The Excellency of God

Showing His Value Through Suffering

Reformation 99 | Wheaton

As I sat there through these last couple of hours, I’ve been pondering how the Lord is orchestrating the morning. And so, let me try to weave it together like this. What I heard in the first hours is that God grows the church, and implicit in that is that he’s sovereign. We are unable to do it, and he has his own means appointed that he’s using. And then, I heard there is a love for us in the love of Christ that is beyond human comprehension, and that we should have a pleasure bond to it, be raptured by it, live our lives in it, and delight in it. So this is great sovereign God, and there is great inability of humans over here. And we just sang about God’s appointed means to get done what he means to get done. And there’s this massive love that’s beyond all comprehension over here that we ought to be utterly swept up into and delight in with all our might because we don’t have the might to do it. Therefore, we need to pray for might to do it.

And where would that lead? Where would those two morning sessions lead you? I’ll tell you where they lead you. They lead you to suffer so that you can magnify the sufficiency of his power and the magnificence of his love because nothing magnifies the excellency of the might and the mercy of God like suffering for him without murmuring against him. So that’s where we’re going. I want to talk about suffering. I talk about suffering and I think about suffering a lot these days as a demonstration of the excellency of these things, this love and this power, and getting the Great Commission done, which is also about the excellency of God among the nations where he’s not esteemed.

The Need for Suffering

It’s not going to get done without suffering. You won’t magnify the power of God, you won’t magnify the love of God, and you won’t get the Great Commission done without suffering. It won’t happen. Suffering is appointed as our normal lot in this age and as the specific strategy for finishing the Great Commission. Let me just give the tip of the iceberg.

Psalm 34:19 says:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
     but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Luke 10:3 says:

Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.

The only one thing happens when lambs go into the midst of wolves is that they get torn to shreds. It’s not a joke. Lambs only get eaten by wolves. Jesus was eaten by wolves at Calvary. So join him on the Calvary Road. If you don’t take up your cross and follow him, you’re not his disciple. He says, “I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Matthew 24:9 says:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

So, go make disciples.

Acts 14:22 speaks about basic discipleship. Paul finishes the first missionary journey. He comes back, and what does he tell every church? He says:

. . . through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

That was basic Christian discipleship. Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom. There is no other way to enter the kingdom except through many tribulations.

You say that on your second discipling meeting. If you have a six-point, or a 10-point, or a 12-point discipling program, suffering better be one or two or three because it’ll take him off guard quickly if it’s not.

Not Moved by These Afflictions

First Thessalonians 3:1–3 says:

We sent Timothy . . . to establish and exhort you in your faith . . . that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

Don’t be disturbed by your afflictions. You’re re-appointed for them, destined for them, set for them.

First Peter 4:12 says:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

This is normal. America is abnormal. Beware of living here. It’s the most dangerous place to bring up kids. It’s the most dangerous place in the world to live today, except maybe France, Germany, or other more comfortable countries.

Second Timothy 3:12 says:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

If that doesn’t work in your life, here’s probably the reason. We have so domesticated godliness that it is unintelligible in the church. What is godliness to you? Don’t go to movies? Don’t dance? Don’t smoke? Stay married? I’ll tell you, nobody’s going to persecute you for those things. That must not be what Paul is talking about. That’s not godliness. Godliness is radical godwardness and God-centeredness and God-drivenness and God-satisfaction that liberates you to do crazy things for which you will get persecuted. And if you’re not godly, you won’t get persecuted. There is a radical and a normal way to be a Christian. It’s all over the New Testament.

We don’t live it, by and large, in America. We are so saturated with this culture of ease and comfort and escape and retirement and leisure and entertainment that New Testament Christianity is unintelligible, by and large. And I don’t just mean persecution when I talk about suffering, I mean sickness as well. That’s appointed to us.

We Don’t Lose Heart

Second Corinthians 4:16 says:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

What is this outer nature that is wasting away? What’s that? It’s wrinkles. It’s glasses. It’s arthritis. It’s hip replacements. It’s cancer. It’s everything that comes with being a fallen, redeemed creature. I say “redeemed” because Romans 8:23 stresses that. Paul was fighting all the time against over-realized eschatology, like the statement, “We’ve already become kings.” David touched on that in the first hour, the self-assessment of these Corinthians was out of this world, literally. And he had to bring them back over and over again into the fallen world where they have to live out their fallenness. You have to live out your fallenness. You will die. We get saved in stages — forgiveness of sins and peace with God now. But the lifting of the curse comes in stages. You’re going to die. And you’re going to get old. And your eyes are going to go bad. And your hearing is going to go bad. And your memory is going to go bad. And some of you are going to get Alzheimer’s.

It’s like a woman that I was told about, as I was preaching in little teeny fellowship the other day, who had such horrible arthritis. She was locked into a wheelchair and could only move her eyes and one little finger in order to just make her chair move. And the point of telling me about it is that she was the happiest person this woman I talked to had ever seen. Here’s what Romans 8:23 says:

We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The Lie of the Prosperity Gospel

To hell with health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. I’ll tell you, I deal with it day in and day out. I sat with a couple in my office just a few days ago who have been now on a descending spiral from charismania to assemblies of God, which is not charismania, by and large. I do not believe they are. This couple, in their experience, was longing for the word. This is so interesting. I’ll just give you a little background here just because it’s so interesting.

This is a couple joined my church in 1990 and left within three months. I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of them. They withdrew their membership. I didn’t know where they went. I had called them. He recounted to me the conversation. They left because they had been persuaded that to come to my church was a sellout to all that God could be for them. And so, they went to a big charismatic church in the suburbs. I won’t give you the name. But I’ll tell you, they do not believe in sickness. They don’t believe that any Christian has to be sick or poor.

And for four years, they were there. Then, they began to hear things that were so unbiblical, so disturbing. God was giving them ears to hear. And every day, they became more and more uneasy as the word became more and more paramount in their lives, and they had to bail out. And the people that had lured them out of the church up there were very disturbed about this. And yet, they didn’t want to go Baptist — that’s the worst thing you could do, even our calvi-costal kind of Baptist. So they went to an Assemblies of God Church. I know this church. I could worship at this church. The theology I couldn’t handle, but it’s not crazy. And it’s pretty level-headed and they’ve been there for two years now.

They came to see me. And with tears rolling down their face, they said, “We didn’t know where else to turn in the cities.” Now, there are other places they could have turned, but their experience is small. They said, “We didn’t know where else to turn to just find somebody who could tell us what the Bible says. Would you, please, help us get our bearings? We just feel like we don’t know where to turn because we’re hearing things and we’re not sure.” And they just gushed over the things they had heard in the past few months. They had gone to the church before they joined for two years.

And I said, “Would you tell me how you got saved?” And he said, “Easter 1993. You didn’t know anything about this, but Easter 1993.” And then, he recounted my sermon to him and how God saved him. And it took him about eight months before he went flat on his face and gave it all up. We’re talking crack-cocaine, sleeping around, and so on. I didn’t know this had happened. I didn’t know any of this.

I hate the gospel that says those who have the first fruits of the Spirit don’t have to groan inwardly, waiting, waiting, waiting for their adoption, the redemption of their bodies. I believe in suffering. I believe it’s our destiny. I believe it’s our gift. I believe it’s our missionary strategy. And I believe God rules over it and uses it for our good only as we are his children. I’ve got an article here.

Divine Intervention in Suffering

This is one of the most mind-boggling articles I’ve read in years. The date is September 16th, 1996, and it’s from Christianity Today written by Stephen Saint, the son of Nate Saint who met God in this vicinity and went and got himself killed in Ecuador by loving people. Now, Elisabeth Elliot has told that story, and Elisabeth Elliot tells it right. She has devoted her life to talking about suffering and sacrifice of duty. And she has a little problem with me and my Christian Hedonism. I love her to death. And we’ve done seminars together and poked at each other.

I try to get her to be happy in Jesus, and she tries to get me to obey Jesus. And well, she is happy, and I try to obey. This article is just like that. He’s just like her. And I’ve been trying to track this guy down. And I did. I said to my assistant, “Get in touch with this guy. Read this sentence to him and ask him if he meant it or if it was a misprint.” And they did. They called and read the sentence to him and said, “My pastor, John Piper, wants to know if you mean this because he’s going to quote you all over the country if you mean this?” And he said, “I meant it.”

So I’ll just read the sentence to you. He’s the son of the man who was speared to death in Ecuador. This is the son writing this article. He’s been down there. He is ministering these people, and he has done research to find out what the dynamics were on that morning when these people killed his father and the others. And he’s found out that in the tribe it has to do with a couple that was running away to get married inappropriately and some anger that was happening. And the spears were not against Jesus. This was a fortuitous thing here, owing to a lot of dynamics in the tribe and some eloping couple. And he’s writing all about this in this article. You can get it on the web. I’ll have to give you the date again so you can go find it. It’s September 16th, 1996. It’s called Did they have to die? by Steve Saint. Now, here is his conclusion:

As they described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killing took place at all. It is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention.

He said, “I can’t account for why they died apart from divine intervention.” That takes your breath away. If you were the guy’s son, you would say, “Don’t talk about my father like that. Don’t say God killed my father.” But it’s the son who wrote the article. Divine intervention is the only way to account, he said, for what happened on Palm Beach.

Well, you read 1 Peter 4:19, and it says:

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Don’t think something strange is happening to you. Judgment begins with the household of God. Whose judgment? Now, here we are in America. Look at this building. Here we are in America. We have 9-11, health insurance, doctors everywhere, clothes, heating systems, sewer systems, fresh water, and refrigeration. If a germ touches me, I get mad quickly. If the doctor can’t fix me, he’s a bad doctor. Oh, our expectations.

An Entertainment Economy

I have another article here. This all is leading into a couple of texts, but this article is about George Will. And it is very recent. This is September 29 this year in our newspaper at home. And it’s about the surge of wealth this year in America. Have you been watching the stock market? Have you been watching what’s happening in America this year? Listen to this:

In the first half of 1999, January through June, the increase in net worth of American households was approximately equal to the total annual income of 2.5 billion people in China, India, Russia, and Brazil.

American families from January to June upped their worth to a degree equaling the total worth of all the people in China, all the people in India, all the people in Russia, and all the people in Brazil. Now, what’s the point of saying that? This:

In contemporary America, pleasures quickly come to be considered entitlements.

And this is the sentence that I think most concerned me about my topic this morning:

The market and the American pain threshold move inversely. So imagine the political furies that will be let loose when the market plunge pulses fear through the ganglions of the society of stockholders.

Now, just take the phrase “the market and the American pain threshold move inversely.” I want to make sure you understand that. That’s complicated language. George Will is not a seeker-sensitive writer, so you have to work at this. Prosperity and market are going up. Inversely, our pain threshold is going down. Now, do you know what a threshold is? It’s the point at which your pain is unbearable. That’s going down as your prosperity is going up.

The more wealthy you are, the more quickly you are disaffected with any amount of pain or insecurity. In other words, our country is wired to unfit you to be a Christian. Especially, the prosperity of America has built into it a psychological dynamic to keep us from finishing the Great Commission. We can talk all we want about the amount of money there is here that can go to the Great Commission, which it ought to go for. It’s very clear from Psalm 67:7 why we have a lot of money. God has blessed you so that all the ends of the earth might fear his name. It is crystal clear why we have money. You have money so that the Great Commission can be finished, not so that you can have a thick retirement pad.

We know why we have money. The Bible tells us very plainly why we have money. But having money has built into it a counter effect — namely, it lowers our pain threshold so that we surround ourselves with more and more protection against pain. And they cost lots of money — more and more insurance, and more and more retirement plans, more and more safe neighborhoods, and more and more moving away from the hard things of the world, and more and more into ease, and more and more leisure and more and more pills.

We are a Prozac culture. And don’t feel unduly attacked if you’re on it this morning because I do have a place in my medicinology for fallen people to go to doctors and to use aspirin, yes, and even get help with physical dimensions of depression. However, we overdo it big time. Will says America has an entertainment economy. Michael Wolf, a media and entertainment specialist at Booz Allen and Hamilton says, “The entertainment share of the GDP is well over $1 trillion.” And Will closes this editorial with a remarkable poem, a quote from the poem by Thomas Hardy called The Convergence of Twain: Lines on the Loss of the Titanic. The poem ends like this:

     And as the smart ship grew
     In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the iceberg too.

     Alien they seemed to be,
     No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.

And Wells comments:

Are there icebergs in America’s path? None just now. None, that is, that any mortal eye can see.

Embracing Affliction for Christ and His Cause

Now, here’s my goal. I want you to suffer. I want you to embrace suffering. I want you to choose suffering. There are martyrs appointed to finish the Great Commission, as Revelation 6:11 says. Do you remember the martyrs under the altar? They say, “How long, O Lord, how long until you vindicate our blood?” And the Lord says, “Clothe them with a white robe. Be still be quiet until the full number of your brothers who are appointed to die comes in.”

There’s a number of martyrs appointed for the finishing of the consummation of this age. Some are in this room, and I want to strengthen your hands. And some of you are running with all your might away from that possibility. I want to reverse your course where you live and how you choose. I want to reverse your course this morning. And I want to do it for Christ’s sake.

Let’s go to Philippians 1. We have two texts to look at. The first text is to show how suffering extols the excellency of Christ, and the other is to show how it gets the Great Commission done. And then, we’ll be finished.

Suffering to Extol Christ

Philippians chapter 1 is right at the center of my thinking in these recent months and years because it has become the centerpiece of my quest for joy in God and the honor of God. Let’s start at Philippians 1:19–20. It says:

I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance (this imprisonment of mine), as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body . . .

Now, there’s his goal. Is that your goal? I hope it’s your goal. It’s the goal of this conference, the excellency of God. We want this conference to be the exaltation of Christ’s excellence. And so Paul says, “My passion is that with all boldness, Christ might be exalted in my body; that he might be magnified in my body; that his excellency might be seen in my body, whether by life or weather by death.” Now, here’s my question to you. Do you know how Christ gets glory in your dying? That’s what he’s talking about here.

He says, “My goal is that Christ be magnified when I’m alive and that he be magnified the day I die.” Now, how does that come about? Isn’t that what you want to know? Don’t you want to know how to die so that Christ is made magnificent in your dying? Don’t you want to know that? Aren’t you glad he wrote these verses? Because in the next verse, he’s going to tell you how. So let’s read it. Here’s the explanation and ground for the quest of God’s exaltation in the body of Paul when he dies and lives:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

“To live” corresponds with “life” in Philippians 1:20, and “to die” corresponds with “death” in the same verse. Now, let’s just take the death half. We’ll leave the life half for another conference at another time, just the death half.

“My goal,” he says, “is that Christ would be exalted in my body.” He wants the excellency of Christ to be magnified. He wants God to be glorified. The love of Christ that we heard about from Tom, and the power of sovereign God building his church that we heard about from David, do you want those two things to be magnified in your death? How does it happen? By experiencing death as gain. Paul is saying, “I long for Christ to be exalted in my body by death, for to me to die is gain.”

When Dying Is Gain

Now, let’s just think about that for a minute. How does that work? My whole theology of Christian Hedonism is built on that connection between Philippians 1:20–21. My goal in life is two things: to glorify God and to get gain. That’s all I want. I want total gain and total God. That’s my life. That’s my ministry. That’s my passion. I didn’t make this up. I want Christ to be magnified in my body, alive and dead, and I want gain.

Now, how is it that Christ gets magnified in my dying if I experience my dying as gain? How does that work? The answer comes in Philippians 1:23, which says:

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

What’s the gain? Christ is the gain. To die, Paul says, is to be more intimately close with Christ than we have it here. Tom made a beautiful case of the intimacy we can enjoy here. It’s going to get better. It’s going to be 10,000 times better. Paul knows this — to be apart from the body is to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). It’s gain. But the gain is not golf courses or bigger cars or health or Ruth Piper, my mother. Yes, I get see her again after 25 years, but that’s not the gain, except insofar as those things that may reflect some element of the glory of my Christ. Christ is the gain.

Now, put it together. We have the pieces. Let’s weave it together. This is theology now. And this is life. Christ is glorified in your dying when you experience dying as gain because Christ is more valuable than everything you lose in dying. I’ll put it another way. Can you list all the pleasures of your life — health, wife, home, job, food, sleep, leisure — and then put Christ in another column, and then, put a big X through the first column, total it up at the bottom, have only Christ, and say, “Gain.” If you can’t, you will not magnify him in your dying. You magnify him in your dying when you look death right in the face — wife is going to be gone, children are going to be gone, grandchildren are going to be gone, sex is going to be gone, eating is going to be gone, beautiful sunrises are going to be gone — and what you get is Christ, and say, “Yes, yes. Gain.”

When you do that, you magnify Christ. I’ve got little nifty rhyming ways of saying this. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That didn’t just get made up, folks. That’s this text. Do you count Christ as more satisfying than all else? If you do, Paul says you magnify him in death.

Another one is prizing Christ is the key to praising Christ. Prizing him as treasure, prizing him as precious, prizing him as gain is how you praise him and magnify him. Do you see why I’m a Christian Hedonist? If you forsake the quest of your full and lasting pleasure in Christ, you dishonor Christ. This is the text. This is what it says. We magnify him in our dying by counting it as gain.

I wish we had time, but I won’t get to the global dimension of this if I take you over chapter 3 and show you how to live as Christ also means counting him as gain above everything in this life right now. But you can hear enough now to do it yourself.

We Rejoice in Our Sufferings

Let’s go to one other text. The point of that text was that, if you share my passion to exalt the sovereignty of God, exalt the love of God, magnify the excellence of God, then resolve to suffer and to die and to count it gain. It involves suffering too.

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope [in Christ] . . . (Romans 5:3–4).

I added “in Christ” because of what Romans 5:2 says. That was Romans 5:3–4, but Romans 5:2 says:

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

That’s the hope. And then, the hope is the effect of suffering. So if you’re exulting in the hope of the glory of God in Romans 5:2 and tribulation leads to patience, which leads to approvedness, which leads to hope, which leads to the glory of God; that’s the magnification of God again. Suffering is absolutely key. Tribulations are absolutely key.

Filling Up What Is Lacking in Christ’s Afflictions

Let’s go to Colossians 1. Now, we’ve got to get world missions in here. I just stir it in everywhere I can, whether the conference is about it or not, because it’s on God’s heart. If you love what we have here in this church, in this Book, in this theology, in this fellowship, in this worship, how can you not want it for Jordan, Eritrea, Tibet, and Senegal? Why did I say those four? Because you all ought to be praying through the 10/40 Window in October. And some of you in this room have never even heard of the 10/40 Window. Shame on you.

I won’t embarrass you by raising your hand. If you have not heard of the 10/40 Window, you’re in a church that is so out of step with the contemporary work of God in world evangelization, you need to go to your search engine and type in “frontier missions”, and then go to the thousand sites they give and find out what’s happened in the world. Those who are praying through the 10/40 Window in October for the fourth time in four years in a row are praying today for Jordan, Eritrea, Tibet, and Senegal, all of whom restrict evangelism big time, that God would blow the bars off the doors. According to 2 Thessalonians 3:1, I pray that the word of God would run and triumph in the 10/40 Window where 90 percent of the unevangelized people in the world live.

Colossians chapter 1:24 says:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings . . .

Do you? We’re a murmuring people. We haven’t gotten much beyond the wilderness — murmur, murmur, murmur.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church . . .

Filling up what is lacking in Christ afflictions. That’s almost heresy but not quite. Some of the greatest truths brush with heresy. What does he mean that he “fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” as he suffers for the body of Christ to build up the body of Christ and to gather the body of Christ?

Presenting the Finished Work of Christ Through Our Suffering

In 2 Timothy 2:10, he says that he bears all things for the sake of the elect. What does he mean by saying, “I fill up what is lacking”? Well, he doesn’t mean that he improves the value of the atonement, that he increases the merits of Jesus, or that he could somehow add something to the atoning worth of the cross. He doesn’t mean that. What he means is that when Christ died and was afflicted, he did it for his people, to bring them to himself from all the peoples of the world, every tongue.

You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God . . . (Revelation 5:9–10).

He died to ransom a people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Now, those people out there don’t know this. They haven’t seen it. They haven’t tasted it. They know nothing about the doctrine of justification by faith, the perfect righteousness brought out by Jesus in his life. They know nothing about a substitutionary death. They know nothing about a resurrection triumph over hell and death and all the demons they’re so afraid of. They know nothing about free grace that’s so different from Allah and Islam and all the 700 million gods of Hinduism. They don’t know the glory of God in the face of Christ and the gospel. They don’t know these things. And Christ died for millions of them.

And Paul says, “I’m going to complete that. I’m going to complete that with my sufferings.” What was lacking? Well, what was lacking was a personal presentation to those for whom he died of his sufferings, a personal presentation to those for whom he died of his sufferings. I want to show you why I believe that’s what it means.

In Philippians chapter 2, Epaphroditus has just come from Philippi to Paul. He’s risked his life in order to bless Paul with the gift that they’re sending. And Paul writes back to them to tell them they should honor such men (Philippians 2:29). And he says, in Philippians 2:30 it’s because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to “complete” (it’s the same word — fill up) what is deficient, or what is lacking. Do you see those two words? This is remarkable, he says Epaprhoditus will fill up what is lacking in their service to him.

Well, what was lacking? All the money was in the bag. They had made the whole sacrifice. Nothing more was to be given. It was in the bag. It was under Epaphroditus’s arm. What was lacking? What did he finish? He finished getting it from Philippi to Rome. That’s all that was lacking, getting it from Philippi to Rome, getting the love of the Philippians into the face of the apostle Paul with the gift. That’s all that was lacking. That’s what this verse means in Colossians 1:24.

Paul is saying, “I want to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ,” means, “I want to get it from Calvary to Tibet. I want to get it from Calvary to Spain. I’m going to Spain, Romans. Help me. I’ll write a whole theology if you’ll just help me get there because I’m going to preach the gospel where it’s never been preached and the name of Christ has never been named because I love the glory of my king, Jesus. And I can’t bear the thought of a whole people dishonoring him by their negligence and by their ignorance and by their idolatry. I’m going to Spain, and it’s going to cost me my life.” And then, don’t miss this word at the beginning of verse Colossians 1:24. He is saying, “It makes me glad so to suffer.”

Suffering and Joy

So I close with these two words: suffering and joy. How is he going to complete the sufferings of Jesus? It’s in his sufferings. “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17), he said. “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31), he said. He said, “Let no one talk of me anymore. I carry the marks of Jesus in my body.” And those are the marks of the apostle that seal his authority. And they show him to be real and Christ to be real in and through him. How are we going to finish the Great Commission? With bloody feet.

Beautiful Feet

I went to a chapel one time at Trinity Seminary when I was on a little leave down there hiding away. And Oswald Sanders was still alive, a great statesman of the missionary cause, and he told a story about an Indian evangelist who loved Jesus. He had no education, just rudimentary exposure to the gospel. But it was enough to make him experience what Tom Smith said we all need to experience. And he just loved Christ and wanted to go to all the villages where he grew up, and all the villages where he had known people. And he was going to them one by one, tramping over the hills and walking into the towns, getting the people together, telling the gospel.

And he got to one town late in the afternoon, exhausted and tired. And he went into the square, got the people together and told them the gospel. And they drove him out of town with indignation. And he was so tired and so discouraged that he just laid down under a tree, Oswald Sanders said, and fell asleep.

And at dusk, he was startled awake. And the whole town seemed to be over him. And the big men in the village were looking down on him. He thought they were going to hurt him. And they said, “We would like you to tell us the gospel again.” And he was puzzled and they said, “We came out to see what happened to you, and when we saw your bloody feet that had evidently been something you were willing to endure to get to us with this message, we thought we should hear you. You are a holy man. We should listen.” That’s the way it’s going to be done.

That’s the way the Great Commission is going to be done, which is why the fact that we live in a generation with the stock market going up and the pain threshold going down makes me tremble that America is going to be passed over in this cause and it may well be over for us. If it is, it is. I don’t believe in any necessary revival in America. Maybe, maybe not. I hope so. I want to be a part of that cause I tell you I want to be a part of that cause. And I want Bethlehem Baptist Church to be a part of that cause. I’m torching the glacier of lukewarm-ness everywhere I can so that we can be a part of the cause.

But there’s no guarantee that you or this church would be a part of the cause because our threshold of suffering is going down as our prosperity is going up. And the Great Commission is only going to be finished by suffering and martyrs.

A Life of Warfare

Good old George Verwer, bless his heart. He’s tramping the globe these days preaching for 200,000 new troops from young people to penetrate the final frontiers. And I say, “Do it, George. Do it. And tell them this, the first 20,000 will be decimated by the machine guns.” Put me at the front. I want to raise up, oh God, 200,000 young people.

Have you ever thought about warfare in the Bible times? Did you go see Braveheart? I wouldn’t go back to Braveheart because of the nudity in it. Why they ruin good movies with nudity? It just irks me to death. But I saw it. My son got me to see it. And I said, “How many times you seen this?” Oh five. I said, “Benjamin!” He said, “I know where to turn it off!” Well, the point is this. Biblical warfare was a lot like that. Here come these horses galloping at 30 miles an hour. Here come these people with spears and swords. Do you know what happens in the first 20 minutes of battle? You lose 60,000 people. Nobody wins — 60,000 will go down. Read the statistics of the battles in the Old Testament. It says things like, “20,000 were lost that day.” That’s 20,000 widows and 80,000 orphans in one day.

That’s typical warfare. Why should it be any different today? Tell me, why should it be any different today at the spiritual level where we send our 200,000 young people and, I hope, finishers who are over 50 and retirement people who ought to be doing that instead of golfing in Arizona. Go with the forces!

The first 20,000 are going down. And if we are surprised at the fiery ordeal, the other 180,000 are coming home. No. Keep on walking into the fire. Keep on walking into the flame. Keep on walking into the prisons. Keep on walking into the swords. It’s the only way it’s going to get done. Paul did it. He walked into the synagogues, he walked into the prisons, he walked into persecution over and over again because his end was that these things happen. First, Christ will be magnified because he will be seen to be your gain. If you walk into that situation, how are people going to explain your life? Do you want a nice house in the suburbs? Do you want to get a good job? Do you want to get a good wife. Do you want to have lots of kids? Do you want to get old and have grandchildren? Blah, blah, blah. Where is Christianity? That’s just the American dream.

Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” And it leads directly to Calvary. Let us go with him outside the camp. Here we have no lasting city. And let us bear the reproach with him. The Great Commission won’t be finished any other way. Pastors, would you please go back to your churches and begin to breed crazy people? Breed crazy people.

Don’t be like the pastor I listened to one time. I went to one seminar with this pastor, and I once a high regard for this man. I still do, kind of. But he said, “Well, when I first came here, I saw that everybody had two houses — a house on the lake and a house they lived in — and they had two cars and everything. And they’d go away. I tried for a while to preach wartime lifestyle and simplicity and radical Christianity. And finally I said, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them.’” I almost walked out. My heart absolutely sank. Brothers, I plead with you. Don’t join them. Don’t join them.