Revelation 1:9a

Sermon preached on March 27, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Reinhard Hardegen was commander of the German submarine U-123 during World War II. In the spring of 1942 his U-boat was patrolling the east coast of the US looking for ships to sink. But he was located and attacked by a US destroyer. He dove beneath the surface hoping to elude the destroyer and survive. After he got his U-boat to the depth he wanted all they could do was wait. It was a very tense time and everyone had to be quiet. Captain Hardegen was himself very nervous and worried about their survival but he knew that he couldn't portray that to the crew. So he tried to portray himself and being calm and unworried. He was trying to instill confidence in the crew. To bolster the illusion, he decided to take out a detective novel and read it while they waited. He took his detective book and very calmly opened it and pretended to read, as if oblivious to the danger above them and the depth charges exploding around them. That went on for a while until his Watch Officer, Hans Von Schroeder, tapped him on his shoulder and said,

"Captain, you have your book upside down."

The captain did really well—except for that one mistake. It was a blemish on his almost perfectly orchestrated illusion.

John wants to comfort and help Christians. Just like Captain Hardegen he draws attention to himself and shows that he's in the same situation that we are in. He tries to instill a sense of confidence and calm in us. But John's help is on a much higher level than Captain Hardegen's. Captain Hardegen's attempt was all an illusion. Even if he had gotten the book right side up, it still would have been an illusion because deep down he was scared to death. He had no idea if they were going to survive. He probably knew the statistics—that in World War II three quarters of German submariners were lost. He was trying to instill calm in his men in spite of those odds. His bravado was commendable and perhaps necessary, but it was essentially empty. He was hoping against hope.

John's attempt to comfort and help Christians is not like that. It's not an illusion. He does a much better job than Captain Hardegen because he has much better tools. He knows we're going to survive. He knows we're going to be all right. He tell us that we are united to Jesus and that we should find strength and hope in that. In this verse John tells us just a few things—but all of them can help us immensely as we live in this dark world. John wrote,

"I, John, your brother and companion
in the suffering and kingdom
and patient endurance
that are ours in Jesus,
was on the island of Patmos
because of the word of God
and the testimony of Jesus."

What John tells us here is that the Christian life encompasses three great and different realities—suffering and kingdom and patient endurance. These things are coordinate in our text. This morning we're going to look at the first one—suffering. But before we get to that, the first thing we should see from our text is that

the words, 'in Jesus' are key.

The fact that you are 'in Jesus' has great implications for your life. It changes everything. G. K. Beale suggests that the threefold description of the Christian life here, suffering, kingdom and patient endurance, is modeled on the description of Jesus in the first part of verse 5. (Beale, Revelation, p. 201) It describes Jesus as,

"the faithful witness,
the firstborn from the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth."

The order is not the same—but the three things there are parallel to our text. Jesus being the firstborn from the dead is parallel to our suffering. John tells us that he is our brother and companion, 'in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus'. Our lives are modeled after that of our Lord. This has tremendous implications. Beale says of the union between Jesus and His people, (p. 201)

"This corporate identity is the basis for both the trials that confront them and their ability to endure such trials and to participate in the kingdom as kings…"

The trials that you go through, why do they come to you? In part, they come to you because of your association with Jesus. The rule that you exercise, over sin, over temptation, over the evil in this world—it's because of your connection to Jesus. The patience perseverance that you exhibit in your daily life—why are you able to continually stand? It's because of your union with Jesus.

One of the main things that we Christians need to realize is that we are united to Christ. Because we are united to Christ we don't belong to this old order any more. As Jesus said of His disciples in John 17:16,

"They are not of the world,
even as I am not of it."

For example, in Romans 6:3-8 we are told that we were 'baptized into' Jesus death, that we were buried with him, that our old self was crucified with him, that we died with Him. Colossians 3:1 tells us that we have been raised with Christ, so we should seek those things that are above. Ephesians 2:6 tells us that God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly realms with Him. Colossians 3:3-4 tells us that we died and that our life is now hidden with Christ in God and that,

"When Christ, who is your life, appears,
then you also
will appear with him in glory."

Herman Ridderbos writes, (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 212)

"The new life of believers is that which comes forth with Christ out of the grave, has gone to heaven with him, is there hidden… and will once more appear from there with the parousia… What has taken place and will take place with Christ, from dying to coming (again) in glory, has also happened to the church and will happen to it by virtue of its corporate unity with him."

One of the aspects of being 'in Jesus' relates to our present experience of suffering. Your corporate identity with Jesus is the basis for the troubles that confront you.

One of the things that is ours 'in Jesus' is suffering.

We have 'the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus'. The Greek word that Paul uses here has a very general meaning—and refers to, (BDAG)

"trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation… distress that is brought on by external circumstances."

Of course not every type of suffering is included here. Sometimes we suffer because we did something bad or something foolish. That type of suffering doesn't come to us because we are 'in Jesus', but because of our own stupidity.

But if you suffer for doing good, if you suffer because of your Christian testimony—such suffering is because you're 'in Jesus'. In John 17:14 Jesus said about His disciples,

"I have given them your word
and the world has hated them,
for they are not of the world
any more than I am of the world."

We see this suffering in John. Patmos is a small island (13 square miles) off the west coast of Turkey. In John's day it was used as a Roman penal settlement. People considered dangerous to good order were sent there. William Hendriksen writes, (More than Conquerors, p. 69)

"Does this mean that the apostle had been sentenced to hard labor because he refused to drop incense upon the altar of a pagan priest as a token of worshipping the emperor? We are not sure. We do know that in some way or other his loyalty to Christ and to his Gospel had resulted in cruel exile."

John was uncompromising in his loyalty to Jesus Christ. It cost him his freedom. He was on Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

But who exactly was suffering? It was John, the beloved disciple. He was the disciple who was especially close to Jesus and especially loved by Him. In John 21:20 we read,

"Peter turned and saw that
the disciple whom Jesus loved
was following them."

You'll also recall that in John 19:26 we read about Jesus' crucifixion. We read,

"When Jesus saw his mother there,
and the disciple
whom he loved standing nearby,
he said to his mother,
'Dear woman, here is your son,'"

John was the beloved disciple, the one that Jesus loved in a special sense. Yet Jesus allowed him to suffer. Why? Because John was united to Him. When we suffer, we follow Christ into suffering. We enter into His life. Remember what Jesus said in John 15:20?

"No servant is greater than his master.
If they persecuted me,
they will persecute you also."

And in 2 Timothy 3:12 the apostle Paul said,

"In fact, everyone who wants to live
a godly life in Christ Jesus
will be persecuted,"

When such troubles come upon you, they come upon you because of your association with Jesus. Those sufferings must not trouble or alarm you—in them you are brought close to Jesus. In such sufferings you are united to Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 1:5 the apostle Paul wrote,

"the sufferings of Christ flow over
into our lives…"

Or as the ESV puts it, "we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings'. These are Christ's sufferings.

Now we have to be careful here. Christ's sufferings were unique, perfect, once-for-all, and redemptive. He died for us and redeemed us. Our sufferings are not redemptive like His were. Yet in a certain sense, we share in in Christ's sufferings. Philip E. Hughes writes, (1 Corinthians, p. 13)

"Those who are one with Christ must be prepared to drink His cup (Mt. 20:23). As with Him suffering was the prelude to glory, so also those who wish to share in His glory must first be willing to share in His sufferings (cf. Rom. 8;17f,; Acts 14:22; II Tim. 2:12)."

What does this mean in practical terms?

It means that we need to be ready to embrace suffering for doing good.

One of the strategies of the world is to try to get Christians to stop living as they should by threatening them with suffering, and, if that doesn't work, by actually making them suffer. You must not give in to them.

When you suffer for the kingdom, you are being one with Jesus. That's a great honor. As Paul said to the Philippians in Philippians 1:29,

"For it has been granted to you
that for the sake of Christ
you should not only believe in him
but also suffer for his sake,"

Embrace such sufferings. Embrace them like the apostles did in Acts 5:40-42. We read about how the Sanhedrin,

"called the apostles in
and had them flogged.
Then they ordered them
not to speak in the name of Jesus,
and let them go.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin,
rejoicing because they had been
counted worthy of suffering disgrace
for the Name.
Day after day, in the temple courts
and from house to house,
they never stopped teaching
and proclaiming the good news
that Jesus is the Christ."

Peter taught us that this is the way to live. In 1 Peter 4:12–13 he wrote,

"Dear friends, do not be surprised
at the painful trial you are suffering,
as though something strange
were happening to you.
But rejoice that you participate
in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed
when his glory is revealed."

I believe the fact that we suffer with Christ will help us tremendously when we get to glory and we reign with Christ. We won't glory in it as a work we did or anything like that—but we will rejoice in the fact that we were given the great privilege and honor of sharing in Christ's sufferings. It will be something to praise and thank Him for.

Suffering for Jesus is not a negative. It's something to be embraced. If you do that, you're doing the exact opposite of what the enemies of Jesus want.

John Philpot was burned at the stake for his faith in Smithfield, England on Wednesday, December 18, 1555 under Bloody Mary. The night before his execution, while he was eating supper, he received a message telling him that he was to be burned the next day. He answered at once,

"I am ready: God grant me strength and a joyful resurrection."

He then went into his bed room and thanked God that he was counted worthy to suffer for His truth. At his place of execution he kissed the stake and said,

"Shall I disdain to suffer at this stake, seeing my Redeemer did not refuse to suffer a most vile death for me?"

(From Light from Old Times, by J.C. Ryle. p. 34-35)

Embrace suffering. Don't despise it. Don't be afraid of it. It's the way to glory. When you face suffering, do what Hebrews 12:2–3 says,

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured
such opposition from sinful men,
so that you will not grow weary
and lose heart."

The second application from this is that we should apply it to our congregation.

Are we as a congregation suffering for our faithfulness to Jesus?

Of all the criteria for measuring a healthy church, a dynamic church, a growing church, I don't ever recall reading about suffering being such a criteria. I think part of the reason for that is because in America we haven't experienced persecution—Christians haven't suffered for being faithful to Jesus. But that is changing. In the coming months and years a criteria for measuring faithfulness to Jesus will be whether a church is suffering.

Are people talking bad about us because we preach against the common sins of our society? Do people look down on us because we aren't politically correct in accepting and approving of sin? Are they angry at us for calling sin, sin? Are they upset with us because we insist that Jesus is the only way to be saved? How are we to react to such pressure? We must never give in.

Much of the church growth emphasis in modern literature is about making the church attractive to the world, of having good PR and asking unbelievers what they want from a church. Now all that's not totally wrong. When we show love to others, when we help the poor, when we are joyful, kind, compassionate—in a certain way, we are making ourselves and the gospel attractive to some unbelievers. But those same characteristics, when combined with the message of Jesus Christ—will often cause hatred and opposition. As Jesus said in John 15:18,

"If the world hates you,
keep in mind that it hated me first."

He also said, (John 16:2)

"Indeed, the hour is coming
when whoever kills you will think
he is offering service to God."

Consider our Lord's messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 & 3. It's interesting that suffering is mentioned as a criteria that shows faithfulness. We see that in the messages to the church at Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum, and Philadelphia. There's not one message there about church growth. Why is that? Is it because Jesus wasn't interested in church growth? Absolutely not. One of the great missions of the church is to spread the gospel and to make disciples. But in His messages to the churches you don't hear Jesus saying anything like,

"You are growing, therefore you must be doing things correctly."

Growth is not mentioned in any of the messages to the seven churches. It's not a criteria that Jesus used to evaluate any of the churches. Faithfulness was the criteria that Jesus used. Why not growth? It's because growth—contrary to what some of the church growth people will tell you today—is not something any of us can manufacture. No method or secret key will give you growth. In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren writes, (p. 220)

"Anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart."

Really? You can do that? What about God's teaching in Romans 9? (Romans 9:15–18) God said,

"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion."

Paul added,

"It does not, therefore,
depend on man's desire or effort,
but on God's mercy.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh:
'I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you
and that my name might be proclaimed
in all the earth.'
Therefore God has mercy on whom
he wants to have mercy,
and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

Growth is something that God gives to the church. It's in His hands entirely. It's His gift to the church.

I'm tempted to say that He gives growth in relation to our faithfulness, but that's not true. Paul had great success in preaching the gospel in some places and much less success in others. When he was a free man Paul sometimes had to flee an area because of opposition and persecution. God is sovereign with respect to church growth. Festus, Felix and King Agrippa held on to their hearts of stone. They refused to believe in Jesus.

Rick Warren says there are myths about growing churches. (The Purpose Driven Church, p. 62) One of the myths is that
"All God Expects of Us is Faithfulness". Warren says that's only half true.

Really? Can you be more than faithful? On the last day is Jesus going to say to anyone, "You've been faithful in everything, but I expected more." No.

Rick Warren says that God expects more—that he expects both faithfulness and fruitfulness. But isn't fruitfulness is part of faithfulness? How can it not be? Fruitfulness is a command of God and with that command we will either be faithful and put it into practice or we will be unfaithful and not put it into practice.

Fruitfulness is part of faithfulness, unless, that is, you define fruitfulness as numerical growth as Rick Warren does. (p. 63) Then it would be different. But is numerical growth ultimately in our hands? Again, it's Jesus who builds His church, not us. He makes people alive. He gives people new hearts. We plant and water, but He gives the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:6) We can only be fruitful, in terms of numerical growth, if God gives the increase. In the whole discussion about being fruitful in John 15 Jesus plainly said, (verse 5)

"apart from me you can do nothing."

Our job is to be faithful and that is what we will be judged on. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:7–8,

"So neither he who plants
nor he who waters is anything,
but only God, who makes things grow.
The man who plants and the man
who waters have one purpose,
and each will be rewarded
according to his own labor."

At the end of the day, we must always remember the truth that Acts 2:47 tells us.

"And the Lord added to their number
daily those who were being saved."

Numerical growth is not everything. Yes we pray for it. Yes, we work and serve the Lord and hope that growth comes. Yes, we grieve when it fails to come and we examine what we're doing in order to see if we are in fact being faithful to the Lord. But if you make growth the only criteria by which you judge the health of a church—you are ignoring much biblical teaching.

Is suffering in your criteria of a faithful, healthy church? It should be. Jesus gives it to us. It's interesting that one of the seven churches in which suffering is not mentioned comes up woefully short in Jesus' evaluation. The church at Laodicea thought that it was rich, wealthy and didn't need a thing. Jesus said to her, (Revelation 3:17)

"But you do not realize that you are
wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."

The same is true of the church at Sardis—they didn't suffer for Jesus and in their evaluation they came out very poorly. A suffering church, a church suffering because of faithfulness to Jesus—is a healthy church, a dynamic church, a prospering church, and a church that has a special place in the eyes of her Savior. The two churches that came out best in Jesus' evaluation, Smyrna and Philadelphia—were marked by suffering (esp. Smyrna) and keeping God's Word and not denying Jesus' name (Philadelphia). They were standing, being faithful—and were pleasing in God's sight. Faithfulness and suffering are two biblical characteristics that should be used for measuring the health of a church.

Lastly, for anyone here who is not a Christian.

Suffering is part of the Christian life. I'm sure it's part of your life too. This life, with it's evil and sin can sometimes be a very difficult place. It may not be that way for you right now, but at some point it will come upon you. In this life it can come and go. But at some point it will come upon you and never leave you. On your own you have no hope of ever escaping it. Revelation and the rest of the Bible teach us that that for many people, suffering is not going to end with physical death. Indeed, it's going to intensify and become more dark and horrible. You need Jesus. Go to Jesus. Find true life in Him. Turn from your sins and believe on Jesus. If you do He will save you, and one day, (Revelation 21:4)

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things
has passed away."

Go to Jesus right now. May God give you grace to do so.