[Sept 22]--Encouragement?

Acts 14:21-28

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Luke is very much a historian. Yes, he has an agenda beyond just giving us information about the early ministry of Paul. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he's extremely meticulous about the cities which Paul and Barnabas visited. We need to keep in mind, however, that every word in the book of Acts (just like the rest of God’s word) is there to teach us something. As my pastor once told me, the Holy Spirit is incapable of small talk.

There’s one little point I’d like to make about today’s reading. I’m always a big fan of “tension” passages, which hold seemingly contradictory truths in tension for us. They tend to provide perfect balance for us. Martin Luther once compared humanity to a drunk man on a horse: He falls off one side of the saddle, gets himself off the ground, sits back on his horse, rides a little further then proceeds to fall off the other side.

Before I get to the verse I’m thinking of, let’s look at the verse preceding it. Verse 22 tells us that Paul and his companions were “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” That sounds wonderful, Paul. What did you tell them?

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” That’s nice Paul, wonderful word of encouragement for us to live. . . saybuhwhat?! What was that again?

This was meant as a word of encouragement?

Now I hate to have to do this, but there are people out there who need some clarification. Paul is not teaching that we’re saved by undergoing hardship. This is the apostle who laid it out for us oh-so-clearly multiple times in his epistles: We're saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. He’s not teaching them how to get their sins forgiven or how to get into heaven.

So what’s he talking about?

He’s saying that before we get into our final rest, there’s going to be trouble along the way. This is a fallen, nasty and dark world. We have an Adversary who never takes a day off. He plots and schemes and attacks and infiltrates every good thing the Father is trying to do within and through us.

Our Savior promised us that we can’t expect better treatment than he got. The world rejected and killed him. Is the servant expecting better treatment than the Master?

And on top of that we suffer the normal slings and arrows of just living in a fallen world. Christians get sick. Christians lose their jobs. Christians get into bad car accidents.

But we can’t forget the other half of the thought, the tension which pulls us back from despair. We're going to end up in the Kingdom of God. It’s going to be a rough ride at times, but we're going to get there. It’s something so outside our experience that we have to define it mostly by what’s not there: tears, pain, sickness, loss, injury, death.

That’s the wonderful thing about tension verses. They contain perfect truth wrapped up in just a very few words. We’re going through hardships here, and there’s work to be done. But in the end it will all be more than worth it. Every tear. Every rejection. Every heartache. Every sacrifice. Every loss. This same apostle later told us “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

OK, so that’s encouraging.

Lord Jesus, it’s awfully hard to keep my eternal perspective at times. Please give me better vision, or at least better staying power.

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