How can this be? Here a work which God Himself has established, which He Himself leads and guides, and in which His own Spirit gives direction and instruction, is moving toward completion—and yet we cannot help but notice difficulties and sobering developments all around: fewer and fewer people attend the divine services, the congregations are shrinking, and we are surrounded by an increasingly difficult environment in which the gospel and the message of the imminent return of Christ find less and less resonance.
And in the process—so one would think, anyway—the bride of Christ should be making her way triumphantly to the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in a glorious victory march, at the end of which a crown beckons, right?
If we take the words of Paul and Barnabas seriously, the whole thing looks rather different, however: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” There is no triumphal march—only toil and distress: it will become more difficult to keep faith. It will cost us more strength to remain faithful. Disappointments will pile up. There will be many things we do not understand. We will not be able to find an answer or explanation as to why the circumstances are the way they are. We will see this in the personal domain, we will see it in the congregation, and we will see it in the church as a whole.
Why? Because the church will pursue the same path as its Lord. Before the resurrection was the cross. But after the Passion of the Lord—after the night of His death—followed the victorious resurrection and ascension. Let us therefore not allow ourselves to be deterred by tribulations, no matter what form they may take.
* Food for thought from a divine service by the Chief Apostle