Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? (Matthew 26:40).
Think of the resilience of Jesus. He waits thousands of years, comes as a man, waits 30 more, finally begins that period of ministry, and after three and a half years permits Himself to be hauled away for crucifixion. All this patience, all this endurance for others--busy with their own lives, often indifferent to His salvation. Jesus had to die before they better understood His purpose for them.
But then they turned the world upside down.
I am not drawing a parallel from Jesus' departure to my leaving this Conference. But we are leaving. God is sending us elsewhere in His vineyard. Changes are coming. God knows what He is doing, He knows what He is permitting and adjusting, and we have to be content with that. This is my last message to you as your district pastor. Jesus endured. Let's think together about the necessity of endurance.
God's work here is not done. You are His agents to do it. There are and always will be challenges. People and churches are affected by situations which are not what they wanted. Let me encourage you. In the grace of Christ you will endure. You will follow Jesus; you will uphold truth. Satan will seek to divide you and conquer you. You are on his radar. When you feel ready to strike out in anger, hold your piece, and when you are ready to retire from the battlefront exactly where God has placed you, resist that.
We need to be people who endure. In this age there is not much of that. Things comes to us easily. We press a button and we have what we want. That does not develop endurance. Is it any wonder that our marriages suffer, our friendships are strained, that we so quickly throw away things that seem to be in our way, and that we are fast to give up and slow to forgive?
In the last period of time the church feels itself rich and increased with goods. It thinks it has what it needs. The Laodiceans are not a people of endurance. We must not be them. We must be an enduring remnant. But we are situated in a time and an environment tailored to produce a different kind of person. We have often been like stony ground hearers, who hear God's word, receive it with gladness, but endure only for a time (Mark 4:16-17).
In His Word our Father calls us to something else. The famous New Testament "love chapter" teaches us:
Love endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Authentic love is enduring. It lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts. My love doesn't last. It runs out quickly. I need God's love or I will not endure very much at all. I need to seek Him for that love which endures. Then I will have endurance.
The Old Testament "love chapter," Leviticus 19, teaches us to make God's love concrete by being holy, keeping God's commandments and treating others with fairness and mercy. Talk is cheap; actions show love or not. Paul says this:
This is a faithful saying: for if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
We need to walk with Jesus everywhere, living with Him and dying with Him. He will strengthen us to endure. If we endure, we will reign with Him. Then like Him we will remain faithful. Then we will deny neither Him nor ourselves. Then we will become the Christian we have wanted Him to make us. In His strength we will endure.
Another example is Abraham. After he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise (Hebrews 6:15). So Paul encourages us,
Do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise (Hebrews 10:35-36).
God calls us to be people who endure. The world needs us to be that. We are salt and light but not if we do not endure.
A living congregation is more than a place where the paths of several sets of people happen to cross on Sabbath morning; it is a family, believers gathering with like-minded believers. If we would be His agents, His representatives in the midst of a crooked generation, we need to endure. For His sake, for our sake, for friends and guests and loved ones who are close to us who see us at our best and less than best, we need to humble ourselves to each other and seek each other's good. We are His witnesses, always. If we cannot exercise patience with each other, how can we endure the extraordinary tests imminent to us as Jesus' end-time people?
Let me share with you an item some may never have read. This is from Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 594-597. Ellen White said she did not think she would ever forget this dream. Listen:
While at Battle Creek in August, 1868, I dreamed of being with a large body of people. A portion of this assembly started out prepared to journey. We had heavily loaded wagons. As we journeyed, the road seemed to ascend. On one side of this road was a deep precipice; on the other was a high, smooth, white wall, like the hard finish upon plastered rooms.
As we journeyed on, the road grew narrower and steeper. In some places it seemed so very narrow that we concluded that we could no longer travel with the loaded wagons. We then loosed them from the horses, took a portion of the luggage from the wagons and placed it upon the horses, and journeyed on horseback.
As we progressed, the path still continued to grow narrow. We were obliged to press close to the wall, to save ourselves from falling off the narrow road down the steep precipice. As we did this, the luggage on the horses pressed against the wall and caused us to sway toward the precipice. We feared that we should fall and be dashed in pieces on the rocks. We then cut the luggage from the horses, and it fell over the precipice. We continued on horseback, greatly fearing, as we came to the narrower places in the road, that we should lose our balance and fall. At such times a hand seemed to take the bridle and guide us over the perilous way.
As the path grew more narrow, we decided that we could no longer go with safety on horseback, and we left the horses and went on foot, in single file, one following in the footsteps of another. At this point small cords were let down from the top of the pure white wall; these we eagerly grasped, to aid us in keeping our balance upon the path. As we traveled, the cord moved along with us. The path finally became so narrow that we concluded that we could travel more safely without our shoes, so we slipped them from our feet and went on some distance without them. Soon it was decided that we could travel more safely without our stockings; these were removed, and we journeyed on with bare feet.
We then thought of those who had not accustomed themselves to privations and hardships. Where were such now? They were not in the company. At every change some were left behind, and those only remained who had accustomed themselves to endure hardships. The privations of the way only made these more eager to press on to the end.
Our danger of falling from the pathway increased. We pressed close to the white wall, yet could not place our feet fully upon the path, for it was too narrow. We then suspended nearly our whole weight upon the cords, exclaiming: “We have hold from above! We have hold from above!” The same words were uttered by all the company in the narrow pathway. As we heard the sounds of mirth and revelry that seemed to come from the abyss below, we shuddered. We heard the profane oath, the vulgar jest, and low, vile songs. We heard the war song and the dance song. We heard instrumental music and loud laughter, mingled with cursing and cries of anguish and bitter wailing, and were more anxious than ever to keep upon the narrow, difficult pathway. Much of the time we were compelled to suspend our whole weight upon the cords, which increased in size as we progressed.
I noticed that the beautiful white wall was stained with blood. It caused a feeling of regret to see the wall thus stained. This feeling, however, lasted but for a moment, as I soon thought that it was all as it should be. Those who are following after will know that others have passed the narrow, difficult way before them, and will conclude that if others were able to pursue their onward course, they can do the same. And as the blood shall be pressed from their aching feet, they will not faint with discouragement; but, seeing the blood upon the wall, they will know that others have endured the same pain.
At length we came to a large chasm, at which our path ended. There was nothing now to guide the feet, nothing upon which to rest them. Our whole reliance must be upon the cords, which had increased in size until they were as large as our bodies. Here we were for a time thrown into perplexity and distress. We inquired in fearful whispers: “To what is the cord attached?” My husband was just before me. Large drops of sweat were falling from his brow, the veins in his neck and temples were increased to double their usual size, and suppressed, agonizing groans came from his lips.
The sweat was dropping from my face, and I felt such anguish as I had never felt before. A fearful struggle was before us. Should we fail here, all the difficulties of our journey had been experienced for nought. Before us, on the other side of the chasm, was a beautiful field of green grass, about six inches high. I could not see the sun; but bright, soft beams of light, resembling fine gold and silver, were resting upon this field. Nothing I had seen upon earth could compare in beauty and glory with this field. But could we succeed in reaching it? was the anxious inquiry. Should the cord break, we must perish. Again, in whispered anguish, the words were breathed: “What holds the cord?” For a moment we hesitated to venture. Then we exclaimed: “Our only hope is to trust wholly to the cord. It has been our dependence all the difficult way. It will not fail us now.” Still we were hesitating and distressed. The words were then spoken: “God holds the cord. We need not fear.” These words were then repeated by those behind us, accompanied with: “He will not fail us now. He has brought us thus far in safety.”
My husband then swung himself over the fearful abyss into the beautiful field beyond. I immediately followed. And, oh, what a sense of relief and gratitude to God we felt! I heard voices raised in triumphant praise to God. I was happy, perfectly happy.
I awoke, and found that from the anxiety I had experienced in passing over the difficult route, every nerve in my body seemed to be in a tremor. This dream needs no comment. It made such an impression upon my mind that probably every item in it will be vivid before me while my memory shall continue.
The dream is a tale of endurance. The travelers kept giving up things along the way that at first they had thought they needed. But their conveyances, their luggage and supplies, even their shoes turned out to be extra baggage. They needed a faith they had developed by experience. They needed to know how to trust in God and in no other thing. That kind of faith is a journey. It takes time; it does not come in a moment.
Along the way we may feel mistreated. We may even be mistreated. And on the way we should learn to forgive others. When we are wrongly treated we may be inclined to unsheath our swords. But Jesus may intend for us to learn better how to forgive. We may be expelled, displaced, exiled, or cast out by those who think they are doing God service. We should pray for them that they may discover their error and turn to God. We should want Him to forgive them as so many times He has forgiven us.
But, finally now, I want to come back to that garden scene in Gethsemene. We can do that together at Matthew 26:36-40:
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemene, and said to the disciples, 'Sit here while I go and pray over there.' And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.' He went a little farther and fell on His face, saying, 'O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.' Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?'
We are to contend for the faith delivered to the saints (Jude 3). But also to endure. God sends wise men, prophets, and scribes. Some are killed and crucified, some are tortured in the place of worship, and some are harassed from city to city (Matthew 23:34). God has a purpose in it. He wants the persecutor to repent. He is making a full accounting. Vengeance is His, not ours. We are to work on for Jesus. Because of our experience as fallen people, it is not difficult to remain angry. But what we need is to learn how to remain forgiving. We are called to endure. As individuals and as congregations we are to keep seeking Jesus and keep doing good to others. These are lessons in endurance.
Let's stand for truth and refuse to bend. But let's have mercy on those who have troubled us. Our light affliction is permitted for but a brief time that so that we will learn how to endure. As Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to pray with Him at the garden of Gethsemene, to endure with Him, He also invites us. Be patient with one another. Hold leaders accountable but be ready to accept repentance. This life does not last long, nor is the end of the age far off. The conclusion of all things is very near. Then let each accept Jesus' invitation, and watch and pray with Him. Now is no hour for sleeping. Resist the devil's plans to divide you against each other. Stand together with Jesus and God will bless His congregation.
In Matthew 5:44f Jesus tells us,
Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
This is our charge. Like Jesus, we need to show the example of love that endures.
Deer Park WA SDA 2019-06-22
Chewelah WA SDA 2019-06-29