Summary: As we wait in hope, in the midst of a suffering world, God is at work, bringing us through to the last day when that hope will at last be seen, when hope will no longer be necessary because its fulfillment has come.
There’s no doubt that being a Christian can be a dangerous thing in our world today. I read recently that there have been around 40 million people who have been put to death for being Christians in the past 2000 years and of those something like 60% have died in the last 100 years. Now that mightn’t be the case here in Australia at the moment, but the fact is that for Christians in many other parts of the world being a Christian means sharing in Christ’s suffering in a real and literal way.
Our present reality is that suffering is a part of life
Let me read you a story I read this week in a book by Robyn Claydon, called "Keep Walking" (SPCK Australia).
’A few months ago I had the great privilege of ministering in Moldova which was one of the republics in the old USSR. I stayed with a Christian family who, under communism, had suffered for their faith.
The mother, Olga, had become a Christian in her early teens and when she was fifteen asked to be baptised. ... When Olga grew up she met a young man who was also a Christian and they were married. They and their family suffered persecution in a variety of ways.
While staying in their home, I met her children - now grown up - and her grand children.
I discovered that, not only Olga and her husband, but their children as well had suffered because they were Christian. The children attended the local primary school and were taught by atheist teachers.
On one occasion the children brought a note home from school advertising a meeting which all parents were expected to attend. No reason was given for the meeting. Olga and her husband attended and found themselves part of a very large meeting. All the parents attended and all the staff. The Principal addressed the parents saying that she had called them together to alert them to the fact that there was an enemy in the school.
This news brought an immediate response from parents who called out asking for more details. The Principal said that the enemy were the Christian children! With this news there was uproar as people were shouting out that the children be named.
Olga said that she was shaking with fear, but knew that she had to speak. She came out to the front and said: "The Christian children are my children, but they are not your enemies." Some parents shouted out: "Name them. Whose class are they in?’. While Olga was standing there wondering whether she would name her children, another teacher came out the front. She said: "I will name her children" and then proceeded to do so. Once she had named them she went on to say, "But they are wonderful children. I have taught both of them and have found them to be hardworking, courteous children. If all the children in our school were like them, we would have a wonderful school"!
Olga said that the meeting ended in uproar. Some parents were calling for the expulsion of the children and others, influenced by what the teacher had said, were urging that they be allowed to stay. Olga and her husband went home and no action was taken. The children continued to attend the school although they were very anxious each day wondering whether anything would happen to them. Olga and her husband prayed each morning with the children that God would be with them and give them peace and courage. The teacher who had come to the defence of the children was removed from the school within a few days.
Twelve years later, when communism had fallen in Moldova, there was a knock on Olga’s door. Here was the teacher who had spoken up that night. She said that the quiet witness of the children’s lives at school had impressed her greatly and that, though she had not been free to ask questions then, she was free to do so now. She asked: "Would you tell me how I could become a Christian?"’
Robyn Claydon concludes: ’What a wonderful question and what a consequence of the quiet witness of two children whose lives were lights for Jesus in the darkness of communism and atheism.’
Now the reason I read you that story is because it reminded me of what we read at the end of the passage last week: "we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him." The assurance we have that we’ll share Christ’s inheritance is a great encouragement to us, but it doesn’t take away the reality of life in this fallen world. The reality is that the inheritance we look forward to is still in the future. We live in the age of the now but the not yet. Our present life is lived in the shadow of the last day, the Day when Jesus Christ will return in glory. Our ’now’ will always be coloured by the ’not yet’. And part of that ’not yet’ is that life may well involve suffering.