Thursday, June 29, 2017

Strength to Endure

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:16-22).

This week at the Lord’s Table, our Gospel reading comes from Matthew chapter 10, verses 16 through 22 where Jesus has just granted the Twelve apostles their initial commission to the Jews.  The Twelve were to go out and preach the good news of Jesus Christ the Anointed One and how he came to save us all, first the Jewish people and then the world.  By now, the apostles have not only been commissioned to preach by Jesus but the Twelve have spent countless evenings in table fellowship with Jesus.  1 Corinthians 10:16 speaks of this when the apostle Paul writes “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?”  For those of us who partake of the Eucharist or Holy Communion every week, we know the joy of drinking regularly from the cup of blessing.  We know the strength that is drawn from this cup of blessing, week by week.  But there the cup is not only a cup of blessing as we so often wish it was, no the cup from which Christ expects all baptized believers to drink from is not only a cup of blessing but it also a cup of suffering.

Now, suffering is not something we like to talk about but keeping quiet about something has never made it any less real.  Not talking about suffering cannot make it just go away.  No, for the Christian who is committed to truly be a Christian, Jesus informs us from the start that salvation, suffering, and persecution are a package deal.  The cup of blessing is also the cup of suffering.  And just like any other cup filled with something bitter, the cup of suffering is hard to shallow.  It takes endurance to drink from a bitter cup.  When the doctor hands us a prescription and says take two of these pills or dissolve this medicine in hot water, we may think to ourselves, God I don’t want to drink from this bitter cup.  But we know that we are sick, we are ill, and we must drink from this cup or not only will we remain sick but we might infect everyone around us.  So although it doesn’t taste good, we drink from the cup.  Although it doesn’t smell good, we drink from the cup.  Although, the side effects don’t feel good, we drink from the cup.  We endure the bad taste, we endure the bad smell, we endure the side effects and the bad feelings because we don’t want to be sick and we don’t want to infect others.

Now, I get it.  As reasonable and responsible adults, we understand the need to take our medicine, no that’s not the problem.  No, the real problem is not when we have to suffer and endure persecution.  It’s when that suffering and persecution come from those whom we love the most.  The family and friends who betray us are the ones who hurt us the most.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Jesus.  Before Jesus was betrayed by his own disciple Judas Iscariot, Christ prophesied in Matthew 10 beginning at the 21st verse, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against [their] parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.”  See if you are satisfied just being a closet Christian, you don’t have to worry about much.  But the Bible says, only if you suffer with Christ then you get to reign with Christ.  Being a true Christian takes great strength, the kind we can only possess through Christ himself.  It takes strength to stand against heresy, to stand against idolatry, to stand against the lusts of our own flesh.  2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  And here in Matthew chapter 10, Jesus is warning us that persecution will often come from our brothers, our sisters, our parents, and our children.  But in classic Jesus fashion, Christ does not leave us on a note of doom and gloom, without hope of redemption.  Jesus says at the conclusion of Matthew 10, verse 22, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  In the original Greek language of the New Testament, that word “saved” is loaded with far more meaning than just making it to heaven.  The fullness of what Jesus is saying here is that for those who endure the suffering and persecution that comes with being a genuine disciple of Christ is that despite the suffering, you will be preserved, you will do well, and you will be made whole.

Salvation is the free gift of God but discipleship will cost you everything.  Conflict is the cost of discipleship.  As Jesus followed the mandates of his Father and taught others to do the same, Jesus’ own discipleship and that of his earliest followers put them in all in conflict that ultimately cost them their lives.  As you begin your small group discussion today, know that Christ calls us to drink the cup of suffering with him in opposition to the evils of Satan, sin, and the world, but as Christ has called us to stand, by his Spirit so Christ has given us strength to endure.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

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