“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
What Jesus Told You About Your Suffering
So Jesus told you, and he told me, because we received him, and because we follow him, we will experience suffering. In the last chapter he said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” And he said: If they listened to me, then they’ll listen to you (inferring that if they won’t listen to Jesus, they won’t listen to you either). And he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” And in today’s passage Jesus tells his disciples they’ll be put out of the synagogues and even killed. (John 15:20, John 15:18, John 16:2)
There are places in the world today where someone who gives their life to Jesus will experience radical persecution. There are places where giving your life to Jesus will result in being disowned by your family. And there are places where sharing the truth about Jesus with someone who’s not already a Christ follower is against the law. And there are places where leaving Islam is illegal and some former Muslims have gone to prison because they gave themselves to Jesus. (See Laws Criminalizing Apostasy, The Law Library of Congress, and Country Information and Guidance, Egypt: Christians, The UN Refugee Agency)
I’m astounded at how many people living in such places follow Jesus anyway. They’ve counted the cost and taken up their cross. They love Jesus more than they love their own lives. They knew what would happen before they gave themselves to Jesus, but they gave their life to him anyway. (Matthew 16:24-26)
Suffering In Other Ways
Some of you reading this today might live in such a place. But most of you reading this right now are from the United States or another country where we’re not threatened with imprisonment for sharing Christ with an unbeliever. What we do experience though is a different kind of suffering. After giving our lives to Jesus, many of us have experienced being put out of our group of friends. We’re disowned by our friends because we now belong to Jesus. Or maybe we pass on a more lucrative career path so we can devote more of our time to serving Jesus. Or maybe we’re passed up for promotions at work because our beliefs don’t fit in with the group.
Or maybe, right now, God is allowing extra suffering in your life to grow you into who he wants you to become, to conform you into the likeness of Christ. (He often seems to do that with his favorites. And we’ll see how He did that in one man’s life in just a moment.)
Why Jesus Told You About Your Suffering
Whatever form the suffering takes, in today’s passage Jesus tells you, and he tells me, why he’s sharing about how we’ll suffer because we belong to him. He’s sharing this so we won’t “fall away.” (John 16:1) The original Greek word used for “fall away” is skandalisthēte. It’s where we get our word scandalize. I know believers who were initially enamored with their newfound relationship with Christ but later they were scandalized and offended when the suffering came. Maybe you know of someone like that too.
So Jesus is telling us ahead of time.
He’s telling us, “When the suffering comes remember I told you it would come.
“So you won’t fall away.”
Jesus’ suffering came before his resurrection. In fact Jesus could not have been resurrected if he didn’t go through the suffering first. That’s how it is for you, and for me, and for every Christ follower.
I’ve written before about the life of Francis Chan.
His mother died while giving birth to him.
His father remarried but when he was 8 years old his stepmother died in a car accident.
Then when he was 12 his father died of cancer.
Without his biological parents he became close to an aunt and uncle. But in yet another tragic turn of events, when he was in high school his uncle murdered his aunt, and then took his own life.
All this caused him to become one of the most Christlike men I’ve ever known. As a teenager he had already experienced multiple sudden deaths among those closest to him. So his childhood was profoundly tragic but God used those tragedies in amazing ways. While he was still in high school he came to Christ. And because he experienced those deaths he held a unique perspective, one that helped him recognize the fragility of life, and one that compelled him to share Jesus with an urgency we don’t see in those who haven’t experienced what Francis Chan has experienced.
“Resurrections” come after suffering because suffering is what’s required before resurrection.
So if you’re suffering right now, go through it with Jesus.
Cling to Jesus as you suffer.
And don’t give up.
Don’t fall away.
Because like Christ, you’ll experience your own resurrection someday.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Jesus Christ, Matthew 16:24-26
Laws Criminalizing Apostasy in Selected Jurisdictions, The Law Library of Congress, Global Research Center, May 2014
Country Information and Guidance, Egypt: Christians, The UN Refugee Angency
Image of Beowulf battling the dragon via wiki commons, public domain
Excellent post! Yes the testing of our faith means that we will endure great suffering along the way. The temptation to quit is strong, both internally and externally. This can be very hard to resist.
When we were in a Moncton homeless shelter in the winter of 2012 we got a call from a long forgotten pastor. He wanted to offer our family bus passes back west, ostensibly to be cared for by the ‘church’. The offer was tempting. We had been homeless since the fall and the wandering and hunger were hard to endure however taking that offer would have derailed our walk of faith. Jesus was leading us down a path of hardship and patient endurance precisely to learn how to lean on Him and not man. Had we accepted any offer that would have torpedoed our journey our faith would have evaporated.
God did eventually lead us through 40 months of homelessness and brought us into a place of stability. He alone stayed with us through the whole journey and sustained us. That is not to say it was easy or that we did well. We had plenty of meltdowns and times we wanted to quit. Inevitably two things happened; 1) every member of the family not having a meltdown would speak faith and reason into the situation to calm us and 2) we would come face to face with the reality that we had nowhere else to turn but Jesus. After that we came back to sanity and continued following God.
We never gave up and I am thankful for that. Verses like Matthew 16:24-26, Luke 14:33 and 1 Cor. 4:9-13 sustained us along the way. Most of all it was just the continual growing intimacy with Jesus that drove us forward. The fact that we were growing in spiritual maturity and closeness to Jesus through this was stunning. We also saw life as we never would have when we lived in middle class suburbia. I am very thankful for that.
Great post and wonderful encouragement. To all who read this I echo the statement, “Don’t quit”. No matter what wilderness God takes you through, don’t quit!!