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Suffering and the Glory of Christ

The Glory of Christ

I have a little bit of an interest in some of the more exotic forms of Christianity. In recent weeks, the Iraqi-born, Assyrian Australian bishop, Emmanuel Mar Mari, of the Eastern Syriac tradition had caught my interest. He is the bishop of Christ the Good Shepherd Church, and ministers to refugees from Iraq and Syria—in suburban Australia.


Six weeks ago, On Monday 15 April 2024, I saw him preaching online and praying in Arabic. I had always heard him speaking in English but thought I would listen to him for a minute or two hearing him reciting the prayers in his mother tongue, not that I understood anything. A few seconds in and a 16-year-old Muslim male ran up to him while he was praying from his pulpit, he drew out a switchblade and stabbed the bishop repeatedly until Emmanuel Mar Mari fell to the ground. Five others were also stabbed as they tried to rescue him.


The assailant was accosted. The teenager lay pinned to the ground by a handful of men, and with a grimacing smirk on his face he cried out, “Allahu Akbar,” which is Arabic for, “Allah is the greatest!”


Some said, that seconds later, the bishop who was stabbed six times, including in one of his eyes, stood up and laid his hands on the boy and began praying for him.


Two weeks after the attack and subsequent surgery, Bishop Emmanuel Mar Mari stood up behind his pulpit with an eye patch and began to preach:


Two weeks ago, I suffered a loss—my eye. Though I offer it to the Lord Jesus Christ as a token of love and sacrifice, I am painfully aware it pales in comparison to his [Jesus’s] sacrifice on the cross. No human act can ever equal that. Yet, filled with love for all humanity, I pray he accepts this eye as a symbol for every person, especially a Muslim in need. To them, I offer it as a gift, a way for me to become their sight, just as we say in the Iraqi dialect, “My dear, this eye goes to you as a ransom, this eye goes to you as a ransom, my dear.”


And then he says to the young man who attacked him, “I say to you my dear, you are my son, and you will always be my son. I will always pray for you. I will always wish you nothing but the best.”


Egocentric Preaching

The Apostle Paul had opponents in the Corinthian church who had questioned his motives and his personal courage. They found it difficult to believe that he was a Spirit-filled apostle of Jesus Christ because he had suffered so much. And yet, like Bishop Emmanuel Mar Mari, Paul shows his readers that his suffering is the means God uses to reveal his glory.


Paul always directed people away from himself and towards Jesus Christ. He would have none of this egocentric preaching that was so popular in his time and continues to be popular in our own day.


When Cath and I arrived back in South Africa from being missionaries in Kenya, I was asked to stay in Johannesburg for a month and work at the head office, and then I could relocate to St. Francis Bay. I had been out of the country for a few years and so thought it good to ask around and see whether there were any interesting churches to visit. It was suggested I visit one of the local mega-churches, which I did. It was grand and over the top. It looked like a luxurious shopping mall with bookshops, clothing stores, and two or three restaurants. The whole setup was like a franchise. The main pastor was the face of the entire church, the bookshops promoted his teachings and books. Make no mistake, it was all very professionally done. I walked into the auditorium, and there were three ginormous screens. Soon the music thundered, the screen flickered with colour and movement, and the smoke machines spewed forth smoke. The music convulsed my body as it began to countdown to “worship” … 10 … 9… 8… It certainly was a sensory experience if nothing else. But then came the preacher. As he approached the platform the steel pulpit extended out of the floor remotely. To be fair, it was a guest speaker, but all he did was talk about how wonderful he is and that people should trust that he is a great man of God. I hoped to hear something about Jesus Christ and his teachings, but it was the most egocentric sermon I had ever heard. When he had exhausted all that he could say about himself, he played a video recording of his mentor telling us how great he is. At that point, the sermon ended, and the pastor’s wife stood up and asked whether anyone wanted to give their lives to Jesus Christ after they heard the message. I cringed, as several people raised their hands, thinking, but you have not told us who Jesus Christ is, so who are they giving their lives to? Or what are they giving their lives to?


The Apostle Paul cared little about being relevant. The central theme in his second letter to the Corinthians is the relationship between suffering and the power of the Spirit in his apostolic ministry. He does the very opposite to this mega-church preacher and says, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” Paul points away from himself and to Jesus. That is what makes a faithful minister.


One might call that, “Christocentric Preaching.”


Christocentric Preaching

Many churches and Christian ministries have in their strapline that they are “Christ-centered.” But what does that mean? John the Baptist says it best when he said, “He (Christ) must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30). The Apostle Paul shares the Baptist’s disposition, “we don’t preach about ourselves, instead we preach Jesus Christ, and that he is Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4:5; paraphrased). Paul elevates Christ, by exalting him as Lord, he also makes himself and his companions less, calling themselves δούλους (Greek), meaning bond-servant, or more accurately, slave (2 Corinthians 4:5). In other words, for the sake of Christ Jesus, Paul and his fellow apostles put themselves at the disposal of the Corinthian Christians. This is what it means to live a Christ-centered life. Put Christ and his church first. Preaching the crucified Christ as Lord is the proclamation of the gospel, and the demonstration of this same gospel is for Paul to live out his life in the service of his readers. In so doing, Paul embodies the gospel of Christ, serving the needs of others.


You have heard the saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” It’s often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. However, he actually never said this. And Paul makes it quite clear that it’s wrong-headed. Instead, we are to preach Jesus Christ, that he is Lord, and then we are to connect that to living out our lives as servants for others. Proclamation of the gospel goes together with gospel demonstration.


The Glory of Christ

We see this in the creation account when God proclaims, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” And then he gets to work, separating the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:3–4). This is the first creation, but the Apostle Paul juxtaposes this with the dawning of the new creation whereby God draws our hearts towards himself making us new creations in him. And so, God let’s his light shine out of the darkness and into our hearts in order that we might have the divine light to behold “the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).


The great Puritan, John Owen, authored a book titled, “The Glory of Christ: His Office and Grace.” In it, he goes into detail about the glory of Christ. He writes,


The beholding of Christ in glory is that which in itself is too high, illustrious, and marvelous for us in our present condition. It has a splendor and glory too great for our present spiritual visible faculty … therefore we have no way to take into our minds any true spiritual apprehensions of the nature of immediate vision, or what it is to see the glory of Christ in heaven. … The blessed and blessing sight we shall have of God will be always ‘in the face of Christ.’ In its will, that manifestation of the glory of God, in his infinite perfections, and all their blessed operations, so shine into our souls, and shall immediately fill us with peace, rest, and glory.


To know God’s glory that is displayed in the face of Christ is to encounter the life transforming glory of God. The glory of God, once we have had a glimpse of it, transforms and changes us.


Some years ago, a movie came out on Netflix called, “Bird Box,” starring Sandra Bullock. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, where people begin seeing these horrendous creatures, demonic if you will. They are so terrifying that people as soon as they see them, end their lives immediately, which causes utter mayhem. You never get to see the creatures in the movie, except in a few pencil sketches. The only way to survive is to move about as quietly as you can blindfolded not to attract the attention of these hideous creatures. As I began to watch the movie, I wondered what would happen if the storyline was the exact opposite. What would people do if they encountered, not the hideous and frightening, but instead, infinite beauty and glory, as if they saw the face of the glorified Christ? How might that change the story, and the lives of the characters? I’ve often wondered about that.


Indeed, earlier in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). So, for us to begin seeing God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ, we need to begin contemplating it, and as we do that we will start being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Often times you can tell when people have truly given their life to Jesus, especially soon after becoming Christians, their faces beam with the goodness of Christ.


Our Greatest Treasure

This is the all-surpassing power of God, it’s not from us, no it’s from God himself. The content of the glorious gospel is our treasure, it’s the very substance that lights up the face of Christ. And though we are jars of clay, that is, weak human vessels, God entrusts us with glory so that we might share it with others (2 Corinthians 4:7). The glorious treasure is not meant for us to hide or keep for ourselves; it’s meant to be shared with others.


Alive in Christ

With this great and magnificent treasure in mind, of the glory of Christ, Paul reminds us that:


Even though we are hard-pressed on every side, we are not crushed.

We may be perplexed, but we are not in despair.

We may be persecuted, but we are not abandoned.

Struck down though we might be, we are not destroyed.

Because we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:8–12; paraphrased).


There is a grand paradox when believers live in the present age where Christianity is often not tolerated. As we have read in Paul’s words, God often gave Paul over to adversity, oftentimes near to the point of death for the sake of Jesus Christ, that he might endure grueling opposition, and in the power of God spread the gospel of Christ despite adversity. This way the glory of Christ may show forth in the weakness of Paul’s mortal body, and through his endurance and suffering, the resurrected life of Christ may be proclaimed and demonstrated to others, in Paul’s case the Corinthian Christians, in order that they may trust in God despite opposition and adversity.

While I was a missionary in Kenya, I was often concerned that our students were told that God had a wonderful plan for their lives and that everything would be great. In some sense this is true, but the reality is that God often calls us to suffering and endurance in adversity and persecution. And so, in our classroom, I painted the words of Paul Washer, the great Christian Evangelist, “Instead of telling people that God has a wonderful plan for their life—tell them who God is.”


That’s the problem with so much of contemporary Christianity, it’s very egocentric. It’s about me and how wonderful I am.


How has the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ transformed you and me? God forbid, but if someone walked up to you while you are on the street, in the shop, on the beach, or up here behind the pulpit, and attacked you because of your Christian faith, how might you respond?


Is our theology so egocentric that we become so absorbed in our hurt, offense, and adversity; or does the great treasure of the glory of Christ burst forth from us as it did for Bishop Emmanuel Mar Mari at the moment of adversity, persecution, and attack? Do we have it in ourselves because we have been so formed by the nature of Christ that we lay our hands on the offender, “I say to you my dear, you are my son, and you will always be my son. I will always pray for you. I will always wish you nothing but the best.”


If we can forgive others who have hurt and offended us like that, then Christ has truly transformed us and we have become Christ-centered and alive in Christ because we have seen the beauty of his glory and grace.


Jun 04

Shoo! AMEN! This one hit hard! Thank you, Robert!

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You're welcome!

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