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Joy in Suffering

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege of speaking at a couple different kids camps.  One, of course, was Camp Little Red – and we’ve done that for several years. I think there is only a handful of summers since we’ve been married that we haven’t spent at least a week out there. But we also got to go out to River’s Edge Camp this summer – and that was new for us. In many ways it is very different from Camp Little Red – but at the same time, it’s just the same. It’s a bunch of people who love Jesus and want these young kids to know and love him too!

So it was a real blessing to be at both camps – and I thank you guys for giving me the opportunity to go and do that. Camp has certainly made a difference in my life – and I know it’s made a difference in the lives of many here in our church! So I am excited for our church to continue being involved in camp ministry – I think it’s a fantastic way for us to be involved in sharing the Gospel and making disciples.

But to get back to the message for this morning – when I was speaking at River’s Edge Camp – my theme for my messages for them was “The Adventure of a Lifetime.” And we talked about how following God is always an adventure. Peter walking on water, David going up against Goliath – Moses leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. We talked about all of these incredible adventures that we usually hear about in Sunday School. But I didn’t want to paint a picture for them that following God is always easy. It is always an adventure – but it’s not always easy – it’s not always fun. There are times when following God is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

And so, I told them the story about Paul and Silas getting thrown in jail. But as I was preparing for that message, pulling out the points that I was going to share with the kids – I found that God pulled out several points that He wanted to share with me. Things that He wanted to challenge me on and encourage me in. Some of those thoughts have really stuck with me for these past couple weeks and so this morning, I want to share some of that with you too.

I want to read from Acts 16 this morning. This will be the extended version of what I shared with the campers. Just to give you the background to this story – Paul & Silas have headed out on what is known as Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul had in mind to go to Asia, but God kept closing those doors and instead redirected him to Macedonia. And so that’s where we pick it up in Acts 16, verse 11. And by the way, this is Dr. Luke writing this account… He says in verse 11…

11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

Acts 16:11-15

And so, so far, things are going really well for Paul & Silas. As missionaries they are having great success. They’ve only been there a short time and already they’ve met this Lydia lady, they’ve shared the Gospel with her, and she and her household believed the Gospel and are baptized! It’s a fantastic start!

I think we could see some parallels in our little church here. As a church, we’re only in year two and God has been so good to us already! We’ve grown to be a wonderful little family – we’re so thankful for each one of you. Through the different ministries of the church – and just through different people talking with friends and neighbours – our church has had many opportunities to share the Gospel with many people, we’ve had people believe and accept Jesus and we’re started to make plans for our first baptisms this fall!

It’s super exciting! Just as I’ve said in my camp theme, following God has been an incredible adventure. However, as Paul & Silas were about to find out – it’s not always fun and games!

16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials.21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.” Acts 16:16-21

I can certainly see some parallels here too. That last statement sounds just like what you might hear about Christians today. People might say of us – “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Canadians to practice!”

Although Canada was founded on Christian principles and on the truths of Bible – our country is increasingly moving in the direction where speaking the truth of the Bible and living according to that truth is becoming illegal. There are more and more laws that obligate us to live and act and speak contrary to how God has instructed us.

And please don’t think that I’m painting our government or our fellow Canadians as the bad guys out to get us. I just don’t believe that’s the case. I think most Canadians and lawmakers and politicians really do want that’s best for our country. The problem is that when you take God out of the equation and try to make laws that accommodate our sinful nature – you inevitably create a society that opposes the truth’s of the Scripture. That’s just a natural outcome of trying to live apart from God. Paul talks about this natural opposition in Galatians 5:17…

17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. Galatians 5:17

That’s what we see in Philippi and that’s what we see here in Canada – people who want to live apart from God are naturally going to be offended when we teach and preach and live out what God says in his Word. God’s nature and our sinful nature are naturally going to be in opposition to each other.

So it certainly shouldn’t surprise us that when Canadians who are not following God make laws contrary to how God wants us to live.

And in fact, it shouldn’t surprise us, if before too long, those who do follow and teach God’s ways are treated just like Paul and Silas were in Philippi.

Look at verse 22.

22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:22-24

And this is the part that really convicted me. When Paul & Silas came to Philippi – they knew there was a good chance that this would happen. This was not unexpected. In fact, in previous cities, Paul had barely escaped with his life. In Lystra, Paul had been stoned and left for dead because he was teaching about Jesus.

And so they knew the risks. And they still went to Philippi and told the people about Jesus – and were beaten with rods and thrown in the dungeon because of it.

And that really made me think: Would I have come to pastor in Penhold if I knew that might happen to me?  If I knew that I could be beaten with rods – publicly humiliated – and thrown into prison – would I still teach and preach about Jesus? Would I still share my faith in God with my neighbours if I knew I could be imprisoned for life or even sentenced to death?

Those are tough questions. And right now, most of us aren’t forced to make those kinds of decision, but there are lots of places in the world today where you might. In some places in the world, it is illegal to tell people about Jesus. In some places, if you try to start a church, you can be arrested and thrown in jail. We’re not there yet in Canada – but there’s a good chance that one day we will be.

And I don’t say that to be all “doom and gloom” or to scare you or anything. But it really challenged me, because Jesus never said that following him would always be easy.  I mean, I grew up in a Christian family – most of my family and my extended family are all Christians. For the most part, our church enjoys a good name in our community – as individuals, we have good relationships with our neighbours – maybe they think we’re a little odd for believing what we do, but probably a lot of them respect us and consider us to be fine upstanding citizens. And we’re not really a minority – even in a small town like Penhold, there are still hundreds of us that attend church somewhere. And so, in my lifetime anyway, following Jesus has been pretty easy.

But what if it wasn’t?

  • Would I still follow Christ if none of my family did? (I know some of you are doing that right now.)
  • Would I still follow Christ if I was the only Christian in my whole town?
  • Would I still tell others about Jesus if I was mocked or made fun of for what I believe in? (Some of you have been there – done that.)
  • Would I still follow Christ if I knew I could be beaten and thrown into prison for telling people about Jesus?

Hard questions. But I tell ya, Paul & Silas would. And they did. And they paid the price. So now there they were – they’ve been beaten up and thrown in the dungeon. They were probably bruised and bleeding – I imagine their whole body hurt.

And I tried to imagine how I might feel if that were me… Would I be sad and feeling sorry for myself? Would I be angry at the Philippians for treating me like this? Angry at God for letting this happen? Would wish I had just kept my mouth shut? Would I be vowing to myself that I would never talk about Jesus again? Well, we don’t know exactly what Paul & Silas were thinking, but Luke records what they were doing.

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Acts 16:25

Can you imagine? They were praying and singing songs?! In a dungeon? After being all beaten up? Can you picture them down in the dungeon all locked up singing, “I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart!”

Are they delusional or what? Shouldn’t they be scared for what might happen next? Shouldn’t they be be angry with the people that hurt them? Shouldn’t they be mad at God for letting this happen to them?

But here they are – singing praises to God. Thanking Him. Praying to Him. How could they do that?

It seems pretty incredible, but here’s the thing: When you choose to believe and trust Jesus – God gives you more than just eternal life. He actually gives you all kinds of things, but let me tell you about three.

1. God gives you hope.

Hope is when you know that God has something better in the future. Sometimes we go through really hard things in life. Sad stuff and bad stuff happens. But regardless of what happens here on earth, we can have hope that God has something better for us in the future.

Revelation 21 is one of my favourite passages in the whole Bible. It offers me a glimpse of “the something better” that God has for me in the future. Revelation 21:1

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Revelation 21:1-7

Doesn’t that sound awesome!? We might have to go through some hard things now, but soon, God will put an end to everything bad. No more death. No more sorrow. No more crying. No more pain. All these things will be gone forever!

If you trust Jesus – you have incredible hope! So Paul and Silas knew – maybe things weren’t good right now – but they knew that God had something better for them in the future. And so because of that hope, they also had joy. That’s #2.

2. God gives you joy.

Joy is more than just being happy when nice things happen to you. Anyone can be happy when nice things happen to them. But joy is being happy even when bad things happen. If you trust God, you can always be joyful because you know that God is still in control. God still loves you. And God will always take care of you – even when bad things happen. He will never leave you.

The Bible never promises us that nice things will always happen to us. But it does promise us that God will never leave us and that nothing in all Creation will ever separate us from His love. Romans 8:31 says…

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

So even in a dungeon with their bodies were all beaten up, bruised and bleeding,  Paul and Silas could have joy because they had hope. They knew that God was still with them. God still loved them. God would never leave them. And God had something better for them in the future.

And that takes us to the third thing that God gives us when we put our trust in Him.

3. God gives us love for others.

And this is pretty cool – the more we understand about how much God loves us – the more we can love others too! We can even love the people who hurt us. Jesus told us that we could even love our enemies.

After all, Jesus certainly loved the people who hurt him. Jesus loved the people who nailed him to the cross. He loved Peter after Peter abandoned him and even denied knowing him. And He loved us when we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 tells us

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV

So as we understand how much God loves us – we can actually be free to love others – even the people who hurt us.

And so Paul and Silas could do that too! They could forgive the people who had beaten them and thrown them in jail and I think Paul and Silas even wanted those people to know that God loves them too.

And that’s what we’re going to see in just a minute. Look what happens. So Paul & Silas are sitting down in the bottom of the prison, singing and praising God and then look at verse 26…

26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! Acts 16:26

What a coincidence! What are the chances that an earthquake would hit, the structure of the prison would stay intact but all the doors pop open and the prisoner’s chains all fall off?!?! No, that doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me.

That sound exactly like something God would do. God always does these unexpected, amazing things. When things are looking really bad and you can’t see how you’ll ever get out of the mess, God shows up and does the amazing! And in this case, God caused this massive earthquake which just happened to blow open all the prison doors and it just happened to cause all the chains on the prisoners to fall off.

Well, this was good news for the prisoners – but bad news for the jailer.

27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. Acts 16:27

You see back then, if your job was to guard a prisoner and you let them escape, you would be  held responsible. It was your life for their theirs basically. And so this guard figured everyone must have escaped already and he was as good as dead! But they hadn’t escaped yet and so in verse 28 it says…

28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:28-30

Isn’t that awesome! This jailer knew there was something different about Paul and Silas! I mean, no other prisoners are going to be praying and singing praises after what they had been through. And no prisoners would stay in the jail when all the doors flew open. And no prisoners would stop their jailer from killing himself.

There was something different about these two guys, and the jailer wanted to know what it was. He wanted to know how he could be like them. Because He saw they joy and the hope and the love they they had – and He wanted it too!

And that’ll probably happen to you too. When you are filled with joy and hope and a love for others – people will noticed and they’ll want to know why. They’ll want to know how they can be like you. And do you know what you can tell them? The same thing Paul and Silas said.

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God. Acts 16:31-34

What an amazing story! What started off as a really bad situation, God turned it around and used it to do something really good. It wasn’t much fun for Paul and Silas to get beaten and thrown in prison – but because they still had joy and hope and love even in that lousy situation – God used them to tell the jailer and his whole family about Jesus – and all of that family believed and were saved.

God didn’t stop the bad things from happening to Paul & Silas, but He was certainly with them through it, and because of their trust and hope in God, God used them through that lousy situation to change the life of that jailer and his family forever.

And I wonder, what might God do in some of the lousy situations that we find ourselves in?Perhaps you haven’t been beaten with rods and thrown in jail – but I know many of you have difficult and painful situations that you’re going through. I know there are health issues. Financial issues. Relationship issues. Some of you have gone – or are going through – some very painful things.

But I want to encourage you today, that even in that situation – if you have put your trust in Jesus – you can have hope and joy and love – even for those who have hurt you. And as we trust God, he will take our lousy situation and use it somehow for good. We don’t always get to immediately see what that good is – we don’t always get to see the jailer and his family saved that day or things like that. But God always works things together for good for those who love God. That’s the promise of Romans 8:28

We want to share communion together this morning, and I think Jesus’ death on the cross is probably the best example of what we’ve been talking about.

I mean, what a lousy situation that was! Falsely accused, publicly humiliated, beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross… I don’t think any of us have had to go through anything like that yet…

And yet Jesus willingly endured all that because of his love for you and me – He knew that God would use that lousy situation for so much good!

“Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2b

Jesus endured the cross because of the joy awaiting Him. He looked passed the pain that He was going through right now, and He saw the joy of spending eternity with His redeemed creation, as he sits at the right hand of God! He saw the joy of what we read in Revelation 21 where sin is destroyed and God & man can once again live together as God intended.

And that’s what enables us to endure all that we go through too. It’s the joy that is awaiting us. It’s the hope we have through Jesus Christ. The hope of something much better in the future. The confident hope that God knows what He’s doing and will ultimately bring good out of every situation.

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