Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jesus Is Seated at the Father's Right Hand

Ephesians 1:15-23 Ascension Day is one of those church festivals like the Baptism of Our Lord where we need to see the connection between the event in our Lord’s life-- and our own lives here on earth-- if we are to understand it as Good News for us.  And it is Good News!  Jesus said that it was for our own good that he was returning to the Father. 
We certainly recognize that Jesus deserved to be seated at the Father’s right hand for laying down his life for our sins and rising again to give us eternal life.  The glory and power and honor of this day in our Lord’s life is simply what he deserves!
But how does his glorious ascension benefit us who are still on this earthly sojourn through the valley of the shadow of death? 
Those are the two poles that stand at the beginning and ending of our text today:  the pilgrim people of God, living their lives in a broken world, standing in the need of prayer—and our Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, far above every other name, rule, power, dominion, and authority. 
Is there a meeting place between those vastly different poles that benefits us and works for our salvation?  The answer to that question is:  Yes! 
It is our ascended Lord who hears and answers our prayers.  It is our ascended Lord who sends the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith.  It is our ascended Lord who rules the world and works all things for our good.  It is our ascended Lord who continues to intercede for us and for our salvation. 
This is what our ascended Lord does for us and it is the best possible news that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand, listening to our prayersSt. Paul writes:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
            How many times over the course of our life have we called out to God in prayer?  How many times have we told a friend or loved one:  “I’ll pray for you”?
That we pray—and are prayed for--is an acknowledgement that our human resources are insufficient for life in this world—that we need help beyond ourselves—help that can only be found in God- and so we go to him in prayer.
But anyone who has ever prayed has faced the temptation of wondering if it really does any good—if we are not just speaking to a vast, empty cosmos.  Or if there is a God who listens, is he concerned enough with what is going on in my life to help.  The Good News for us on Ascension Day is that Jesus hears and helps! 
The Bible never speaks of prayer as an empty gesture or a meaningless, religious act.  The believer’s prayer is always heard and answered.  And in our text tonight we see who it is that hears and answers:  it is the ascended Lord. 
The One who loved us enough to take upon himself our flesh and die for us-- is also the mighty One who is above every other earthly power:  above the leaders of this world—above the forces of nature—even above sickness and death. 
The One who hears and answers our prayers is not only humble and compassionate and kind, he is mighty and strong to save and when we go to him in prayer we can be confident that he hears and answers and will come to our aid in a way that strengthens and sustains our Spirit-given faith in him.  Paul says we can be confident that:
The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
            If we’re really honest with ourselves, we know that many of the things for which we pray (while they may be important to us!) are not really eternally important.  They are really not the one thing needful which is saving faith in Jesus Christ.
That is why it is such good news that our ascended Lord puts first things first when it comes to our salvation and sends the Holy Spirit to open our eyes of faith so that we can trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  He promised this very thing!
Jesus told his disciples that after his ascension, he would clothe them with power from on high—that it was better that he returned to heaven so that he could send them the Counselor.  And he breathed on his disciples and said:  Receive the Holy Spirit.
What a precious gift the ascended Lord gives in the Holy Spirit so that we can believe in Jesus—since we cannot do this on our own!  The Bible says:
All of us were born dead in transgressions and sins—that the man without the spirit cannot accept the things that come from the Spirit of God—that we must be born again by the Spirit—and that no one can says “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 
Jesus doesn’t want anyone to perish in their sins but to come to faith in him and be saved-- and so he keeps his promise and sends the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith.  And he also works just as mightily to keep us in faith.  Paul comforts us with the Good News of the ascended Christ’s power—what Paul calls:
The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 
            Certainly one of the most heartfelt prayers we can pray throughout our earthly journey is that the “one who has begun this good work in us would bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We know that our journey of faith is not only about starting well—but finishing well—since it is only those who abide in faith who will be saved.
We also know about ourselves how difficult this is to do and everything that stands in the way!  We have to fight against our own flesh that leads us away from the way of Christ.  We have to remain steadfast in the face of the devil’s temptations.  And this unbelieving world is allied against us.
Besides these spiritual enemies, we Christians are also affected just like everyone else by the broken-ness of creation that sends droughts and diseases and downturns into our lives.
These spiritual and physical enemies are powerful obstacles to fighting the good fight of faith and finishing the race of faith.  But Christ’s ascension is our assurance that we have a mighty King who fights for us—one who is above every power and authority—one who is right there with us each step of the way in life, powerfully working all things for our eternal good to bring us safely to our heavenly home.
Paul says that in Jesus there is an immeasurable power at work in the lives of those who believe so that no matter what happens to us in life—no matter what situation or hardship we face—no matter how insurmountable the powers allied against us—they are still not greater than the power of the ascended Christ. 
And when we fail at times to hold fast to him—we can be confident that his love and mercy and forgiveness and life still avail for us before the heavenly Father as our righteousness and salvation for Paul tells us that God “ raised him from the dead and seated him with the Father at his right hand in the heavenly places.”  
            There at God’s right hand, Jesus is constantly lifting up his death on the cross as the atoning sacrifice between us and God’s wrath over our sins.  His own life is an enduring witness to the certainty of our own resurrection for where the head is, the body will certainly be.  And as the ascended Lord he lives to make intercession for us when we sin. 
As we pray for forgiveness, Jesus stands at the right hand of the heavenly Father lifting up his perfect sacrifice on the cross and he will continue to do so until we lay down our sinful flesh and are delivered from this vale of tears. 
Jesus’ salvation is not ancient history—but as the ascended Lord, it is our present and our future for Paul tells us that Jesus is:
Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
            As we live out our lives here on earth, our Lord’s ascension to the Father’s right hand is an incredible comfort for we know we are not alone in a vast empty cosmos, devoid of any kind of real meaning--but Jesus rules the world in power and might for the sake of his people the church.  And so…
When the economy crashes—when the rain refuses to fall—when we hear that dread word “cancer”—when our children move away, when our spouse dies and when we face our own last days—it is Jesus who reigns supreme over each of these moments—for our good—mighty in power and strong to save. 

We can be confident that his gracious rule over the world and the church and our lives will always work to our salvation and that is why his ascension to the Father’s right hand is such Good News for us on this day.  Amen.   

A Living Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Living Hope in the Midst of Suffering

1 Peter 3:13-22 When Peter wrote these words, Nero was persecuting Christians to divert blame from himself for causing the fire that destroyed Rome.  Many of these early believers were slaves who faced difficult choices in carrying out their duties for pagan masters.  A number of them had spouses who remained unbelievers. 
From the government to their workplaces to their homes, these early Christians faced hardships and difficulties and outright persecution.
While the difficulties we face as Christians here in the United States are different than those of the early Christians, the differences are really a matter of degree, not kind. 
More and more the culture we live in is antagonistic to Christianity.  Our government shuts down Christian businesses.  We work with people and attend schools with those who want to make sure we adopt their godless values.  There is tension in our families between those who follow Jesus and those who do not. 
And so the Words that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write to the early Christians also apply to our life 2000 years later.  The Bible says:
Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
            The sense of these words is that, all things being equal, who is going to trouble you for striving to do good?  If Christians are upright citizens and hardworking employees and loving family members--how can anyone be opposed to that? 
But of course, all things are rarely equal.  That’s the sense of Peter’s words:  “hopefully you won’t have to suffer—but then again you might”.  And if you do have to suffer hardship and persecution—don’t be afraid or troubled about it—but set apart—honor-- Christ the Lord as holy. 
In other words, when you are facing troubles on every side—when it seems like the whole world is allied against you, do not be afraid because Jesus is in charge and there is no power in heaven or authority on the earth or enemy in hell that is greater than his gracious rule. 
So great is his power and authority that even the worst kind of difficulty you face is shaped by him, into a blessing for you, and an opportunity to bear witness to others.  The Bible says that you are to:
Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
            When you follow the example of Christ by forgiving those who misuse you and facing hardships with joy and living in a dark world with hope, you can well imagine the questions that unbelievers might have about that kind of behavior because it is so different from everything they know from the world. 
These are your opportunities to explain why your life and your attitudes and your values as Christians are so different than the rest of the world.
Of course, the assumption is that they will be different!  That’s what the Bible means when it says that you are to “have a good conscience”.  In other words, you need to make sure that your actions and attitudes really are Christian!
But if you are acting in a Christ-like manner and suffering for it, you can be confident that it is those who oppress and persecute you who will be put to shame—not you—and not your faith in Christ. 
But why is this so?  Why can you be so hopeful in the midst of hard times?  Why is it better to have Christ as Lord than submit to the will of the world—even when there is a cost?  Why can you be certain that there will be a final reckoning when hardship and persecution will be revealed to have been a blessing for the Christian --and the evidence for the eternal punishment in hell of those opposed to Christ?
It is because the Lordship of Jesus Christ encompasses the whole world—from the highest heavens to the deepest parts of hell to every person, place, and thing on earth.  The Bible says that:
Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
            The central person and event of history is Jesus Christ and his saving work.  His death on the cross has atoned for the sins of the whole world—the sinless Savior for every sinner and every sin--to bring you back to your heavenly Father. 
The sense of the word that Peter uses there is not merely bring you back—like a child brought to their father kicking and screaming—but to usher you into the presence of God’s greatness, assured of his gracious approval when you get there.
Let the world say what they will about you—let them slander you and lie about the church—let them persecute you and put you to death—it does not matter-- because God has declared you right in his sight and promised you that death is not the end.
God has done even more for you—the risen, victorious Christ descended to the deepest, darkest parts of hell and proclaimed his victory there in such a powerful way that not even in hell can the devil proclaim himself the master.  The Bible says:
Jesus was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
            Jesus did not descend into hell to suffer.  He suffered hell on the cross as he was forsaken by his heavenly Father so that you would never have to experience that forsakenness.  When he cried out:  it is finished—it was.  Everything that needed to be accomplished for your salvation was finished on the cross as Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath over your sins. 
And so when his heavenly Father raised him from the dead, before Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the faithful women, there was a promise from God that had to be proclaimed to the evil one who had caused it all. 
That is what Jesus did!  He descended into hell and proclaimed his victory over Satan.  Just as promised to Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, crushed the plans and purposes of Satan by dying on the cross and rising again.  That victory was proclaimed by Jesus to the captive spirits and souls in hell.
Peter especially mentioned those who opposed the saving work of God during the days of Noah heard of Jesus’ victory—not necessarily because they were worse than others—but because the flood was a type of the final judgment and the evil people of Noah’s day were representative of all those who reject God’s salvation.
For 120 years Noah preached the judgment of God against sin and proclaimed the opportunity to repent and believe in God and take one’s place in the salvation he offered in the ark.  But his message was almost universally rejected. 
The point for us is this:  no matter how bad you think things are---no matter how desperate the situation—no matter how complete the rejection of God and the persecution of his people—Jesus is in control and he will judge the unbelieving world and he will save his people. 
And just as it was in the days of Noah when water was used the vehicle of both God’s judgment and salvation---so it is today in the church today through the waters of Holy Baptism that your enemies are drowned and you are made a part of the true ark of salvation which is Jesus Christ.  The Bible says that:
Baptism, which corresponds to this (that is the waters of the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
            When the devil accuses you---when the world persecutes you—when your frail human flesh fails you—there is one comfort that avails in all of it—one comfort that lifts you up and empowers your witness and it is this:  Christ died and was raised for you. 
That promise was made to you in Holy Baptism:  that you are God’s child no matter what befalls you—that your sins are forgiven-- and that you have eternal life because he rules heaven and earth for this very purpose:  to bring you to himself and cause all things to work for your eternal good.  The Bible says that Jesus:
has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
            We have a living hope in the midst of suffering because the reign of Christ extends to all places and circumstances and people and institutions. 
The depths of hell have no claim upon you because the Good News of Jesus’ victory over Satan echoed even into its darkest depths.  The breadth of the earth and its people and institutions and events must ultimately serve your good because they are ruled by your King.  And the heights of heaven are reserved as your dwelling place because Jesus has gone there to prepare a place for you.

            The height and depth and breadth of Christ’s rule is complete and full and final and his ascension to the Father’s right hand—a position of ultimate authority and power and might—is your assurance that the hardships and difficulties and persecutions you face in this life will ultimately work to your eternal good and that on the Last Day your body will rise from the grave and be raised to heaven just like your King.  Amen.   

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Living Hope in the Living Stone

1 Peter 2:2-10 First time parents can read all the books—take all the classes—assure themselves they are prepared for whatever comes--but until they bring their baby home they really don’t understand that their newborn has a single-minded desire to be fed and nourished- a desire that immediately becomes the top priority in their home. 
That’s the picture that God uses to tell us how it ought to be for us when it comes to having our spiritual needs met and our souls fed by his Word.  The Bible says:
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
            Like a baby with its single-minded desire to be fed, it ought to be our highest priority to have our life of faith nourished.  We ought to have a spiritual hunger.  And just as there is one perfect food for newborns (its mother’s milk) --so there is one perfect food for the child of God who desires to grow in their faith—and that is the Word of God. 
God has caused us to be born again through his living Word and that same Word is the tool the Holy Spirit uses to help us to grow up in our faith. 
Babies yearn to be close to their mothers and have their tummies full—and so we Christians yearn to have our souls filled with the food God provides and be close to him as we hear his voice and receive the real presence of our Savior in Holy Communion.
GOD wants to feed us with the pure spiritual milk of his Word that we need to grow up in our salvation-- because God’s plan for our lives extends far beyond just saving us—but he nourishes us spiritually so that we can serve him and others as his priests.  The Bible says that:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
            When the faithful women went to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week, their concern was how they would roll away the massive gravestone across the entrance.  But that cold, impenetrable sign of death could not contain the living stone inside! 
God raised Jesus from the dead and rolled away the stone so that all could see that death was no longer the last word about mankind—but God had chosen Jesus, the living stone, to be the foundation of a living temple.
As baptized, believing Christians we have a share in Christ’s resurrection-- and like the living stone Jesus Christ (the foundation upon which the church is built)-- we too are living stones that God is constructing into a spiritual house where his people are fed-- and from which--his saving name is proclaimed for the salvation of others. 
You will note that the Bible says that we are stones—not bricks.  Christians are not all the same—we have different qualities and characteristics—we don’t all look the same--but we all fit together—each of us has a particular, unique, important spot in the church that only we can fill—a place where only we fit. 
And not only are we a part of the spiritual house that God is building—but we are the priests in that temple--servants of God who can come into his presence by faith in Jesus --and serve him in this world in the power of the Holy Spirit by offering up spiritual sacrifices that serve God and our neighbor. 
And so what are these spiritual sacrifices that we offer up to God as his priests?  The Bible speaks of a number of them.
There is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit that recognizes our sinfulness and unworthiness and offers it up to God for healing.  There is the sacrifice of praise that acknowledges and stands in awe of what God has done for us in Christ.  There is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that responds with gratitude for God’s good gifts.  There is the sacrifice of good works and tithes and offerings that helps others.  And finally there is the sacrifice that encompasses all of them—the sacrifice of our lives
The bible tells us in we are to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices—that this sacrifice of our whole being is our true, spiritual worship and the Bible promises us that when we live our lives as God’s priest, we will never be disappointed here on earth-- or thereafter in eternity!  The Bible says:
For it stands in Scripture:  “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.  So the honor is for you who believe,”
            To fully understand the picture that Peter is using we need to recognize that in the ancient world, a cornerstone was not just a foundation stone upon which the building rested but the stone that set the direction for every other stone that followed.  If the lines of the building was to be true—it had to follow the line of the cornerstone.
So it is with the cornerstone that God has chosen to build his church upon—his Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ life and example and words set the direction for our lives.
Jesus’ words of Law remove all rationalizations and excuses and moral compromises from our lives.  We know exactly what God’s expectations are for us—how he would have us live—the things we ought to value—and the truth about our great need for his salvation.
Jesus’ words of Gospel assure us that his forgiveness earned at the cross is our salvation-that he is the way and the truth and the life—that because he lives we also will live—that the devil’s accusations against us will not stand in God’s sight. 
Our Christian lives—built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ—directed by his words—lived after his example—WILL stand the test of time and eternity—will NEVER disappoint us as we are about the work of being priests—and we will NOT put us to shame when Christ comes again.  But for those that do not believe, the Bible says:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”  They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
            The Living Stone that is the cornerstone of our lives and the foundation of the Church—the living stone that was rejected by so many of his own people and is still rejected by much of the world today—will be the destruction of those who do not render to him the obedience of faith and life.
            The Bible says that Jesus will be for them a “rock of offense” and the word that is used there—skandalon—refers to a deadfall trap—a rock placed upon a trigger with bait—that when tripped, falls upon the prey—killing it. 
The biblical picture is this:  the same stone that we build our lives upon—the same stone that is the direction for our lives—will serve as the judgment for those whose lives are NOT built upon him and NOT guided by him. 
So it has been ordained from the beginning.  God has prepared for mankind “one and only one” way of salvation—and that is his Son Jesus Christ who is the way and the truth and the life—apart from whom no one will come to the Father. 
That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says that those who disobey the Word are destined to stumble and fall under God’s judgment.  God is not saying that he has destined certain individuals to fall under his judgment-- but that all who turn their backs on his salvation are destined for judgment and eternal punishment in hell. 
Until that day, there is a day of grace—a God-given opportunity for everyone to come to faith and build their lives on the living stone and find guidance in his Word. 
As God’s priests, we have a part to play in helping others come to that place.  The Bible says that we are:
… a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
            The message that goes out from the people of the church to the people of the world is this:  at one time we were just like you – we too were lost in the darkness of unbelief—we too were under the wrath of God on account of sins—we too were alienated from our heavenly Father and orphans in this world. 
But God bestowed his mercy upon us in Christ- and shone the light of his Spirit into our hearts- and made us a part of his people--and he wants to do the same for you. 
            This is the saving mission of God:  to incorporate people from every tribe and language into a chosen race—to take those who serve false gods and make them his priests—to rescue those that are caught up in the godless culture of our day and make them citizens of a holy nation—and to take those who are alienated from him and adopt them into his family.  That is the saving mission of God.
And we Christians - who he feeds with his word- and builds into his church- and calls to be his priests- are a vital part of that saving mission—each of us offering up spiritual sacrifices that bear witness to him in our daily lives-- and proclaiming the wonders and goodness and mercy of the God who has saved us and made us his own-- so that others might hear and believe. 

To this end may God grant us his grace and help to live as his priests for the sake of his saving mission!  Amen. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Living Hope for Lost Sheep

1 Peter 1:19-25 On this Fourth Sunday of Easter we have before us one of the most beautiful images of Jesus in the Bible:  the Good Shepherd. 
We speak those words that have comforted God’s people for thousands of years:  The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  And we sing those beautiful hymns that speak of all our Good Shepherd does to care for us.  Good Shepherd Sunday has always been a comfort for the people of God.
But it is also a challenge.  The fact of the matter is, we do walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  We do stray like lost sheep.  We are pretty helpless against enemies greater and more powerful than ourselves. 
If we are to claim Jesus as our Good Shepherd, if we are to be comforted by the promise that we are part of his flock, we also have to claim to our status as sheep:  weak, defenseless, prone wander and yet called to follow in his steps for he is the living hope for lost sheep.  The Bible says that:
This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
            These words were addressed first of all to servants and slaves—the least of all people in the Roman world.  These slaves had become Christians and now their earthly lives had gone from being difficult (because they were already slaves) to almost unbearable (because they were Christian slaves in a pagan house). 
When you think of Christian slaves in the Middle East today and you get some idea what their lives were like—and yet Peter says that they are to endure and do good in the midst of it.
Thanks be to God that none of us are slaves and yet all of us live and work in a world that does not share our Christian values.  All of us are subject at times to those people who do not share our faith and commitment to Christ. 
Maybe we work for a boss who is not a Christian.  Maybe we have to do business with people who do not have our same morals.  Maybe we attend a school where everyone around us is saying and doing things that are opposed to our faith in Jesus. 
More and more that is the world we live in and that is certainly the world our Christian children will live in.
And so then, how are we to live as members of the flock of the Good Shepherd in a world that is hostile to our faith?  Are we to live one kind of life when we are around our fellow Christians and then go along with the unbelieving world the rest of the time?  Of course not! 
Peter says that if we live like the world in doing evil and we suffer for it, there is no credit in it forus.  That is simply getting what we deserve. 
Instead, the Christian is to endure unjust suffering and even do good in the midst of it because this kind of life is a gracious thing in the sight of God
For those early Christians slaves and for us sitting here today, that is a powerful motivation to endure and do good in the of injustice, knowing that we are living our lives IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.  And so then…
When we walk the halls of the high school and hear language and see things that would make a sailor blush, we are not alone—God is watching.  When we have to work with people who ridicule our faith and call into question our most deeply held beliefs, we are not alone—God is with us.  When we have to live in a country that has lost its moral compass and turned its back on God, we are not alone—God is working to strengthen our faith and witness. 
In all of these situations where our life with Christ comes up against our life among unbelievers:  God is watching- and God is with us- and God counts it a gracious thing in his sight when we endure hardship and do good in the midst of persecution. 
The fact of the matter is, that is exactly the kind of life that we are called to live as sheep of the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Peter says:
To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
            To THIS you have been called:  injustice on account of your faith; endurance in the face of opposition; good deeds for those who mistreat us—to THIS you have been called.
That is the real truth of the Christian life and it stands in absolutely stark contrast to what so many believe about their life with God—that it is a life of ease and comfort filled with every material blessing. 
No!  To THIS you have been called:  endurance and persecution and outright opposition.  And why have we been called to this kind of life?  Because Christ suffered for you.
Why on earth should we expect that our life as a disciple of Jesus would be any different than the life of our Savior?  When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he said:  take up your cross.  He wasn’t kidding or exaggerating!  Take up your cross!  Take upon yourself this instrument of death and follow me into death.
We are called to lead a life of patient endurance and loving service to our enemies, doing good to those who mistreat us, because that is the life Christ lived for us and we are to follow his example and walk in his steps.
The word that our Bible translates as “example” originally referred to a writing pattern that a student would then trace in his own hand and in this way learn to write.  That is what Christ is for us:  he is the pattern that we are to follow as closely as possible so that we would learn to walk in his steps---so that his life would be seen (as closely as possible) in our lives.
And so then, what does the pattern of Christ’s life look like as we face our own share of the cross in persecution and hardship and opposition on account of our faith in him?  The Bible says that Jesus:
committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
            When we face hardship and difficulties for our faith, it would be the most natural thing in the world to respond in kind—to lash out and fight back and to give to our enemies as good as we get from them.  But that was not the way of Christ.
He did not return insults for insults.  He did not curse those who cursed him.  He used no guile to undermine those who plotted against him. 
In the face of injustice and opposition and hardship and even death, he lived a holy life and he calls us to the same.  He says:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Jesus lived this life-- and he calls the members of his flock to live this life-- knowing that there is a God who is watching over us, a God who is with us in trials, and God who ultimately works justice—even if we can’t see it right now-- and oftentimes we can’t!
It is the height of injustice for Christian girls to be carried off as slaves in the Sudan.  It is the height of injustice for Christians to be murdered and their churches destroyed during Holy Week.  It is the height of injustice for Christians to be ridiculed and scorned for continuing to believe what every person has always believed up to the present:  that life is precious and marriage is sacred.
But these injustices will one day be reconciled by the God who has already begun his restoration of the world in his Son Jesus.  The Bible says that:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
            When we face hardships and difficulties in our life of faith; when we wonder if we can endure opposition to our faith (to say nothing of doing good to those who mistreat us!) we must remember the love and mercy that God has already shown to us in Jesus.
We too were once part of a world opposed to God, we too were outside the flock of the Good Shepherd, and yet he loved us and took upon himself our sins and carried them to the tree of the cross.  His wounds have brought us healing. 
And all of this for a purpose:  that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree THAT we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  The word “that” in the original denotes purpose.  Here’s the point: 

Christ has taken our sins and healed us by his wounds for a purpose:  that our lives as sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd would be different than they were before—when we were lost in sin and unbelief--different than the world around us: that we would be people with a living hope in a living Lord because we have been born again through his living word.  Amen.