On September 29 of this year the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith organization made a scathing attack upon the Southern Baptists for unthinkable conduct. What was this crime they were accused of? It was engaging in Jewish evangelism. Actually it wasn't a crime, but the ADL would love to see evangelism of Jews to be made illegal in America, interestingly, in the name of pluralism and tolerance. They consider evangelism of Jews to be racist and anti-Semitic. And by the way, it is illegal in Israel. Four years ago the Israeli government warned all tourist groups to not so much as hand a tract to a Jew. Anyone doing so could end up in jail for five years. Talk about a rude introduction to tourists! And of course, mulsim countries have the same policy, as do communist countries. Nothing is new under the sun. Those outside of Christ have frequently sought to silence those who are in Christ. 2000 years ago the Jewish authorities of Peter's day said in verse 17: "But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name." Verse 18:
So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
What do you do when you face such threats? Well, 50 Christian organizations in Israel buckled under the pressure and promised not to allow any evangelism. And in many countries there is enormous pressure upon Christians to keep their Christianity in the closet. Pluralism in America is going to produce more and more similar pressure to privatize our faith. You see examples of this all around. No longer is it acceptable to say, "Merry Christmas" even if you happen to believe in Christmas. Now obviously right now none of us have the civil government breathing down our necks. But even such a simple thing as peer pressure can make us ashamed of the Gospel. It's an amazing thing. It can make us afraid to give our opinion. And people have come to me and said, "I suffer with this sin over and over again. What can I do to be more bold?"
In this little section we see three things that kept the early church from doing that, and that gave them great boldness. It was the fellowship of suffering (verse 23), the fellowship of prayer (verses 24-30) and the fellowship of the Spirit (verse. 31). And I would like to look at each of those three points. I'm not going to worry if I don't get through the passage today. We didn't finish it last week either. First of all, the fellowship of suffering. And that's in verse 23.
There is a Fellowship (v. 23a)
And actually, before we look at the suffering aspect, let me show Luke's hint at the transfer of fellowship that they had. And so point number 1 is that there is a fellowhip. Verse 23 says, "And being let go, they went to their own companions." You will see that the word "companions" is in italics and is not in the Greek. The phrase "their own" is much stronger in the Greek. It can refer to your biological family, but frequently it refers to your ethnic group because they all descended from the same ancestors. Previously this phrase would have meant the Jews, the people of God, Israel. In fact, the NIV translates it "they went to their own people." And I think that captures the strength of this phrase. They went to their own people. And a Greek who was reading that might ask, "But weren't the Jews their own people?" Luke indicates as far as God is concerned they were not. These apostles were being distinguished from the Jewish nation as a whole by that little phrase. The leaders of Israel were no longer "their own" people but they were the enemies of the Gospel. And of course we have already seen in the first three chapters that God has established a new nation, a new Israel composed of twelve tribes, under twelve princes and starting with the pre-requisite 120 men. That is why throughout the epistles the church is called the true Israel and the Jewish nation is spiritually called Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, the enemies of God. The book of Revelation twice refers to Israel as the synagogue of Satan and in 11:8 calls Jerusalem, "the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." Where's the city were Jesus was crucified? It was Jerusalem, right? And Revelation 11:8 says that Jerusalem has spiritually become Sodom and Egypt. In other words, they are no longer a part of the people of God. They are treated as heathens and publicans; they have been excommunicated by God.
And by the way, the Jewish leaders treated them the same way. It was a mutual excommunication. John 9:22 says, "for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue." So they had already cast the Christians out of the Jewish church. There were two denominations both claiming to be the true church and the true Israel and the true people of God. John 12:42 says, "Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." The unbelieving Jews had excommunicated the church and the church in Acts 2 had formed a new denomination and declared the old one apostate. And by the way, this is the only legitimate Biblical basis for denominations forming: it's discipline in reverse. And if the issues that keep denominations apart are not worth disciplining over, they are not worth separating over. When a denomination becomes so corrupt that the faithful are a minority, they don't have the numbers to be able to excommunicate the heretics. So Scripture calls them to come out from among them and to be separate. And when the minority leaves, it is remaining true to the faith; it's the continuing church. And by leaving they are declaring that the majority are really the ones who have left and that they are being treated as under discipline. Well, in the first century, that's what happened with the church. The church from Acts 2 and on does not recognize the leadership of the Sanhedrin. They have their own church leadership.
Now Jews for Jesus and other Messianic organizations have been accused of being anti-semitic because their first loyalty is to Christ. And it's a bizzarr charge because these organizations are all made up of converted Jews. We Christians are called anti-Semitic because they say we have a replacement theology, with the church being Israel. But that charge is ludicrous for three reasons: 1) first, the early church was 100% Jewish at this point. It was the remnant of Israel. How could Jews be said to be anti-Semitic? That doesn't make sense. 2) Second, the separation was religious, not ethnic. It's very similar to the time of the Babylonian exile where God called the Israel that was remaining in the land Sodom and Gomorrah. He treated them as apostate. And God called the Israel that was in exile His new nation. And in Esther it says that many Gentiles became Jews. It was not an ethnic issue; it was religious. The church in Acts was the Olive tree off of which many (but not all) Jewish branches were broken and into which Gentiles would later be grafted. 3) The third thing Jews for Jesus would point out is that any Jew who repented becomes one of their own. This is a fellowship. And to this day our union with Christ takes precedence over family ties, ethnic ties and political ties. Many of these converted Jews are to this day disowned by their families. And these new Christians still love their families and grieve over their families, but loyalty to Christ takes precedence. In a very real sense, Christians are your own people in a far higher degree than any other relationship because they will be your people throughout eternity – for millions of years. Christian fellowship is a fellowship that springs from our union with Christ. And so that first phrase is a very significant phrase: "being let go, they went to their own." So point 1, there is a fellowship to which they can go.
There is a Fellowship of Suffering (vv. 23b-24a, 26b, 27,29)
Point 2 – this fellowship is a fellowship of suffering. The apostles take their experience of suffering to the church: "and being let go, they went to their own and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them." They didn't leave anything out. They poured out their whole story. God does not expect Christians to stoically bear their sufferings alone. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with them. Verse 24 shows that the church as a whole takes this on as their own grievance: "So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said:" This church takes these threats not just as an attack against the apostles, but as an attack against them. Why? Just because they like the apostles? No. There is a reason that is much more profound – that springs from their union with Christ. Look at verse 27. In that verse they see this ultimately as being an attack against Jesus. "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together…" They rightly interpret Psalm 2 as saying that when the church suffers, Christ suffers; that when the church is conspired against, Christ is conspired against. There is such a union between Christ and His church that it produces a fellowship of suffering. And when we by faith enter into this suffering of Christ it transforms us and enables us to rejoice in suffering as the church in Acts was able to rejoice.
Now I don't want this to be theoretical for you. I want us to dig into this a little bit. What in the world is it about this fellowship of suffering that can enable the saints here to pray with such confidence as we witnessed last week. What is it about this fellowship of suffering that Acts 5:41 can say, "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." Rejoicing that they were counted worthy?!? They saw it as a privelege to suffer! Why? What is it that could enable Paul and Silas to endure a severe beating from the Romans and yet sit in jail singing hymns to God and rejoicing in the privelege of suffering with Christ? In Philippians 3:10 Paul gives as His life passion, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death." Now all of us can understand why he was passionate about knowing Jesus and the power of His resurrection. We like that concept. But Paul was just as passionate about knowing Jesus and the fellowship of His sufferings. Why?
What I would like to do this morning is to take a long rabbit trail away from Acts and look at this subject of the fellowship of suffering. Unless we understand this concept, there is a lot coming up in the book of Acts that will not make sense to you. So this is as good a time as any to deal with the theology.
And let's start first with how Christ has a fellowship with our sufferings. I think that will help us to understand how we can have fellowship with His sufferings. Look at Acts 9:4. Saul has been persecuting the church and Christ confronts him on the road to Damascus. Verse 4 says, "Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Paul had been persecuting Christians, but because of Christ's intimate union with His body – the church, Paul was actually persecuting Jesus. Jesus was suffering with His church. And this statement is repeated six times in the book of Acts, so obviously it is a statement that God wants us to remember. "Why are you persecuting ME?" How can Christ suffer? Isn't heaven just a place of bliss? And the answer is, "Yes, it is a place of bliss and comfort. But it is still mixed with some emotional suffering and with tears." In fact, according to both Isaiah and the book of Revelation it will not be until the end of history that God creates a new heavens and a new earth and the remembrance of the former things is completely removed and every tear is wiped away (Is. 25:8; 65:19; Rev. 7:17; 21:4). Luke 16 and many other passages indicate that saints in paradise are intimately aquainted with their past history and with what is going on on the earth. In fact, on the last day of history, every memory will probably flash before our eyes on the great judgment day. And only after that will our tears be wiped away. And some people think that this just can't be right. I don't want to remember what has gone on during my life time! Surely there can't be tears in heaven now! But because the saints in glory share in the fellowship of our sufferings, there are times when they pray on our behalf and weep on our behalf. Look for example at Revelation 6:9-11. Here are some souls of dead saints who are troubled. The Great Tribulation has just begun, but there is a lot more yet to come. And these saints are interested in what is happening.
Revelation 6:9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. Revelation 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Revelation 6:11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.**
There is still much to be troubled abot, to cry about and complain to God about because they recognize that opposition to Christ and to His kingdom continues on the earth. And God tells them that they have to wait a while because there are still more sufferings of their fellow brethren on the earth. And so you see these souls comforted in chapter 7:13-17, and in the last phrase of that chapter there is a future promise that at some point, God will wipe away every tear. But it doesn't happen until chapter 21:4 when God brings in the New Heavens and New Earth. But in the meantime they give glory to God in chapter 11 for God's wrath and in the chapters that follow the saints in heaven are aware of things happening on earth, glory in God's judgments, pray for God's judgments. And when God's judgments come, statements like this are made to the saints: Revelation 18:20 - "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!" He's talking to the saints in heaven. In chapter 19 a great multitude of saints in heaven give a long speech that reflects on the sins on earth, the judgments of God, the victory that Christ is gaining on earth and pray in agreement with Christ for the advancement of His kingdom on earth. They are very active participants since they are in fellowship with us. Hebrews 12 tells us that our salvation has ushered us into "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant…" We are in fellowship with them and they are in fellowship with us. And of course, the book of Revelation indicates that Jesus Himself while in heaven is grieved, angered, rejoices and expresses a wide gamut of emotions. Revelation 19:15 says of Jesus: "Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." We misrepresent heaven in its current state if we think of them as being oblivious to what is going on now, or uncaring. No. It's not just the Holy Spirit who is grieved. Jesus is grieved. The saints are grieved over earth's rebellion. So you have joy mixed with sorrow. Both Christ and the saints in heaven share in some sense in our sufferings. And so 2 Corinthians 1:5 can say, "For as the sufferings of Christ are abounding" [that is present tense. Christ has an abundance of sufferings right now. But he goes on to show in what way. "For as the sufferings of Christ are abounding in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ." He was experiencing not only Christ suffering in us, but the supernatural consolation of Christ. Why? Because of the fellowship of the Son that we have been called into (1 Corinthians 1:9). "But God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
I am building this theology step by step, assuming you know nothing about it. This theology of suffering is very important in China and other places where there is an underground church. Turn to Matthew 25. This records a speech that Christ will make at the end of history. Matthew 25, beginning at verse 31.
Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. Matthew 25:32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. Matthew 25:33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Matthew 25:34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: Matthew 25:35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; Matthew 25:36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'
[Notice the personal pronouns "I" and "Me." Is He lying? No. He only speaks truth, so there has to be some sense in which Jesus was there. John Flavel, one of my favorite Puritan writers, spends several pages commenting on all the implications of this mystical union that we have with Christ. He says it is a supernatural, immediate, fundamental and it is efficiacious. Read the Puritans and you will see that it enables us to enter into the whole life of Christ and for Christ to enter into the whole life of us. And notice too the language of suffering. He is naked, sick and in prison when we are naked, sick and in prison. This is what Paul means in Colossians 1:24 when he says, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.." He is not saying that Christ needs to suffer more to atone for sin. That work was finished. But it means that Christ was destined to suffer more than He suffered while on earth, and He does that suffering through His body, the church. We are filling up the sufferins; that's Colossians 1:24. Going on in Matthew 25:37.]
Matthew 25:37 Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? Matthew 25:38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Matthew 25:39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
[John Flavel says that this shows that hardly any people on earth fully understand or believe this truth. It will not be till some of us get to heaven that we fully comprehend how inextricably bound up our lives are in Christ. Yet, Flavel urges us to meditate more deeply on our union with Jesus, because from that understanding flows our comfort and power in the midst of suffering. This is why Paul said, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death." (Phil. 3:10). It is in the degree to which we know Christ that we enter into the power of His resurrection life, and it is to the degree that we enter into the power of His resurrection life by the Spirit that we enter into the fellowship of His sufferings and can rejoice with Paul in suffering. Continuing on in Matthew 25, and verse 40]
Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' Matthew 25:41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: Matthew 25:42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; Matthew 25:43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' Matthew 25:44 "Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Matthew 25:45 Then He will answer them, saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' Matthew 25:46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
There are a few other passages which show that Christ suffers with us, grieves with us, sympathizes with us, is on occasion angry on our behalf. But if Christ suffers with us, that makes our suffering take on a whole new meaning. We know that for Christ, His sufferings lay up increasing glory and increasing measures of God's sustaining grace. And in the same way, F.F. Bruce says, "Sufferings for Paul "are for him the indispensable conditions of identification with Christ in glory: ‘If indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory' (Rom. 8:17)" (Bruce, p. 117). So it gives a whole new significance to our sufferings.
But secondly, it gives a whole new perspective on identifying with the sufferings of other believers. Our failure to weep with those who weep means that we are failing to weep with Christ when Christ weeps. We are denying our fellowship in Christ's sufferings. He is grieving, and we are uncaring. And to the degree that we fail to identify with Christ in His suffering, to that degree we fail to enter into the personal experience of His comfort, joy and glory. I can see why the Chinese are almost addicted to suffering for Christ and why they have begged us not to pray that their suffering stops. Because their sufferings have ushered them into such a sweet intimacy with Christ that it makes the suffering all worthwhile. And if you don't understand it, it is because it is experiential. It is not simply academic. People are mystified that Paul could say in 2 Corinthians 12,
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(That's 2 Corinthians 12:9-10) Notice he is not a masochist. Even though in context he was referring to an affliction in his flesh, and even though he takes pleasure (of all things) in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, etc., it is first of all for Christ's sake that he does so, and secondly so that He might experience Christ's strength and power, and it was because of Christ's promise in the first phrase of verse 9: "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'" There is something about this fellowship of sufferings that made the saints in the first century rejoice and take pleasure in them because it drew them closer to the sweetness of Christ. And once they had tasted of the sweetness of that intimacy, it made them want to go back for more, and more, and more.
Let me read you 2 Corinthians 1:5-7. And I will read it from the NIV.
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Let me give some examples of how we can share in the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of others. First, just as Jesus suffered in John chapters 8 and 9 when He saw his Father was being misrepresented and abused, we too should be pained in our hearts when we see Christ's name taken in vain, or see Him vilified, or see false doctrine. That kind of suffering brings you closer to Jesus while allowing His life to be clearly seen in you. Our Lord always suffered in the presence of sin, and it has been given to you to feel the same anger, pain, grief and sorrow that He did when we are confronted with a world of sin. Spurgeon said, "If men never swore in the streets, we should not so often be driven to cry to God to forgive their profanity. If you and I could always be shut up in a glass case and never see sin or hear of it, it might be a bad thing for us. But if, when we are compelled to see the wickedness of men and hear their curses and revilings, we can also feel that God's word is quickening us, even by our horror at sin, it is good for us. . . . though it is exceeding grievous to tenderhearted, pure and delicate minds who dwell near to God." In this sense, knowing Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings is an evidence of how close to Him we are. If cursing, false doctrine, abortion, communism and other sins do not grieve us, and if we are indifferent when we are confronted face to face with them, then it is a strong evidence that we do not know Christ very well, and that we do not know Him in His resurrection power very well. Paul wanted to know Christ so well, and enter into His resurrection power to fully, that he suffered when Jesus suffered.
Another way in which we can enter into the fellowship of His suffering is when our own personal sin grieves us and makes us mourn. The last phrase of Paul's life's goal was that he would be conformed to Christ's death. Paul said, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10). When we take our sin as seriously as Jesus did, and are willing to die to that sin – to be crucified to our flesh, then we are entering into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. We suffer over our own sins to a degree that Christ did. H.C.G. Moule said, "The partnership of His sufferings, that deep experience of union with Him which comes through daily ‘taking up the cross,' in His steps, for His sake, and in His strength, ‘growing in conformity with His death.'" Now keep in mind that even though we are focusing on the fellowship of suffering, Vincent is absolutely right when he says, "Being in Christ involves fellowship with Christ at all points—His life, His spirit, His suffering, His death and His glory." But I have been focusing on the suffering because that is the least understood.
Another way that we enter into the fellowship of His sufferings is when our hearts weep over a lost and dying world like Christ wept over Jerusalem. Paul had so entered into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings that in Romans 9:1-3 he says this:
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.
He had so entered into this mystical union with Christ that the Spirit had given Paul the same self-sacrificing love for others that Christ had when He was willing to be accursed by the Father for our salvation. You will never understand this just by reading theology. This was a supernatural thing that God's Spirit produced in Paul as He pushed Paul closer and closer to the heart of Christ. To repeat, I think this is what Paul meant when he said in Colossians 1:24, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions, for the sake of His body, that is, the church…" That means Christ has not finished suffering or being afflicted, and when Paul suffers, He is sharing in and filling up Christ's afflictions.
Now I know that I have drifted far away from our text in Acts (which only hints at this great subject), but I have wanted to lay a groundwork for understanding many, many passages in Acts which will not make sense if you have not experienced such intimacy of union with Christ that you know what it means to share in His sufferings. Let me have you turn to Philippians 3:10. And this will be the last passage we will look at before we go back to Acts 4. This passage shows the levels of knowing Christ. Martin Lloyd Jones divides the passage up in the following way: Philippians 3 verse 9 speaks of knowing Christ in our justification. This is when we were first introduced to Christ and brought into His family. But that salvation leads to knowing Him in sanctification (verse 10). "…that I might know Him…" And this sanctification itself has various levels which we will look at. But eventually this leads to knowing Him in our glorification at the time of the resurrection. And that is verse 11. So, knowing Him in justification (verse 9), knowing Him in sanctification (verse 10) and knowing Him in glorification (verse. 11). And the reason it is important to see that division is that Paul is talking about knowing Christ in increasingly deeper way. Obviously in the resurrection we will know Christ in a way that we will never have imagined. But the knowledge of Christ in verse 10 is also an advance over the knowledge that Paul had at His conversion. Notice the word "that." He knew Jesus in conversion, and the purpose of that justification was "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death." He says first of all, we need to know Him. And he's talking about a person already justified in verse 9 and already a Christian. Lloyd Jones points out that this is like having having met a person at a train station, and the meeting went so well that when he is gone you say, "I would really like to get to know that man." And that's the way it is with Jesus. If you are a believer, you already have met Him. In one sense you know Him. But you now have a lifetime of entering into this intellectual and experiential knowledge of Jesus. That should be our goal in our sanctification – to get to know Jesus.
But there is more to Christianity than simply knowing Jesus. Paul also wanted to know "the power of His resurrection." This is an experiential power that works in us to sanctify us. It enables us to conquer sin, illumines us to understand the Scriptures, strengthens us for work, brings healing. Ephesians 1:19-20 prays that we might know Christ "and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand…" That's the kind of power that is at work in us! Wow! Do we really need that kind of power? Yes we do. We need it to be able to love our enemies. We need it to be able to crucify our flesh which is constantly raising its ugly head. We need it to be able to conquer lust. We need it to overcome addictions. 2 Corinthiansd 12:9 says we need that resurrection power to be able to glorify God even in our physical weaknesses. Paul had some physical infirmity, and in 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul quotes Jesus. "And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." We need that power. But more to the point of this passage, we need His resurrection power to be able to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings and to be able to be conformed to His death in our sanctification. Lehman Strauss says, "No man is able to endure the fellowship of Christ's suffering who does not know the power of Christ's resurrection. . . [but] It is only as we know something of the fellowship of our Lord's sufferings that we can be certain we know anything of the power of His resurrection. The power of Christ's resurrection is vitally and essentially related to the Christian's experience in this life. It is the power in us now that enables us to know Him in the fellowship of His suffering" (Philippians, p. 174). G. Campbell Morgan said, "it is Christ in me that fills me with compassion. The measure in which my Lord lives in me, masters my life, dominates me, the measure in which I dare yield myself to the impulses of His indwelling, is the measure in which I cannot look upon sinning men without suffering and desiring to reach out and help."
If you are content to merely be saved, you may be able to miss out on a lot of pain of heart that comes with this fellowship. But Paul is quite clear, "…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12). The closer you draw to the heart of God, yes - the richer and fuller are the rewards. You not only enjoy God more, but you enjoy life more. Mark 10 is quite clear about that. Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospels, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions…" Auughhh???! Can't He just leave that phrase out? I liked the idea of enjoying life 100 times more than I did before. But why does He have to throw in that "with persecutions" phrase? It is because intimacy with Christ ushers you into all of Christ – His life, His glory, His love, His joy, but also His suffering. And if you are trying to escape from the pain of denying your flesh and of growing in sanctification, then you are also escaping from the joy of His empowering, His comfort, His faith. If you are trying to escape from the pain of weeping over the lost, you are also escaping from the joy of His victory and exultation. If you are compromising in order to escape the slander, hatred, persecution or even the shame of peer pressure, then you are also escaping the power and the boldness that this passage speaks of. We can't finish this passage today, but the boldness they pray for in 29 and the signs and wonders they pray for in verse 30 are not simply intellectual concepts. No, it is the reality of His resurrection power working in them. Verse 31 said, "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." Brothers and sisters, do you long to know Christ so much that you are willing to enter into His fellowship of suffering? Do you long for His resurrection power so much that you are willing to both suffer persecution and to be conformed to His death? If we are to ever shake the world, we ourselves must be shaken, filled with the Spirit and knit to the heart of Christ from whom every blessing flows. I want you to know His blessings. But I also want you to know that you cannot avoid the fellowship of His sufferings (whether those sufferings are outward or inward) and continue to have His resurrection power. It is through a life of yieldedness (giving up all and following Christ) that we receive 100-fold. But part of that package are His sufferings. Do not avoid the fellowship of suffering. Amen.