"They signed up to suffer.”
I never really thought about it this way. My studies of the first century church have included the thought that Paul, Peter and their buddies endured hardships.
Hardships are normally unpredictable, so, according to my former thinking, they blindly followed Jesus, and the resulting hardships caught them by surprise.
As we discover in Acts, chapter 9, not only did everyone know about the persecution of so-called “Christians,” they were perfectly familiar with the blade of this spear-head, Saul of Tarsus. Jesus Himself, from his place in the afterworld, said it: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4)
For three days, without food or water, Saul waited for directives from his new king. (By the way, we are terrible at waiting for God, but that’s another lesson.)
Jesus sent Ananias to bear His message: “I myself will show Him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.” (Acts 9:16)
So that’s the hook, Jesus? “Follow Me and you’ll get to suffer for Me?” Great strategy. Imagine if we carried this message to twenty first century America. “Sure, we love waiting and suffering – trusting God for every trifle, knowing that, at the end of the rainbow, lie pain and poverty.”
Good luck on that one, Jesus.
And for good measure, Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
(Tongue in cheek:) “Sure Jesus, I’d love to hang on a cross, fighting for every breath, and suffering one of the most slow, excruciating and humiliating deaths imaginable.” (Sorry for my cynicism).
So Saul signed up.
He went to Arabia, listening again, no doubt, and studying for his upcoming travails. (Galatians 1:17-18) Then he returned to Damascus for three years to boldly preach the gospel.
His message rang so true and so defensible by the scriptures, that the Greek-speaking Jews found no other alternative but to kill him.
I can’t help but compare these first century saints to us in today’s America. Those saints armed with faith, hope and love, walked the gauntlet of the Jews, Greeks and Romans. Pain and death came to greet them regularly, even, in the beginning, from Saul (read Paul).
We can read today about the persecuted churches around the globe. Their faith and commitment astound us. Perhaps suffering is the heat that fires our refinement. If we want to be pure, we must walk through the fire, and remember the original saints, who signed up to suffer.
“Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, (the church) increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)
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