Friday, July 3, 2015

The pain of suffering and the power of the Kingdom

Matthew 20:20-23 "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”

The naivete of thinking that Kingdom power is experienced without suffering
When I was a younger Christian, I thought the purpose of the Christian life centered around my comfort in getting to know Jesus Christ. As I sensed the call of God on my life as a seventeen year old young man, that underlying assumption about the Christian life in general also undergirded my perception of ministry in particular. Serving the Lord and living for Him meant not having troubles. Many readers of this post may find that hard to believe - and rightly so. Nevertheless I believed that with all my heart. 

The clear relationship between suffering and the power of the Kingdom
Admittedly when I read passages such as Jesus' conversation with the sons of Zebedee and their mother, much of what Jesus said was lost on me. As a young man growing up, I had enjoyed a childhood of relative comfort, with moments of pain and loss. It was not until I began experiencing pain and disappointment in my adult life that I quickly realized the naivete of my view of the Christian life. Moreover, as I read more and more of the Bible, it became clear that suffering was not a rare experience among God's people, but was a cruel friend used by the Providence of God to motivate the saints of God to crave for Him.

I am certain James and John's mother had noble intentions when inquiring about the positions her sons would occupy in Jesus' Kingdom. Her problem was that she misunderstood the nature of God's Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is the domain of His reign in the hearts of men, the realm of creation and His redemptive purposes in Jesus Christ. In one respect the Kingdom of God has manifested in an inaugurate fashion in Jesus' first coming (Luke 4:18). The Kingdom of God is on the one hand an "already" reality, functioning as a seed in the church composed of all born-again believers. However, the Kingdom of God in another respect is a "not yet" reality, meaning that it is yet to come and won't be fully revealed until Jesus' second coming (see Matthew 24-25). 

Jesus made known to James and John's mother that indeed they would partake of "the cup" of which she thought was one of pain free honor. However, the cup of which Jesus spoke about in Matthew 20:22 was a cup that neither the disciples nor oftentimes we ever fully understand. The road to glory in God's kingdom is not paved with ease and comfort, but rather with suffering. 
(James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:6-8)

How James and John demonstrated the relationship between suffering and the Kingdom
Before it was to be all said and done, 10 of the 12 disciples would die as martyrs. Jesus' words to them about "drinking the cup" would be fulfilled in their dying for the faith. James and John, the featured disciples in Matthew 20, would each undergo much suffering for His sake and yet bear forth fruit that lent to experiencing the power of the Kingdom.

The disciple James for example would end up dying a martyr's death in Acts 12:1-2 "Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2 And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword." The other disciple and James' brother, John, was of course the Beloved disciple who authored the Gospel of John, 1,2,3 John and the book of Revelation. This John was exiled on the Isle of Patmos, left to die. Though the Apostle John would be the only one of the original 12 who did not die a martyr's death, he nonetheless still tasted the bitter cup of suffering for the Kingdom. 

Both mens' sufferings and death resulted in the unleashing of Kingdom power. With respect to James' death, God set in motion a series of other events that resulted in God's Word multiplying in the early church and poising her to go from being a regional movement confined to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria in Acts 12 to going global in Acts 13-28. As the ancient late second century Christian leader Tertullian wrote in his treatise "The Apology", chapter 50 - "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed." As we mentioned already, John suffered exiles and threats upon his life. His sixty plus years of service to Jesus resulted in churches planted throughout Asia minor and the composition of five Divinely inspired books in the New Testament. Both men demonstrate the reality of the fact that the pain of suffering for Jesus' sake is necessarily related to the manifestation of the power of the Kingdom.  

Final thoughts: the pain of suffering and the power of the Kingdom
Today's post was meant to initiate us to the relationship between suffering for Jesus' sake and the manifestation of the power of His Kingdom. Experience has taught me the painful but necessary reality of this otherwise seemingly contradictory reality. Scripture asserts what experience testifies: namely that the ability to see God's kingdom power is directly proportional to how well I see Him in times of trouble. Such sentiments fly in the face of 21st century American Christianity which operates with a certain naivete of its own. Only when we grasp by faith what the Bible teaches about the relationship between the pain of suffering and the power of the Kingdom will we then grasp what Jesus meant in Matthew 20. I close with these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10 - "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death."

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