(April 8, 2017) Stuart Reynolds brings Easter challenge …
Last month as I listened to BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show my interest was piqued by one of Chris Evans’ guests – Israeli historian Dr Yuval Noah Harari, talking about his book, Sapiens.
Harari contends that Homo sapiens (‘the only extant human species’) rule the world as the dominant species because of our unique ability to believe in things which exists only in the imagination: nations, money, human rights, and, of course, religion. Evans concluded the interview by asking Harari what is the most important piece of advice he could give for the future well-being of the human race.
His response? That our paramount need is to do our best to differentiate between what is fiction and reality: ‘Humans find it very difficult to know what is real and what is just a fictional story in their own minds, and this causes a lot of disasters, wars and problems… The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering. A nation cannot suffer, it cannot feel pain, it cannot feel fear, it has no consciousness. Even if it loses a war, the soldier suffers, the civilians suffer, but the nation cannot suffer. Similarly, a corporation cannot suffer, the pound sterling, when it loses its value, it doesn’t suffer. All these things, they’re fictions…’
I immediately said to my wife, Helen, ‘He has just defeated his own argument!’ If it be so – ‘the best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering,’ then the greatest undisputed statement of truth in the whole universe, never mind in human history, must the person of God in his only Son Jesus Christ, of whom the Bible says is ‘The Suffering Servant.’
The test of truth in the suffering Christ!
It was Mark Twain who wrote, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.’
It’s almost Easter – that great Easter-centred scripture Isaiah 53 (Message) speaks truth, not fiction and possibilities. It is so appropriate to quote as we consider Jesus Christ, the suffering Saviour:
Verses 1- 2, ‘Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this? The servant grew up before God – a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.’
Verses 3-4, ‘He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain first-hand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried – our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.’
Versus 5-7 ‘But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him. He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence.’
Versus 8-9, ‘Justice miscarried, and he was led off – and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.’
Verses 10-11, ‘Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it – life, life, and more life. And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him. Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many “righteous ones,” as he himself carries the burden of their sins.’
And that great summarising last verse 12, ‘Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly – the best of everything, the highest honours – Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.’
Humankind could never have conceived or conjured up this. From humanity’s perspective, the very notion of divinity that suffers is, at best, a nonsense, and at worst, repugnant. In the words of the apostle Paul, ‘…Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:23-24 NIV) – the test of truth.
The test of truth in his suffering church!
Jesus said to his disciples, as the embodiment of his church in all ages, ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also … They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me’ (John 15:18-21 NIV).
According to the United Nations, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the entire world. It was Victor Hugo who said, ‘Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’
Down through history we have seen this borne out in the outlawing of philosophies, political convictions, and religions, along with the mistreatment of those who espouse them, but there is something about the persecution of Christians which is profound, not only in the hostile extremes of oppressors, but also the manner of how we – the church – respond to suffering for Christ.
Paul wrote encouragingly to the church in Romans 8 about this matter of suffering for Jesus! In verse 31a he asks, ‘What, then, shall we say in response to these things?’ His response is an urgent plea to see the bigger picture, one that when grasped brings us great comfort in troubled times –
Verse 8b-35, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered”.’
Verses 36-37 bring great assurance! ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
What was true of the first Christian martyrs remains true of the persecuted Christ-One today! Why would Christians suffer for something fictional? Why suffer for a ‘story’? Why lose your life over a lie? The fiction of a fairy-tale, the sentimentality of wishful thinking cannot sustain life in suffering, never mind provide strength, courage, and resolve the test of truth.
The test of truth in our suffering commitment!
‘The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13:11-14 NIV).
We will never commit unless we are convinced. Warren Wiersbe talked of ‘the impotence of ignorance.’ How many in the church do not have the courage of their convictions, but only the cowardice of their confusions, not to mention the convenience of their comforts in the muddle of their mediocrity?
In this ‘postmodern’ age, in the world and even among some Christians, truth has been ditched and downgraded from the clarity of what is absolute and thus authoritative to the vagueness of what is only relative and ‘works’ for one.
We need to sound out again with confidence the –
- Truth about Jesus Christ
- Integrity of the Bible and
- Uniqueness of the Christian faith as the only means by which we can know God and be saved.
In this pluralistic society largely governed and influenced by ‘clever idiots’ in the corridors of power, educational institutions, in both state and church, there nevertheless remains one simple, tested truth: ‘…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:5-6 NIV).
Harari’s History of Humankind dies on the very point of the sword of his own argument – ‘the best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering.’
Truth and faith live on the basis of Christ’s cross. Our ‘history’ is ultimately His-Story! May we take to share the gospel message of the Christ who willingly suffered on Calvary for all humankind not only at this Eastertime but every opportunity the Spirit gives us!
God will look after everyone who follows Jesus! As James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) wrote in The Present Crisis:
‘Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne, –
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.’
Stuart Reynolds, Ears 2 Hear Ministries, is UK based ministering as an itinerant preacher, teacher in evangelism and revivalism in the UK and USA. Links: firstname.lastname@example.org / mobile +44 (0) 7816 853 551 / http://sdhareynolds.wixsite.com/earstohearministries.
A caring pastor speaks candidly to the ear of the church regarding the reality that many pastors are hurting, even on the edge of quitting due to feeling like a failure having had the last embers of self-worth kicked out of them. Stuart Reynolds writes from the heart and pastoral experience encouraging broken pastors that they are not useless, that they can move on and still benefit the kingdom despite the reality of foolish congregational censure and non-appreciative boards that don’t understand the challenges pastors face.