Prison and Hardships

Yesterday morning, I had the responsibility and privilege of preaching at Fellowship Baptist Church in Markham. I preached on “The Terms, Tasks, Trials and Tears of Leadership” from Acts 20, one of my favourite leadership texts in the New Testament.  

In Acts 20:22-23 Paul shares with the other leaders that the Spirit of God had been warning him that prison and hardships were in his future appointments.  Eternity will reveal just how many servants of God did their own prison time.  It wasn’t really that long ago in Quebec that the Heron brothers spent time in prison cells.

In Mark 1:14 Mark reminds us that John (the Baptist) was imprisoned.  He would never escape and his lifeless body would later be removed by his disciples once Herod’s birthday celebrations concluded.  Six months of ministry were now concluded and John had faithfully served the LORD as the ‘voice’ in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord.

After one preacher is silenced, another one launches into ministry. “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’

Jesus Christ was a preacher, a proclaimer of good news. What was this good news? Was God promising a ‘happy life’ or ‘health, wealth and prosperity?’ Would those who fully accepted this ‘gospel,’ be spared difficulty or would their trust engender opposition from natural and supernatural sources?

The time has come – God’s clock had advanced to a new hour.  The King was not coming at a future date, the King was here and was about to establish His kingdom. Isn’t this what Jesus is doing through the infamous Sermon on the Mount? He is setting up a new reign and outlining the entrance requirements and standards for involvement in the kingdom of heaven.

Repent and believe the good news – This is no easy-believism.  Repentance – literally a change of mind, was the first response required.  John the Baptist had preached likewise, calling people from all walks of life to alter their conduct and submit to the standards of a holy God.  Belief – the essential next step was also called for by Jesus. 

How would this all be possible? How may sinners repent (in the 1st or 21st century)? Only with God’s help, only with a full admission of facing the impossibility of the task.  We are not called to try harder, to buckle-down and life differently or carry on with some new ‘resolution.’ No, that will not do.  We must repent, we must view our conduct, which falls so far short of God’s glory, as offence to Him.

Preachers like John the Baptist and Paul sealed their sermons with incarceration.  Though not all preachers of God’s good news may end up in jail, we all must ask with the hymnwriter Isaac Watts, 

“Am I a soldier of the cross,  a follower of the Lamb,

And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His Name?

Must I be carried to the skies On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?

Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord.

I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy Word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war Shall conquer, though they die;

They see the triumph from afar, By faith’s discerning eye.

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