In Nomine Jesu
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The message this morning is based on the Epistle reading you heard a few moments ago from 1 Peter. The reading was actually two parts. In chapter 4, Peter wrote about the fiery trial that comes upon Christians from time to time. When such trials come, we aren’t to be surprised as if some strange thing were happening to us. Rather, we are to rejoice in so far as we share in the sufferings of Christ.
In the second half of the reading, Peter calls us to walk humbly before God because our adversary, the devil, “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And, once again, as it is with suffering, there is nothing strange about the devil’s assault on us. We are, after all, the children of God, those who have been transferred from darkness into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Christ, who is our Fortress and Strength, calls us to find safety and peace in Him. Resist the devil, Peter says, “firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
Clearly, Peter focus’ our attention in this section of his letter on suffering and specifically on how we are to perceive suffering when it comes to us and ultimately, how we are to deal with it. Probably one of the greatest challenges faced by Christianity in general and Christians individually is the reality of evil and suffering in the world. Nearly four decades have passed since Rabbi Kushner wrote his somewhat famous book, “When bad things happen to good people.” The central question of the book, “why do bad things happen to good people,” flawed as it may be, lingers in the back of our minds. We long for heaven here on earth and so we wonder why bad things happen. At times even great thinkers are baffled by the seeming contradiction between the existence of a loving God and the presence of evil in the world.
C.S. Lewis, noted scholar and atheist turned Christian, once wrote the following words on the occasion of the death of his dear wife, “Meanwhile (he says), where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms … But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.” At the time he wrote those words, C.S. Lewis was an unbeliever, although, in the anguish of the soul, they could have been written when he was Christian too. After all, it was the Psalmist who wrote, “how long, o Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
Suffering, for the most part, does seem to catch us off guard, as if it were some strange thing that was happening to us. In many cases, it does so, because it happens completely apart from anything we may have done to bring it on. For instance, someone gets sick. They linger in sickness and finally they die. It’s a strange thing that happens, that is, sickness and death. It’s strange, first, because there may not have been anything the person did that caused them to get sick and to die. It just happened. And besides, sickness and death aren’t what we were created to experience in life. Rather, we were created to live and to enjoy peace and harmony in the eternal presence of God. Sickness and death really are foreign to God’s design for His creation. That being the case, they are foreign to our very existence. In that sense, it is a strange thing that we should suffer and die.
In another sense though, sufferings, or, fiery trials, as Peter calls them, aren’t strange at all. The sufferings of which I’ve spoken thus far come about because we are the children of Adam, sinners, living in a sinful world. There is a type of suffering though that comes about because of who we’ve become in Christ and because of what we believe. This is the kind of suffering that Peter is talking about in our Epistle reading for this morning.
He says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” We most often call the kind of suffering that Peter is addressing, persecution, or, cross bearing. It comes about because of the radical difference between you and the world in which you live. You perceive life and death, sin and forgiveness, truth and falsehood, right and wrong, indeed, everything in life, in and through Christ. That being the case, you are apt to pay a price for holding dearly to things that people in the world reject outright. Indeed, the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the follow of what we preach to save those who believe.”
But, lets be honest! This is America, the land of free thought and of free speech, the land of the free and the home of the brave! Religious persecution, the fiery trial of which Peter writes, happens over there, doesn’t it, in places like Egypt and Syria, places that seemingly never entered the 21st century, or, perhaps even the 20th century? Over here, we’re evolved, as such, we’re insulated, protected, if you will, from violence against our person. In a way, to us, the fiery trial of which Peter speaks, seems strange indeed.
Perhaps though, that’s to our shame. Maybe we’ve eluded suffering, the fiery trial, because we’ve failed to confess our faith boldly. Maybe we’ve been warmly received by the culture in which we live because we’ve mistaken silence for a humble heart and permissiveness for love. Maybe we’ve begun to look and talk far too much like people in the culture in which we live to even stand out as different. Maybe we’re far too eager to trade truth for a lie and to substitute cultural norms for God’s way. Oh, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a liberal use of pride and hatred, nor am I saying we should go out and look for the fiery trial. But, persecution comes in response to the truth. As Jesus said, “they will hate you because they first hated Me.”
Walk humbly before God, my friends, for the devil, the roaring lion, is prowling around looking for someone to devour. Anxiety, which can lead to a denial of the faith, is one of his most trusted tools of warfare because it can lead to despair. Peter would have you know that the devil is a formidable enemy, but he is nothing compared to Almighty God.
If you find yourself anxious over the fiery trial that has come upon you, or, over the guilt you may feel for not having confessed your faith as you should, or, over anything else, for that matter, God calls you to cast that anxiety on Him because He cares for you! He stands as an impenetrable fortress to guard you and to protect you from the old evil foe. He will, in time, “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
He will do so because He is the “God of all grace!” He never gives you what you deserve. Rather, He gives you what the atoning life, death and resurrection of His Son merits. As such, He gives forgiveness for condemnation, life for death, righteousness for unholiness, and yes, peace and calm for anxiety. He gives of Himself in this great exchange of His life for yours.
Hide yourself, therefore, in Him and His grace! He has taken your weakness and your shame upon Himself and He has given you His strength and His glory. Receive what He gives so freely and so abundantly, a broken body and blood poured out for your sins, consolation and peace for your anxious, sin laden heart. Gathered at the altar, the throne of His grace, He exalts you beyond your wildest dreams. A beggar, a pauper is crowned a king and a place is prepared for him, for you, in the Kingdom of Almighty God. So, yes, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
“Praise, all you people, the name so holy
Of Him who does such wondrous things!
All that has being, to praise Him solely,
With happy heart its amen sings.
Children of God, with angel host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
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