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February 23, 2015

Trials Are Nothing New

If you have begun to slide into despair, it is extremely important to take a new look at Scripture and recognize that you are not unique in the trials you face. All of the biblical writers, including the giants of the faith, went through similar hardships. Look at the experience of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of the Old Testament. His entire life was in shambles. He was hated by his brothers who considered killing him before agreeing instead to sell him as a slave. While in Egypt, he was imprisoned, falsely accused by Potiphar's wife of attempted rape, and threatened with execution.

There is no indication that God explained to Joseph what He was doing through those many years of heartache or how the pieces would eventually fit together. He had no way of knowing that he would eventually enjoy a triumphal reunion with his family. He was expected, as you and I are, to live out his life one day at a time in something less than complete understanding. What pleased God was Joseph's faithfulness when nothing made sense.

Let's zip over to the New Testament and look at the disciples and other early Christian leaders. Jesus said there was no greater man born of woman than John the Baptist, but this honored Christian pioneer soon found himself in Herod's stinking dungeon. There an evil woman named Herodias had him beheaded because he had condemned her immoral conduct. There is no record in Scripture that an angel visited John's cell to explain the meaning of his persecution. This great, godly man who was the designated forerunner to Jesus went through the same confusing experiences as we. It is comforting to know that John responded in a very human way. He sent a secret message to Jesus from his prison cell, asking, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Matt. 11:2). Have you ever felt like asking that question?

Look at the martyrdom of Stephen, who was stoned to death for proclaiming the name of Christ, and the disciple James, of whom the twelfth chapter of Acts devotes only one verse: "He [King Herod Agrippa] had James, the brother of John, put to death with a sword" (Acts 12:2). Tradition tells us that ten of the twelve disciples were eventually executed (excluding Judas, who committed suicide, and John, who was exiled). We also believe that Paul, who was persecuted, stoned, and flogged, was later beheaded in a Roman prison. The second half of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews describes some of those who suffered for the name of Christ:

Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world is not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. (vv. 35-39)

Read that last verse again. Note that these saints lived in anticipation of a promise that had not been fulfilled by the time of their deaths. A full explanation never came. They had only their faith to hold them steady in their time of persecution. The Life Application Bible commentary says of this chapter, "These verses summarize the lives of other great men and women of faith. Some experienced outstanding victories, even over the threat of death. But others were severely mistreated, tortured, and even killed. Having a steadfast faith in God does not guarantee a happy, carefree life. On the contrary, our faith almost guarantees us some form of abuse from the world. While we are on earth, we may never see the purpose of our suffering. But we know that God will keep his promises to us." That is precisely the point.

From Dr. Dobson's book Life On The Edge.

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