won’t be disgraced or shamed? The answer is simple to state but extraordinarily difficult to understand in our cloistered comfortable American lives. Jesus is focusing on something that keeps him grounded in his identity and purpose. He looks beyond the immediate to the long-range. He looks from temporal circumstance to the eternal zenith. The ends justifies the means…or more specifically, the magnitude of the eternal reward justifies (or explains) the suffering. Jesus’ confidence is in the will and purposes of the Father. He knows (as should we) that God will vindicate Him in the end because God is perfectly just and is a perfect Judge.

Jesus’ suffering and ours will not be in vain. In our suffering, we will accomplish God’s will and fulfill His plans for us. If there was no justice in the end or if the suffering was meaningless, it would be intolerable. If sin has the last laugh and sin wins the victory…our suffering becomes unbearable. We should be thankful that Jesus overcame the sin on the Cross…otherwise there is no justice and evil wins out. Evil does not win and that is what the Bible tells us. That is why Jesus (nor we) will be disgraced no matter how badly we suffer or are abused in this life. For Jesus to bear His suffering and humiliation in silence proved his confidence in God wasn't for nothing. As we all know God vindicated Christ and accomplished His good purpose: The salvation of His chosen people.

Our lives or recovery after suffering is much more beautiful than the original life before the suffering. There is a much greater appreciation for something we have toiled for rather than something easily acquired or handed to us. The repaired or restored person is much more beautiful than the old not because of the new creation's appearance is better but rather because the suffering has instilled a much greater appreciation for it…even if the repaired is less than the original. What do I mean? Let us look at the rebuilding of the Temple in the time of the return from Babylonian exile.

Israel’s relationship with God was so bad that Israel (Northern Kingdom) was destroyed and Judah was conquered and sent into exile. Jerusalem was conquered, summarily destroyed and the Temple was leveled. After seventy years of Babylonian exile God allowed a return from captivity and provided the means to rebuild his temple. Despite the best human efforts, the new temple paled in comparison with the first. The people had lost hope and wondered if there was any way to get back to former glory before their suffering. It is at this nexus that we see the purpose of the suffering and the reason that the second temple will be just as glorious as the first. We see the shadow that the first and second temple both are and what they portend or signify.

Haggai 2:3-9 ~ Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’

God tells His people (and us): “Work, for I am with you…” The passage reaches its zenith with,I will fill this house with glory…” and later, “the latter [or second] glory of this house shall be greater than the former…” The second temple will be greater because God’s glory will be in it after the suffering of the people in exile. It is God that gives the significance to the temple and the believer themselves. It is not we that give ourselves significance, it is He. Both Temples inevitably shadowed and pointed to Jesus who would usher in the new covenant through His suffering. A new covenant where God would dwell in man...the new temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). All individual believers would then be more glorious temples then the first two physical stone temples in Jerusalem combined.

A believer’s suffering will never be in vain. Why? Because God is the glory in the Temple. God is the glory in the suffering. In suffering the people in exile (and us now) learned repentance and turned to God…therefore bringing glory to God and themselves. It required that they learned repentance through their suffering. They learned their repentance which led to obedience through the things they suffered…just as Jesus had (Hebrews 5:8). Just as we must also.

[Concluded in Next Post]

[Synopsis for Part III: How all this applies to the Christian today.]

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