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Why Do Christians Have to Suffer? | Sunday Message

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie
The Truth Network Radio
February 13, 2022 3:00 am

Why Do Christians Have to Suffer? | Sunday Message

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie

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February 13, 2022 3:00 am

If you’re suffering today as a Christian, you’re not alone. But here’s the good news: God uses suffering to reinforce some big truths. In this Sunday episode, Pastor Greg Laurie reveals the profound reasons God allows His people to experience trials. Listen in!

Notes

The Christian life is about persevering.

Job said, "We're all adrift in the same boat: too few days, too many troubles.”

There is a loving God who, despite the worst tragedy, can bring good out of bad.

Christians are not exempt from suffering.

1. Suffering and adversity keep us humble.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” —C. S. Lewis

2. Adversity teaches us eternal truths we would otherwise not learn.

Trials are like God's gym: to break us down and to build us up.

God will teach us lessons in those valleys we would never learn on mountaintops.

“Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” —C. S. Lewis

3. We have a new compassion for others in pain.

Success builds walls; failure builds bridges.

There are two forms of satanic attacks when you set out to serve the Lord:

1. Outward attack

2. Pride

On Heaven:

1. The 1st Heaven: the sky, clouds, atmosphere surrounding Earth

2. The 2nd Heaven: outer space, the sun, moon, galaxies, stars

3. The 3rd Heaven: the dwelling place of God and future destination of believers

“Paradise” indicates the “future life.”

Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

In Revelation 2, "Paradise" can be translated “the royal garden of a king.”

Heaven is a place of sight and sound.

Heaven is a place of feasting, fellowship, friends, and family.

Heaven is a place of fun.

Paul and Barnabas encouraged the believers to "continue in the faith."

We need to “continue in the faith.”

You don’t go to Heaven to find Christ; you go to Christ to find Heaven.

Scripture Referenced

Romans 5:3

John 11:4–7

Proverbs 30:7–9

2 Corinthians 1:4-5

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Learn more about Greg Laurie and Harvest Ministries at harvest.org.

This podcast is supported by the generosity of our Harvest Partners.

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Hey there. Thanks for listening to the Greg Laurie Podcast, a ministry supported by Harvest Partners. I'm Greg Laurie encouraging you. If you want to find out more about Harvest Ministries and learn more about how to become a Harvest Partner, just go to harvest.org. Go to Acts chapter 14 and 2 Corinthians chapter 12. Why don't we pray together? Father, we ask you to speak now to us from your word. We know your word is truth and we need truth in a world that's just filled with lies and half-truths.

So we ask you to bless this time of Bible study and we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. Heaven. I love to talk about heaven. What is heaven like? What will we see when we arrive in heaven? The reason I bring this up is before us here in Acts chapter 14 is a story of when the Apostle Paul died and actually went to heaven and he writes about it elsewhere, 2 Corinthians 12, what he saw when he was there.

So Paul was given a glimpse of glory. You ever go to a movie theater? People aren't going to theaters like they used to, but you see the trailers for the upcoming films. I saw a trailer recently for a film I was really looking forward to seeing. It was a fantastic trailer and I finally saw the film. I have to tell you, the trailer was better than the film. That happens sometimes. Well, Paul was given a glimpse of glory, but in this case, the trailer was not better than the film.

He just got a sense of what was coming. And we've all had those moments in our lives where it's been special, sort of a magical moment, a beautiful sunrise or sunset or a meal with family and friends or a worship moment in church where you thought, oh man, I wish it could always be this way. We just were in Hawaii recently visiting our church. I don't know if you know about this, but we have a church campus in Maui.

It's called Harvest Kumalani and we also have a campus, of course, in Southern California too altogether. We went to speak at the church there. We had over 1,100 people come to services. It was fantastic, but as it turns out, there were a lot of whales there, a lot of whales that had come in and weren't leaving quite yet and so someone said to me, you'll never find more whales here in Maui than right now. And I said, oh man, I wish I could go look at them up close and he says, hey, there's a guy in the church at the boat, maybe he'll take you out. And sure enough, we got in this guy's boat and we went out and saw some whales. So here's a little video that I shot with my iPhone when we were looking at whales in Maui. Wait for it.

Here in Lahaina, this whale is waving at me. Look how close. Don't leave us now.

Wait. Baby, come back. Any kind of fool could see I was lost and I just can't live without you. Whale, come back.

You can blame it all on me. Oh, well, I know that wasn't a very good rendition of maybe come back, but it just occurred to me, you know, the whale went in the water and that song popped into my head. So I heard that whales sing to each other. So I would thought I would try singing to the whales and that's probably why the whale never surfaced again.

But, you know, the cool thing about Maui is on any given day you can see whales, you can see dolphins, you can see a rainbow, of course, a sunrise and a sunset. To me, these are glimpses of greater things to come. I'll talk about that in a few moments. But here in the Book of Acts, we're sort of shifting gears now. This is sort of the second section of this great book, a part of a series we're calling Upside Down Living. The focus of Acts now shifts from Peter to Paul. Now, Paul, of course, formerly Saul, was converted on the Damascus Road on his way to hunt down and arrest Christians. God got hold of Saul. He's been whipping him into shape through the encouragement of a man named Barnabas and the help of other believers. And now Paul, well, he's ready for prime time.

And he had a very daunting task before him. So the time Paul was preaching was in the first century and Rome was in control. Now, I know that we think things are bad in our culture today and actually they really are.

But I want you to consider for a few moments the challenges that Paul faced in his day as he brought the gospel to his generation. Rome, as they said, was in power. Immorality was rampant. Divorce was widespread. Slavery was the order of the day and infanticide was a regular practice where they would murder their children. There was prostitutes roaming the streets, pulling people into pagan temples. Add to this the fact that the religious establishment was completely corrupt. Idolatry was rampant. Spiritism was prevalent. People were even outright worshipping demons. So this is the culture Paul has to reach. But in short order, without social media, without video, without any of the tech we have today, these first century apostles and their followers effectively turned their world upside down. And we've been given the same task in our day to go out and reach the world with the gospel and turn it upside down.

Or should I say right side up? Wouldn't it be nice if the moment we came to Christ, we just went straight to heaven? You say to someone, would you like to accept Jesus into your life right now?

And they would say, yes. OK, well, pray this prayer with me. Lord Jesus, I know that I'm a sinner. I believe you're the savior. Come into my life. I'm sorry for my sins. And you open your eyes and poof, you're in heaven.

Well, that's not the way it works. One day we'll be in heaven. But until that day, we have to persevere.

And, you know, the Christian life is a life of constant growth, constant learning. And God is effectively preparing us for the afterlife. We're prepared in this life for the afterlife.

Why? Because heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. Jesus says, I've gone to prepare a place for you. So God was getting Paul ready and Barnabas ready and the first century church ready.

And he's getting you ready as well. Being a Christian isn't always easy. We have challenges. We have trials. We have temptations.

But we need to persevere. In fact, that's the focus of the verses we're going to look at right now in Acts chapter 14, verse 21. It says, When they preached the gospel to that city, this would be Paul and Barnabas, and made many disciples. That means they led a bunch of people to Christ and were helping them get grounded in their faith. They returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, We through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God. Let's think about that verse. We through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.

Oh, I know we don't like that verse. We want to have a carefree life and easy life where the sun is always shining and the birds are always singing. We might say, I want to fly like an eagle till I'm free.

You know, like the song says. Well, listen, bird brain, life is hard and life can be challenging. In fact, Job said it well when he said, We're all adrift in the same boat, too few days, too many troubles.

How relevant that statement is even today. Jesus talked about two men that built homes, one built on a solid foundation of rock, the other built on a shaky foundation of sand. And the storms came and beat against those houses. And the house that was built on the rock stood and the house that was built on the sand collapsed quickly, sort of like one of those sand castles that the kids will build at the beach.

And life can be like that. You decide what you're going to build your life on. Are you going to build it on the rock, which means Christ himself, a relationship with him?

Or are you going to build it on the shifting sand of materialism or pleasure or even religion? Because, listen, it's interesting to note storms come in every life. Every life is going to face some kind of adversity. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The Bible says there's no getting around it.

C.S. Lewis describes it as the problem of pain. There's no vacation from human suffering and tragedy because of this. Maybe that's why Benjamin Disraeli, the former minister of England, once said this, reviewing his own life. Quote, Youth is a mistake.

Manhood is a struggle. Old age is a regret. End quote. Well, that's a pretty dismal look at life. The Russian philosopher and novelist Tolstoy summed up four attitudes that people have toward the problems of life and the suffering that can come. Number one, he said there are those that view life as all bad and just get drunk to forget it like, hey, man, I can't change it. It's miserable. Life sucks.

So I might as well just party. Number two, he said those there are those who view life as all bad and by suicide just remove themselves from it. And tragically, we're seeing this happen more and more, especially among young people. But fourth and finally, there are those that view life as all bad, according to Tolstoy. And they just sort of accept it like, oh, there's nothing I can do is just the way it is.

Well, there's a fifth category that Tolstoy and Benjamin Disraeli missed, and that is simply this. There is a loving God who, despite the worst tragedy, can bring good out of bad. There is a loving God who, despite tragedy, can actually bring good out of bad. That doesn't mean that he takes bad things and make them good, because there are bad things that happen to us that will never be good. But there's a promise in the Bible.

You've probably heard it. Romans 8 28. It says we know that all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose. This is where we're at as Christians. We're not exempt from suffering, but God can use suffering in our life.

Why? Because through many tribulations, we will enter the kingdom of God. That's what we read already there in Acts chapter 14. Sometimes, as believers, we may think that we're not gonna ever suffer. That'll only happen to someone else.

But listen to this. Christians get cancer. Christians have disabilities. Christians die in automobile accidents. We think, oh, that won't happen to me. Well, I'm not saying it will happen to you, but it could. As you know, our oldest son, Christopher, went to be with the Lord back in 2008, and he died in a tragic automobile accident.

It was the worst moment of our lives. And I had people come up to me and say, why did God let this happen to you? I mean, you're a preacher. You do so much good for people. Why would this happen to you?

Why would you even ask that question? Do you think because I'm a preacher, I get a pass on pain? Because I'm out, you know, telling people about Jesus, I am not gonna personally suffer?

As I said, this can happen to any of us. There's things that happen that just don't make sense, but we always remind ourselves that God is in control. And Paul writes in Romans 5-3, and he says, we can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us to develop endurance, and endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confidence and hope of salvation, and this hope will not lead to disappointment, for we know how dearly God loves us. Wait, hold on.

Stop the presses. Paul, what are you saying to us? You're saying trials, problems, and God loves us? If God loves us, why would he not remove the trials and the problems?

Answer, because he loves us, and as we already read, through many tribulations, we will enter the kingdom of God. As an example, look at the story of Lazarus. Now, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were all personal friends of Jesus. By the way, it would be very hard to not bring that up into conversations, right? You'd be talking to someone and say, well, you know, Jesus, we're good friends. He just texted me five minutes ago.

You want to see the text? The other is Jesus. Anyway, so Jesus says this to me, or Jesus did this the other day, or when we were having dinner with Jesus at our house, but they really were friends of Jesus, and he would often visit them. They lived in a little town called Bethany, which was not far from Jerusalem. So when he was headed into Jerusalem, he would stop at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

So Martha was an amazing cook, and he loved to hang out with them. So one day, Lazarus got really sick, and they sent word to Jesus, Jesus, the one that you love is sick. Please come quickly and heal him. They probably thought Christ would stop what he was doing and rush back and lay his hand on Lazarus and heal him of his sickness, but there's an interesting verse. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, John 11 four says, Jesus heard it, and he said, Lazarus' sickness will not end in death.

No, it happened for the glory of God, so the Son of God will receive glory from this. So although Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. And guess what happened? Lazarus died.

So what happened there? So Jesus finally shows up in Bethany. Not only did he not get there in time to heal Lazarus, he missed the funeral even. And so Martha says to him, Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died. Let me just paraphrase that. Jesus, Martha, is saying, you blew it.

We were bragging on you. We were telling everyone you would come and save the day, and our brother is dead. And then Mary came and effectively said the same thing. Jesus said, your brother will live again.

Martha says, I know, I know. And the resurrection of the last day, Jesus said, Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

And then, of course, you know what happened, in case you don't. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He said, Lazarus, come forth. It's a good thing he said, Lazarus, come forth. If he would have just said, come forth, everybody in every grave around the planet would have suddenly risen. Lazarus, come forth. And Lazarus was in the afterlife, called back into this life, and he lived again. They wanted a healing.

Jesus wanted a resurrection. So maybe in your life right now it seems like God is late. God has not come through for you. You need to just hold on and remember that he is in control. He is doing all things according to his purpose.

So let's answer the question now. Why do Christians have to suffer? You might want to write these points down. Number one, suffering in adversity can keep us humble. Suffering in adversity can keep us humble.

Listen to this. Prosperity can make people proud and self-sufficient. You know, we have money and the account, and we have a home that we live in.

Maybe it's even paid off. And we have the car that we drive, and we have our family, and we have our career. And we're thinking, why do I need God in my life? That's why the writer of Proverbs 30 said this. Give me enough food to live on, neither too much nor too little. If I'm too full, I might get independent, saying, God, who needs him? And sometimes that happens. I don't need God.

I have everything that I need in life. So God may send adversity as a wake-up call in your life to show you how much you need God. You know, the Israelites marched in the wilderness for 40 years. By the way, it doesn't take 40 years, even on foot, to get from Egypt to Israel.

It takes maybe 40 days. But it took them 40 years. Obviously, they were going around and around in circles, and God would supernaturally feed them with manna, the coolest GPS system you've ever seen. It was a fire by night and a cloud by day that would guide them along. But when they finally entered the promised land, the land of Canaan, God said this to them. He said, now as you come into this land flowing with milk and honey, and when you have eaten, you are full, be careful lest you forget the Lord. Don't forget the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever. It can be as simple as giving thanks for a meal when it's served to you. Maybe you're in a restaurant and the food arrives. It's great to pray a prayer. By the way, those don't have to be long prayers.

The food is hot. People want to eat the food, but give thanks to God for that food. Give thanks to God right now for your health.

Give thanks to God for all that he has given to you, and most of all, if you're a Christian, give thanks to God for your salvation. But then sometimes adversity hits, and it gets us on our knees, like the church was on their knees praying for Peter in Acts chapter 12, after he was arrested on the heels of James being put to death. And we read constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. So again, suffering and adversity can happen in our life to keep us humble. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, and I quote, God whispers to us in our pleasures. He speaks in our conscience, but he shouts in our pains. Pain is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world, end quote. Yeah, pain can get our attention, can't it? As the psalmist said, before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I have kept your word. Number two, why does God allow suffering, adversity, trials, hardship in the life of the Christian? Because adversity teaches us eternal truths we would not otherwise learn. We try to avoid pain at all costs, don't we? Like when you go to the dentist, and he'll pump you full of Novocain.

And then I'll say, this isn't gonna hurt one bit, but for me it always does hurt somehow. And you know, we want to avoid pain. We want to lose weight without having to cut back on our eating, or we want to get into better shape. Well, we're in a shape, we just don't like the shape we're in, we're more of a pear shape. People even call us the Lord's pear, not a good thing. So you want to get in better shape, but how can I do this without having to work out?

Answer, you can't. Haven't you heard that expression, no pain, no gain? So God can allow trials in your life to whip you into shape.

Because the way you build muscle up is by effectively tearing it down. And so trials are like God's gym where he's building us up ultimately. Pain reminds us of a deeper need. For instance, hunger pains remind you that, well, you're hungry. And man, I tell you, I get hungry at the same time every day. I wake up hungry. The moment I wake up, I'm hungry. And I want to eat immediately. My wife won't even think about breakfast, and sometimes she won't get to lunch and think, how can you not think about this? Because my stomach is saying it's time to eat.

Same thing for lunch, same thing for dinner. Pain reminds us of a deeper need. What is the deeper need? It's a need for God himself. And there are lessons, there are truths that we will learn in the valleys of life that we will not learn on the mountaintops of life. So we hate the valleys. We would rather avoid the valleys. We would rather miss the storms where there are things you learn about God and yourself that you learn there. Coming back to C.S.

Lewis. In his book The Problem of Pain, he writes, quote, pain removes the veil, it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul, end quote. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Christian life is all pain and suffering. I hope it doesn't come off that way. There's many wonderful times that we have, joyful events that we experience, things that we can enjoy. In fact, if you're having a great day right now, don't let me ruin it for you. Just rejoice. Lord, thank you for this day.

Thank you that things are going well. First Timothy 6, 17 says, God gives us richly all things to enjoy. So enjoy it, but just be realistic and know that adversity will come in time.

Why? Again, going back to Acts 14, through much tribulation, we enter the kingdom of God. Number three, why does God let us go through pain and adversity and suffering? So we'll have a new compassion for others in pain. So we'll have a new compassion for others in pain.

Basically, we live in a world of pain and hurt. I know right now I'm talking to somebody who's in deep pain, horrible adversity, intense suffering, something that's very difficult in their life, and you're almost ready to give up hope. And I want you to know that God is here.

He's with you. And if you're not a Christian yet, He can come and live inside of you, and you need to reach out to Him. But as Christians, we live in a world filled with pain, and there are people that need our help. It's been said, if you preach to hurting people, you will never lack for an audience, because there's so many hurting people. It's also been said, quote, success builds walls, failure builds bridges.

Does that make sense? If all I talk about is my successful life, my wonderful life, my perfect life, who can relate to that? Success builds walls.

People are resentful. Ah, but failure builds bridges, meaning that, hey, I've suffered, I've gone through hardship, I've messed up, but here's what God has done for me. 2 Corinthians 1, Paul writes, he comforts us in all of our troubles in order that we might comfort others, when they're troubled, and we'll be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. The more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with this comfort through Christ.

So God can take the suffering of your life, and you can use it as a tool to encourage other people. So back to Acts chapter 14. We have Paul and Barnabas rolling into town, and it's a place called Lystra, and now we see what happens on a typical day in the life of the apostles. It seems like wherever Paul went, there was either a riot or a revival.

Amazing. So here's what happened on this particular day in Acts chapter 14. I'm reading at verse 8 down, and this is from the New Living Translation. While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet, who had been that way from birth, and he had never walked. He was sitting and listening as Paul preached, and looking straight at him, Paul realized he had faith to be healed. So Paul called to him with a loud voice and said, stand up. And the man jumped to his feet and started walking. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, these men are gods in human form, and they decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus, and Paul was Hermes.

Wow, crazy. Then the people go on to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Paul says, stop.

We are not gods. We're here to talk to you about the living God that loves you and wants to forgive you of this sin of idolatry, and he tries to turn them from the Lord. But now along come the opponents of Paul and Barnabas, who followed them from the city they had been in before. Verse 19, then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side, and they stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead, but as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. Crazy.

Never a dull moment, right? Now, look how fickle these people are. One moment they say, you're gods and we want to worship you, and the next moment they stone Paul and Barnabas, thinking they had killed them.

We can be so fickle. It reminds us of the crowds that greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday, laying palm branches down, saying, Hosanna to the son of David, and then only days later, that same fickle crowd was crying out the words, crucify him and let his blood be upon us and upon our children. But in this story, we see two primary forms of satanic attack.

When you set out to serve the Lord, no, you're going to face opposition. Here's one way satan attacks, outward attack. Verse 19, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city. I don't know if you understand how horrific means stoned was. That's how young Stephen died. Sometimes they would take a person and bury them up to their waist in the ground so they could not escape. Other times they would just throw rocks at them, but they could be buried up to their waist, and then people would pick up huge rocks and start heaving them at the person.

You can understand what a painful way this would be to die. Outward attack. Why did they attack Paul and Barnabas? What had they done? Well, they preached the gospel. Their very presence in this town proclaiming this truth irritated people, and the same is true of us. Listen, as a Christian, you're a bright light in a dark place.

Coming back to movie theaters for a moment, have you ever been in a theater where someone turns on their phone, they're checking their social media or whatever, and man, your eyes just dart over to that light, even a small light in a dark place. So when Christians are out there walking with the Lord, you have that effect on people. You're sort of like salt in an open wound, and people don't like it.

Why are we persecuted for our faith? Jesus gives us the answer in John 15. He says, If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. And if you were of this world, the world would love its own, but because you're not of this world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Jesus says, Remember the word I said to you.

The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they persecuted me, they'll persecute you. So the devil attacks outwardly. Maybe you've had this happen to you. People make fun of you. Maybe you've lost a job because of your faith. Maybe you're alienated from your family because of your faith. Maybe you're ostracized from others because of your faith. So outward attack, but then the devil attacks in other ways, and the second way is through pride.

Because what do the people do? They say, These men are gods. So the devil will say, God would never use you.

You're worthless. You're pathetic, but you believe the promise of Scripture, and you read where the Lord says that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. 1 Corinthians 1, 27, you see, God can use me, and you step out, and God speaks to you or touches another life through you. The devil changes his approach. He comes, and he whispers in your ear, You are awesome.

You are all that and a bag of chips. You are the greatest man or the greatest woman that God has ever used, and we start saying, Yeah, you know, that may be true. So it's pride.

Listen to this. Popularity is more lethal than persecution. You know, when you're persecuted, it'll cause you to hang on to the Lord more tightly, but pride, it can alienate you from God.

So outward attack or telling you that you're the greatest of all time, he just wants to bring you down and immobilize you because the devil knows that pride goes before a fall. Okay, so here's Paul. He's been stoned now. Go back to Acts 14, verse 19. They stoned Paul and drove him out of town thinking he was dead, but the believers gathered around him, and he got up and went back into the town. Okay, so is this the moment that Paul died and went to heaven?

You say, Well, how do you know that happened? Because he talks about it in 2 Corinthians 12, and I'll read that verse to you in a moment. So there was a moment in his life when Paul died and went into the afterlife. He went into the presence of God.

Many commentators believe, and I happen to agree with them, that this is probably the moment when it happened. This is when Paul died. Notice the believers gather around him and pray for him to be raised.

I'm trying to understand what that was like. So here's Paul. He's preaching the gospel.

He's stoned. He's brought into the presence of God, and the Lord says something like, Paul, welcome to heaven, and you're doing a great job down there on earth, and I have some good news and some bad news. Good news and bad news? What's the good news? Well, you're in heaven, and you'll be back again. Again?

Where am I going? Well, that brings me to the bad news, Paul. There's some believers down there on earth praying for you to be raised from the dead. Paul might have said, Lord, don't listen to them.

They're sinners. No, Paul, I have some work for you to do down there still. Meanwhile, back on earth, here's the lifeless body of Paul laying there after he's been stoned, and these Christians are praying, Oh, God, raise Paul up. Oh, Lord, bring him back to life.

Oh, Lord, hear our prayer. Suddenly, they see the color return to his face, and they see his hand begin to move much to their amazement, and it makes a fist, and boom, he hits someone. Of course, that's not in the story.

That's what I would have done. I can tell you this much. There's no person who is in heaven right now who, given the choice, would come back to earth voluntarily, but Paul went to heaven, and he returned again. What did he see when he went to glory? Now we look at 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 1.

Paul writes, it's doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ 14 years ago. So when he wrote this, he was talking about an event that had happened 14 years earlier. 14 years ago, he says, whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don't know, God knows, such a man was caught up to the third heaven, and I know such a man, whether he was in the body or out of the body, I'm not really sure, God knows. This man was caught up to paradise.

Listen to this. He heard things so astounding they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. So Paul was given a preview of heaven. According to the Bible, there are three heavens. Number one, there would be the first heaven, which would be the sky, the clouds, the atmosphere surrounding our planet. The second heaven would most likely be outer space, the sun, the moon, the galaxies, and the stars. And the third heaven, well, that's the dwelling place of God himself. Now we think of the third heaven as really far away, is it?

Or is it just another dimension? Well, we don't know exactly where the third heaven is, but it's a real place that does exist, and it may be closer than we think. Paul was in heaven, but he was given a return ticket to earth, and he says, I was caught up into paradise, verse four. It's an interesting word that he uses there for paradise.

It's used three times in the Bible, indicating the future life. Jesus said it to the thief on the cross. And by the way, it was probably worse than the thief. It was probably an insurrectionist, possibly a murderer, because the Romans did not crucify mere thieves. They might cut their hands off, but they wouldn't crucify them. So this hardened criminal is crucified next to Jesus, and Jesus is hanging on the cross, and he says to the father, father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. And that criminal turns to Jesus and says, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus says, truly, truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Wow. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. And that man was taken to paradise with Jesus himself, and then also this word paradise being used to describe the afterlife is found in Revelation chapter two. And it could literally be translated the royal garden of a king. The royal garden of a king.

Now this is very hard for us to envision, but imagine the most beautiful landscape you have ever seen. Multiply it many, many times, and you get a glimpse of what heaven is like. He said it was paradise. Paul says, I heard things so astounding they cannot be expressed in words.

Things no human is allowed to tell. Heaven. What is it like? It's a place of sight and sound. Heaven is a place that is a reality. It's a real place.

You know, D.L. Moody, the great evangelist, once said, heaven is as much of a place as Chicago is. It's a destination.

It's a locality. We often think of heaven in a vague way, but it's a real place that we go to, and it's a wonderful place. It's a place of feasting and fellowship.

It's a place of sight and sound and friends and family that we're reunited with. Dare I say it, heaven is a place of fun. We're gonna have fun in heaven. We're gonna rejoice in heaven. In fact, the Bible says, Jesus said, there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that comes to repentance.

Imagine how wonderful it's going to be. So Paul, writing about this experience of being caught up in the third heaven, then comes to this conclusion in 2 Corinthians 12. This is from the Phillips translation. He says, therefore, I cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses and suffering and persecutions and difficulties for Christ's sake, for my very weakness makes me strong in Him. Let me come back to my son Christopher who went to be with the Lord, as I mentioned, in 2008. It was the worst day of my life. If words could have killed a person, I felt when I heard those words that he had died that I could have died on the spot. I collapsed to the ground.

I didn't know what to do. And I went up to my office, which was above my garage at that time, and I got down on my knees, and I prayed a Job-like prayer. And I said, Lord, you gave Him to us, and I give Him back to you. And I sensed the presence of God in such a tangible way. I was asked a while ago in a television interview at one moment in my life did I experience the presence of God more than any other.

So I had to reflect back on my life. Well, was it the day of my conversion? That was a wonderful day, but that wasn't the day I experienced this presence like no other day. Was it the day of my baptism?

No. Great day, but that wasn't the day. Was it the day that I got married? Fantastic day, but that wasn't the day. No, the day I experienced God like no other day was the day that was the worst day of my life. But God was there. And God took that adversity, and if I could change that, I would.

I'll be honest with you. If I could bring my son back, I would, but God has taken this adversity and worked it through my life and has given me a message to bring hope to others as I hope this message has done for you. So here's Paul. He dies. He goes to heaven. He's summoned back to earth. And look at what happens next.

Acts chapter 14, verse 20. As the believers gathered around him, he got up, and he went back into the town, and the next day, he left with Barnabas for Derby. What? Okay, let's go. We have things to do. We have souls to save.

Let's get back to work again. I mean, you would have thought that he would have laid around and wanted to talk about this or write a book about his experiences in heaven and go on a book tour. No, he says, I can't even describe what I saw, but I know what I'm supposed to do on earth. See, his vision of heaven, his experience of heaven impacted him in the way that he lived on earth. It's been said that our heart should be in heaven, but our feet should be on this earth. This is why the apostle Paul writes and says that we should set our mind on things above, which means we should be heavenly-minded people, and Paul certainly was.

He goes right back to work to reach other people. Coming back to that statement that we started with in Acts 14, verse 21, after he preached the gospel of that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them, which means encouraging them to continue in the faith, saying, through many tribulations, we enter the kingdom of God. I want you to notice this as we're closing this message, that Paul and Barnabas went back to Iconium and Antioch.

You say, so? That's the place they were run away from. This is where their enemies came from that stirred the crowd up against them, resulting in the stoning. So did they say, we're never going to that town again.

Forget about it. No, they go back to that town again. These courageous apostles would not be stopped. And look at these encouraging words of Paul and Barnabas, because they resonate with us today. They exhort the believers to continue in the faith. That's my word of encouragement for you. Whatever you're going through right now, whatever adversity you're facing, whatever temptation is knocking at your door, whatever trial you are going through, I urge you, continue in the faith. Notice Paul did not say continue in the feeling. Don't build your Christian life on your emotions, because emotions are fickle.

They come and go. The Bible says, it just shall live by faith. Continue in the faith. Hold on. Keep persevering.

Why? Because through many tribulations, we will enter the kingdom of God. And if we have loved ones that have preceded us, who died believing in Jesus, we will see them again. And one day, all of the sufferings of this life will make sense, and maybe not until that day when we get to the Lord.

But here's my final question for you. Are you ready to go to heaven? As I said earlier, heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. Listen, you don't go to heaven to find Christ. You go to Christ to find heaven.

Let me say that again. You don't go to heaven to find Christ. You go to Christ to find heaven. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by me. The only way to heaven, the only way into the presence of God the Father is through Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins. Why did he die?

Why did he suffer? He died for our sins so we could be forgiven. Jesus said it this way in a very familiar verse. John 3, 16, he said, For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Do you have everlasting life?

Do you know that you'll go to heaven when you die? You have to be ready. Let's say you're gonna take a trip.

I mentioned we flew to Hawaii. Well, I had to buy a plane ticket, and I had to get a seat assignment, and I had to go through security, and I had to eat horrible food on the plane. That's mandatory. I think airline food is an oxymoron. It's the worst, but anyway, you have to go through these protocols. You have to wear a mask now on planes, which I don't really enjoy. You have to keep your seat belt on, et cetera. Then you land at your destination, and then you have your return flight. You can't just walk down to the airport, pass security, get on any plane you want, and do it your way.

You can't do that. In the same way, if you wanna go to heaven, you have to have your reservation. Well, God has a place reserved for you. Jesus said to my father, his house are many mansions, and were not so I would have told you, and if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself. God has a reservation for you, but you need the ticket.

You say, okay, how much does it cost? Well, you couldn't afford it. You can't buy your way into heaven. You can't earn your way into heaven through your good works.

The only way to heaven is through Jesus, who effectively has bought the ticket for you, if you will. He's purchased your salvation, and it's a gift. Now, if someone offers you a gift, and you want that gift, what do you need to do? You need to receive the gift. You need to open the gift. You need to enjoy the gift. God is offering you the gift of eternal life. The Bible calls it the indescribable gift. So here's the gift.

Are you gonna take the gift, or are you gonna leave it unopened? Jesus said, you're for me, or you're against me. This is an either-or proposition. Listen, if you wanna go to heaven, if you want your sin forgiven, if you want Christ to enter into your life and help you through whatever you're facing, you need to ask him to come in. He will not force his way into your life. Jesus says, behold, I stand at the door and knock, and if you'll hear my voice and open the door, I will come in.

He didn't say, follow my teachings and admire me and try to emulate me to others. No, he said, I will come in. Being a Christian is having Christ live inside of you. Would you like Jesus to come into your life? Would you like him to forgive you of your sin? Would you like to know that you'll go to heaven when you die? If so, I'm gonna lead you in a prayer, a simple prayer. And I would like you to pray this prayer out loud after me or in the quietness of your heart if you choose. But you need to say this to God because the Bible says, whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. So in this prayer, you're calling on the name of the Lord. So again, as I pray, why don't you pray this after me?

Just pray these words. Lord Jesus, I know that I'm a sinner, but I know that you're the Savior who died on the cross for my sin. I turn from my sin, I'm sorry for it. And I choose to follow you, Jesus, from this moment forward. Thank you for hearing my prayer and entering my prayer. In Jesus' name I ask this, amen. Hey everybody, thanks for listening to this podcast. To learn more about Harvest Ministries, follow this show and consider supporting it. Just go to harvest.org. And to find out how to know God personally, go to harvest.org and click on Know God.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-05 12:58:25 / 2023-06-05 13:17:02 / 19

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