A Healthy Church Preaches Christ and Him Crucified (Acts 3:11-26)
Back in the day, during the 1700s, America had experienced one of the greatest gospel renewals in the history of the American church; they called it the Great Awakening. IT was so extraordinary that a pastor (JE) once said that more than 300 souls were brought to Christ in the course of 6 months. It came during a time when the church was experiencing spiritual dead-ness, sheer spiritual darkness, they were practicing witchcraft and other things and there was complacency and all sorts of problems. People were so divided that tens of thousands lost their lives in the name of religion. There were constant infighting of the people in the church and people went through the motions -but there were few Christians who really wanted to purify the church, to bring health and sound to the body of Christ- they called it the New City- or- A City Upon a Hill; they wanted all the world to see what great things that Lord is doing in America. So, men, like Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, and George Whitefield –these men were pastors and they were sick to the stomach that the church was not healthy. They cried over the fact that there is a body of rising generation is completely being neglected, completely being abandoned; they were perishing. And the problem that they saw was that pastors were not preaching the gospel. They were not preaching Christ and Him crucified.
This is not much different now in the church; what’s going on now is: the world rejects the cross because it’s foolish and weak to think of a Crucified Messiah. People are looking for successful, flashy, charismatic, funny leader rather than a faithful leader, people are more geared towards – “if it feels good, do it”; “whatever turns you on”; “anything goes”- those are things that church is experiencing now (the people inside, not outside). So, there was a recent study that was done by Barna- called “America Most and Least Bible-Minded Cities.” The least-bible minded cities are in the east coast area and the most-bible minded cities are in the south of the state. And Chicago is one of the cities that closer towards the least bible-minded city. In that study, it revealed few things: 1) being bible-minded or not, there is still a high percentage of people who have never heard or believed the gospel. 2) Creating bible minded society is not the goal but a steady, clear, consistent communication of the gospel in every area of life backed up by a transparent, compelling, reconciled life of the gospel. The church, not only from the pulpit but also in the lives of the people in the pews needs to preach Christ and Him Crucified.
So, what we have been doing for several weeks @ LH is that we are exploring through the book of Acts of what it means to be healthy church. What we have covered so far is to be healthy, it has to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, prays expectantly, repentance, sharing life together in community, and the wonder-working miracle of the gospel. This morning’s passage deals with preaching, a healthy church that preaches Christ and Him Crucified. What does that look like? A Church that preaches Christ and Him Crucified should look differently…and this passages deals with three very important, vital points to a healthy church that preaches Christ and Him Crucified:
I. A Healthy church that preaches Christ discovers God’s gracious promise [v. 11, 13 & 25-26]
Notice how this lame man attaches himself to the apostles. This man, who was lame from birth, a crippled man and what he did every day was ask people for money. He sat outside the temple. He cannot join the people inside the temple. He is an outcast, he has no affiliation, has no social status, no religious status whatsoever with the elite, religious bunch of people called the Jews, he was forsaken, he was not even allowed inside the community (Lev. 21:17-20). If you look at the people who were rejected, forsaken in the bible, it included all sorts of people (all from Mark): the demon possessed, a woman with fever, blind lepers (unclean), the deaf and mute man, blind or crippled beggars, the Gentiles, women and children- they were not valued. They were hopeless, helpless; they had no power of influence, weak, powerless, unwanted, suffering of society, no hope. It’s like the people who are called the ‘untouchables of the Hindu caste system living in India. It’s like the little girls in the brothels of the world. These people are the outcasts. They live in a world where they were unfit, unacceptable, cursed, unwanted even by God (it seemed); these are the people without rights or power, without a future, without hope. And here, this crippled man is a reject of Judaism. He probably had no understanding of who Jesus is or the bible but something happened in his life that he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. A miracle! This man is leaping and jumping like a deer, walking like a normal person, and praising God as if he never, ever had experienced God’s power and Lordship in his life. This man discovered Jesus- he was an casted out, he was far, far away from knowing who God of the Bible is, what He has done, but now, he has been given something MORE than he ever imagined, not silver and gold. He is now brought inside, included and loved by the very temple of God-, which is Christ Himself. You know what this means for us: We need to learn how to be poor, weak and helpless. That is asking a lot in a world tells you that you gotta be strong, you got to be all that you can be, with all the opportunities, resources, abilities- do more, try harder. But when you know that you can’t solve your own problems (just like the lame man), who do not have all the resources or opportunities, but was so helpless, weak, powerless, so desperate. See, gospel of grace, I believe, is not that he begged for silver or gold but that it showed the heart of a beggar, who was desperate, who was weak, who knows that he cannot save himself. All of us who want to know Jesus at a deeper level must learn how to be poor, weak and helpless. IT is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners. (Mark 2:17)
And notice, then, how Peter begins his message, because people were so astonished that this crippled man was walking and leaping, Peter responds in v.12 – oh comon people, do not look at us don’t stare at us, do not put us up in a pedestal in thinking that this miracle happened because of us, because it had to do with our godly character- that’s what the word piety means (someone who is godly, or good character) or anything to do with our ministry success/power, it had nothing to do with us, not our power, not our piety, nothing. This is so counter-cultural these days: because the present church relies upon greater sums of money, better techniques, bigger numbers and facilities and more impressive credentials to influence society. In our efforts to serve God, we have crowded out God Himself. So, Peter says, don’t look at us, don’t even think about looking at us, because this event had NOTHING to do with them but it had EVERYTHING to do with God’s gracious promise. Promise? Where did this come from? How? That’s what text says- Peter explains this miracle of the healing due to God’s promise that was made many, many years ago. That’s what Peter says v. 13- The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (this basically means that despite man’s unfaithfulness to God; God is faithful to his promise) the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, (and goes on to say in verse 25), you are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers saying to Abraham, ‘and in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed’. These guys, like Abraham, Issac and Jacob – they were not all that splendid – Abraham is a filthy liar, doubter of God’s promises (we will get to him in a moment), then there is Isaac, who is just a wimp, laughing at God’s promises and then the guy named Jacob who was a deceiver, got deceived in marrying a girl that nobody wanted, yet carried the line of the Promised One. They got NOTHING to show in their life, not even in their pedigree or practice, that they deserved any favor from God. Yet Peter’s message- focuses on what God promised Abraham (verse 25 – And in your offspring (seed) shall all the families of the earth be blessed). If you have ever read the bible, we should know something about this guy, named Abraham, and how the bible describes him (turn with me to Romans 4: 16-20; he believed God, because God gave him a promise, in hope he believed, he didn’t weaken his faith, didn’t waver in God’s promises). The way that Paul described Abraham – you can’t help but to wonder if Paul read Genesis the way that we have. I am sure he read Genesis…but look at the way that he described Abraham. If you think about it, Abraham did have faith; he left his country, his people to a land that God will show him. He did have faith! But if you keep on reading, you will soon discover that this man was an absolute failure/mess. After God gave him the promise, look at what Abraham does: He was waiting and waiting and waiting to be parent but what we see in Gen 16 – they got tired of waiting and started taking matters in their own hands, and Sarah had a bright idea- why don’t you sleep with our nanny, get her pregnant- well, they have kids and that created chaos. Then Gen 12 and 20, we find he’s before a powerful person and all he was thinking is only about himself, he lied, and shoved his wife by calling her – his sister instead of protecting her like a good husband should. These are all his great failures; he was a doubter of God’s promise, he was a crappy husband. We look at him for his great failures. Yet he was described as a man who had unwavering faith.
Let me ask you: have you ever gotten so fed up with yourself, just tired of life? Maybe, you go through life and you are just waiting, tried, wondering if God forgot about you, you are just considering taking things in your own hands, and you wonder, why is it so hard to trust God’s promises; Maybe you are so anxious in your circumstances, your situations, asking yourself, why can I just trust? You always seem like you are controlling people, ideas, etc and just want to be left alone. Maybe you are in a bad relationship – it just seems that nothing seems to be going right, and you are just so tried of yourself. Maybe you have been praying for years for salvation for your loved ones and you are just tried of it because you want to control salvation and just cannot trust God’s promise? You always seem to tell yourself, when am I going to learn? If you are tried of yourself, there is plan and purpose for that, just like we see in Abraham, who kept failing and failing and failing and failing. See, the reason why God lets you be tried of yourself – why he allows us to come to an end to ourselves is that He never, ever, never, ever, never, ever wants you to get tried of grace; Because grace flourishes, where grace thrives the most – is when life is messy; A pastor said this once: when attraction wanes, when flaws show, when the dream dies- that’s when true grace has its best opportunity to germinate and grow. When life seems to be going so wrong, when you are not even looking to God, he finds you. One pastor (TK) describes grace this way: if you find him, he can truly fulfill you and if you fail him, he can truly forgive you. That’s grace! Grace seeks you out when you have NOTHING to give in return. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It’s irrational. It’s disturbing. It’s uncomfortable. It’s TRUE! Because when Abraham was at his weakest place, when both of them were very old, when he couldn’t have a child, when he couldn’t have any physical ability to produce a child, when he did not have any ability to produce faithfulness in his own life, God’s gracious promise found him.
See the story of Abraham is not a story about a man who failed to do what is right, but it’s a story of how much he failed to believe in a promise. I believe that our biggest struggle is that we are failures to believe in God’s promise. Maybe for some of you, the core issue is that you don’t really believe that God is your Provider- so you are worried about life. Maybe, you don’t believe that He is delightful and good to you, so you think chasing the stuff of the earth could be better for you. Maybe you don’t really believe that God can love someone as messed up and morally weak as you, so you doubt his love and grace, feel that you have to earn it. Maybe you see so many mistakes, regrets, failures, fears, dangers, brokenness that you just can’t believe that God can be greater than your failures. The reason why we don’t believe him is because we don’t really see HIM as the Promise Keeper- the one who keeps his promise. We don’t really TRUST Him; we trust other things that promise us joy and self-fulfillment but not Him. Trust Him means looking through the promise to the ONE WHO promises and by grace, when you find him trust worthy, you will see the beauty and spiritual worth that satisfies your heart forever. There is a difference between “you’re in good hands with Allstate” and when your spouse says, “I’ll be there, in joy or in sorrow, in sickness or in health”. The joy, the assurance, the sweetness is not so much in the promises as it is in the Promiser. It is not just that God will supply all of our needs but that GOD IS MY GRACIOUS and FAITHFUL PROVIDER. It’s not just that God will hear my prayers but that GOD IS ON MY SIDE, GOD IS MY DADDY, MY FATHER. Faith- is having GOD BECOMING MORE AND MORE LOVELY, lovely, wonderful, glorious than any other thing. We could be just like the lame man sitting outside, crippled, far away from God, dead to God and cursed in our belief that God has failed us but when you discover that it was Jesus who experienced the curse of death, being utterly cut off, only then, can we truly experience of being alive to GOD.
Example: When Soumy and I established good friendship back in the day, we desired, planned and hoped to get married, and during that time, a lot of people said – wow you guys are so suited for each, so compatible, that is so important in your life and in marriage. And we looked at each other and say—yea, we are suited for each other. Or others who say…gosh, if you guys have this kind of love for each other, you can take on the world…and we looked at each other and said—yea, our love can take on the world. So, on May 28, 2007, we got married. We promised to each other in the presence of the Lord and other witnesses, holding each other’s hand, to be (both of us) faithful, loving, and devoted husband & wife, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, so long as both shall live. That was the promise. The first year of marriage was awesome…we thought we could take on the world for the gospel. We were studying the bible, 1st Peter, I was doing Greek, preaching and she listened very well. Well, the 2nd year rolls around, Abby was born, and suddenly what we found that – it was the most roughest year going into marriage; I uncovered deadly patterns of sin that laid deep in my heart-the sins that I have inherited from my family, the seeds of meeting my parent’s expectations more than my wife and the bitterness that came with it, and then not keeping my wife as my priority, the constant fighting, arguing, despair, and comparing- and what I soon found out during the most roughest year is how much my wife was so committed to a bum like me. There was not even a moment where I doubted her love for me. She is able to love the unlovable. Why? Because, in our short 6 years of marriage, I found out that Soumy was not just committed to our promises made on that day but she is able to see God’s unconditional, unrelent-less commitment to people like us, she is able to see the Promise Keeper, his covenant keeping pursuit, to see man who has many flaws, self-centeredness, ego, etc but whose heart is being reshaped by the gospel; she is willing to love, correct, sacrifice, give because she believes Jesus is so committed to see his bride flourish; it’s the mind of assurance, boldness, confidence, security, safety, joy, thanksgiving because despite who we are, despite the mess we made, despite our unfaithfulness to Him and each other, God pledges, covenants, more committed in making us into the glorious, unique people that we can be in Him. God’s gracious promise is greater than our sin. You can’t help then but to leap, run, and praise our Good God. HE is our God and we are HIS people! That’s when you discover grace!
II. A Healthy church that preaches Christ has a proper view of sin [v.13-15]
WE mentioned that this man clung to Jesus’ disciples, but there are others who crucified him. You either cling to Him or you crucify Him, you just cannot be neutral to Him. Check out what Peter boldly have to say in verses 13-15 – …glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of Life, who God raised from the dead. Think about Peter’s boldness to prosecute the religious bunch of people, the chosen race- ‘the Jews’ this is a BIG DEAL! –For Peter it was a big deal because they were against the Lord. They were not in line with God and His promise and His Plan; they were not with him but against him. Remember – the context here- the lame man who experienced a miracle –the hopeless, the reject of Judaism -he was FAR, FAR AWAY but HE IS BROUGHT NEAR…notice the dividing line – this lame man, unclean, rejected by Judaism, helpless, hopeless- yet the Jews, who are clean guys, good guys, they were the religious guys, they kept all the rules; yet Peter, here, goes on to explain the deepest, most fundamental problem of all humanity yet at the same time, he gives his utmost highest praise to the Lord of the universe. SO Peter charges them, prosecutes them by saying (4 things) – you rejected him, you denied him (v.13), you are trader- you traded God’s infinite holiness for man’s sinfulness (v.14), then, He gave you life and you killed him (v.15). Yet at the same time, Peter praises, exalts Jesus, this is what he said, he said 5 exaltation of Jesus– the long-awaited Servant, the Glory- weight of Jesus, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of Life, the Risen Lord. Peter greatly praises the Lord. What is Peter telling the church?- Peter is charging the church that if we minimize the cross, then we maximize us; if we minimize God’s perfect holiness, and then we elevate our holiness. You will not Praise, Maximize, EXALT, JESUS, THE SAVIOR unless you see sin correctly. The greatest threat to the health of the church is not it’s weakness but self-sufficiency, self-rule, self-righteousness.
But many people inside and outside of our churches do not view sin correctly; Newsweek actually reported that churches have made a model that has their members pick and choose of what kind of Christianity you want and pass over what does not fit you. Wall Street Journal article reported that churches do not like talking about sin at all – it’s all about getting practical, getting therapy to fix your problem, or if you are having the worst life then find the best life now. If it is a dysfunction, then correct it, fix it; If we have proper guidelines or instructions or proper motivation that can really help me to become a better person. Even in our daily lives, as Christians, we minimize our sins by talking about our accomplishments or successes when others tells us about our weaknesses (being defensive), or driven to impress others by maintaining a certain image (being fake), or hiding because of shame or blaming others or even downplaying your sin – I am not that bad as that guy or that girl. But the bible describes sin in a very simple, basic, three words and it gives us a picture of how we should view sin:
“Iniquity” – which means you are twisted out of shape. So just like when a bone is dislocated, it causes great pain and damage. So, when our heart is not centered on God, we have distorted beliefs and misplaced desires. Titus 3:3- For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
“Sin” – which means you miss the mark – sin is failure to live, as God wants; so you live for what you want. Romans 3:23- All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God
“Transgression” – which means you willfully rebel against someone whom you owe allegiance. Romans 1:21a, 23a, 25b – “For though they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks…they exchanged the glory of the immortal God and worshipped and served the created things rather than the Creator.
All these words that describes sin, the fact is; what makes sin so utterly sinful, so ugly is that it is ultimately against God; that is the most basic, fundamental problem of all humanity. We are all guilty of Jesus’ death, – it was our sin that held him at the cross. So, in other words, we sin when we make anything in our lives more important to our hope, to our identity, to our meaning, to our joy than God. SO, sin is not just breaking the rules – though it is – it is breaking the rule but fundamentally, the deepest issue with sin; the ugliness of it, is that we have the desire to be like GOD. We want remove Him as God and put ourselves as GOD. TO BE NUMBER ONE! TO BE IN THE CENTER OF EVERYONES LIVES INCLUDING OURS! We are walking facebook status updaters for everybody to like. We dictate what we want, how we want, when we want, and why want it, I don’t need anybody to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do…we want to be like GOD, to be our own savior and lord. Sin is a distortion; it is a dislocation of our hearts from its true center in God. JI Packer said this: What is sin’s essence? Playing GOD…acting as if you and your pleasure were the end to which all things, God included, must be MADE to function as a means. John Piper says: Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. See the picture!
You know why playing God, being like God or removing God from the center of our lives is an issue? Because it is an OFFENSE TO GOD; SIN IS OFFENSIVE TO GOD because God is the most offended party in this relationship; What makes sin sin is that it grieves and offends God. Not your parents, not your boss, not your husband, not your wife, not your brother or sister, not your church…GOD is the most offended party. That’s why Peter is prosecuting the Jews for their treason against God. That’s what you will see in Acts 4 – people were against the lord’s anointed! Even in Acts 5 – Ananias and Sapphira both dead because Peter says, you have not lied to men but to GOD. That’s why our relationship to God is ruined; it’s wrecked. And that is exactly why Jesus was crucified. So, if I repent over the consequences of sin then we are not really repenting of the sin itself. What you will do is that you will avoid the sin in the future because it hurts YOU, YOUR OFFENDED. Sin has not become ugly. But if you repent over the fact that sin has broken God’s heart, then everything changes because you are not avoiding Jesus as your TRUE Savior and Lord. That’s a huge difference! See when have this proper view of sin- that I have broken God’s heart – it’s not to wallow in our sin, not to be absorbed in our sin but man, I’m a broken, sinful, wretched person in need of a rescue. Who will save me? Who will see my ugliness and still make me beautiful? Only Christ can make the broken beautiful! Only when we truly realize that we are truly sinners who have truly offended GOD, can we see the true beauty of Christ, in our lives and in each other. That’s why, regardless of culture, class or gender, we can’t draw the line between good people and bad people. These are good guys (religious Jews) and those are the bad guy (lame people, the outcasts, the misfits, the helpless)-we can’t do that; because all of us have offended our Creator. All of us are in the same place- whether you are a mailman or a millionaire, a secretary or a surgeon, a drunkard or deacon, a prostitute or a preacher- we are all in the same boat. Because preaching Christ crucified means that on the cross Jesus was helpless, he was treated like a misfit, the one who DID offend GOD, was punished outside of the city, so that we can be brought in. (if that doesn’t excite you, don’t know what will) He was treated like a robber, like a thief, like a criminal, so that we would not be punished as glory stealers, glory theives we are. That’s true life. For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:23) We are INDEED great sinners but Jesus is INDEED our GREAT Savior.
III. A Healthy church that preaches Christ is prepared for suffering [vv.13-16, 18-21, 26]
This point is very, VERY difficult for me, I mean, everything in my heart and soul do not want to talk about the nature of the church being called to suffer: it’s not popular these days. In an age where churches are more like business- market driven, churches competing with other churches trying to be ‘relevant and dynamic and fun’ all about the numbers, and then you have churches that has a huge following to promote an image of a pastor, or a program, there are churches and pastors that sees themselves as celebrity, they got the latest powerpoint (video and vimeo) and dynamic preaching; and what’s even more popularized or trendy is that churches measure everything by people’s happiness; are people happy with us? If people in the church are happier then better the church…and to talk about suffering- well, it just won’t do these days. I believe that the western churches have no clue of how to handle sufferings or difficulties; people just want to believe that it is God’s job to give them a safe life. If God doesn’t then he is cruel and just downright mean. The church in the west needs to prayerfully prepare God’s people for suffering.
When you look at Acts 3, Luke presents the gospel – specifically, the gospel of suffering. Peter explains the miracle and relates it to the suffering of Christ. WHY? This lame man has been suffering for more than 40 years of his life, paralyzed; his ankles, his feet, his knees and his hips are severely damaged. Yet this man experienced healing. The way Peter explains the lame man’s healing is that he presents the suffering of Christ. He explains that Christ was killed but God raised him up. Not only that, prophets from back in the day use to tell that Christ must suffer, and even all of the gospel writers pointed to the cross. Why? How does suffering of Christ relate to the lame man who was healed? What does that mean for us in our suffering so that we can be forever healed, whether in this life or next? John Stott said that: I could never myself believe in God if it were not the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was not vulnerable to it? See, you know what the suffering of Christ means to us, it means that he is involved in our suffering, it means that he became vulnerable; it means that he identified with what we face or what we will face, our sufferings, our trials, our troubles. He didn’t remove himself from it but directly was involved, affected, experienced suffering and death, he was man familiar with sorrow, pain and suffering, he was made perfect through suffering. Even when you look at the whole book of Acts, or even the whole bible – people face suffering. The very next chapter and onwards, Peter and the rest of the guys will face opposition from the mayor, city councils, from people (Gentiles, Jews); they are going to be arrested, countless beatings, near death experiences, sleepless nights, hunger and eventually death. But their happiness, their joy rests in the fact that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus by preaching Christ and Him crucified (Acts 5:41-42). I believe that they could only say that when they know deep down that they have been ultimately healed.
But notice, this crippled man, in his suffering; what he wanted was silver and gold but he was given something far more (infinite value) valuable. Yet at the same time, these religious Jews, whom Peter was charging them with, they HAD something of infinite value but didn’t want it. That is what suffering is –and when we go through sufferings, hardships, trials, troubles- we are looking for other things to capture our imaginations, our hope, our happiness, our security, our significance but we forget what we have been given- the most important valuable thing. Or when we do experience suffering, hardships, struggles, trials, troubles; we forget that we have something of infinite value but do not want it. And we are unhappy. God appears unmoved. Happiness escapes us. We are discontent, just restless constantly yet Peter gives hope in preaching the Crucified Messiah to both of them.
In the past 30 some years of my life, I have seen sufferings, brokenness, hardships all around me, the more older I get, the more I see it- one of my good friends, who was an unbeliever, we use to play basketball a lot in college- died at a young age due to esophagus cancer. My uncle, who was going to work on a Monday morning, had a sudden heart attack- died, leaving 2 young boys and his wife. One of my good friend’s brother (he was also a very dear friend of mine) died, very young, from a car accident. One young sister that I know in the Indian church, only 24 years old, is diagnosed with cancer. And all she tells me – “why, jiju, why is this happening, is God punishing me”. And I am sure that all of you have your own stories of hardships, struggles, sufferings, death…etc. Yet when I look at the life of the author who wrote “Trusting God, Even when Life Hurts” by Jerry Bridges, and found out that when he was just 14 years old, his mother died, totally unexpectedly. His wife died of cancer yet he writes with the depth of suffering because he has gone deep with Christ in suffering. Then, I was directed by a dear brother who pointed me to the life of Joni Eareckson Tada, her life just simply blows me away, in 1967, while swimming with some of her friends, Joni dived into the lake not knowing how shallow it really was, she broke her neck, paralyzing her body from the neck down. She struggled with life, with God, angry at God, discouraged and depressed, bitter, didn’t want to let go of her sin, hated to be in the wheelchair and just wanted to die. Yet one day through the power of the Holy Spirit and reflecting deeply with Christ’s suffering, she was able to see that good things in this life aren’t the best things. THERE ARE BETTER THINGS YET TO COME.
And what I have realized more and more, as I get older, is that I really do not want to suffer. I actually don’t want anything bad to happen to my life, nothing to my wife and children, and family and friends…I don’t want anything bad to happen. I DON’T WANT TO SUFFER. I want to live my life comfortably. Cancer scares me, persecution devastates me, and brokenness breaks me. I don’t want to suffer. I feel like I am just like those religious Jews- who has something, who has Someone of infinite value and worth but don’t want it because I feel that I am entitled to have a good life. I feel that I have been such a good person, moral, never went clubbing, nice guy, finished school, sang tenor in choir, went to church, being called into ministry- I feel that I do not deserve suffering because getting those things, having those things, being those things – that’s where I find meaning in life, not in sufferings, not in loss, not hardships, not troubles, not trials. I feel that God owes me a good life. Why? – Because when we experience suffering, when we experience the heat of suffering, our true heart comes out. It reveals where & who we really put our trust in. What do we really believe in? Think of your difficulty, your hardships, your sufferings, -they show you what you really trust in, what you value the most, what captures your heart to be the most important thing. Sufferings show us that we don’t live for God because we love to live for our pleasures, our comforts, we think that the good things in this life are the best things– “what did I do to deserve this?” If we don’t get the best things in this life, we feel that we are entitled to have it – then your life is miserable, it tears you up. Because all your life you think that you performed very well. Your good! Your nice! Even spiritually- your piety, prayer, passion, practice- you performed very well. And now you’re mad, you’re angry, you’re upset because God owes you good things.
Yet, verse 13, it tells us that Jesus is the glorified servant; he is the suffering servant and when you look all the way to verse 26- but God raised up this servant to bless you. You know what that word “bless” means- it means deep fulfillment, deep satisfaction, deep joy. You know what is your deepest fulfillment- when you know that you are healed. The deepest satisfaction is knowing that your sins are completely, wiped away, your past, present and future sins are blotted out – that’s your ultimate fulfillment, your deep satisfaction, your ultimate healing of being paralyzed with your sin. That is the purpose – driven life no matter what. Because when we do experience these sufferings, hardships, struggles, troubles- it’s nothing compared to the level of healing that God gave you eternally, -that God was willing to suffer-to save you, rescue you from the ultimate destruction/trouble, from the ultimate fire of hell- when you see that, when you know that you have been given something far more valuable, then your joy increases, your fulfillment met, your satisfaction lived. That’s when we experience times of refreshing- the word actually means, breathing space, and relief, there is joy; In other words, your darkest suffering can be experienced with joy because ultimate price was paid through suffering of Another so that we can never, ever experience eternal suffering.
So, in conclusion, loved ones, preaching Christ and Him crucified is telling each other, life is messy, it is very hard to trust but we have the one who keeps his promise, he is committed to us, that– it is our sin that was so offensive to God that Jesus had to die on the cross for me, that “there is bound to come some trouble to your life,” as Rich Mullins would say, but realizing deep in our hearts of how paralyzed we truly are to God, not moving towards Him, trusting in the good things that this life has to offer yet God did everything, parting heaven and earth, thundering the foundation of this planet to reach down and rescue you & I because he loves us, because he delights in us, because “He’s been there before and He knows what its like.” It is only on the cross where we sufferers finally see, as one pastor TK puts it, “to see a GOD who now knows what it’s like to lose a loved one.” That’s the only grace that you can find anywhere that can give you strength and a bright hope for tomorrow. It transforms you. It tells you that Jesus is the only safe ground because “all other ground is sinking sand”. Let’s clearly, consistently, communicate the gospel in every area of our lives backed up by a transparent, compelling, reconciled life in the gospel. Why? Because we have been given something far greater, more valuable that even the good things in this life aren’t the best things. Because God raised Jesus, we can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because we know, we know he holds the future; and life is worth the living just because HE lives. AMEN!