Matthew 5:11, 12 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." The abundant life we are promised is not without suffering. And suffering is something we'd just rather not think about. But look at the life of the prophets of old. Many were killed for the Word of God they delivered to those who just didn't want to hear it. Look at the apostle Paul who says in Colossians 1:24, "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." And what about his word to us in Philippians 3:10,11 "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." We greatly desire the power of his resurrection, and rightly so, but we gloss over sharing in His sufferings. What are/were His sufferings, anyway? I see them this way, that the very essence of His suffering was in giving Himself completely for fallen man and being rejected. Just hear Jesus' lament in Luke 13:34, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" And then again in Luke 19: 41, 42-44, As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. . . . The writer of Hebrews has this to say about the suffering of Jesus (Hebrews 2:8-10, 18): . . . Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. . . Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
The world's rejection of Jesus led to His crucifixion on a cruel cross. But God, in His great wisdom, mercy, and love, looked beyond the cross to the glorious resurrection, the ultimate joy of redemption, of reconciliation, and of restoration of His beloved children. Yes, there is a reward not of this world, but beyond, whose joy surpasses all we've ever experienced. We only have a taste of it now, but oh, how sweet it is! Just think of Stephen as he stood before his accusers, those who would stone him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God ." . . . . While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:55-60). Verse 58 makes this commentary: Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Yes this was the Saul who became Paul. And who knows what effect the witness of Stephen had upon Paul to prepare him for his conversion on the road to Damascus?
When we look at the great servants of God, we are awed by their love for God and for their fellow man. Moses interceded greatly for his people and even asked God to blot him out for the salvation of his people. Paul gave himself to much suffering to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. 1 John has much to say about how we cannot say we love God and yet not love our brothers and sisters. Our greatest suffering and our greatest joy can be found in giving ourselves for others. We do not want to suffer because of our sin, because of our mistakes, because of wrongdoing in our lives. We are not called to that kind of suffering. But when we suffer for righteousness, there is great joy for there is great reward awaiting us.
Today, let us pray for those who are suffering in our world for the cause of Christ. "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death (Revelation 12:10, 11)."
Blessed be our God!