Summary: Don’t be surprised or ashamed by the fire. Instead, be glad in the fire, glory in the fire, and give yourself to God in the fire.
Kathryn Leatherwood from Washington, Ohio, recalls spending a week with a roomful of VBS preschoolers. Many of them had been first-timers and attended with loud protests.
Toward the end of the week, she noticed Jessica adjusting her colorful headband with a look of frustration. After quieting yet another crying child, Kathryn touched Jessica's hair and asked, “Do you need some help, Jess?”
“Well, yes,” Jess said pointing to her headband. “There's a headache in here somewhere.”
Kathryn thought to herself, “I knew the feeling” (Kathryn Leatherwood, Washington, Ohio, “Kids of the Kingdom,” Christian Reader; www.PreachingToday.com)
In our increasingly secular society, with cancel culture on the rise, many Christians are feeling a headache in there somewhere. There is a rising concern about increased persecution even here in the United States of America.
Some of you just face an uncertain future with medical or financial issues, and you too are feeling a headache in there somewhere. So what do you do about it? What do you do about those times of pain? What do you do when you face the fire of adversity? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter 4, 1 Peter 4, where Peter addresses a group of believers literally going through the fire in his day.
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (ESV).
Believers and suffering are no strangers to each other. Faith doesn’t take away the pain. It only gives your pain meaning.
So don’t be surprised when painful trials come. Literally, don’t be surprised by the burning, and in Peter’s day this was a literal burning. In A.D. 64, the great city of Rome caught fire, and Nero blamed it on the city’s small Christian community. So, in a twisted sense of justice, Nero burned many of them alive. He covered many of the believers with pitch and used them as living torches to light the imperial gardens at night. With Christians literally glowing on the horizon, Peter says, “Don’t be surprised by this. “Don’t be surprised by the burning.” Instead…
BE GLAD IN THE FIRE.
Rejoice when those fiery trials come. Look at verse 13: “But rejoice insofar as you share Chris’s sufferings.”
If you’re going to come out of the fire refined like gold and not burned, then adjust your attitude. Instead of being surprised by the fire, celebrate when the fire comes. “Rejoice,” Peter says. Why?
Because the fire brings fellowship with Christ. Suffering allows you to share Christ’s sufferings. Pain gives you an intimacy with Christ that you could not otherwise know.
In the 19th century, Armenian Christians, under a Turkish Muslim government, experienced a tremendous amount of persecution. The government lifted the ban on Muslims converting to Christianity in 1856. Then just eight years later, they began arresting these Muslim converts to Christianity. From 1895 to 1896 government soldiers killed up to 100,000 Armenian civilians in an attempt to kill every Armenian Christian within Turkish borders. Lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other intellectuals were rounded up and charged with subversion. Many had their heads placed in vises and squeezed until they collapsed.
Then the Turkish government set April 24, 1896, as the day to kill the rest of the Armenian Christians. Nearly 600,000 Christians died on that day, but some escaped. One of those who escaped was a young girl of 18 who stumbled into an American camp.
“Are you in pain?” a nurse asked when she arrived.
“No,” she replied, “but I have learned the meaning of the cross.”
The nurse thought she was mentally disoriented and questioned her further. Pulling down the one garment she wore, the young girl exposed a bare shoulder. There, burned deeply into her flesh, was the figure of a cross.
“I was caught with others in my village. The Turks stood me up and asked, ‘Muhammed or Christ?’ I said, ‘Christ, always Christ.’ For seven days they asked me this same question and each day when I said ‘Christ’ a part of this cross was burned into my shoulder. On the seventh day they said, ‘Tomorrow if you say “Muhammed” you live. If not, you die.’ Then we heard that Americans were near and some of us escaped. That is how I learned the meaning of the cross.” (Marti Hefley, By Their Blood, Baker, 1996, p.342; www.PreachingToday.com)
She learned it through the burning, and that’s how you too can learn the meaning of the cross. You learn it through the fiery trials that come your way.
George MacDonald (1824-1905) once said, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that [people] might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his.” So don’t be surprised by the fire. Instead, celebrate it, because it allows you to experience what God Himself experienced on the cross. Rejoice, because the fire brings fellowship with Christ.