The Role of Suffering in the Kingdom of God

I was recently reading Matthew 10 with some others here in Catania. Jesus selected the 12 disciples and immediately sent them out to tell others about the Kingdom of God. There are some interesting things that I see here in this chapter, specifically related to suffering and persecution as he sent them out. Here are a few of those observations:

In verse 8, Jesus says, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Jesus is sending his disciples to the places where there is disease and the demon-possessed.

Verse 9 – “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you…” Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t take money with them. It turns out that they must depend on the local people to make things work.

Now we go down to the heart of the matter… it doesn’t get any better!

Verse 16 – “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Jesus is telling his disciples that they should expect danger on the mission that he is sending them on.

Verse 17 – “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.” The disciples are going to be beaten.

Verse 19 – “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.” The disciples will be arrested and brought before governors and kings.

And if you thought that was bad…

Verse 21 – “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” Families will work against one another. Brother against brother. Father against his child. Children against their parents…and all to the death.

Verse 22 – “You will be hated by everyone because of me…” You will not be liked. You will be hated.

Verse 23 – “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” Plain and simple, you will be persecuted.

Verse 38 – “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus tells his disciples that they have to carry the instrument of their own death on their backs. If they don’t, they aren’t worthy of him.

Verse 39 – “…whoever loses their life for my sake will find it…” Jesus calls his disciples specifically to die for him.

All of this is in the context of Jesus sending out his disciples to find the person of peace and tell them about the Kingdom of God. I think this means that if we are sent by Jesus, be prepared to suffer.

And yet, there is another part of the Bible that talks about what our attitude should be as we suffer and as we face trials. Here is James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

I think that we sometimes read over these verses a little too quickly. So, if I am understanding James correctly, even in all of the suffering and persecution that Jesus said that we would have, we are to consider it pure joy! God is trying to help us grow and mature through these trials, through the suffering and persecution, so consider them joy as you live through these times. God wants to do something in you and through you, and without the trials and without the suffering, the Word and the work won’t go forward. But we can expect both the trials and the suffering when he does send us, and through those things, God’s Word and his work will go forward.

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