Sunday, July 07, 2013

Sermon: 1 Peter 4: 12-19 Don't Be Surprised!

Many, many years ago, I was one of the leaders at our youth group in Dromore. We had an evening service, and then the youth group started shortly afterwards in the hall. One particular night I was still in church, chatting to our minister while he cleared up, and then headed over to the hall. I opened the door, and got a big surprise. There, at youth group, were lots of familiar faces - but extra faces who weren’t normally at the group. My parents and granny, other friends from church... you’re guessed it. The leaders had organised a surprise party for my 21st.

It was a big surprise - I wasn’t expecting it at all. A nice surprise. But sometimes there can also be nasty surprises. Something bad happens, something you didn’t expect, and you’re caught off guard. Unexpected circumstances and suddenly you think - this wasn’t what I signed up for, I want out.

The apostle Peter is writing to small groups of Christians scattered throughout modern day Turkey. Already Peter has reminded them of the immense blessings they have received from God - the new birth into a living hope, an unspoiling, imperishable, unfading inheritance, guarded through faith to receive their salvation. They are God’s chosen ones. And that’s often where we want to stop. All the blessings, it’s all great, give your life to Jesus and you’ll breeze through life.

But as we’ve been following Peter’s letter, we’ve also seen that Christians are chosen exiles. He has reminded us time and again that we’re not home yet, that this world is hostile, that how we live matters as we show what it’s like to be a Christian to a watching world - and last week, that time is short, how we use our time matters, so we don’t want to live according to the desires of the flesh any more, but rather live according to God’s will.

This morning Peter is finishing off this bit of the letter and the big idea is this: ‘Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal... as though something strange were happening to you.’ If we’re exiles, we shouldn’t be surprised when we face opposition. It’s not a strange thing. It’s part of the deal. Now straight away you might be thinking to yourself, persecution, opposition, that’s just something that happens far away to other people. Our culture here is strange - persecution is a normal part of life for Christians. (2 Tim 3:12).

Can you imagine a school teacher who resigned because they didn’t like children and hadn’t realised that the job would entail being around kids all day? Or a man who went into dairy farming but didn’t like cows? Just as those things go with the job, so Peter is telling us that opposition comes with the territory, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Rather, in our reading this morning, he gives us three encouragements to keep going when opposition comes. When you feel like giving up, this is the true grace of God, to help you to stand:

First: Rejoice as you follow the pattern of Jesus. It sounds very odd, doesn’t it, to rejoice when you’re suffering, to rejoice when facing opposition. Is it like telling someone to have fun when they’re going under the dentist’s drill? But look at the connection Peter makes. ‘rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.’

When we’re identified with Jesus, we are following the same pattern - suffering now, glory then. As we were thinking of last week, time is short - suffering for a short time, but an eternity of glory with him. One day we’ll see his glory revealed, every eye will see him, and we’ll shout for joy when we see him (link to 1:8,9).

Second: You are blessed because you have the Holy Spirit. Verse 14: ‘If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.’ Even though they might say all kinds of bad things about you, their word is not final; their say does not matter. What matters is God’s opinion - his word is blessing, guaranteed by the gift of the Spirit.

You have the spirit of glory - the foretaste of the glory to be revealed, God’s Holy Spirit, who helps you through the fiery ordeal.

Third: It’s no disgrace to bear the name of a Christian. You see, it’s not just any suffering Peter is talking about. It would be a disgrace to suffer as a murderer, thief, criminal or mischief-maker. But to suffer as a Christian - for that to be the reason you’re passed over for your promotion at work; or to be sidelined from your friends; or to be teased (or worse) in the community - this is no disgrace, rather, says Peter, it’s a reason to glorify God because you bear this name.

What a privilege it is to bear the name of a Christian; to be united with Christ, to live as one of his chosen exiles. And yet, as we’ve been seeing over these weeks, it’s not easy. The world is watching. We need grace to live up to the name, to show our faith by our deeds.

The story goes of Alexander the Great, the Greek military general who had conquered almost the entire known world by the age of 30, who had a soldier brought before him on the charge of stealing a horse. What is your name, he asked the soldier. ‘Alexander’ came the reply. Here’s what Alexander the Great replied: ‘Soldier, change your name or change your conduct.’ He didn’t want someone to share his name and act in such a way.

Here we have the true grace of God, lots of encouragement to stand when the world is weighing us down - the pattern of Christ’s suffering leading to glory; the blessing of the Holy Spirit; the giving of a new name - that of Christian - from our Heavenly Father. God the Trinity combines to equip us to live as elect exiles as we journey toward home.

And it’s toward home that Peter points in those closing verses. You see, we know that we’re on the way home, along this path marked with suffering. But we know that the outcome of the judgement is sure, we are God’s chosen. Peter asks them to think for a moment - what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Can you imagine living a life of ease now, persecuting God’s people, thinking you have it made, only to discover on that day of judgement that you’ve been wrong; that you’ve missed the path of life - in fact, that the very people you were giving a hard time to were in the right?

With all the encouragement we’re given by our great God, who gives us his grace, therefore, says Peter, ‘let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.’

God is faithful. He won’t let you down. He is with you. And on that we can depend. Whatever you face this week, know this for certain: we have a new name given by God the Father; and the gift of the Holy Spirit as we follow the pattern of Christ - suffering now, but glory in a little while. This is the true grace of God. Stand in it!

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 7th July 2013.

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