A lesson in Suffering
Text transcript of the message preached at Elijah Ministries on Dec 2008
Good morning brothers and sisters
Welcome to Elijah this morning…
Shall we pray…
Today’s sermon is called a lesson in Suffering.
We live in such daunting times… dark days…. so much evil around us, so much suffering, so much depression and dejection…
Wherever you look, there is suffering… Human suffering is on the increase. The great human species, homo sapiens, Man, the conqueror, who doesn’t need a God, who has plumbed the deepest oceans, scaled the highest mountains and walked on the moon, and yet… is totally helpless and incapable of removing …suffering.
And although a lot of this suffering is self afflicted, most of it is because of
the rapid increase in natural disasters: volcanoes, earthquakes,
tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, droughts and famines. Great men's hearts are
failing them for fear. Something is radically wrong with civilization.
What is it? What's going on?
Turn with me to Isaiah 24:
Isaiah 24:1 Behold, the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants. (2) And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. (3) The earth will be completely laid waste and completely spoiled, for the LORD has spoken this word. (4) The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth languish.
Interesting that this destruction doesn’t differentiate between people. Whether you are a priest or a maid, a billionaire or a servant, it makes no difference to an earthquake…
But why does God allow such destruction to take place? He could stop it so easily. Why does He allow such suffering? The answer is given in the next two verses.
The earth is also polluted and defiled by its inhabitants, for they have
transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.
6 Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held …guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left…
7 The new wine mourns, The vine decays, All the merry-hearted sigh. 8 The gaiety of tambourines ceases, The noise of revelers stops, The gaiety of the harp ceases. 9 They do not drink wine with song; Strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
Verse 10 The city of chaos is broken down; Every house is shut up so that no man may enter. Sounds just like Johannesburg!
(11) They cry out for wine in the streets; All joy turns to gloom. The gladness of the earth is banished.
Some depressing words there, aren’t they? – and what Isaiah is conveying here is that the world is being punished because of man's blatant sin. The earth is under a curse! It has been ever since Adam and Eve sinned.
Not only have humans defiled the earth, polluted it and plundered it with their filthiness and greed, the main reason for this curse is that God’s laws have been transgressed… God’s laws have been twisted, perverted, broken and ignored with one blasphemy after the next. This curse is a judgement of God… and these things mentioned in this prophecy are happening already and will all come to a final conclusion in the last days.
And this curse affects everyone on this earth…. including Christians.
What’s important is how you are going to cope with all the devastation and destruction and suffering that happens around this curse.
It’s easy to say, but the way to cope with it is… to have faith. And to have
faith means to trust in the promises of God… That’s how we define faith – faith
is the confidence you have in your heart, that the promises of God are true.
And when you have confidence that His Word is true, that His promises are true, you can persevere to the end, you can overcome, you can finish the race – because Christ inside you will allow you to. Not in your strength, but in His! Christ inside you will be your strength.
You see the great problem here is that during the last days, during this judgement of the earth, the Bible says that many will grow weary, many will fall away during these times of great suffering. Many people will fall away from their faith during the last days. The great tragedy is that the modern day church teaches that once you’re saved, you cannot lose your salvation…
We’ve said this many times before, but Once saved, always saved is a serious doctrinal error that leads to the lukewarm Christianity described in Rev 3 – the church of Laodicea. And these are the times we live in and this is the state of the church…. Lukewarm Christianity – where the Word of God is true, sort of, but only when we feel like it.
Where the crux of Christianity is not a call to righteousness, and living the
life of a servant ……or working out your salvation with fear and trembling…
but instead it’s about false revivals and healing crusades – false miracles, signs and wonders… feel-good Christianity, deeply rooted in the imaginary gospel of financial prosperity …
and notice what the Lord says about this church…
Revelation 3:16 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (17) 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,
Does that sound like revival? No, instead of revival, there will be an Apostasy, where many believers will give up their faith – and that in fact, is what is happening before our very eyes… where the Christianity of today is far removed from what Biblical Christianity should be.
I heard a sermon the other day – it was on one of those CD’s that PJ and Fred gave out a few months ago… it was titled: “A call to holiness”, by a missionary called Paul Washer – it’s one of the most profoundly convicting sermons I have ever heard – I urge everyone to try lay your hands on a copy – it’s an incredible sermon – a serious wake-up call - a call to righteousness.
And that’s what a lot of us need to do today… to wake up – look what’s happening around you… because time is short…
But considering this judgement….
is it any wonder that this earth will come under such severe judgement…? Considering the godless society that we currently live in… the brazen lawlessness… the unbelievable corruption, crime, violence and evil…
where reason and common sense has been thrown out the window…
where the vast majority of the world denies Jesus Christ -
where men call the next President of America, the Messiah!
It’s No wonder that the judgement will be severe…. no wonder at all…
And this prophesied Judgement is happening before our eyes…
the shaking has begun, and the Bible says it’s going to get a lot worse.
And what’s important here for Christians is that:
· we need to be steadfast in our faith.
· We need to see these tests and trials through.
· We need to persevere to the end.
I have a great hope that we are raptured before the worst comes, because the Bible says that things will become so bad that men’s hearts will fail them – and if your faith and trust and hope is not in Jesus Christ, then the chances are, your heart will fail you too…
But to have Hope, to have Faith… is to know that come what may…
God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him…
You have to trust that His plans are so much better than yours…
You see, Christians are not immune to the suffering of these times. If you think Christians aren’t called to suffer, then I suggest you read Foxe’s Book of martyrs… a book detailing the many hundreds and thousands of saints that paid the ultimate price for their faith.
I wonder how many of you know that many of the Bible saints were actually murdered.…
We all know that Jesus Christ was crucified by
But did you know that Andrew, Philip, Simon, Jesus' brother Jude, and Peter were all crucified too?
· James the Apostle – had his head chopped off by Herod in 44 AD.
· The Apostle Paul was beheaded by Nero in 65 AD. So was Matthias.
· Stephen was stoned alive by the Jews.
· Luke was hanged by pagan priests in Greece.
· Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
· James, brother of Jesus was clubbed to death by the Jews in 94 AD.
· Mark was torn to pieces by Pagans in Alexandria, Egypt.
The list goes on and on and we’re not even mentioning the thousands of saints that were burnt at the stake during the Catholic Inquisition, or the hundreds of thousands in the world that die every year, at the hands of Islam… There are Christians dieing for their faith throughout the world, every day…
You see, part and parcel of a Christian’s life includes suffering, and some will even be called to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their faith.…
But know one thing for sure….If you’re a real Christian, you will be tested and tried, and even called upon to suffer for Christ’s sake.
What’s critical is how you deal with the suffering put in your life…
Do you just complain and murmur and moan, like so many Christians do when struck with adversity? Do you blame God for all your problems? Just how strong is your faith? Are you ready and prepared to meet Jesus?
There are many biblical characters that went through periods of intense trials and tribulations, which often led to terrible suffering, dejection and depression.
If we look at some of these I think we can learn something from them.
If you're familiar with the book of Job you will know the awful deep sufferings that this man of God went through in his lifetime. And during all the discussion and debate of Job and his friends, there is a little verse that describes our human experience.
Turn with me to Job Chapter 5.
Job 5:7 For man is born unto trouble, As sparks fly upward.
Just as the laws of physics stipulate that heat rises, and with it the sparks of the fire, so is man guaranteed to face trouble and hardship during his lifetime. This verse gives an indication of the real unpredictability of life - the fact that trouble will enter into our lives from day to day, and even right on throughout our lives on earth.
And here in this book, Job faces insurmountable trouble, heartache and suffering. In Job chapter 3 especially, we find Job down in the dumps to such an extent that he is almost suicidal in the expressions that he makes.
Job 3:1 Afterward Job opened his mouth and
cursed the day of his birth.
(2) And Job said, (3) "Let the day perish on which I was born, And the night which said, 'A boy is conceived.' (4) "May that day be darkness; Let not God above care for it, Nor light shine on it. (5) "Let darkness and black gloom claim it; Let a cloud settle on it; Let the blackness of the day terrify it.
He goes on and on… then in verse
V 11 "Why did I not die at birth, Come forth from the womb and expire?
V 20 "Why is light given to him who suffers, And life to the bitter of soul, (21) Who long for death, but there is none, And dig for it more than for hidden treasures, (22) Who rejoice greatly, And exult when they find the grave?
How desperate does one have to be to speak like this, to long for death…!
And maybe it was all this dejection and depression that caused his own wife to say: 'c’mon Job, Curse God and die ', just get it all over with, curse Him!
But Job doesn’t curse God… instead he says in Chapter 42, v6:
Job 42:6 Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Instead of cursing God and blaming Him for his predicament, Job, through the most unbelievable patience, which can only come from the indwelling Holy Spirit, eventually humbles himself and repents… and this brought about great blessings for him and his family.
Even though Job was suicidal, at the point of no return… it’s the Scripture in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that speaks to us here… it reads:
And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
When we are weak, then Christ is able to work His power. Because we will never be able to say “I did it”! Look what I did, Look how great I am!”. No. When we admit defeat, when we humble ourselves before the Lord, then He can work, because then it will be to His glory.
Elijah was another great man of God, someone who saw the supernatural workings of God with his own eyes. The hand of the Lord was certainly upon Elijah. His story is told in 1 Kings 17… you can turn there…
Some of the things Elijah did:
He brought a dead child back to life.
He stood before King Ahab and told him that it wouldn't rain again for 3 years!"
Elijah represented God in a showdown with 850 priests of Baal and Asherah.
He poured twelve barrels of water over the altar, and called down fire from heaven to consume it.
He had the priests of Baal and Asherah slaughtered when he proved they were false prophets.
According to the Word that God gave him, Elijah first shut the heavens, and then he opened them again 3 years later! When Elijah prayed, rain fell on the land after a 3 year drought.
And if that wasn’t enough, Elijah raced King Ahab's chariot on foot – he ran ahead of a horse drawn chariot for 6 miles, and the most remarkable thing was that he was in his eighties at the time! Amazing miracles…
Elijah's greatest desire was to see revival in Israel. For years he had been saddened by the wickedness of God's people -- and now he believed his prayers were being answered. He thought he was witnessing the start of a great reformation in Israel. He thought that after seeing the miracles that he had just seen, King Ahab would repent and turn to God.
But instead, Jezebel quickly squashed any chances of that happening. She threatened to kill Elijah. Then suddenly and inexplicably, this once-fearless man was running for his life! He ended up in a desolate spot in the wilderness, where he sat down under a juniper tree…
1 Kings 19:4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."
Elijah had literally given his life for his faith, both in prayer and in action. And now he believed he was a total failure! He was depressed and dejected to the point of suicide. For forty days and nights, he despaired, trying desperately to figure things out. It must have been one long nightmare of defeat, rejection, hopelessness.
It’s amazingly true of human nature, that when we reach a point of dejection, how quickly we lose all memory of every good thing God has ever done for us. Have you ever done that? Yep… I have and the same is true for Elijah. Dejection and despondency had brought down his soul. Now, not even the thought of past blessings could comfort him.
You see, Christians can, and do, grow weary. Sometimes, your troubles will pile up on you. You will be slandered and rejected. You will feel like your whole life has been in vain.
You might even feel like Elijah, who says: "There's no point. What’s the use of going on. I've done nothing for the Lord. I'm a failure, He doesn’t even hear me!"
And all the “count your blessings” lectures you hear from friends are like water off a duck’s back!"
Have you ever felt like this, where you just want to opt out of society?
So hurt, so down, you didn't want to see or talk to anyone?
I think many of us have…
Well, I want you to take comfort, that the great man of God, the prophet Elijah felt like this too…
And so did Job, and so did the Apostle Paul and so did Jeremiah…
There’s a long list of Bible saints that got to a point of utter dejection, on the verge of giving up. We need to find out how they dealt with it…
It's very interesting that Jeremiah expresses some of those same suicidal sentiments. Turn with me to Jeremiah chapter 20.
Jeremiah was a holy man, who walked with God and was fearless before men. He had an ear tuned to heaven -- a hotline to God's throne -- and he was the Lord's voice to his generation.
Yet this great man of God also came to a place of total despair. The Lord allowed him to experience a despondency few people have ever experienced. Jeremiah came to the brink of giving up!
If you look at chapter 20 of Jeremiah, we read some remarkable words from the prophet of God.
Jeremiah was convinced he had fallen under some kind of deception, because in verse 7 he cries out:
O LORD, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.
Verse 14 Cursed be the day when I was born; Let the day not be blessed when my mother bore me! (15) Cursed be the man who brought the news To my father, saying, "A baby boy has been born to you!" And made him very happy. (16) But let that man be like the cities which the LORD overthrew without relenting, And let him hear an outcry in the morning And a shout of alarm at noon; (17) Because he did not kill me before birth, So that my mother would have been my grave, And her womb ever pregnant. (18) Why was I ever born, To look on trouble and sorrow, So that my days have been spent in shame?
The fearless prophet of God… so overwhelmed by trouble and affliction, he wished that he was never born! He curses the man who was glad for his birth!
As we read these words, I don't know about you, but I'm can’t help asking the question: 'What can make such an annointed man of God, and indeed the chosen prophet of God, God's man for this particular time, come out with such devastating and dejected and depressing words?' What can bring a man of God to such despair? What sparks of affliction have flown into this man's life and blown all his hopes away, that he could possibly utter such words as these?
Well, we have to give you a bit of the history of the book of Jeremiah, and indeed the character Jeremiah, for us to understand where the prophet is coming from when he expresses these emotions.
When Jeremiah's story opens, there is decline in the nation Israel, there is backsliding and apostasy. Now we know from the historical records that there had been a spiritual revival under King Hezekiah and under the prophet Isaiah. For a brief moment that revival had a real influence and effect, but inevitably, as is so often the pattern with Israel, and with mankind in general, it's influence had started to decline and the people had moved away from God.
At the time, we find the people dealing in abominable things. Now remember that these are God's chosen people, this is God's chosen land… but they are all terribly backslidden and we find the countryside of Israel dotted with temples to the gods of Baal and Asherah. There are sexual idols littering the temples and on every high hill a circle and clump of trees hides an open secret of illicit worship of the pagan fertility gods.
And in Jerusalem it was no different - there was apostasy, the real decline and backsliding of God's people, where we read about how the mothers were baking cakes to offer - as Jeremiah says - to the queen of heaven.
Now historically, when things get as bad as this among God's people, you can expect God’s intervention. His righteousness requires judgement for sin. God is love, but God is also just. So on one side, we have God's holiness, God's righteousness, God's government, His Justice, where He makes known His word, and His will - yet on the other side of the coin we have a God who is merciful, loving, compassionate, and a God full of grace - who loves His creation enough to give every soul an opportunity to come to repentance.
So He sends someone to warn the people to repent and flee from the wrath to come; as He has done right throughout biblical history, God sends a voice, a messenger. He used these strange, eccentric men called prophets to speak the word of God, to be His voice to the people.
Prophets were always holy men. It can only be the voice of a holy man that represents the word of God. Prophets had a heart after God. The prophets in the Bible often carried the pain and burdens of an entire nation that had become disobedient. And this is also the mark of a true Christian, who mourn and weep for the lost.
Jeremiah was the prophet of Judah's midnight hour. He was a man of sympathy and compassion, but that never got in the way of the Truth and severity of his message. Jeremiah was God's chosen man.
And when we read Jeremiah’s story we see that he bore many heavy burdens. In places, he is called 'the prophet of the broken heart, the prophet of the bleeding heart and the iron will'. The book of Lamentations, which is really a book of wailing and cries over the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, was written by Jeremiah. That is why he is known as the weeping prophet.
But we are caused to ask the question what was it, that caused his brokenness?
Of course, to a Holy man, it would have to be the sin all around him, the idolatry and backslidden state of the nation, but Jeremiah's burdens were not just part of his job as a Prophet, they were also very personal. If you study his story, you will find that even though Jeremiah was standing up for God and for Israel, he became known as a Traitor, accused by everyone.
In the book of Ezekiel, we read that the Babylonians were coming from the North to make war with Israel, and both Ezekiel and the prophet Jeremiah told the people of Israel not to fight against Babylon, because the Babylonians were sent by God to chasten Israel for their idolatry. Jeremiah told the Israelites to surrender and go into captivity… that was the will and the Word of God.
Now you can imagine when Jeremiah was preaching this in Jerusalem, what an outcry it must have caused – the entire city immediately branded him a traitor.
And he quickly discovered that as a preacher, you will find new enemies where you least expect it.
Go back to chapter 11 of Jeremiah, And as we read this, bear in mind that Jeremiah was born and raised in the town of Anathoth. Anathoth was his home town.
Jeremiah 11:19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, And let us cut him off from the land of the living, That his name be remembered no more."
(20) But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, Who tries the feelings and the heart, Let me see Your vengeance on them, For to You have I committed my cause. (21) Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the men of Anathoth who seek your life, saying, "Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, so that you will not die at our hand";
The people of his own town threatened to kill him. Then in verse 22, he makes an interesting prophecy:
Verse 22 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will punish them: the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine: (23) And there shall be no remnant of them: for I will bring evil upon the men of Anathoth, even the year of their visitation.
Shortly after this prophecy, the Babylonians wiped Anathoth off the face of the earth.
Go to chapter 12… perhaps more hurting for Jeremiah, was the fact that those of his own household were against him:
Ch 12:verse 6 "For even your brothers and the household of your father, Even they have dealt treacherously with you, Even they have cried aloud after you. Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you." (7) "I have forsaken My house, I have abandoned My inheritance; I have given the beloved of My soul Into the hand of her enemies.
In Chapter 15, we read how everyone in Israel, including the people of God, the religious establishment, turned against him for his preaching.
Does it not remind you of the words of our Lord Jesus when He said in
Matt 13: A prophet has no honour in his own country and in his own house.
What all this says to us is this: if you want to be a man or a woman of God, whether you're young or old, there's one thing that you've got to realise:
to have a heart after Jesus, to have a broken heart for all the lost souls out there, to be a real Christian… you’re not going to be very popular, not with your friends and perhaps not even with your family…
In fact, you’re going to become pretty lonely in worldly terms! You will not
have many friends outside of church.
One thing is for sure… when times are hard, friends are few; and…
You don’t need worldly friends, because they will cause you to stumble, sooner or later.
And how lonely was Jeremiah - Wherever he went, his life was threatened, from Jerusalem, to his home town, to his church to his own family – they all wanted to kill him.
Trouble… A Christian is born into trouble…. but you know what?
You can escape all this trouble and persecution… yes – you can you know…. all you have to do, is to live… an insignificant life, a worldly life, a life that denies Jesus.
If you don’t want trouble, then don't do anything, don’t make any commitments, be insignificant – but definitely don’t follow Jesus! Because you can be sure, as a follower of Jesus, you have to pick up your cross… and sometimes that cross can be very heavy.
And Jeremiah’s cross was very heavy. He suffered for his message.
· In chapter 20: Jeremiah was put in stocks outside the city of Jerusalem. They probably threw fruit at him, maybe even stoned him.
· In chapter 38 he was thrown into a dungeon, into a muddy pit without food or water, and after that put in prison.
· In chapter 39, he witnesses the sacking and the destruction of Jerusalem.
· In chapter 40, he was put into chains and taken captive into Babylon.
Perhaps you can now see why he is called the weeping prophet.
Is it any wonder then, that a man who had passions and feelings like you and I do, should become anything but dejected.
It is no coincidence that in his lifetime, more than any prophet, he saw how God works in brokenness.
Look at Jeremiah chapter 18 for a moment, verse 3:
Jeremiah 18:3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. (4) But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. (5) Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, (6) "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.
What a lesson it was for the people of God in Jeremiah's day to realise, that no matter what comes into your life, even if it is Babylon that has come to sack, rape and pillage your nation and your hometown Jerusalem, In the Potter’s hand, anything is possible. And so it is in our lives…
The problem of evil, the problem of suffering and pain is one of the greatest questions that every Christian has to face. It cannot be explained perfectly, but the only thing that can in any way explain it is the evidence of things not seen, which we are told is faith.
It is what Job found when he said: 'He knows the way
that I take, and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold'.
Refined in the fire, we become purified.
In order to become what God wants us to become, we have to be broken, we have to
be moulded again and remade, and the question that we need to ask personally in
our own lives is this:
do we trust God the Potter?
Do we trust ourselves to the Potter's skill and the Potter's hand?
The only One who has the skill and the power and the ability to change us - do we trust Him?
And if you do trust Him you will find that this is your experience, as he says in verse 4: we have to be remade it into another vessel!
I would say again to you, if you don't want trouble, if you don’t want to be changed, you can’t be a Christian - You're in the wrong life.
And if you think that Christians shouldn’t suffer, then you’ve got the wrong doctrine… you haven’t met Jesus.
But if you do want to be moulded and re-made again, then you have to allow the trials that come into your life to do what God intends them to do. God will make you into a new vessel according to what He wants you to be.
So this morning, I ask you : have you lost sight, in your fear and in your trouble, that God is still working in you?
Do we trust ourselves in the Potter's hand? We may not understand His plan, we may not understand what He's doing, but do we really trust Him?
It's hard to trust Him when you witness unprecedented destruction, heartache and dejection as Jeremiah did. Jeremiah constantly urged the backsliding people of Judah to return to the Lord, or bear the consequences, to flee from the wrath to come. As you know the awful story of Jeremiah, that warning fell on deaf ears, and that's why Jeremiah changes from being a prophet of warning to a prophet of weeping. The wrath of God fell on the people's heads because they wouldn’t listen. Are you prepared to listen, even to the still small voice that Elijah heard?
And when the devastation came that Jeremiah warned about, it was vast, Jerusalem was surrounded by the forces of Babylon. Her own trees, the word of God says, were used against her. The temple was destroyed, the corpses of the Jewish people were fed to the wild animals. Those people that survived were held captive in Babylon for 70 years. What Terrible scenes!
The amazing thing out of all this, is that Jeremiah became Christ-like through his sufferings, and the same thing will happen to us, through ours. Through our suffering, we either become weary and backslide, or we become more like our Saviour.
In Jeremiah’s case, we remember that this is a prophet who had a lot to commend him. He ministered under seven different Kings, he prophesied against nine different nations. What a mighty prophet he was!
But of all the attributes and achievements of this man of God, there is none greater than the one that you will find in Matthew chapter 16, turn with me.
Matthew 16 and verse 13:
Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
(14) And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and
others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."
(15) He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
(16) Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
They said: 'You're either Elijah, John the Baptist or Jeremiah'! Why Jeremiah? Why was Jeremiah like Christ? Because of his …sufferings!
Turn to 2 Corinthians where I want to read to you some encouragement from the other suffering servant, the Apostle Paul……
2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power, will be of God, and not from ourselves;
(8) we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing;
(9) persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
(10) always carrying about in the body (what?)… the dying of Jesus, (why?) …
so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
Part of the reason that we are called to suffer is that we give up in our own strength, which allows Jesus to become manifest in our bodies – we become more Christ-like... Remember the great mystery – the mystery of Christ living inside us? That’s our ultimate goal, is it not? To become more Christ-like. Lord, please… less of me and much, much more of you in my life! And so, in Jeremiah’s weakness and suffering, he was remembered as being a type of Christ.
But some will argue… that suffering is true for Old Testament saints, but in the New Covenant, we are under grace, we shouldn’t suffer…
Well, Paul, the apostle, the New Testament saint, was a godly, precious and holy man -- who had given up the whole world that he might win Christ. He spent every breath in the cause of the Master.
But the Bible says when Paul went to Asia to preach the gospel, he received only trouble:
Go back a bit to 2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired.. even.. of.. life;
Despaired of life? They thought they were going to die!
Our last Scripture is:
2 Corinthians 12:7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself! (8) Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. (9) And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power – the Greek word dunamis – supernatural power, the Power of God – for my power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (10) Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with trouble, for …Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
This passage perhaps explains Christian suffering the best. There are two amazing truths that Paul mentions in those few verses.
The first reason that we suffer is so that we don’t exalt ourselves, we are kept humble. We can never say, “I did it myself.”
The second reason, is that God’s power is best demonstrated when a believer is totally helpless; when he cannot rely on his own physical or spiritual strength or even the strength of others. The truth is that when we are at our weakest, we cling to our Heavenly Father all the more; and it is particularly at those times that His great love and power become more evident and His presence most appreciated.
So having learned, through bitter suffering, these lessons, the Apostle Paul triumphantly declares in verse 10:
Therefore I take pleasure with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with trouble, for… Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
This is the real reason why the LORD allows His people to suffer. It is to demonstrate that however weak we may happen to be, and no matter how grim the circumstances we may find ourselves in: sickness, poverty, loneliness, persecution or pain, we can willingly bear it ….for Christ's sake!
By doing this, the Lord proves that under the worst possible circumstances, believers can maintain their faith; that even when we are at our weakest, the Lord’s power supports us and makes us victorious, even when threatened by death.
And when Yahweh is with us, who dares be against us?
There is much suffering in the world at the moment and even here in this congregation. It’s important to remember that He can provide grace and strength to meet your every need in every circumstance, no matter how bad it may become. He is always with you and will never forsake you.
The Lord’s mighty power is best demonstrated when we are at our weakest and most dependent. Because it is only then that we totally rely on Him.
For when we are weak, then we are strong.
The beautiful song –
'Have Thine own way Lord, have Thine own way.
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mould me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way Lord, have Thine own way.
Hold o'er my being absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit, till all shall see
Christ, only, always, living in me'.