On the last two Sundays we’ve seen that God’s people are “sealed” through the terrible suffering portrayed in Revelation. What does it mean to be kept safe as part of God’s people?
This is an important question because the Prosperity Gospel claims that you should live a life free from suffering and hardship if you have enough faith. Even those of us who disagree with that can find it hard when people we care about come and tell us about the terrible situations they are facing. We want to promise them that things will be okay. We also want to do occur best to protect them from pain and suffering.
When we read in Revelation that God’s people are sealed, we do so in the context that the churches have been told they will go through suffering. Indeed John describes himself as a co-sufferer. Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul says that anyone who wishes to live very a godly life will face suffering (See 2 Timothy 3:1-16).
This is important to remember. It means that:
1. As much as we desire to make things better and to protect those we love, we cannot do this for ever. This is our natural instinct as friends, it is especially true for parents and it is a good instinct. But even if we protect someone from one danger, another danger will arise and another. Living in a fallen world that is under judgement means that those we care about will get hurt and suffer at some point. Indeed the suffering may appear to be made worse because enemies of the Gospel will deliberately target with persecution and because believers have a heightened sense of the evil of things because they know that this is not what the world is meant to be like.
2. We should not make promises that God hasn’t made. Don’t promise that if they pray all will be put right and the suffering will stop. When we get people to believe in promises that God hasn’t made, we teach them to trust a lie. We build them up for a fall, discouragement and disillusionment. By trying to be compassionate and avoid hurt, we make the pain worse and put people in greater spiritual danger.
It is important to know what spiritual safety does mean and what we can promise.
1. That suffering does not have to rob them of their faith. It is possible to stand firm. Remember how when the storms of life came, the house on the rock stood firm.
2. That suffering is not God’s punishment, he is not getting vengeance on you. He has not stopped loving you or turned his back on you. God may discipline us through suffering but it is not penal event.
3. That suffering is temporary but our salvation and relationship with God is eternal. We look forward to Christ’s return with hope.
4. That God can be glorified even through our suffering and his strength is made perfect in our weakness.