Contemplating the Location of the Christ
May we begin our time this morning with the question, where is Jesus Christ as we speak? Where do we know the God-man to be? What is the location of the Christ?
We should all understand that after He emptied Himself by taking on the form of a Man and then further humbled Himself as that Man to the point of death on the cross for the sin of His people, that God raised Him to life never to die again and seated Him at His right hand. Where is the location of the Christ, the God-man? He is seated in heaven at God’s right hand. As the author of Hebrews says:
“We have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.”
After He endured the cross for the joy set before, the Author and perfector of faith sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. This is where Christ is, and it will become more clear later as to why we have begun with considering this.
Is There Such a Thing as Solace in Suffering?
If I were to go around and ask everyone to describe what they see in this passage of Scripture using only a few words, I am certain we would hear a variety of answers.
Some may describe it as a testament to the hostility of fallen man towards God and His people. We clearly see this with these men who Luke describes as being cut to the quick after Stephen drew to light their guilt in betraying and murdering the Righteous One, Jesus of Nazareth. He successfully demonstrated that they were no different than their fathers. They crucified the Christ at the hands of godless men. They put Him to death by hanging Him upon a cross. As Peter had previously said to these men:
“11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
To be cut to the quick as they heard Stephen’s words means that their inner persons were torn in two with anger and vexation. Their hearts were rent in half, not with sorrow for their sin which leads to true repentance towards God, but with rage and hostility that manifested itself through the gnashing of their teeth at him. These men were filled with such indignation that their physical state reacted to their mental. The grating of their teeth demonstrated that hate had consumed them.
We should not be caught off guard by their being overtaken with such hatred. Recall the teaching of our Lord in John 3 when He says:
“19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
The living God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. The unregenerate mind, therefore, is utterly enraged by the holiness of God. When the God of unapproachable light is revealed, mankind is exposed for who they truly are and what they truly love; sinners enamored with evil. If you want to know what fallen man would do with God when unrestrained by Him, you have not far to look but to the cross, with God the Son eternal clothed in flesh hanging upon it after having being rejected by His own, betrayed by a friend, beaten, mocked, spit upon, and scourged.
It is no surprise then to see here that after Stephen gazed intently into heaven andrelayed to these men that he saw the glory of God, and Jesus at His right hand that their bloodlust became intimate with their wills. The hatred for Christ that consumed them could not be contained any longer. As Luke says:
“They cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him.”
There is no denying that we see in this portion the hardness and hostility of fallen humanity to God and His people, but this is not the primary thing I desire us to focus on.
It is true that we certainly see the inevitability of suffering for all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. We are quite familiar with the fact that a slave is not greater than their master. If the world so hated Christ, it will obviously hate those who are inextricably linked to Him. We understand that in this world we will have tribulation. God has never promised to save us from the wrath of man. The totality of the testimony of the Scripture is abundantly clear that our being His guarantees our becoming the subject of man’s wrath. We have “been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
If you want the approval of people, then you should repudiate Christ because He will be of no benefit to you. If you desire comfort in this world, living for Christ will not be advantageous. It was Paul that said to the Galatians:
“If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
If you do not want to be considered worthy to suffer shame for His name, the solution is simple; disassociate with Him. Live a life of apathy and indifference to Him. Refuse to live a godly life for His glory and gain the approval of the world. Realize, however, that you will be gaining something that amounts to absolutely nothing, and you will forfeit your soul in so doing. As Christ said:
“36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
It profits a person nothing to do this!
Do we understand that the root of fearing man is the love of self? In other words, the fear of man flows from self-concern and self-preservation. If you want to have no fear in man, then you must first lose sight of yourself. You must do what Jesus teaches and deny yourself. To deny is literally to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone. To deny oneself, therefore, is to forget yourself and lose sight of all self-interest. It is to think in live and such a way that you appear to be unacquainted with who you are. This is the gospels demand upon a person, for only when a person takes their focus off of themselves will they ever be able to focus on Christ as both Lord and Savior. As Jesus said:
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Again, all of us are well aware of the certainty of suffering. As the Lord says in Mark’s gospel account:
“13 You will be hated by all because of My name.”
He goes on, however, to make this statement:
“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
Endurance is the ability to withstand suffering and adversity. It is being able to bear difficulties, to stand through all circumstance, and to triumph in tribulation. Biblically speaking it is to remain or abide in. Not to recede or flee. It is to persevere under trials and misfortunes. It is to hold fast to one’s faith in Christ no matter the cost. It is to bravely and calmy bear any and all ill treatments. Like rocks along our coastland withstanding the crushing power of the waves upon them, we are to endure the ebbs and flows of the torrent of this world upon us. For us to endure is to be, as the Scripture says:
“Afflicted in every way, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not despairing. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.”
The evidence of saving faith is enduring hardship for it. True faith does not wither and die under the scorching heat of persecution. It perseveres through it. It is not faith found in hearts that are likened to shallow ground that when seed fell upon it, it merely sprung up for a time giving an appearance of life only to have the searing heat of the sun kill it, thus proving there was no real life to begin with. Such self-deceived hearts are exposed through suffering. As Jesus says of such people in Mark 4:16-17:
“When they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”
They completely repudiate the faith. They renounce everything pertaining to Christ, thus demonstrating that though they went out from us they were never of us. Though they had the outer appearance of being Christ’s followers and gathered among the church, they were neither apart of it nor did they belong to Jesus. Suffering for the sake of Christ exposes the self-deceived. Endurance does not earn salvation. It evidences it. Truly, as Jesus says in Luke 21:19, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
Those who are Christ’s will persevere no matter the extent of the persecution. No matter how serious the suffering they will not fall away from Christ, not just because they firmly understand He possess the words of life and they have nowhere to turn apart from Him, but because no one can snatch them from His hand. Jesus said:
“27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
Truly, those who are hated and endure to the end will be saved.
Friends, comparatively speaking, we know nothing of suffering. I believe that many of us realize this. If we have but one iota of an understanding as to what our brothers and sisters in Christ from other countries, and from other times have endured for the sake of His name, we know that we have not seen anything yet. We, therefore, apprehensively look out upon the horizon of this nation that God has sovereignly and providentially placed us in and we see it completely consumed with godless ideology and swiftly plunging to greater depths of delusion and depravity; and we know it is only a matter of time until the dam breaks and the torrent of man’s wrath pours out upon us who seek to live quiet lives to the praise of God’s glory in Christ. We all have most likely asked ourselves:
“If and when it breaks out upon me, will I endure? Will I be able to stand when the world deems me unfit for society and a danger to its wellbeing because I live for Christ, or will I wither away and reveal I never had Christ to begin with? Will I be exposed as having a heart of shallow ground that received the Word of God for a moment and had the appearance of life for a time, but had no root within me thus causing me to wither away and die under the scorching heat of tribulation for His name sake, revealing that though I claimed to know Him, He never actually knew me? Will I be found to be merely a person who professes Christ, but does not actually possess Him and His life? Will I be hated for His sake and endure until the end?”
This brings up a critical question I believe that the many minds have entertained, which is how will we ever endure the severest forms of suffering? How does one in Christ stand under some of the most heinous and horrendous forms of torture that come from the depraved minds of hostile men and women?
This is what I want us to focus on today. I want us to see Christian endurance in the face of suffering. I want us to be able to answer the question: Can a Christian possess true peace through even the most despicable forms of persecution? Is there such a thing as solace in suffering? If so, what is the source?
I hope we see that the account of Stephen’s martyrdom provides us with the answers to these questions. It shows us that there is such a thing as solace in suffering, and it draws us to gaze intently upon the source of it.
Solace in Suffering
The Scripture is quite clear that believers should rejoice when considered worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. It seems somewhat paradoxical but there are a number of reasons why genuine believers should find comfort in suffering:
- Suffering for Christ assures us that we are truly God’s.
In other words, it evidences that we are His. As Peter says:
“14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
In Romans 8:16-18, Paul says:
“16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Consider Christ’s teaching in the Beatitudes when He said:
“10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
- Suffering is a sanctifying tool in the hand of the Sovereign.
We should rejoice when we experience difficulties for our faith because it is a means through which God perfects us. Like stones in a river being slowly smoothed by the constant and cruel current, God uses tribulations to conform us to Christ. This is the exact point James made to his audience when he said:
“2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Paul made a similar statement to the church at Rome saying that we should:
“Exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
It was Spurgeon that said:
“Our worst things are often our best things…The trials of the saint are a divine husbandry, by which He grows and brings forth abundant fruit.”
God sanctifies us through suffering. He works through it for our good. We should, therefore, rejoice in it.
Stephen certainly understood that the suffering he faced was a mark of his being Christ’s, and that it was by God’s sovereign purpose that he was experiencing it. There was undoubtedly, however, a couple of other things he understood that produced within him a peace that passed all understanding as he suffered:
First, he was aware that Christ was not sitting idly by while one of His own was glorifying Him in their death. Notice that as Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus at His right hand, that Jesus was not sitting, but standing at the right hand of God. Do not miss the significance of this. Luke is painting for us a picture of Christ rising from His throne to assist His servant in His struggle and to receive him into His presence.
What does the book of second Chronicles teach us in the sixteenth chapter and the ninth verse? It teaches us that the eyes of our Lord move to and fro over the face of this earth so that He might strongly support those whose hearts are truly His.
Do we think Christ incapable of sustaining those who are glorifying Him through their suffering? May we never think such a thing. It is not just the testimony of Scripture that teaches us to think otherwise, but the testimony of church history which has been stained red with the blood of the saints who were sustained by the Good Shepherd.
He is the One who enables His people to endure the severest of trials. He is the One who has supernaturally empowered people, both men and women whom the world is not worthy, to withstand mocking’s and scourging’s, and chains and imprisonments, and torture for His name. He has enabled people to endure stoning’s, and being sawn in two, and put to death with the sword. He has granted to people the ability to persevere while brutally being torn apart by dogs, and being barbarically burned alive. He has given comfort to those who have faced the cruelty of crucifixion for His name just as He did. He has graciously sustained His people through it all. Not one was snatched out of His hand. Not one was ever separated from His love. If God is for us, who is there to fear? No one. What is there to be afraid of? Nothing.
His desire is to prove Himself strong in the lives of His people. He wants us to come boldly to His throne of grace to receive mercy and help in time of need. We can, therefore, do all things through Him who gives us strength no matter the degree of suffering we face. Stephen understood this, and found solace in it. The question is, do you?
The second thing Stephen possessed was full assurance of his position in Christ. He knew that just as God raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand, that he too was raised and seated with Him, and there was absolutely nothing that could separate him from the One to whom he was inextricably linked. We see this in his words as they went on stoning him, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” He was confident of his position in Christ.
What is the source of solace in suffering? It is knowing that Jesus is able to hold on to what has been entrusted to Him. It was the apostle Paul that said to Timothy in his second letter:
“8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
Genuine believers can peacefully endure all forms of persecution because they understand that God has mercifully caused them to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven, and that they are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. They are at peace because they have a sure and steady anchor for their souls, Jesus Christ, who put away their sin by the sacrifice of Himself and will return for them a second time without reference to it.
No one says it more beautifully than J.C. Ryle said it in his work entitled Practical Religion. He said:
“The true Christian is the only happy man, because he has a source of happiness entirely independent of this world. He has something which cannot be affected by sickness and by deaths, by private losses and by public calamities, the peace of God, which passeth all understanding. He has a hope laid up for him in heaven; he has a treasure which moth and rust cannot corrupt; he has a house which can never be taken down. His loving wife may die, and his heart feel rent in twain; his darling children may be taken from him, and he may be left alone in this cold world; his earthly plans may be crossed; his health may fail: but all this time he has a portion which nothing can hurt. He has one Friend who never dies; he has possessions beyond the grave, of which nothing can deprive him; his nether springs may fail, but his upper springs are never dry. This is real happiness.”
What sustains a Christian through all forms of suffering? Knowing that their life is not their own. It is Christ’s. If we live, we live to the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. To live is Christ, and to die is gain.
What Paul said to the Colossians, I say to you:
“1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”
There is absolutely nothing in this life that can separate us from Him. We are His, and He is ours!
The question is, have you been persuaded of this truth in such a way that it informs every facet of your being which produces within you a joy unspeakable and peace that passes all understanding no matter what situation in life you may find yourself? Is Christ your portion? Is He your everything?
 Hebrews 8:1
 Hebrews 12:2
 Acts 2:22-23
 Acts 5:30
 Act 4:11-12
 1 John 1:5
 2 Timothy 3:12
 John 15:18-20
 John 16:33
 Philippians 1:29
 Galatians 1:10
 Mark 8:36
 Mark 8:34-35
 Mark 13:13a
 Mark 13:13b
 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
 1 John 2:19
 John 10:27-28
 1 Peter 4:14
 James 1:2-4
 Romans 5:3-4
 Hebrews 11:35-38
 John 10:28-29
 Romans 8:31-39
 Philippians 4:13
 Ephesians 1:20; 2:6
 2 Timothy 1:8-12
 1 Peter 1:3-5
 J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion; Page 235
 Romans 14:8
 Philippians 1:21
 Romans 8: