Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sheep For the Slaughter

The following is part of a recent Sunday morning message from Romans 8:35-37.  In it I deal with what it is to be counted a sheep for the slaughter.  In it I am dealing with why tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or the sword can't separate us from the love of God.
In Matt. 25:37-40 Jesus indicates that for the most part his “brethren” will be described just as vs. 35 does.  So we can’t look at these things as signs of God’s displeasure.  They are not signs that we are separated from God but that we are his to begin with.  2Ti 2:11  The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 2Ti 2:12  if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.  “unto us is given on the behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake”.  Both phrases are of tremendous importance.  But over and over again the Bible teaches the principle that we suffer now, reign later.  So suffering is a sign to some degree of his pleasure, not his wrath.  We tend to get this completely backwards and in this way some look at trouble in the completely wrong way and so are overcome instead of overcoming.

The early saints knew when they became Christians that it was a call to suffering, not a call to an easier life, nor was it the end of their life.  They weren’t going to get caught up to glory but were going to go through some fires before that happened.  In Africa today people are sometimes hacked to death just because they are Christians. 

So vs. 36 is telling us that we have been marked out for these things; this is what being a Christian is all about!    Evidently God has marked some of us out for martyrdom or for some sort of hardship because we are his sheep raised for that purpose, 2Ti 3:12  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  So in this context we understand that being raised as sheep is not to be understood as being the family pet, but livestock!  But remember this is but one facet of what it is to be a child of God.

To make matters worse, Jesus says in Luk 6:22  "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Luk 6:23  Rejoice in that day, and leap (I think of lambs) for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Is he being unreasonable or not?

Notice it says we are being killed all the day long.  If one is martyred it can happen only once.  And while in a sense it can speak of the church in general I think it goes beyond that.  We have two things spoken of here, the suffering of this life (the groanings of earlier in the chapter) and suffering for being a Christian.  In all these things we are to triumph.  Every day, all day we must endure hardships for Christ because that is what we are called to do.  Verse 37 answers the question with a resounded no because these things are actually part of how we serve him; they certainly aren’t going to destroy us.  They are not signs he is against us and they will not cause a sheep to become a goat.

We tend to say that we would gladly suffer Christ if asked to and even think that that would be easier than suffering the normal trials of life.  But why then do we live in such a way so as not to bring suffering upon ourselves?  If you think that you would gladly suffer for Christ, live in such a way that your friends and family tire of being around you because you must speak of Christ and must live for him and not let them dishonor him with a challenge.  Don’t be a jerk, just live for Christ.  But we don’t because suffering for Jesus is a hard thing.  What makes it hard in one sense is because it is completely up to us as to whether we will or not.  We must decide whether we will openly confess to be a Christian or whether we will say something or challenge something or give an answer that will not go over well.  We have no choice when God sends affliction and so must deal with submission in that instance.  But when it comes to suffering as a Christian one must consciously decide to take up that cross and we choose to do it less rather than more.

But I think this explains what is going on here.  We don’t wake up on the morning considering ourselves as sheep for the slaughter but princes and princesses to be pampered; we see ourselves as show ponies, not beef cows!  And that attitude causes us to be conquered not to conquer these things.  Sheep that conquer is just one more paradox of scripture.   Naturally it just doesn’t happen unless the Lord enables us. 

So how does 37 address all this?  The term “more than conquerors” comes from a compound Greek word which has nike in the middle which means victory.  The statue “winged victory” at The Louvre is called “Nike” which means victory and was the name of the Greek goddess of victory.  The first part of the word is hyper where we get super from.  So it is like super conquerors.  In other words, we don’t just conquer we do more than that; we are more than conquerors.

It isn’t just a matter of doing the best we can and these things will cause us to fall flat on our faces but don’t worry, you will still be saved.  There is a sense in which that is true but I don’t detect that rather defeatist attitude here.  These things won’t defeat us because God is sending them that we might do great things with them through Christ which strengthens us.
Those who allow these distresses to drive them away from Christ have not lost their salvation; they have been exposed as frauds!  He who loves us (and they are the elect remember) will cause us to overcome them.  This is why I have made it such a point that it is not enough that we sullenly endure difficulties but that we do it triumphantly for the praise of our Lord otherwise we couldn’t count it all joy to suffer these things.

They cause us to trust him more and to enjoy him more.  When he takes away a prized possession and you learn that Christ is better than the lost thing, your love is enhanced where before it might have been overshadowed by your devotion to the other object. 

We are super conquerors also because we are lifelong victors who daily must die to self.  We are super conquerors because our reward is eternal.  God didn’t destroy Satan when he fell but allowed this earth to continue to demonstrate that Satan’s goal of living and enjoying life to glorify self does not work out.  What we have is children of Satan living life and children of the Lord living the very same life and usually a more difficult life.  The unbeliever curses his lot and God when they must suffer; the believer trusts and praises God when enduring the same thing. 

And it works the other way.  When the unbeliever finds fortune and pleasure they boast of their superiority in securing these things and consider them as their own but the believer acknowledges God as the source of whatever good they might enjoy and when deprived they keep on praising God.  And so the angels are watching with interests the church and the world to see if God is everything he says he is or if living for self can satisfy, Rev. 12:10-12.  What is your life saying?

Of course, Jesus was the prototype.  He was that sheep that was slain from the foundation of the world.  Unlike Satan, Phil. 2 says that he didn’t believe he had to be exalted to find joy but humbled himself even unto the slaughter of the cross.  He was the original super conqueror and we are too, through him.

Shall these things cause us to sin our way away from God, no, because daily we die to self, we consider ourselves his alone and this is how he causes us to persevere.
It is because we know what the love of God is going to do for us that allows us to be sheep marked out for slaughter now, with no fear of being driven from Christ but part of his plan to bring us to glory.

For a great sermon on the cost of the cross by D. A. Carson please follow this link

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