First, they were kicked out of the Temple, then they were arrested, and many were martyred.
Paul, describes his experiences this way:
2 Corinthians 11:24-26 NIV Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.
Throughout history, this reality has been played out repeatedly in the lives of Christian people. Those who give themselves to the Christian life often find themselves on the receiving end of hostility, judgment, or even downright rejection. Because of this, many choose to walk away from the Christian faith. Let me emphasize that salvation is permanent so you can never walk away from salvation, but you can walk away from the Christian faith, or lifestyle.
Peter warned believers to not be surprised at this.
1 Peter 4:12 NIV Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
The Question is Why?
Here’s why. The Christian life is antithetical to worldly living.
The world operates in a way that is against God’s principles and design. The world struggles with things such as systemic racism, injustice, violence, and oppression. The Christian life exposes these ways and systems of the fallen world. It exposes the emptiness of worldly power and the insufficiency of worldly glory. This caused the early disciples to be called troublemakers.
Acts 17:5-7 NIV But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
The mere statement “Jesus is Lord” directly opposed the Roman creed that “Caesar is Lord.” Following the risen Lord, therefore, contradicted the rule of the Roman empire.
Today, the gospel upsets the very economic, political, and military systems, which prevalent throughout much of the world.
Remember, Christ was rejected by the world because the kingdom he proclaimed ran contrary to the kingdom of worldly power.
John 18:36 NIV Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Because believers identify themselves with Christ they will naturally experience negativity and rejection.
John 15:18-21 NIV “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. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
The Christian life, rooted in love and grace, is diametrically opposed to a worldly system based on rewards and punishments. Many sayings and slogans, common today, preach an ethic of deserved and merit.
We say things like: “You get what you deserve” or “What goes around comes around.” In a world based on getting what you deserve, selfless love to everyone seems complete nonsense.
The world says you should always try to be “number 1”. Jesus said, “the last shall be first”.
Matthew 19:28-30 NIV Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
This is in complete opposition to the way that the world thinks.
Matthew 25:35-40 NIV For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
We are called to enter the suffering of humanity if we want to show the love and presence of Jesus. The life of a Christian involves a certain amount of suffering because we humble ourselves to bless the vulnerable with love and grace. We walk with those who live on the receiving end of hurt, rejection, violence, and oppression.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus constantly surrounded himself with the poor and the vulnerable. Christ dwells with the hurting, the pushed aside, and the forgotten.
The Christian Life Is United With The Suffering Christ
Ultimately, Christian suffering occurs because we follow the one who suffered on the cross.
Romans 8:14-17 NIV For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Jesus didn’t live in the halls of power or prestige. Jesus ate with outcasts and sinners. He spoke with women and invited them into his company of followers. He touched the untouchables, He walked with those who were at the bottom of the spiritual, social, and religious ladder. He declared the blessings of God to the sinful and the down-and-out.
Because of this Jesus was called a drunkard, a glutton and He was eventually crucified for it.
Matthew 11:19 NIV The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
Jesus’ life and His ministry is called “The Way of the Cross”. The Church uses this to describe the suffering of Christians.
Matthew 16:24-25 NIV Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Let me be perfectly clear, Christians don’t seek suffering for the sake of suffering. Glorifying suffering is simply to swap one way of seeking power and influence for another. The power of the cross is seen in vulnerability, self-emptying, and sacrifice.
Christ’s power is revealed in weakness and his salvation is revealed through offering self and surrender.