Preached: September 23, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens us to endure all things in Christ is 1 Peter 4
Beloved, don't be startled by the fiery ordeal among you when it comes to test you, as if something strange is happening to you. But insofar as you share in Christ's suffering, rejoice, so that at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice overwhelmingly. If you are jeered in the name of Christ, you are blessed, because God's Spirit of glory rests on you. For none of you should suffer as a murderer, thief, or evildoer, or even as a meddler. But if you suffer as a Christian, don't be ashamed, but glorify God in this name. For it's the time for judgment to begin out of the house of God. Now if it begins out of us, what is the outcome for those who do not believe God's gospel? And if the righteous are saved with difficulty, where will the godless sinner appear? Therefore, let those also who suffer according to God's will commend their souls to the faithful Creator as they do good. (1 Peter 4:12-19).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
We live in a world that tries to determine right and wrong based on the outcome. If you do what's right, they say, then life will go well for you, or you'll feel good about yourself, or others will praise you. On the other hand, if life isn't going well or others criticize you so that you feel bad, then, you must be doing something wrong. Is that a good gage of right and wrong?
Let's consider the Apostle Peter. Last week you heard in the sermon how he and John healed a man crippled from birth. When the crowd gathered in amazement recognizing this once-crippled beggar walking and jumping around, Peter made it clear that their own power hadn't healed him but Jesus of Nazareth had. Yes, the people had handed Jesus over to Pilate. They had disowned him in exchange for a murderer. They had killed the Author of life, but God had raised him from the dead, fulfilling the prophecies. He called them to repentance. For in Christ Jesus is forgiveness that washes away all sins and brings the time of refreshing. Many believed. (Acts 3:1-26; 4:4)
What was the outcome of this? Did Peter and John receive a public service award? Were they given high positions by the religious leaders? Did influential people congratulate them and tell them what a great job they were doing? No. They were arrested and spent the night in jail. What a disgrace! The next day they stood trial before the same men who had condemned Jesus. They were commanded not to speak about Jesus and were severely threatened. They were released for a time. But this was just the beginning. They would be arrested again, at times beaten, and eventually Peter would suffer a martyr's death.
But they did not stop telling others about Jesus. The entrusted, or committed, themselves into the Lord's hands. They were doing his will. They were doing what was right, despite the outcome. Even though the outcome often brought suffering and shame, they continued to follow Jesus and speak his name without shame. Yes, they counted themselves blessed and rejoiced that the could suffer for the name of Jesus.
So as the Apostle Peter writes this letter to the his fellow Christians, including you and me, he knows what he is talking about. He knows not only because the Holy Spirit has given him these words to write but also because he has lived it. May the Holy Spirit through these words strengthen you to gladly do the Lord's will no matter how harsh or fiery the immediate outcome may be. In fiery trials commit your soul to your faithful Creator. That's the theme today. Do so rejoicing as you share in Christ's sufferings and do so anticipating the glory at Christ's revelation. Those are the two parts.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12, 13 NIV84).
Don't be deceived by the health and wealth theologies, those churches that promise happiness and success if you do what they say. Rather Peter reminds us to expect the opposite as we follow Jesus. Don't be surprised. Don't think it strange when bad things happen to good people like you. When following Jesus, expect painful trials. The word translated “painful” is the word for “burning,” and aren't burns one of the worst kinds of pains?
The advertising industry would tell us that this is no way to gain members by telling them that that following Jesus brings fiery trials. But Jesus himself spoke plainly. For example, in the Gospel today, he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NIV84). Peter in the text is talking about those crosses we carry because we follow Jesus.
But when you suffer because you are following Jesus, consider how you are sharing in his sufferings. Think how they ridiculed him. Jesus reached out to the lowly and the outcast and people labeled him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’ ” (Matthew 11:19 NIV84). When he confronted hypocrisy and work-righteousness, they plotted his death. Even as he hung in agony on the cross, they showed no sympathy but ridiculed him. “Why isn't God helping you? Let God rescue you, if he actually wants you.”
So also if you are insulted or ridiculed because you are doing what Jesus wants you to do, you are blessed. The Holy Spirit himself is working in you so that you can bear up and endure with great patience. For you are sharing in Christ's sufferings. As we follow him, the world hates us even as it hated him. They will insult and ridicule you, but that's how they treated your Lord and Savior. So don't be surprised. Peter writes, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:14 NIV84).
Yes, it is a glory and an honor to suffer with Christ. When you see your suffering as sharing in Christ's suffering, doesn't that help you see that suffering for his name is a great honor, though the world labels it shameful? Of course, that honor doesn't come if we're being punished for doing what is actually wrong. As Peter reminds us “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:15, 16 NIV84).
It's like a red badge of courage, a war-wound. If a soldier is wounded because he was fleeing and got hit in the backside, that has no honor or glory. But if a soldier suffers from a war-wound because he or she stood up to defend our country and stood firm against the enemy's attack, that wound is truly a red badge of courage, honor, and glory. How much more so, dear Christian, as you stand up for the name of Jesus and stand firm against the ridicule, insults, and slanders of this world! What glory to suffer for your Savior's name! What an honor that God counts you worthy to bear up in fiery trial as you suffer for being a Christian! What glory and honor to share in Christ's suffering!
So when you're made fun of because you are saving yourself for your future spouse, rejoice. When you're ridiculed as intolerant for saying that homosexual marriage is wrong, rejoice. When you're labeled a party pooper for not laughing at dirty jokes or not drinking too much, rejoice. If you suffer financially because you place your Lord before your work, rejoice. If you experience family strife because you refuse to compromise God's truth, rejoice. In whatever way you experience suffering, ridicule, or insult for following Jesus, rejoice. For you are sharing in Christ's sufferings.
No matter how fiery the trial, commit your soul to your faithful Creator, that is, entrust yourself to his care. He is truly faithful. He kept his promise to send your Savior who suffered for you, so that you can now rejoice in him on all occasions. He won't fail you. So commit your soul to your faithful Creator.
In fiery trials we commit our souls to our faithful Creator not only by looking back at Christ's suffering in our place but also by looking forward to his glory that's waiting for us. Anticipate the glory at Christ's revelation.
“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 12:13 NIV84). Peter is pointing us to the Last Day. Usually we refer to that as Christ's return rather than Christ's revelation. But that word “revelation” helps us see an important truth.
Christ's glory exists right now. But it's hidden. Just as a monument or memorial is hidden under a cloak until it's revealed, so also Christ's glory is hidden from the world until his return. But the monument is real even though it's hidden. So also Christ's glory is real though hidden from the eyes of the world. But all will see it when he returns. How much we anticipate that day of revelation!
How that strengthens us in fiery trial to know that our Savior who loved us so much that he suffered our death in our place is the same Savior who is reigning in glory over all things and will reveal that glory on the Last Day for all too see!
And even though Christ's glory is hidden at this time, his Holy Spirit is working in you through God's word and sacraments, which are a light in the darkness. The Spirit has enlightened you so that through the eyes of faith you see the hidden glory, even in the darkest times of suffering. The Spirit fixes your heart and mind on things above where Christ is seated at God's right hand. What a blessing that God's Spirit of glory rests on you! Peter writes, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:14 NIV84).
Now with those Spirit-enlightened eyes of faith we see that the Christian's life in this world is filled with its shares of difficulties and troubles. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. But we know the glory that is hidden, the glory that will be revealed at Christ's return. How tragic for those who do not believe the Gospel! For if the life of God's own people is hard, what will be the outcome for the ungodly, for those who do not trust in Jesus and obey his word?
So here again commit your soul to your faithful Creator, entrust yourself to his care. Know that everything from beginning to end is in your Creator's hands. He, who made the heavens and the earth, the universe, the oceans, the mountains, the plains, and everything that fills them -- he, who formed you in your mother's womb and knit you together to make you who you are -- he certainly can take care of you. Nothing is beyond his power or might. Commit your soul to him, confident that he is faithful. His grace and love that made his promises to you will keep his promises. Do not doubt that, no matter how scorching the fiery trial. Commit your soul to your faithful Creator, living according to his will, doing what is good and right. Take to heart and put into practice the closing verse of the text: “So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19 NIV84).
Then no matter what the immediate outcomes may be, even when others ridicule or insult us for doing the right thing, we can continue to do good. For we know that right and wrong doesn't depend on what others say but on what our Creator and Savior says in his Word. In fiery trials commit your soul to your faithful Creator, rejoicing that you share in Christ's sufferings and anticipating the glory at Christ's revelation. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.