In the Name of Jesus, who gives us the power to endure, who gives us joy as we endure, who gives us the harvest at the end of our enduring, and who is our reward at the beginning, middle, and end of our race, dear Christian friends,
A young man decides he's going to take after his father, and his father's father, and take over the family farm. He's excited! He's always loved farming side by side with his dad. He loves the fresh air in his lungs. He loves the sun on his back. He loves working close to the earth, sowing the seed, watching it grow, and taking in the harvest. And now, finally, the responsibility of making that farm work is being transferred onto his shoulders. It's going to be up to him, now, to make a go of it. But the young man isn't worried. "Farming is fun," he says. "I feel good about farming. I've always felt good about farming!"
But then what happens? The seed is sown and the crop begins to grow. So far so good. But after a few weeks our young farmer begins to notice that insects, thousands of them, are destroying the crops. He buys the right kind of insecticide, sprays the crops, and the bug problem gradually disappears. A near disaster is averted. But now, with the success or failure of the farm square on his shoulders, our young farmer is beginning to have some doubts. He begins to think, "Well, that disaster was averted, but I'm not feeling as good about farming as I used to."
The season goes on, fellow-redeemed, and the sky dries up. It's getting into late July, and if there isn't any rain soon, the crops will be stunted. Our young farmer is thinking, "We need a good one to two inches. Boy, I'm just not feeling as good about farming as I used to."
Well, in just a couple of days those one to two inches come pouring down all at once. In general, this is what the crops needed. But part of one field is flooded and completely ruined. Part of another field is damaged by hail and partially ruined. The crop as a whole will still make it, but it won't be as good a harvest as our young farmer was hoping for at the beginning of the growing season.
Now the young man isn't feeling good about farming at all! In fact, he's feeling so badly that he comes to his father at the end of a hard day and says, "Dad, I don't think I want to take over the farm. The way I'm feeling right now, I feel like quitting farming, going into town, and finding a job. At least I'll be free from all these frustrations!"
Well, the father of this young man takes him into the living room and they both sit down facing each other -- father to son. And the father says to him, "Son, I can't make this decision for you. But I can give you the benefit of my years and experience. In all my years of farming, I've found it to be a very rewarding profession. But I've also experienced the ups and downs that go along with it. Some years you have a mediocre crop like this year's was. Other years are just plain bad, and you may end up taking a loss. And still other years are very good and make up for the bad ones. If you stick with it, and you're faithful to it, you can build up a good business in the end, and the rewards are many. But you've got to be able to take the suffering along with the good times."
Well, in this case, the son took his father's advice, and by God's merciful providence, he was able to build a good agri-business with all the rewards, little and great, that come from it. And along the way he experienced those good years, mediocre years, and yes, those years that were just plain suffering and frustration. But when he needed it, he always reaped the harvest.
Now dear Christian friends, all throughout the Church's long, two thousand year history, believers in Jesus Christ have encountered struggles, persecutions, and sufferings in bringing the truth of God's Word, both Law and Gospel, to bear in the church and in the world, just as the young man in our story experienced his share of setbacks, frustrations, and sufferings in making a go of his farm. But for the joy set before them, they endured hatred, ridicule, setbacks, frustration, and even death, and in the end, they reaped great spiritual harvests!
In our text for today, Paul tells the Galatians, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." That's sound advice for any Christian in any age, but it takes on an even deeper meaning when you consider what the Galatians were going through. They were going through an internal struggle. Two different Satanic forces were pulling at the church in Galatia, threatening to wear it down to the point where it would just simply die. On the one hand you had a group of pseudo-Christian Jews who'd come all the way from Jerusalem to preach a very dangerous false teaching to these Gentile Christians in Galatia. Now this particular group of false brothers were known as the "Judaizers." They were uncomfortable with the fact that Paul was teaching the Gentiles that the Old Testament ceremonial rules and regulations were fulfilled and set aside when Christ won the victory for all people on the cross, and that all a person needs to be brought into the full salvation of Jesus Christ, offered and given to him, is faith in that Savior -- and that the faith is also a gift of God, worked in the heart by the Holy Spirit through the Word!
Now the Judaizers didn't deny, of course, that you had to have faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, the risen and exalted Lord, the Giver of the Spirit, in whose name is salvation. But they insisted that faith in these things was not enough. In addition, they claimed, you've got to be circumcised, you've got to observe all the Jewish table manners, you've got to observe all the Old Testament rituals and regulations -- then you can be justified before God! "And what's more," they said, "if you really follow Paul's notion that you're made right with God by grace through faith alone in Jesus, think of all the immorality that'll come gushing forth from that belief!"
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? This is the same battle, in a different form, that Martin Luther had to fight all over again 1500 years later. But to make a long story short, the reason the book of Galatians was written was to completely repudiate the soul-destroying, salvation-destroying teaching of the Judaizers. Paul emphasizes and reemphasizes in this epistle the beautiful teaching that we're saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ!
And so we can see that one of the things pulling at the Galatian church was this almost irresistible urge to fall into Jewish legalism, to fall into thinking that they could contribute something to their salvation. And Paul lovingly, but firmly, warns them away from that. But Paul could also see that there was another evil force pulling on them from the opposite direction -- and that was the urge to get rid of any and all obedience to God's moral law in the Ten Commandments, and return to their old, immoral pagan lifestyle. And in Galatians 5, Paul lovingly warns the church away from that as well!
Now the point is, that with both of these strong forces pulling on the Galatians, it would be easy for them to get tired, to get worn out -- because this struggle against evil was constant and ongoing. And so it would be very easy for a lot of the people in this church to say, "Hey, this is too much of a hassle. Let's chuck it all. Let's not do any witnessing. Let's not do any Kingdom-building. Let's not do any charitable work -- because it's just so hard to work when you've got this constant struggle." But Paul says, "Don't give up. Don't give up, because your labor is not in vain. Some day soon, at the proper time, in God's time, you'll see a great harvest of spiritual blessings, in spite of all the hassle, if you don't give up. A foundation of truth will be built, and many lost souls can be saved!"
How true that is, fellow-redeemed! About two hundred years ago there was a Presbyterian minister in Scotland. He'd been at his church for a little over a year and, by human standards, the results weren't too impressive. In fact, the results were so unimpressive that the ruling presbytery was beginning to call him on the carpet. The presbytery came to the minister one day and said to him, "Brother pastor, we're very distressed by the results of your work here at the church. You've been here a full year, and you've only made one convert, just one convert, and that one is a 9-year-old boy!"
Now dear Christian friends, I don't know if that Presbyterian minister was let go or not, but it would have been a shame, you see, because that 9-year-old boy turned out to be the great evangelist, Robert Moffat. And one Sunday many years later, Robert Moffat was the guest speaker in a church. And in his sermon he spoke about being on the African veldt, looking out his window, and seeing the smoke of a thousand fires -- fires where thousands of tribal units lived who'd never even heard of Christ.
Now who do you suppose was in the congregation that day? David Livingston was! And Livingston was so moved by Moffat's sermon that he became a missionary to Africa -- and all of Africa, the whole sub-continent, was opened up to Christian missions through Livingston's work. Livingston even married Moffat's daughter, Mary!
So you see, it's true what Paul by inspiration declares to us, "At the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." That obscure Presbyterian pastor back in Scotland made only one convert in one year -- a nine-year-old boy. But that nine-year-old boy went on to inspire another young man, many years later, to open Africa for the Lord Jesus Christ!
How much are we willing to suffer for the harvest, dear friends? How much are we willing to suffer for the Gospel, and for all the truth of God's Word? What are we willing to endure? What are we willing to give up? The Book of Hebrews was written to a large group of Jewish Christians, probably living in Rome, who'd been severely persecuted for believing in Christ as Savior, and standing on His Word. The book was written to encourage them. You see, in the past they'd stoutly endured persecutions themselves, and had courageously aided others under persecution. Sometimes they were publicly exposed to insult. Sometimes their property was confiscated and they were thrown into prison. And many times they'd helped and aided their brothers and sisters who were being mistreated. In these moments of crisis concerning Christ and His Word, they'd stood firm and endured suffering -- and they'd stood together.
But now, later on, at the time the letter to the Hebrews was written, now they were getting slack, they were getting tired, they were getting dispirited, they were getting fed up, and many of them were getting out and giving up! You see, it's not the moments of crisis that got to these Jewish Christians -- they'd come through those with flying colors! No, it was the long, drawn-out, seemingly never-ending drip, drip, drip of being put down and shunned, day in and day out, that was getting to them. The continuous pressure of public contempt was wearing them down!
You can just imagine some of the conversations these Jewish Christians might have had with each other. Perhaps one of the men is opening his heart to a fellow-parishioner and saying, "I work with a man named Demetrius down at the docks loading the ships. He and I used to get along fine. But when he found out I was a Christian, he refused to work next to me. That really hurt!"
Or perhaps one of the believing women confides this to a fellow-believer, "I'm really sad. My friend Mary, whom I used to sit next to for years in the synagogue, won't even talk to me now that she knows I've left Judaism and become a Christian. I can't believe it! We used to worship together for years, and now this!"
Another parishioner laments that his fellow-Jews, who used to be his friends and fellow-worshippers, won't even look at him when they pass him on the street, because he'd left the teachings of Judaism and embraced, by the Spirit's power, the true way and teachings of Jesus Christ.
And as a result of all this, the Book of Hebrews tells us that some were staying away from church completely, keeping their faith to themselves. Others were leaving Christianity entirely, and going back to worship in the Jewish synagogues. At least, they thought, by doing that, they'd escape the gnawing pain of people constantly not liking them!
And so, in order to heal this bleak situation, the apostle writes the Book of Hebrews to these Jewish Christians, and, through him, the Holy Spirit gives these believers encouragement and advice that still applies to every one of us -- time after time!
The apostle tells these battered and beleaguered Christians, first of all, to "fix your eyes on Jesus." Fix your eyes on Jesus. He says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
You see, dear Christian friends, the apostle points them, and us, to look to Jesus with the eyes of faith, and find in Him, above all else, the strength to overcome our weariness and faintheartedness. For you see, God doesn't want us to find our happiness in our circumstances -- basing our happiness and security on whether or not things are running smoothly in our families, or in our church, or in our personal lives. God wants us to find our happiness in Christ! And many times His purpose for allowing severe and ongoing hardships into our lives may be to "test our mettle," as it were -- to lovingly discipline us, or simply build us up in the faith, to strengthen us, to help us discover for ourselves where our real priorities are at, and to have those priorities brought into line with His will.
Look to Jesus, fellow-redeemed. Our Lord's mission was like that young farmer's at the beginning of the sermon. Except that Jesus, being God, knew from the very start of His existence on earth that what He was going to accomplish was well worth the suffering! Toward the end of His ministry, He had many disciples following Him. And it's very likely He could have kept them all following Him, if He would have hidden the full truth from them! But out of love for them, He had to tell them the truth: that He was the Bread of Life, sent from heaven, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. And when they didn't believe this, He had to lovingly scold them for their unbelief. And at that point, all except for the Twelve left Him. That didn't feel good. That hurt. Jesus had no doubt worked side by side with many of these people. But they stumbled over the most important truth of all and left Him.
Then, when Jesus was arrested, even the Twelve deserted Him. He was mocked, spit upon and beaten. And yet, out of His tremendous love for sinful humankind, a world of sinners who by nature do hate Him, and for the joy set before Him, He endured the shame of the cross. He suffered the punishment of hell in our place to pay the complete price for the sins of all. And then He gave up His spirit and died.
But when it was all over, fellow-redeemed, He knew the joy of having defeated sin and Satan! He knew the joy of defeating death when He rose from death! He knew the joy of lovingly being able to forgive and restore His wayward disciples. He knew the joy of sending the first believers out with the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of all nations. He knew the joy of ascending to the right hand of His Father's glory and filling the whole universe with His presence and power. And He continues to know the joy of seeing multitudes of people drawn to His cross for the salvation of their souls. Heaven is given as a free gift to all who believe on Jesus as Lord and Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit!
No discipline is pleasant, dear Christian friends. But no discipline lasts forever, either. By God's grace we endure, and the Lord will bring about a joyful harvest for each one of us individually, and all of us together!
Have you had a personal setback lately -- something that's really getting you down? Is it a family problem, a financial problem, an accident, illness, or death? Don't give up! The Lord's help and comfort is on the way if you're earnestly seeking Him in His Word! Are you discouraged by all the bad news in the world today? Don't give up! The Lord's deliverance is at hand for all His redeemed! Do you get discouraged by all the false doctrine and division in Christendom? Don't give up! The Lord of the Church is still alive and well and working in His Church -- and He won't let His saving truth or His beloved and true Church perish from this earth! Are you frustrated at your lack of progress in overcoming some personal temptation or sinful habit in your life? Don't give up! If you're diligent in the Word, connected to Christ through His means of grace, the Lord will bring about a righteous harvest in your heart in due time! You'll begin to see His victories in your life! Are you frustrated at your lack of progress in bringing someone closer to Christ and discipling them into the church? Do you feel like you're taking one step forward and two steps back with the people you're witnessing to? Don't give up! God promises a rich harvest if we keep on persevering!
And while we're waiting for the harvest, dear friends, let's remember not to neglect those things that empower us to keep on keepin' on! The apostle tells the Hebrews: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let's encourage one another -- and all the more as we see the Day approaching." With all the problems in the world and in the church, we need the mutual consolation of our brothers and sisters as they bring the healing balm of God's Word to us! And even when our fellow-Christians let us down, still, we need the power and comfort of God's Word, and the power and comfort of our Lord's Supper, which we receive in the gathering of God's saints at church!
With God's saving power moving us, then, dear friends, let's give ourselves fully to the work of our Lord Jesus, for our labor in Him is not in vain! Amen.