Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer
Wheaton College | Wheaton, Illinois
These notes were taken taken during the message; they are not the manuscript.
Protestant Missions in China—200 Years Today
Today is the 200th anniversary of Protestant missions in China. Robert Morrison put his foot on Chinese soil for first time on September 7, 1807. He spent 27 years there. He lost his wife there. And the impact on China has been incalculable. I recommend four free videos called “The Cross: Jesus Christ in China.” What you’ll find is that the interviews with those who have been in jail is shot through with one main motif: joy.
So in view of today’s anniversary and the joy in the midst of Chinese persecution, let’s look this morning at joy and suffering.
Joy and Suffering
Joy in the Bible is the means by which we’re sustained in suffering and that for which suffering is preparing us. Here’s a litany of verses where joy and suffering are linked:
- Romans 5:3 – we rejoice in our sufferings
- James 1:2 – count it all joy when you meet trials
- 1 Peter 4:13 – rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings
- Acts 5:41 – they went out rejoicing that they suffered
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 – gladly boasting in weakness
- Philippians 2:17 – being poured out as a drink offering
- Colossians 1:24 – rejoice in suffering for your sake
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – you received the word in much affliction with joy
- 2 Corinthians 8:1 – in severe affliction their abundance of joy and supreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of liberality
The Call to Suffer: Not Away but Into Joy
When God calls us to suffer he is not calling us away from joy but into joy. I have come here for your maximum, everlasting joy.
When need to examine how this works. How are we sustained by joy? How does suffering lead to joy? How does joy shape suffering? God has woven suffering into our lives in such a way that it looks bright and shining to the world around us.
Jesus: Persecution, Rejoicing, and Salt
First to Jesus. How are salt and light and joy and suffering related in Matthew 5:11-16? What’s the connection? What is your salt? Your light? What makes your life salty? And so bright that when you do good deeds you get no glory—God does?
My answer is that this is all one paragraph. Blessed are you when men persecute you—rejoice!—that’s so unusual that it may just taste like salt. When you are insulted and the miracle of joy happens in your heart, you’re unusual. The world has never seen anything like this. It cannot do it. But if you do it, the world will awaken. “Where is that joy coming from? It’s not coming from their circumstances.”
When good deeds are done at great cost to you and everyone expects self-pity but there’s only joy, you just might say it’s from God. So my first observation here from Matthew 5:11-16 is that in the call to suffer God doesn’t call you away from joy but to joy. It gives flavor to your suffering.
Hebrews: Joy and Suffering
Now let’s go to Hebrews together. I saw this sequence in Hebrews a few years ago, and it blew me away. We’re going to move through four passages of Scripture.
Hebrews 10: A Better and Abiding Possession
Hebrews 10:32ff. These people became Christians. Some were put in prison. Other Christians, not in prison, decided to go public and take food to help their brothers in prison. They had compassion on those in prison and they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. They said: Let good and kindred go, this mortal life also . . . . let’s go. And something happened to their property. And what did they do? They rejoiced. Why? “Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Better and abiding. Ps. 16:11: In his presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. Fullness and forever. Better and abiding. These folks were of earthly good because they were so heavenly minded.
Hebrews 11: Moses Looked to the Reward
Hebrews 11:23-26. Moses considered the reproach of Christ to be greater wealthy than the treasures of Egypt. Why? Because he was looking forward to the reward.
Hebrews 12: Jesus Endured the Cross for the Joy Set Before Him
Hebrews 12:1-2: For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. Don’t ever call Jesus selfish. It will get you in big trouble. Jesus was sustained on the cross for the joy that was set before him. And if Jesus was, I will be too. I will not seek a motivation that is “nobler” and “higher” than my King. He’s saving people while he’s being sustained by joy. This is not selfishness. This is the pursuit of God-exalting, people-loving joy.
Hebrews 13: We Seek a City That Is to Come
Hebrews 13: Jesus suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach that he endured. For here we have no lasting city. But we seek a city that is to come. God has revealed his glory in his word and in his world. Give all your might to know him in his word and in his world. All things—Chemistry, Music, Bible—are made through him and for him. Give yourself to know him in his word and in his world. Christian students should know the world better than anyone. And why the world exists and for whom the world exists.
We Die to Extend Our Cause
Give yourself to these studies. Don’t bail on your education to go outside the camp. Jesus entered his ministry when he was about 30 years old. But I do want to summon you outside the camp. And when you have given your whole effort in your studies, dream a dream about making him known outside the camp. Don’t fit into the American way. Be counter-cultural. They insult you and because of the joy set before you, you rejoice. We don’t kill to extend our cause. We die to extend our cause. May it be so.