The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

“A brother and companion in”

“I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  

- Revelation 1:9

What makes a pastor effective? What makes someone effective in serving our Lord? A lot of damage has been done to the name of Jesus, to His bride the church, and to the reputation of our Lord by those who claim to be pastors of Christ or in some way claim to belong to Christ. The world is deceived and under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). But even those who walk according to the course of this world and the prince of the power of the air are able to spot a charlatan, hypocrite, or shallow disingenuous follower of Jesus (Eph. 2:1-3). And when they spot a phony or shallow “follower” of Jesus, they are quick to exploit it to their own ends. They only have to find one slacker, one superficial “Christian” to have enough ammunition to excuse themselves from listening to any conviction for their sins that the Holy Spirit might be dealing with them about.

Did you ever ask yourself why the hypocrites Ananias and Sapphira were dealt with so severely by the Holy Spirit? They sold some property and gave a portion of it to the church giving the impression they had given it all at great personal sacrifice. That doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. But they were both exposed for their deceit and stopped literally dead in their tracks. What was the big deal? Peter was moved by the Spirt to indict them for having a heart filled by Satan to lie to the Spirit; they tested the Spirit of God with their lying ways. Why was that such a big deal? Why did they have to pay such severe price? After the incident it says, “So great fear came upon all those who heard these things” Acts 5:1-11). There was an important lesson to be learned early on in the early church; one that we should revisit in our day.

The lost world is rejecting a shallow superficial Spiritless church today. Sinners are running hell bent from the church headed for a cliff that will plummet them into a Christ-less eternity. It’s a heart breaking situation. But what is even more heartbreaking is that so much of the church just doesn’t seem to care. They indulge in political discussions which soon degenerate into arguments. They are satisfied to be preoccupied with tweets, twitters, and texts of depersonalized messages to others. Maybe they have a Facebook “ministry.” Maybe they have an Instagram account. But when was the last time there was an actual conversation up front and personal with an actual flesh and blood person?

Then there are the people who are more concerned with the standings of their team than the spiritual state of the lost around them. People know the sales coming this month but they aren’t too privy to the salvation condition of those around them.

The world sees through superficiality. They can spot a hypocrite a mile away; even if it is for the selfish sake of justifying or excusing their own sin. What’s the solution? One of the most enduring examples of effective ministry is the Apostle John. In His last inspired piece of writing he wrote the following:

·         Revelation 1:9 - “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  

John identified himself as “both your brother and companion in the tribulation.” John was in the trenches with his people. He didn’t lead from the rear but led from the front lines. And because of this he was loved by those he led in the Lord. No one could accuse John of not genuinely caring or being false or hypocritical in some way. That was because he was a “brother and companion in.” That small little preposition “in” carries a lot of weight. It was because John was “in” life with those he wrote to and ministered to that he was so effective.

Now we would be amiss to attribute John’s effectiveness and longevity to only being “in” something. Most importantly he “was in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10). But it was the Holy Spirit who moved John to be that loving brother and companion to those he ministered too. And this work of the Spirit in and through John is what made him one of the lasting pillars of the early church.

John was their companion in tribulation. Today we have Isis and Islam as the prime instrument of the devil to persecute the church. In John’s day it was Rome. Today’s brand of persecution has nothing on the Roman’s brand. The devil is ruthless in every age. It takes a genuine Spirit-filled Church to weather his diabolical storms. John was a church leader, a pastor, who led the charge through tribulations. And those following him loved him for his courage. Rumor had it that Domitian tried to do in John by boiling him alive in oil. But old bro John was miraculously preserved through it all. Was it true? We don’t know. It’s possible. But even if such an account isn’t true, it tells us a lot about how those around him felt about John.

The environment into which this revelation is being received is one of “tribulation” (Greek thlipsis). “Tribulation” means literally a pressing, pressure. It can refer to anything that burdens the spirit of a person. Jesus used this term when He stated, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33). There have always been, and there will always be, pressures and persecutions in this life, until the Lord returns to set things right. Until then people inside and outside of the church will be looking for those who have a genuine answer to their trial produced questions, a genuine solution to their pressure produced problems.

In this world Jesus affirms we will experience tribulation. But I should mention here that this does not mean we will experience the Great Tribulation! We will experience pressures from the world and our adversary the devil. The “tribulation” referred to in John 16:33 and Revelation 1:9 are not the same as the Great Tribulation described in Revelation chapters 6-19. The difference between the tribulation referred to by Jesus that we would experience and that of the Great Tribulation is that the source or origin of each is different.

During the Great Tribulation God is the One who orchestrates the tribulation by pouring out His righteous and well deserved wrath on a Christ rejecting world (Revelation 6:17; 16:17-19). Christians are not destined to experience the wrathful tribulation of God but will be and are saved from it (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9).  In this world now we have an adversary who prowls the earth like a roaring lion seeking to prey on the weak (1 Peter 5:8-9). We are in a spiritual war against Satan and his cohorts (Ephesians 6:10-18). We live in a fallen world where sin causes tribulation to its victims (1 John 3:8). In this world we will suffer tribulations.

It should also be noted here that the cause of the tribulation John and his fellow believers were experiencing was their faithfulness to “the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Their faithfulness led to tribulation. When was the last time you suffered for “the word of God” and/or “for the testimony of Jesus Christ? They experienced trials because they did the right thing in the eyes of God. They were not suffering as a consequence of their personal sins. They were not compromisers. They were not hypocrites. They weren’t sorry for themselves. They had no self-pity. They, along with John, were suffering for faithfully living out God’s word and sharing the testimony of Jesus Christ. The world yearns for those who can take a hit and keep on moving, and do it with joy. When you’ve been genuinely saved and born again by Jesus, how can you not tell the world of the incredible truth?

At the time that John was given this revelation there was a great persecution by Rome against those who called themselves “Christian.”  The Church experienced its first persecution under Caesar Nero (54-68) and more particularly under Emperor Domitian in A.D. 95 around the time that the book of Revelation was received by John. The persecution under Nero was instigated by Nero himself as historians tell us he blamed Christians for starting a fire in Rome that he in his personal madness had set. It was a fierce fire that spread to the entire city.  As the truth of this terrible deed began to be discovered Nero diverted attention from himself and blamed Christians. 

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote the following in regards to this situation:

“With this view he inflicted the most exquisite tortures on those men who, under the vulgar appellation of Christians, were already branded with deserved infamy. They derived their name and origin from Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.  For a while this dire superstition was checked, but it again burst forth; and not only spread itself over Judea, the first seat of this mischievous sect, but was even introduced into Rome, the common asylum which receives and protects whatever is impure, whatever is atrocious. The confessions of those who were seized discovered a great multitude of their accomplices, and they were all convicted, not so much for the crime of setting fire to the city as for their hatred of human kind. They died in torments, and their torments were embittered by insult and derision. Some were nailed on crosses; others sewn up in the skins of wild bests, and exposed to the fury of dogs; others again, smeared over with combustible materials, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle, which was accompanied with a horse race, and honored with the presence of the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the dress and attitude of a charioteer. The guilt of the Christians deserved indeed the most exemplary punishments, but the public abhorrence was changed into commiseration, from the opinion that those unhappy wretches were sacrificed, not so much to the public welfare as to the cruelty of a jealous tyrant.”  [1]

Nero was a madman; a precursor to Antichrist who had the spirit of antichrist (cf. 1 John 4). When Nero was three years old his mother murdered his father by giving young Nero poisoned food to give his father. One can only imagine the effect upon Nero as he watched his father writhe in pain and die before him.  At age 12 Nero tortured to death a friend who displeased him. At age 15 Nero married but then strangled to death his wife when she displeased him. He married and murdered two other wives and eventually murdered his mother as well. Nero was a madman and his behavior confirms this.

It’s believed that when Nero came to power his insane nature led to his exalting himself as a god and demanding that all subjects of the Roman empire bow to worship him. (Sounds like some politicians of our day doesn’t it?) When Christians refused to worship him he began a one-man mission to wipe out Christianity. Nero would travel throughout the empire with his military and round up any who would not declare, “Caesar is Lord.”  Nero would take these “offenders” and dip them in hot wax and use them as human candlesticks in his imperial garden. He would then strip naked and ride his chariot in the garden shouting, “You are the light of the world! You are the light of the world!” A day is coming when bowing to a world leader or system of government will be demanded. There will be consequences for refusing. What will Christians do then? Will they have the spiritual fortitude and faith to stand firm for the Lord? We will see. The world is watching and they will see too.

Nero was described as “an ugly man with a bull neck, beetle brows and a flat nose with a tough mouth. He had a pot belly with spindly legs, bad skin and an offensive odor.”  At the age of 31 Nero committed suicide by slitting his own throat. By the end of his reign he had murdered an estimated 3 million Christians. Slitting throats are becoming more and more common in our day too.

Titus Flavius Domitian was the next Roman emperor to persecute Christians. He was the emperor who persecuted Christians during the end of the first century when the book of Revelation was received. Domitian’s persecution led to the murder of millions more Christians. Historians refer to Nero as a crazy devil. But Domitian was a sane devil. Domitian was cruel and calculated in his efforts to annihilate Christianity from the face of the earth. Domitian chose to attack Christian leadership. It was Domitian who, legend has it, attempted to execute John by boiling him in a cauldron of hot oil. God miraculously spared John through the execution.

John alone of the 11 original disciples (not counting Judas who committed suicide) survived execution for their faith. John, known as the apostle of love, survived. “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8a).  Frustrated, Domitian exiled John to the rocky, desolate, barren isle of Patmos. This island is 50 miles southwest of Ephesus (located in the area of modern day Turkey) in the Aegean Sea. It’s a small island 10 miles long and 6 miles wide. It was on this island, during a time of tribulation, that John received the vision of Revelation. There’s a lesson here for those partaking in comfortable Christianity today. Jesus has a way of giving revelation during times of personal tribulation. Our problem is, we have been trying to avoid tribulation and therefore aren’t in a position to receive much revelation from our Lord.

The Apostle John was persecuted for his loyalty to “the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” John would not compromise God’s word. John stood faithfully for the truth God had revealed. John persevered in the “patience of Jesus Christ.” John was who he was because he was a man of the word of God. He referred to the Old Testament 518 times in Revelation. He knew the word and lived by the word even if that meant discomfort and trials would enter his life. There isn’t much tribulation for us today because there aren’t many willing to stand for “the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” We are the spiritually poorer and less effective as a result.

John was their brother and companion in tribulation. But he was also their brother in the “kingdom.” John wasn’t a doom and gloom pastor. I don’t mean to convey the idea of us going and looking for trouble. We don’t have to manufacture trials. If we live right, holy lives unto the Lord, trials will come. John spoke of the truth and realities of persecution, but he also shared the prospect of serving in the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth. Praise the Lord for that! Jesus is coming back! That is just as certain as His first coming. And when we look at the indicators of His return and compare them to what is going on in the world today, well, yes indeed, we should be expecting Jesus to come take us home very soon.  

John was further their companion in the “patience of Jesus Christ.” All three of these things mentioned, tribulation, kingdom and patience are all connected to Jesus Christ. We suffer persecution because of our belonging to Jesus. If we aren’t suffering, I suggest we examine the genuineness of our faith. If Paul said, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). If we aren’t suffering or discomforted in some way, then maybe we should follow another of Paul’s inspired instructions when he wrote, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

We will serve in His Kingdom. But there is also an aspect of “patience.” These things are coming and will unfold. The patience of Jesus is necessary, even if it means trials and persecution because God desires none to perish and for all to have ample opportunity to repent and be saved (e.g. 2 Peter 3:9). If suffering some temporal trials is necessary to provide more time to repent and be saved eternally, then it is well worth it.

As we patiently wait for the Lord’s return, let us do so like a waiter or waitress. A good waiter or waitress is a servant, looking to assist patrons until directed otherwise. The people of this world are our patrons. Serve them the gospel. Serve them Christlike love. Serve them God’s word. Serve them genuinely. And do so until told otherwise.

John was a brother and companion in. He was in their lives. He was living in similar life circumstances. He was not aloof. He was not preaching, teaching or living something that was disconnected from reality or out of touch with the real issues in the real world. John was effective in ministry, he was looked for and welcomed by people for ministry, because he was in life with people demonstrating the real practical life application of God’s revealed truths. That’s an example we should follow. Let’s be a brother and companion to people according to His word and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

[1] Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon (abridgment by D.M. Low) Harcourt, Brace and Co.: New York 1960, p. 202).

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