Summary: To emphasize and illustrate the very real potential of persecution as well as God’s promises for those who are suffering in His name.
THE UNDERSIDE OF FAITH
Sermon Objective: To emphasize and illustrate the very real potential of persecution as well as God’s promises for those who are suffering in His name.
We don’t talk about it much. It is the side of faith that we tend to avoid in our conversations; not because it is embarrassing, contradictory, hypocritical or sinful but, rather, because it is painful. You might call it “the underside of faith.” The Bible calls it suffering. It comes in many forms … but it comes none-the-less.
The Scriptures are clear and honest with us about its reality. We are told to count the cost (Luke 14:28). We are told that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 KJV). That does not mean it is a badge of honor, an experience to be sought or provoked, or even one that our Heavenly Father wishes upon us. However, it is still a natural byproduct of living “Godly in Christ Jesus.”
And it behooves the church to talk about the issue, be prepared for its onslaught, and to encourage one another as we face it.
As I said, it comes in many forms.
• Some have lost their jobs because they refuse to compromise the ethical standards of the Gospel.
• Some have been abandoned by family members.
• Some have lost friendships.
• Some have lost financial potential.
• Some have even lost their lives.
Suffering is a predictable reality for the Christian.
It is also dreaded.
It is also worth it!
Many (maybe even all) the writers of the New Testament address the suffering of God’s faithful. All who do address it do so with a sense of compassion, warning, gentleness, and boldness.
Why can they be bold as they recount their experiences and encourage us in ours? Because they know, through firsthand encounters, about God’s blessings during these times of danger. For example:
• Matthew (5:10) says “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
• John (15:20) says “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
• Paul (Romans 5:3-4) says “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
• Peter (1 Peter 4:12-13) says “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
But no book in the Bible addresses the suffering of the faithful like John’s Revelation. From the very first chapter it acknowledges the reality. Not just the reality of suffering but the reality of God’s blessings in the midst of suffering.
Maybe it would be worth our while to take a few minutes this morning and uncover some of the jewels associated with suffering in His name. I notice many. Most of these jewels are encapsulated or hinted at in the fifth seal of the scroll. They introduce the reader/hearer to the reality of potentially being numbered among the persecuted.
9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
1. SUFFERING IS ACCOMPANIED BY THE PRESENCE OF GOD
• I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.
• Like Antipas in 2:13 they were killed because of their witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.
• This is also the same reason John was in exile (“The Word of God and the testimony of Jesus” in 1:9-10) and why others (later in the book) will be killed (11:7-9 & 20:4).
• Many who have suffered for His name have testified to the acute sense of nearness they feel during those times. My suffering does not in any way compare to that of the persecuted church but I do know that during the times when I have taken abuse for remaining faithful to God I have sensed His nearness in a very distinct and undeniable way. The comfort that such a presence provides is beyond explanation.
• I have asked Erin to sing a hymn for us throughout this morning’s sermon. She will, for now sing the first verse of “Near to the Heart of God.”