For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." - Acts 9: 16 (ESV)
Here is a verse you will not hear preached from the pulpit today. This is the opening gambit regarding the recently saved Saul of Tarsus who would go on to become the Apostle Paul. He has been knocked off his high horse and blinded by God. So the Lord instructs a man named Ananias to go and help him until God restores his sight. Ananias objects because he had heard of the persecution carried out by Saul against Christians. He probably heard about how Saul presided over the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr. God however quickly brushes this aside by declaring that Saul will be carry the name of the Lord to the gentiles and before kings! God declares - for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. And the Lord always delivers what He promises:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one--I am talking like a madman--with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? - 2Corinthians 11: 23-29 (ESV)
Beaten with rods. Stoned and shipwrecked. Adrift at sea. Dangers from everywhere and everyone. Hungry, thirsty, exposed. Eventually martyred for Christ. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name! This is hardly the sermon you will hear from Joel Osteen this week. Or Joseph Prince. Or Rick Warren. No beloved. Instead what is the opening gambits we will hear this week from the pulpits across America? What will be the clarion call that will bring people forth to Christ?
"God wants to supernaturally bless you!"
"You are blessed and highly favored!"
"God wants you to have the desires of your heart!"
"Just say yes to Jesus!"
"Invite Jesus into your heart - it will only take a minute!"
"God is never angry with you!"
"The Ten Commandments are just promises!"
Is it any wonder when we build a faith upon such a superficial foundation that there are so many falsely converted today in the church? I am not suggesting that everyone must suffer as the Apostle Paul suffered but it is not even offered as a possibility! The Bible does teach us sacrifice:
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. - Matthew 16: 24 (ESV)
Deny yourself? Today's church is in the business of teaching the opposite! The church experience is about affirming oneself. Even the Gospel accounts get allegorized to be about you instead of being about our Lord and Savior. The entire premise of the purpose driven church is to find your individual an unique purpose. Just being saved is not enough anymore. God sees the state of the church. He sees the motivations of our hearts. He sees how many of us come to church for Him and how many come for themselves. How many think God is there to make their life comfortable. To make their life prosperous. To make their life a life without sacrifice. Without care for what God might actually want. For what God might require. It is time to take a serious look inside of ourselves and ask why we are in this.
The question for us today is this - what would you do if God told you that the great plan and purpose He has for your life is for you to suffer? Would you still love Him? Would you still follow Him? I know that people have filled your heads with Jeremiah 29:11, even though that was a historical promise meant for the exiles in Babylon. Have you ever seriously stopped long enough to question the impossible promises made by charlatans and snake oil salesmen from the pulpits of God? That God wants everyone prosperous? That God wants everyone successful? That God wants everyone healed?