In the beginning God created a man and placed him in a garden. And he told him, “If you are obedient, you will continue to be my son. You will always have enough to eat, you will never get sick, you will never die. But if you are disobedient, you will cease to be my son. You will struggle to find enough to eat, you will suffer, and you will eventually die.”
We know the story: a serpent — who was really Satan — showed up and persuaded the man to disobedience. On that day, Adam became a slave to Satan, a slave to the law, and a slave to death…and all of us with him.
And Satan’s tyranny over mankind was a clever one. He used God’s words, but he turned them around backwards. He said, “If you are rich and healthy, you must be God’s child. Rule the people around you! But if you are suffering and dying, God must hate you. Work harder!”
That has been the foundation of every manmade religion in the world since the beginning. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Animism, Secularism, Environmentalism — they all teach the same thing: “If you are suffering, you must be under God’s curse. You’d better do what we say to fix the problem! But if you are healthy and wealthy, then God must be pleased with you, and you have the right to tell others what to do.”
They all teach that Success=God’s love. Success=Sonship.
That concept has been at the heart of human slavery since the beginning. That is the source of all our jealousy, all our violence, all our hatred. And all Satan had to do was sit back and watch us devour each other like rats in a cage, all trying to earn our way back to God.
But there was one religion that was not created by Satan. On the very same day Adam sinned, God spoke to him, and promised that one of Eve’s sons would grow up to crush the serpent’s head — and be poisoned by the serpent. God promised to reverse Satan’s lie. He told Adam, “You have been disobedient, you cannot be my son anymore. But one day, through the suffering of Eve’s son, I will make you my son again!”
This was the deeper magic from before the dawn of time: this promise that, under certain conditions, Suffering can restore Sonship.
Through Noah, Abraham, and Moses, this God-spoken promise gradually grew into the religion of the Jews. It was designed by God to set people free from their obsession with religion, success, and power.
But Satan took control of the Jewish faith also, and twisted it into a system that taught, “If you are rich and healthy, God must be blessing you, and you deserve power. If you are suffering and dying, God must hate you. Work harder to please those in power!”
But God kept speaking. He kept sending his prophets. And every prophet really had the same message: “Remember Eve’s son, the serpent-crusher! Remember that one day, through the suffering of Eve’s son, God will make us his children once again!”
Now, many of those prophets were betrayed and killed by their own people. But it was always too late. The prophets, through their speaking, always kept a little rebellious spark alive in the minds of Satan’s slaves. There were always people in every generation who questioned the status quo, who wondered, “Is it really true that health and wealth are always marks of God’s blessing? It is really true that suffering and death are always marks of God’s curse?”
Luke wrote this gospel to answer those questions. Remember, he wrote this book just when real persecution was beginning against the Christians of the Roman empire. Caesar Nero was burning Christians alive in his palace gardens. He was killing them for entertainment in the circuses of Rome. And the Christians were all wondering, “Why are we suffering? Is God displeased with us?”
Luke wrote this book to say, “No! Remember, this happened to Jesus also. Did he do something wrong? Was he under God’s curse? No. Therefore, brothers and sisters, whatever you are suffering right now, you are forgiven, you are loved by our Father, you are truly free. Satan’s lies have no power over you anymore! You do not have to ‘work harder’ to please God.”
And so, to remind his Christian readers of what they already knew, Luke interviewed every eye-witness he could find; he compiled his research; and he wrote this story about Eve’s son, the Son of God who suffered even as he crushed the head of the serpent to set his people free.
In Luke’s gospel we saw how Jesus was born in secret, in obscurity, far from the dragon’s palaces. He grew up. He trained for battle. And then, when his Father said he was ready, Jesus went out to fight the dragon, to reclaim God’s corrupted law, and save his people from slavery to death.
First he went to John the Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet, who officially “Messiahed” him: “anointed him” king. Then Jesus confronted Satan in his desert stronghold. Satan tried to persuade Jesus to avoid suffering, to use his power to take power. But Jesus refused.
The war began between the prince and the dragon. Jesus won every battle easily: he cast out demons with a word, he healed the sick with a touch, he set slaves free wherever he went. And by Chapter 10, the war against Satan’s demon army was basically over. God the Father confirmed that his Son had won the war, and authorized Jesus to march on Jerusalem and receive his crown.
But…there was problem. The demons were gone, but the slaves still had Satan’s programming in their heads. And this kept them from recognizing their freedom. The common people kept saying, “Hey, if you’re really God’s Messiah, use your power to make us all rich and healthy. Then we’ll know God loves us!” They were still thinking Satan’s thoughts. And the religious leaders kept saying, “Hey, if you were really God’s Messiah, you would be rich and powerful, and you would join us in using God’s law to control the people — for their own good, of course!” The religious leaders were supposed to be the guardians of God’s law, the protectors of God’s people. Instead, they were the enforcers of Satan’s slavery! They had become the predators, every bit as bad as the demons!
So…Jesus fired them from their management positions, and he began to train new managers: the twelve disciples. From Chapter 11 to Chapter 19, while they were marching to Jerusalem, Jesus put his disciples through an intensive Kingdom Management Training Course. He kept on telling them, “I am going away for a while. You will be in charge of my kingdom while I am gone. Do not become Satanic predators like your predecessors did, or you too will be fired when I come back!”
But all the disciples heard was, “Blah blah blah blah, you will be in charge of my kingdom, blah blah blah…” They got stuck on this Satanic idea that if Jesus really was the Messiah, he would use his power to take power when he arrived in Jerusalem. Just like everyone else, they believed Satan’s lie that the proof of God’s blessing is health, wealth, power, and success. They thought they were destined to be prime ministers to the healthiest, wealthiest, most powerful and most successful king ever!
So they were shocked and disappointed when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem…and nothing happened. No miracles, no signs and wonders in the heavens, no Judgement Day. But Jesus did keep teaching in the temple, talking about revolution, and that kept their hopes alive —
— right up until he was arrested by the religious leaders of the temple.
It turned out that the desert was not the dragon’s only stronghold. He also ruled from the temple. His demon army had been broken, but his human slaves were ready and willing to use their power to crush God’s Messiah, just as they had crushed the prophets before him. That whole war against the demons at the beginning? That was…just a preview. A distraction. The real war had always been — was always going to be — a battle fought face-to-face between God’s prince and the dragon.
That final battle happened at midnight, on a mountaintop outside of Jerusalem. Uncounted thousands of years before, Adam had fought that battle in a garden and lost. He became a slave to Satan, to the law, and to death. Jesus, the second Adam, fought that same battle again — and won.
But his victory did not look like victory. It looked like defeat. Jesus became a slave to Satan when Satan’s servants arrested him. He became a slave to the law when the court condemned him. And he became a slave to death when he was crucified.
But Satan did not know there was a deeper magic from before the dawn of time. He only knew about God’s command at creation: “If you are obedient, you will continue to be my son; if you are disobedient, you will cease to be my son.” Satan tried to make Jesus disobedient. When that failed, Satan forced the curses of disobedience on Jesus anyway. He thought he could manipulate God’s system into bending the Father’s curse back upon the Son, thus destroying God from within.
But before creation God had made another law within himself that Satan knew nothing about. This deeper law stated that if a Son of God was perfectly obedient but still suffered under the curse of disobedience — then the chains of the law would crack, and death itself would start working backwards. When Jesus willingly became a slave to Satan, the law, and death, he actually won the right to rescue mankind from slavery and make them children of God once again.
Jesus’ suffering and death — and resurrection! — destroyed Satan’s ancient lie. He proved, once and for all, that there is no connection between health, wealth, power, and the blessings of God. In fact, Jesus’ death proved the opposite. Jesus’ death proved that if you live a life obsessed with ease and luxury, comfort and power and success…you are probably not a child of God. You are probably still a slave to the Other Guy. But if you experience suffering and grief, humility and helplessness, especially for Jesus’ sake…then God is your Father, you are his adopted child, and he loves you as deeply as he loves his only begotten Son, who also passed through those same sufferings.
The law of the first Adam, the law of creation, says, “If you are obedient, you will continue to be God’s Son; if you are disobedient, you will cease to be God’s Son.” Satan used that law to enslave mankind.
But the law of the second Adam, the law from before creation, says, “If God’s Son is obedient, you can become God’s child; if you are disobedient…you can continue to be God’s child.”
But all this is a major shift in mindset. For thousands of years mankind has been brainwashed to believe that Success=Sonship. So this whole concept that, actually, Suffering=Sonship is…just too much to take in all at once!
And that is what is Luke is showing us here at the end of his book: the disciples are still in shock. Their minds are still struggling to understand how the world has changed. When they woke up that morning, their Messiah was dead under God’s curse. They thought Satan had proved his point: Success=Sonship. Jesus was not successful; therefore Jesus was not God’s Son.
But then some of the women came back from the tomb talking crazy about how Jesus was alive again. Then Jesus appeared to Simon Peter in Jerusalem. Then Jesus appeared to two other disciples at dinner ten kilometers away. The disciples are all saying, “Can you believe it? The Lord is alive somehow! How? Why? What does it mean?”
And then, Luke tells us,  while they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
And then everyone relaxed…
No, they didn’t, did they?
Instead, Jesus scared the crap out of them. One minute they’re all like, “Hey, isn’t it great? Jesus is alive!” and then, “Oh God, please Jesus go back where you came from, please don’t haunt us…!”
 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?”
But Jesus already knows the answer to his own question. The disciples have accepted the facts of the resurrection — they believe! — but they really don’t know what it means until he explains it to them. So he goes on:  “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet —
— which still have the scars of crucifixion in them —
— and while they were still struggling to believe this good news, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of broiled fish,  and he took it and ate it in their presence.
Jesus is proving that he is not a spirit without a body. He is also proving that he is not a zombie: a body without a spirit. He is really back, he is really human — so, what does this imply about his death? Is he cursed by God, or not?
 He said to them, “Guys, this is what I told you before! Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
The disciples are wondering why it had to happen this way, and what it means.
Jesus has just answered both questions. It had to happen this way because that is how every book in the Old Testament said it had to happen. It is all part of the greater pattern: every true prophet suffers death, and every true prophet will be raised from the dead on the third day — that figurative Day of God’s redemption.
And since Jesus is the greatest prophet of all — the Messiah, the Son of God himself! — it makes sense that, first, he would suffer a greater curse than any other prophet, and, second, that he would be raised from the dead on the literal third day, long before the last Day when all the rest of the prophets will be raised!
In short: it had to happen this way because Suffering=Sonship.
But what does that mean?
It means that because Suffering=Sonship, repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Under Satan’s system there is no forgiveness, only mechanical law: if you are suffering, struggling, failing, God must hate you. Work harder, and maybe he will forgive you!
But Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of compassion. Its law states: if you are suffering, struggling, failing, that is when you are closest to God’s heart! No matter how sinful you are, no matter how helpless and ashamed you feel, you can call out to him at any time and he will hear you. He will forgive you. He will make you his child.
And this kingdom of compassion is meant for every nation, every race, every language. Jesus spent half of Luke’s book travelling toward Jerusalem to claim his crown. Now he is the king. And now the journey reverses itself. From this point on in history, the king travels out from Jerusalem.
See, the Jews had a holy temple, and a holy city, where every nation was supposed to come to meet God.
But at Jesus’ death, God burst out through the temple veil in order to meet every nation. So we Christians do not have a holy temple or a holy city — because we believe the whole world is God’s temple. We believe all nations will have the chance to become God’s people.
The Jewish faith was the first true religion, given by God to Adam. But then it was taken and twisted by Satan, twisted so badly that God had to send his own Son to straighten it out. And when Jesus had finished straightening it out, it was no longer just the religion of the Jews — it had been transformed into a faith open to all nations; a faith now known as Christianity.
How do the nations receive this faith? Through repentance and forgiveness.
And how does repentance and forgiveness come to the nations? Through preaching.
Jesus does not show himself visibly to the nations as he did to the disciples in Jerusalem. He does not need to. Our faith — the nations’ faith — comes by hearing about Jesus from those who did see Jesus directly: the disciples.
And that is exactly what Jesus says next:  You are witnesses — eye-witnesses — of these things.”
Several times during the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples, “I am going away for a while. You will stay behind to manage my kingdom, and expand its borders until it has filled the earth. Do not make the mistake the previous managers made, and twist God’s law to serve yourselves.”
This is the moment. Jesus is about to leave. And these are his final instructions to his managers. He is telling them, “You have seen my life. You have seen my death. You have seen my resurrection. You have heard that this means forgiveness for every nation on earth. Now your job is to faithfully pass on everything you have seen and heard! Do not change it. Do not twist it. Or else!”
And that is a heavy commission, isn’t it?
The disciples are probably a bit worried at this point. As Jesus finally unveils the whole plan, they would be looking back and realizing, “So far we’ve been just as blind and selfish as the previous managers. What is going to keep us from twisting God’s word the way they did?”
Well, good news: Jesus has already thought of that. He goes on:  “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
What is Jesus talking about? What is his “power from on high”?
Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit.
When did God promise the Holy Spirit?
In the Old Testament. Through his prophets, God promised he would pour out his Spirit on all his children. Not just on kings, not just on priests, not just on prophets — on everyone.
How is this good news for the disciples?
Because, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of prophecy. He is the spirit of speaking. The disciples have just been commissioned to speak as accurate eye-witnesses. They are worried, because what if they fail to speak accurately? But Jesus saying, “Don’t worry! I am going give the Holy Spirit to all of you. You are all going to be God’s prophets from now on! The Holy Spirit will make sure you are accurate eye-witnesses.”
Whew! That’s a relief!
And then,  when he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany — which was on the Mount of Olives, where he personally fought the dragon during the Hour of Darkness — there he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him — for the first time, by the way — and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
So Luke finishes his book where it began: in the temple. His story opened with an old, disillusioned priest in the temple, looking desperately forward to the Messiah. It ends with a group of men and women in the same temple looking forward to the moment when the kingdom of compassion will finally burst out through the city walls to fill the whole world.
Luke wrote this book to explain why Jesus had to suffer, even though he is the Son of God. He wrote this book to explain to us Christians why we have to suffer even though God is our Father.
Why did Jesus have to suffer?
Because if Jesus had simply marched on Jerusalem and used the power of God to claim his kingdom, we would have to assume that Satan is right: Success=Sonship. And only the “successful” can be part of God’s kingdom.
But because Jesus suffered and died before he rose to claim his kingdom, we know that those who sin can be forgiven; those who suffer can be raised to joy and happiness; that Suffering=Sonship.
Why do Christians have to suffer?
For the same reason. If Christians were all perfectly healthy, wealthy, powerful and successful, the world would have to assume that Satan is right: Success=Sonship. Only the “successful” can be Christians. Unfortunately, many so-called Christians are preaching this exact lie!
But the truth is, suffering is our best witness to the world — not success. Because we Christians suffer, and sin, and fail, and yet remain confident of our Father’s love, the world can see that we do not have to be perfectly obedient to be a child of God. Suffering=Sonship.
Friends, if you are here today and you are not yet a Christian, let me tell you clearly: joining Jesus will not solve all your problems. Becoming a Christian is no guarantee that your family, your business, or anything else will succeed.
Friends, if you are already a Christian, but you became a Christian because someone told you that faith in Jesus will give you guaranteed healing for your sickness, guaranteed success in your life — I am so sorry, but that was a lie. If you continue to believe that lie, the cares of this life will eventually choke your faith to death, and you will leave to find another god who will do what you want.
But, brothers and sisters, if you have been a Christian long enough to realize that suffering is part of the Christian life — please allow God’s Word to encourage you.
Our suffering is a mark of our relationship with our Father. Suffering is evidence that we are being obedient to our Father’s will. Suffering is also our very best witness to the watching world. Witnessing and suffering actually go together, two sides of the same coin.
Allow me to explain. Jesus told his disciples, “You are my witnesses.” They were called to see and then to speak.
But this is interesting: in Greek, the word for witness is “martyr”. Jesus literally told his disciples, “You are my martyrs.” At that time, the word “martyr” only meant “one who sees and speaks.” A witness. But over the years that followed, so many of Jesus’ witnesses died because of their witness, that the meaning of the word “martyr” changed. By the end of the New Testament, the word “martyr” had come to mean “one who sees, and speaks, suffers, and dies.”
And so the concepts of witnessing and suffering were joined together in one word: martyr.
We are Jesus’ martyrs. Not all of us are called to preach. Not all of us are prophets in that speaking sense. But we are all prophets in that suffering sense. Every time we suffer and yet continue in faithfulness to our Father, we are preaching the forgiveness of sins to all nations.
Practically speaking, what does this mean for our daily lives?
Friends, brothers, sisters, when we preach the gospel, let us never point to our success as evidence of God’s favour. Nobody likes triumphant Christians. They’re annoying — and a bad witness to Jesus. Because when Christians preach that foolish, Satanic gospel of “success through Jesus”, and then those who join do not find success, guess what happens? Those people leave believing that Jesus is liar, and Christians are all full of —
Instead, friends, when we preach the gospel, let us point to our failures, to our weaknesses, to our sufferings. When our friends point to the misfortunes in our lives, and they say, “Why is your God letting you suffer this way?” this is what we should say:
“I don’t know. I don’t know why he will not heal me of this illness. I don’t know why my business is failing despite my best efforts. I don’t know why I am struggling in my marriage. I don’t know why I am suffering in this or that way. But I do know that, whatever happens, God is my Father. I do know that, whatever happens, I am forgiven. How do I know these things? Because Jesus, the Son of God, also suffered — and then rose from the dead on the third day. His resurrection is the promise that my suffering is not a curse, that one day everything I have ever lost will be returned to me.”
This is what it means to be a witness for Jesus: we suffer, and yet we continue to proclaim the forgiveness of the the Father who loves us.
Sixteen months ago, when we began the book of Luke, I told you that by the end we would be strengthened in our faith, better equipped to face suffering without losing hope.
And we are. God’s Word has changed us. It may not be obvious: growth usually happens when we aren’t looking. But our faith is stronger. We are better witnesses now when we began. We are God’s children, and he is teaching us how to speak and how to live as wells of living water in the midst of a desert world.
And one day all this suffering will pass away. Listen to Jesus’ promise to all God’s children: ’See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble…I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.’