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Aug 06, 2017

So You Really Want To Experience Jesus?

So You Really Want To Experience Jesus?

Passage: Colossians 1:24

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Colossians

Keywords: character, privilege, suffering, experiencing jesus more, dr. helen roseveare


Sometimes we tend to romanticize what it must have been like to walk with Jesus...or what it is still like. This message looks at one verse in Colossians 1:24 about the role suffering can play in experiencing Jesus for every Jesus follower no matter what the type of suffering.


So You Really Want to Experience Jesus?

Colossians 1:24-29

August 6, 2017

Q: How many of you would say that, had you been alive during the days Jesus walked this earth, you would have liked to have been one of the many people who experience life with Him? 

Q:  Would you have felt that way if…

  • You were a Pharisee or Sadducee and His coming threatened your very calling and career?
  • You were Lazarus and you had to die a painful death?
  • You were the pig farmer (in Mt. 8) in the region of the Gadarenes who lost his whole herd of pigs and probably his livelihood when Jesus cast out the demons from the crazy man there and they went into the pigs?
  • You were Judas Iscariot?
  • You were Pilate?
  • You were the man born blind who lived probably half or more of his life as a beggar.
  • You were the leapers (healed or not healed) who spent decades of their lives as social outcasts before Jesus came along?
  • The woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and spent all she had suffering under doctors of the day before she met Jesus?
  • You were the man at the Pool of Bethesda who had been an invalid for 38 years!?

Q: Now, how many of you would say today that you would “really like to experience more of Jesus in your life?”

We have this rather romanticized notion of what life will be like if we are just one of those people who gets to experience Jesus more, right?  But that’s not either the Jesus of the Bible or the experience of the people of God in the Bible.  For many if not most of them, life was terribly difficult before they met Jesus and/or after they encountered Jesus. 

            If we were able to go back and interview all of the people who either had a passing encounter with Jesus OR experienced life with him for years, WHO are the people who would say, “It was all worth it!”?  And who are the ones who would still say, “I wish I’d never experienced Jesus”? 

Q:  WHAT makes the difference? 

According to Scripture, it’s all about how they actually responded TO Jesus, isn’t it?

--If they saw their own little wealth or little power or little control of people and life around them as sacred, they usually chose to hang onto that instead of hanging on to Jesus.

--But if they knew their life was lacking and saw Jesus as the answer to the cry of their heart, if they experience Him as the healer of their body or soul, if they followed Him even when they couldn’t figure out his teachings or understand his parables, then I’m sure that every one of them would say, “All the suffering before and after meeting Jesus was worth it just to know Him in life…and NOW in eternity!” 

That is the central issue of the book of Colossians that we have been in for about a month now as a church.  Life with God is all about experiencing Jesus Christ. 

This was a letter from the great Apostle Paul to God’s church in a city named Colossi, people who had never met Paul but who had met Jesus because of people Paul had discipled.  And they are maybe wondering if they can experience Jesus to as great a degree as Paul did.  They are wondering HOW they can experience Jesus in a city neither Paul nor Jesus had visited in the flesh. 

Do you ever wonder that in your heart of hearts?  Sometimes the lives of people in the early church seem so different from life in the 21st century.  But perhaps the problem is not that we or life is so different but that how we look at their lives has become so romanticized.  Their lives were not easier than ours.  Their churches were not more perfect than ours.  Their families and marriages were not more trouble-free than ours.  If there was a significant difference, it must have been about their experience with Jesus. 

In today’s text in Colossians 1:24ff we’re going to enter in to the heart of the Apostle Paul’s life-altering experience with Jesus.  What made life in Christ something for which he was willing to let go of life in this world?  What made life in Christ something for which he was willing to endure the kinds of indignities and abuses he endured?  Answers to those questions are what might radically change how we experience Jesus and how we experience life in 2017 and beyond. 

Colossians 1:24-29  [Read in unison.]

 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant 

by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 

27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

So let’s answer from this text and Paul’s experience HOW we experience Jesus in Spokane in 2017 and beyond.  Paul mentions several things here like our commission in Christ to share the Gospel and disciple others.  But first he mentions a theme, an area of practical theology in which many of us may be deficient:  suffering.  And I’ll warn you right now:  we’re going to get stuck on that singular issue this morning. 

The 1st thing Paul mentions that connects him to Jesus is… SUFFERING.  “ Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” 

EXERCISE:  I’d like you to either mentally do this or with pen and paper—list out the different ways in which you have and are experiencing suffering.  It could be chronic financial poverty.  It could be mental illness.  It could be some injustice or some physical problem or condition.  It could be emotional pain because of some difficult relationship. It might have been abuse…or some other experience of your life that was particularly painful.  Take a moment to remember the pain and suffering you may have experienced. 

            Here’s one of the amazing things about knowing Jesus.  Jesus always wants pain and suffering to give us a fresh and deeper experience with him. We live in a fallen, broken world.  God isn’t throwing pain and suffering at us; sin is—our sin and the sin or others. But IN that reality, God has designed that we will discover Him and things about Him that we will probably never be able to experience in heaven where there will be no suffering.   

ILL:  This is possible even on the human plain where people have much less to offer us than God does.  But our suffering with someone who will hang in there with us can truly deepen a relationship with that person. 

PER:  When I was deeply and persistently depressed during our first term on the mission field, I learned and experienced things about Sandy that made me more grateful she was in my life and she was the person she was.  While she didn’t have the solution to my pain in depression, the fact that she had a steadiness of soul when I didn’t brought me a new appreciation for her and a deeper gratitude for her emotional makeup

And her commitment to me and our marriage when many women may have said, “I didn’t sign up for this!  I didn’t know our marriage was going to be like this!  I don’t have to put up with this Eeyore anymore!” showed me grace and built a strength into our marriage that I simply couldn’t have known was really going to be there if/when it was needed without that suffering. 

There are things we will experience with Christ in suffering that simply cannot be experienced when the good times are rolling. 

Spiritual rejoicing is one of those things Paul mentions.  “I rejoice in what I am suffering for you…”  Suffering and rejoicing aren’t two words that go together well in the English language…unless you are a masochist…OR unless you know Jesus.  In a world of sin and great imperfection, suffering is often a sign that you are not only doing the right thing but that you are developing the right character. Paul had learned that!

  • Suffering an expensive ticket for telling the truth when the policeman asks, “How fast do you think you were going?” is significantly different from suffering with a guilty conscience because you lied to him and sweet-talked your way out of it. One builds character (and hopefully better driving habits) while the other destroys character and creates deception skills. 
  • Suffering a drop in lifestyle because you choose to have children (or more of them) is a decision millions of people make every year. And millions of women make the choice to suffer the pain of childbirth because they know that suffering will lead to something good, even great, in the lives of their children.

We can make hundreds of choices in a lifetime to embrace suffering rather than avoid it because we know it will have blessings for us and others in it. 

In this passage, Paul doesn’t specify the kind of suffering he’s experiencing.  The context of the fact that he’s in prison in Rome because of the Gospel would tend to lean towards the understanding that he has his prison suffering in mind. 

            But we also know (see 2 Cor. 12:7) that Paul suffered some sort of physical weakness or malady that never left him.  Instead, God gave him an experience of more grace in that suffering rather than taking it away. 

            Notice that Paul sees his suffering as “for you”, for the believers in Colossi.  That is something to keep in mind when we are going through suffering. 

            Suffering isn’t all about us; it’s also about what God is doing in those watching and suffering with us.

ILL:  If I come down with cancer and am eventually taken to God through that cancer, not only does my own suffering in that illness hold a different experience with Jesus for me than good health would have.  God is also going to do something with my wife, with every one of my children, with my grandchildren, with you my church family and possibly with medical professionals who will treat me or care for me.  Suffering is never just about the one with the most evident suffering.  God is speaking to and dealing with everyone around the life of any of his suffering servants. 

FEEDBACK:  Let’s talk about that for just a moment.  Some of us have or are experiencing acute suffering of one form or another.  Some of us are watching God work with someone we love who is suffering.  How has suffering enabled us to know Jesus more, differently and more deeply? 

Something else is very clear about suffering for we who know Jesus.  In some way, when any Christ-follower suffers, Jesus feels that suffering.    Pain in one part of His body…any part of His church…is felt by Jesus himself. 

“…I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

This phrase “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” cannot mean that there was something deficient about Jesus’ suffering and death in regard to our salvation.  No other human being has a single thing in suffering that is needed to complete the work of Jesus on the cross for us.  Everything the Bible teaches about the work of Christ for us in salvation runs completely counter to that notion. 

            So obviously, whatever is “still lacking” must be about the suffering that God’s people, Christ’s body, the church, need to experience. 

            And it isn’t needed by JesusIt is needed by US.  It is needed by the Church.  WE need to experience “the fellowship of His sufferings” as Paul says in Philippines 3:10 if we are to know “the power of his resurrection.” Christianity is unique in that it is the only religion in the world that makes sense of real, painful suffering.  It is the only religion in the world whose God actually participated in human suffering.  It is the only religion in the world whose Savior endured more suffering than He ever asks his followers to endure. 

ILL:  Back when Sandy and I were in college, before we had decided to become intercultural missionaries, there was a woman who’s story I heard from a nation-wide missionary conference held in Urban, IL by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  Sandy and I went twice to that conference of over 15,000 students from across the country over Christmas break. 

            At the conference (1976) before we attended in 1979, a medical doctor named Helen Roseveare from Cambridge told her story.  It’s a powerful story about suffering and experiencing Jesus in the midst of it. 

            Dr. Roseveare did a taped interview near the end of her life.  I’m going to do a first for me today with that.  I’m going to play 13 minutes of that interview because I think her experience is powerful and her sweet spirit is evident.  She’s 84 when she does this interview and I think you will be able to catch this godly woman’s amazing spirit in these few minutes of her story.  Just imagine she is sitting here in front of us telling her story.  And see what God might say to you about your suffering, past, present or future. 

Video links:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4QdQ0lpRyI  (1:47-10:03)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9bTBimRvjw&t=1s  (0.01-4:36)

As amazing as this story is, it doesn’t end here.  After she was rescued by the military, she went back to England for a year of furlough.  Then she returned to the Congo and gave 7 years service in an inter-mission medical project, at the Evangelical Medical Centre of Nyankunde, to establish a 250 bed hospital/maternity complex and leprosy-care center. Her passion was to train Africans for leadership on the practical level. She established a training college for national para-medical workers, including a midwifery course of study for young women. She founded several regional hospitals and dispensaries.  She pioneered a radio-advisory link-up throughout the medical services and a "Flying Doctor Service" through the Missionary Aviation Fellowship to all regional hospitals; and a central supply depot for drugs and equipment.

Along with the joy of using her gifts and seeing concrete results during these years, she continued to experience the cost of serving the Lord. The newly independent nation was pushing for national recognition of its institutions. To achieve such recognition required months and years of dealing with bureaucrats, who seemed to enjoy their newly won authority. It cost her long, tedious, and seemingly endless trips to offices in provincial and national capitals. Her persistence, patience, and the excellence of her work finally paid off. Her training school was not only given official recognition but achieved the highest score.

But the most painful struggle was still to come…with her students. Independence seemed to bring out the worst in many of them. The radio was full of tirades challenging the youth to insist on their rights, not to be pushed around, especially by the Whites. Proud of their two years of high school before entering the training program, some felt it was beneath their dignity to do manual work as she worked with them to cut down trees to build their first facilities. The female students rebelled against the idea of being channeled into the midwifery course; they wanted to be "equal with the men," though everyone knew that single women would not be accepted in the villages as para-medical workers and there was a staggering need for mid-wives throughout the whole province.

After the official recognition of the medical school and the development of all the services, she felt her time was coming to an end. The mission had appointed a new couple, both physicians, who were on the way. She felt it was time to turn things over to younger leaders. She planned an event to include the graduation ceremony, a welcoming party for the new doctors, and a farewell for herself. But before the festivities could come to pass, she was forced to resign.

The government had started budgeting subsidies for the students' education in addition to paying partial salaries for the medical personnel. She and her colleagues had generously decided to give 20% of these subsidies directly to the students for personal expenses, a higher percentage than any other institution was giving. But the students felt that they should receive more. They went on strike. They accused her of stealing college funds, of lying, of duplicity, and of falsifying the accounts and report sheets sent to the government. At last, to break the deadlock, she submitted her resignation.

She writes, “[The students] left on Saturday. Not one came to say good-bye or to shake hands. There were no photos of this qualifying class, my last group of students. There was to be no diploma day. All August festivities were to be cancelled—including the choir, despite five months of hard practicing, and no recordings to take home… my pride was truly laid in the dust and trampled upon. 'Is it really worthwhile?' (R: Gave… page 176)

As she pondered this question in the midst of her pain, the Lord began dealing with her. She had come to Africa to serve Jesus. This was true. But subconsciously she had also wanted more: respect, popularity, public opinion, success, and pride. She had wanted to go out from a farewell-do that she had organized for herself, with photos and tape recordings to reveal what she had achieved.  “She had wanted the other missionaries to be worried about how they would ever make it without her. But the Lord said to her, "'No, you can't have it. Either it must be 'Jesus only' or you'll find you've no Jesus. You'll substitute Helen Roseveare [for Jesus]'

A great long silence followed—several days of total inner silence. At last I managed to tell Him that with all my heart I wanted 'Jesus only'"  (R: Valley… page 181).

Before she left, however, she had the joy of introducing the new doctors to the hospital complex, the training school, and friends in many other communities. And the nationals put on a farewell party for her. For two hours individuals expressed their appreciation and love for her. Even a small group of students sung an original song asking her to remember them as her sons who loved her and to let God blot out from her memory the sore wound they had tried to inflict on her in their stupidity. Then it was time to leave.

Q:  Was it worth the leaving home, the singleness, the hard work, the suffering—the cost?

Speaking in her Urbana 76 address about being beaten and raped during the rebellion, Helen stated:

As I was driven down the short corridor of my home, it was as though he clearly said to me, "These are not your sufferings. They're not beating you. These are my sufferings. All I ask of you is the loan of your body." And an enormous relief swept through me.

One word became unbelievably clear, and that word was privilege. He didn't take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with him, for him, in him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privileged of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of his suffering.

In the weeks of imprisonment that followed and in the subsequent years of continued service, looking back, [I have] tried to 'count the cost,' but I find it all swallowed up in privilege. The cost suddenly seems very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege.

 [Found at https://urbana.org/blog/helen-roseveare on 8/4/2017]

This is how Paul can tell a whole church of people he has never met that his suffering is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ.  This is how he can have joy in suffering.  And this is how WE too can experience the same thing—turning every experience of suffering in this life into an experience with Jesus Christ. 

APP:  You ready to embrace that?  Ready to let go of yourself, your rights, your pride, your inferior desires so that Jesus Christ can become your very life?  Your hope of glory?  Your joy and crown? 

[Responsive Worship: Prayer, Communion, Singing]



God's Comfort and Strength in Times of Need

Father, how I thank You that Jesus is my good Shepherd and is there to comfort and strengthen in times of suffering, sadness, pain and loss. Thank You that Your rod and staff sustain and keep me, no matter what season of life I am passing through and no matter how difficult the times become.

I praise You Lord, for You are my strong tower, into Whose everlasting arm I flee for protection and safety, for You have pledged to uphold me with the right hand of Your righteousness. Thank You that in the midst of suffering and distress You have undertaken never to leave me nor forsake me - and when I face times of loneliness and isolation, Your promised grace is sufficient to carry me through.

Lord I know that as Your child I am indeed blessed and to be able to rest in You as my daily companion, my faithful comforter and my wise counsellor. Thank You for bringing me to this point in my life and for so patiently teaching me the lesson of Your never-failing faithfulness.

Use me I pray, to give like-comfort, companionship and counsel to other lonely and lost souls, who also need the strength of their good and faithful Shepherd. And continue, I pray, to uphold and teach me more of Your comfort and strength, grace and love,

in Jesus name I pray,  Amen