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Nov 04, 2018

What Do You Carry With You?

Passage: 2 Corinthians 4

Preacher: John Huizinga

Keywords: martyr, persecution, prayer for the persecuted

Summary:

Annual message on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Detail:

Christian persecution is in our heritage.

Guido deBres wrote the Belgic Confession,

which is the major statement of Biblical faith

in the Christian Reformed Church.

Did you know he was a martyr for the faith?

May 31, 1567,

at the age of 45,

he was tried before the Spanish Inquisition

and hung on the gallows for his faith in Jesus Christ.

 

In his last letter to his wife from prison he wrote:

Your grief and anguish

are the cause of my writing you this letter.

I most earnestly pray you not to be grieved

beyond measure . . . .

We knew when we married

that we might not have many years together,

and the Lord has graciously given us seven.

If the Lord had wished us to live together longer,

he could easily have caused it to be so.

But such was not his pleasure.

Let his good will be done . . . .

Moreover, consider that I have not fallen

into the hands of my enemies by chance,

but by the providence of God . . . .

All these considerations

have made my heart glad and peaceful,

and I pray you, my dear and faithful companion,

to be glad with me,

and to thank the good God

for what he is doing,

for he does nothing but what is altogether

good and right . . . .

I pray you then to be comforted in the Lord,

to commit yourself and your affairs to him,

he is the husband of the widow

and the father of the fatherless,

and he will never leave nor forsake you . . . .

 

When the army captain came to take Guido,

he was allowed to address his fellow prisoners.

“Brothers, this morning

I have been condemned to death

for the doctrine of the Son of God.

Praise be to him.

I am happy.

I never dared to think

that God would do me such an honor.”

 

He is one of the pillars of our church.

His language sounds so foreign to us.

Do we talk this way in the face

of our light and momentary troubles?

There is grief in his words,

but measured,

and he is not overwhelmed by it.

There is assurance in the providence of God

tho this is not what he would have desired.

Let the Lord’s good will be done, he says.

Be glad with me, he says to his soon

to be widowed wife.

He will never leave you or forsake you

he says as he is about to suffer.

I am happy.

 

Here is a life of faith so different

from the daily life of faith

you and I experience.

Yet here is a good word

that is so often missing

in our shared conversations

and experiences together as believers.

Yet don’t you sense there is a health

and a goodness here that

has gone missing for many?

Remembering Christian persecution opens us

up again to gospel wholeness.

Christian persecution.

It goes back to Jesus

and the first disciples and church.

In 2 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul

shares about his own life,

and he keeps before himself this wisdom:

‘we do not lose heart.’

There’s a battle going on,

a spiritual battle over the gospel,

and Christians join in being persecuted for the gospel,

which is the ongoing persecution of Jesus.

 

‘Let light shine out of darkness,’

says Paul, because that light is Christ,

and when people see Christians persecuted

they see the face of Christ.

 

A reminder of the reality Paul writes in verse 11:

11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

 

We dedicate this Sunday each year

to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters.

We do this because they have asked us to,

and we love them,

they are spiritual family.

We share their stories because

those stories are our stories too,

and because they correct

our misunderstandings of faith

and reveal the idols that falsify our testimony.

 

2 Corinthians 4 describes the power of God to save

on display in the lives of Christ’s own.

But he doesn’t use words like:

successful

accomplished

popular

having more and getting more

safe and secure . . .

And how often don’t those material

and idolatrous experiences

inch their way up our priority list

and somehow attach themselves

like cancerous tumors

to the organs of our faith.

 

This is the power of God on display, says Paul,

8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

 

Hmmm . . .

Is this your Christian life?

Is this my spiritual journey?

Reading this Bible text

and remembering my persecuted brothers and sisters

is cause for repentance.

My life focus crowds out my Christian desire

for holiness and righteousness

and patient suffering

with things like safety, security, peace,

material goods and experiences,

comfort and happiness and things going my way.

Is God’s power at work in my life?

Paul says:

are you hard pressed on every side but not crushed?

perplexed but not in despair?

persecuted but not abandoned?

struck down but not destroyed?

 

What do you carry around in your heart and mind?

Paul was used to traveling by backpack.

He went from city to city

church to church

sharing the gospel.

he could only take what he could carry on his back.

And it made him think about

what was really valuable and important to him.

 

Did you ever travel somewhere

and forget an item you really needed later?

On your journey with Christ what is most valuable?

Paul sums it up this way:

10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

That’s not always my first thought

when things happen

or when I still myself to pray

or when I begin my day.

But we are reminded that the cross

is central to our lives

in order that we may witness to the hope and joy

of resurrection in Christ.

 

Suffering and sacrifice for Jesus’ sake.

Why is this accented?

Why does Paul put up with

a life of hardship and trouble?

It is so that the life of Jesus

may also be revealed in our body.

 

To get to the promised land

you have to journey through the wilderness.

To taste and see that the Lord is good

you have to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

And resurrection comes only after the cross.

 

The Bible isn’t saying don’t be a wimp,

be tough;

it isn’t saying there’s no crying in faith.

As the Spirit counsels us to know

that trouble does come with believing

and adversity does come to the Christian

because Jesus has many enemies,

the Spirit also encourages us to rest in God’s power,

not our own strength.

While many today are quick to point to

the power of God

in favorable things and experiences,

finding signs, wonders and miracles,

here Paul highlights God’s power made known

through hardship and distress.

 

Vs 7 - we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

The Bible doesn’t teach

that now we are only common

breakable jars of clay

but someday we’ll be unbreakable trophies

made of silver and gold.

No, we are like jars of clay,

easily breakable,

not remarkable,

so that God’s power is shown.

Don’t’ reduce God’s power to your own comfort:

God’s power is -

The power to save,

the promise to be with you always,

the faithfulness of belonging to the Lord

and having an identity by grace

as a child of God,

and nothing and no one can separate you

from the love of our Heavenly Father.

 

This past week Asia Bibi was acquitted in Pakistan

of blasphemy charges brought against her

by Muslims.

She has been on death row for eight years.

In June, 2009, Asia got into a dispute

with her Muslim neighbors.

Her family was the only Christian family

in that village,

and her neighbors had objected to

a non-Muslim using the same cup

to fetch water from a well as they did.

 

A few days later,

her neighbors successfully petitioned the local cleric to charge her with insulting the prophet Muhammad. What she actually said was

“I’m not going to convert [to Islam].

I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ,

who died on the cross for the sins of mankind.

What did your Prophet Mohammad ever do

to save mankind?”

 

The acquittal was not only a just ruling,

it was an incredibly courageous act by the Court.

And still, we should be clear

that until Asia Bibi is out of the country,

she’s not out of danger.

Even more, all Pakistani Christians face

a very volatile and dangerous situation there now.

While she may have finally prevailed in Court,

neither she nor her family are safe.

As soon as the verdict was announced,

protesters took to the streets

and “merchants shuttered their shops.”

The leaders of one Islamic group

called for the judges to be killed.

Another cleric said,

“Now the decisions will be taken on roads

and not in court,”

adding that anyone who kills Bibi

“will be a hero to Muslims.”

 

Here is another sister who carries around

with her the death of Jesus.

How do we do that?

Can we humbly receive the gift that is

those Christian sisters and brothers of ours

who suffer for the faith?

 

What gifts do they give you?

Shusaku Endo describes a modern day

encounter with those who suffered for Christ

in the short story Unzen,

which is a mountain hot spring place of torture

for early Christians in Japan.

His point is to learn humility driving us back

to mercy and grace,

for how would we fair living under persecution?

In the story a young man

who is more than aware of his spiritual laziness,

takes a day to visit the historical places

of Christian persecution.

He grew up in the church

yet the best he could say about his spiritual life

was that he hadn’t given up his faith.

Each site is a tourist stop now,

and he wonders whether he is a Christian

or just a spiritual tourist

gazing at interesting faith sites

but not really living them out.

While he observes the sites he reads from

a book of martyrs,

written by a catholic priest who himself

recanted from faith

after succumbing to torture.

 

 One by one each Christian captive

was taken to the brink of the seething spring.

They were shown the frothy spray

from the boiling water,

and ordered to renounce their faith.

The air was chilly and the hot water of the pond churned so furiously that,

had God not sustained them,

a single look would have caused them to faint away. They all shouted, ‘Torture us! We will not recant!’

At this response the guards stripped the garments

from the prisoners and bound their hands and feet.

Four of them held down a single captive

as a ladle filled with boiling water

was poured until the captive screamed.

Each of the captives was subjected to this torture

six times in the course of a month.

Finally, each was martyred,

burned to death while holding on to faith in Jesus.

 

Standing at the place where these Christians

were burned at the stake hundreds of years before,

he reads about one man who did give up his faith, and yet couldn’t find peace.

The apostate endures a pain

none of you can comprehend, this one says.

He wishes he could live in a time and place

where there was no persecution

so a weak man like himself

could believe without threat.

But the modern day man in the story

does live in a time when he is free to believe,

yet thinks himself and his faith

more like the weak apostate.

Did he have a spiritual spine

or was it bent low like the weak one who recanted?

 

And we can only wonder about ourselves.

So we pray for those persecuted.

We pray so that we may learn to love justice,

and pay attention to what our government does

and doesn’t do for those persecuted.

Keep up to date with organizations

like World Relief

and Voice of the Martyrs

so that we can make informed responses

to our government representatives.

 

And we share their stories

in order to learn to exercise faith.

How different a person I might be

if I bent my faith toward the experiences Paul lived –

hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down,

learning to believe thru opposition,

by prayer and trust,

following Christ instead of trying to use him

to for my own personal gain and well-being.

A day like this helps us see that

the church is bigger than me,

and that there is more to it than

this American, suburban Christianity

in which we live.

So I learn that life is about greater, more holy things than material possessions

or personal comfort and safety

or any other idol of our culture,

and to learn to lean on the power of Christ

so that sacrifice and suffering

may be on display in me,

and my weakness is to show his strength.

 

At the beginning and near the end of this chapter

Paul writes: do not lose heart.

Because God’s power is the unseen grace

that will bear us to glory:

17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

 

It seems easy to lose heart today.

Loneliness,

anxiety and depression,

sickness and disease,

financial worries,

losses, failures, and defeats . . .

and with these a wrestling with God.

‘A part of the heart gets lost

in the learning

somewhere along the road’

goes the old song.

 

So consider those who are persecuted

today for believing in Jesus.

Read these words from 2 Corinthians 4

as words for you today.

Remember Jesus carried the cross

not only for you but because of you.

And know that

our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

 

For one day each one of us

will stand before the face of Jesus.

CS Lewis writes,

In the end that face

which is the delight or the terror

of the universe

must be turned on each of us

either with one expression or with the other,

either conferring glory inexpressible

or inflicting shame that can never be cured

or disguised.

The promise of glory is the promise,

almost incredible and only possible

by the work of Christ,

that some of us

shall find approval, shall please God.

To please God . . .

to be a real ingredient in divine happiness . . .

to be loved by God,

not merely pitied,

but delighted in as an artist delights in his work

or a father in a son –

it seems impossible,

a weight or burden of glory

which our thoughts can hardly sustain.

But so it is.

 

And the Lord has transformed us

through loss and trouble,

purifying what we thought we desired,

so we find our hearts desire at last in Christ’s love.