Summary: Christians can expect to suffer, but in Christ suffering is a time for joy, praise, humility, and faith.
WHAT CHRISTIAN SUFFERING IS—AND ISN’T
7th Sunday of Easter (1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11)
Introduction: “OK, Doc, give it to me straight.” When you go to the doctor, do you want him to only hint that something might be wrong, or do you want him to honestly and clearly discuss the details of your problem, even if they might be painful for you to hear? Most of us would prefer the direct approach. We don’t want someone who will candy-coat the problem or give us false hope. Neither do we want someone who will frighten with all the details of everything that could possibly go wrong. We simply want someone who will give it to us straight.
Jesus, the Great Physician, cared about what his followers would face after his glorious ascension into heaven. He even prayed for them specifically beforehand. He said, “…I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name...” (John 17:9-11)
How comforting to know that Jesus prayed—and continues to pray—for us! We are God’s family, followers of Jesus, bearers of the name of the Triune God which was given to us in Holy Baptism. Today is Mother’s Day—and we certainly thank God for our human families, especially for the role they had in bringing us to faith. Today we also praise God that we are members of another family: God is our Father, Christ is our older brother, and all of us are relatives of each other through faith in him. What a privilege to belong to such a family. What an honor to bear such a name—the name of Christ himself! Thank God that we are members of his family by grace!
The name of Christ—to be a baptized Christian—brings with it many lasting benefits, not the least of which are the forgiveness, life, and salvation he won for us on the cross. But Jesus wanted us to know that here in this world his name would also temporarily bring us suffering. He gave it to us straight! He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name…” (John 15:20-21) He summed it all up by saying, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Peter learned this lesson well. He and the others saw firsthand what happened to Jesus: how he had been arrested, convicted, mocked, beaten, and put to death. He and the others knew that because of Jesus’ name, they could expect the same kind of treatment from the world! Yet, they also saw Jesus rise from the dead and ascended into heaven, so they stood up boldly and testified to the entire world. They weren’t afraid of those who could hurt the body. They rejoiced in their suffering and trusted in God. With this attitude, Peter was inspired by God to write the words we read today. First Peter was intended to be circulated among several different churches: some would only experience persecution in the future, some were just beginning to experience persecution, and some were already right in the middle of it. Today, one of these three categories can be applied to any given church anywhere in the world—including our own! These words were written for us so that we could learn what suffering IS and what it IS NOT.
I) WHAT CHRISTIAN SUFFERING ISN’T:
A) It is not unusual. “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Here in America, we have been blessed with religious freedom for so long that we forget we are the exception rather than the rule. We forget that there are places where Christians are or have been viciously and violently persecuted for their beliefs. Even where Christians are grudgingly tolerated, they don’t always enjoy respect and approval among their neighbors. Somewhere in the world right now, you can be sure someone is either being threatened or being put to death simply because they are a Christian.
For Christians, suffering is not unusual or surprising. It’s expected! What should surprise us is that here and now we have been able to go for so long without having to face the clear danger of persecution. This should be seen as a rare and unusual blessing from God! We should thank God with all our hearts for each and every day He gives us in which can practice our faith without having to put our own lives or the lives of our families in danger. We should also use it as a God-given opportunity while we still can.