What makes suffering part of our Christian expectation? Why is it necessary and important? We’ll talk about this today. This is the final installment in our Saving Mission section. The Saving mission begins with God’s saving plan from eternity past. God created the universe for His glory and pleasure, and part of His plan was to reveal His glory in the sacrifice and Saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
This mystery was revealed in real time and space when Jesus Christ gave His life for us on the cross, was buried and rose to live forever on that third day. This was a cosmic spiritual event that shattered the grip of death and the sinful forces of evil. This revealed gospel message is powerful enough to save sinners from hell and rescue those who are lost in the darkness of evil. The Saving Mission of God has been impacting this world through the church for nearly 2000 years now. It is as fresh today as it was that Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the grave! Because it is eternal, spiritual, a work of God for God’s glory and our redemption.
The primary factor of the Saving work of God was not what anyone could have guessed or figured out. This mystery of God had to be unveiled to be manifested to us. The primary factor of the Saving Mission of God was not the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proved the Saving mission to be true. No. The primary Saving Mission and work of God was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. It was in the suffering of Jesus Christ that God worked our salvation. It was in the burial of Jesus Christ for three days that God sealed the covenant. It was in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave that God provided proof that this was indeed His anointed Son, raised in power and glorified in exaltation to the throne as Savior and Lord. This provides hope of the same for all who follow in His steps. King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus Christ.
Today I want to look at several passages of scripture as we take our AIM and focus on our target. But first let me share something from the Week magazine that makes the point.
Slide 1 – The growth of Christianity in China has been astonishing. At this point, it’s no longer a question of if China will become a Christian nation, but when. The ramifications of this religious shift are massive, and will shake China’s culture and economy to their cores.
Since 1979, Protestant Christianity has been growing in China at a compound annual growth rate of more than 10 percent. There were 3 million Christians in China in 1980, compared to 58 million in 2010, according to Fenggyang Yang, director of the Center of Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University. By 2025, that number could swell to 250 to 300 million.
Surprised? That makes sense. The Chinese Communist Party has done all it can to downplay this phenomenon and keep a tight media lid on it. Meanwhile, Western media outlets are so taken with the idea that religion is an irrelevant (and declining) facet of modern life that they don’t pay attention to its growth in most places outside calcified Western Europe.
But this shift is happening, and it is astonishing, especially considering that China is officially an atheist country. From Chairman Mao’s accession to power until his death, China officially banned all religion, the only country in history besides Albania to do so. Then, in 1979, in keeping with its liberalization program, China cautiously allowed a few places of worship to open. But the government’s policy is still that religious expression must obey the party. Religion that is not officially sanctioned is still oppressed.
Slide 2 – While it might seem surprising that Christianity could grow in the face of such repression, it is repression that prompted the growth of Christianity in the first place. In the third century, the church father Tertullian famously boasted that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”
To better understand what’s going on in China, let’s look back at the Roman Empire. There, both government and society had values that were at odds with Christianity. The religion was so foreign, the reaction was an incoherent mix of savage oppression, benign neglect, and attempts at cooptation.
Still, Christians eventually became the dominant group in the Roman Empire by compounding with a respectable yearly growth rate.
Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has stepped up its oppression of Christianity. As the Chinese writer and dissident Yu Jie writes in the magazine First Things:
An internal government document obtained by The New York Times in May 2014 shows that the church demolitions are part of a larger campaign to curb Christianity’s influence on the public. According to the nine-page provincial policy statement, the Xi administration wants to put an end to “excessive” religious sites and “overly popular” religious activities, but it names one religion in particular, Christianity, and one symbol, the cross.
If history is any guide, this will only increase the popularity of Christianity. As Yu writes: “One of the phrases I have heard most often among [Chinese Christians] is: ‘The greater the persecution, the greater the revival.'” Indeed, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, when oppression was at its fiercest, Christianity actually grew in China.
Blank Slide – Why is this so? Why does Christianity seem to do well under difficult conditions? Think a minute. What is the primary factor of the Saving work of God? Take that thought and combine it with this: Christian means Christ-like.
The power of God, the Saving Mission of God is not worked out in our comforts, but in our conflicts, not in our self indulgence, but in our self surrender, not through our worldly successes, but through our sacrifice and suffering. Now it is also important to note: suffering is not the point but part of the process. Revealing God’s glory is THE POINT! Christian suffering looks past the pain to the gain of resurrection victory and reigning glory, forever and ever in life! Even more, Christian suffering and exaltation to glory looks to the ultimate praise of the glory of God. It is the death, burial AND resurrection that our gospel contains! Not just any death, but a life given to God’s Saving Mission, however long it may last. Once it ends, the eternal glory begins! And that glory reveals God’s character of grace and mercy, power and holiness, forever and ever!
Look with me at these scriptures. I will read them. I hope you will follow along. Listen for what it says about suffering.
Slide 3, a – Acts 4:1-31
Slide 3, b – Acts 5:17-42
Slide 3, c – Acts 8:1-4
Here’s our target for this final session on our Saving Mission:
Slide 4, a – These words from Acts 5:41 say it best: (Slide 4, b) They rejoiced that they were…
not put to death? finally set free? What? They left being beaten and warned by the Supreme Court of Israel not to speak in the name of Jesus again… they left rejoicing that, here it is: they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.
What do you count as a blessing?
Notice Jesus instructions on mission for the disciples has an expectation of rejection, persecution, arrest, and suffering. There is also the great expectation of a great reward that will far exceed any temporal pain they may face. When we believe it is worth it, we give ourselves to the cause of Christ. Suffering becomes almost a litmus test of fidelity and a purifying aspect of the journey to eternal life. It proves our faith valid, to us and those who see us.
Jesus is worthy. Are we?