Summary: Turning opposition into opportunity.
Contrary to the opinion of some, Christians are not immune from pain and disappointment.
The idea of a cotton-candy theology that promises all health and wealth and no turmoil or tribulation melts away with every tragedy that reeks havoc in our lives.
The reality of this sobering truth hit home in a cartoon that was published in The Atlanta Constitution after a man named Mark Barton walked into an Atlanta Business office and shot and killed several people.
In the cartoon, a small boy is sitting next to his mother, and a newspaper is lying on the table.
The headline reads: “Atlanta Murderer: Mark Burton.”
Confused, the boy is looking up at his mother saying, “You said monsters don’t exist.”
Sadly, some of us are like that little boy in the cartoon.
When the monsters of life appear and start to pounce on us, we don’t understand why.
The evil and the pain we experience confuses our distorted view of Christianity.
Eventually, we might blame our suffering on lack of faith.
Some may even give up all together on God.
And as a result they become spiritually bankrupt and are left with no inner resources with which to battle the trials of life.
The Bible does not teach that Christians will escape the tragedies and turmoil of life.
In fact, Scripture teaches that opposition is inevitable.
For example, in our Scripture Lesson for this morning, we read that before Paul and Silas were thrown into jail, they were stripped and beaten.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
Yet when we read the New Testament, we notice that this kind of treatment was routine.
Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 6 when he gives a litany of the trials and tribulations he and other Christians had to endure: “Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.”
If Paul were walking on earth in the 21st Century he would be nauseated by those who tout a prosperity Gospel.
Paul knew he would face opposition.
And it’s important to remember that he didn’t cower from this fact.
His resolve remained strong…
…again in 2 Corinthians 6 Paul refers to his situation as a follower of Christ:
“We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
For Paul, it was unimportant how badly Christians were treated, because he believed that we are empowered by a towering faith that enables us to endure and rise victoriously above any opposition.
Do we agree with Paul in this?
Can we relate?
Or does our faith begin to melt away as soon as the first person even looks at us the wrong way?
In the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, there are lots of stories about the Native Americans.
One is about the ritual of initiation for Cherokee boys entering manhood.
Near age eleven, the young boy travels deep into the Pisgah forest, armed with only a bow and arrow.
This ritual is supposed to prove his bravery, yet the entire night he is terrified.
Every hoot of an owl sounds like a menacing monster.
Every cracking twig sounds like a bear or a bobcat.
Every rush of wind sounds like whispers of the demonic.
But when morning finally comes, the young brave sees another Cherokee hiding behind a tree.
It’s his father, who has been lovingly watching all night long, making certain that his child did not have to face the darkness alone.
And we do not have to face the darkness of this world alone either.
As he sat in that dark cell with Silas, Paul must have been comforted by the promise that he himself wrote about in his letter to his friends in Rome: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Let’s us remember that promise whenever we are facing the dark—and feel that we are facing it alone!
If we are believers, then we have the Holy Spirit living inside us at all times—and there is nothing more powerful.
Paul knew that he had the Holy Spirit living inside him.
As he faced the dark hours of persecution, he was certain that God was with him, giving him the courage to face the ugliest of terrors.
And he had confidence that the same power that was with him in the darkness would lead him into the light.
Paul was absolutely convinced that with God there was nothing strong enough, evil enough, or powerful enough that could defeat him—not even death!