Sermon series: Living in Light of the Returning King
Connection with unit theme
Peter and John wrote letters to suffering Christians, encouraging them to stay true to their faith and not give up. Knowing that suffering is inevitable and that it has a purpose helps us to persevere in our faith. This is because we have a promise from God that at Christ's return He will bring an end to all suffering.
The story of Rip Van Winkle is set in pre-Revolutionary War 18th century. Rip is a lazy man with a nagging wife. One day as she nags away at him, Rip wanders up into the mountains with his dog. He meets up with some fun-loving people, drinks too much whiskey, and falls asleep. When he wakes up his gun is rotted and rusty, his beard has grown a foot, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He discovers that much more than his beard, gun, and dog have changed. Rip gets in trouble for saying he is a loyal subject of King George, who no longer occupies the throne. His wife is dead. Most of his friends perished in the war. Because of the passage of time and the ensuing changes around him, Rip has become a stranger in his own town.
What happened to Rip Van Winkle is similar to what happens to believers when God invades our life and transfers us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son Jesus. Our internal GPS unit still shows the same location, but everything is different. We become strangers to the world we once knew. Within our families, our relationships, even within our own hearts things are transformed.
It can frighten us to realize the natives of this world with whom we were once kindred spirits are now hostile. Peter wrote his first epistle to those who had found themselves living in a strange world they once called home. He wanted to give hope to pilgrims enduring fiery trials because of their inner transformation so that they would endure to the end.
I. Suffering is inevitable - 4:1, 12
Suffering is not present in a Genesis 1-2 world, nor is it present in a Revelation 21 world. Yet every day between those two sections of Scripture is marked by suffering, an inevitable result of the fall. Just as the "rain and sun fall upon the just and the unjust," so too does the curse of sin.
Yet suffering still surprises us. Believers in Christ can be duped into thinking that our status as children of the King will free us from trials. But Scripture passages such as James 1 teach otherwise - that suffering is to be expected for the Christian. We should not be shocked when we are called to suffer. In this age of the cross we should be more shocked by seasons of reprieve.
First Peter 4:1 and 12 are helpful in this regard. "Since therefore, Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking" (v. 1). Then in verse 12 Peter exhorts the suffering saints to "not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." In other words, we are commanded to develop a Christ-exalting theology of suffering and then to not be shocked when we have to use it.
Application: Do you avoid suffering? Do you trust that Christ will be present in the midst of suffering? Have you developed a robust theology of suffering? Are you using it?
II. Suffering is purposeful - 1:3-8
At times Bob Ross, longtime host of "The Joy of Painting," gave his viewers anything but joy. He would paint an intricate, beautiful mountain, or a grove of happy little trees on a mountain ridge. Then, he would do the unthinkable, painting a huge tree that covered nearly everything else. One not familiar with Ross' techniques might think him careless. Who makes something so beautiful only to waste it? Yet when his painting was finished, the casual viewer would understand that Ross had everything planned from the beginning. Every element of his paintings contributed to the overall effect, even those parts that became mostly obscured.
The same is true of the Lord. He is purposeful. First Peter 1:3-12 helps us to see God's good purpose in the fiery trials that He leads us through. God brings suffering into our lives to chisel away the remaining corruption of sin. This pain is part of what God does in "working all things together for our good." Suffering brings us into greater conformity with Christ, which is always our greatest good.
Peter wants his readers to know that their "inheritance" is secure. It is in the finished work of Christ that they should place their hope. Even in the midst of various trials God is purposefully working for our good.
Application: Do you trust that God has a purpose in your suffering? Think through past trials you have endured. It what way did they former mold you for the better? How might the Lord be doing something similar through your present trials?
God has a good purpose for your suffering. The book of 1 Peter encourages us to take heart in the midst of our trials and trust the Lord's hand. When we strive to avoid suffering, we fight God's means of sanctification. We are never to pursue suffering for its own sake. Yet when the option is given between suffering and ungodliness we are urged to joyously endure. We can stare the darkness of a lost world straight in the face and say, "I'll take the gospel to them even if the only means to do so is through pain." God calls to embrace suffering and trust His hand, knowing that our inheritance is secure.