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A very good morning to all of you. A warm welcome, especially for our friends, guests, who may be here for the very first time, glad you're able to join us as we conclude our series or mini-series in the Beatitudes, you say what are the Beatitudes - they are the pronouncements of blessings for the people in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus spoke these words for us in Matthew chapter 5, so today we are coming to Matthew 5 and verses 10 to 12 wrapping up this mini-series in the Sermon on the Mount.
Let me begin therefore with a short simple story. You must have heard about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. He was a preacher and he used to travel on horseback from place to place preaching the Gospel. One day as he was a horse going from place to place, he suddenly realized that it has been three days since anyone scolded him or threw stones at him. You see in those days it was very common that as a preacher of the Gospel, he will be disliked, people would persecute him, they would throw rotten eggs and so on and so he was shocked that after, after three days no one has done it to him. So he began to be alarmed, he got off his horse, he knelt down on the street and he began to pray, “Lord is that I've sinned against you, is it that I've backslidden?” and as he prayed someone heard him, saw him, took a brick and threw it at John Wesley. Well, instead of running away or instead of getting angry, Wesley actually got up and leapt in joy saying, “thank you God, that I have your presence once again.” Whether this story is real or not I cannot verify, I tried to search for the source I can't find but it does serve to prove a point and that is the preachers of old, the Christians of old understood what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5. Jesus said, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, who are attacked and harassed for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
One thing I can say about Jesus in this passage is that He's very honest. He's not a deceitful car salesman. He's, in fact, brutally honest and tells everyone that if you belong to the kingdom of heaven you will suffer persecution. He says this is the reality of the people of the kingdom. They will not be liked, in fact, they will be hated. He repeats this in John 15, I chose you out of the world therefore the world hates you. If you are a Christian, if you are really, really a Christian, the world hates you. Apostle Paul echoed that, he says indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus may be persecuted? No, that's not what he said….huh he said….will be persecuted and that is certainly the case when you read the Bible in the early church. The book of Acts, the people who followed God, the people who believed in Jesus Christ, they were a persecuted people. The world hated them, you read about Paul how he would go from place to place, city to city and his enemies would chase after him. You recall how Stephen, the first, or well rather the deacon I think who was sacrificed, he was stoned to death and story after story of persecution happened in the early church.
Later on many of the apostles would die for their faith. Many of them would die as a result of persecution. This diagram I have shown before Matthew was impaled by spears. James was thrown off the wall then clubbed to death. Jude was crucified by Magi. You say who told you this. Well, this is according to church tradition. I don't think they are found in the Bible but according to church tradition, many of them suffered as a result of persecution. Later on, you read the early Christians as well - they will be killed for their faith. Emperor Nero was said to cover Christians with pitch and then lit them up with a torch so that they are burning like torches in his garden. It is said that Nero would also take animal skins and sew it on to Christians and then release wild animals to maul the Christians to death. These are stories that are well known. Christians, the people of the kingdom are a persecuted people. I know what you're thinking right now…..you said ah, yes that's true, some 2000 years ago, it certainly was the case but today in our modern world I don't see many persecutions so Jesus must have spoken of something that is relevant in those days but not so today, is that really the case?
While we somehow live in a very sheltered world in this tiny dot on the world map but the reality is in the world today, there's still a lot of persecution. Some websites such as “opendoorusa” will give you some statistics - they quote from Pew Research Center that over 75% of the world's population live in areas with severe religious restrictions. Now this includes restrictions on all religions so it's not just Christians but it includes Christians. And according to some US Department of State statistics - Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from governments or surrounding neighbor, neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ. I'm, I'm trying to tell you, according to stats, what Jesus is saying is still very true today it has always been the case. This is a picture of restriction on religious freedoms, the darker it is, the more severe the restrictions and as I said, these restrictions are not limited to Christians, but the Christians form a good number there - you could see that the victims of such restrictions, a lot of which are Christians, well you have Muslims and Jews as well included. So this is for Christians. You see the red zones are where there are extreme persecution of Christians, the orange zone is where there is severe persecution, the moderate or the green zones are where there are moderate persecution and blue is where there is sparse persecution.
You ask Singapore how? Problem I can't see Singapore there, too small for me to comment but the reality is throughout the world there are forms of persecution and many of you will be familiar with the ISIS' killing of Christians. Terrorists, extreme terrorists who will hunt down and kill Christians and according to statistics again from “opendoorusa”, every month, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, every month, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, every month in this world there are 772 forms of violence against Christians - beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, forced marriages included. So we all, I think myself included, we are like frogs in the well in Singapore. We live in our happy well and we think everything is good, is nice, there are no more persecutions but if this frog is to just lift his head a little bit above the well, you will see that all around the world what Jesus is saying is still true, that those who follow Jesus, those who are in the kingdom of heaven will be persecuted, they face peoples' revilings, these are, these are words that are meant to hurt, threats, insults, shoutings - they will face persecution - the word here is to harass, to hound, to hunt like a hunter would hunt an animal, people are being hunted for their lives because they follow Jesus and there will be those who will be having all kinds of slander and abuse that will be spoken of behind their backs. So the reality is, according to the Bible, Christians are a persecuted bunch but the question is why, why - I know this is reality but why, what's the reason Christians are persecuted? I mean, after all, Christians are supposed to be pretty nice guys. I think so, huh, maybe your husband or wife, say no, you're not okay but Christians are supposed to be pretty nice guys, of course, some of us we're terrible, we are not living the life we should live or maybe we are still very immature in our faith but as a general guide, Jesus tells us that the people of the kingdom of heaven are actually pretty nice guys. After all, He said, you are meek, you are gentle, blessed are the meek, you are not someone who is abusive or retaliatory in general, you are meek, you are, you're someone who is merciful, you are someone who is sincere, you have a pure heart so generally, Christians should be good people, nice people but why then, do Christians, especially, face persecution?
Ah… the reason Jesus gave is that the world hated me anyway. The world hated me first. If the world hates you don't be surprised because know that the world has hated me before it hated you. The world doesn't like Jesus. You say wow that's strange, I thought Jesus is a nice guy, ya, He is a great guy. He came and healed people unconditionally. He came and touched the leper when nobody would get near the leper. He would say to the man who was lame, get up and walk and he would be able to walk. He would forgive man of sins. He, he went everywhere doing good. He is upright, he is not deceitful, oh but people hated Jesus.
Today, you tell people about Jesus, people still hate Jesus, you say why so strange? Jesus tells you why. God tells you why. John tells you why. John says the light - referring to Jesus, the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. See the world today is living in sin, we revel in sin, we love sin and we wouldn't want to give up sin so because we want to keep our sins, we don't want to be brought into the light, we say we don't want Jesus because His life and His preaching exposes me and I don't want to be exposed so if you do not submit to Jesus, you now fight against Jesus so they persecuted Him when He was here, and when He led, left the church He left the church behind on this world, in this world, the world continues to persecute His church, His people. So why should we be persecuted? Because you follow Jesus.
You can be the nicest guy in your office, you can be a great friend in your neighborhood but because you sincerely follow Christ, you preach His Word, you live that righteous life that convicts those who live an alternate life they are uncomfortable and hate you. Maybe it's for some values you hold in sexuality. The world today says homosexuality is fine, all kinds of sexual relationships are legitimate, as long as it's love, well, the Christian says no, one man, one woman and because you stand for such truths, the world says, I don't like you.
I was just talking to someone who was here in the first service, he came from Taiwan and he said ya, that's what's happening there in Taiwan. Everyone is now agreeing that same-sex marriage should be legalized and says only the Christians are people who are in a sense, standing up for it and therefore they are a hated people. Well, we may be hated for many reasons but that's all because you follow Jesus and Jesus is the light that has come into the world so if you were of the world, the world would love you as its own, but because you are not of the world but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. As DA Carson would say, “Some suffering is not the result of our sin.” Now some sufferings are what we deserve because we, we were terrible people so you are, you are mean, you are difficult, of course you get, get punished, you get abused by others but sometimes it's not your fault at all, some suffering is simply the result of being faithful to God in the world at war with Him. So that's what Jesus is saying, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, you live for righteousness, you preach righteousness and because of that you will be persecuted and you do all that on, and you suffer all that, on my account. People do that to you on my account so that's why. But the Bible also tells us that those who are persecuted for righteousness sake or on Jesus account are a blessed people so it's a blessing to be persecuted.
Now, let me just clarify not all blessings are, not all persecutions are blessed alright? So like I said, if you go and irritate your boss and he persecute you, don't say I'm blessed for your persecution towards me - no, no, no, that's your stupidity, that's your bad life, you deserved to be persecuted, no blessing there. The blessing for persecution is only for those who are persecuted on my account for the sake of Christ, that's what Peter is saying, but let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evil doer or as a meddler yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed so we want to be very clear - er the blessedness here, Jesus is talking about is a very specific one.
Let me ask you - when people persecute you, what will be your response? Can you imagine this - right now in Singapore, not much, you're not hauled into jail, your nails are not pulled out for your faith, we have in a sense freedom to preach and practice our faith here. But what if one day the government decides to persecute you, what if one day it is allowable for everyone in this world to persecute you here in Singapore for your faith, how would you respond? I thought about some ways I would respond. I may, number one, take revenge - you attack me, I attack you so if someone, if I'm a John Wesley, someone throws a brick and say, “eh ni cho si mi” [local dialect: hey what are you doing], I take a brick and throw it back at him, I may do that, tit-for-tat, eye for an eye, oh that will be clarified later on right? But I have this vengeful impulse, some of us may do that but that's not what the Bible says, when you're persecuted the Bible doesn't call you to take revenge, okay so that's scrapped.
Well if I don't take revenge, maybe I will retreat so if you attack me, I will retreat, I will stop preaching the Bible, I will stop standing for truth because I don't want persecution that maybe another response you may have. The third response is that I'll resign myself to it. I'll still preach but I will suffer persecution and I will be very unhappy about it, in Hokkien, we say “bey kum guan” = not very shiok [local slang: expresses dissatisfaction) but I'll still preach and I will face the persecution but all these responses are not what the Bible talks about, no revenge, no retreat, no resignation but what? This is the crazy thing you will hear, the Bible says, rejoice and be glad.
Can you imagine that? When people abuse you and when people want to throw stones at you - what do you do - rejoice and be….wah! this is crazy! Now if this was spoken by anyone else, you would say you are “siao” [local dialect: crazy], you are nuts, you're crazy or you're someone who is living in your ivory tower and has no idea what sufferings are but this is not spoken by a crazy nut, this is spoken by Jesus Christ, who Himself went through innumerable sufferings as He went to the cross. Jesus is saying when you are persecuted, rejoice - be full of cheer. Be glad, that is to jump with joy, to celebrate, you say this is crazy.. this is really beyond me, how can I rejoice and be glad? I mean, should I really be happy about pain no, no, no, no, no, but you rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
A very common illustration we always use is that of a mother who has a child for nine months, baby in the womb for nine months and who is willing to go through a very painful delivery. You ask a mother, is it painful? All the men here, huh, huh, no lah, of course. Is it painful? Yes, hey you all not convicted about the pain like you have forgotten about the pain somewhat, I'm sure it's extremely uncomfortable, it is extremely painful but after a year, the wife will come to the husband, “hey dear, you want another one or not?” huh you say “are you crazy, don't you remember the pain?” “yah, I do remember the pain, but it is worth it, look at our son, look at our daughter so sweet, I want another.” It's crazy, but when the child is born, the parents rejoice so when the wife says, “honey, I'm pregnant.” you know what? The husband says ‘jialat, jialat” [local dialect: tragic] you are going to be so painful, no. The husband says, “yeah!” Not because of the pain but because of the fruit of the womb so when someone goes through persecution, he, he doesn't rejoice in the pain, he doesn't rejoice in the weights, he doesn't rejoice so much in the sufferings but he rejoices in this promise, that after that, your reward is great in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.
I've no clue what reward that would be like, I have no idea, I, I am not sure, is it going to be a house, is it going to be properties? I don't know the Bible is not very clear about that and maybe we can't quite appreciate the rewards there right now but one thing I know is that I trust Jesus when He said it's great, it's got to be worth it. It's going to be so worth it. And when you suffer for righteousness sake you join a noble succession of a pretty classy group of people, you join the prophets who were before you. So the Bible tells us about the reality of persecution, the reason for it and the response, one of deep joy and this is what you see for the early church. They left the presence of the Council so the religious leaders were threatening the apostles, “stop preaching, because if you don't you are going to be in trouble.” They beat them up but you know what they felt? They were happy, they were delighted, they were full of joy, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus Christ and they did not retreat, they did not take revenge, they were not resigned, they were rejoicing!
It's like what Jon had read for us earlier today, for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. I mean, childbirth is painful but in the light of the delight of the child, it is light, it is momentary. Persecution today is painful but when you think and when you reckon it to be true about the rewards in heaven, it becomes light and momentary. And people of old have, have made decisions as such like Moses. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
This is a picture of Obadiah Holmes - he is a one of the martyrs of the faith recorded in the Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It was said that he had received some 90 strokes on his back, 90 whips on his back. It was so bad that his back turned into jelly, you know, bloody and beaten-up flesh but Obadiah Holmes instead of being vengeful and so on he said to the magistrate who sentenced him to such a cruel punishment, “thank you for you have struck me with roses.” Something beautiful, something fragrant. He said “this is like roses upon me” and he didn't say in a sarcastic way.
Then there's Lawrence Saunders who was brought to the stakes to be executed and, and with a smile on his face as he was going there he said “welcome the cross of Christ, welcome eternal life.” I mean when I read about this I say this is nuts, this is crazy. I mean I have never come to anywhere close to such experiences of their lives, but I, I certainly pray that when should I go through and face such realities that there will be faith to trust God and to reckon His promise true. Maybe these guys are very far away from you and you say ah it doesn't make much sense. Then how about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, maybe you have heard of this man - a German theologian who was sentenced to the gallows and before he were to go to the gallows you would have a short prayer and then he will say to his friend, “this is the end for me, the beginning of life.” Ten years later, his doctor was there witnessing this event said that in 50 years, all his 50 years of being a doctor, he has never seen someone so calm and composed like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He said he was so absolutely submissive to the will of God, even in death.
Recently I read about Richard Wurmbrand. Er, after the first service, someone told me that he actually came to Singapore before, er maybe two decades ago and he was preaching in the church and was packed full of people, he couldn't even get in. Richard Wurmbrand is famous for some of his books like Torture for Christ. He's a Romanian pastor, er, who lived during the time where Romania was under communist rule. He was persecuted for his faith for preaching the Gospel of Jesus and he was sentenced to imprisonment, he was sentenced to torture for 14 long years. Inside the prison, he would sometimes face solitary confinement – it's a kind of torture whereby there will be no sun, no light allowed so he will be living in absolute darkness. Living in darkness for a while is fine but living in it for days and weeks and months on is another story. They would also knock off all kinds of sound input - the soldiers will walk around with shoes, with soles that are laid with felt so that there is no sound so they're trying to torture him - no light, no sound, no input. Other times they would broadcast incessant messages running down Christianity and praising communism so that's all geared to torture him mentally but they also tortured him physically. They would beat him and they would rip out sometimes chunks of flesh from his body. They say they will, he says that they will beat his sole of his feet, you beat it so much and so many times that the flesh literally drops off. And then they will beat him again tomorrow till it goes to the bones and he says that there are no words that will describe that kind of a pain. He will be so run down that he looked like a scarecrow they say with rotten teeth in prison, but the amazing thing about all that is that he said he had joy in prison – it's crazy. I mean, this is, this is really something I don't know if I could preach it at all but he said it - there's joy and then after 14 long years, one day he was released from prison, he was out on his way home when he met another peasant, a farmer who offered him strawberries. I mean imagined that 14 years, you have eaten rubbish and now strawberries and he said no, I'm not having strawberries - I'm going to fast. Say fast for what? He, he went back home. He fasted with his wife. He prayed with his wife. He said he wanted to fast and pray so that this will be a memorial – a memorial to remember, you say remember what? To remember the sufferings! That would be what I would say but he said he wanted to pray and fast to remember the joy! Wow – to remember what? I thought it's all about sufferings, no, no, no, no, he said I had joy and he prayed “God give me the same joy outside prison, as I would have inside prison.”
These are the people who are in the kingdom of heaven. These are the people who would say, I can rejoice and I'm glad for my reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before me. I am just part of this noble succession of great people and I'm privileged. Know what the Bible is saying is this - the mark of a Christian today is not success and fanfare. Bonhoeffer got it right, I think when he said, suffering is the badge of the true Christian but at least according to Jesus in the Beatitudes, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. This is their badge - they will be a persecuted people. If you really believe in me, if you are really part of this kingdom, you will suffer.
I've got a whiteboard today. Let me write a few things. We are talking today about persecution. Persecution means we will endure suffering. Let me ask you, suffering for what? Suffering for, for Christ. The Bible tells you to have joy because….. it's only 12 o'clock I can restart, because…. you can rejoice, because… because of rewards in the future, very good, future rewards but is this what we naturally look forward to? Probably not - what do we look forward to? Instead of suffering, we look forward to? Joy, can, can, correct, correct but maybe a bit more specific, instead of suffering, we look for…. blessings… yeah… health and wealth, yeah….we look for? Someone said in the first service I thought I will use it, the good life, right? We today are sold to the American dream or the Singapore dream - it’s the good life. A good life that is filled with comfort, success, wo …abundance, whatever you want to use to describe the good life. This is what we live for, it’s what you look for that's why you work so hard, that's why your kids are having tuition after tuition, you know why? Because you don't want him to suffer, am I right? You want him to have the good life.
Let me ask you, why do you come to church, why do you believe in Jesus? And let me ask - how many of you today are Christians - in your heart you say I'm a follower of Christ, I think I am a Christian as best as I know, can I see by a show of hands, how many of you are Christians? Don't “pai-seh la” [local dialect: shy] I won't…OK I see your hands alright. For those of you who have raise your hands, why did you come to Christ? Why did you sign up, in a sense, to be a Christian – is it because of this or is it because of this? This is a question I like you to ask yourself. I think this has even infiltrated this, infiltrated throughout the church, why do people come church today or how do people look for a church today? Very simple - a church that gives me comfort. So Punggol Church not so good, a bit far, not so convenient especially your carpark so few lots, got to park somewhere else and got to walk under the hot sun, you know all my pimples and freckles will come out and then when I come to your church, I got to take the escalator some more, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, and that side is where the sun is, “aiyo” [local slang: exclamation!]. I want to look for a church that is near my place, nice car park, better if they serve lunch as well, aircon, nice chairs – ah that kind of a church – good church.
Eh just now rain huh better don't go church ah. Rain, go home, watch video better. I'm glad you guys are not the one staying home and you've come to worship and gather as a people, for those of you….. YouTube. Now let me ask you, isn't this is what we subtly believe? After a while you say I'm part of the church, I want to be part of this community - why, because, somehow I believe that when I am part of the church, when I am a follower of Jesus, God will bless me, my, my career will take off, my family will be good and when I'm sick, I can pray to someone and he will heal me when the doctors can't.
Well, deep within your heart is that belief that following Jesus gives me the good life but fundamentally, the problem is that when you want that good life - who is it for? For me, that's right for self. My Christianity is centered around me. Now I'm not saying God cannot heal you, I'm not saying God cannot give you material abundance, He can, sometimes He does but you see the problem is now we think the whole world revolves around me, God exists for me. I am now really God, my desires, my wishes are the supreme things of life and my motto in life is not for future rewards but enjoy now.
You know a vast majority of people, I'm afraid, live in this realm. Now, there's a whole spectrum – there's a whole spectrum. You, you may not be someone who so wow, I am all to suffer for Jesus, but you may also not be someone who is all about the good life, but you maybe some where here. By the way, our desire for the good life for it all to revolve around me and to enjoy now is so strong that people actually gave a theological name for this kind of life. You know what is it called – it starts with P - you guys are so familiar with it… and we call this the prosperity gospel when it is anything but the Gospel. It's not the true Gospel but we call it the gospel, we market it as if this is what God says, but no. Let me tell you what God says, God gives you a persecution Gospel - a Gospel that calls you to persecution, not prosperity. This is not the gospel, not at all. When you are told that when you come to Jesus you're going to have all the material blessings of life, every disease healed, I tell you something is way wrong because the call of the Bible is not for you to find your life for yourself now - the call of Jesus is for you to deny yourself, take up the cross and follow me, it's the way of the cross.
Now today as a church I think in Gospel Light, we have preached against the prosperity gospel, and you may have some idea about it. But deep in our hearts we still believe this, you know that - that's why in our lives so much of what we do, now you say you don't believe, but actually you believe. How do I know? By your works I see your faith. From your life, I see what you really believe. When I hear parents say er I don't want my kids to be studying the Bible too much, I don't want them to be so active in spiritual things, I know what you're thinking of – you're thinking about good life but I know you want your child's good, but you somehow believe that the motto of life is for him to have comfort, success, abundance so that he can enjoy his life now. Deep in your heart you are a worshipper of prosperity gospel. When we were enslaved ourselves to our jobs and have nothing to do with ministry, I know you believe the prosperity gospel. When you're thinking about what to grab for yourself and you wouldn't give, I know you believe the prosperity gospel, when you say, oh, I know there are ministry is to serve, but it's too far, it's too inconvenient – it's going to take too much of my time, I know you're living the prosperity gospel. .You, you catch that? Because you're not willing to suffer, you're not willing to center your life around Christ and His name, it's about your name, your family name, your kid's name and you want him to have the good life. Now you are not willing to believe that if you give your life today, it will be all worth it in the life that is to come. So today we may condemn prosperity gospel teachers, rightly so. But would you, would we also going to look at ourselves and see how much we have believed the lie like this and are not willing to live a life on the persecution side.
See this is not what the Bible teaches - the Bible tells us that there plenty of people who suffer for their faith – I mean you read this in Hebrews 11 they were flogged, they were mocked, they were sawn, they were killed, they were destitute, afflicted, mistreated - I mean this is, this is what the Gospel calls people to have to experience at times and these are the pictures that people have recorded of past. Obadiah Holmes is not a, is not a figment of our imagination. Bonhoeffer did not die because he was pursuing this, but because he was living for the Gospel. Richard Wurmbrand, so on and so forth. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the Gospel.
You know I'm reading the Bible through and every time you read the Bible something hits you and one thing that hits me now is how frequently suffering and persecution is mentioned in the episodes over and over and is like Paul says, I will glory in nothing, not my gifts nor my eloquence, but in my sufferings. The marks of his apostleship is not his charisma but it is suffering, wow! Woe to you when all people speak well of you for so their fathers did to the false prophets. Wow everybody loves your teaching, something is wrong. Something is very very wrong.
Now I was thinking about this and when we came to Punggol, there were expectations that when we come we are going to burst - many people would come because there's so many people in Punggol but I, I somehow thought to myself maybe people will come, visit but I don't think many people would stay actually because we, because, as far as I know we, we, we teach the Bible faithfully and the Bible is not a very pleasant book for the unsaved man. He hates the Gospel like this. He loves a gospel like this but this is not what we should preach and so when there’re 100 people who come in, maybe 80, 90 would say that's not what I want, let's go somewhere else where I can hear what I like – well there's something wrong, if everyone speaks well of you, Jesus said. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross – it's like what Bonhoeffer says when God bids a man to come, He bids him come to die.
The Christian life is not where you, is not a life where you fulfill yourself, huh you find yourself. I tell you what the Christian life is where you lose yourself. You die to self, you know when James and John came to Jesus and said, Lord, when you go to heaven huh, can I sit on your right hand and he on the left-hand - can the two of us, be you're two big generals as it were. You know what Jesus said to them? Jesus said to them, if you want to sit on my right hand and left hand are you able to take the cup of suffering? You see, He did not say to sit on my right hand and left hand you got to be very eloquent and you must have the biggest church in Jerusalem. No. Those who are right hand and left hand are those who suffers.
Today, we think orrr… look at that “towkay” [local dialect: big boss]…wa he drives Mercedes to church huh, his business doing very well….wa he got a lot of employees he must be blessed by God. Isn't that the way you think? Wa he drives BMW, he is blessed by… I come in OFO you know.....you know OFO or not – the bicycle. I come OFO not blessed, he blessed, I not blessed. That's how you think? When you got a promotion in the office - wa you are blessed. Wa you, always “kena” [local dialect: got arrowed] scolded by your boss, you're not blessed. Is that really the case all the time? See, we are so ingrained by the world about this. The Bible is so shocking to us, when it shouldn't be, that's the kingdom of heaven. It's a different world, different system, different values. So Paul says, or Acts tells us that Paul was encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that we, that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God that kingdom of God is not a bed of roses – it's called to suffer. So suffering is the badge of the true Christian, a true Christian is not someone who has a big church, preaches great he suffers for the sake of Christ so let me close with Richard Wurmbrand again.
He suffered much, and this is what he wrote in his book “The triumphant Church”. He said, “I remember my last Sunday school class….I took a group of 10 to 15 boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church, aiyo [local dialect: exclamation] some of you parents eh no bible study ah, yeah yeah no huh! I took these boys and girls not to a church but to the zoo. Before the cage of lions, I told them your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for the faith. Know that you also will have to suffer, you will not be thrown before lions, but you have to suffer at the hands of men, who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now whether you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.” This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe after this Sunday I will never see you again because you say there's too much to lose by following Jesus. Yes, you have to lose yourself, you have to deny yourself but to tell you, you will lose far, far, far more, if you refuse to follow Jesus - decide here and now whether you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.
Let's bow for a word of prayer. Suffering is the badge of the true Christian. God in His infinite wisdom has designed it to be so. Tertullian, church father in time past, would say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The prospering, the growth, the abundance of the church is really, as in, is a really a result and a reflection of the men and women who were willing to shed their lives, their blood for the cause of the Gospel. It is people like Jim Elliot who would say “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”. There will be the abandonment of self and the my-life so as to advance the name of Christ and His Gospel.
This morning, I ask you, what did you sign up for and would you still remain? Because Jesus is honest, He's brutally honest. And we want to be honest as preachers of the Word as a church we want to say to you, this is plainly what Scripture teaches. Yes, 95% of the world will tell you, live it up today, enjoy the good life now but the Bible says deny yourself and take up the cross. Would you follow Jesus?
Maybe you're here today for the first time and I want to say to you - the Savior we worship today is a persecuted Savior. Jesus is persecuted. He was persecuted, even though there was no sin in his life, no guile, no mistreatment, He was perfect and righteous but Jesus was persecuted by evil men because he was the Light. He was the Light that came so that He may die on the cross and pay for our sins and because of His sufferings, you today, may be spare the sufferings due to your sin and so the Bible bids you, calls you, commands you - repent and follow Jesus and therein is eternal life. It's found in Christ so would you today come to Jesus Christ that you may be saved from your sins?
This is the way of the cross. I pray it will be the way you will be going. I pray at the end of life like Richard Wurmbrand, maybe at heaven's gates you'll say, Lord, thank you that I could suffer for your names’ sake. Thank you, I could have the fellowship of His sufferings. Thank you that through those sufferings, I saw the reality of the work of faith in my heart. I thank you, I can follow Jesus.
Would you sacrifice your life today? Would you bear up with all kinds of inconveniences today for his name’s sake? Follow me folks. May this church be a church where everyone denies himself, takes up the Cross! What a church it would be. What a different people, it would be. What a beautiful people we will be.
Father, thank You for Your Word today, bless each one, oh bless each one with hearts that will decide for Christ, that we may follow Him, indeed. We thank you and we pray this in Jesus' Name, Amen.
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