Counted Worthy to Suffer
June 19th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
COUNTED WORTHY TO SUFFER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-19-77 8:15 a.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas, on the radio of our Bible Institute, KCBI, you are sharing with us the early service of the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Counted Worthy to Suffer. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 5; and the text is found in the last verses:
And when the Sanhedrin had called the apostles, all of them, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and then they let them go. And they departed from the presence of the…
In the King James Version you have it translated “council,” the Greek is Sanhedrin; and of course, the official body, the highest court of the Jewish nation, was the Sanhedrin, and it refers to the Sanhedrin:
And they departed from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus the Christ.
The problem of human suffering is one to which the wise, and the good, and the learned have addressed themselves from the beginning of the creation. There are two kinds of suffering. One can be in the flesh, in the body; the other can be in the soul, in the heart, and in the spirit. “Anguish of mind” is a phrase common in our nomenclature. The causes of human suffering are five, as I think through all of the afflictions that the human race endures.
One: the oppression of Satan. There is an enemy to all mankind, as well as to God in this world: the oppression of Satan. The story of Job is the story of the vicious attack of Satan [Job 1:6-20, 2:1-8]. In the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the Lord heals a woman who is bent completely over; and He says that she has been oppressed by Satan for eighteen years [Luke 13:11-13, 16]. When Paul refers to his thorn in the flesh, he describes it as, quote, “a messenger of Satan to buffet me” [2 Corinthians 12:7].
Second: we fall into suffering sometimes by our own sins and derelictions: if someone is suffering from venereal disease, if a man dies of cirrhosis of the liver, or if one is afflicted with emphysema. If he has emphysema, so many times he is a cigarette smoker. If he dies of cirrhosis of the liver, he is an alcoholic; he is a drunkard. If he has venereal disease, he has given himself to social sin and promiscuity. These sufferings we bring on ourselves.
Third: there is a suffering that comes from our being a part of the mortal human race. A child innocent I have seen sometimes fall into convulsions and die. A man grows through the years to old age, and finally dies. He is a part of the human race and as such suffers.
Fourth: there is a suffering of self-sacrifice for others: a soldier lays down his life for his country—or comes back home with both of his legs gone, or his eyes out, or his arms shot off—giving his life for his country. Or, here is a mother in the valley of the shadow of death, to give birth to a child, and no less so through the years that follow after; give her life, literally, for that child that the youngster might advance, might have an opportunity.
Five: there is last of all a suffering for the kingdom of God, a suffering in the name of the Lord. This is seen in those who at great cost and at great sacrifice deny the world and all of its blandishments and give themselves to the ministry of the Lord; either as a man out in the world, a businessman, or a vocational Christian leader. Sometimes self-sacrificing denial; giving to the work of the kingdom—as that poor widow that the Lord commended who gave though but two mites, all of her living, everything that she had, just trusting God for daily bread [Luke 21:1-4]—fed by the ravens, sometimes laying down their lives. Now that is the suffering that is referred to in this fifth chapter of the Book of Acts: it is a suffering for the name of the Lord. So we are going to take that text and just look at it actually, in a cursory perusal, a summary reading; we hardly enter into what actually happened in the lives of these apostles.
“And when the Sanhedrin had called the apostles, and beaten them,” d-e-r-o, dero [Acts 5:40]. What does dero mean, translated here “and had beaten them”? Dero actually means “to skin,” such as an animal; you skin a calf, or you skin a cow, “skin, to skin.” And then from that word “to skin,” it came to mean “to flay, to beat, to scourge.” And even yet it doesn’t appear to us what happened to these men. The scourge was a thing made with leather thongs, and all up and down the thong hooks or jagged pieces of metal. The sufferer was made bare; and the man with all of his strength brought down that called “scorpion,” brought it down on the naked back of the victim with all of his strength. And many times the first blow would bare the skin open to the bone. You remember Paul said, “Five times was I beaten like that” [2 Corinthians 11:24]. That was the flagellation endured by our Lord before He was crucified [Matthew 27:26]. And in my reading, many times the victim died under the flagellation before there was even opportunity to nail him to the cross. That’s what that word means, dero, “flayed them.” And I can just see them walking from the Sanhedrin: one of them wiping the blood away; one of them being helped, so cruelly hurt; and another one halt, and crippled, by the awesome scourging.
You know, when I read that, I think of the Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD. As those pastors, bishops, were brought together for the first worldwide conference, they had just gone through the terrible Diocletian persecution. And I read a description of that Nicene Council. They gathered there, the servants of Christ, from the ends of the empire. Some of them had their tongues cut out. Some of them had their eyes gouged out. Some of them there had their ears cut off. Some of them had their hands cut off. Some of them had their fingers cut off. All of them maimed, mutilated, scarred. Think of an assembly like that! It is exactly here [Acts 5:40]. Beat, flayed, if I could translate the word actually in our common language, “skinned alive”; that’s exactly what the word means.
Now, after I read that, do my eyes understand when I say, “They left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing?” [Acts 5:41]. It is too much for me, I don’t understand. I’ve never been introduced to anything like that. These men, wiping the blood away, halting and crippled because of the terrible flagellation, rejoicing in the Lord. Wiping the blood, “Look, praise God!” Bent over with heavy stripes, “Praise God…counted worthy,” the text says, “to suffer shame for His name” [Acts 5:41].
Well, let’s look at this word just once again. “They were rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” [Acts 5:41]. There’s a Greek word tima, it means “of great price,” of honor; the verbal form timaō, “to consider with great preciousness,” to reverence, to honor. Now you know how the Greek language is built, you put an “a” in front of it, it’s a privative, it’s a denial: theos, “a” in front of it, “atheist.” So put an “a” in front of it, atima; “dishonor,” shame—put an “a” in that timaō; atimaō, atimaō, dishonor, shame, ignominy—a term that would describe a felon, a malefactor, an enemy of society, the off-scouring of the world. They return from the presence of the Sanhedrin, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to atimaō, to suffer shame for His name, and continued every day in every house, teaching and preaching the Lord Jesus” [Acts 5:41-42]. Well, my sweet people, just to read that humbles me. Lord, Lord! What dilatory, and poor, and selfish servants we are compared to these men of God who suffered such agony and such shame.
Now out of that passage I am going to speak of the deep and profound theological meaning of suffering. It is far more than just that they bled, that they were hurt, that they were crippled; it has infinite theological, heavenly, spiritual repercussions. Suffering has a place in the purpose, and mind, and plan of God. First we’re going to look at it in the life of the apostle Paul. Do you remember in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, the Lord said, “He is a chosen vessel unto Me . . . for I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:15-16]. So Paul will write in the first chapter of the Book of Colossians, verses 23, 24, “I Paul . . . who now rejoice in my sufferings for you” [Colossians 1:23-24]. What an amazing thing! That “who now,” nun, nun; almost always in Greek is an explicative—it’s like de—it’s a little word just put in, it’s a transitional word, “now.” But not here; it is very emphatic; it is the first word in the sentence, “I Paul. . .Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you” [Colossians 1:23-24]. Now I would suppose it arises out of this: when the Lord says, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16]. I would suppose that there were times of repining in the life of the apostle, “Lord, Lord! Such heaviness, such hurt, such blood.” I would suppose there were times when he quailed under the awesome price of serving the Lord.
That’s the only way I can explain that emphatic “now” [Colossians 1:24]. “In days past, I trembled before the assignment of God. But now, I Paul rejoice in my sufferings for you.” Well why? Then, this most remarkable theological demonstration of God’s purpose in our sufferings, “That I might fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake” [Colossians 1:24], for the church’s sake, for you. Well, what an astonishing theological statement! “I rejoice in my sufferings, that I might fill up that which is behind,” that which is lacking, literally, “in the sufferings of Christ” [Colossians 1:24]; what does he mean by that? Dear God! What is that? Is the atonement not complete? [Romans 5:11]. Are Gethsemane [John 17] and Calvary [Luke 23:33], failures? Is there only partial payment of the debt of our sins in the atoning expiation of Christ? [1 John 2:2]. What is this, “that I might fill up that which is lacking in the sufferings of the Lord”? [Colossians 1:24]. Why, when you look at the passage it will become very apparent what the apostle is avowing. Christ paid for all of our sins [John 19:16-30; 1 Corinthians 15:3]: the atonement is complete when He cried, “It is finished!” [John 19:30]. All of it was done. But, the Lord did not exhaust the sufferings that are to be dedicated to the purposes of God in the earth. There are sufferings also for His people. A story needs a teller, the evangel needs a preacher, and Paul must also suffer if the gospel is to be preached in Ephesus, or in Rome, or in Corinth [Acts 13:1-28:31]. And we today in Dallas or in the mission fields of the world; there is a purpose of God in our sacrifice and in our suffering, deep and theological.
I want you to look at it again in the life of our Lord. In the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there is depicted one of the most dramatic scenes that mind could imagine. A Shakespeare, an Aeschylus, a Johnson, the great dramatists of the world, all of them together have never created a scene so powerful as the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. There is in the right hand of Him that sits upon the throne a book sealed with seven seals [Revelation 5:1]. And discovery is sought for someone in heaven, in earth, or under earth, who is worthy to take the book and to open the seals, and to look thereon. But there’s none in heaven—angels, archangels, cherubim, seraphim—none. There is none in earth, not one; there is none in the netherworld, in the world past, not one [Revelation 5:1-3]. And the apostle John says:
I wept sorely, because there was none in heaven and earth and under the earth worthy to take the book, and to break the seals, and to look thereon—
Then one of the elders said unto the sainted apostle:
Weep not, weep not: the Lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed to break the seals, to open the book, and to read thereon. And I saw—
the Lion of the tribe of Judah? No! What did he see?
And I beheld…a Lamb as it had been slain.
“Worthy,” then they sing, “is the Lamb, to break the seals, and to open the book, and to read thereon” [Revelation 5:9]. Now what does that mean? Here again is that same profound theological meaning of suffering. What that means is this: that in the mystery of human suffering, we find its interpretation. In the mind and purpose of God we find its meaning in human suffering. And it is the Lamb who has been slain who is able to take the book and to explain it to us, to open it to us, to understand its meaning.
What book is that he’s talking about? First, the Book of the Scriptures—the Old Testament is meaningless apart from the cross of the Son of God—every type and every sacrifice, every psalm, every prophecy finds its ultimate meaning and fulfillment in the atoning grace, the sobs and suffering of the Son of God.
Second, the book of nature: how do you explain the strange ferocity of nature itself? Like an animal gone mad, the savagery of nature is sometimes unbelievable; the havoc it can wreck in human life. All of those old Greek Roman poets, standing before the inexplicable in the ferocity of nature, cried out seeking some kind of an answer before sorrow and suffering and death. Jesus explains it in His cross and in His sufferings: out of death, life; out of suffering, salvation [Matthew 27:26-50]; out of the tragedies of human life, heaven.
That book is a book of history, all of the sorrows written on the pages of human story. The sixth chapter of the Apocalypse is that: first there is a horse, white, and a conqueror [Revelation 6:1-2]. How many has the world known? Men who have offered on the altar of their ambition thousands, and thousands, and millions of lives, the last of which has been Hitler; followed by a red horseman [Revelation 6:3-4], followed by a black horseman [Revelation 6:5-6], followed by a pale horseman: conquering first, war inevitable, famine that follows after, and the pale skeleton of death [Revelation 6:7-8]. There is no meaning, or purpose, or solution apart from the Son of God, who says, “All authority is given unto Me” [Matthew 28:18]. And in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation He intervenes in human history, in the midst of the war, the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 19:11-21].
And that book is last of all a book of our lives. How do you explain the tears and the sorrows that accompany us in our lives? We find it in the interpretation given to us by our own and blessed Lord. Our prayers, if we really pray, our prayers are to be offered in agony and in earnest supplication. In the life of our Lord, Hebrews, the Book of Hebrews, out of which we read, says, that, “In the days of His flesh He offered prayers and supplications unto God with strong crying and tears” [Hebrews 5:7]. Look at this in Colossians, “For I would that ye knew what great,” and the word is translated “conflict,” the Greek word is agōna, “For I would that ye knew what great agony I have for you” [Colossians 2:1], our prayers out of hearts and souls of suffering.
There was a marvelous young man, whose life and influence find repercussion in the whole world today. His name is David Brainerd, he died in his twenties. He died in the home of Jonathan Edwards. He was engaged to Jonathan Edwards’ daughter, Jerusha. She was just eighteen; he was in his twenties. As he died, he said to her, “We shall spend a happy eternity together.” And four months later, she followed him into the world that is yet to come. Reading from David Brainerd’s journal, you can still feel the hot tears of his supplications and prayers as he writes; and I quote:
I think my soul was never so drawn out in intercession for others as it has been this night. I hardly ever so long to live to God, and to be altogether devoted to Him. I wanted to wear out my life for Him. I wrestled for the ingathering of souls, for multitudes of poor souls, in many places. I was in such an agony from sun half an hour high till near dark, that I was wet all over with sweat. But, oh! My dear Lord did sweat blood for such poor souls; I long for more compassion.
Now that is praying. These little glib things that we say, God forgive me!
Once again, and we must hasten. It is the suffering that accompanies our work that gives power to it. It’s the blood in it, it’s the dedication in it, it’s the self-sacrifice and commitment in it that gives it power from God. Was it not so with our Lord, who “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things that He suffered?” [Hebrews 5:8]. He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem [Luke 9:51]; and the disciples said, “Lord, they lately sought to stone Thee, and returnest Thou thither?” [John 11:7-8]. Or in the life of the apostle Paul, they stoned him at Lystra and dragged him out for dead; and he arose by the grace of God and went back to Lystra, back to the stones [Acts 14:19-20]. It is the blood and the dedication, it is the sacrifice in our service to God that makes it powerful and makes it regnant.
I’m going to quote just once again a missionary named James Chalmers, of England, sent to New Guinea, to the cannibals down there in that big island north of Australia. And after long years of hardship and difficulty, addressing the mission group that sent him out, he said:
Recall the twenty-one years, give me back all its experience, give me its shipwrecks, give me its standings in the face of death, give it me surrounded with savages with spears and clubs, give it me back again with spears flying about me, with the club knocking me to the ground, give it me back, and I will still be your missionary.
And he returned to New Guinea, and was slain, laid down his life, slain by those same vicious cannibals. Yet those are the people that when our American airmen were shot down in the Pacific and washed up on the shores of those South Pacific islands, instead of being destroyed and eaten, boiled for food—American soldier boys and I talked to some of them, baptized some of them myself—those boys were won to Jesus, won to Jesus by those men who had in the generations past been cannibals. God’s purposes of grace are only known to us in the sufferings of Him who could open the Book [Revelation 5:6-7]; and interpret its meaning for us.
The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain
His blood red banners stream afar, who follows in His train?
A noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice, in robes of light arrayed
They climb the steep ascent of heaven through peril, toil, and pain
O God! To us may grace be given, to follow in their train.
[“The Son of God Goes Forth to War,” Reginald Heber, 1812]
“Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name” [Acts 5:41]. Ah, Master, when I prepare a message from a text like this, I don’t feel worthy to stand in the pulpit, much less to say the words.
We must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, giving your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13], placing your life with us in the church, answering God’s call to your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now. Do it now. Let us redeem the time, what days and years God hath given to us, Lord, may they count for Thee. Make that decision in your heart. And in a moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of that first stanza, start walking down that stairway, start walking down this aisle; “Pastor, today, I have decided for God; and here I am.” Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
WORTHY TO SUFFER
I. Causes and kinds of suffering
A. Oppression of Satan
(Luke 13:11, 16, 2 Corinthians 12:7)
B. Brought on by our
C. Human mortality
D. Sacrifice for others
E. For Jesus’ sake
II. These apostles in the text
A. They were beaten
means “skinning” (2 Corinthians 11:24)
B. They rejoiced (1
Corinthians 4:10, Acts 5:41)
III. The profound theological meaning of
A. In the life of Paul
(Acts 9:15-16, Colossians 1:23-24)
1. There are yet
other sufferings (John 19:30)
B. In the life of our
Lord (Revelation 5:1-5, 9, 12)
1. The sealed
book of Scripture
2. The sealed
book of nature
3. The sealed
book of history (Revelation 6:1-8, 19:13)
sealed book of our lives (Colossians 2:1, Hebrews 5:7, John 19:30)
IV. Our ministries offered up unto God
A. Our prayer out of
suffering (Hebrews 5:8, Luke 9:51)