Don’t Be Surprised
Don't Be Surprised
1 Peter 4:12-19
I don’t know how many of you are sports fans here today, but when it comes to football, I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan since I was a little kid. I had an uncle who lived in Dallas, and another who was a Cowboys fan as well, so I guess they brainwashed me or something. The problem is that I grew up in Philadelphia Eagles territory. That’s like being a Cubs fan and growing up in the middle of St Louis. So in school, and with my friends, let’s just say there was some mild persecution that took place during football season. And if the Eagles would beat the Cowboys or if we had a rough year, I would have to dig deep to remember why I liked this team, and not jump ship to cheer for someone else.
Maybe that’s oversimplifying, but here in America it’s not that difficult to believe in Jesus. Right? There are a lot of people who hear that Jesus died for your sins and gave you a right standing with God, and you thought, well that’s fantastic! What do I have to do to get in on that deal? Well, God loved the world in this way: He sent his only Son that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life. Just gotta believe. Perfect! I believe it! You can find a church that suits pretty much any flavor you’re looking for, Bibles are easy to come by, Christian music is readily accessible. And you’re good to go.
And then the first sign of trouble, misfortune, or serious pain, and your boat gets rocked a little is when that really gets put to the test. Whoa whoa whoa – I thought God was for me? Why isn’t he answering my prayers for healing, or fixing this situation? I thought when I believed in him that things would get better. But it seems like it’s just as bad as it was before! And like being a Cubs fan in St Louis, you realize no one else at work believes what you do. Like being a Bears fan in Green Bay, the other kids at school aren’t really excited about what you read for devotions that morning, or what the pastor preached about on Sunday. In fact, they might tease you about it. And it’s hard to keep bowing your head to pray for lunch, because it gives you away.
And like I was forced to remember why I like the Cowboys (still need to remind myself of that every year), Peter has been reminding us why we should not give up and return to our sinful ways when we face hardships, trials, and even persecution, because he knows it’s going to be tempting!
I know it’s been several months since we read 1 Peter chapter 1, but I want to go back to the beginning of his letter to see how Peter reminds us why we should not abandon Jesus when we suffer.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. -- 1 Peter 1:1-2 (CSB)
So, right away, a few things stand out:
We are chosen. Two times it’s mentioned. Chosen. When I think of choosing someone, I think of elementary kickball games – two team captains, pick your players… you just hope you get picked at all, but there’s always that kid that the captains both want. Why? Strong. Fast. Skilled. They are good at the game.
Peter is writing to Christians, saying God has chosen you. On what basis? Why did God choose you?
- According to the foreknowledge of God – God knew something. He planned something. He purposed something, and chose you to be part of it.
- (How does he choose you?) Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit – In the Old Testament, with the Laws of Moses, you knew you were chosen because God gave the Law to you and no one else. You had God’s very words! But now, since Christ has come, you know you are chosen because God has put his Spirit in you! You know that you are chosen because it’s the presence of the Spirit that sets you apart as marked for God’s purposes – that’s what sanctification means.
What were you chosen for?
- Obedience – You were chosen for a purpose: to be obedient, which implies you weren’t! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, those who were disobedient and far away from God, and he brought you in He didn’t save you because you were obedient, he saved you to be obedient.
- Sprinkling – in the Old Testament, the priests and the people were purified of their sin by sprinkling the blood of their sacrificed lamb or bull or whatever. It was sprinkled on them, on the altar, of whatever was being purified. And Peter reaches back and uses that language to say you were chosen in order to be sprinkled, purified, not by the blood of goats but by the blood of Jesus. Purified. Set apart. Obedient.
The old is gone; the lost is found; the new has come! If anyone is in Christ, 2 Corinthians 5 says, he is a new creation!
But, this isn’t just some theological masterpiece Peter is putting together. He knew that was true of him. In Luke 5, Peter was fishing, and had come up empty. He was exhausted from fishing all night long and not catching any fish. He was an experienced fisherman, doing everything he knew to do, and still nothing. Still coming up short. Doing everything he knew to do was not enough.
I bet some of you feel that same way. You feel like the night has been long, and you’ve done everything you know how to do, and yet you still come up short. You’re tired. You’re weary. And ready to just throw in the towel on your marriage. Throw in the towel on your job. Throw in the towel on Iowa.
Peter was worn out, until Jesus walked by that morning, and saw Peter’s exhaustion. That’s the good news! Jesus comes to worn out and exhausted people. He saw a tired fisherman with an empty boat. But more than that, Jesus saw an empty fisherman.
If you’ve been around church, you know the rest of the story – Jesus did a miracle for Peter. He gave him a boat full of fish, but he also called him from death to life. He gave him a new name, a new calling, and a living hope.
Jesus exposed Peter’s spiritual emptiness through the difficulty of his physical emptiness.
And 30 years later, Peter writes to the people of modern day Turkey and says...
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. 5 You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials 7 so that the proven character of your faith — more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Peter speaks of suffering as short, necessary griefs that are like fire which purifies precious metal. It’s not destructive – it’s purifying. When you put gold in the furnace, it doesn’t make the gold less valuable. It makes it more valuable.
Paul puts it this way in 2Cor 4: – For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we don’t focus on what we can see, but on what is unseen. We don’t focus on what is temporary but on what is eternal.
And that’s the part that takes faith. I spoke with four different people from the community in the past two weeks who are going through various pains and trials in their lives. From a suicidal son, to chronic health issues, getting unfairly terminated from a job, to losing a loved one – which one of those is “light”? Do you sit down with them and say, I’m not sure why you’re upset about this, Paul says it’s light and momentary and Peter said you should rejoice with inexpressible joy?
Of course not. Peter isn’t suggesting that you should enjoy suffering, or that you should even go around being bouncy and jovial, faking a smile. Paul isn’t suggesting that having a loved one on suicide watch or living with chronic pain is not serious. But by comparison, the things we experience here before heaven, as heavy as they might be, are not even in the same conversation as the heaviness of the glory and the good that is to come.
So for Peter’s audience, some of them are on the front side of persecution. Others maybe haven’t had any of that yet. Some are going to die for their faith in the near future. And after the last three chapters of encouragement, Peter starts to wrap up the letter with this:
12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal (refining fire of a gold/silversmith) comes among you to test you, as if something unusual were happening to you. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share (present) in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice (future) with great joy when his glory is revealed.
Don’t be surprised if you are suffering for being a believer – instead, rejoice! Why? Because you share in the sufferings of Christ, Peter says. I want to stop on this line: Share in the sufferings of Christ: What does that mean?
Most Christians speak of the moment of salvation something like, “I accepted Christ”, or “I asked Jesus into my heart”, neither of which you will find in the Bible. The scriptures use the language of being in Jesus to describe our relationship to him.
1 Corinthians 1:30 – it is from him you are in Christ
2 Corinthians 5:17 – anyone is in Christ he is a new creation
Eph 2:13 – those who were far away have been brought near in Christ
So when God called me from death to life, I became joined to Jesus. United to him. His life was my life. His death was my death. His resurrection is my resurrection. If you’ve been born again by the mercy of God, you are so united with Christ that as surely as he is in heaven, you will be too. If you have been born again, you are united with him so much so that in order for God to change his mind about you, he would have to change his mind about Jesus. There is literally nothing, not even hell itself, that can pull you away from God’s love because of how united to Christ you are.
But that truth did not disqualify Jesus from suffering. From the moment he was born, his life included suffering. Along with that union you will also share in his suffering while you are on this earth, but Peter doesn’t let you dwell on that without encouragement to go with it:
14 If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Do you remember what happened when Jesus began his ministry? What was the first thing that happened? He was baptized and as he came out of the water, the Spirit of God settled on him like a dove. And the next thing that happened was he suffered. 40 days and nights with no food, tempted by the enemy, tested by his Father, and Peter is saying listen, when you are united to a suffering Christ, you shouldn’t be surprised to suffer; but in the same way the Spirit of God rested on Jesus and the voice of the Father said “I am well-pleased with my Son”, that same Spirit rests on you in your trials, and the voice of God over you is not “this sickness is your punishment”, the voice of God is “I am well pleased with my Son who has brought you in, and because you have been sprinkled with his blood, purified from your sin, and you’re united to him by faith, I am well pleased to call you my son, my daughter!”
So when you face suffering in life, just like Jesus did, it doesn’t mean God is upset with you any more than Jesus going to the wilderness meant God was angry with him. The fact that Jesus suffered is good news for us, because it means when you face trials in life it doesn’t prove God has abandoned you. So don’t give up!
Peter knows we’re tempted to give up when things get difficult. No one enjoys suffering, so when you face hardship you’re going to be tempted to fall back into your old habits. You used to return insults for insults. You used to threaten people who threatened you. You used to tell half truths to get out of consequences.
15 Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, a meddler (someone who minds everyone else’s business but his own).
All four of those things are varying degrees of taking matters into your own hands. Of not trusting God to meet your needs; of not trusting God with your life.
16 But if anyone suffers as a Christian, (follower and supporter of Christ, dearly loved by their heavenly Father) let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name (continue to glorify God as an ambassador of him).
And here’s what the whole thing boils down to:
17 For the time has come for judgment (the refining fire to strengthen, purify Christians, sin eliminated, faith and holiness coming to the surface) to begin with God’s household, (The church is a family) and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? 18 And if a righteous person is saved with difficulty, (If God allows the people he is saving to go through trials and suffering) what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? 19 So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will (God is at work) entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good (not giving in) l. -- 1 Peter 4:12-19 (CSB)
Here’s the picture that I have in my head to tie all this together –
Back in chapter 2, Peter gives this picture of a Temple being built with Christians, those who have been born again, called from death to life by the Father, as living stones. Okay? All the stones of this temple are people with various skin colors, various gifts, various callings, all working together to proclaim the marvelous light of Jesus.
You are living stones being built into a spiritual house. Jesus is the cornerstone. In order to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, there is a purification that must happen. Don’t be surprised when you enter the temple of God’s holy presence, and find an altar. Don’t be surprised when imperfections and sins are not accepted or overlooked and are instead burned away.
But the good news is that the fires of suffering and hardship in your life is not a sign of your condemnation. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. It’s not God’s punishment against you because of your sin – Jesus dealt with that on the cross. But like Peter on the lake that day in Luke 5, Jesus comes to us in our suffering and physical need, and uses it to expose our spiritual need.
This is God’s Fatherly love, fitting you to be in his presence. Even in your suffering, you are safe. You’re already as good as in heaven with him. Your suffering might be as simple as being ridiculed at work for being a Christian. It might be far worse. But the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. It is your union with Christ that ensures this purification ends well!
Karen Jobes, 1 Peter
Wayne Grudem 1 Peter
Dane Ortland Gentle and Lowly