Listening to Jesus About Endurance

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 13:13

And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Mark 13:13 rsv

It was during Jesus’ last days with His disciples, when the shadow of the cross was already looming across His path. He gave them one day a glimpse of their future. It was at the same time grim and glorious. “And you will be hated by all because of my name,” He said. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” There, if ever, is a chilling prospect – and also a promise full of comfort.

BECAUSE OF HIS NAME

Notice first how the hostility directed against His followers is aimed at Jesus Himself. “You will be hated by all,” He says, “because of my name.” There will come circumstances in the lives of His people when they will be surrounded by hostility, when an encompassing culture will despise them, when they will feel themselves hated by all.

Does that sound extreme? Is it unimaginable to you that devout believers in Jesus Christ should be so regarded, so treated by their contemporaries? However it may seem to us, it was not at all strange to the original readers of Mark’s gospel. They were Christians who lived in the imperial city of Rome, and many of them had experienced the reality of which Jesus spoke. In the time of Nero, for example, persecution threatened to divide and decimate the church of Jesus Christ. Christians in Rome were being regarded as hateful despisers of their fellow human beings, enemies of the human race. Their allegiance to Jesus was seen as an evil superstition exposing them to the worst of punishments. Nero treated them as the vilest of criminals, for whom no ignominy or torture was too extreme. Followers of Christ have met with similar treatment in every generation of the Christian era.

What about today? Does it still happen now? Ask the believers in Nepal who have been harassed and driven from their churches, imprisoned and pressured to deny their faith. Ask those in northern Nigeria whose churches have been leveled, whose homes have been burned, by fanatical adversaries. Ask the missionaries on several continents who have been kidnapped and beaten, imprisoned and shot because of their loyalty to Christ.

And that’s the heart of it, according to Jesus. This treatment comes to Christians, He says, “because of my name” – because they are identified with Him. Do you remember the account of the apostle Paul’s conversion as described in the book of Acts, chapter 9? Paul, then Saul, had been a relentless persecutor of Christians. He had arrested them, compelled them to blaspheme, sent them to prison, even voted for their execution. He had received orders to pursue them, even to far-away cities and bring them back in bonds. When the risen Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road, Saul heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And when he answered, “Who are you, Lord?” the voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Think of that. The exalted Christ describes the outrages committed against His followers as persecution of Himself. They are the members of His body. Whatever is done to them is ultimately done to Him.

This is what transforms persecution and suffering for the disciples of Jesus. We read of believers in the book of Acts who actually rejoiced after they had been stoned. Why? Because they had been counted worthy, we read, to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. Paul describes that as the greatest of privileges, a wonderful kind of gift from heaven, “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” (Phil. 1:29). He writes to the Colossians, “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). When believers suffer for Christ, in other words, they suffer with Him. They bear His reproach.

The Lord, when speaking of His own ministry, once said that the opposition of people against God descended on Him. He quoted one of the Psalms, “The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me” (Rom. 15:3). Hostile people expressed their rebellion against God by hating and rejecting Jesus. And now that He, the crucified One, is risen from the dead, the opposition of an unbelieving world to Him is visited upon His faithful followers. This is the lot of those who name the name of Jesus. They should not be surprised when hostility surrounds them. Jesus said it would be so: “In the world you will have tribulation . . . You will be hated . . . for my name’s sake.”

THE CALL TO ENDURE

His great charge to His servants in the midst of the world’s opposition is that they should endure. The Greek word means literally “to remain under,” that is, to stand one’s ground, to hold steady instead of fleeing in fear.

We think of endurance sometimes as the ability to withstand hardship or persecution, without giving up or giving in. We understand it as the capacity to keep performing, keep doing what we’re called to do, even under the most adverse conditions. In general, it means “hanging in there,” acting with moral courage and strength when conditions are the very worst.

Jesus is the pattern for His people in this. In the letter to the Hebrews, He is described as “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Believers are invited to “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself” (v. 3) so that they may not grow weary or fainthearted. The apostle Peter speaks of how Jesus bore the most abusive treatment in the most remarkable way. Listen: “When he was reviled he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Peter holds this up as an example for all who trust in Christ “that you should follow in his steps.”

Jesus speaks here of the one who “endures to the end.” The verb has no object. He doesn’t say what the person endures. Sometimes it is persecution, sometimes hostility, sometimes the most exquisite suffering. The one who endures to the end simply keeps on bearing it as long as there are trials to endure.

I was talking with a Russian friend not long ago. We were speaking of the different attitudes toward suffering among our countrymen. It seems that the people of his land are inclined to accept suffering as an essential part of life, whereas we Americans often tend to look on it as an unpleasant surprise, something we weren’t prepared for. If we have to suffer, something must have gone terribly wrong. And, frequently, we feel that someone therefore ought to be sued! Perhaps this is a difference of culture and history. Or, more profoundly, it may be a difference in the seriousness with which we have taken the words of Jesus.

With Him, the capacity to endure is tremendously significant. He lets His followers know that there will be plenty to bear. It seems that love and endurance are the two poles of the Christian life as Jesus understands it: doing good and bearing ill. And the two are often strangely joined. Isn’t it astonishing that Jesus who was love incarnate, who went about doing good, should be treated with such extraordinary cruelty? And that some of the most humble and helpful of His servants should be hated, hounded, even martyred? It gives us a glimpse of how much we all need a Savior, of how much there is in our hearts of rebellion against God. For the Lord and His followers, life in this present world definitely calls for endurance.

THE CHEERING PROMISE

But He cheers our hearts with a great promise, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” The early Christians heard well this note in Jesus’ teaching. They took it to heart. Listen to James, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Listen to Paul, “If we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12). Hear how the writer to the Hebrews writes to suffering Christians: “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those who were so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you know that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. . . . You have need of endurance,” he goes on, “so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised” (Heb. 10:32-34,36). That’s the glorious hope which the Lord holds out before His people. First the groaning, then the glory, first the cross and then the crown.

I’m sometimes asked what Jesus means when He says that those who endure to the end will be saved. Is this, they wonder, an additional requirement for salvation? The Bible clearly teaches that for any of us to be saved we must repent and believe the good news. We must acknowledge our sins and turn from them to God. We must trust in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, as our personal Savior. But when we have done that, the promises of God seem to assure us that we are saved. All our sins are forgiven. We are freely justified before the bar of God’s justice. We are completely accepted in the beloved One, Jesus Christ. What can it mean then to be further told, “He who endures to the end will be saved”?

Does this mean that my works, my performance are, after all, the deciding factor, that even though the Bible speaks much of salvation by grace, it’s only those who have the grit to hold out who can possibly make it? Does it all come down to a kind of salvation by works, or at least salvation by willingness to endure?

No, that can’t be the way it is. For Jesus, salvation was completely God’s work, His gift from beginning to end, impossible with men but possible with God. Salvation is a new birth, the work of God’s Spirit – sovereign, unpredictable and free. Jesus assured all who would listen that those who believed in Him have, right now, eternal life.

But some kinds of believing are only apparent. Some kinds of commitment to Christ seem to be only temporary. Jesus speaks of seed that falls by the wayside and is quickly snatched away. What is sown in rocky ground immediately springs up but soon withers. Strikingly, that happens, Jesus says, when persecution comes. Then the stony-ground hearers seem to disappear.

Enduring (persevering), then, is not an additional requirement tacked on to repentance and faith. It’s the sign that repentance has been real, that faith has truly received the Savior, Christ, that a person genuinely belongs to the Lord. Believers do not “endure” in the Christian sense simply because they are more plucky and determined than others. They are as fearful and vulnerable as anyone else, but they have the promise of the Lord, “Lo, I am with you all the days” (see Matt. 28:20). And again, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Believers are strengthened with might by God’s Spirit in the inner man. They endure not by sheer will power, but by watching and prayer.

Yes, and they endure as those sustained by hope. A few more trials, a few more tears, they know, and then forever with the Lord. Let me speak now to you who have never trusted Jesus Christ, never yet believed in Him as your Savior from sin, never yielded yourself to Him as your Lord and king. He does not promise you an easy road. Quite the contrary. Following Jesus Christ may involve you in a lot of trouble. Some people won’t like you because of what you believe and what you stand for, because of the One who lives in your heart. But this I can tell you with full assurance: In facing whatever comes, you will never be alone. He’ll be with you all the days. And what’s more, with Him the future will be bright with marvelous hope. The one who walks with Christ all the way to the end of life will share in His joy forever.

Prayer: Lord, help us all to be realistic as we look forward to the future, knowing the sufferings and struggles that await those who believe in Christ. But, oh, let our hearts be cheered with the great hope we have in Christ. In His name. Amen.