Summary: God promises lasting joy and peace to all who hope in Christ Jesus.
When the Apostle Paul taught pastoral ministry to young Timothy, he drew specific attention to preaching to the wealthy: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1Timothy 6.17-19).
Wealth is a particular danger to Christians because it can buy counterfeits to the spiritual blessings of abiding in Christ. Across the globe, millions suffer without means to purchase escape. That fact should neither paralyze us with guilt nor lead us to throw away God’s blessings from a fabricated grief. It does, however, remind us to beware substituting purchased comforts for spiritual peace and joy.
Someone once quipped: “A Christian is like a tea bag – not much good until it has gone through hot water.” Today, Jesus speaks to us about the hot water – sorrow, tribulation, lament, weeping – in short, suffering in this world as a faithful follower of the Suffering Servant. Before I read the text, however, I wanted to remind you to beware substituting purchased comforts for spiritual peace and joy.
[Read John 16.16-33. Pray.]
The faithful missionary, Adoniram Judson, endured untold hardships reaching the lost. When he arrived in Burma in 1812, there was not one known Christian in that land of millions, and he and his wife, Ann, were utterly alone. A baby was soon born, but he alleviated the loneliness for only a short time. Eight months later, Roger William Judson died.
Six years, six long, soul-crushing, heart-breaking years passed before the first convert was baptized on June 27, 1819. Thereafter Burmans were oh so slow to come to faith – finally a second, then three, then six, and on to eighteen.
During one period, Judson was imprisoned for 17 months and horribly mistreated. For the rest of his life he carried the ugly marks made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly bound him. Upon release, he asked for permission to resume preaching. The godless ruler indignantly denied his request, saying, “My people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might SAY, but I fear they might be impressed by your SCARS and turn to your religion!”
“Impressed by your scars.” They were, you know. In spite of the opposition of that one man, Judson found his way back into Burma, where he translated the Bible and served the cause of Christ faithfully for 38 years with only one short furlough back to America. He knew tribulation – his wife died on the mission field, as well as three of his children by his second wife. And he had worked and waited six years for his first convert. But some years after his death a government census discovered 210,000 Christians, one out of every fifty-eight Burmans! Today almost 9% of the people claim to be Christians.
I have heard pastors from foreign lands observe that the “health and wealth” gospel could never gain traction in their country, because there is no health and wealth to be had. Some of us, on the other hand, have known such ease that we might assume it must always be. I tell you the truth: God would prepare us for tribulation so that when it comes, we are not undone by it.
1Peter 4.12-13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
I am intrigued by the intense pummeling athletes give their bodies. What motivates hours in the weight room, miles running, and demanding workouts? Why does the wealthy quarterback return for another year of bone crushing hits and bruised and battered bodies? Why risk the injury that requires multiple surgeries to again walk? Why? For the chance to lift the champion’s trophy at the Super Bowl.
God understands this drive for the prize. 1Corinthians 9.24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
Judson endured the scars for the joy of leading men and women to Christ. I do not know what sorrows you will face. But note well how your Lord prepares you. You are reminded, first, that…