What was the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry? What was his most effective, glorious moment? When did he have his biggest audience, and make the biggest impact?
It was the on the cross, when he was stripped almost naked, and labelled as a criminal. It was when with his bones hanging on big nasty nails, and he could barely breathe. It was when being mocked and spat on, totally misunderstood and despised.
He didn’t reach the peak of his ministry by getting more and more respected, established, and powerful. He didn’t get there by amassing resources and money.
He got there by becoming weak and more pathetic and embarrassed. He got there by losing absolutely everything, even the robe they gave him to mock him.
And we follow in his footsteps. That’s the way that we get to influence as well.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” (Matt 10:24-25)
Walter J. Ciszek followed a call to Russia around World War II, and suffered greatly for 23 years in Soviet prisons and labour camps. In his book ‘He Leadeth Me’, he explains the second thoughts and doubts he had to deal with as he was about to make the dangerous leap into the call he’d felt for so long.
“Reason and rationalizations boil through your mind. There are present and future responsibilities toward family and friends to think of, thoughts of the good to be done at home or in other possible ways of serving God and man, mistrust about the motives swaying the mind now this way and now that, doubts about one’s abilities to live up to the call (and even about the call itself), vague fears for the future and very real fears of making a mistake right here and now, knowing a decision must be made and yet knowing, too, that it involves a commitment from which there can be no turning back, something that will change the whole course of your life. Men faced with the possibility of a new and perhaps better job, women considering a proposal to marry, parents planning a move of one sort or another, teenagers trying to decide their future in a changing world–all knowing the troubling turmoil of doubts and fears, of competing reasons and of answers, that can afflict the mind and paralyze the will in such a situation…
…Abraham, called by God to leave behind everything he knew and cherished in order to set out for an unknown land on the strength of a vague promise, must have known the full force of such counterarguments.”
As a young man enters the trials of fatherhood, his love and appreciation for his own father grows.
In the same way, as we start to suffer with Christ, our love and appreciation grows for our own saviour grows. We appreciate his sacrifice and the pain that he went through more as we begin to feel it ourselves. And so our intimacy and affection grows.
Christ’s sufferings grows sweeter as we share in them. His sacrifice becomes more beautiful as we live it out.
“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship sf sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10-11)
As I wrote in the last post, the call to be ‘seperated’ for the gospel is pretty harsh. Running towards harvest fields full of unreached people often involves losing a lot.
But there’s a whole other side to this: Along with this painful cutting off and devastating loss we have increbible promises of blessing and provision.
Being called out, and eseperated to live for the gospel means losing a lot.
It also means gaining a whole lot more.
“I tell you the truth … no one who has left brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
We need to believe these words just as much as we believe that Jesus died for our sins, and just as much as we believe that he rose again from the dead. We need to stake our lives and futures on these precious promises.
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
The word used here for set apart here is aforizo (ἀφορίζω).
That same word is used to describe the angels separate the wicked and the righteous at the end of the age. (Matt 13:49)
…and for the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. (Matt 25:32)
It’s used to talk about people excluding and ostracizing persecuted people in Luke 6:22.
… and to describe how Paul walked away from people who were obstinate and publicly maligning the Way.
That same word, aforizo is used in 2 Cor 6:17, where we read again the command to “come out from them and be separate.”
…and it’s used in Acts 2:12 to describe how Peter would draw back, separate himself from the Gentiles and avoid hanging out or being seen with them.
Later on, in the early church, it was used to describe the action of excommunicating the someone from the church, and barring them from fellowship.
It can even mean ‘to banish.’
This Greek word has even entered everyday Turkish speech, and to this day people use it to describe a decisive, deliberate exclusion or cutting off ties with someone.
Aforizo is a pretty harsh word.
But that’s the word that the Holy Spirit used to pry Paul and Barnabas away from their normal life and fellowship, and send them off into the nations.
It’s the word that Paul uses when he talks about being “set apart” for the Gospel in Romans 1:1.
And God is still calling people out in the same way today. Most of the time, people don’t just ‘end up’ in the harvest fields in places where no-one knows Christ. They have to deliberately let go, be released of everything, and move! People need to be set apart, cut off, even ripped away from their current family, work, and ministry involvements, so they can live for the work God has for them.
We have to abandon many good and beautiful things to get to His best.
This “setting apart” can be quite difficult. People have to say goodbye to their beloved communities. Young parents have to take their children away from their grandparents for years at a time. Men often have to let go of their businesses or livelihoods. Many need to leave critical, thriving ministries, or walk away from pressing needs in their home church. None of this is easy.
But the reward, God’s glory in the nations, is worth it all!
A new friend told me about a time years back, when she was teaching in Asia and got a chance to share about Jesus with a bunch of students who had never heard even the name of Jesus.
She said she remembers being so excited, so overwhelmed by the hugeness and wonder of getting to share these people. “Aha! Now I understand why people are so ready to die for witness,” she thought.
It’s true. When you get to share Jesus to people who never ever get to hear about him, when you’re the only living person they get to meet who knows the truth, it’s incredible.
What’s it like to live for those opportunities, day in and day out? It can’t be put into words. When you’re constantly giving yourself to things that he’s deeply passionate about, you feel God’s excitement pounding in your heart.
You live and breathe with his joy, and move with his compassion and love.
“The laborers appetite works for him, his hunger urges him on.” (Proverbs 16:29)
In the 90s, an African guy went to a Muslim country to work, to do business.
While he was there he met up with other African believers, and they hit the streets, sharing the gospel.
This ruffled a few feathers, and they kept getting stopped and pulled in by the police. But they kept on praying, and kept on getting out there and preaching the good news.
The police got increasingly frustrated and flabberghasted by all this, and not knowing what to do they sent in one of the top chiefs to really intimidate them.
The head police guy came in and they saw he had a terrible skin condition. They asked him how he was doing with compassion, and the police chief explained how brutal his skin problem was. The Africans asked if they could pray for him in the name of Jesus, and he agreed.
Right there in front of them, the skin condition totally vanished. He was healed.
“Go and keep doing what you’re doing!” said the police officer firmly, “No one will bother you anymore.”
God used these African migrants powerfully, and I’m told that the fruit of their labors endures and is bearing fruit to this day.
It’s much easier to see and celebrate how God faithfully worked things out in the past than to joyfully anticipate how he will be resolving things in front of us.
It seems that no matter how many times we see God break through, the current circumstances can be impossible or overwhelming. Although I saw God come through beautifully in so many cases on the streets of Istanbul, it still often felt impossible or hopeless as I went out to share the good news.
It’s easy to tell roaring stories of evangelistic adventures from where I served for the last five years. It’s not so easy to look forward to how God will break through the difficulties of a new area with the same enthusiasm.
But should there be such a stark contrast in our views of the future and the past?
We grow in faith as we give glory to God and become more and more convinced that he’s mighty, with us, and working. And then we start to look ahead with the same glowing enthusiasm that we have as we hear or recount wonderful tales from the past.
Because we know that He is with us, and his faithfulness is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
“This is my story, this is my song,
the theme of the stories, I’ve heard for so long
God has been faithful, he will be again
His loving compassion, it knows no end.”
“All I have need of his hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me.”
(He’s always been faithful - Sara Groves)