Sermon on 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11, for the 7th Sunday of Easter 2020 A, "Christ changes our suffering"


            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 1 Peter 4 & 5 tells us that Christians are to expect fiery trials and suffering for the name of Christ, and that Christ endured the same. Jesus Christ, being God’s own Son, and suffering in the flesh Himself, changes everything for us. That God would not remain aloof and distant from our sufferings but come down under it and in the midst of it, and feel the pain, the loneliness, and the struggle of it all, is amazing. No other god has wounds.
            It’s hard in the midst of suffering not to be overwhelmed by a sense of the meaninglessness or injustice of it all. On the one hand, if a person believes in God, they are troubled by the question of evil, and wonder how God could allow it. On the other hand, if a person doesn’t believe in God, it must amplify the meaninglessness of it all. A cold, impersonal universe with no Creator can have no thought of you or intention or purpose for you in mind. This can really turn meaninglessness into despair.
            But suffering is so broad and applied to many different things. Peter talks about two different kinds of suffering. Suffering as a Christian: the spiritual attacks or the opposition for doing what is good, or for carrying the name of Jesus; and suffering as an evildoer: you did something wrong and are bearing the consequences of your actions.
First, let’s look at suffering as an evildoer. Peter says it is no credit to you if you suffer as an evildoer. He says as a murderer, thief, evildoer, or meddler. A criminal deserves what’s coming to them—whether that be jailtime or whatever punishment fits the crime. But more than just criminal behavior—a murderer or thief—Peter adds “meddlers!” A meddler is someone who interferes in or tries to manage other people’s business. What is your responsibility? The Army talks about “staying in your lane” or knowing your “right and left limits.” Basically, you need to know what you are responsible for and not meddling in someone else’s responsibilities. Of course, that’s different from giving help when it’s asked for or welcomed. It’s also different from helping someone who is unable to ask for help but really needs it, like the parable of the Good Samaritan. But we should be able to recognize the difference between extending help where it is needed and interfering with other people’s business. Nosiness, gossip, stepping on other people’s toes—this causes more trouble then good, even if we think we’re trying to do good.
So suffering as a meddler or a criminal is not suffering as a Christian. But what if that’s our situation? Repent! Seek to make the situation right by turning around and doing the right thing. If we are caught up in any kind of evil doing—the nuisance-making kind that backfires on us, or the criminal kind that lands us in real hot water—we first of all need to come clean and repent. Take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, and don’t expect pity. But let the discipline of the experience turn us back to the right path.
But now let’s go back to suffering as a Christian. Peter calls it a blessing. All the NT does. Jesus, Paul, James, they all agree that suffering can be transformative. This is the awesomely weird thing about Christianity. Jesus’ suffering in the flesh changes things dramatically. When we suffer for doing good, or because we are being opposed or rejected for following Christ, we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. We are participating in them. We almost never get an explanation or reason for the “why.” Unless you are suffering the specific consequences of evildoing, we rarely know why this happening to me. But we are reassured that it doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us, or that He is angry with us. But we are comforted that God can use that experience of suffering to grow us, to build our character, our faith and dependence on God. It can mature us in ways that a life of lazy ease and no challenges cannot mature or grow us.
One of my favorite new words that I learned over deployment is “antifragility.” “Antifragile” is the title of a book by Nassim Taleb. I’m not endorsing all his philosophy or anything, but his basic concept of “Antifragile” is “things that gain from disorder.” Fragile is something that breaks easily, is hard and brittle, like glass or pottery. It can’t flex or adapt. Antifragile is something that becomes stronger and better through exposure to stress or hardship. Athletes all know that muscles and bones grow weaker (atrophy) without the stress and pressure and tearing and rebuilding of stronger tissue. Immunologists know that if our immune systems don’t experience exposures to germs and diseases, they will grow weaker, or even form allergies. But there is also a deep spiritual dimension to this as well. Our faith and our walk with Christ is “antifragile.” It grows stronger, not weaker, through adversity. On the contrary, if we face no suffering or crosses, our faith is not tested and it atrophies or grows weak.
Peter tells us not be surprised by the “fiery trial” as though something strange were happening to us. In the midst of trial, we might feel overwhelmed. We can’t handle. We think it’s going to break us. But if God is using adversity to grow us, as I believe all the NT writers try to show us, then we can trust God will make us stronger through the trial. Some of you have witnessed a beloved Christian family member or friend go through the awful ordeal of cancer, or a major life crisis, that absolutely put their faith to the test. The devil was circling them like a roaring lion, ready to pounce on them and rip them away from God. All the circumstances of life seemed lined up for them to turn their back on God, and speak words of unbelief—“God, you weren’t there when I needed You,” or “You didn’t answer my prayers.”
But then as you watched your loved one go through this struggle, even to death, you saw their faith deepen and widen. They clung to the cross of Jesus in their suffering. They became what Peter describes as a “partaker in the sufferings of Christ.” Their struggle joined them to Jesus’ struggle on the cross. They learned firsthand why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” But they held onto Jesus as their Savior, knowing that as God did not abandon Him to the grave even in His death, will not abandon us to our grave, in our death. There is the resurrection of the body. And if you have known and seen such a person of faith, you have seen what it is to pass through the fiery trial, and to stand your ground against the devil, that roaring lion.
Jesus’ suffering in the flesh changes everything for the believer, because living in Him, we know He redeems our sufferings for His good. He’s the healer with scarred hands and feet and side. His scars are healed wounds. And by His wounds we are healed. Sin, guilt, and shame are mortal wounds to us human beings. But Jesus’ blood shed on the cross; by His wounds, we are healed. We are forgiven and cleansed. Suffering for the name of Jesus wounds us, and we question “why?” But God redirects our question to “Who?” And the answer is Jesus. He is the One who turns that suffering towards our good, thwarting the malicious plans of the devil to harm us and God brings about good even amid trouble. We don’t have perfect insight or knowledge to see how all things work together for our good. Sometimes the good outcome is hidden from us, or maybe others see what is not obvious to us. But we can be confident that God will keep His promise to work all things together for our good for those who love Jesus.
I want to touch on one last major point. A favorite verse in counseling, for myself and many pastors, is 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” How often do we let worry or anxiety pile up on us till it’s unbearable? Often we feel a lack of control. Things are happening out of my control—what can I do about it? Worry, worry, worry! NO!! Worry doesn’t change anything for the better. It doesn’t give you the control that you desperately wish you had. It doesn’t give you peace about the situation. It doesn’t equip you to face the situation any better! Instead it steals your peace of mind, and I don’t even need to tell you about all the negative physical and mental health effects of stress.
God gives us the most beautiful invitation here. Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you. Surrender the worry. Unburden yourself. Throw it on Jesus! Do you really want to keep it? Do you really want to live with constant exhaustion and helplessness? Jesus INVITES you to give it up to Him! You don’t know how! Begin with prayer—continue in prayer. It can be as simple as praying— “God, I know that You are Lord, and You are in control of this, not me. Take all my worry as You have promised here in Your Word. Help me day by day, hour by hour, turn it over to You. For You are good and You know my needs, and You care for me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” Name the specific worry. Tell Him you are giving it over to Him and repeat as often as you forget! Ask Him to teach you trust.
Stop clinging to your worry and keep surrendering it to Him! He cares for you! We began by talking about how suffering makes many people struggle with the meaninglessness or injustice of it all. But with the constant reminder of God’s Word that God does have a purpose and meaning for our lives, and that He cares for us, we see our life and our sufferings in a whole different light. Even if “why” is hidden from us, we never have to wonder about whether He truly cares. His blood shed on the cross is the proof. His faithful determination all the way through His fiery trial, and His coming out on the other end, alive, with the healed scars of the cross visible on His hands and feet—it’s proof that He cares, and He did it all for you. And He continues to stand by us and strengthen us for every day. He gladly and lovingly takes up all your cares and worries, so that, in the words of 1 Peter, you can entrust your souls to Your faithful Creator while doing good, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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