A season of rebellion

The law of the rebellious son: Deuteronomy 21:18-21

The elders of the city have been called and the makeshift court is in session. A young man is dragged in. His language is foul. His eyes flash with anger as they fix on an old couple. His father and mother are watching their son as the charges are read and witnesses are called. The testimony of the witnesses is unambiguous.

Finally, the father is called. He stands facing his son, with anguish etched into his face. The silence of the court is broken only by the mother’s quiet sobbing. When the father speaks, his voice cuts the air.

“I can’t understand it. When he was a child we loved him so much. He never wanted for anything. I can remember taking him in my arms, teaching him to walk, watching the first faltering steps he took towards me. Oh, the pride I felt when we walked down the street with his tiny hand in mine. I was always there for him, always ready to catch him if he fell. You all know the love we gave him. We couldn’t have loved him more than we did.

“But it hasn’t been any good. It seemed that the more we loved him, the more he abused us. He has always been stubborn, always rebellious. He has never done what we wanted and he won’t obey us even now. It’s not as though we haven’t disciplined him—you all know that we have. God knows that we have done everything we could, but now he’s a drunkard and his life is out of control. He has made life hell for you and for us and we just can’t take it anymore. It can’t go on. We don’t want it to end this way, but it must.”

As the father faces his son, eyes full of love are met by hatred and scorn. The old man choked on his last few words. “I love you but it has to be this way.”

Judgement is passed and all that remains is to carry out the sentence. The men of the city drag the condemned son to the city wall. Each of them bends down, picks up a rock and hurls it at the young man. He is pelted until his body lies hidden and broken beneath the stones—a sign for all rebellious sons.

The son rebels: Hosea 11

Many years later another court is in session, judging another young man. His name is Israel and he represents the chosen people of God. As he stands before the court, charges are read, witnesses are called and finally the father stands facing his son.

This is no ordinary father. He is God—the father of Israel. He is no ordinary god either. He is the God who gave to his people the law of the rebellious son and demanded that they live by it. He is the God who is the creator and lord of the world. He is the one who created people to live in relationship with him and the one who demands that they recognize who he is and live in obedience to him.

He is a holy God, intolerant of the claims of false gods. He sets himself against all who fail to acknowledge his uniqueness. He wages war against all who will not recognize, bow down, and worship him.

This God is serious about himself, caring whether or not people recognize him, caring whether or not people obey him, caring whether truth or falsehood prevails. He is holy, jealous and intolerant of falsehood—a God who will not be mocked. This is the father who stands facing his rebellious son in Hosea 11.

The whole courtroom waits, asking themselves, “What will happen here? How will a holy God treat his rebellious, idolatrous son?” Into the silence resounds the voice of the father.

“When Israel was young I loved him. I called my son out of Egypt. Yet the more I called him, the more he strayed from me. He went off and sacrificed to other gods—to the god Baal and to other images. He did this even though he was my son, even though it was me who had taught him to walk and taken him in my arms.

“He can’t seem to understand my care for him. I led him by cords of human kindness, with ties of love. I lifted my child to my cheek, I bent down to feed him. Yet, he continued to rebel. Even now, as the surrounding nations tear him to pieces, even while he is suffering the consequences of having left me, he still stubbornly turns from me. He is determined to cling to a god who cannot save.”

The rebellion is clear and the judgement obvious. No further witnesses are needed. The law of the rebellious son must be applied. All that remains is an inevitable punishment.

But the father dramatically halts the proceedings. The holy God silences the court and speaks again, not to the court this time, but to his son. He is overcome with emotion; his anguish is evident.

“How can I surrender you to judgement? How can I give you up? How can I annihilate you? How can I treat you like Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities when I obliterated them from the face of the earth?

“My heart burns within me. I cannot let it happen. You deserve it, but I will not permit it. I will not satisfy my anger!”

Then he turns to the court.

“Though my son deserves it I cannot permit it. This is my son! I love him! I will not become enraged, for I am God, the Holy One, the Lord of heaven and earth. I am not a mere man. I will not exercise the fierceness of my anger. I will not destroy Israel.”

This is Hosea’s message—God has loved his son as no other and, although he has been disappointed time after time, he will continue to love him. He is rightly angered, for his son has done far worse things than the rebellious son in Deuteronomy. But then Hosea records something great. As this holy God and father faces a son who deserves punishment he does what no human being can do—he decides to take all the suffering and hurt upon himself. In a struggle that takes place at the very depths of his being, God turns his anger into a new expression of love. The punishment of Israel takes place in himself as he contains his smouldering anger. Love triumphs over judgement.

Looking at me: Matthew 27:45-54

A third courtroom is in session. There is no rebellious son this time and no rebellious Israel. There is only me. I stand before God the judge. Again, this is not just any god. This is the God who created me, the holy, just, jealous and intolerant God who opposes all who do not recognize that he alone has the right to be God. This is the God who demands my total dependence upon him.

I am exposed. The blazing heat and light of his holiness renders me naked before him. My sin is plain to see. My life has not been lived in the realization that he is God. I have been my own god. I have done things my own way, without his help or advice. In my words, actions and lifestyle I have considered him irrelevant.

Before this holy God, the truth must out. He is justly angry and I deserve the heat of his holy wrath. I deserve the terror of the situation which I have wasted my life trying to attain—the escape from his presence into the ravages of hell. All that remains is punishment.

Then the judgement comes. As he had through Hosea, now God speaks to me. Just as he loved Israel, now he will not vent his anger upon me. Just as he promised in Hosea, he takes in his own being the suffering and hurt that I deserve. He is truly God.

As I look around the courtroom, the scene becomes clearer. There in the darkness, almost outside of my perception, I see what should be a most unusual sight. A man hangs on a cross—God in the flesh, nailed to wood. And as all the heat of divine anger is burned on him, this holy incarnation cries out in what ought to be my voice—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The core of God’s being is split. An eternal relationship is severed for the first time. The father turns away while his son, who has never known separation, dies the worst of deaths. A son hangs in the darkness without his father, alone, while life ebbs from his body.

In this single act, my sinfulness is both proclaimed and forgiven. On the one hand, my sin is declared to be totally unacceptable, so heinous that it could only be dealt with by God becoming a man in Jesus and by his suffering my punishment. I am in a situation so dreadful that it was only resolved by Jesus’ separation from God.

On the other hand, forgiveness is made possible. Here is the meaning of the temple curtain being ripped open. This curtain stood in front of the part of the temple where God’s presence resided, a constant sign that access to God was impossible and that forgiveness was not available. However, in the moment of the divine agony, at the very point when the core of God is being ripped open, that curtain is ripped open. There can be no mistaking the symbol: forgiveness is made possible, access to God is now available.

In Jesus, I see what Israel had been promised—God loving me in a way that no human could. God loving me so much that he lowers himself to become a human being, turning the reality and fierceness of his own anger upon himself. In the cross, God in the flesh dies in my place and endures abandonment by God instead of me. Only God could be holy like this and only God could love like this.

The end of rebellion

My judgement, in one sense, has already taken place. When I face God, as we all must, he will take me back to the courtroom set up on a Friday afternoon so long ago. There will be no hiding. As I face the cross it will clearly expose me, proclaiming the sinfulness of my sin and the inevitability of judgement. But it does greater than this—it proclaims the possibility of forgiveness.

What God will want to know from me and all human beings is this:

How then have you lived? What did you do with this judgement already proclaimed?

Did you live life determined to face the holy God on your own, determined to face the consequences of your actions on your own? Did you say in thought, word or action that you were willing to bear the punishment on your own?

Did you accept God’s gift? Did you accept that in the flesh Jesus faced the consequences of your sin on your behalf? Did you, in word and action, demonstrate that you wanted Jesus to face God for you and bear the punishment for you?

Will you deal with the case on your own or will Jesus deal with it for you?

I know my answers. I want to know the real God.

By Andrew Reid

How can I know that I am saved?

How can I know that I am saved? It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot over this past year: a question I’m not the first to ask, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. For me, this question came up because I was doubting my salvation. I wasn’t doubting the truth of the gospel; I was sure that Jesus was the Son of God who lived, died, was raised to life, and ascended into heaven. I was sure that his death on the cross paid the price for sinners, that they may be made right with God, and come to know him personally. I was sure that people got saved—but I doubted whether I was one of them.

I was asking these questions because I had been doing what Paul instructed the Corinthians to do: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5). I was testing myself (to the best of my ability), looking at how I spoke, how I acted, how I treated those around me. I was comparing my life to what I read in the Bible. I read that we are to be holy, because God is (1 Pet 1:16); we are to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet 2:11); we are to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Col 3:5). I read that I was to live for God, and to love him with my heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). That was the standard for being a Christian, the level you had to meet, or at least come close to.

In my examination, I fell miserably short of that standard. I was not holy just as God was holy, and some days it felt like I wasn’t even trying to be holy. It didn’t feel like I was abstaining from sinful desires, but like I was falling into the same sins over and over again. It felt like my earthly nature was surviving and thriving. It didn’t feel like I was living for God, and I certainly wasn’t loving him with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. I fell short of the Christian standard. The saying goes, “If it swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck”. I felt like I wasn’t looking like a Christian, or acting like a Christian, so was it possible that I wasn’t actually a Christian?

I doubted my salvation because I looked at all the sin in my life and said, “Surely a Christian cannot be this sinful”.

So I spoke to some trusted Christian friends, and they pointed me back to what I was so sure about: how we are saved. We are saved because God the Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). We’re saved because “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” (1 Pet 3:18). We’re saved because the Spirit now works in us, shaping us into the image of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18; 2 Tim 1:7). We are saved because God saves us.

If our salvation were based even partly on us then our performance would matter. If we saved ourselves, even a little bit, then it would matter whether we’d been more sinful last week, or better with Bible reading and prayer this week. But, as Paul writes:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

Our salvation is based on the work God has done and on his generosity, not on the work we are doing. We are saved, from beginning to end, by grace.

So how did this give me assurance? Firstly, it showed me that feeling unsaved didn’t change whether I was saved or not. If salvation is from God, then my feelings can’t affect it. Secondly, it showed me that I wasn’t perfect, but no other Christian is either. We are all sinful, both before and after the Spirit begins his work in us, and we all need to be saved by God’s grace. The Spirit doesn’t make us sinless overnight, but he changes our attitude toward sin: we do not revel in sin as non-Christians do, we repent of it. We pray that God would forgive us and make us more like his Son. The mark of a Christian is not a lack of sin, but a repentant attitude toward sin.

And thirdly, after seeing that salvation isn’t through how good we were or how good we’ve become, I was reminded that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).

You will be saved, no ifs or buts about it. That’s how I knew that I was a Christian, and that these promises applied to me. I knew because I called Jesus my Lord and my Saviour, and I knew that he had the power to save by his resurrection from the dead. If you believe these things, then the Spirit is at work in you, and the Spirit is a seal, “a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:14).

So where do we go from here? Certainly not back to living in sin:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2)

Our works do not save us, but they are meant to be a response to our salvation. If Jesus is our Lord, then we are to live under his rule, which means doing as he has commanded us to do. We will fail, but that will not change what Jesus did on the cross, and our response should always be the same: come to Jesus, ask for forgiveness, and ask for the strength to turn away from our sin and live life for him. As John Newton said, “I sin continually—but Christ has died, and for ever lives, as my Redeemer, Priest, Advocate, and King.” Luther was a man with full assurance, not because of his own sinlessness, but because of Jesus. Finally, as the author of Hebrews writes:

Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Heb 10:21-23)

Let us stand firm in our faith, with full assurance, because God is faithful.

By Ryan Anson

Blessing in the Christian life

The psalmists appeal to the Lord in the midst of their suffering and confidently ask for blessing. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see that this was a pattern of suffering-before-blessing, which foreshadows what the great suffering king Jesus would experience. So Jesus experiences the suffering of the psalms (for example John 13:18 and 19:24) and their hope of blessing is fulfilled in him too (for example Luke 23:46 and Acts 2:21-32).

What does that mean for us as Christians? Firstly, we are blessed because of Jesus’ death for us. Jesus’ suffering had greater meaning than that of the psalmists, because he suffered on behalf of his people, as a substitutionary sacrifice. Because our king has suffered for us and has now been blessed in his resurrection and ascension, we enjoy the great blessings that flow from this. In particular, the blessing of peace with God, the guarantee of eternal blessings and the ability to enjoy these blessings are all ours by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:1-11). We have the best blessings of all in Christ!

Secondly, just as the pattern for Christ was suffering before glory, so also for Christians, we expect to suffer in this life, with the sure hope of eternal blessing in the age to come. This is our Father’s good purpose, so we can rejoice in the strange blessing it is to suffer for the sake of Christ and grow in our faith through suffering, as we explored in chapter 4. As Peter writes:
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet 2:21-23)
Because true blessing is a ‘full package’, Christians look for the blessing that comes from a right relationship with God. And since he has revealed to us that these are the last days, we want to enjoy blessings in line with being a part of his purposes: even though this brings with it struggling and hardship. The promises of physical blessing, like those given to Israel in the Sinai covenant, are not offered to Christians in this life, as if the normal Christian life will be one of physical health, economic prosperity and political triumph. Rather the pattern of the Christian life, like that of Christ’s, is spiritual blessing together with physical suffering in this life, followed by physical blessing at the final resurrection.

Thirdly, this doesn’t mean we won’t ever enjoy good things in this life, or that we shouldn’t. In a few places, Psalms is quoted to talk about the physical blessing that Christians can enjoy in this life. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul quotes Psalm 112 and applies it to Christians:
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures for ever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor 9:8-11)
Christians can normally expect to receive good gifts from God—both physical and spiritual—that we can use in generous service of his kingdom and love of others. In the same way, the apostle Peter quotes the promise of blessing found in Psalm 34, reassuring his readers “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (1 Pet 3:9-13). The blessing of the psalm still applies to Christians, according to Peter, and this remains true even though, as Peter and his readers know too well, Christians often suffer all kinds of trials. Straight after suggesting that no harm will come to them, Peter goes on to say, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (3:14).
It is true that the new covenant doesn’t have the same promise of abundant physical blessing in this life that the Sinai covenant had. But even in the ‘last days’ we find ourselves in, the blessing we have in God is so good and the hope we have in him is so sure, that when we experience any blessing and joy from the Lord, we are experiencing things the way they should be—and one day will be. It is good and fitting to suffer now, but this is not because suffering itself is good, but because this is the right thing in the last days. It is good and fitting for us to use the things of this world lightly, not because the things of this world are bad, but because this world in its present form is passing away. When we suffer and do without, we are recognizing that this world is fallen, cursed and passing away. But when we enjoy good things, we are recognizing that this fallen, temporary world is still God’s creation and will one day be made new and enjoyed more wonderfully than Adam and Eve could ever have done.

By Mikey Lynch

How To Stop Flirting With Sin

Sometimes we get confused about the way salvation works.

Almost by accident, we can fall into a gospel that’s heavy on encouraging one another in God’s forgiveness and grace and mercy, but woefully light on warning one another of the dangers of diving headlong into sin. This kind of gospel has no word for the brother or sister who gives in to temptation over and over again — who “makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:8).

Over time, we avoid the Old Testament with all of its narratives of God’s judgment, cherry-pick through the sermons of Jesus and the letters of Paul, then skip passed the harsh warnings of Hebrews and James. We select only the passages that tell us of God’s love and forgiveness and joy. But are these warnings in Scripture not a part of God’s plan to save, too?

Let’s admit the hard truth: Many of us are failing in the fight against daily temptation.

Could it be that the warnings in Scripture are actually necessary for victory against sin? Is there real danger in avoiding all the warning signs? How many of us are flying down the highway ignoring the flashing red lights and traffic signs that read: This way to eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13)? Let’s turn for a moment to one of those passages and see exactly how temptation works.

The Anatomy of Temptation

In Judges 16, the familiar story of Samson and Delilah shows us that temptation thrives among men and women who refuse to heed the warnings:

After this Samson loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” (Judges 16:4–5)

From the start, the narrator reveals the end of this path. Delilah the temptress has been hired by the enemies of God to lead Samson to the slaughter. Sin is hell-bent on premeditated murder. It will kill you. When we ignore God’s warnings in his word, we blind our eyes to the imminent danger.

Flirting with Death

Delilah reels Samson in like a prized bass. What’s more, Samson seems to enjoy the fight. He nibbles the lure that should set off alarms in his head, never feeling the sharp hook as it takes hold:

So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.” Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” (16:6–7)

Samson is in bed with temptation. He’s flirting with her. Delighting in the fleeting pleasure, he toys with danger:

Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known. (Judges 16:9)

It’s easy to marvel at Samson’s stupidity, but how often do we act in the very same way? We tell ourselves we can dabble in sin and emerge unscathed: I am strong enough. I know my limits. At this point, Samson doesn’t give his whole heart to temptation — just enough to have fun. Temptation has a way of lowering our guard through false sense of security. He makes it out alive this time.

The next time, Delilah wants more: Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound” (Judges 16:10). Two more times, Samson flirts with temptation, allowing himself to be bound in various ways, and bursts the bonds. See, I’m strong enough. This sin isn’t that dangerous. I’ll be just fine. I can stop whenever I want to. I’m in total control.

Meanwhile, the alarm bells are blaring! It’s obvious to everyone involved that Delilah is leading Samson by the hand toward death. However, every time she becomes more brazen in her attempts on his life, Samson cups his ears a little tighter against the sirens. Each time, he gives in more, inching closer to destruction.

Sin Goes for the Heart

In her final appeal, Delilah goes for the deathblow. She goes for his heart:

And she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.” And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his heart. . . (Judges 16:15–17, emphasize added)

Did Samson ever imagine that a path that began with fun and exhilaration would end in trading his vow to the Lord for a Philistine mistress? He who was so mighty gives his heart to a woman bent on his destruction. Temptation wore him down little by little. Each time he was bound, he had an opportunity to turn back, to renounce Delilah, to repent of his sin and return to the Lord. But he ignored the warnings. All of them.

Samson told Delilah about his Nazarite vow and his uncut hair. Samson laid down to sleep in the lap of sin, totally oblivious to the danger as his locks were shorn. Here is what happened:

And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. (Judges 16:20)

This is one of the saddest sentences in the whole Bible: But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Samson so took the Spirit for granted, he so seared his conscience, he was so blinded by his sin that he could not see that the Lord was nowhere to be found.

He assumed all the way down the path of wickedness that the Lord was by his side. But his heart was calloused and hardened against the warning of the Lord; he felt no difference when the Lord quietly departed.

The Consequences of Sin Are a Means of God’s Grace

The Philistines ended up seizing Samson and gouged out his eyes, and making him their prisoner in Gaza (Judges 16:22). Do you remember the warning in the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). The story of Samson teaches us this: If you will not gouge out your own eye, God will do it for you — for the sake of your soul.

You may lose your marriage if you continue in that porn habit. You may lose your job if you continue to defraud your company. You may end up losing everything if you plunge headlong into drunkenness. Sin has consequences. Always.

Eyes will be gouged out, one way or another. If the children of God ignore the warning signs, God’s warnings will have to get louder and clearer. In Judges, Samson’s eyes lead him into temptation over and over again. It’s no accident that God’s discipline cuts to the source of his sin.

Why God Warns Us

But here is the good news: God’s discipline is meant to save us from eternal destruction. God took Samson’s eyes so that he would not lose his soul. The episode ends with hope: “But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved” (Judges 16:22).

When Samson was blinded, he saw most clearly. No longer led astray by temptation, Samson was able to follow the Lord. God’s discipline is not pleasant, especially when you intentionally ignore the warnings — warnings that are meant to keep you from destruction and death. Do not think you will continue to walk in temptation without consequences. The eye will be gouged out one way or another. Either you can do it, God can do it for you in his grace, or you can fall into eternal destruction.

Brothers and sisters, “As long as it is called ‘today,’ [be sure] that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin!” (Hebrews 3:13)

By Chad Ashby 

Dealing with repeated failure

Consider Peter’s failure in Galatians 2:11-14:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

We know the apostle Peter’s reputation as the biggest and best disciple because he shows moments of true greatness. He is the first disciple named in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels. He is the first disciple to clearly understand that he is not worthy of Jesus: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

His absolute moment of brilliance comes when he confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). He is the first to recognize who Jesus really is.

Following the crucifixion, he is also the first to follow after the women, and to rush into the cave tomb after the resurrection and realize that Jesus’ body isn’t there.

But just as well-known as his spectacular successes are his equally spectacular failures.

Peter has a habit of telling Jesus off, beginning with his implied complaint about Jesus telling him where to cast his net (Luke 5:5). Or the time early in Jesus’ ministry where he tells Jesus off for disappearing from public ministry to pray. “Everyone is looking for you”, chides Peter (Mark 1:37). Later he tells Jesus he’s not going to die, provoking from Jesus the response “Get behind me Satan” (Matt 16:23). And just before Jesus’ crucifixion, he denies Jesus three times in the High Priest’s courtyard. “I never knew him”, says Peter (Luke 22).

But then we have this story in Galatians 2. It’s something else again. Peter has been completely rehabilitated and Jesus has restored to him the job of making disciples. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he’s done a heroic and consistent job in the face of fierce opposition. He’s even gone out on a limb and preached to the Gentiles, seeing them become Christians before his own eyes, a fact he will testify to before the Jerusalem council.

Now though, his fellow Jews have put him under pressure, and he has slowly withdrawn himself from table fellowship with the Gentiles, his brothers and sisters in Christ. So much so that Paul, a junior apostle, publicly tears strips off him. It is all the worse because he’s been forgiven and restored from failure so many times previously. He even possesses God’s Holy Spirit.

Yet even now, the unstoppable love of God continues to be poured out. Later in life, the chastened Peter will joyfully suffer for his Saviour. Tradition says he was crucified upside down for his faith. Likewise, according to tradition, it is Peter who dictates Mark’s gospel; he writes two letters for the encouragement of suffering Jewish Christians. This repeatedly failing shepherd of the sheep is used to feed God’s sheep yet once more.

We too will fail, and fail often, sometimes disastrously. In the mercy of Christ, and by continued trust in him, God restores. God’s name can and will be glorified in our darkest moments.

By Gordon Cheng

Good theology that makes you glad in suffering

The New Testament calls believers to counter-intuitive and unnatural activities. Love your enemies. Walk by faith not sight. Lay down your life. But perhaps one of the hardest is this: rejoice in suffering (Rom 5:3).

The world can appreciate heroism, random acts of kindness, and self-denial. But rejoicing in suffering sounds almost perverse, even to many believers.

But rejoicing in suffering doesn’t mean enjoying suffering. It’s purposefully bearing down under pain with joyful submission to God, understanding his purpose, and believing he will accomplish it through this perfect means.

The believers “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” obviously knew something extraordinary (Acts 5:41). They all had the same unnatural response to getting beaten, falsely accused, and threatened. Rejoicing made sense to them as the proper, logical response to the suffering they had endured. Why?

Because knowing what they knew from having watched Jesus suffer, they felt positively compelled to rejoice! Rejoicing in suffering is the direct result of good theology. So what did they know?

  1. Suffering affirms you are a son of God in Christ

The apostles didn’t always have good theology. More than once, Peter opposed Jesus for embracing suffering, and Jesus rebuked that bad theology as satanic, explaining that the one who calls himself a son of God must suffer (Mark 8:31-33; John 18:10-11).

The devil came to Jesus with his bad theology: If you are the Son of God, why should you suffer? Doesn’t God promise his Son good things? Power? Life? Blessing?

But Jesus knew his Bible. He knew about Joseph in jail before God raised him to power in Egypt. He knew of David in the wilderness for years before God made him king. And Jesus knew the words of Psalm 22, which promised that after the cross “kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Ps 22:28).

Jesus understood, from the Scriptures, that suffering was the path of training and of God’s careful preparation for those whom he will raise up to be his children—stewards and heirs of his kingdom who work on his behalf according to his image. When we suffer we are taught to view it as affirmation that God considers us his sons, which is cause for rejoicing (Heb 12:3-11).

But what exactly is all this suffering preparing us for?

  1. Suffering prepares you for glory

Jesus took on the imperfection of flesh, the likeness of sinful man, and the uncleanness of death—and then God “perfected” him by making him imperishable. Death is our shame, and Christ took that shame upon himself, for us. Then he earned glory. He became deathless. Pure. Beautiful. Eternal. Imperishable (Heb 2:9-10).

And the good news is that by sharing in the suffering of Christ, we too will share in his glory (Rom 6:4-5; Phil 3:7-11). How do we do this? Simply by imitating his example as we suffer. Jesus suffered “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2). His example prompts us to look ahead to glory as we suffer, and we show our faith in him by suffering in the same faith-filled manner he did (1 Pet 2:21-23; Rom 8:16-17).

The “full effect” of being faithful in suffering begins now, even as we endure many trials (Jas 1:2-4). By degrees, we are transformed more and more into the glory and image of God’s perfect Son—and this causes us not to lose heart, even in the hardest of times (2 Cor 3:18-4:1; Rom 8:29-39). God will succeed.

  1. Suffering protects and perfects your faith

If faith connects us to the suffering of Christ, then it’s no wonder the New Testament places a high premium on it. Faith is truly the difference between life and death, and God will stop at nothing to protect and perfect yours.

How does God accomplish such faith through suffering? Suffering exposes the perishable qualities of this world and gradually lifts our focus off fading, broken, rotting things and forces us to wonder about the next life. It prepares us for the “weight” of glory that is coming, unseen and unfading (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Suffering isn’t always political; you don’t have to be thrown in jail or beaten for being a Christian to share in Christ’s sufferings. Christ suffered not only at the hands of the Roman governor and the Jewish leaders, but also at the tyranny of temptation (Heb 2:18). Paul suffered a “thorn in the flesh” in addition to all his persecutions (2 Cor 12:7). Cancer, unemployment, besetting sins, divorce, hunger, war—all these natural products of living in a sinful, fallen world can be turned into fruitful means of building your faith.

Suffering is, however, always spiritual: it always forces us to look at our faith and ask, “Do I really believe God is accomplishing something wonderful here?” Suffering tempts us to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9) because it causes us to question whether or not he’s really taking care of us.

But that’s when the spiritual muscle of faith starts working. We begin to say, “Yes, God, I do want to know you, I do want my faith to be strong, whatever it takes—even this”. We begin to want to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8-11).

After witnessing Christ’s own glory, Peter not only accepted the joyful and effective purpose of suffering, but he dug in and really figured out how it works. Here’s his advice for times of suffering, informed by the good theology he got from knowing Christ:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Pet 5:6-10)

By Hannah Ploegstra

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