“Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to taunts and afflictions, and at other times you were companions of those who were treated that way. For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the things Jesus made clear over the course of His ministry is that following Him was not going to be easy. In fact, it was going to be hard…really hard. When we give our lives to God’s kingdom, the authorities of the kingdom of this world aren’t going to take the loss of their power over us lightly. To the extent they are able, they are going to make our lives as difficult and miserable as they can. The obvious question here is why anyone would sign up for this. Because there’s more to life than this life. Let’s talk about it.
The various suffering passages scattered across the New Testament are not terribly popular to study and talk about. At least that’s the case in our generally suffering-free, comfort-addicted culture. And yet, if you spend too much time actually studying the New Testament, they are all over the place. I mean, all over the place.
Jesus was perhaps the most explicit about it of anyone. He spoke often about the challenges His followers should expect to face. Essentially nothing about following Him should be counted on to be easy. The challenges will come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes as well. Many of them will be personal and internal. The battle to overcome the sin inside us with the Spirit’s help is fierce. The apostle Paul wrote about that with both eloquence and a haunting familiarity.
If we are being honest, those internal challenges are a great deal more common in this culture than any other kind. While there is undoubtedly some genuine persecution happening in this country—and we should probably be more vigilant about labeling persecution properly even when it doesn’t look like the physical, life-threatening persecution our brothers and sisters in other nations regularly face—by comparison, we are still the world’s great bastion of religious liberty.
Yet we should by no means expect this state of affairs to linger forever. Indeed, in light of the past 2,000 years of church history, our situation over the past two hundred years or so is incredibly unique. Still, regardless of the exact nature of the persecution we might face as followers of Jesus, the question it demands we answer is simple: why go through all of that? We ask this question whether the persecution is happening to us directly or we are watching it unfold in the lives of the people around us. Why endure through all of this pain and heartache when you could make it all go away in an instant if you would just toe the world’s line?
The author of Hebrews’ audience was asking this question having faced their own ordeal of suffering and persecution. And having just warned them of the dangers of falling away yet again, there was perhaps a bit of grumbling in the room as the letter was being read. “You tell us to stick with it and to not turn back and face God’s judgment, but what about the hardships we are facing now? What is God doing to help us now?”
Into this challenging question, the author didn’t offer firm answers. Instead, he offered a reminder. Do you remember those early days when you first embraced the truth? You were really excited, but it was really hard because your family refused to accept it. You endured a hard struggle with sufferings. They cut you off and you were on your own with nothing but your church family to support you. Sometimes you were the one to suffer. Other times it was your fellow brothers and sisters who were in the crosshairs of the culture.
You ministered faithfully to those who were consigned to prison because of their faith in Jesus. What’s more, when it was your turn to be on the chopping block and it was your possessions that were taken from you, you accepted with joy the chance to walk the same path first trod by our Lord.
Why did you do that? What was it that motivated you in those days? How were you able to maintain, not merely your faith, but the joy of the Lord, throughout your ordeal of suffering? Because you knew that you have a better and enduring possession. You were utterly convinced there was something ahead of you that would eventually more than make up for anything you happened to lose in this world all the way up to your very life. Nothing the world might take from you in the here and now won’t be replaced and more in the life that is to come. Your losses will be acknowledged, honored, and restored by the God who will one day make all things new.
That’s why you did it. What you were going to gain was far greater than whatever it was you might have lost along the way to get it. When you kept both eyes open, instead of being limited to seeing only what was broken and failing in front of you, you were able to see beyond to what would be, and so you pressed forward with hope.
My friends, this hasn’t changed. If you follow Jesus faithfully long enough, you are going to experience some losses related to your faith. In fact, your faith will be the cause of the losses. You will suffer. You will be persecuted. There will be hardships, setbacks, and heartaches. And those are the good days. If you don’t have a clear vision of the hope that lies in front of you in the kingdom of God, you aren’t going to make it.
So remember. Remember why you signed up in the first place. Remember the hope you had. Remember your confidence. Remember the vision you had and how excited you were about it. Remember your faith in Christ and the love you had for Him. The same God who inspired all of that has not changed. If you keep on trusting Him and following His command, no matter how it may seem right now, He will yet take you to that future you could once see so clearly before the fog of the world obscured your vision. Remember, my friends, and live.