One of the things we know and come to expect as Christians is that we will suffer.
Throughout the New Testament we see teachings about suffering, the need for suffering, how to deal with suffering and not to be surprised at the sufferings and ordeals that come upon us as Christians.
Suffering is an essential part of our walk with Christ. He suffered so that we could have this opportunity to come to God and be saved from this world of sin and evil. And we suffer because we have made a decision to turn away from the ways of this world and to seek a better life.
But there is a deeper purpose to the sufferings that we go though and that purpose is encapsulated in this scripture, which is one of my favourites, so let’s look at it and see what suffering actually does for us.
In my last post I discussed verse 23, which is a much used and well known scripture. It spoke of the fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I spoke also of the redemption that is possible for those who subsequently come to God seeking a better life and desiring to seek and do God's will.
In these next few verses we see Paul speak of this redemptive power and how it is to be received. It is a wonderful scripture and too often overlooked because so many focus on the fact that we are all sinners.
This scripture shows that even though we all start out in sin, we do not have to stay in that terrible place. There is a solution and there is a means by which we can find redemption and once again be reconciled to God.
The secret to this redemptive power, not that it is any great secret, is contained in these few verses.
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
In this section of Acts we see how this proverb worked out in the life of Paul. Paul planned to go to Jerusalem in spite of the fact that at every stop along the way he was warned by the prophets through the Holy Spirit that when he went there he would be arrested, bound and imprisoned.
But Paul really wanted to go to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles and elders, and so he told those who were warning him these words in verse 13.
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Little did he know at the time the impact of his decision, nor would he know the way that The Lord would carry him and use him as a result of the imprisonment that was to come.
Paul and Silas were thrown into prison and beaten wrongfully for their testimony and casting out the demon that had bound the life of a slave girl. This was a vindictive, spiteful and hateful act against these two men who had done good. And why was it done? Because the owners of the slave girl knew now that they had lost their source of income from using the bondage of this girl for profit from divination.
Money. Filthy gain from evil work and workers of evil. That is why these two men of God were beaten and thrown into prison.
But Paul and Silas were Christians. And in Christ they had been set free from the bondages to sin and the law that falls upon all of mankind until they turn to Christ. And because they were free, no prison could bind them. No prison could hold them. No prison could break them, all of which becomes evident in this section of scripture.
There is a verse in this section of scripture that tells us what to expect in our walk with Christ. It is in stark contrast to much of what people believe about the life of a Christian and it gives us pause when we realise both the importance and significance of the path we are taking.
It is also about the testing times we must go through as we walk the walk with Jesus Christ and it tells us what we can expect.
But the other side of this is that we are called to be resilient and to learn how to stand in the face of opposition and the trials of this life. If this walk is important to us we need to know what we are facing, what we can expect and be prepared for it.
The issue that Paul counsels the early Christians about here and which we too must recognise is the issue of…tribulations.
In my last post we looked at how Peter turned back to his former life as a fisherman after Jesus had been put to death and resurrected. Wether he thought the whole business of Christianity had ended because The Lord was no longer with them or what he thought is not really known. But it was certain that Peter was not thinking clearly and Jesus was about to show him in no uncertain terms that he could not go back and exactly where his future lay.
As a brief recap, all that lies in the past for a Christian is death. The past was where our former life of sin and worldly passions existed. When we come to Christ we leave those things to enter into Gods kingdom and receive a new life in the spirit. The past is dead and gone for we die to our old life of sin through entering into the death of Jesus Christ by baptism. We now need to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus as Paul wrote in Romans 6:11.
So let us look now at how Jesus turned Peter around and changed his thinking to focus on what lies ahead and not on what he left behind.
Light and darkness. Day and night. The two cannot exist together for they are incompatible. What is more interesting though is that whenever these two come together, it is the light that dominates and dissipates the darkness. The darkness and the night cease to exist at the coming of the light. The darkness has no power over the light but rather the light has power over the darkness.
These analogies appear in many of the teachings of the Bible. And just as light and darkness cannot co-exist, evil cannot co-exist with the goodness of God. In this section of scripture we see that Jesus is the light.
But there is a very different perspective on the respective powers of darkness and light that we can observe in this scripture that is both a lesson and a warning to us all.
Light! The concept of light is used in many places throughout the Bible. Its application is used in several different ways to explain different teachings. When you think about the properties of light it gives you an insight into what the Lord is teaching us.
Light enables us to see, whereas in darkness we cannot see so we will stumble around, blinded by the lack of light. Natural light is also necessary for the maintenance of good health. From sunlight we get vitamin D which is an essential vitamin for our proper growth and various functions of the body.
The light as described in the Bible is good for us too so let us have a look at some scriptures and build on this verse in John 8:12 that says, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Light and darkness. Could there be any greater or more compelling a contrast between two things? Opposites and in opposition, and neither can exist in the presence of the other. This is exactly the position we see between those who come to the Lord and those who choose not to, as described in this scripture. Just as light displaces darkness, so too the truth of the light of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, who is the light of this world, displaces the darkness of ignorance and evil.
Your salvation depends on knowing, and more importantly being known by Jesus. The pathway to being known by Jesus is not an easy one to find let alone walk as we see in this section of scripture. These are not my words but the words of the Lord when someone asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Verse 23) So let us take a look at this and what it might mean for us.