As another Easter and Passover season approaches, I’m immediately reminded of my brothers and sisters in China where I’ve seen and experienced the most moving testimonies of God’s living power in action.
In my over 40 trips to China, I’ve had the opportunity to fellowship with believers from all walks of life and from a variety of church backgrounds. Almost all of these believers have at some time suffered a great deal, especially those who were imprisoned and persecuted for their faith during the Cultural Revolution. I’ll always remember this one experience that I’d like to share with you because it reveals the true meaning of what Christ did for us on the Cross.
One rainy afternoon in March, we had the privilege of being led in worship and devotions by a man who spent 18 years in prison for his faith. His back still bears the scars from his persecutors.
While many Christians in China have suffered for their faith in Jesus and remain bitter and unforgiving, many others, like this man, are the embodiment of the kind of love and maturity Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 13. He is one of the most mature and Godly Christians I have ever met anywhere in the world.
Given the fact Easter was approaching, I asked him to lead us in a devotional to prepare our hearts for Easter. We bowed our heads for a time in prayer and the silence was eventually broken when he asked us to turn to the third chapter of Philippians, verse 7, where Paul wrote:
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7-14, NIV).
Reflecting on this passage, I was curious as to how this Chinese brother of mine would relate this passage to Easter. According to our standards, this man was not well educated. He did not have any formal Bible training, high school diploma, or seminary degree. He was just a faithful man who had committed his whole life to serving God. I soon discovered, there wasn’t a school that could give him the type of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom he had acquired.
He began sharing with us a little bit about the suffering he and his family had endured and the bitterness this suffering had initially created within him. He then went on to address two theological issues that we know as justification and sanctification.
He explained how justification is a one time event. When he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and entered into a personal relationship with Him, at that moment, he was fully justified and cleansed of his sins. Because of Christ’s blood, shed on the Cross, and the power of His resurrection, He was made just and righteous before God. The annual celebration of Easter was to remind us that we, too, could be justified by Christ’s death and resurrection.
He continued by saying that justification merely began the lifelong process of growing in Christ and becoming more like Him, which he explained as the process of sanctification. He referred to Colossians 3:3 where Paul stated, “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
This verse helped him to realize that when he accepted Christ, he died to his old way of living and therefore lost everything for the sake of the Gospel. The bitterness and the anger towards his persecutors left him completely. He began to understand what Paul meant in Philippians 3:8 where he wrote, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
He continued to tell us that now he understands even more fully the true impact of Easter. Like Paul, he wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the “fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”
This Christian believer now spends a great deal of time traveling in the countryside ministering to Christians who have gone through great sufferings, many of whom have not let go of their bitterness and are even passing this bitterness on to the younger generation. He tries to help them understand that as we become more like Christ, we must learn to forgive and realize that we have “died, and our life is now hidden with Christ in God.” [Col.3:3] We should be honored to have the privilege of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. We need to forget what is behind and strive towards what is ahead. We need to press on towards the goal of winning the prize for that which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
One thing this man does is to focus people on the person of Jesus Christ who is eternal. He tries to help them not to dwell on their past or present sufferings, which are temporal. When they focus on Christ and His incredible sacrificial love for us, they are freed to have an effective and productive ministry.
As I sat at this man’s feet, listening to him expound on the Word of God with such power, discernment, and insight, I was both humbled and convicted in the areas of my life where I still harbored bitterness towards people who had wronged me and/or caused me to suffer. I realized that I needed to forgive myself and others and raise my eyes from the temporal world around me. As Paul wrote in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
From time to time, we all face persecution or suffering of one kind or another. It can be quite difficult to let go of our negative feelings, including anger, resentment, and bitterness. These deep emotions can strangle our souls, keeping us paralyzed from becoming more like Christ.
As we reflect on Easter, may each one of us forgive and forget what is behind and strive towards what is ahead, pressing on to the goal and prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus, just as our brother in China has taught us.
Your friend and brother in Christ,
Ned Graham President
East Gates International http://egmi.org