Summary: God "comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable" and frequently they are one and the same people.
1. Which of these two words do you most readily and easily associate with God?
(At the time of delivery 98% raised their hands for "Encourage" and 2% for "Discomfort".)
2. Well, I would like to suggest to you that as you study the scriptures, both of those words can be applied in fairly even proportions to God. In fact God seems to constantly be in the business of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” – to quote legendary Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne – and often those can be one and the same group of people. There are times when we need comforting and there are also times when we need God’s merciful affliction and discomfort.
• Remember how quickly Jesus’ tone with dear old Simon Peter changed after he confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” and Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed that to you but my Father in heaven.” – a most comforting and encouraging word.
• But then just a few verses further down in Matthew 16 as Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem where He would suffer many things and be put to death, Peter rebukes Him saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” And Jesus has to look Peter squarely in the eye and say to him “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” OUCH! That stung.
• From the mountain top to the pits in just a few short moments!
3. In Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus pronounces not only blessings on the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are persecuted, but also woes on the rich, the satisfied, those who laugh now, and those of whom everyone speaks well.
4. The moment our circumstances improve and we get out of a place of total dependence and reliance on God and think that we have got it made and can now take care of ourselves without Him, we have stepped into the danger zone and need His stern word or perhaps a reversal in fortunes to again remind us that apart from Him we are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing. That has been the experience of God’s people throughout the ages. C. S. Lewis observed that “God whispers to us in pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
5. In Deuteronomy 28-30, as Moses spoke to the Israelites before they prepared to cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land, he shared with them both the blessings of obedience as well as the curses of disobedience – you can go and read those chapters at home for yourself.
• But I want to read to you just these words at the end of chapter 30: “15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.