On “Refined Persecutors,” “Sham Griefs,” and the Reality of Future Glory

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) had a way with words. In fact, few people in the history of the English church have had a better command of the language. It is not hyperbole, perhaps, to say, “What Da Vinci (or Rembrandt or Michelangelo) was to painting, Spurgeon was to rhetoric.”

Thankfully, in the providence of God Spurgeon used his gift of language to communicate grace and truth. One example of this is an entry in a little book given me by a dear friend entitled, Strengthen My Spirit. This compilation of 180 readings from Spurgeon’s sermons and writings is food for the soul. These readings are powerful help as we “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). I offer the following excerpt for your strength.

***

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. -2 Tim. 3:12

“It is by no means pleasant to be opposed in doing right by those who ought to help us in it. It is very painful to flesh and blood to go contrary to those we love. What is more, those who hate Christians have a way of reviling so that they are sure to make us wince. They watch our weak points, and with very wonderful skill, they turn their discoveries to account. If one thing is more provoking than another, they will be sure to say it, and say it when we are least able to bear it.

“It may be that they are very polite people, and if so, your refined persecutors have a very dainty way of cutting to the bone and yet smiling all the while. They can say a malicious thing so delicately that you can neither resent it nor endure it. They are perfect masters of it and know how to make the iron enter into the soul.

“Do not be astonished, therefore, if you are sorely vexed, neither be amazed as though some strange things happened to you. The martyrs did not suffer sham pains; the racks on which they were stretched were not beds of ease, nor were their prisons rooms of comfort. Their pains were agonies; their martyrdoms were torments.

“If you had sham griefs, you might expect counterfeit joys; let the reality of your tribulation assure you of the reality of the coming glory.”
____

Charles Spurgeon, Strengthen My Spirit (Barbour Publishing, 2011), p. 93.

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The Greatest Declaration of Independence Imaginable

Mike Pohlman:

A year later, I still believe the gospel is the greatest declaration of independence imaginable. Happy 4th!

Originally posted on Permanent Things:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:31-32

Like millions of Americans this week, my mind is on the Fourth of July holiday and what it represents: our freedom as a nation. This freedom is a precious thing, bought with the sweat, toil, and blood of countless Americans who initially fought to obtain it, as well as those who have fought to secure it in the centuries since that fateful day in 1776.

But even as I prize my freedom as an American, I am moved to consider a greater freedom, namely, my freedom in Christ. “If you abide in my word,” our Lord declares, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

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Why a Great Tribulation?

Abandoned City and baked earthI’ve spent the last three weeks at Immanuel on Sunday mornings preaching through Mark 13. We have a few weeks yet to go. The themes taken up in this chapter — the destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem, the Great Tribulation, Second Coming of Christ, and faithful discipleship — have been both humbling and exhilarating to study.

This week I’m taking up verse 14 and the “abomination of desolation.” I’m going to try and demonstrate from the text how this future event will take place during an unprecedented period of tribulation on earth — indeed, “such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (v. 19). The Great Tribulation is significant not only because it exceeds in horror any known event in human history, but also because it marks the period of time immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, Jesus exhorts us to “be on guard” or “take heart” or “not be led astray” from the path of discipleship (v. 23).

I have several questions of this text. One of my questions is, Why? Why a Great Tribulation? Why would God do this? Three biblical reasons come to mind for the Great Tribulation:

  • The Great Tribulation Will Make Clear the Elect 

Only the elect will endure to the end (vv. 13, 20, 22). During the Great Tribulation all religious pretenders will be exposed. Tribulation of the magnitude prophesied by Jesus will result in a profound “sifting” of the saved and the lost. Tribulation will make plain who truly are followers of Jesus Christ. Tribulation, like nothing else it seems, has a way of bringing out what is in us. Isn’t this how the Apostle Peter thought? “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). The fire of tribulation brings to light genuine faith — God’s people will be made clear to the world!

  • The Great Tribulation Will Vindicate the Justice of God

Consider 2 Thess. 2:1-12 where the Apostle Paul describes the events preceding the return of Christ including the revealing of the “man of lawlessness” (what I take to be commentary on the “abomination of desolation” in Mark 13:14):

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, [2] not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. [3] Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, [4] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. [5] Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? [6] And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. [7] For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. [8] And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. [9] The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, [10] and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. [11] Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, [12] in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

The Great Tribulation, including the “activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and . . . all wicked deception,” will overwhelm those “who are perishing” (vv. 9-10). In terms of the vindication of God’s justice, we have to see the reason Paul gives for why people perish: “because they [the perishing] refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). The Great Tribulation, and the resulting triumph of Christ in his glorious Second Coming, will prove God’s justice absolutely righteous. For people will follow not Christ but lawlessness, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. In other words, the condemned are those who “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12). For this reason, their condemnation is just and God vindicated.

  • The Great Tribulation Will Increase the Joy of the Saved and Magnify the Greatness of God

As I’ve prayerfully meditated on this text and tried to consider what it would be like to go through tribulation on a scale described by our Lord, I’m reminded of Noah and what it must have felt like when the roaring, violent, devastating global flood gave way to merciful doldrums and quiet winds. What joy must have filled his heart when the sun again burst forth its light expelling the darkness of God’s wrath! Such will be the case for God’s people at the end of the Great Tribulation. Oh, what joy will fill our hearts when tribulation gives way to the Son of Man coming in glorious power, when he sends out the angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (Mark 13:26-27)!

I believe this is what the Apostle Paul wants us to see in Romans 9:22-24 where he reveals for us part of the reason God demonstrates his wrath in the world — God wants his people to behold it so that we marvel all the more at the riches of his glory:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

As a result of going through the Great Tribulation we will glory more in God than we would otherwise. And this is the ultimate reason why God would do this. It’s for his glory.

Please continue to pray for me as we together work our way through Mark 13. There’s glory here I don’t want us to miss.

Come, Lord Jesus!

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What the Cross Says

Golgotha“To whom does the invitation of this cross come? It comes to the failures, the people who know they have gone wrong, the people who are filled with a sense of shame, the people who are weary and tired and forlorn in the struggle. . . .

Do you despise yourself, kick yourself metaphorically, and feel you are no good? Weary, forlorn, tired, and on top of it all, sad and miserable? Nothing can comfort you. The pleasures of the world mock you. They do not give you anything. Life has disappointed you, and you are sad, miserable and unhappy, and on top if it all, you have a sense of guilt within you. Your conscience nags at you, condemns, raises up your past and puts it before you, and you know that you are unworthy, you know that you are a failure, you know that there is no excuse, you are guilty. . . .

And then on top of all this, you are filled with a sense of fear. You are afraid of life, you are afraid of yourself and your own weakness, you are afraid of tomorrow. You are afraid of death, you know it is coming and you can do nothing about it, but you are afraid
of it . . . .

This is the amazing thing about the cross. It comes to such a person, and it is to such a person above all others that it brings its gracious and its glorious invitation. What does it say to you? . . . . You are not far off, and the cross speaks to you with sympathy. That man dying on that cross was known as the friend of sinners. He was reviled by the good and the religious because he sat down and ate and drank with sinners. He had sympathy. . . .

Not only that, he will tell you that he is ready to accept you. The world picks up its skirt and passes by. It leaves you alone, it does not want to associate with you, you have gone down, you belong to the gutters, and the world is too respectable to have any interest in you.  Here is one who is ready to receive you and to accept you. . . . Sit down, he says.  Wait, stop, give up your activities.  Just as you are, I am ready to receive you. In your rags, in your filth, in your vileness. Rest.

What else? Pardon. The cross speaks of benediction, of pardon, joy and peace with God.  It tells you that God is ready to forgive you. It says, listen to me, your sin has been punished. I am here because this is the punishment of sin. Listen to me, says the blood of sprinkling. I have been shed that you might be forgiven, pardoned, at peace with God.  Oh, thank God, there is also cleansing here.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross (Wheaton, 1986), pages 168-170.

[HT: Ray Ortlund]

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Toward a Culture of Evangelism at IBC

EvangelismWhat comes to mind when you hear the word ‘evangelism’? To some people this word stirs up fear and anxiety because of the need to go before other people—family, friends, or strangers—and share with them the gospel. Other people hear the word ‘evangelism’ and they’re embarrassed because they relate it to corny or deceptive salespeople who will do anything just to get their “product” sold. Still other people hear the word evangelism and they feel guilty because they don’t participate in it, or feel like they could be doing more.

Could it be that we’re supposed to feel joy when we think of evangelism? Yes!

We should have joy in our evangelism because of what it works to accomplish, namely, the exaltation of God and the salvation of people. Think of it: God is using human mouthpieces to declare his praises and bring eternal life to people who are dead in sin. This is the staggering work of faith and labor of love we participate in when we seek to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). God has determined that he will be glorified and people will be saved through the hearing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, therefore, the gospel must be declared. For example, consider Romans 10:14-17,

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [15] And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [16] But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” [17] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

We should be overjoyed to know that through our simple proclamation of the gospel God is pleased to save people! Indeed, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This is why the apostle (in quoting Isaiah 52:7) considers evangelists’ feet beautiful—they are broadcasting nothing less than salvation when they go forth declaring the saving news of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism glorifies God and offers people eternal good. This reality should thrill our soul and cause joy to well up in us. But what if it doesn’t?

If evangelism isn’t a joyful thought to us it may be because we think too little of God and people. In other words, if I don’t think highly of God and people, evangelism will not conjure up joy in me, but drudgery. Indeed, I will avoid it at all costs.

Love for God

Joyful evangelism begins, first, with a high view of God. If we esteem him above all things, we will have to talk about him and the wonders of salvation. This, I believe, is in part what is going on in 2 Cor. 5:14 when the apostle states “the love of Christ controls us.” Paul has seen something of “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ—a love that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19). Therefore, he must proclaim this saving love to the nations.

Perhaps this illustration will help. I remember well the day Julia and I were engaged to be married. Hearing her say “Yes” to my proposal was one of the greatest moments of my life. That one word from her lips caused a joy in me like never before or since—a joy that I had to share. In those days immediately following our engagement no one had to tell me to share this good news. My mouth couldn’t be shut. I loved to tell the story of how Julia said “Yes.

In a similar way, we should be so overwhelmed by the love of God in Christ for us that we have to tell the world. To quote Switchfoot, we have to “Let it Out.”

Love for People

Joyful evangelism begins, secondly, with love for people. Does your heart break for the lost estate of people apart from Christ? Like Paul, do you have “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for the spiritually dead? (Cf., Rom. 9:1-2). The apostle told the Philippians “with tears” that many are “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). When we consider the peril that people are in apart from Christ, namely the just judgment of God, we should be quick to weep and witness—weep for their condition and witness for their salvation. After all, do we agree or not with Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Neighbor love should move us to open our mouths with words of life.

I want us as a church to experience more joy in evangelism. This is why I’m so excited about our upcoming evangelism class at Immanuel. Beginning on Tuesday, May 6, I’ll take six weeks to consider what the Bible says about evangelism. I hope you will consider joining me for this class. Together we’ll ask and answer questions like the following:

  • What is evangelism?
  • Who should evangelize?
  • Why should we evangelize?
  • How should we evangelize?
  • What is the role of the local church in evangelism?

My prayer is that we will grow in our joyful embrace of this essential work—for the love of God and people.

Christ for the nations and our neighborhood,

-Pastor Mike

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Killing Words

Four words are haunting me: “And their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23). With these four words Luke described the irreversible wave of fury that crashed on Jesus.

The multitudes had a choice. The crowd could have opted for Barabbas—the convicted insurrectionist and murderer. But instead they chose Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate’s feeble attempts could not persuade the mob otherwise:

But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted (Luke 23:18-24).

It is easy for us to sit in judgment on those that cried out, “Crucify, crucify him!” We would like to think if we were there we would have acted differently. But honesty compels us to admit we would have done the same—by actively yelling or passively standing by and watching it happen. Either way we are complicit in the crucifixion of Jesus.

But the crucifixion of Jesus is not the whole story. We look through this awful event to the hope of the resurrection. We gaze through the cross to the resurrection and see that even as the voices of the multitude prevailed, God was prevailing.

The Apostle Paul declares the victory accomplished at the cross:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:13-15). 

What looked like utter defeat was actually God’s cosmic victory over sin, death, and the devil. At the cross sin was atoned for and God’s holy law fulfilled—all in the person of Jesus Christ.

This victory finds its apex in the resurrection (and ascension) of Christ. Good Friday, thank God, gives way to Sunday. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead the Christian can sing with the apostle: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” It’s gone because, “Death is swallowed up in victory!” (see, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Praying this song is yours today.

[Illustration: "Give Us Barabbas" from volume 9 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer, published in 1910. See Wikipedia.]

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Pilgrim Song

The Christian life this side of heaven.

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