Rev Dr Edgar Mayer;
For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
How Much For Him
This is the third Sunday in our new
worship centre at
Looking back over the first two Sundays
We may be in for a surprise. In the Bible when God called the person of Saul into something big to become the most important missionary to the nations God also surprised him with some additional information. Here is what happened. At first Saul was not a Christian but a most passionate enemy of any believers and he acted on his hate. I read from the Bible Acts 9:1-2: . Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lords disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Then the Lord Jesus Christ called him
and today with what is in our
hearts we will also learn from the
nature of his call. I read from the Bible the entire account Acts 9:3-19a:
As Saul neared
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately, something like scales fell from Sauls eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
This Bible account contains many fun themes for preaching and teaching electrifying themes such as: the possibility of Jesus appearing to us in a flash of glorious light and then speaking to us (as it happened to Paul Acts 9:3: suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him ), the richness of Gods communications with us (God gave Saul a vision of a man and told him the name of the man Ananias who would place his hands on him and in this way heal him; meanwhile God told Ananias the vision which he gave Paul and then further instructed him even telling him the precise address of Saul in Damascus; Acts 9:11-12: The Lord told him, Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight ), the frequent importance of the laying on of hands for healing and the infilling with the Holy Spirit (as practiced by Ananias on Saul), then last but not least the influence one person can have in reaching the world with the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:15: This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel ).
These are great themes which make for great Sunday celebrations but not this Sunday. As much as Saul would become the greatest missionary, God also said Acts 9:16: I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. These words of God spell out another truth what we may not want to hear. The more God asks you to do in his name, the more suffering and persecution will come your way.
There it is the message for the third Sunday in our new worship centre. We want a mighty outpouring of Gods Spirit on our region but are we prepared to have him also say to us: I will show you how much you must suffer for my name. Have you come to Living Grace or are you thinking about joining this church because you are ready to share in our suffering?
Saul immediately experienced the
first taste of mission success but also persecution. Acts 9:19b-23 I
read again from the Bible: Saul spent several days with the disciples in
Opposition will surely come to the preaching of Jesus Christ and the whole truth of God. [E.g.: In every meeting Annancondia would always minister salvation, deliverance, healing and the baptism in the Spirit but in many Western church circles a call to faith commitment is deemed offensive, any talk about demons is deemed offensive, trusting Gods promises for healing is deemed offensive and the Biblical term baptism in the Spirit is also deemed offensive ] And according to the Bible there do not seem to be any exceptions 2 Timothy 3:12: In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And in the same vein the Bible also says 1 Peter 4:12-13: do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you
The words persecution and painful trial do not have a good a ring to them. What are we in for? Jesus said Luke 6:22-23: Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man At the very least we can expect not to be popular and rejection hurts (and often it comes from within the church from your own faith family so it happened with Jesus and Martin Luther and Count Zinzendorf and John Wesley and Charles Finney and ) but then there can be other more physical consequences. I read a few more verses from the Bible Hebrews 10:33-39: Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property The words prison and confiscation of property do not have a good ring to them either.
What do we expect will happen to us? Are we not here on a Sunday morning to be refreshed and lifted up? Do we not value our faith as something that completes a good life-style? Then many a time do we not also pick up on the consumer mentality of our Western nation and shop around for the best church in town and many a time what we define as best is the very avoidance of any suffering because we want easy convenience: a comfortable building (I certainly appreciate the gas heating in winter), a worship service that is not too long (God may still be healing people but 1.5 hours is long enough), nothing weird (e.g.: being drunk in the Spirit or the other week someone here discovered gold-dust on her hands after worship), a good program for the children and personal service on call.
This may not be quite true for our intentions at Living Grace but speaking for myself I think that I have some of these tendencies within me because they are so dominant in our consumer culture. Yet, the truth is what God said about Saul Acts 9:16: I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. Here at Living Grace we may also suffer various forms of persecution from gossip, lies and negative press to legal restrictions, law suits and even imprisonment (as was a real possibility for two pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot in Victoria; the Australian Christian Lobby wrote in a newsletter [October 2003]: You will remember that the case revolves around whether the Pastors pointing out the reality of what Islamic teaching has to say on Jihad is vilification, and also apparently on whether the fact that they have claimed that the only way to God is through Christ, is vilification of Muhammad).
Then what about one day sharing the fate of many overseas
Christians. One of our short-term mission trips may not have such a happy
ending. A few months ago we tried to
sponsor the immigration of Wilson Vai who is trapped in the Kouankan Refugee
We better prepare ourselves and count the cost of being a member of this church. The more we want to be used by God and the more we want to reach out to others around the world, the more we will be in the thick of persecution. Yet no matter what lies ahead we have no reason for complaints ever. Saul certainly whinged about nothing. He knew that he had been a persecutor himself. The blood of Christians was on his hands when Jesus saved him. Can you imagine the shame which came over him after he recognized that he had been on the wrong side of God. He thought that he was safe-guarding the honour of God against these blasphemous Christians they were so wrong but then he was so wrong. Jesus Christ the promised Saviour asked him: Why do you persecute me? What a shock to the system! Saul could say nothing in return except to seek more clarification which betrayed his ignorance and ineptitude. He asked: Who are you, Lord? It was Jesus.
Saul then spent three days in
You and I we are in the very same position. By the grace of God we are what we are. None of us has been on the right side of God. None of us is without sin. The Bible explains Romans 3:22-26: There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus Romans 5:8-11: . God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us when we were Gods enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son Saul was not the exception. None of us deserves anything from God. God doesnt owe us anything humanity from the beginning has turned against him and we keep turning against him but he has broken into our world with redemption. He came to us and invited us to be forgiven freely by his grace on account of Jesus sacrifice on the cross.
What gift of life and therefore whatever we are asked to do now is okay. The Bible is right 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body. How can we ever repay God for salvation? We have gained the price eternal life with God whatever we suffer in the present. Saul who was later named Paul summed up the sentiment 2 Corinthians 4:8-18: We are hard pressed on every side perplexed persecuted struck down [But] we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles [what understatement] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all
How are we feeling now on this third Sunday in our new worship centre? Despite the prospect of persecution do we maintain joy among us undiminished joy in the service of a great God? We may not have been quite ready for a somber message on suffering after all this is our honeymoon period at 90 Jellicoe St but and this is where another surprising twist makes us learn still more about God with God the suffering of persecution is at the same time a season of joy.
At first hearing this sounds almost offensive. Adrian and Kym Kaths grandson Lukas a newborn baby is on the waiting list for a liver transplant to save his life. Where is the joy in that? Then another woman dropped in at our place one evening with tears running down her cheeks. She was close to a nervous breakdown straining under family and work commitments sickness and depression. Where is the joy in that? The whole logic of todays message seems confusing. Do you agree? Where is this going? There we are (at first) thrilled with God hungry for an outpouring of Gods Spirit on Toowoomba but then warnings about persecution dampen the excitement and the thrill is not what it used to be only to come back again to be released again now with the promise of joy in suffering.
What is God up to? I read to you again various Bible verses from before and I will read to you their fuller version and ask you to take note of the constant references to joy. Jesus said Luke 6:22-23: Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven Hebrews 10:33-39: Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions 1 Peter 4:12-13: do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
In all of these references there is joy in suffering even leaping for joy because we are heading in the right direction with the sure promise of eternal glory and reward. Our homes may be confiscated but we know for sure that we have better and lasting possessions in eternity. It is the eternal future that counts.
Yet, there is more. The last Bible reference talked about participating in the sufferings of Christ and having the Spirit of glory and of God rest on us in persecution. When Saul was persecuting Christians, he did what he wanted to do and seemed to be in control of so much the court system, the life and death of others. He was feared and respected on top of his world but Jesus confronted him with the truth. In a later report about his conversion Saul also shared that Jesus had said to him Acts 26:14: [It is] difficult for you to be kicking against [the] goads [i.e. pointed sticks used to drive livestock]. Saul was not at peace with what he was doing. His conscience was pricking him. He had people killed and got what he wanted but there was no peace in him.
Jesus knew and saved him and as consequence Saul the persecutor would suffer persecution himself but with the difference that even then he was feeling a whole lot better than before. Now he was at peace and full of joy. One day he was attacked by a mob, then stripped and beaten by the magistrates, severely flogged, thrown into prison with his feet fastened in the stocks, but then the Bible records Acts 16:25: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God
When persecution comes, then more so than even at other times the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us bringing us affirmations of Gods love and joy. We experience that the less we are in control the more we despair of the circumstances the more God comes through with his power and his joy. Saul would write to this effect to one of his congregations 2 Corinthians 1:8-11: We do not want you to be uninformed . about the hardships we suffered We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead As we keep obeying and trusting God even in the midst of suffering he can fill our hearts with his power and his joy and his peace.
The following is a written account from
a persecuted pastor in
When Huang was brought into our cell the next morning he spoke filthy words He was ferocious and full of hatred In cell number nine the prisoners had treated him like an animal, kicking and punching him The moment Huang entered our cell he knew something was different. All of us showed him love and sympathy I asked everyone to give Huang some of their precious drinking water Then I gently cleaned the dirt and dried blood from his face and mouth Huang didnt say a word. He just sat there with his eyes wide open and stared at everyone At lunchtime we each gave some of our rice to our new cell mate I used a spoon to feed Huang. After lunch we all softly sang a song I had taught them, based on Matthew 6:25-34, Our Heavenly Father is great in mercy Then I spoke about the words of Jesus from Matthew chapter six
Dinner that evening happened to be the time for our weekly mantou. All the brothers looked at me. I knew they were so hungry. I told them, Today weve already shared our rice and water with our new friend Huang, so we can eat our own mantou tonight, but I hope youll share some of your soup with him tomorrow. I fed Huang first and then started to eat my own meal.
When I took the first bite of my mantou I felt like crying. A tender voice welled up inside me, saying, I died for you on the cross. How can you show me that you love me? When I am hungry, thirsty, and in prison, if you do these things to the least of my brethren, you do them unto me. Immediately I knew God wanted me to sacrifice what was left of my mantou and give it to Huang. I bowed down and wept. I said, Lord, Im also starving. I feel so hungry. A Scripture from the Bible came to mind, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or danger or sword? Romans 8:35.
I wrapped the rest of my mantou in a handkerchief and placed it inside my clothes, saving it for Huang. Immediately peace and joy returned to me. The next mornings breakfast consisted of watery noodle soup We all shared with Huang, but he wasnt happy even with his larger portion so he shouted to the guard, Im going to die! Why dont you give me a good sized meal? Are you trying to starve me before you execute me?
Right then the Lord told me, Hurry, take the mantou from your shirt and feed him.
Immediately Huangs stony
heart broke. He dropped off his chair, knelt down on the floor, and wept. He
said, Older brother, why do you love me like this? Why didnt you eat your
bread last night? I am a murderer, hated by all men. Even my own parents, my
brother and sister, and my finance have disowned me. Why do you love me so much?
I know that this was the time the Lord wanted me to share the gospel with
him. I told Huang, Its because Jesus loves you that we are treating you
(Brother Yun with Paul
Hattaway: The Heavenly Man,
Did you notice how the pastor struggled to share his mantou with Huang? He bowed down and wept, crying out to God: Lord, Im also starving. I feel so hungry. Yet, when he obeyed wrapped the rest of his mantou in a handkerchief saving it for Huang immediately peace and joy returned to him. Where the Spirit leads and be it hard there are affirmations of love and joy which he keeps pouring into our hearts.
[By the way I like how God was gentle with the pastor. He did not grow impatient when the pastor was reluctant at first but he affirmed him with love Bible words from Romans 8:35: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or danger or sword? This is how it was also with Ananias. When God told him to pay Saul a visit, Ananias baulked, saying Acts 9:13-14: Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints But God did not get angry with Ananias and gently explained to him the circumstances Acts 9:15-16: Go! This man is my chosen instrument This was on top of saying earlier that Saul was praying and had received a vision from God about Ananias. God is good and knows how we feel in times of persecution.]
Then did you also notice how Jesus responded to the pastor. He said to him: I died for you on the cross. How can you show me that you love me? When I am hungry, thirsty, and in prison, if you do these things to the least of my brethren, you do them unto me. Jesus again revealed his heart to the pastor. He died on the cross for him out of love which invites love in return and now he also loved the murderer Huang so much so that he told the pastor that what he was doing for Huang he was doing for him (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).
Here we get a glimpse of what is meant
by the earlier phrase participating
in the sufferings of Christ. Jesus
showed the pastor that he loved Huang so much that whatever this prisoner was
going through, he was suffering himself. In the same way Gods heart keeps
breaking over us over you. It was
love that made Jesus endure torture and death on a cross for us suffering in his own body what we should
have suffered as our substitute. And
Jesus keeps loving us until it hurts. When Jesus stopped Saul in his tracks on
the way to
And as Christians we are drawn into that kind of love which aches with pain over a lost world. Many years later Paul would list some of his experiences in the Bible 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 I read: Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits I have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked
All of this was bad enough but then he adds: Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? Paul was heart-broken burning up from the inside over any brother Christian who would fall into sin and drift away from Jesus. And this is also our pain our sharing in the fellowship of Christs suffering because we also have numerous new Christians who have made a good start with their faith but then slide back into their old life of sin.
We care and this ache for others goes so far that Paul not only forgave those who hurt him (and floggings and lashings are not that easy to forgive) he wrote Romans 9:2-3: I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for [them] On the one hand this is madness choosing (if it was possible) to spend eternity in hell so that others would be saved. But on the other hand this is love sharing in the fellowship of Christs suffering.
I come to a close. Yes we want God
to do something big in Toowoomba. We want the
Now pause for a moment are we
are you willing to pay this cost? This
is our third Sunday in the new worship centre these are days of laying a
foundation are you prepared to suffer
in the service of Jesus? If the answer is yes, then we can keep dreaming big because God can do anything with a
surrendered life a church that is obedient to him. We ask him to speak the same words over us that he spoke over Saul:
This man this church is my chosen instrument to carry my name before
the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of