If there was just one thing about being a follower of Jesus that we didn’t like, it would probably be suffering. After all, the Old Testament is replete with promises of prosperity, health, and good living for those who are faithful and true to the Lord. But then, we reach the New Testament era and realize that people who follow Jesus often suffer greatly at the hands of unbelievers and religious loyalists. Trouble and persecution are a key part of the lives of Jesus and His disciples, all the way through the Acts narrative. In fact, Francis Bacon, in his essay entitled Of Adversity, went so far as to say that “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New.” And yet the question lingers as to why, in a Kingdom age of good news and spiritual victory, does such a loving God allow us to encounter so much suffering?
One reason for our adversity came to me recently as I recalled a vivid experience of my childhood. On our dairy farm, we had a stream running down the middle of our 22-acre pasture behind the house. As a young kid, I spent a lot of time messing around in the water. Along the stream, one could occasionally find small sprigs of wild peppermint which thrived in the damp soil. I loved finding them and chewing on the tangy leaves of these plants. I knew, however, that there are several other plants that resemble peppermint but are no good to eat. Without enough visual clues to the identity of a plant in question, my only recourse was to pinch off some of the leaves and crush them between my fingers. The fragrance that issued forth provided all the proof I needed as to the identity of the plant, and finding real peppermint always put a big smile on my face!
And so it is, dear friends, that we as disciples of Jesus live in a world of counterfeits. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13.24ff) makes that abundantly clear. Many people talk and look and act like Christians, but do they really belong to Jesus? Like that little boy in the meadow testing for genuine peppermint, God often allows us to be crushed—and then He awaits the fragrance that comes forth. Take courage! If you are feeling wounded or crushed, it may well be that God is just confirming that you really belong to Him.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1.6-7, ESV).