Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas 1/02/22
Do Not Be Surprised
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Many people think that their religion ought to be insulated from the attacks of others. That is part of the American dream. We dreamed, as a nation, of the freedom of religion, where you could be any religion you wanted and practice any faith freely, and no one could or would do anything about it. You are free!
That is a dream. It has never been quite true. Sadly, there are also many who would use that precise freedom to destroy that freedom for others – such as those who practice Islam - although they are not unique in this regard. The right to practice whatever religion you wish is a goal, but it is not one we are likely to actually achieve, because some people use that liberty as a tool to attack others and to undermine our liberties. Besides, the devil does not want us to practice our religion, freely or otherwise, and his agents, which is pretty much the whole world, will work to make sure that it cannot happen. Jesus promised us that while He walked among us, so we should not be surprised. And that is the theme of our sermon this morning: Do Not Be Surprised.
Jesus promised that if we faithfully followed Him, the world would hate us and we would be persecuted. World history has demonstrated the accuracy of that prophecy. Christians of every age, and in every corner of the world have been hated and persecuted for their faith. Even here, in America, it is considered narrow-minded and rude, not to mention hopelessly backward, to stand firmly on one's faith and not go along with the socially approved ecumenical spirit of our times. Anything is Christian, in the opinion of our culture, and anything is okay, except, of course, standing firm on the faith once delivered to the saints, and refusing to recognize the validity and worth of the random thoughts of others on the topic of religion. If you stand firm in the true Christian faith you are ridiculed, mocked, verbally assaulted now and again, and sometimes even physically assaulted even here in the United States. In other places in the world, people are dying for simply calling themselves "Christian".
Peter says, do not be surprised! He was talking about "the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing." That was the persecution of the earliest Christians. They, too, had thought that if they were God's chosen and favorites, that life ought to be good, and the pains and troubles of life ought to flee from them, and blessings should be the order of the day. That is how the human mind works – patronage and favoritism and that sort of thing, which we see so commonly in politics. After all, what good is position and favor if it doesn't work out to feather your bed, so to speak?
Well, things didn't work out the way they thought that they should. They had persecution, and poverty, and pains. They could not make sense of it, just like you cannot make sense of some of the things that happen in your life. Peter was reminding them that being the child of God in the devil's kingdom was not going to be easy, or fun, necessarily.
Our nation has a different way of persecuting the truth, and the faithful of God. We don't face physical violence so much as we face ridicule and disapproval and dismissal, today they call it being "canceled." You should not be so narrow-minded and you should not hold yourself and your religion up as something special. We face the disdain of others, and the dismissal of our values and of our confidence, and of our truths. Everyone knows that you cannot be right and all those others wrong. Everyone knows that holding too tightly to your truths and your values is radical, and fundamentalistic, and terroristic, and, well, just wrong! Our culture is prepared to embrace a deliberate and well and publicly identified lie as true, but if you stand on your religion as true and theirs as in error, well, that is judgmental and discriminatory and unacceptable - and can be legally actionable.
Our persecution is peer pressure, which we are all trained to be sensitive to. And we all hate pain. So, we just naturally tend to bend away from suffering. I know that I do! But when it comes to suffering on account of your faith, you should not be surprised. You should rather expect it.
That doesn't mean that you will enjoy it. You won't. Pain hurts. Ridicule is difficult to bear. The unexpected attack for nothing, in particular, that seems worthy of attack is hard to handle. But when it happens, we are to learn to say, "Ahhh! Here it is. I knew this was going to happen at some point."
There are things you can do, of course, to make people attack you. Doing bad things, for example. That is why Peter writes, "By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God." Christians are not always above crimes or bad behavior. They should be, but they are not. There is no glory and no benefit in suffering that you bring on yourself by evil conduct or stupidity. But if you are hated, spoken evil of, or attacked on account of being a Christian or making a faithful and clear confession, there is no shame in that, only glory - and you should give the glory to God!
There were times in the history of the church where people deliberately sought out pain and trouble, believing it was a mark of blessing and a good thing to be a Christian who suffers. The monks in the monasteries would deny themselves, beat themselves, torture themselves, believing it was a holy thing to do. That was wrong. It is not a good thing to suffer. Suffering is only a good thing if the suffering is occasioned by your clear and faithful identification with Christ and with the Gospel. Early in the history of the church, some believers would attack Roman Soldiers in order to be martyred. They were thinking that suffering and death as a Christian was blessed - without any notice of its cause. Peter says, don't let it happen to you on account of your bad behavior. It is only filled with glory if it comes as an attack on Christ in you.
And it will, if you stand firm in your faith, and confess Christ. Family members will tell you to get off your high horse. Friends will tell you to keep your religion to yourself - and will distance themselves from you if you don't. Employers may tell you that your faith - and its symbols - are not welcome around the workplace. People will find things to criticize and nit-pick in you because you are supposed to be something special, better, without any flaws, real or imagined. Perhaps bigger things will happen among us as persecution in time – we cannot tell. One thing we do know, our faith is not welcome out in the world, and not really even among others who style themselves as "Christian."
But when this sort of thing happens, even though it hurts and irritates, count yourself blessed. First, it means that someone can see that you are really a Christian. That is a good thing.
Second, imagine how it will be for those who do not believe, when they face the wrath of God, if being a faithful child of God, and one of His favorite people, can be so irritating and painful. Peter wrote: "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?" Imagine how disquieting and uncomfortable it will be to have never stood up for Christ, and have never confessed Him. If this suffering in this present age is part of heaven, what must the agony of hell really be?
"Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." The answer in any suffering is prayer, and entrusting yourself to God. He has promised to keep you and not permit you to have to endure more than you are able. So you do what is right. You do what God lays before you to do.
How can you do that? By remembering what Jesus did and endured for you. You do it by keeping the love of God for you before your eyes. You do it by constant prayer, faithful attention to His Word, regular participation in the fellowship of the saints, by eating and drinking of this holy meal, set before you for your forgiveness and strengthening.
Jesus died for you, and your sins have been forgiven. We remember as life becomes difficult, particularly when it becomes difficult on account of your faith, that God loves you, and nothing is for nothing. God will bless you for your troubles, and He will return the pain and difficulty given to you upon the heads of those who cause such trouble. They may not be able to connect the dots right away, but their troubles are part and parcel of the troubles they cause the children of God, and if we suffer as God's elect, what will it be for them on that great and terrible day?
So, let us be clear. When your faith and your confession bring ridicule or any other pain on you from the world around you, do not be surprised. It is likely to happen, and Jesus predicted it. Don't do anything deliberately to bring it on yourself. It will find you of its own accord. Remember that this is part of the plan of God, and remember that they will ultimately bear the fruits of their evil unless they repent. Remembering the pain of ridicule and persecution, we should be eager to spare our attackers the pains they are bringing on themselves by bringing them the good news of Christ and forgiveness. And finally, when trouble and pain do come, pray and entrust your soul to God, and just keep on doing what you know you should, what God has given you to do. He will tell you when it is time to stop.
And do not be surprised – suffering is to be expected when you are God's child living in the devil's kingdom.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)