Sharing in the Suffering of Christ – Matthew 26:30-35
If the World Hates You…
Suffering with Christ. This is a subject that I feel very unqualified to write about. As I sit in my warm living room sheltered, well fed, and safe it’s hard to imagine lying on the cold floor of a prison, being beat, or cast out of my family because of my faith in Jesus. I just finished reading several stories of Christian men and women who were persecuted and martyred for their unapologetic and unwavering devotion to Christ and biblical truth in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Then I went to The Voice of the Martyrs website and read the most current updates of Christians who are suffering right now as I write for their testimony of the gospel. One young pastor in Uganda is trying to recover tonight from the physical and emotional scars of being doused with acid on his face and back by Islamic extremists. He has a wife and six children. When I read or hear of stories like these I just cannot put myself in their shoes. The passage of Scripture at the top of the prayer alert page on The Voice of the Martyrs site is this:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 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. John 15:18-19 ESV
In contrast, Matthew 26:69-75 is the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus on the night he was arrested.
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75 ESV
My Strength is Weakness
Though we might hope to be courageous, try to be bold, or even push ourselves to do something that is “out of our comfort zone” for Christ we will be laboring in vain if we aren’t relying solely on the spirit of God at work within us. Any hope I have of doing something of worth for God is only possible by his might and good will, not my own. Earlier that night Peter had been determined that we would not fall away and that he would even go to the death with Jesus.
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. Matthew 26:30-35 ESV
Peter’s valiant declaration reminds me of something I began to notice in the past several years while listening to modern worship songs on the radio. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone specific, mostly myself, but many of the lyrics these days are filled with promises and proclamations of the great things we are going to do for God and are all about me, me, me. Where would I be if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ the Shepherd leaving the flock to come and find me, his lost sheep, putting me on his shoulders and carrying me home into the saving light and truth of the gospel? If it wasn’t for that I would be right where Peter was that night, denying I even know the Man. It is easy to proclaim him when we’re surrounded by friendly faces, it is impossible to join him in his suffering when we’re faced with an accusing mob, a mocking crowd, or a world that cries “intolerant and judgmental” in Jesus face. We should be thinking about the words we are singing to God. Do we really mean them? And if so, how are we going to accomplish them? The answer is, by the power of God.
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. 2 Timothy 1:7-8 ESV
His Strength is Powerful
The spirit that God puts in us when he saves us is all that we need to overcome the fear of suffering for the gospel. I know everybody picks on Peter for his quirks and downfalls, but his life really is one to be marveled at because of the dramatic conversion that occurs as a result of the Holy Spirit filling him. We see a very different Peter in Acts 2:14-41 immediately following his baptism in the Holy Spirit when he faces the crowds again. He addresses the men of Israel, many of whom were there when Jesus was crucified and who demanded his death, who may have even been there that night at the temple when Peter denied Jesus. He speaks to them now with the power of God in him, aware of the potential dangers, but not afraid to suffer as he was that night. He says to them,
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. Acts 2:23-24 ESV
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36 ESV
Overcome the Fear of Suffering
There is absolutely no timidity, fear, or denial of Jesus in these words of Peter. His words now are not human effort or ego, no promises or proclamations, but action fueled by the Holy Spirit that produces abundant fruit; about three thousand souls to be exact (see Acts 2:41). I have been guilty of safely singing about my intentions for God on Sunday mornings then fearfully stepping out on Monday and keeping the good news to myself. But I have also experienced the power of God giving me boldness to share the gospel with both strangers and friends to my great joy and privilege. I have yet to suffer much for the gospel, mainly I have encountered mocking glances, personal rejection and a reprimand from a boss, but I hope that as I continue to learn what it looks like to shoulder my cross and follow the Savior that I will be able to “share in suffering for the gospel” more and more for the glory of God.
In 2 Timothy 1:13-14 Paul instructs Timothy to, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” We can do the same by studying God’s Word and by faithfully obeying what we read.
Who will you share the gospel with today?
Preparing the Way,