January 13, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
If you think back over history, Bible characters and the greatest saints that you know, they all really have something in common with each other. In fact, this is the thing that causes people to write their stories. We talk about them hundreds of years later. We still talk about them today. It could be different circumstances, different places in the world, different times in human history. But, there’s really just one thing that all great saints have in common. I want you to be aware of that thing today. Here it is. If you think about it, all of the great saints in the Bible, all of the great saints that you know, have probably become great by going through difficult times. That’s why I say it this way: Great sacrifice builds great saints. But, can we just be honest for a second with each other? It’s not always like this. In fact, you’ve probably seen movies or you’ve read books of the guy who had this really strong faith, and then all of a sudden something happened, and it caused great suffering. This great suffering caused him to start to turn his back and walk away from the faith. You see, sacrifice doesn’t always make great saints, but the great saints always come through great sacrifice.
Sometimes sacrifice or suffering will shipwreck people’s faith, and this will be the thing that they can point back to you and say, “This is the moment where I lost my faith.” I think there are two categories of people who are responsible for folks who will turn around and walk away from Jesus in the midst of really strong difficulties. First are people themselves who, when they’re reading the Bible, don’t put themselves in the shoes of the people in the Bible they’re reading about and ask the question, “How would I react if I was going through that very same thing? If I was that person, how would I react in those circumstances?”
The second category of people I think is pastors. I am one, so I’m just going to bash pastors for a second. Oftentimes I don’t think pastors prepare people for the suffering that’s going to happen to them. Then when that suffering comes, they’re not mature. They’re not ready for that suffering. I don’t think pastors teach their church what Hebrews 5:8 says. It says it was through suffering that Jesus learned obedience. It was through difficulties that he learned to become the man we read about in Scripture. Not just Jesus, but you go back and look at all of the great saints of the Bible. You go back and look at all of history, all of those great saints. They all have that in common.
Today I’m going to do something for you that’s probably not high on your list of things to talk about. I think we have to talk about it today because as the pastors and elders of this church, we don’t want you to be immature in your faith. We don’t want you to be unprepared when difficulty comes. Today’s sermon is titled Rules for Suffering Well. I realize nobody uses that phrase. How do you suffer well? There are some ways to go through suffering, and you get better because of it and you get stronger because of it. Or, if you don’t handle it well, it can undermine and shipwreck your faith. We’re going to look at those ways that you can get better by going through suffering today.
I. Expect trouble
The first rule is that it’s not supposed to surprise you. You shouldn’t be surprised when difficulties come. We should be expecting trouble. Rather, we should be probably surprised if it’s not happening to us. A great example that you see from this is in Acts chapter four. Let me give you the background from chapter three. Peter and John, two faithful followers of Jesus, have come to the Temple. There’s a guy who’s been born crippled. He’s been in the Temple hanging out, begging for money his whole life. Peter and John offer him healing in Jesus’s name. They did nothing wrong. Then this guy gets up, and he starts leaping and running through the Temple. Lots of people start to notice, and a crowd joins in. Now a lot of people are talking to Peter and John. In these next four verses from Acts chapter four, I want you to put yourself in the shoes of Peter and John. Imagine that you’re Peter or John, and listen to what happens to these two guys next. Imagine what you would feel like if you were one of these two brothers.
While they were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2 because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they seized them and took them into custody until the next day since it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
Peter and John started to suffer in Acts chapter four. By the way, I don’t think this caught them off guard, because I think in the back of their minds they remembered the words of Jesus when he said, “If this crowd will persecute me, they will certainly persecute you too.” So, what you have here is this group of people who start to gather around Peter and John in the Temple. It’s probably a pretty large group.
All of a sudden, the three main players in the Temple show up. This is the high priest, the captain of the Temple police, and the Sadducees. Now, a thing that you really need to know about the Temple police is, it’s not like police force that you and I would think about today. They’re more like the private army for the high priest. The captain is the guy in charge of this private army. So obviously these two guys, Peter and John, are dangerous, if the private army and the high priest himself Re going to get up and to go check this out, as well as the Sadducees.
One of things that the Temple police had a responsibility to do is to maintain the order. I mean, think about it with me for just a second. You’re living in Israel. This is an occupied territory. Rome is really the government that runs this territory, and they’ve sent their army to keep this territory and to make sure that it stays peaceful. Part of the Temple police’s job is to make sure that a riot doesn’t start or that a mob doesn’t start to rise up because if a mob rises up; then the Roman soldiers will show up in the Temple. So certainly, these Temple priests are going to show up. But the high priest and the Sadducees? Those guys showed up not because of the mob. They showed up because of the message. The message that Peter and John were teaching was, “That guy, Jesus, that was just walking around a couple of weeks ago that you saw crucified and died on a cross, he is alive today. He’s alive and well in Heaven.”
What the book of Acts starts to teach us and what chapter four shows us is, often God uses suffering. He allows suffering for the growth of his church. In Acts chapter four you start to see that really vividly today. This is the picture that I want you to imagine. If you’re Peter and John and you find yourself in these shoes, does it surprise you? Probably not. Because you remember Jesus saying, “Hey, they’re going to persecute me, and they’re certainly going to persecute you too.” The first rule in suffering well is expect it. Don’t get surprised when it happens. Be ready for it because you’ve been on guard looking and expecting this to happen. We should probably be surprised if it doesn’t happen to us.
II. Rub the cat the wrong way
I get it. This phrase doesn’t mean anything to you right now, but maybe it will in just a second because here’s what you’re seeing from the Bible. You see two mature Christians who are sitting there and they’re experiencing this difficulty, this suffering in the Temple, and verse two describes for us exactly why they’re suffering.
because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
If you don’t know who these Sadducees are, I probably need to explain some things about them. These guys are going to play a really important role later on in the book of Acts. Here are the things that are basically true of the Sadducees: First, they didn’t believe that there was such a thing as a resurrection. -not for them, not for anybody; nobody comes back out of the grave. Once you’re in the cold ground, you stay there for eternity. Second, they denied that angels or evil spirits existed. I could start to list a couple of denominations today that sound and act an awful lot like Sadducees, but I’m not going to. Third, they were loyal to the Roman government, which made them sellouts to everybody else in Israel. They cared more about keeping the status quo and the peace than they did about doing what’s right. Oftentimes these guys were closely connected to the most rich and powerful people in the land. That’s their way of making sure that they stayed a powerful group of guys. Last, they really only believed in the first five books of the Bible. If it wasn’t found in those first five books, they didn’t believe that the rest of the Bible really applied to your life today.
So, does verse two just make sense to you, then? Sure, these guys are going to get annoyed because listen to what these two preachers, John and Peter, are saying. “Hey, Jesus, who you saw die on the cross. They took that man’s body off of the cross. They put it in a tomb. Then three days later, that man rose to life again.” What Peter and John are teaching is completely different from what the Sadducees are teaching. Do you see what’s happening here? It’s a clash of worldviews.
I will never forget this story that I read about the great preacher D. L. Moody. Now this guy preached to crowds of tens of thousands. D. L. Moody had immense crowds of people showing up and listening to him preach. Thousands of lives were changed because of Dwight L. Moody’s preaching. Moody also had a lot of critics. So many critics, in fact, that often when he would preach, they would line the streets where he was preaching with picket signs, telling crowds, “Don’t go in there and listen to that man. He’s teaching you lies.”
Now, it wasn’t just D.L. Moody, because any time you have a preacher that is having a big impact, you’re going to have an awful lot of people who will start to criticize this guy. They do it through blogs today because they’re cowards and don’t have the strength to stand on the street corner and oppose you publicly. Moody’s own people were saying, “D. L., you know you’re really offending some people. The reason why they’re standing out there picketing is because you’re rubbing the cat the wrong way.” I’ll never forget for the rest of my life what Moody said. He said, “The cat is on its way to Hell. As long as the cat remains on the way to Hell, of course I’m rubbing it the wrong way. If the cat would turn around and start to make its way toward Heaven, I wouldn’t be rubbing the fur the wrong way.”
Do you see what Moody is describing? Do you see what the Bible is describing for us today? There is a clash of worldviews, and there’s no way that these two things can exist at the same time. D. L. Moody is saying, “I’m going to keep rubbing the cat the wrong way as long as the cat is headed straight for Hell.” I want to remind you, church, when you’re sharing your faith with that guy or that gal and they’re starting to get annoyed at what you’re saying, don’t be surprised when you realize you’re rubbing the cat the wrong way. Don’t take it personally when they start to feel that way. Because when somebody doesn’t share your worldview, of course they’re going to get upset by what they’re hearing from you. It’s only natural that they would get upset.
III. Run to Jesus
One of the rules for suffering well is you should expect it. Don’t be surprised when it happens. Second, don’t let it stop you from rubbing the cat the wrong way. Sometimes you and I have no choice but to rub the cat the wrong way.
Here’s rule number three: At the end of the day, when suffering starts, you and I really only have two choices at this point. You can get mad and hurt. You can run away from Jesus. Or, you can, in the midst of those difficult times, run to Jesus. You’re going to only do one of those two. In the book of Acts chapter four, you see what this looks like. I want you to picture yourself in the shoes of Peter or John.
Acts 4:3 So they seized them and took them into custody until the next day since it was already evening.
Now, if you don’t know about the chief of the Temple police, here’s what Longnecker says in his commentary about Acts. This guy, the chief of the Temple police, is probably second in power only to the high priest. He can basically do whatever he wants. This English translation of the Bible today is not giving you the full weight of what just happened. When it says “seized them”, what the Bible is really saying is they arrested them and put them in chains. When it says “put them into custody” it really means they threw Peter and John into a dungeon until they could have a trial and figure out what they’re going to do about these two street preachers.
This is where the clash of belief systems really starts to become pretty acute, right? What you have going on here is two different teachers teaching two totally opposite messages. Sadducees say that there can’t be a resurrection, that Jesus really didn’t come back to life again. Peter and John are saying, “Oh, no; he did come back to life again. He can do for you what he did for me, if you’ll believe him.” Their message becomes so threatening that the high-ranking religious leaders of the day grab these two guys and throw them in a dungeon in prison because of it. Imagine that you’re Peter sitting in that dungeon or picture yourself as John saying, “What did we do wrong? I just did exactly what Jesus told us to do. My life didn’t get better because of it. It just got worse.”
That’s why I’m telling you, church. At this point, you only have two choices. I only have two choices. You could get hurt and mad and run away from Jesus when those difficult times happen. Or, you can run to Jesus and say, “Jesus, I need you now more than ever.” In the midst of these difficulties and circumstances, you really only have one of those two choices.
IV. Keep the big goal in mind
The fourth and final rule for suffering well is to keep the big goal in the back of your mind. If you’re not sure what the big goal is, let me remind you of something. The big goal is not for you to live a happy, comfortable life. I know that you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. In fact, the big goal is not even for you to live a long life. The big goal of Christianity in a nutshell is that at whatever end God has planned for you, you get a chance to stand before your Master in Heaven and hear with your own ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things. Now I’m going to give you my rest. Now I’m going to give you the reward of faithfulness here on earth.” You see, the big goal is not to be fat and happy and satisfied. That’s not the goal. The goal is the glory of God, and you can see this really clearly in verse four.
Acts 4:4 But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
The number of men in the church came to about five thousand men only. When you add ladies and children into this equation, now we’re talking ten to twenty thousand people who are believing in Jesus because of the message, but also because of the miracle. By the way, if you’ve never been to Jerusalem and you don’t understand the topography of the Temple mount, it’s not big enough for ten to twenty thousand people to be on the top of the Temple mount at the same time. That message is not just spreading through the Temple; now it’s going from house to house and from marketplace to marketplace. People all over Jerusalem are starting to believe in Jesus because of the miracles of Peter and John and because of the message of Peter and John. If we could bring them up here on stage and interview them today and say, “Hey, Peter and John, did you ever expect this to happen to you when you healed this guy who was crippled?” They would say, “Absolutely not. I never saw this one coming in my wildest dreams.” But they would also tell you, “If it led to tens of thousands of people following Jesus, I’d do it all over again.”
The book of Acts is really causing all of us to ask this question, how much are you willing to give up? How much are you willing to suffer or to sacrifice to see that message spread all over the world? Here’s a better question: How much would you be willing to change your life or sacrifice to see it spread in our community this year? -because that’s one of the things that we have to wrestle with. Peter and John are suffering today, and they didn’t do anything wrong. But because they’re suffering, that message is going all over town.
I had a chance to hear from an international missionary from Africa. He told me about a guy. I can’t use his real name, so we’re just going to call him Omar. Let me tell you a little bit about Omar’s story. Omar was a Muslim. He lived in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was raised in a very militant, very fundamentalist Muslim family. Some missionaries started a relationship with Omar, and eventually, got a chance to introduce him to Jesus. Omar was miraculously, gloriously saved. Then Omar felt compelled to make that private faith public and follow Jesus in baptism. When he followed Jesus in baptism, his family cast him out, and his community sought to kill him. There was a price on his head because Omar had the audacity to do the unthinkable in Islam. -to say that Jesus is my Savior and no longer call himself a follower of Mohammed.
So, these missionaries decided they’ve got to do something to try to protect Omar. They moved him out of Johannesburg and moved him away from his family. But Omar’s reputation is now starting to spread, because everywhere that he goes, people hear from the Islamic community to watch out because Omar is dangerous. Every time Omar lands somewhere else in Africa, there’s a group of men waiting to kill him.
Here’s the thing. If you’re Omar, you have every right to ask the question, “God, why are you doing this to me?” Right? If you’re Peter and John, you may from their perspective, ask the question, “God, why are you doing this to me today?” Here’s the rest of Omar’s story. Here’s why I’m sharing this story: Because everywhere that Omar goes, he tells his Muslim friends what Jesus has done for him. Everywhere that Omar goes, he’s trying to make disciples of Jesus. Now God is using this brother to reach Muslims all over Africa, because they have to keep moving him from spot to spot to spot just to save Omar’s life. Now the question is no longer, “God, why are you doing this to me?” If we could step back and take a look at it from God’s perspective for just a second, God would be able to say, “Omar, let me tell you what I’m doing through you. Peter and John, let me show you what I’m going to do through you. And it just happens to be suffering that I’m going to use to do this through you.”
You see, church, I feel this way. You do too. I sit there and think to myself, this just isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be this way. It’s not right what Omar is going through. It’s not fair what Peter and John had to go through. Then I have to remember that this isn’t the world that God created. Go back and read Genesis chapter three, and you’ll see very quickly that this sin, sick, broken world that we live in, we did this. It’s our fault the world functions this way. So, all of those folks who feel like “I’m suffering and it’s not my fault. God, why’re you doing this to me?”, we have to keep the bigger picture in mind. This isn’t the way God created the world.
By the way, please don’t ever forget that one of these days, God will fix everything that’s broken in this world. One of these days, God will make right all of the wrongs that have ever happened. He will dry every tear. There’ll be no more weeping and no more pain. There will be no more suffering. There’ll be no more sacrifice. Because we keep the big goal in mind, we’re able to see what God was able to do through us instead of asking the question, “God, why are you doing this to us?” When you think about yourself in the shoes of Peter and John, I think it’s natural to ask the question, “God, why?” But maybe a better question to ask is, “God, what do you want to do through the midst this suffering? Whatever it is, God, bring it on. If it will cause you to get the glory and if it will be good for your people, I’ll do it. I’ll accept it. -whatever it is.” This is really what it looks like to live like Jesus and to find our identity in Jesus.
I have never totally surrendered to Jesus. Today, I turn to him for the first time.
I have been suffering lately. Pray that I will remain close to Jesus in the midst of these problems.
+ I will hang on to my faith no matter what happens to me this year.
- Do you know someone who has left the faith because of suffering? Can Calvary help “restore” his or her faith?
- What has been the greatest “test” of your faith? How did you handle it?
- Read James 1:2-4:
a. How can someone find “joy” in the midst of suffering?
b. How is it possible for suffering to “build up” your faith?
c. How does a “mature faith” make you “complete”?
- What can suffering teach us about the brevity of life?
- What are some practical ways believers help each other when going through suffering?
- Pray that God will use you to strengthen someone’s faith this week.