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Worship Theme: The Church lives under the Cross

Sermon Theme: The Hard Truth

“I wish I had known what I was getting into.” You have probably said or at least thought those words before. Maybe at a time when you offered to help a friend move and when you show up at their house you find that hardly anything is packed. I wish I knew what I was getting into. Or when you offered to babysit your newborn grandchild or niece or nephew to let the parents have an evening away, but as soon as they walk out the door, the baby starts crying and you can’t figure out how to calm her down. I wish I had known what I was getting into. Or perhaps when you signed up for a class – a master’s class or continuing education class – thinking that it would be good for your career, make you more money, or just further your skills. That is until you get into the class and see the 100+ pages of reading every night and all the assignments. I wish I had known what I was getting into. This is going to be hard.

“I wish I had known what I was getting into,” is a statement that is often made with a sense of regret. Often that statement could continue. I wish I knew what I was getting into, because I don’t want to do this anymore, or because this isn’t what I expected, or because this is too hard.

Has this statement ever been used when it comes to your faith? I wish I had known what I was getting into when I became a Christian, when I joined this church, when I started sharing my faith. The Christian faith brings much joy and comfort, peace and hope, purpose and meaning to your life. But you’ve experienced the other side of it too. Being a Christian can be hard. People don’t always agree with God’s Word. You can be made to feel ashamed of your faith, or told that you’re not a good Christian. It’s hard to follow God’s law. It’s hard to be different than the unbelieving world. There is even suffering that can come because of your faith. Jesus said in the gospel today, take up and carry your…what? Your light and fluffy pillow? Your nice, easy life? No. He said take up and carry your cross – the cross, an instrument of suffering and death. That’s a hard truth to swallow.

In today’s reading from the Bible God addresses this hard truth – suffering will come into the life of the Christian and, in fact, trouble and suffering will come because you are a Christian. Now maybe at this point you’re thinking, “I wish I had known what I was getting into with this sermon today. If I knew Pastor Strong was going to make Christianity look so depressing, I would have stayed home.” I get it! This truth is a hard pill to swallow. But hang in there and explore this portion of God’s Word today.

To understand this hard truth, we’ll follow along today with the conversation between the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, and God which is found in Jeremiah 15. Let me take a moment to set the stage. Jeremiah was called by the Lord to serve as his spokesman to the people of Israel. For you history buffs, Jeremiah started around 620 B.C., about 100 years after the northern tribes of Israel were carried away by the powerhouse nation of Assyria. God allowed this part of Israel to be overcome because of their unbelief, idolatry, and wickedness.

Jeremiah was ministering to the remaining southern tribes of Israel who at this point weren’t all that different than their northern brothers and sisters who had forsaken God. So, Jeremiah had the challenging and undesirable job of proclaiming to his community, his people, God’s anger and judgment and impending doom. He had to tell people that the way they were living was wrong and they needed to change their ways. How did the people respond? They made life miserable for Jeremiah. They fought against him and persecuted him. Jeremiah suffered because he faithfully followed the Lord.

So now Jeremiah’s plea to God. “Lord, you understand; remember me and care for me.” Jeremiah knew the Lord was with him. He knew that God saw the suffering that he was going through and that God could help him. He says this in verse 16, “When your words came, I ate them.” In other words, he took into his heart and life God’s words and promises and he put them to practice. These promises brought him joy and delight.

My friends, isn’t the same true for you? God’s word and promises of his unwavering presence, his providence in your life, his understanding and forgiving heart, his gift of eternal life, are why you are here and what brings you the same joy and delight that Jeremiah knew. It’s a hope and comfort that the world cannot give. To know the love of God that is so great that he would sacrifice his Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for all of your sins, it’s beyond what we deserve! Praise God! You want to live in that peace and relationship with God and you want to share this joyful news with your community.

But how often doesn’t that joy get clouded by suffering because of that very same faith? Jeremiah realized that his suffering was because he followed the Lord. “Think of how I suffer reproach for your sake. I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation.” Here I am being faithful to you, Lord, and look what I get in return. I suffer. I’m ostracized. I’m alone. And he even goes so far as to accuse God of being undependable. “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.”

 Wow! Harsh words! But probably words that haven’t been far from your own lips. The truth is being a Christian is hard. We live at a time where Christian morals are put under attack, where Christian voices are shunned, ridiculed, or told that they are out of touch with reality or worse, that you are bigoted for following the Bible’s teachings. Our society forces you into tough decisions about your faith. From what shows and movies you will watch, to how you spend your time and money, to whether you’ll attend church or another event scheduled at the same time, to whether a commitment to your Lord means only when it’s convenient for you or at all times. To having to hide your faith or filter your words because you know that the truth of God that you would proclaim would be too hard for others to hear and too hard for you to deal with the fallout. For some, your own family looks down on you. For others, you feel alone because your friends don’t share your faith. And you wonder if it’s worth it and many have decided it’s not. You’re tempted to give up your faith. You look to God and accuse him of failing you.

This is the hard truth of the Christian life that makes you often question whether it’s worth it. But just as the Lord warned Jeremiah that he would suffer, God warns you about the hard truth that you will suffer as one of his own. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). You will suffer.

So, now that I’ve shared that hard truth with you, how many of you want to stick around?

How did Jeremiah expect God to respond? Or even better, what did he need to hear? He needed exactly what God said. “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me.” Repent, Jeremiah. This is not a “suck it up buttercup” or “pull up your britches” sentiment. Just deal with it. God is saying, have a change of heart, trust me, return to me.

It’s what God calls on you to do too.  Repent. Repent of the times you have put the light of Christ under a bushel. Repent for the moments where you have given into the disobedience of the world. Repent. Turn from sin and doubt and return to the Lord. Why? Because here’s the hard truth, not hard to accept, but hard as in rock-solid truth. God says this to you, “I will restore you… I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you. I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”  

Notice all that God promises that he will do for you. He will restore, will make you a rock-solid wall, will be with you, will rescue you, will save you, will deliver you. Suffering will come, but God will give you strength to overcome. This is not like a promise made by a forgetful dad, this is the promise made by your eternal and holy Father who has never failed you.

Instead of abandoning the Lord in tough times and because of that abandon the only true hope for eternal life through Christ Jesus, turn to the Lord for strength. The world will fight against you, but God will build you up. For you bear the name of the Lord God Almighty. He is on your side and through faith in him, he puts his name on you. Christian. Living as a believer in a sinful world will be a fight, but in the end, you will be victorious because God has already fought and defeated sin for you and continues to fight by your side.

Take these hard truths, unchanging and unchangeable truths of rescue and hope, and eat them. Take them in with faith. May your soul find the nourishment it needs to withstand the attacks against your faith. Be God’s faithful servant, living and proclaiming the truths of God’s word, not matter how the world reacts. For these words bring life.

I wish I had known what I was getting into. God tells you the hard truth – there will be suffering in your life. But he shares the rock-solid promise – he is with you and will carry you to eternal life. So, we can proclaim along with the Apostle Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). When being a Christian is hard, find comfort in the Lord Jesus, who experienced the fullness of the cross for your sins that through faith in him, you have eternal life.

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