Occasionally I encounter objections from brothers and sisters in Christ who suggest that I make too much of the role of suffering, trials, and adversity in the life of the Christian disciple. It is suggested that my message and preaching lacks balance. I do not despise such thoughts, nor fail to consider them carefully. I desire to be a faithful minister of Christ. I would not like to find in the end that I had run with a message Yahshua had not given to me.
I have given much patient consideration to the message proclaimed by Christ and His apostles. If they are proclaiming a path of material blessing, a life of ease and comfort where self is the focus, then that is what I also want to proclaim. On the other hand, if they are proclaiming a message of forsaking worldly desire, urging the saints to embrace affliction, tribulations and hardship, dying to our own soul’s desires that we might live for the pleasure of the Father, then that is what I want to proclaim.
It is not hard to perceive which message the majority of ministers and professing Christians have chosen. A review of some of the books on material prosperity and worldly success that I posted previously gives stark testimony to the sensuality of the modern church.
The church has certainly adopted the view that Christ wants to lead them down a road of worldly and material blessing and comfort. These are the same things the natural man seeks after. It is what the Adamic soul is attracted to. It is no wonder that this mindset has not only infiltrated the church, but it dominates every other message. The message of material prosperity has left no room for the preaching of the afflicted path that leads to life. The call for all who would be Christ’s disciples to take up their cross daily is either disavowed, or greatly diluted.
That this should be the situation today is inexcusable. Never has there been a day when Christians have had freer access to the Scriptures. The New Testament is replete with the history of Christ, His first disciples, and the early church. Even a quick perusal of the Word of God reveals that the gospel message proclaimed was not one of loving the world, but rather of enduring hardship now, being content with whatever the Father chooses for us, that we might attain to a glorious inheritance in the age to come.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
II Timothy 2:11-12
This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.
There are some big “Ifs” in these statements. IF indeed we suffer with Christ, we will be glorified with Him. IF we died with Him, we shall also live. IF we endure, we shall also reign with Him. Does any honest saint truly believe that what we are called to endure is blessing, comfort, and ease? If you doubt, just look through the New Testament and see what life Christ and His disciples experienced. All who would follow Christ are called to experience similar things.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
“He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”
Then Yahshua said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
When we see how ubiquitous the image of the cross is in the Scriptures, and we observe the very central role it plays in the life of Christ AND HIS DISCIPLES, is it not strange that the church today has little understanding that they are called to suffer with Christ? Consider carefully the statements of the Messiah in the verses above.
If we do not take up OUR CROSS as He took up His cross, we are not worthy of Him. To put it plainly, the Christian who lives a self-focused life, being led of their soul rather than the Spirit, is unworthy to be called His disciple.
IF ANYONE wants to follow Christ, where He has now ascended to the throne and received glory and honor, then they too must deny themselves. They must take up THEIR CROSS. He stresses that when He returns He will reward each person according to THEIR WORKS.
If we have spent our lives pursuing a comfortable life, being led of our soul, what type of reward can we expect? Certainly not the same reward that Christ received, for He ever lived to do the will of the Father. Yahshua testified that He did not come to do His own will. He looked to the Father to reveal the path He was to walk. He obediently followed that path, even when it led to suffering, shame, reproach, and crucifixion. Are these not the types of experiences Christ will reward when He examines the works of His people?
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”
“But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me…”
What is this reward Christ brings with Him? He is going to bestow a kingdom upon His people. Yet this kingdom is not for those who confess Christ. It is for those “who have continued with [Him] in [His] trials.” Christ says to those who have shared in His sufferings, “I bestow upon YOU a kingdom.”
The apostle Paul spoke of striving to attain to the prize set before him. It is the same prize for which all Christians are encouraged to contend. The prize is to be numbered among the firstborn sons of God, to attain to the first resurrection, and to rule and reign with Christ for the thousand year period of the millennium. I have written of these things in depth in the book titled “Christ in You – The Hope of Glory.” I will not repeat here all the verses and exhortations regarding the prize before us. If any wish to read of these things, you can find the book at the following link:
Christ is THE firstborn Son, but we also have an opportunity to attain to that rank of sons known as the firstborn. These are the first to come to maturity; the first to manifest the image and nature of the Father. The Scriptures reveal that there will be three resurrections, but the first resurrection is preeminent. We are exhorted to strive to attain to it, becoming firstfruits unto our God.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Even as the firstborn sons from ancient times have been preeminent, receiving a double portion, the birthright and the blessing from their father, so too will be those who are first to come to maturity in Christ. Christ was matured, and made perfect through suffering, and so too will all be who would follow Him.
It was He who said to Him: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”; who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with fervent cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, through being a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him…
In these words we see the pattern by which all sons must be perfected. There is a cross that all must bear. There is an afflicted path appointed to them. If the people of God will submit to walk it, embracing those experiences the Father chooses for them, responding to them in the Spirit, and with the grace provided, then they too will find themselves elevated to the rank of kings and priests. They will rule and reign with Christ.
Christ was made perfect through sufferings. All who would be perfect (spiritually mature) must also experience afflictions. This is why Christ told the rich young ruler, “If you would be PERFECT, sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come take up your cross and follow Me.” This man’s possessions and material abundance were hindering him. To become perfect he needed to follow an afflicted path, even as Christ did. He needed to learn contentment, being satisfied with whatever the Father chose for him.
Seeing that the Father chose for His Son to be born in obscurity, in a humble setting, to carry forth His ministry as a homeless man, to die as a transgressor between two thieves, and to have his body laid in another man’s tomb, we should expect that our road to perfection will be equally humble and afflicted.
There is only one WAY to the throne. If we would be seated with Christ, if we would share in the glory and honor of the firstborn Son, then we too must surrender to be led of the Spirit. We must go wherever our Father commands us to go, and experience whatever He has determined for us. He has promised that afflictions and tribulations await us.
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
II Timothy 3:10-12
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra – what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Yahshua will suffer persecution.
This is not a new message. It is as old as the book of Genesis. In the third chapter of the first book of the Bible we find a profound parable of the manner in which sons must come forth to the glory of God. The natural is a type and pattern for the spiritual. Due to sin entering into the creation when Adam and Eve sinned, sorrow and suffering entered into the world. To the woman, Yahweh said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
This was no arbitrary judgment upon the natural creation. It was with great purpose and design. Eve, the wife of the first Adam, is a type of the Bride of Christ, who is called “the last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45). Even as the bride of the first Adam had to bring forth sons in pain, so too must the church produce sons through much suffering. There is no other way. Even as Eve’s desire was toward her husband, and he ruled over her, so too must the Bride of Christ maintain her desire for her Husband, and submit to Him ruling over her. Where He leads, we must follow.
This message must be apprehended and embraced in this hour. The Spirit is testifying that the Lord is soon to return. When He comes, He will examine His people to see if any have come to maturity. Only that which is mature and full of fruit will be gathered to Him in that first resurrection.
The church has mistaken the sowing of seed for the end result. They believe if they have received the seed of Christ that they are ready to be resurrected. This is far from the truth. The seed must mature and bring forth fruit. It must stand up under severe conditions, passing through frost and drought, heat and flood. Yahshua declared that simply receiving the seed is not enough.
Mark 4:3-6, 16-17
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell… on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away... These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.
People of God, is it not evident that myriads of Christians have been preparing themselves for failure? They have no depth, no root. They are shallow believers. These profess faith in Christ while they are prospering. They are joyful and eager as long as they are not suffering for His name. Yet, let there be a cost to following Christ and they will soon fall away.
As children of God, we need to adopt a much longer view of things. We must see beyond this present life to the ages to come. Only those who set their eyes on the prize offered to them by the Father will be willing to accept evil things now in order to receive their good things later. The apostle Paul embraced the sufferings of Christ. His mindset was expressed in the following words:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
When Christ was resurrected, having passed through the experience of the cross of Calvary, He met two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. He declared to them:
“Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”
“Ought not the Christ to have suffered…” With these words Christ reveals a profound truth. It is not to be thought strange, or unfitting that those who enter into glory should first experience suffering. Such things are normal. They are required if we are to be transformed from fleshly beings into spiritual creations. The cross is the instrument of our transformation. It puts to death the old sinful nature that a new nature born in holiness and righteousness can emerge.
We must embrace the afflicted path if we are to receive honor as glorified sons. Christ has gone before us. He has completed His course. He has shown us THE WAY. He has sent forth His Spirit to indwell us that we might also walk this way. He testifies to the saints of the things to come.
“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Do you hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches? You will have tribulation ten days. Ten in the Bible signifies ordinal perfection. It represents that which is full and perfect. God has determined that we will have tribulation until we are perfected. We are counseled by Christ to “be faithful unto death.”
I have written previously that the entire purpose of this present age for the people of God can be summed up in the words “We are to die, before we die.” The cross is an instrument of death. We are put to death by degrees. Our experiences are perfectly designed to accomplish this goal. Yet, after a death, there is a resurrection.
If we resist this working of death in us, if we eschew the path God would choose for our lives, preferring to choose our own way, then we will lose out in the end. The Scriptures testify:
I Peter 4:13
To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
To the degree that we suffer with Christ, for righteousness’ sake, we are to rejoice. In another place we are told to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials (tribulations).”
As I look over the entirety of the Scriptures, discerning God’s ways and methods, I see that the message of suffering, of trials, and an afflicted path is a balanced message. It is the message of truth. It is a message I must proclaim. All grace is offered to the sons of God to embrace this message. Let us avail ourselves of that grace that we may not stumble, or be offended.
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