Pastor Star R. Scott of Calvary Temple in Sterling, VA taught a sermon entitled “Embracing the Cross” this past month. The teaching encouraged me greatly and inspired me to write this blog post. Although it is lengthy, I know it will encourage you.
In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American dream in a simple sentence. The America dream embodies the idea that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”.
Every day around this nation Americans desire for a “better and richer and fuller” life. Man’s nature looks for the better car, to have better status, or to have a better life. The betterment of current circumstances drives man. Americans pride themselves of being able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, put their head down, and run through any obstacle in their path. I can choose to achieve my goal on my own without the assistance of any man or institution. In other words, we as Americans have the opportunity to take our lemons and make lemonade.
That philosophy is great for a secular ideal. The idea of individual independence and equality of opportunity based upon Judeo-Christian ethics has led to an unprecedented level of power, freedom, and wealth attained by a nation of people. This model is greatly esteemed by man, however Jesus said, “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
You mean to tell me, Jesus, that to take control of my life and purpose to better my circumstances for personal wealth and comfort is an abomination with God? Yes. Isn’t that what the red-letters say? You see some have come to believe as “21st century American Christians” that the American dream is the Christian dream. Some seem to think that “godliness with prosperity is great gain”. Some seem to believe that “none who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. In their life they have married the American Dream with Biblical Christianity and believe that it will be acceptable to God. It will not because Jesus said, “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
The Bible speaks toward the blessings and the successes that will overtake the people of God. (Deuteronomy 28:2) We are to be blessed, we are to be joyful, and we are to be victorious. However, “21st century American Christianity” has defined these blessings in human terms instead of godly terms.
Jesus Promised Blessing
Jesus talked about a life of blessings. “Blessed are those who are persecuted 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.” (Matthew 5:10,11) Did you notice the double blessing? Blessed are those who are persecuted, and blessed are you when you are reviled. It is not only a corporate blessing, but it is also a personal blessing. Blessed are those and also, blessed are you. Are these the blessings that are promoted by the modern day Christian church? Instead of the church embracing these blessings, many do all they can do to get out from under the pressure of these persecutions. We have rights! That is the cry of so many in the American church today. How much money, time, and effort is spent on removing the blessings of the Lord through the means of the legal system today? It is no different than receiving a brand new car as a “blessing of the Lord” and then doing all you can to rid yourself of that blessing. Ridding yourself of a “comfortable” blessing is unthinkable, however ridding yourself of an “uncomfortable” blessing is acceptable.
The Apostle Paul gloried in the stigma of being counted worthy to bear the cross of Christ. (Galatians 6:14,17) He knew of no greater blessing than to carry the name of Jesus upon his life. Can I ask you this question? How great is the blessing of persecution to you? If that is too direct let me ask it this way. How great is the blessing of carrying the name of Jesus upon your life? Because that blessing brings persecution.
Jesus Promised Joy
Jesus talked about a life of joy. The good news is you do not have to travel far in your Bible to find it. The joyful life follows the persecuted life. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12) How is your attitude when you are persecuted? My first reaction is “I don’t like this”. My second reaction is “This isn’t right”. My third reaction is “Isn’t there something we can do about this?” Unfortunately, these are not the right responses according to Jesus in Matthew 5:12. My first reaction should be “Father, thank you that I am counted worthy to suffer for your name’s sake” (Acts 5:41) On a daily basis my mind needs to be renewed to embrace the cross of Christ. The fact that my first three reactions are not in line with the words of Jesus prove that I am uncomfortable in these blessings from Father.
Jesus Promised Victory
Finally, Jesus talked about victory. Jesus says in verse 12 that great is your reward. This reward is also mentioned in verse 11. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs [and theirs alone] is the kingdom of heaven. (Emphasis added) Is there a better reward? Is there a better victory? No matter what happens to you through persecution in this life you will be raised up to sit with Jesus on his throne. (Ephesians 2:6) Praise God! Can you be any more victorious?
Let’s be honest, we would really like victory in this life. Herein lies the battle in the midst of persecution. The battle in the midst of persecution is not against the flesh and blood that is rising up against you. The battle is within yourself. The battle is keeping your mind and will in subjection to the eternal perspective and the truth of God’s Word. This persecution is not the end, this trial is not the end; it is only a beginning of God being glorified in your life. His glory will be for your good and for the good of those around you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-18)
Peter knew this point all too well. Throughout the book of 1 Peter, an epistle written to persecuted saints, Peter consistently reminds the believers to hope in that future glory. This is not the end. This is another opportunity for more of that future glory to be worked in you.
Are You Uncomfortable?
You may be sitting there thinking, I hear what you are saying, but the Bible is full of other blessings to be joyful over and speaks toward other manners of victory. My response to that is Amen! But the fact that you are thinking that confirms my point: We are not comfortable living in this form of Biblical Christianity. And because it is uncomfortable we want to run from these verses to find other verses that are more comfortable.
You know what, I fully understand; but I must daily bring my understanding into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Jesus said this world will hate you because it hated me (Matthew 10:22). Jesus said the religious will throw you out of churches, your family will reject you, and men will kill you and think they are doing God a service. (John 16:2, Matthew 10:21) This is what Jesus said.
Embrace the “Uncomfortable Blessings”
Beloved, all I am saying is this: let’s stop running from the “uncomfortable blessings” of Father and start embracing our cross. Allow that resurrection life to flow through us and minister to those around us by our testimony in the midst of trials and persecutions. Jesus said the end of all these trials will “turn to you for a testimony.” (Luke 21:13)
Your current persecution will turn to you for a testimony. Sometimes you will be in the midst of persecution and it looks as if no one is being affected. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) Sometimes the testimony is seen after your death. This example is clear throughout Scripture. One in particular that stands out is the story of the centurion’s testimony following the death of Jesus.
The Romans were very much involved in the death of Jesus. The very nature of His death was a form of Roman capital punishment. Jesus, sentenced to die on a cross, was nailed to that cross by Romans. Roman centurions would have escorted him up to Golgotha to consummate the sentence. The Roman centurions involved would have had a front-row seat to all the tortures and agonies of Jesus. They would have seen him spat upon, yelled at, punched, and mocked. They also would have seen Jesus’ response. Isaiah prophesied that he would not open his mouth to justify himself. (Isaiah 53:7) Peter said, in his first epistle, Jesus walked through all that unlawful persecution entrusting His life to His Father (1 Peter 2:23).
Following the cry for His Father to forgive those who persecuted him, and following his statement of victory and his last breath, there was one centurion affected by Jesus. The Gospel of Mark says, “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!'” (Mark 15:39 NASB)
Let me ask you this, How will you breathe your last breath? Will it be in forgiveness? Will it be in joyfulness? Will it be in praise to your God? That centurion was deeply affected by Jesus during his death. For all we know, this could have been the first time this centurion had ever encountered Jesus. But Jesus’ last breath affected him for eternity.
How will your last breath affect those around you?