Here we are in the New Testament. It’s Rez Week and it’s all about the resurrection. I want to read one of the most important passages about the resurrection from first Corinthians 15:12–19. One of these verses in particular is very, very powerful to me.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
My wife and I always kneel and pray together before we go to bed at night. We read from a devotional book called Light on the Path. We knelt. You can imagine how awful this is, right? You’re hardly talking to each other and now you’re going to talk to God. We knelt beside each other, as we always do. It’s a discipline. We’ll do it whether we can or not. I read the short devotional. Usually, the pattern is she prays and then I close. She asked, “Well, are we going to talk?” You don’t go to bed with it this tense.
I told her that I couldn’t find words to express what I was feeling. She just began to pray, then I prayed for help. We closed our book and crawled into bed and went to sleep. I got up before she did and left before she got out of bed. Just before I walked to the car, I walked into the room. She waked up and I kissed her on the cheek and I said, “It’s not your problem. It’s my problem. It will be all right.”
I left and came to Texas. So that’s where it is in the Piper household right now. Here are three reasons why I’m telling you that:
- You need to know that when hot shot preachers come to campus, they are imperfect, fallible, emotionally embattled sinners who need a Savior every day of their lives. Beware, young people, of thinking too highly of any man.
- The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are precious to me not because they turned my life into a string of successes, but because they keep me from collapsing under my string of failures.
- Hundreds of you in this room came here frustrated and discouraged and disappointed in something that hasn’t gone at all the way you’d hoped. Fearful about something in the future, tonight or five years from now. Confused about theological things maybe. Things you’re hearing in classes. Angry at somebody. Full of lust, perhaps. You need to know that I have good news for you. It’s perhaps not the good news you thought it would be. Your final healing is as far away as your resurrection from the dead, however, your invincible joy of hope is as close as the risen Christ.
Tortured for Christ
I’m going to mention two of my twentieth-century heroes before we’re done. One of them right now and one of them near the end.
My heroes are often people nobody’s ever heard of. A few of you will know the name Richard Wurmbrand. Richard Wurmbrand was a Romanian pastor and was imprisoned and spent over 12 years of his life in prison, because of the Communists, and was tortured in prison. Wrote a book, Tortured for Christ.
He came to our church once. He’s dead now. He came to the Twin Cities another time. I remember both of those times very distinctly. I felt like I was in the presence of an extraordinary holiness. The one time, he spoke to about twelve pastors. That’s all. He walked up on the stage. We were in the first two pews of this little church. He sat in a chair to speak. He took his black shoes off. He unlaced them and took them off. I didn’t’ understand that, but his wife, who happened to be with him that time, told us later that he was tortured, among other ways, by the way they beat his feet. It simply felt better for him to speak without his shoes on.
He told a story there about whether we would embrace suffering or not. He posed questions like this, he said, “If your wife was pregnant and another brother’s was pregnant and you could choose [one of them had to be a child profoundly disabled] and you could choose which was yours, which would you choose? A life of faithfulness in the pain of helping a child grow up and deal with a disability or the life of ease?” He gave us a series of questions like that. They were deeply moving to me as a young pastor. This was about twenty-five years ago. I went and got some of his books and I read this story in a book. This is the one that launches me into the message.
I wonder if you’re remembering the last verse of our text that I read, which is the diametric opposite of what this abbot said. Paul said, “If, in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are, of all people, most to be pitied.” Why did Paul not agree with the abbot? Why didn’t Paul say, “Even if Christ isn’t raised from the dead, even if there is no God, a life of love and labor and sacrifice is a good life. Reward or no reward, life or no life, after the grave.” Why didn’t he say that? Why did he say, “If, in this life only we have hoped in Christ, pity us. We’re fools”?
This is a really important question for you and for all of us who are Christians in the wealthy West, especially America — the Disneyland of the world. It seems like in evangelicalism today, or just Christianity in general, we are prone to offer Christianity to people and persuade them with the earthly benefits that it will bring them. Psychological benefits of peace of mind or relational benefits. Maybe your marriage will go better, after 38 years, for goodness sakes. Or, the fruits of the spirit — love, joy, peace.
I mean, be a Christian and you’ll get your act together. Be a Christian and life will come together. It will go better for you. That’s generally the way I think we talk, we evangelize. So what’s wrong with the Apostle Paul? What’s wrong with him? If there is no resurrection, in other words, if this is it, if this is it, we’re fools. What are we doing, living like we’re living? We are of all men most to be pitied. What is wrong with Paul? Why does he say things like that? It’s not a good sell for Christianity. His answer, I believe, is that, for Paul, for the Apostle following in the steps of his Master, the Christian life was a life of freely chosen risk and suffering in the cause of love for other people in great need.
Maximize Earthly Joy
That joy streams back into this world, but it’s a joy rooted in hope. Paul is saying here, that this hope of resurrection, and what would come with Christ beyond the resurrection, freed him to embrace suffering that he never would have chosen if he did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. “The life I have chosen is a fool’s life,” he said, “if there is no resurrection from the dead for me and for those for whom I am suffering.”
There is a better way than Christianity to maximize your earthly comforts and pleasures. If your goal in life is to maximize the joy and pleasure and comfort and success on this planet, Christianity is not for you. Most definitely not for you.
You can find another gospel, and there are plenty of them out there, to help you on that crusade. That’s not what Christianity is designed to do. It won’t do it for you. Paul knew this. Paul knew, when he wrote 1 Corinthians 15, that there was a better way to maximize comforts and pleasures on earth than Christianity — than following Jesus, for goodness sakes. He knew that, which is why he said these amazing words, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow, we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Now, when he said that, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink,” he did not mean let’s all become gluttons and drunkards, because gluttons and drunkards in this life are to be pitied just like stupid Christians who have bought into a myth that isn’t going to come true. That’s not the way to maximize your pleasures in this world, to become a glutton and a drunkard. When he says, “If there’s no resurrection, let us eat and drink,” he means be normal. Be middle-class. Just eat and drink and exercise.
There’s an article about Lance Armstrong in the American Magazine, all about his crusade to help people who are cancer survivors, like me, so far. He said, “Eat near the farm and exercise every day.” Then he had this little line, “The scale never lies.” I looked at the newspaper across the aisle from the man who was reading, obviously written by a woman, it said, “The hips never lie.”
Clearly, people are concerned about health and Paul said, “That’s exactly where you should devote your energies if you want to maximize your pleasures on this earth.” Heaven is irrelevant, Hell is irrelevant, resurrection is irrelevant, eternity is irrelevant, but the scale, that’s relevant. You have maximize how long you live here and how fit you are or you won’t enjoy sex quite as long as the other guy can enjoy sex or whatever else you like to do as you get older.
Choose More than Normal
What did he do that was so pitiable?
- He would not have turned down the gifts that were offered to him so often by the churches.
- He would not have pummeled his body so completely as to keep himself under such total discipline.
- He would not have risked his life, again and again and again, with mobs and oceans and thieves and false brethren.
- He would not have endured these crummy, backsliding Christians.
- He would not have gone without food and sleep so often as he did.
- He wouldn’t have risked imprisonment in city after city after city.
- He wouldn’t have stayed single all his life because it was the loving thing to do. You can’t drag a woman into prison with you in city after city.
That’s my [Paul’s] calling and therefore I will renounce all sexual pleasure until I die and meet Jesus and experience something 10,000 times better. That’s what he meant when he said, “We are, of all people, most to be pitied if there’s no resurrection from the dead.” If you want to maximize eating and drinking here, there’s another religion that you can follow. Almost all Americans believe it, but we are called to be a remnant here. To live another way and to devote ourselves to another value and another age.
Paul did not see his relationship with Christ as the key to maximizing his comforts and said, “We are, of all men, most to be pitied.” Why? Why did he choose that lifestyle? He chose it. He could have walked away from the Damascus Road experience because you know what Jesus told him. He said to Ananias, who went to open Paul’s eyes after he was blinded for three days, he said, “Go tell him how much he must suffer on my account.” So when Ananias shows up and tells Paul what the deal is, “You are now called by the living, risen Christ and his mission for you is to maximize your suffering for the sake of the extension of his kingdom,” Paul could have said, “No, thank you,” and walked away. He didn’t do it. Why? Know that as I turn, at this point in the message, to the why question, I really am here on a recruitment mission. I’m not here to entertain you. I’m not here to even just get you believe in the resurrection. I’m here to recruit you into this kind of lifestyle.
Embrace Risk for the King
You can grow a church without that gospel way easier — way easier — than you can grow a church with that gospel, but it isn’t a church filled with radical, lay your life down, go to the nation, disciples, which is the only kind I’m interested in.
I would just love if I could just get maybe a tenth of you as radical as the Apostle Paul was. What a difference it would make in the world. As I ask the question, Why did he do this? What’s he after? What’s driving him? I hope some of you would embrace the same calling. Why does he embrace this life? I’ll read you the verse that gives his answer. It’s Colossians 1:24 and it goes like this, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings.”
That’s a very strange statement, isn’t it? Rejoice in my sufferings. “I rejoice in my sufferings, for your sake.” He’s talking to the church when he says your.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
Now that’s an almost heretical thing to say, isn’t it? “In my flesh, which is suffering, I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” What is the world, Paul, do you mean, “lacking in the afflictions of Christ”? Who in the world do you think you are saying that there is anything lacking in the afflictions of Christ?
We know from Paul’s own writings there was nothing lacking in their atoning worth. The afflictions of Christ were the price that bought our forgiveness of sins. The afflictions of Christ were the place where all the wrath of God was absorbed for all those who would trust in him so that nobody who trusts in Jesus would ever have God wrathful at them anymore.
The afflictions of Christ are the consummation of his earthly obedience so that a perfect righteousness is wrought out for you, so that when you trust in him, that righteousness is counted as yours, so that when you stand before an all holy God, he sees perfect righteousness and welcomes you into everlasting joy. There is nothing lacking in the atoning worth of Christ’s afflictions. Paul is the one who taught us that. What does he mean when he says, “The reason I have embraced a life of suffering is so that I might fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ”? What does he mean?
Salvation Extends Through Suffering
Paul’s answer is, The sufferings of Christ, the afflictions of Christ, are completed — are transferred and brought to their complete work — when in my sufferings, they arrive in the life of somebody else. In other words, God designed that the sufferings of his Son, for all the centuries following, would be carried and presented to people in the sufferings of his people. Your sufferings do not sneak up on you as though they were some extrinsic and strange and foreign thing that has nothing to do with God’s purpose for the world. Maybe we better read that verse again.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
The church is being gathered. The church is being strengthened. The church is being built up, inspired, and sent through the sufferings of its ministers. You are its ministers. Any suffering that comes into the life of a believer is designed to bless somebody. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste it.
Now, that’s my answer. Let me tell you why I think that. Let me try to ground it in the Scriptures.
Fill What Lacks
The Philippian church sends this love gift to Paul in Rome in the hands of Epaphroditus, knowing that the journey is dangerous. You carry anything valuable, it’s dangerous. Epaphroditus almost died in taking this love gift from the Philippians to Paul. It says that in verse 27. Paul says he was sick to the point of death.
Then he writes back. Having received the gift, he writes Philippians back, to the church in Philippi, and he says in 2:29 that they should honor people like Epaphroditus. He risked his neck, he got sick, he almost died. Now come the words that are almost identical in the original language. You can even hear it in English with the text in Colossians 1:24. Listen to Philippians 2:30:
For he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Same words. “Fill up what was lacking.” Not your afflictions this time, but your service to me. What was lacking in their service to him? Let me read the answer from a commentator from a hundred years ago. Marvin Vincent gets it exactly right. Listen to what he says:
The gift to Paul was a gift of the church as a body. It was a sacrificial offering of love, like Christ on the cross. What was lacking was the church’s presentation of this offering in person. This was impossible, and Paul represents Epaphroditus as supplying this lack by his affectionate and zealous ministry.
I think that’s exactly what the words of Paul mean in Colossians 1:24 when he says, “In my flesh, as I rejoice in my suffering, I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” What does he mean? The afflictions of Christ were a love gift to the world. They are there for anybody who will have them and they will cover anybody’s sins. They will remove the wrath of God from anybody who receives them. They will establish a righteousness for anybody who embraces them, but people don’t know them. They can’t see them. They can’t get their hands on them.
And God has a solution for that. It’s Colossians 1:24. I will send you, Paul, and I will show you how much you must suffer as you fill up what is lacking in my afflictions, namely, a personal presentation to the world of my afflictions.
Suffer with Joy
Sent to the Nations
What would you do? They have little children. They don’t know if the grenade was intended for them or for the soldiers next door, which complicates matters. Dozens of our people are in situations like that. I would kiss their feet any day of the week. I am not worthy to untie their shoes. That’s what he’s talking about. Notice it isn’t just that he says we are completing the sufferings of Christ by taking them to the world in the form of our own willingness to suffer, but he’s doing it with joy.
“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” I don’t want any of you to follow in this pathway if you can’t do so with joy, because you’ll just make a bad name for Jesus. Grumbling sufferers for Jesus are a contradiction in terms.
Light of the World
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The resurrection will sustain this joy through anything. Do you know what comes next?
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
Rejoice in That Day
The world asks, “What is the reason for the hope that is in you?” They can’t account for the way you live. You see, don’t you, why I said, a little while ago, that those of us who live in the West, and believe me, I’m not pointing any fingers at you here. Look at this, I have a coat on, and a shirt, trousers, shoes on my feet, socks. I’m staying at the Hilton. I will fly on an airplane tomorrow with a computer in my lap. I am thoroughly Western and thoroughly endangered.
Genuine Danger in America
Here’s what I said. I presented them. I didn’t know who their parents were out there, but I said, “You know, Jesus never said, ‘It will be hard for a missionary kid to get into the kingdom of heaven.’ Jesus never said, ‘It’s hard for a person in Darfur to get into the kingdom of heaven.’ Jesus just said, ‘It’s hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven,’ so the most dangerous place to raise a kid is America.”
I don’t know whether those parents got any help from that or not, but I do. I have raised four sons and I’m raising one daughter who’s eleven right now. I know what the danger is, and it isn’t suffering. One of my daughters-in-law just had a biopsy on her stomach last week. That two weeks, waiting for the biopsy, was the best two weeks of their marriage. I think. I mean, I would say so. It’s when you walk next to eternity that good things happen. Things get real. You’re not just playing with Jesus anymore. He’s real or he’s a fake. This is a myth or I’m real. Joy is there because the resurrection is true and real.
Don’t Waste Your Life
I was at Trinity Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois a few years ago working on a book. Word came that J. Oswald Sanders was going to be in chapel. I was just hiding in an apartment. I didn’t want anybody to know I was there, but when I heard that J. Oswald Sanders was going to speak in chapel, at age 89, I knew this might be my last chance to see him. He’s gone to be with the Lord now. I snuck in and sat in the back row, and I remember this story that he told.
Here’s a little parenthesis of something he told that also made an impact on me. I’m 61. He was 89, telling this story. He said, “When I turned 70, I began to write, and I’ve written a book every year since I was 70.” I thought, “19 books since he was 70. That’s better than golf, fishing, lollygagging around in some coral reef while you’re supposed to look cool and tanned at age 70. Really? Give a break! Put some clothes on and do something significant!
That’s the parenthesis. Now here’s the point. Here’s the story he told. I’ve got it written here. Let me just paraphrase it with my own words. There was an itinerant evangelist in India, very poor, walking from village to village, sharing the gospel. Sometimes received, sometimes spurned. It’s long hours, late in the day, and he comes to one more village. He’s not sure if he has the energy, but he goes in, and he receives a terrible reception and they literally drive him out of the village.
He’s frightened and he’s exhausted. He lies down under a tree and goes to sleep. Just at dusk, he’s startled wide awake and he’s surrounded by the villagers. The big man in the village said, “We wanted to come see what you were doing out here and now that we have seen your blistered and bleeding feet to bring us this news, we would like you to tell us again what you said in the village.”
That’s what Oswald Sanders told. It’s a perfect illustration, I think, of Colossians 1:24. I complete in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. Now, those blistered and bleeding feet do not add one iota to your salvation. They simply display the value that you put upon Christ and the love that you have for people and thus, they become a kind of embodiment of Christ’s own afflictions, displaying the authenticity of the message so that people are willing to listen.
No Room for Shock-Jocks
I’d have the same message every time. We did it for about two- and-a-half years. I would say, “You know, don’t you, that the cameras are going to be there and only one thing will persuade the American people that we have a cause: silent, quiet, meek suffering. Not feisty, ugly, strident words with the pro-abortion people across the street.” One of the reasons that movement failed is because there was so many wackos in the Christian pro-life movement that could not live out this verse: In my sufferings, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
Not in my strident words. Not in my clever radio-talk-show, get-the-last-word-demeanor. There’s so much crummy right wing religious nonsense on the radio that it makes a terrible name for Jesus. There’s not enough Colossians 1:24, and therefore, not enough Christians are saying, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, I have chosen a very foolish lifestyle.”
Jesus said, when he watched a widow put her last two coins in the temple offering. He watched her do this and he commended her and said she gave more than all the wealthy because out of her poverty, she put in all the living that she had. Now, if I preached that and walked away, I would get letters. “So what are you going to expect her to pay her rent with?” You have to understand: Jesus is not into giving you lists and prescriptions. He’s into shocking the hell out of you — literally. There’s way too much hell — hellish love for money — in everybody. So Jesus has to shock his disciples and say, “That’s beautiful! That’s beautiful!”
To disabuse you of any notion that I, or Jesus, want you all lock-step in the same way, just remember, when the rich young man came and said, “What must I do,” the bottom line was, “Give away everything you’ve got to the poor. Follow me.” When Zacchaeus came down out of the tree and Jesus shows up in his house, he gave away fifty percent of everything that he had. Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today.”
Any Sacrifice Is Worth It
That’s all I want, whether it’s in a suburb that’s wealthy, where you have to align yourself with many painful people who don’t know what to do with their kids and they’re brokenhearted, or whether you’re going to go to the city where you will live in a cardboard box to identify with the street people of Calcutta. I can’t tell you that, but God can. I have come to Texas A&M in the hope that there would be a band that would be raised up from this number, or others on the campus that couldn’t make it here, who would say, Okay.
I don’t know what the suffering might be. I don’t know what the risks might be. I don’t know what the price might be. I just know that on the other side, there’s a resurrection and there’s a Savior who is infinitely valuable. He will make any sacrifice I make worth it in the end, so that I can count everything as rubbish for the surpassing value, now and later, of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.
Source: Desiring God