GETTING THE MESSAGE/Trials draw us nearer to Christ
Luke transitions form the joyful, flourishing new church in Antioch to details about terrible persecution breaking out in Jerusalem. “Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword (verses 1-2).”
The Lord Jesus had warned his disciples that they would face persecution. In John 15 he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” The hatred for the Lord stemmed from his words.
He spoke with the authority of God, warning people that they must repent and believe in him or they would die in their sins. His message was that he came to bring the salvation men cannot accomplish on their own. To refuse his words was to choose to remain enslaved to sin and the power of the devil. It is a message that eliminates any grounds for boasting and points people away from themselves to another for deliverance from this condition. Jesus message of good news is that given the plight of men, the plan of God that provides forgiveness of sins through the Son of God is the great salvation. He alone can give peace and life with God to men.
It is the love of God that gives such a Savior and salvation as a gift to sinful men. But the message is offensive to men who want to remain in their sinful passions. James the apostle undoubtedly had offended the Jewish leaders with his message of Christ. Thus they were pleased when Herod (Herod Agrippa) put him to death (Acts 12:3). The Lord Jesus was put on trial and mocked by Herod’s uncle (Herod Antipas). The Lord still reigns, and James is now with him. Herod is not.
James was cut off early in his ministry. His brother John would go on to minister another 50 years or so. Both were beloved of the Lord. We don’t know the number of our days; neither do we know what trials lie ahead. But if we know Christ, his sovereignty works all things for our good and his glory.
The death of James was not outside God’s loving care for him. And it would not have surprised James. Jesus had told James he would share the cup of suffering with him (Matthew 20). James suffering was unto death. The Lord had told his disciples: “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God (John 16).”
The Lord said men do such things because they do not know God. James, knowing Christ and loving him, died as a witness for his name. If you don’t know the Lord and have never believed in Christ, you need to see the misery of being estranged from God and the blessedness of having salvation in Christ. The time has come to call upon the name of the Lord.
But if you do know the Lord, don’t be surprised at tribulation. Those he loves may go through all manner of suffering in this world. Tribulations are a part of our communion with Christ, who suffered for our sake. Trials draw us nearer to him. Samuel Rutherford said, “O, what I owe to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus! Why should I balk at the plough of my Lord, that makes deep furrows on my soul? I know he is no idle gardener, for he purposes a crop.”
Trials can awaken us from spiritual slumber. Jesus speaks to his people to be watchful and awake for his coming, lest he come at a time we are not expecting. Those he loves he rebukes and disciplines. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
It is vital in trials to remember the Lord is our help and salvation in all circumstances. Richard Sibbes wrote, “God is our help, and what a ground of comfort this is! Therefore, I beseech you do not be discouraged. Mourn we may like doves, but not like beasts in our afflictions. A Christian must look at the trouble with one eye, and to God with the other. See God to be your salvation. Let the trouble be what it will, if God is your deliverer. Many times we betray ourselves into the hands of the devil for lack of thinking these things. God is our God. He loves us and preserves us.”