SERMON OUTLINE SUFFERING CHURCH SUNDAY 1 NOVEMBER 1998
The heavenly reward
THE NEW Testament promises Christians a reward in
heaven, but the idea of reward goes against our
egalitarian feelings: we all ought to be "on one level" in
heaven, we feel. There is a theological puzzle: how can
we be happy in heaven if some are "better off' than
But the NT writers assure us there will be rewards for
enduring temptation (lames 1:12), seeking God
(Hebrews 11 :6), dying for Christ (Revelation 2: 10),
faithful pastoral work (1 Peter 5:4), kindness (Galatians So Jesus declares that he is represented on earth by
6:9), and much more. A key Christian virtue attracting suffering Christians and, as happened to the young
the promise of reward is merciful service directed to the Origen (see over), to care for them is as if to care for him
weak and vulnerable. (v40). This surprising idea is a surprise to those
presented with it first (v37-39). But what greater
The Barnabas Fund supports oppressed Christians in incentive for caring - say, for suffering Christians in
Muslim-dominated lands. Most Christians in such Pakistan, Iran, Sudan - could there be? The reward is
countries have to endure some measure of disadvantage, simply"the kingdom" elsewhere promised to Jesus' "little
restriction and frustration; some in difficult Muslim flock" without distinction (Luke 12:32).
countries face far worse -constant harassment, ostracism,
physical threats, even death. Note that Paul was later to say that Christian
benevolence should not be limited to Christians only
The three passages chosen as the basis for this sermon (Galatians 6:10).
all deal with suffering for Christ, caring for the sufferers
and the prospect of reward. (3) Reward now - Matthew 5:3-12. This lovely,
familiar passage paints an unforgettable picture of
(1) Rewards for those enduring persecution - gracious Christian attitudes - but the Lord plainly says
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14. The previous chapter has that the result of attaining Christian character is to be
recorded the opening by Christ, the warrior Lamb, of six persecution, insult, misrepresentation and (by
seals of the judgment scroll in God's hand. By the end of implication) violence such as that experienced in the past
chapter six we are ready for the final act ofjudgment - (verse 12b). Christians in Muslim countries know the
but the account pauses, and there is the vision of reward frequent truth of what He foresaw. In Greek, the form
for those who have suffered, like Esther John (see over), of the word translated "persecuted" (vl0) implies past
from the wrath of those who hate them. Not all have persecution continuing still as a constant reality.
been made martyrs; John simply says they have come
through the terrible persecution by whole-hearted trust in The Beatitudes assure us that rewards are on offer for the
the Cross. Now they are for ever safe. That is their Christian who seeks personal humility, purity and the
reward. rest. But the rewards are not all future. Verses 3 and 10
say there is something to be enjoyed now. What is
The faith described here is seen in the lives and sometimes called the "inner witness of the Spirit"
testimony of Cyprian in the Early Church and Mehdi provides an assurance now of blessings ("great reward"
Dibaj more recently (see over). The persecution v12) still around the corner.
described in this chapter is plainly the last one of all and
thus has not happened yet - but we are to understand that Note that the rewards mentioned here (and in Matthew
those who have suffered for Christ in history and suffer 25) are not a kind of quid pro quo for a virtuous life and
now are recipients of a like heavenly kindness. commendable actions, but rather a fit consequence of
them. As C.S.Lewis put it, heaven is not a prize for
(2) Reward for caring - Matthew 25:31-46. This doing good along the Christian road, but is simply where
startling passage is an apocalypse, a vision which reports the road goes to.
an unconditional promise to those who are caring in their
response to the hungry, thirsty, lonely, unclothed, ill and Paul the appostle reminds us that we can have no real
imprisoned. The explanation of the vision depends on understanding of heaven (1 Corinthians 2:9). But
who exactly they are. They are later described as "the whatever it is like, those who have suffered for Christ's
least important of my brothers", a word that can only sake and those who have responded to their present
mean Christians (see also Matthew 10:40-42). needs will be highly esteemed.
SERMON ILLUSTRATIONS her family agreeing to visit them - as long as they would
let her live as a Christian and not force her
The lives and works ofChristian martyrs may provide suitable to marry a Muslim. A few weeks later she was dead,
illustrations for your sermon on Suffering Church Sunday. her skull smashed by an unknown assailant one night.
Few ofthose selected herefit the picture we may have ofpale
white "saints". All were martyred in countries which are now The police searched her belongings, sure they would
Muslim. find evidence of a jilted boyfriend who may have killed
her. But finding nothing, they told her Christian friends:
Origen "This girl was in love only with your Christ".
In 202 AD the Roman emperor Septimus Severus
decreed that all converts to Christianity should be killed. In July 1996 a Pakistani girl named Rahila was killed by
A man named Leonidies was one of those executed in her brother who claimed he was doing his Muslim duty
the Egyptian port of Alexandria. His family being left by killing an apostate. Rahila had run away from home
destitute, a wealthy Christian widow took care of the to avoid a marriage hastily arranged by her family when
education of his 17-year old son Origen. Origen became they found she was attending Bible studies with a
head of the Christian college in Alexandria where he Christian girl friend.
remained for 30 years, a celebrated writer, teacher and
preacher of the faith. Persecution came again in his old
age, when the emperor Decius ordered all citizens to
make a public sacrifice to pagan gods. Origen stood firm Iranian evangelist Mehdi Dibaj was sentenced to death
in his faith. He was imprisoned and tortured in the city for apostasy from Islam in December 1993 after 11
of Tyre, until he died of his sufferings aged 70. years ofprison and torture. Released in January 1994
following an international outrcry, he was abducted and
As this wealthy Christian took care of Origen, we today murdered six months later. An extract from his defence
can give practical help to the families ofthose who are at his trial.
imprisoned or martyredfor their faith. Now as then,
Christian education can bear much fruit. The eternal God who sees the end from the beginning
and who has chosen me to belong to Him, knew from
everlasting whose heart would be drawn to Him and also
Cyprian those who would be willing to sell their faith and
Cyprian was born in 200 AD in Carthage, Tunisia, in a eternity for a pot of porridge. I would rather have the
pagan home. Becoming a Christian at the age of 45, he whole world against me, be called an apostate but know
went into hiding during the persecution under Decius, that I have the approval of the God of glory, because
returning to lead the church wisely for many years. man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at
Cyprian was arrested in 257 when the emperor Valerian the heart, and for Him who is God for all eternity
issued an edict forbidding Christians from meeting nothing is impossible....
together. Cyprian was taken to the place ofjudgement
and ordered to sacrifice to the gods. The governor They tell me "Return!" But from the arms of my God to
warned him to consider the risk he was taking in whom can I return? .... It is now 45 years that I am
refusing. "In so righteous a cause there is no need of walking with the God of miracles, and His kindness
consideration" replied Cyprian. He was beheaded in the upon me is like a shadow and I owe him much for his
public square. fatherly love and concern. The love of Jesus has filled all
my being and I feel the warmth of His love in every part
While modern-day Tunisians are not beheadedfor their of my body. God, who is my glory and honour and
faith, meeting together as Christians can lead to police protector, has put his seal of approval on me through His
harassment and threats. unsparing blessings and miracles....
Esther John Life for me is an opportunity to serve Christ and death is
a better opportunity to be with him. Therefore I am not
Esther became a Christian as a teenager at school in only satisfied to be in prison for the honour of His Holy
India. Her Muslim family moved to Pakistan after Name, but am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus
partition, and Esther kept her faith secret for seven years, my Lord and enter His kingdom sooner.
sustained only by a New Testament. When her family
began to arrange her marriage to a Muslim man, Esther
ran away from home. Five years later, while working as
an evangelist 500 miles away, she wrote to
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