Tribulation and Peace

“These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Peace is a state of being that is greatly sought after. Few are the people who want to live in a constant state of war or trouble. But where are we to find peace? It seems so elusive in life.

As Jesus indicates, we have tribulation in the world. In context, Jesus speaks of the trials and difficulties believers will encounter because of their stand for the Gospel (cf. 1 Peter 2:19-24). If we believe in Christ and therefore get resistance from the world, we can take comfort in Jesus’ victory over the world through His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). Even if it leads to the loss of our livelihoods or lives, we will obtain a great inheritance (Luke 18:29-30, Romans 8:17-18).

While believers may be called upon to suffer tribulation in the world on account of the Gospel, it is certainly not the only reason for trial. Tribulation exists in the world on account of all sorts of reasons: wars, illnesses, economic challenges, consequences of the sins of others or perhaps even our own sins, and so on. Even if we obtain a level of stability in our lives, there is no guarantee that we can maintain that level of stability.

In reality, tribulation exists everywhere in the world, and true peace cannot be found in it. If we truly want peace, we must look to God in Christ.

We can have peace in Jesus Christ because He became our peace (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18). Peace can only exist when hostility is taken out of the way, and Jesus removed the source of hostility by bearing the law of sin and death on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18, Romans 8:1-3). Through Jesus Christ we can have peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with our fellow man. Indeed, we can obtain the peace that surpasses all understanding in Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:7)!

This peace does not mean that we will not suffer trial; instead, this peace can sustain us through any difficulty we may experience. It is an inner peace that ought to flow outward in every aspect of our lives.

This peace comes at a great price: we must give up all of ourselves and serve Jesus (cf. Galatians 2:20). We must weigh the cost and see if it is worth it. When we finally get tired of the tribulation of the world, let us seek out and enjoy the peace that can only come through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Cost of Sacrifice

And the king said unto Araunah, “Nay; but I will verily buy it of thee at a price. Neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the LORD my God which cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver (2 Samuel 24:24).

David here demonstrates an excellent understanding of the core idea of sacrifice: sacrifice must come at a personal cost.

The heart of the definition of sacrifice is “to suffer loss.”  If David accepted the gift of Araunah and made sacrifice, then David would not have really sacrificed anything– he was just using Araunah’s sacrifice for his own purposes.  He recognized that such is not really sacrifice– what has he really lost?

It is very easy to seek after “painless sacrifice”: this mirage allows people to have the good feeling of having done some good without actually suffering any loss.  The conscience is soothed and life is well.  But is that what God is after?

Jesus saw many people putting lots of money into Temple coffers and yet commends the widow for her two mites (Mark 12:41-44).  The people were providing painless sacrifices: they had plenty of other resources on which to live.  The widow truly sacrificed: she gave all she had!

The way of Jesus is not “painless” sacrifice, but demands true sacrifice.  The cross is not painless (Matthew 16:24).  Losing one’s life for His sake is not painless (Matthew 16:25).  Forsaking all other relations for Jesus is not painless (Matthew 10:34-39).

And, above all, living the life of a humble servant of Jesus is far from painless (Matthew 20:26-28)!  As it is written,

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service (Romans 12:1).

A “living” sacrifice– by no means a “painless” one.  We can only be a “living sacrifice” when we suffer great loss of all that we have for His purposes– to devote our material resources to brethren and those in need (Galatians 2:10, 6:10), to devote our time to those in distress and for the furtherance of the Kingdom (James 1:27, Matthew 28:18), and to show in all things that Christ is our Lord and Savior (Galatians 2:20).

It will not be painless.  Our offering to God will surely cost us.  Yet if our living sacrifice is found pleasing to our Lord, the reward will make it all worthwhile (Romans 8:18).  As God suffered great loss for us, let us suffer loss for God and His purposes!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Moving Forward

Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Moving forward.  It is something we know we ought to do in our lives, and yet it is often quite difficult to do so.

We have so much that can weigh us down.  Sin besets us.  We can become discouraged and despair of our ability to do anything.  Fear can paralyze us.  Even simple inertia can keep us from going forward and making changes.

Yet God calls us to continually and irrepressibly go forward.  We have the great cloud of witnesses of the saints of years gone by: their examples of faith in the face of difficulty can encourage us, and we can view them as cheering us on our own journeys.

This is why we must lay aside the weights that keep us down.  While sin may beset us, we must believe in God, humbly confess our faults before Him, and break through (1 John 1:9).  While discouragement and despair may bring us downward, faith and hope can encourage us (Romans 8:23-25, 1 Corinthians 13:10).  While fear may paralyze, God tells us to no longer fear, but trust in Him and His victory (Revelation 1:17-19).  Even inertia can be overcome in zeal for God and His ways (2 Corinthians 9:2).

Yet the only way we can move forward is to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.  He is the way, the truth, the life, and the resurrection (John 11:25, John 14:6).  He suffered temptation and yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).  Our faith is based in who He is and what He accomplished, and He is the one who makes up for our deficiencies through His own atonement.

The Hebrew author does not deny that suffering will come to believers, but shows us that through suffering we can gain exaltation.  He suffered the humiliation and suffering of the cross because of the joy set before Him; thanks to Him, we can persevere through our own suffering, since eternity with God is set before us if we endure (1 Peter 1:3-9, 1 Peter 2:21-24, Matthew 10:22).

The forces of darkness provide every reason to become discouraged, to fall into despair, to suffer in sin, and to go nowhere.  Yet God beckons through the example of Jesus Christ to go forward.  The saints of God can encourage you by their example.  Fellow Christians can encourage you on the journey.  But you can only persevere and move forward by looking to Jesus and following His ways in His might and strength.

If we do not move forward, we fall behind.  Let us constantly press onward and upward toward eternity with God (Philippians 3:13-14)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Greatness of Jesus’ Accomplishments

For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

Part of the greatness of what Jesus has accomplished involves the profound contrasts between who He is and what we are. He humbled Himself mightily by becoming a man, let alone a carpenter’s son in the backwoods of Galilee (Philippians 2:5-11). While we humans prize strength, power, glory, learning, and might, Jesus came in weakness, humility, and relative insignificance (Isaiah 53, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Matthew 11:28-29). When humans would expect the Son of God to conquer with the sword, Jesus conquered through dying and being raised again (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

And even though we are sinners, and deserve nothing but death and condemnation for what we have done, Jesus died for us.

He by whom all things were created died so that we could live (John 1:1-3).

The Author of Life laid His down so that we could live in Him (Acts 3:15, John 10:17, 2 Corinthians 13:4).

He who has all strength took on weakness to deliver us from our own weaknesses (2 Corinthians 13:4).

He who loves beyond measure experienced mockery and derision so that we could be reconciled to God (Matthew 27, Romans 5:11).

The High Priest became the sacrifice so that we could minister to God (Hebrews 7).

And this was all accomplished not because we were holy, not because we were righteous, and not because we deserved it.

It was accomplished despite our sinfulness, despite our unrighteousness, and despite our own lack of love and mercy.

It was finished so that we could learn to love through Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, and we are to suffer (Romans 8:17). The Word became flesh so that flesh could obey the Word (John 1:14).

Jesus died for sinful man so that man could be restored to His image (Romans 8:29).

When we ponder on these things, it is hard not to be humbled, astonished, and greatly thankful for all that was accomplished despite ourselves.

And it should provide sufficient motivation to go and reflect that love to all men (Matthew 5:13-16)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Counting the Cost

Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them,
“If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-33).

As we begin a new year, many people consider resolutions regarding new behaviors that they would like to begin.  Great resolutions are often made– and then just as easily broken.  Some persevere with their resolutions.  Many more start out well and fade quickly.  Far more are never realized in any way.  Such is the nature of people: the spirit is always more willing than the flesh (cf. Mark 14:38).

Jesus knows this, and that is why He intends for everyone to “count the cost” of serving Him.  It is a decision that is not to be taken lightly: Jesus is demanding all of those who come to Him.  They are to suffer the shame and humiliation of the cross.  They are to forsake every other connection and tie if need be to serve Jesus.  To become a disciple of Christ is to be entirely changed; life will never be the same (Galatians 2:20).

Yes, the cost is great, but the reward is even greater (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  Furthermore, while the cost of not serving Jesus is milder in life, its consequences in death are quite severe (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

All of these factors must be considered and a firm decision is called for.  There can be no “fence-sitting” on this question: you either decide to become a disciple of Christ or you decide to go your own way.  A lack of a decision is a decision against Him.

It is a decision that each must make for him or herself.  What will you choose– a hard life and a great eternity, or an easy life and a heinous eternity?  You must count the cost.

Even those who decide for Jesus must continually consider themselves and their faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Do you still have your first love (cf. Revelation 2:1-7)?  Are you growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)?  Are you pressing upward toward the goal (Philippians 3:14-17)?

As we reflect upon the past year and make decisions for the new one, let us consider the state of our soul.  Let us count the cost and be firm in our decision.  Let us strive to grow in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Promised Messiah

“And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

At this time of year, many stop to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  The picture of the Son of God– God the Son, in fact– as a relatively helpless infant is quite touching.  To consider that the Son of God experienced the same stages of physical growth as we have really brings the reality of the Incarnation home.

Nevertheless, many put great emphasis on the birth of Jesus, yet even in His birth, His purpose and plan are foreseen by Gabriel.  We can only imagine what Mary can see when she is told about her Son– King of Israel, sitting on David’s throne.  It presents so much hope and promise.

God’s plan, however, involves future suffering in order to accomplish this glorification.  Jesus was born so as to die as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29).  Jesus was born to be raised again in power (1 Corinthians 15).

Indeed, Jesus was born to be a King, but not like any other king who has ever been or ever will be.  While it is good to recognize that Jesus was born to Mary in a manger, we must never forget that we have life through His death and victory through His resurrection, and that Jesus is our King (Matthew 28:18, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15).  Let us stand firm in His Kingdom and proclaim His Word!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking the Cross

“And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

After two millennia of veneration of the cross, it is easy for us to forget what the cross meant in first century Judea.  It was a symbol of Roman power, the fate for any who dared to stand against Rome.  It represented a horrifying way to die, perhaps the most cruel form of punishment and death ever invented by mankind.

For Jews crucifixion was even worse.  Death on a tree meant being accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  There was no glory in a cross, at least in the way that men consider glory.

These realities, therefore, were what came to mind to the disciples listening to Jesus.  A cross meant humiliation, shame, being despised, reckoned as accursed and defiled.  This was no “easy street.”

We also have to remember that at this point, Jesus has not yet been crucified.  While Jesus no doubt knew what would eventually befall Him, we should not interpret this verse as meaning that Christians must be physically crucified.  Such is not Jesus’ point.

Jesus is telling all those who would be His disciples that if they really want to be worthy of Jesus and eternal life, they must live a “crucified life.”  They must bear the shame and humiliation that comes from serving Jesus.  If they are considered cursed by man, so be it, if they may only win Christ.

Jesus’ disciples must renounce all that they have and, in a type, die in Him.  It is no longer to be about oneself.  It is now all about Christ.

“Taking the cross” is not a statement about wearing jewelry; it is a statement of the humiliation and sacrifice necessary to follow Jesus.  Many are called to do so, yet precious few answer.  What will it be?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Ethan R. Longhenry