Are You Ready to Suffer for Jesus?
August 21, 2016
TEXT: Acts 14:21-28 – “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. 24 And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: 26 And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. 27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. 28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.”
Illus. – Imagine yourself for a few moments to be a Christian in the first century—and you have been discovered and captured by the Roman authorities. Your belongings are confiscated, your house sold, and you, your spouse and your two children are imprisoned separately. Your spouse was thrown to the lions, your daughter was eaten by a pack of ferocious wild dogs, and your son was drawn and quartered.
Then a Roman guard asks if YOU are willing to give up your faith in Christ and worship the Emperor according to Roman law. If not, he warns, you will be submerged in boiling pitch, and set on fire as a slow burning torch to light a dinner feast for Nero.
What would you do?—Give up your faith or go on and suffer and die for Jesus?
Our text tells us that Paul and Barnabas returned to the churches they had previously started. Verse 22 tells us what they did: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Paul knew he needed to prepare these believers and strengthen them because he knew what was ahead of them. He told them that they would suffer tribulation until they entered the kingdom of heaven. It’s generally understood that the “tribulation” Paul refers to here is persecution.
That’s what I want to talk to you about today—persecution, opposition to Jesus Christ. I just want you to ponder one simple question: Are you ready to suffer for Jesus?
Note with me a few things we find in today’s text:
I. FIRST, NOTE THAT IT IS NORMAL FOR BELIEVERS SUFFER FOR JESUS.
Paul didn’t sugarcoat the future these Christians faced. Verse 22 says they “must” (that is, almost certainly would) go through persecution. This is something that has historically been a fact of life for most believers in almost every age—that they should expect to be persecuted for their faith in Christ.
This is a frequent and recurring theme throughout the New Testament:
• JESUS warned of it on several occasions: – Such as in John 15:20: “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…”
• PAUL predicted of it several times as well: In 2 Timothy 3:12 he said, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
• THE APOSTLE JOHN foresaw it – He said in 1 John 3:13 – “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.”
• And PETER warned of it – In 1 Peter 4:12-13 he said, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
True believers throughout the history of the church have experienced this first hand.
• The Christians in the days of the Roman Emperors experienced it—when between 100,000 and 500,000 were martyred.
• Millions were harshly persecuted and many murdered by the Nazi, Soviet and Chinese Communist regimes of the 20th century.
• Even today, Christians are being persecuted and martyred for Christ in places like China, North Korea, Cuba and almost all Muslim countries to some degree.
History shows that pauses from persecution of Christians, like we have in Western countries today, have been the exception rather than the rule. It’s something Christians have historically accepted as the price of following Christ.
Illus. – I recall a story about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. Early in his ministry, after being barred from preaching in the Church of England, he went into the fields and hillsides and meadows to preach the Gospel—but not without great opposition! Everywhere he preached, he was dogged by ridicule and persecution. On many occasions stones, bricks or rotten vegetables were thrown at him.
One day Wesley was riding his horse to a meeting when it dawned on him that three days had passed in which he had suffered no persecution at all. Alarmed, he stopped his horse, and cried out, “Can it be that I have sinned, and am backslidden?” Slipping from his horse, Wesley knelt on his knees and began to pray, asking God to show him any unconfessed sin in his life.
Well, it just so happened that there was a farmer on the other side of the hedge who overheard Wesley praying. He looked across and recognized the despised preacher. I’ll fix that Methodist rabble rouser, he thought. Then he picked up a stone and tossed it over the hedge at Wesley.
Though it narrowly missed him, Wesley leaped to his feet, joyfully shouting, “Thank God, it’s all right! God is still with me!”
That kind of thinking of the inevitability of persecution is foreign to us today because most of us in the West have never suffered in any significant way for our faith.
But can I be honest with you?—If the Lord tarries, I sincerely believe that we may very well see the day when Christians in the West will again be persecuted.
As the world spirals further and further away from God and the Bible, it might become an increasingly hostile place for believers who stand up for their beliefs, who witness, who stand against the tide of sin and unbelief in our age.
And my question for you today is: Are You Ready to Suffer for Jesus?
II. BUT I WANT YOU TO SEE SECONDLY, THAT BELIEVERS HAVE A MOST GLORIOUS ASSURANCE—THEY ONLY PASS THROUGH PERSECUTION – Verse 22 in our text says that Paul confirmed and exhorted the believers and told them that they would “…through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Yes, persecution has been all but inevitable throughout history, but it’s only temporary!
The Bible often talks of this comforting truth:
• Paul told Timothy about his own persecutions: “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me…and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18)
• The writer of Hebrews said, “…The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Hebrews 13:6)
This is the main reason that believers have been able to face persecution.—We know that there is light at the end of the tunnel; we know there is a heavenly reward; we know that it is not for naught that we suffer and give our lives for Christ.
That’s what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 4, if you’ll turn to that chapter with me now—2 Corinthians 4, keeping your finger in Acts 14 where we’ll return later. Paul says in verses 8-10 –“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”
Paul knew what persecution was.
Later in 2 Corinthians, he went into more detail as to the nature of the persecution he suffered for Christ and the Gospel. In chapter 11, verses 23-28 Paul told how he suffered more than anyone—countless beatings; five times receiving 39 lashes; three times beaten with rods; stoned once; shipwrecked three times; a night and a day adrift at sea; in danger from rivers, robbers, his own people as well as Gentiles; in dangers in cities, in the wilderness, at sea and from false brothers; in toil and hardship; through many sleepless nights; often without food and thirsty; in cold and exposure.
THAT’S the kind of suffering Paul knew.
But what was Paul’s perspective on these troubles for the sake of the Gospel?—Look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Remarkable isn’t it? How many of us have this kind of ETERNAL view of persecution or opposition? Today most Christians are so wrapped up in this world, and the things of this world, and in material things, and entertainment and the pleasures of this life—that they cannot even BEGIN to relate to what Paul was talking about!
Illus. – When the Roman Emperor Valens sent messengers to lure the early church Father, Eusebius, away from Christ, he first tried smooth, sweet speech.
But Eusebius stood firm in his commitment to God.
So then the Emperor resorted to threats to take all his goods by force, to torture him, to banish him, to even kill him.
Listen to Eusebius’s response: “He need not fear confiscation, who has nothing to lose; nor banishment, to whom heaven is his country; nor torments, when his body can be destroyed at one blow; nor death, which is the only way to set him at liberty from sin and sorrow.”
I’m afraid that few Christians feel that way today! We DO have much in the way of EARTHLY ATTACHMENTS to lose. Our love for Christ is all too often NOT so strong that we would easily give up our possessions or our LIVES to suffer for Christ.
So I want to ask you again: Are You Ready to Suffer for Jesus?
III. SO…HOW DO YOU SURVIVE PERSECUTION IF IT DOES COME TO US SOMEDAY?
Let me tell you two ways, one in our text, and the other found elsewhere in the Bible.
• First, be confirmed in your soul and established in the faith.
Paul and Barnabas “confirmed” the souls of the disciples in Acts 14:22. Why did they do that?—Because they wanted them to be prepared. He wanted these believers to be strong in the Lord and in their faith.
This comes through commitment to God in every area of your life—through knowing God in His Word; through prayer to God; through faithfulness to a local church; through battling the world, the flesh and the devil.
• The second strategy to survive persecution is to live for heaven and the Lord and His Kingdom and NOT for this earth or this life or the things in it.
Paul said in Colossians 3:1-2 – “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
And in Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness….”
Why?—Because Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that “…our conversation [literally, our “citizenship”] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Illus. – Jim Elliot was one of five missionaries in the jungles of Bolivia who died at the savage hands of the Auca Indians in the late 1950s. Years before, when pondering whether to go for a lucrative business career or to sacrifice all to become a missionary in the jungle, he wrote something in his journal that sealed his decision. He wrote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (REPEAT)
Let me ask it again: Are You Ready to Suffer for Jesus?
Now let me close and bring these truths to our hearts by asking you three simple questions:
• THE FIRST IS THIS: Are you living a Christian life so true and consistent that your behavior provokes the conscience of a lost world?
You see, this is usually the main reason the world persecutes Christians. Its conscience is pricked by VIBRANT Christians, not by those who stand for nothing, stand AGAINST nothing, don’t share their faith and don’t serve their Lord.
Strong, vibrant Christians inevitably either inspire respect or invoke anger. If you don’t get both of these reactions at various times in your Christian walk, you ought to look a little more closely at the reality or the commitment level of your faith.
• MY SECOND QUESTION IS THIS: If you were brought before a judge on the charge of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence from witnesses and an investigation of your life to convict you?
If your friends were called up as witnesses, would they be surprised to learn that you professed to being a Christian? Would they say, “Well, yeah, I guess he mentioned it, but he was just a good old guy like the rest of us. He used the same language as us, laughed at the same dirty jokes we did, went to the bars like we did, and shoot, he’d cut corners on ethical issues like a lot of people do. Nah, he’s not REALLY a Christian.”? Or would they say, “We all knew where HE stood. He always did the right thing; I never heard a harsh word or a curse cross his lips; and he was always kind and helpful and loving. He was a REAL Christian.”?
If asked if you ever tried to tell them about Jesus, what would they say? Would they say, “Yes—she was CONSUMED with Jesus. She told us we needed Jesus, that God loved us, and she was always inviting us to her church.” Or would they scratch their heads and say, “Well, to be honest with you, I don’t actually recall the subject of God or Jesus or church ever coming up.”
If investigators were sent to search for evidence in your home or living quarters, would they be able to find a treasure trove of evidence that would convict you… Or would they find a mixed bag?—A Bible, but also a porn videos; a devotional book, but also dozens of risque romances; a commentary on the Bible, but also a collection of CDs by raunchy or druggy rock stars. In other words—some evidence of “dabbling” in Christianity, but would it be conclusive enough for a jury of your peers to conclude that you were undoubtedly a wholehearted, all-out Christian?
If not, you need to look very hard at your faith.
• MY LAST QUESTION IS THIS: Are you strong enough in your faith that you could withstand physical persecution and torture?
I don’t know if any of us can honestly answer that question until we have to actually face it, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure—
1) You’ll not stand for God during persecution if you can’t stand for Him now when the only thing you face is a little rejection and ridicule here and now.
2) You won’t stand for God if pleasing people means more to you than pleasing God.
3) You’ll not stand for God in the hour of persecution if your life is all wrapped up in this world, and the things of this world, and the values of this world.
It’s time for all of us to pause, take stock, and see how TRUE and how DEEP our commitment to the Lord is. So again, let me ask you, are you ready to suffer for Jesus?
Illus. – Let me close with the following story, titled: “What Have You Suffered?”
I saw in a dream that I was in the Celestial City—though when and how I got there I could not tell. I was one of the great multitude which no man could number, from all countries and peoples and times and ages. Somehow I found that the saint who stood next to me had been in Heaven more than 1,930 years.
“Who are you?” I said to him.
“I,” said he, “was a Roman Christian. I lived in the days of the Apostle Paul. I was one of those who died in Nero’s persecutions. I was covered with pitch and fastened to a stake and set on fire to light up Nero’s gardens.”
“How awful!” I gasped.
“No,” he said, “I was glad to do it for Jesus. You see, He died on the cross for me.”
The man on the other side then spoke: “I have been in Heaven only a few hundred years. I came from an island in the South Seas—Erromanga. John Williams, a British missionary, came and told me about Jesus, and I too learned to love Him. My fellow-countrymen killed the missionary, and they caught and bound me. I was beaten until I fainted and they thought I was dead, but I revived. The next day they knocked me on the head, and then cooked and ate me.
“How awful!” I exclaimed.
“No,” he answered, “I was glad to die as a Christian. You see the missionaries had told me that Jesus was scourged and crowned with thorns for me.”
Then they both turned to me and said, “What did you suffer for Him? Or did you sell what you had for money which sent men like John Williams to tell those in foreign lands about Jesus?”
I was speechless! And while they both were looking at me with sorrowful eyes, I awoke, and it was a dream! But I lay on my soft bed of comfort and ease, awake for hours, thinking of the money I had wasted on my own pleasure, my extra clothing, costly car, and many luxuries; and I realized that I did not know what the words of Jesus meant: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).
Let me ask one last time: Are You Ready to Suffer for Jesus?