Summary: The road may be long and hard, but Jesus is good to see us through.
IT'S A LONG HARD ROAD.
There is a very real and dangerous misconception which has been circulating for some time among church folk. I don't know when, or how, it all began but it's present toll upon the individual lives of the followers of Jesus is mounting. The deadly idea which has been circulating is that Jesus will make everything all right, that no matter how bad our lives are at the present time, if we will only invite Jesus into our hearts as Lord and Savior then our situation will change. I am convinced that our situations will change, but I'm not convinced that our lives will change in the way we might hope.
For many of us, our image of Jesus is that of Walt Disney, Santa Claus, and Grandma rolled into one. Jesus is the One who will bring fun and frolic, the One who will take away every struggle and strain, and the One who will give us exactly what we want. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus has not come to make us comfortable, but rather He has come to be our Comfort in the struggles of life.
It is ironic that as much as we long for this utopia of ease, the stories we tell of the heroes of our faith are men and women who have suffered, struggled, and strained all the days of their lives. One such person was Isabella van Wagenen. Isabella was born a slave to a Dutch master in 1797. She was a deeply religious woman. With all odds against her she accomplished much for the Kingdom and for the King's people during her life. If Isabella were here speaking to us this morning she would tell you and me that that the force that brought her from the soul murder of slavery into the limelight of public advocacy was the power of the Holy Spirit. Without a doubt, it was Isabella's faith in Almighty God in the midst of her suffering that transformed her from Isabella, a domestic slave, into Sojourner Truth, a hero for every generation to come.
During her years in slavery Isabella watched helplessly as her children were sold to different masters. She was the object of severe physical abuse and sexual exploitation. The Civil War was a defining moment in her life. She was a staunch champion of the Union cause and spoke at meetings wherever she was invited. Her grandson, James Caldwell, entered the all-black 54th Massachusetts infantry (the unit immortalized in the 1989 movie Glory.) In 1864 she met President Abraham Lincoln, and later met his successors Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.
This woman of remarkable faith was sensitized and mobilized to rise above her situation and make a difference for the Kingdom of God because of her deep sorrow and her deep trust in the power of God. She became an advocate for women's rights, temperance, and championed her people to depend on no person, no government, but on God alone. Not only was she to become a legend in her own lifetime, but many today consider her to be one of modern America's founding mothers.
If Sojourner Truth were an isolated case of a follower of Jesus experiencing deep suffering then we might be able to genuinely consider the question of why we struggle so, even those who trust deeply in God. Sojourner Truth is not the exception, she is the norm.
In 1962, Victor and Mildred Goertzel published a revealing study of 413 "famous and exceptionally gifted people" called Cradles of Eminence. They spent years attempting to understand what produced such greatness, what common thread might run through all of these outstanding people's lives. Surprisingly, the most outstanding fact was that virtually all of them, 392, had to overcome very difficult obstacles in order to become who they were.
At the Nicene Council, an important church meeting in the 4th century A.D. where the Church fathers canonized the books of the Bible we have with us today, of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith. Struggle and suffering are the harmony of the Christian life, not an interlude or bridge between laughter and frolic.
There is no greater illustration of this truth than the story we will look at today found in Acts 9:9-19. Before we take a look at our Scripture I need to catch you up on what has been taking place in the Book of Acts up to this point. Saul was getting ready to go to Damascus to harass the followers of Jesus and bring in as many of them as possible for prosecution by the authorities. Saul was seeking to eliminate the adversary to the faith, and the adversary as far as he was concerned were those men and women who were still clinging to the belief that Jesus was the anointed Messiah sent from God to bring salvation to all of humanity.