Monday, June 1, 2009

Examples of Those Who Endured Suffering

3. Examples of Suffering.

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

God has sent trials to people to serve as examples to us. Many of our Christian forefathers not only suffered a life full of trial, but also a terrible death.

  1. Joseph suffered in preparation for a great work of God.

Whenever I hear someone talk about suffering, I think of Joseph. The majority of his life he was a slave, hated by his brothers, and exiled from his family. He was wrongly accused of rape, and thrown into prison. But God was with Joseph, and used his suffering to save many people from a famine.

Gen. 37:4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

Joseph experienced suffering at an early age; he was hated by his brothers. When God sent a dream to Joseph (Gen.37:5-8), his brothers hated him even more. We see that they hated Joseph so much that they desired to kill him (Gen. 37:18-20). Reuben convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph (21-22), but instead they decided to strip him of his robe, and throw him into a pit (v. 24).

Can you imagine how Joseph felt? These are his brothers we are talking about. His brothers did not stop there; rather they sold Joseph into slavery (v.25-28). Joseph ended up in the house of Potiphar, but the Lord was with him, and the Lord blessed all that he did (Gen 39:1-6). Then, Potiphar’s wife tried to get Joseph to sin with her, which in turn caused him to lose everything he had gained, and to be thrown into jail(Gen 39:20).

At this point, Joseph has suffered through hatred, betrayal, physical harm, the loss of freedom, and he was then convicted of a crime he did not commit.

Didn’t the Bible say that the Lord was with Joseph? (Gen 39:3) Humanly speaking, it's hard to see what the Lord is doing for Joseph - his life was a mess! He was in jail, probably waiting execution.

Joseph’s life was a disaster… BUT (I love that word, God's grace comes through with that word all of the time) as we read in Gen. 39:21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

God acted on behalf of Joseph, and Joseph was blessed, even in Prison.

Next Pharaoh became angry with two of his officers, and sent them to prison, the very prison Joseph was in charge of. God sent them both dreams, and gave Joseph understanding to interpret those dreams (Gen. 40). The interpretations proved to be true, and one of Pharaoh's officers was restored. Joseph's suffering continued, however, even though he asked the officer to tell Pharaoh about him. After two more years in the Prison, God sent Pharaoh dreams, and Joseph was the only one who could interpret them.

Joseph suffered a great deal. The suffering was ongoing, and seemingly unfair. Yet God was using it to refine Joseph and prepare him for great responsibility in the future.

The story goes on in Genesis to reveal how God raised Joseph up to save many people from a terrible famine. God gave Joseph wisdom to know what to do, and the power to carry it out. The famine came just as just as God commanded.

Gen. 41:56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

God directed Joseph through trials into the perfect position to save Israel. Joseph recognized God's hand in his life. Even though he had suffered betrayal, loneliness, and imprisonment, and even though the suffering had gone on for years, Joseph knew that it was the Lord who planned it all.

Gen. 50:19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

What Joseph's brothers meant for evil, God ordained for good. Joseph suffered so that many people would be saved. This is a great example for all Christians. It is a great example for me!

B: The People of Israel suffered so they would turn back to God.

God's chosen people Israel endured their fair share of suffering. Admittedly most of it was because they needed discipline. The nation as a whole sinned against God, provoked Him to anger, and suffered for it. They would then turn to God, and their suffering would cease.

First they suffered as slaves in Egypt.

Exodus 2:23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.

Their suffering made them cry out to God for help. God remembered them, and initiated His plan to bring them out of slavery. This is perhaps the only suffering they endured that was not a result of their disobedience. God, as in all the cases of Israel's suffering, was ready to save. He had a plan.

They suffered as a homeless nation, wandering in the wilderness.

The wilderness wanderings were the direct result of Israel's faithlessness.

Numbers 14:9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” 10 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.

The people of Israel rebelled. They did not trust in the Lord to defeat the enemies in the land.

They feared man more than God.

Numbers 14:21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.

And they suffered for it. It should be said that they deserved much worse. Moses interceded for them, and God gave them this lighter punishment. Also, God continued to care for them in the wilderness. He did not abandon them.

They suffered repeatedly as a nation, due to their wicked hearts. The people of Israel were a stiff necked people. The Bible records time and again that Israel first sins, then suffers for it, then cries out to God. In fact in many cases God sends the suffering upon Israel, so that they might repent. And when they repented God was always there with grace, ready to forgive.

Nehemiah 9:16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness.

God was even gracious to those He condemned to wander in the wilderness. They lacked nothing. We must remember the origin of Israel's suffering. Someone could say that God was terrible rather than gracious, because He made them wander forty years. Remember, Israel sinned against God, and deserved death.

Numbers 14:11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

"How long?" God had endured suffering; His people despised Him, and would not obey Him despite what He had done for them. But rather than give them what they deserved, God gave them a light sentence. He allowed them to live out their days. He also promised to give the land to their children. He also provided for them in the wilderness. (Lam. 1) He continued to show steadfast love to them, despite their wicked hearts.

C: Nebuchadnezzar suffered so that he would be humbled.

Nebuchadnezzar suffered because of his sin against God. He thought he was the "latest greatest." He put himself in the place of God, and glorified himself.

Daniel 4:24 this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.

God decreed that Nebuchadnezzar would suffer the loss of his mind. We would do well to learn from this story. We need to know that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of mankind and does what He wills. When things are going well in our lives we should glorify God, because He is the provider of all that we have.

Daniel 5:18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 19 And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. 20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.

God does the same in our lives. He raises up whom He wills, and brings down whom He wills. He took Nebuchadnezzar's reason away, but in His good time, God restored him.

Daniel 4:34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

After he gave glory to God, God restored him. Not only did God restore him, but He added to his kingdom, and blessed him. Who can say to God "What have you done?" God is the ruler of the universe - not only a ruler but a provider. He does not tax his people. Nobody can hold God accountable. He is a law unto Himself.

D. The Apostles and Early Church suffered for the gospel.

Acts 4:1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

This is not the last time the apostles were arrested.(Acts 5:8) They were put in prison merely for proclaiming the Gospel and healing a cripple.

Acts 5:40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

They were beaten for proclaiming Jesus. We need to follow their example, because they did not stop proclaiming Christ, but rather did so more boldly.

Acts 5:41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

They REJOICED! They rejoiced because they suffered for the name of Jesus. It is a blessing.

Stephen was one of the first martyrs. He suffered for his witness.

Acts 6: 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law,

People first falsely accused him of blasphemy, then they lied in order to condemn him. They brought him before the council, where he spoke the truth.

Acts 7:54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

He was stoned for his witness.

Act 11:19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.

I would take this to mean the Christians that were saved because of the witness of Stephen were scattered. They were persecuted after Stephen's death.

Acts 11:21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

God used their suffering as a great witness, and many were saved because of it.

Acts 12:1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.

James the Brother of John was then killed by Herod, as predicted by Jesus.( Mark 10:39).

Herod began persecuting Christians, and threw Peter into prison. After this God sent an angel and saved Peter. And despite the persecution the word increased.

Acts 12:24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

After this Paul and Barnabas began their ministry.

Acts 13:49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

They were persecuted because of their ministry, then the disciples are filled with joy! Why?

What is so joyful about their persecution?

They were persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ. That is what made it a joy. Their suffering had a purpose. And people were being saved because of it.

They continued this way, proclaiming so that many believed - which then turned into trials (Acts 14:1-7) - which then caused them to give praise to God.

Acts 14:19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.

Paul was stoned, simply for commanding a man to rise and walk! He survived, I do not know how. And he was ready to go out and witness more.

Acts 14:21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

"Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." Paul was a living testament to this fact. Note that this was said to strengthen, not discourage them. They were suffering for a purpose.

Paul and Silas started a ministry after Barnabas and Paul separated. as they were preaching and teaching Paul cast a demon out of a servant girl.

Acts 16:19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Because of this they were exposed, beaten, and imprisoned. Even in prison they were singing hymns to God.

Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. . .

God used the persecution of Paul and Silas to save the Roman jailer.

Acts 16: 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

It stands to reason that if Paul and Silas had not been thrown into prison, this man would never have believed in Jesus Christ. God used their persecution to save the jailer's whole household.

After this, Paul went and taught in the synagogues, and many were saved there. After they were saved the Jews became jealous, and roused a mob to attack them. They did not find them; they only found a man named Jason and some other disciples. They dragged them before the city council and falsely accused them of many things. The authorities took their money, and let them go (Acts 17:1-9).

The Apostles' and disciples' suffering continued, and they continued to give glory to God throughout all of their suffering.

Christians have never been people who don't suffer. In my study of Christian History, I have learned about those who have been burned at the stake, thrown to lions, beheaded, tortured, cast into prison, and suffered all sorts of unspeakable things, all for the glory of God. There are no Christians who do not suffer. We are not better than our Master. Foxe's Book of Martyrs records the stories of many of these who suffered for the cause of Christ. The introduction states that the book is about

"a noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid,[who]climbed the steep ascent of heaven, 'mid peril, toil, and pain." . . . It is an arsenal of controversy, a storehouse of romance, as well as a source of edification." [1]


For Part ONE go here:

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