Persecution & Extension
AftershockPastor Jonathan Drake - May 1, 2016
When Christ's people have an extraordinary response to suffering, God uses it to accomplish extraordinary purposes for the Gospel.
Community Group Study Notes
- As disciples of Jesus, why does our response to suffering need be different? What impact does this have on our ability to share the Gospel?
- What seemingly immovable obstacles stand in the way of you sharing the Gospel with someone in your life? Like the early disciples who did not let persecution get in the way of proclaiming God’s Word, what can we do to impact the lostness of our region in spite of the obstacles?
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Thank you, good to see you. Welcome to all of our guests and all of our Chapel family at all of our campuses. If you want to grab a Bible, get to Acts chapter 8. Acts chapter eight is where we'll be. If you want to grab a tactile version like me, sometimes you just need to hold a really good book. I understand that. If you want to grab your digital device I understand that. Get to Acts chapter eight, we're going to be there.
We're going to be wrapping up our series today that began following the events of Easter, that Resurrection day following the earth-shaking event of the Resurrection where Jesus literally shook the earth and got up from the dead. The tremors of that earthquake, if you will, are what the disciples did in the days and weeks following that earth-shaking event. And that's where we've been in this series and that's where we'll land today.
But before we get to Acts chapter eight, maybe when you were a kid like me, you had some of those stories where you could choose kind of your own ending to the story. There were a few series of books that we had, I remember the Choose Your Own Adventure series that would often begin like this and you know, it would address the reader kind of breaking the fourth wall. It would always refer to the reader as you. And so we never got too many details in those books about the main character because the main character was you. And so it would sound something like this in this one that I remember. It would be like, you are on a deep-sea expedition to search for the lost city of Atlantis. Or maybe another one was, you're born on board a spaceship that's traveling between galaxies. And what was really great about these books is that we, you know, as kids we had our imaginations running wild and we could kind of determine the outcome. And so you'd come to a few pages every now and then and it would say if you follow them to Atlantis, turn to page thirty-one, or if you decide to join the space circus turn to page fifty-two or something like that, right? And it was great because we had the opportunity in those stories as kids we could kind of choose the ending. We could immerse ourselves in the story. We could be kind of flooded with what would we do in those positions and those places? And we could kind of determine the outcome.
That's kind of what I want to do today, even though the outcome has already been written, I want us to immerse ourselves in the story of Acts eight, and it'll sound something like this before we get to this passage: You are Jewish by birth, but you have recently started to embrace the teachings of a Rabbi from Nazareth named Jesus. You saw him die on a cross with your own eyes, you saw it. He was dead. And then about three days later, he wasn't dead and you saw that too. But it wasn't until a spirit-filled Peter got up at the festival of Pentecost about fifty days after Passover. And Peter gets up, a spirit-filled Peter, and he starts to connect the person of Jesus to the longings of your Jewish faith. He is the long-awaited Messiah. And so it was that day, that first day that you accepted the message, you believed, you were baptized and you were added to the number of disciples. And really things took off from there. Thousands after thousands, multitude upon multitude to the point that we just stopped keeping track of how many disciples there were in Jerusalem. But commentary at that time as recorded in Acts chapter 5:28 said that we had filled Jerusalem with the teaching of Jesus, so however many that was, that was a lot.
And so, you're there and you're in this movement, and everything's going along fine, aside from a few minor speed bumps, an imprisonment here or there. Everything's going along fine. But one day, one of the young up and comers named Stephen, he's killed for simply because of his allegiance to Jesus, he's martyred right there outside of Jerusalem, and you're there. It's into that context that I want to show you Acts chapter eight, verses one through three, look with me, it'll be on the screen if you don't have a copy of the Scripture. And Saul approved of their killing him (that is Stephen). On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church or ravage the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Now stop there. You're in this story, I'm in this story. Immerse yourself there. What do you do? You're in Jerusalem, what's your response? If you run and hide, turn to page twenty-eight. If you deny that you know this Christ or that you were ever really serious, turn to page forty-one. If you organize an army and become militant and say we will fight fire with fire, turn to page sixty-three. What's your response in that story? What's my response in that story? What's the ordinary response in that story? What do they decide? What do they choose, will this movement fizzle and fade just like so many other movements had fizzled and faded of pseudo-messiahs. Will this be like one of them? Will this fall in line with the rest or is there something different? What is your response? As I said, the ending to the story has already been written, but I don't think any of us would have chosen that, let alone predicted that somebody would choose that.
Look what it says in verse four of our text: Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. That's not normal. That's not ordinary. The heat gets turned up in Jerusalem, you're literally running for your lives. The heat gets turned up because of those who claim affiliation with Jesus, because it wasn't just Stephen, but that blood thirsty crowd pursued more and started to pursue believers in Christ. Saul's there, he's approving of it, he's trying to destroy the church, he's dragging people off to prison and what's your response? Well, the early church, these disciples, they decide we're going to preach, we're not going to hide, we're not going to deny, we're not going to become militant. They're going to preach. That's not ordinary.
But what if they had chosen a different response? Have you ever thought about that? What if they had chosen a different response? What if these disciples had chosen something different? Would we even be here talking about this? Would it have ever made it outside of Jerusalem if they had chosen a different response? What if they had chosen something different?
What's amazing to me though is that when I look at these disciples who are scattered preaching wherever they go, here's what strikes me. These are, if you'll forgive me, ordinary people. These are not the qualified preachers that go about preaching wherever they go. Why, how do I know that? All except the apostles were scattered. So we've got this enormous multitude of people who claim to follow the teachings, the way of Jesus. This huge multitude that's filled Jerusalem, who knows how many thousands. And that group minus twelve is the group that runs preaching. They're ordinary, if you can forgive that expression. They're everyday disciples, they're not the qualified preachers, but they never stop talking about the good news of Jesus wherever they go. When they're scattered, they preach.
Now when I look at this text, when I look at this story I'm left with a few questions. One of those questions that I ask is: What is it going to take to stop the spread of the gospel? What is it going to take to stop the spread of the gospel? In my world, which is you know, which is Pastor World, which sounds like a really lame amusement park actually now that I think about it. We just eat saltines and drink water at Pastor World, right? No, in my world, you know we're talking as pastors and as ministry leaders, we're saying, how are we going to spread the gospel? Hopefully as a church we're asking that question. I think we are, that's our mission, to give repeated opportunities, that's not a bad question. But I also want to ask this, what's it going to take to stop the spread of the gospel?
It almost seems like, it almost seems like there is a divine inertia propelling the church forward in her mission. Isn't that remarkable? It just seems to march forward. Why is that? Well, there may be an unfair advantage. There may be an unfair advantage in this. What's it going to take to stop the spread and as I look at that from a human perspective, I look at the first few centuries of the early church and at a human level I ask, how did they even make it past those years? Now you might be a church historian or fancy you know, yourself a little bit of a historian and so you know, you might object and say you know what Jonathan, you know, the church has been in the seat of authority many years and so that's... so to ask what is it going to take to stop the spread, that's not really a good question. I'll give you that. There was a few centuries where the lines between church and empire were indiscernible, they were a little blurry, I'll give you that, but it wasn't always that way, it didn't start that way.
We're talking about something that was on the underside, the underbelly of the empire, not in the seat of authority in the empire. We're talking about a grass roots movement of the oppressed, not a dictatorship of the oppressor, we're talking about this movement of believers who when they were on the bottom side of things. You see, in the first few centuries of the early church, maybe you didn't know this, persecution, that was the norm, not the exception. Martyrdom, to die for your faith, that was a near reality, not a distant news story. And suffering in general, really that was kind of like the calling card of the believer, not a life of comfort and convenience. That really wasn't it, but instead this was commonplace.
So at a human level we might look at that and say I don't know how they made it outside of the first few centuries. In fact, one of the early church fathers, his name was Tertullian, he died in 240 AD. Tertullian said this, he said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the gospel. He picked up on this theme, he said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the gospel. What's he saying there? That not persecution, not even governmental pressure, not even death can stop this movement. In fact, just as the seed goes in the ground and yields a harvest larger than itself - the seed of the gospel is the blood of the martyrs. That means that their gospel, the gospel of Jesus goes forward further and faster even when people are losing their lives for their faith. It's almost counter-intuitive to us. And I think that's because we, where we live today and the time in which we do, we're a little too short-sighted with our suffering. We don't look long enough down the road to see that there's more going on than just our pain and suffering. We're far too short-sighted.
Let me show you what I mean. In Acts eight where do we find these believers? They're in Jerusalem. You with me? That was encouraging, alright. Any other campuses with me? Thank you, okay. Online, thanks. Man, this is eleven. You're supposed to have the caffeine already kicking in guys. What's going on? Where are they in Acts chapter eight? Jerusalem, thank you. How do I know that, because Acts one through seven they're in Jerusalem. Brilliant logic, I know. They're in Jerusalem. That's where they are, but the events of Pentecost that we talked about last Sunday, the events of Pentecost announced what to the world? That the gospel is not just for the Jewish people, but it is for the world. That's why they're hearing the gospel in their native language. It's for everyone, it's for everybody.
But how could the gospel be taken globally if the believers are remaining locally in Jerusalem? And so at just the right time, at just the right time persecution breaks out in Jerusalem. Breaks out. Horrible. Painful. And instead of accomplishing the purpose that the enemies of the gospel had in mind, something greater, higher, bigger happens. You see, Saul who's there leading the charge and the enemies of the gospel there, they had an intent. They had a purpose in mind with the persecution. They're trying to stamp out the movement of the gospel. They're trying to stop the extension of the gospel. They're trying to stop it from spreading. They're trying to eradicate the virus that up until this point in time has been a contact virus. Life to life. That was Saul's intent. But God's intent is that through this persecution, the virus becomes airborne and starts to spread. It becomes viral, it's a contagion that is not limited to a locality but is intended for the world.
And so believers start to take that gospel with them wherever they go. It's just remarkable, and that's counter-intuitive as I said, because Saul, he's ravaging the church. That's the only time that word appears in the Scripture and every other time it's used in literature, ravaging began to destroy the church. It's used of a wild beast tearing a vineyard to shreds. That's what Saul's trying to do to the church. I mean it's heavy, it's not light. It's heavy, but Saul's intent, the enemies of the gospels intent could not override God's intent.
Well, you might ask how could something so wicked end up being something that is useful for good things? How could persecution lead to extension? It's counter-intuitive to us, but think about it. This is the rhythm of redemption. This is how things have been marching forward ever since the cross, really. Look at the cross. They nailed Jesus to a cross to stop Him. They cannot, and in fact the cross becomes the symbol of his victory. Look at the grave. They seal it, they guard it, they put all sorts of edicts around it trying to stop his body from leaving. How successful was that? The empty tomb stands as the loudest declaration that He's not dead. So the very thing that was designed to stop the movement actually served to advance the movement.
And we see the church here. They're persecuted, man you guys are just going to give it up and go home. No, instead they start preaching wherever they go and they carry that gospel into new territory. Then there's Paul, Saul who's here ravaging the church ends up becoming the loudest champion for the local church. He starts spreading the gospel everywhere.
But Paul even himself ends up in prison. He's imprisoned in Rome and he's in prison why, because he's spreading the gospel and the enemies of the gospel are trying to put a stop to this movement. Look what Paul says in Philippians 1, I love this: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me, being put in prison, has actually served to advance the gospel. (That's not ordinary) As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. It's become evident to everyone. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
Can you imagine this? Paul says I'm in prison. Instead of saying woe is me, I'm in prison - and by the way this isn't like prison with direct TV and three really nice meals and a warm bed, right? That's not it. This is like a pit and he's chained to a different guard every day. I love this. So Paul's view is, I want you to know it's become clear to everyone here I'm in chains for the gospel. So every single day the guards are talking like, eh, I've got Paul duty again? The man does not stop, like can we trade? I'll work your Saturday if you work my... You know like it's all this thing and why? Because when they see Paul, they know they're going to hear this gospel message, and you know what? It's almost like Paul sees them and it's like, hey, new guy? We're going to have this conversation. You just tell me when you want to have that conversation, because it's going to happen.
Not only that, not only is he seeing like there's more going on here, but he says brothers and sisters, the family of God, everyday disciples, brothers and sisters, that they are becoming bold with the gospel. So they put one in prison and they lit a hundred on fire. They put one in prison to stop the movement and hundreds or thousands became bold. They couldn't stop this, see this is the rhythm of redemption, it's counter-intuitive to us because we think how could something evil end up being useful for something so good, the extension of the gospel.
We need to get a God's eye view of suffering and stop being so short sighted with our suffering. This is not just an ordinary response, because when people are indwelled by the Spirit of God when they are placed in Christ and empowered by his Spirit they stop being ordinary. There is only extraordinary now. When people are indwelled by the Spirit of God, it changes their perspective so that they're no longer crippled by doubt when they walk through suffering. So that the Spirit empowered believers, the empowered priesthood, everyday disciples, they are not waffling in their faith when they walk through difficulty. They are not wracked with fear or worry. They don't live life like it's a constant soap opera - you know, woe is me. No, instead they have a different perspective on suffering. They see that although there could very well be one intention, one purpose in the suffering - maybe the enemies of the gospel, maybe the enemies of our souls - that there may be one intent here but there may also be another intent here - a greater intent, a bigger intent, a higher intent. And that's what leads to this settled confidence that we as believers embrace. It's not a blind eye, it's not being naïve, it's not just sugar coating everything - life's great. You know, it's not that at all. But it's instead seeing suffering from God's view. Seeing suffering with a long view towards suffering, not a short sighted view.
So there's a settled confidence knowing that you can trust the author, because when you pick up that story that is your life and you're in Christ, even if some of the chapters are really ugly, even if some of the chapters are really painful, even if there are some chapters that you wish you could erase, you can have a settled confidence in the author because you've read his work before. You know how he ends these stories. You may not know exactly how that's going to work out, but you can rest in his love when you trust the author.
Patrick Johnstone, who's an author and missiologist - he wrote this book Operation World. Great book. And he said this - it's a lengthy quote, but I want you to see it. It's on the screen. He says this: All the earth-shaking awesome forces unleashed on the world are released by the Lord Jesus Christ. He reigns today. He is in the control room of the universe. He is the only Ultimate Cause: all the sins of man, all the machinations of Satan (the schemes of Satan) ultimately have to enhance the glory and kingdom of our Saviour. This is true of our world today - in wars, famines, earthquakes, or the evil that apparently has the ascendancy. All God's actions are just and loving. Listen to this - We have become too enemy-conscious, and can overdo the spiritual warfare aspect of intercession. We need to be more God-conscious, so that we can laugh the laugh of faith knowing we have power over all the power of the enemy. He has already lost control because of Calvary, where the Lamb was slain. What confidence and rest of heart this gives us as we face a world in turmoil and in such spiritual need.
I love this. Even if that turmoil is far or whether it is near we have rest and we have confidence. This is not ordinary. But when we have this perspective, it changes how we live. We need to be more God-conscious not enemy conscious. What is Patrick Johnstone saying there? He's not saying we need to deny the existence of the enemy. Not at all. But we need to deny the acknowledgment as if the enemy were really in control. As if he really had any power in this world beyond what the Lord allows him to have. Let's remember who's on the throne. This is not two equal forces warring - good and evil wondering which one's going to win in the end. This is not like two sides of the force - good and evil. Which one are you going to use, which one is going to win? That's not it at all. We have a settled confidence in the God who sits in the control room ,and his name is Jesus Christ. I love this. I love that.
And you see when we have this perspective, when we gain this insight we recognize that nothing can overrule God's purpose. Even when there may be a purpose of the enemy, nothing can overrule God's purpose. Listen to what John Piper said in Desiring God, one of my favorite books. Christ sovereignly accomplishes His loving, purifying purpose by overruling Satan's destructive attempts. Satan is always aiming to destroy our faith, but Christ magnifies His own power in our weakness. He sovereignly accomplishes this. He overrules. Satan cannot overrule. He does.
So it is like a war, except in this war every move of the enemy is telegraphed by the victor. He sees it all. In fact, not just that but every move of the enemy actually frustrates the enemy because he can't even accomplish his purpose but the moves of the enemy end up accomplishing the sovereign Lord's purpose. Think about that! I mean that's why Scripture says things like this: No purpose of yours, O Lord, can be thwarted. No purpose of yours. But instead it says of God that he thwarts the plans of the crafty so their hands achieve no success. And that the Lord foils the plans of the nations. He thwarts the purpose of the people. Why? He sovereignly rules and reigns.
And even when there is a purpose of the evil one to steal, to kill, and to destroy - even when there's persecution, even when there's suffering in our lives - nothing can overrule the sovereign purpose of our Lord. Do we believe that? That's most of us. He will build his Church. He said I will build my church. In fact, that's exactly what's taking place in this story.
You realize that in Acts 8:1 that that's the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus' words in Acts 1:8? That 8:1 fulfills 1:8? Look at what it says in Acts 1:8. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem (they did that). Then you will be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Where did the persecution send the believers after they left Jerusalem? Judea and Samaria. 8:1 is a fulfillment of 1:8. Even though the enemy was trying to persecute the gospel, stop if from extending into new territories, it could not. Why? Because the sovereign purpose of God overruled that.
And then in Acts 13, the Holy Spirit tells the church in Antioch set aside for me Saul and Barnabas. And so Saul/Paul and Barnabas, they leave Antioch. And what do they start to do? They take the gospel to the ends of the earth just as Jesus said. Acts 1:8 is actually the table of contents verse for the book of Acts in the early church. Started in Jerusalem, spread to Judea and Samaria and to the outermost parts of the earth. Jesus made good on his promise, my friends. And he always does.
In fact, if you look at the places where the faithful apostles - where they were martyred for their faith? If you started to chart those on a Google map - as one of my pastor friends pointed out to me this week - if you were to look at all those places, it would look like the ends of the earth meaning that they were crazy enough to think that Jesus - he knew what he was talking about. That he could be trusted, that he knew what was going to build his Church, and nothing could stand against it.
So as I asked earlier - what will stop the gospel from spreading? Apparently not persecution. Apparently not martyrdom. Apparently not governmental pressure. Apparently not a loss of religious liberty. Apparently not death. Apparently not hell. That's why Jesus says, I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it - will not overtake it. It cannot. He will build his Church. And when you believe that, when I believe that, we have a perspective on suffering that is different - that when we walk through suffering, it won't devastate us, but it will mature us.
That's what Paul was getting at in Romans chapter five verses three through five. Look what he says. Not only so, but we also glory (boast) in our sufferings. Can you believe that statement? We glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; that perseverance produces character, that character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
We don't glory in suffering because of suffering's sake. But we know what suffering is accomplishing in our lives and in the lives of those around us for those of us who are in Christ, for those who have been given the Spirit as he says. That we don't look forward to it, but the truth is we don't have to look very far for it, because it's not far from any of us. But instead, when we are walking through suffering we glory. Why? Because we know that God is in control and our maturing in that process gives Him more glory, not less.
So he connects that to the indwelling Spirit. Peter does something similar in 1 Peter chapter four. Look what he says. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. And then nineteen says, So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator (entrust themselves to their faithful Creator) and continue to do good.
Peter says, don't be surprised if the heat gets turned up on you because of your allegiance to me. Don't be surprised if you walk through suffering just because of the brokenness of this world. Don't be surprised at that, but instead rejoice. There it is again. We glory in our sufferings, Paul says. We rejoice in our sufferings, Peter says. This is not an ordinary response. But when the Spirit of God indwells, nothing's allowed to be ordinary anymore. This changes everything. He says, don't be surprised when this happens but instead entrust yourselves, commit yourselves to your faithful Creator and continue to do good. That means don't give up. Don't think that this is something to throw you off the path. This is the path that God wants to lead you on as a disciple.
And then Paul says something astounding in Colossians chapter one, verse twenty-four, look at this. Now I rejoice (there's that word again) in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. Now, as you see that, what is lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions. You might be thinking is that heresy? Is that allowed to be said? What's lacking about Christ's afflictions? Well certainly it's not that it was a deficient sacrifice. We know that. That's not the case. It's not that we have to work for our salvation. We know that's not the case. It wasn't that he couldn't save us. We know that's not the case. So what is lacking? What needs to be filled up in Christ's afflictions?
Well, as one author put it, here's what's lacking: the infinite value of Christ's suffering is not known and trusted in the world. Think about that. The infinite value of Christ's suffering is not known and trusted in the world. Meaning it's foolishness. The cross is foolishness to people who do not have the Spirit of God. It doesn't make any sense. Why would he have to suffer? That's the only thing that's lacking. That's what Paul's saying here. The only thing that's lacking is that it's not known by more people. That it's not trusted in by more people. That when they see the cross, they think foolishness not my salvation. Apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that's where people see this.
And so Paul says, look, when I suffer? When I suffer, all I'm doing is I'm pointing people to his suffering. Because I don't want them to see me and woe is me. I want them to see him. That he is Lord of all. That he died in their place just as he died in my place. That he took their sin just as he took my sin. That he took my judgment just as he took their judgment. So when I suffer, I want to point to the sufferings of Christ, that they would see that through my life, that I wouldn't be an obstacle to them seeing that, but that I would amplify them seeing that. That's what Paul's saying in Colossians one, twenty-four - as we fill up what is lacking.
And this is not theory, by the way. This is not just theory or first century musings. This is real. People really do this. One pastor, a Romanian pastor names Josef Tson. Josef Tson - he was tortured in Romania. He's a pastor. I mean like within the last century. This really happened. And this is just one of many examples. But Josef Tson - he's the kind of person who says things like this to his interrogator (it's not on the screen but he says things like this): Sir, your primary weapon is killing. My primary weapon is my dying, and if you kill me, my preaching will be ten times louder. Nobody says things like this. That's not ordinary.
But in addition to that, in commenting on Colossians one, listen to what Josef Tson said. "I am an extension of Jesus Christ. When I was beaten in Romania, He suffered in my body. It is not my suffering. Talk about taking yourself out of the equation - look at that statement. It is not my suffering. I only had the honor to share His sufferings." And then later on he said this: "Christ's suffering is for propitiation; our suffering is for propagation." Christ's suffering is for propitiation - that means Jesus paid the penalty for sin. He appeased God's justice and wrath. Our suffering is for propagation, meaning that we have an opportunity to extend the gospel into new territories when we view our suffering through this lens.
It is not just woe is me that I'm just down here, man. This is painful. This is rotten. This is not good. And it is all of those things. We're not taking any of that away. But instead, I choose to trust that there is a higher, better, bigger purpose in mind - a sovereign purpose that overrules the purpose of the enemy or of the brokenness of this world. It overrules that. Nobody talks like this because this isn't ordinary. We have to train our self to think like this because we need to understand what it looks like to view our suffering - not shortsightedly but with a long view. A God's eye view.
In fact all of this - all that I've shared with you is building up to this one statement. If you don't hear anything else, hear this. When Christ's people have an extraordinary - an extra ordinary - response to suffering, God uses it to accomplish extraordinary purposes for the gospel. That's what I believe about Acts chapter eight. That's what I believe about the early Church. That's what I believe about today. That's what I believe about you and me. When Christ's people - that's us - when we have an extraordinary response to suffering - not the ordinary one, but an extraordinary one - and that doesn't originate in ourselves, it originates from the Spirit of God who dwells in us - when Christ's people have an extraordinary response to suffering God uses it to accomplish extraordinary purposes for the gospel.
So they persecuted the Church, it extended the gospel. You see, suffering is ordinary. It's ordinary. Everybody suffers. Everybody. It's not far from any of us. Suffering is ordinary but your response, Christ follower, should not be. Your response shouldn't be, what will distinguish my suffering? What will distinguish your suffering from your neighbor's? What will distinguish that? What will distinguish your suffering from the person who works in the office next to you? What will make your suffering worth it? What will make your suffering fill up Christ's afflictions so that the gospel may be made known through your life and propagates the gospel? What sets your suffering apart? Your response to it. What you believe about it. What you believe about God in it. That's what distinguishes.
So your passed over again at work for a promotion. I said this is real. It's real. So you're passed over again for a promotion at work. And while nobody would fault you for complaining about the boss never looks my way. No one would fault you for taking your foot off the gas since they're not going to acknowledge my efforts anyway. What is different about that response from every other person in your office? What's different about that? Nothing. That's ordinary. That's the expected response. But what if you chose a different response?
Or so, maybe you have more month than money again. And while no one would fault you perhaps for complaining about economic injustice, a lack of opportunity. Those things exist. Nobody would fault you for identifying those things. But what distinguishes your suffering if that is what you hold forward at the center piece of your life? Not that I want to learn this lesson in front of other people. That I will not worry about what I'm going to eat or what I will wear because my heavenly Father, who love me, know that I need these things and he will provide them. What if I learn that lesson of seeking His kingdom first? And then everything else will be added? What if I learn that lesson in front of other people?
What is distinguishing about my response to that suffering? As little as it might be. We have little sufferings and we have big sufferings. We have detonation suffering and we have mosquito bite suffering. We've got it all. We suffer for Christ when we suffer because of the name. But we also suffer with Christ because we are walking behind him as we walk through difficulty in this life. So whether we suffer for him or whether we suffer with him, what will our response be?
Maybe it's more significant than those first things I mentioned. Your divorce. Your chronic pain. Your family drama. Your unemployment. Your organ failure. What is going to distinguish your response, Christ follower? What opportunity might you have to see God do something amazing for the gospel through you? And then it won't be wasted. It won't be nothing. It won't just be a random occurrence pre-determined by a series of biochemical events millions of years ago. This is not random. It's that God's sovereign purpose overrules the purposes of the enemy.
Or maybe it's, like so many under the sound of my voice - in a church of our size, three campuses, many thousands - maybe it's cancer. Seems to not be far from any of us. But what if you viewed your cancer not as a death sentence? I know it's not easy to do that. But what if you viewed your cancer not as a death sentence but as an open door? What if you said, you know I'm going to be around doctors and medical professionals that I would never have met otherwise and these people watch other people die every day. I want to show them what it looks like to die in Christ and not be afraid that cancer's going to have the last word in my story. It won't! What if you viewed it that way? Yeah!
What if you saw yourself as an ambassador that God had already provided - he's already determined - this is amazing - what if you saw yourself as an ambassador that God had already set up a series of appointments for you every time you walked into a waiting room or an examine room - that those people in those other chairs that are walking through cancer or whatever, and you look at that as a divine appointment as an ambassador. And that as you're poked and prodded and blood drawn and scanned and re-scanned and as you wait, and as you wait, and as you wait, and as you go back and forth and back and forth, you see this as an opportunity for the propagation of the gospel through these divine appointments. What if you saw it that way? Think that would have an impact in this region? Do you think it would look different? Do you think there would be something that would distinguish our suffering from every other suffering? You see suffering as ordinary but our response should not be when Christ's people - that's you and me - when we have an extraordinary response to suffering God uses it. It's not wasted. God uses it to accomplish extraordinary things for the gospel.
So church - an that's me - we need not be short-sighted when it comes to our suffering. Don't be short-sighted with your suffering. Have a long view. Get at it from God's vantage point. Pick your head up and recognize that the good Shepherd knows where he is taking his flock. And even when the terrain gets rocky and even when we're not sure footed, that's the best place to be because he knows this terrain. He's walked it himself and he did it perfectly. And we don't need to allow suffering to shake our world when we walk next to the earth shaker, friends. Do we believe that? Anybody believe that?
Now listen, Isaiah forty-three - it's not on the screen but it says this: Do not fear. Do not fear. When you pass through the waters I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers they will not sweep you away. When you walk through the fire, and you will, it's going to be hot. But it will not burn you. It will not set you ablaze. We don't need to be shaken by suffering when we walk with the earth shaker. And when Christ's people - when Christ's people - have an extraordinary response to suffering, God uses it to accomplish extraordinary purposes for the gospel.
Let's bow together in prayer. If you're here today, I would encourage you with these words that I heard when I was in college. It always stuck with me, kind of summarizing what we've said today. We need to stop telling God how big that mountain is in our lives and start telling that mountain how big God is. We don't need to be shaken, friends. But I'm confident, in a church of our size, that there are people under the sound of my voice right now in the middle of suffering. I know that. You're next to some of them. Or maybe you just walked out of suffering and you don't know how you made it. Or you're about to walk into suffering and you just don't know yet. Have this issue settled in your heart today. God sovereignly accomplishes his loving purpose in your life. He is good. He can be trusted.
But in the quietness of this moment, right where you are, in your heart of hearts - you don't need to speak out loud but ask God - God, give me your perspective on my suffering. Ask him. God give me that perspective. And then ask him for the names of people that you can intentionally be praying for who do not yet know Jesus, who might be watching you in your suffering. Ask God for those names and ask him to soften their hearts right now.
And lastly, if you're here today and you're not a disciple of Jesus, you wouldn't say, you know what, Jonathan, I'm a Christian. I don't know God personally through Jesus Christ. Can I just tell you it's no accident you are here today? God wanted you to hear this message - not because of the mouth piece but because of his word. He wanted you to hear this. It's no accident. When are you going to stop believing in coincidences and start recognizing that God's trying to get your attention? You see if you want to know what it means to have a trust and a deep confidence in God - that you can walk through anything not because of your strength but because of his - if you want to have that settled confidence, if you want to know what it means to have eternal life now, abundant life now, life as it was meant to be lived now and into eternity - if you want to know what that means, then here's my invitation to you and here's my challenge to you - that when we dismiss in just a moment - I'm going to pray and then I'll dismiss us. And when I do that I want you, if that's you, to come by the Fireside Room. Whether your in the Worship Center or East Worship Center, come into the Atrium. There's a room off to the side. It's labeled - it says Fireside Room. Just walk in there and this is all you have to say: I need Jesus. That's it. I need Jesus. We want to give you something you can take home, to look that over. We want to help you. We want to pray with you. We're here for you on this journey. If that's you, come to the Fireside Room and tell somebody in there I need Jesus.
So Father, I ask that you would write the things on our hearts that you want us to remember. That you would reinforce, that you would make our hearts sturdy in our confidence in you. That whatever comes our way, whether that's persecution, whether that's disease, whatever that looks like, that we would have a deep trust in you. And that we would have a deep trust that you want to do something bigger and greater and that we could be a part of that. So, God, invite us. Call us. Purify us. Fill us so that we can steward our lives and the suffering that may go with that for the advancement, the extension of the gospel so that people who are far from you may come to know you even if that means through our suffering, God, we would say that was worth it. We want to do these things for your glory and the good of people and we ask this in Christ's name. Amen.
Thanks everyone. We love you. You're dismissed.