“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
I recently had a call from a friend who needed to vent. He was having a bad day. His wife was nagging about how he didn’t help out around the house, one of his kids was having problems in school, his boss was on his back about performance, and his beloved football team hadn’t made it into the playoffs. To top it off, his golf game was suffering. It was truly an apocalypse.
Every day we’re bombarded with stories of hardship. Some of these tug at our heartstrings: mothers losing their children needlessly to senseless crime; cancer ravishing the lives of families who must face unplanned catastrophes; the unimaginably impoverished barely surviving in far-flung places where even food and water are rare.
And then, there are the fabricated stories of hardship. Tales of illegal immigrants who have been deported multiple times but are still being “persecuted” when they return to this country and break the law. Christians who claim they are being unfairly judged because of their scriptural interpretations. Culturally-sensitive types who reject any commentary they find specifically offensive to their delicate psyches.
A Tame World
The world today is, in many ways, tame. Creature comforts we deem as “bare minimums” would have been seen as impossibly extravagant luxuries a mere 100 years ago: large screen televisions in multiple rooms, smart phones permanently attached to our hands, churches wide open on every street corner offering whatever flavor of Christianity a consumer-oriented seeker desires, regardless of how authentically it follows scripture.
Perhaps I’m being harsh. No doubt some might find my framing of this topic already tainted with bias. Yet as I reflect on the unique 21st Century sentiments of those who feel life is treating them unfairly, I’m reminded of the struggles of 14 very real and very specific individuals who pledged their lives to proclaim Truth into the world nearly 2,000 years ago.
When Jesus ascended 40 days after his resurrection around 33 AD, there were exactly 11 Apostles and approximately 500 total followers in the entire world. 511 people who heard the ministry of Jesus and believed his Gospel. Almost immediately, Jesus’ followers were subject to the most horrific forms of persecution. They were hunted, beaten, sometimes stoned, almost unanimously ostracized. They had every reason to run from the call God placed on their hearts for an easier life, but they did not.
Persecuted for Faith
And what of Jesus’ Apostles? Consider what happened to each of those who were closest to Jesus life and ministry in the short 30 years following his resurrection:
- James, older brother of John, is run through with a sword by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem
- Philip is crucified upside down in Asia
- Bartholomew is skinned alive and beheaded in Armenia
- Thomas (who doubted the resurrection) is stabbed to death by Hindu priests in Punjab, India
- Matthew is martyred in Ethiopia
- Simon and Jude are martyred in modern day Beirut
- Mathias is stoned to death in Jerusalem after evangelizing in Armenia
- James the Just (brother of Jesus) is thrown from the walls of the temple in Jerusalem by an angry mob and stoned to death
- Andrew, brother of Peter, is crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece
- Simon Peter is crucified in Rome upside down
- John the Evangelist is thrown into a boiling vat of oil, emerging unharmed but then exiled to Patmos
- Mark is martyred in Alexandria after becoming its first Pope
- Paul is beheaded in Rome
These men and hundreds of thousands of followers since pledged and gave their lives defending a Truth so many today take for granted. They didn’t look for comfortable lives, easy faith. They didn’t water down Scripture to meet the sensitive ears of the people around them.
John’s Gospel describes the final night Jesus spent with his Apostles during the last supper. Afterwards, he encourages his followers by telling them not to let the coming trials of the world stop them from their mission. “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, also believe in me,” he begins in John 14. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you,” he continues in Chapter 15. He closes Chapter 16 with “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Life in Context
Friends, my message today is very simple. In the scheme of things, how difficult is your life? An IRS audit? Bills to pay? Your political candidate lost? Grumbling spouses? Someone’s Twitter feed makes you angry? Your preacher said something you found insensitive? These kinds of things are what stand between you and an unclouded relationship with God?
“For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever,” Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians. Every hardship we suffer today, even in the worst of times, prepares us for a future in eternity if we remember Christ overcame the world on our behalf.
When we put our lives in context, our “bad days” might be seen as “best days” for others. Instead of looking for reasons why our lives are not perfect, perhaps we should consider how filled we are by the Grace of God’s love and the sacrifice Jesus made at Calvary.