The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8: 17,18 NIV)
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10,11 NIV).
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given you” (Romans 5:2b-5 NIV).
The Suffering and the Glory (4)
I have an idea for a book (and maybe a movie) called A Glimpse of Glory. It’s the story of a black worship leader who loses his sister to a mugging gone wrong and she is stabbed and killed. Of course this creates a crisis of faith and he goes into a tailspin of grief and guilt which leads him into a frantic search for his sister’s killer. He ends up one night in the very same bar, nursing a drink and wondering what he is doing with his life. He decides to leave and try to get his life back on track but, first, he has to go to the bathroom.
On the way to relieve himself, he feels a knife pressed into his back and a voice in his ear telling him to step outside through the back door. Once in the alley behind the bar, his assailant demands all of his money, using his knife as a warning and a motivation to hurry.
But Brandon wants nothing to do with it and starts to argue with him, asking him if he is the same thief who killed his sister weeks ago. The mugger is confused and obviously high on something, but Brandon won’t let it go and starts to push back – hard.
The thief reacts like a crazy man, shoves Brandon back against the brick wall so fiercely that Brandon’s head cracks against the hard surface sharply. At the same time, he feels the knife in his gut and he sinks to the ground in a heap.
Here is where things get interesting.
The book is called A Glimpse of Glory because Brandon is transported back into ancient Israel (or is it heaven?) at the time of David in his early years when he first became King. A lot of other things happen, but one of the key moments is when Brandon insists on going into the Holy of Holies, unafraid for his life and only focused on his grief. David warns him of the dangers, but Brandon goes ahead with his plan and enters the Temple bent on confronting God with his grief.
Outside, while David is waiting for the inevitable to happen, he sings one of my favorite songs (all of my books are actually musicals). The song is from Shane and Shane and is called Though You Slay Me.
In the middle of the song, at least on YouTube, Pastor John Piper has a few words to say to those who are suffering grief and hardship.
“Not only is all your affliction momentary…
Not only is all your affliction light….in comparison to eternity and the glory there…
But all of it is totally meaningful.
Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or the fallen man….
Every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience
is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.
I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism…
I don’t care if it was slander or sickness…
It wasn’t meaningless.
It’s doing something. It’s not meaningless.
Of course you can’t see what it’s doing.
Don’t look to what is seen…
When your Mom dies…when your kid dies…when you’ve got cancer at 40….when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out…
Don’t say “It’s meaningless…” It’s not.
It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.
Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart but take these truths and day-by-day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning.
Get alone with God and preach His Word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.
And then Shane and Shane come back singing their song one last time.
“Though you slay me, Yet I will praise you.
Though you take from me, I will bless your name.
Though you ruin me, still I will worship.
Sing a song to the One who is all I need.”
Do you see it? Right there is your glimpse of glory. Right there is the character of Christ revealed in us. It makes no sense. It shouldn’t be there. But it is. It’s not something you can create on your own by sheer will power or training.
It is something created by God in the midst of suffering.
You would have every right to complain, to argue, to get mad at God and turn away from him forever. No one would blame you. In fact, there may be more than one who, like Job’s wife, suggest that you just “curse God and die.” After all, it is clear that God has abandoned you, so why not turn your back on Him as well.
Yes, you could. But you don’t.
Instead, you go to God with your pain and grief and pour it all out before him in the Holy of Holies and, like Jesus in Gethsemane, you finally whisper “Not my will, but your’s be done.” Not that it is easy. Far from it. But you do it anyway because, in the end, God is all you need and all you want.
That is the glory of God revealed in you. Just as it was for Jesus.
It makes your testimony meaningful and real to the people around you who are also hurting and in pain. Now you can pray for them. Now you understand them. Now you can tell them the good news that Jesus also endured pain and suffering for their sake, to save them from their sins.
That is what Paul is talking about here in our passage.
To the degree that we share in the suffering of Christ for the gospel, to that degree we will share in his character and glory both now in this life and, even more, in the life to come.
It is only in the context of suffering for the gospel that God can create the character of Christ. There is no other way. That is why we must rejoice in our sufferings because it produces hope (Romans 5:4). It forces us to take God’s promises seriously and to risk our lives on them. God calls that faith. It forces us to look forward to our final redemption and the resurrection of our bodies and the defeat of death and the end of our struggle with our sinful natures. God calls that hope. It forces us to look at our neighbor and deal with them not in pettiness about mundane things, but in terms of issues that have an eternal weight to them. God calls that love.
So far in our study, we have talked about the first promise in Romans 8:1 that “there is no condemnation fro those who are in Christ Jesus.” This promise includes FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.
Then we looked at the second promise of Holy Spirit power in our lives in Romans 8:11 where Paul reminds us that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”
Not only is there NO CONDEMNATION but there are also NO EXCUSES. We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to deal with temptation and sin and we therefore need to be trained in the ways of righteousness. The Bible calls that Discipleship. We don’t want to fall into the trap of perfectionism but rather understand that this is a struggle and that we need to go on from glory to glory, becoming more and more like Christ each day. Training in righteousness will be needed.
Then we looked at the third promise of the ASSURANCE of our salvation given to us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit – that is, if you actually have the Holy Spirit within you.
A lot of people assume that it is so but don’t demonstrate any evidence that it is so. We talked about having EVIDENCE OF LIFE and what that would look like. If you have that evidence, you will have the assurance of your salvation. The evidence does not save you, it only tells you that you are saved.
Both the power of the Holy Spirit and the assurance of salvation that He gives us are appropriated by FAITH. We talked about David and his Mighty Men and the faith that they needed to have to fight the Philistines on the one hand and hide from Saul, their King, on the other. It was a balancing act of faith that bore much fruit.
Now we go on to the fourth and fifth promise in Romans 8 which requires us to turn our thoughts to the concept of HOPE. And HOPE is desperately needed in this crazy life of faith where things do not always go as planned.
In fact, if you are still under the impression that the Christian life is one free of pain and suffering where God will protect you from all harm and danger, then I have some bad news for you.
Our example is Jesus Christ, and, although we do not have to go to the cross and suffer the wrath of God, we still must pick up our cross daily, take on His same attitude toward the cross, die to self and live for God.
Prosperity theology does not do well in this context and if you are still suffering under those lies and deceit, perhaps this is the time to renounce the pleasures and passions of this world and start to live for God. Exchange your Prosperity Theology for Abundance Theology.
Remember that we are talking about suffering for the gospel, not just suffering the circumstances of life like everyone else. Yes, that too counts in terms of how you deal with it (see my next post) but the true disciple of Christ follows Him into the world to bring the gospel to those who need it and in that context will suffer as Christ did and therefore, be glorified as Christ is glorified.
It is all meaningful. No matter what you go through. You matter to God. Every tear is precious to Him.
You may not know specifically why God is allowing you to suffer but somehow you need to get to that place where you can say with the apostles that you rejoice in that suffering for the gospel because it produces perseverance and that, in turn, produces hope.
This is not an insipid, weak-kneed hope in a better future but rather a strong conviction that God will fulfill His promises to us and save us from this body (and world) of death. That is why we persevere. That is where the patience comes from. Hope. Without it we could never endure the suffering and pain of this world much less that persecution inflicted on us in our efforts to spread the gospel.
So, like Pastor John Piper suggests, we need to get alone with God and preach these truths to ourselves, remind ourselves that we are new and cared for, that this is part of the process to become like Christ.
It does NOT mean that God is against us or that He is punishing us for some sin we have committed. We are still polluted with sin and we still consciously commit sin (even when it makes us sick to do so). Welcome to the struggle.
God disciplines those He loves and He loves us as His children. So, no, it isn’t punishment. It is always discipline and discipline is always for our good.
Yes, God is willing that we suffer to become like Christ.
Yes, God is willing that we endure persecution to bring the gospel to those who do not have it.
He sees the eternal ramifications of sin and is willing to do almost anything to save people from that eternal fate.
Are you? Are you willing, like Paul, to do whatever it takes? That is the question after all, isn’t it?
Do we agree with God’s eternal perspective, his loving priorities, His tough but good will? If you remember our discussion of Romans 12:1-4, we talked about spiritual maturity and the process we go through to become more like Christ. In the end, will we agree with God that His eternal perspective on this redemptive emergency is good, pleasing and perfect? Or not?
If we are in agreement with God, then there is a price to pay.
Jesus paid the ultimate price and we don’t have to face the wrath of God. But we can share in his sufferings for the gospel and, in that context, become more like Him. That glory, that character, will be revealed in us here and now as well as on the last day. That glory, that attitude of Christ, that mind-set of Jesus, will empower our testimony and life ministry and we will have the anointing of God to fulfill our purpose on earth.
Frankly, it doesn’t get any better than that. It is the source of meaning and all joy for each of us. A joy that is not bound by circumstances but one that is in us always no matter what we go through.
I want that joy for myself. Don’t you?
The Desert Warrior
Lord, I want to have that joy that passes all understanding. It is rooted in hope and springs forth in the context of suffering but I want it badly. Please continue to reveal Christ’s character in me until my final day. In your name I pray. Amen.