Skip to comments."Glorious Suffering" (Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, on 1 Peter 4 and 5; John 17)
Posted on 06/01/2014 2:02:33 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
Glorious Suffering (1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11)
Have you ever heard of the term oxymoron? An oxymoron is when you have two words placed next to each other in a phrase, but they really dont belong together. For example, jumbo shrimp. Jumbo and shrimp would seem to be self-contradictory terms. Another oxymoron: Rap music. The two ideas dont go together. Or this one, speaking as someone coming from Chicago: St. Louis pizza. Sorry, I couldnt help it.
Well, a couple of our readings today seem to have an oxymoron going on, two self-contradictory ideas being placed right next to each other. In both the Epistle reading and the Holy Gospel, we find the idea of glory paired up with the idea of suffering. Glory and suffering? Those two dont seem to go together. But in the Christian phrasebook, maybe they do. And so our theme this morning: Glorious Suffering.
Look at what St. Peter writes in our Epistle today: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christs sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Glory and suffering placed back to back. And theres more. Peter goes on to say: If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. Then later in our text Peter says that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
So lets see if Ive got this straight: Were supposed to rejoice when sufferings come our way on account of being Christians, that we may rejoice when the glory of Christ is revealed. If were insulted, we are really blessed, because the Spirit of glory rests upon us. If we suffer as Christians, were supposed to give glory to God. Christians all over the world are experiencing these sorts of sufferings, but this suffering is only for a little while, because God has called us to eternal glory.
Is this crazy talk or what? All this glory talk, when writing to Christians who are suffering fiery trials and persecutions because they are Christians. Are these the rantings of a delusional madman? Whats Peter been smoking? I mean, who enjoys suffering? Who likes to be persecuted? How can this suffering be glorious?
But thats what Peter is saying. Well, lets be clear here. Hes not saying that we enjoy the suffering itself. Hes not saying that we should go out looking for persecution. No, thats not it. But he is saying that if we are persecuted, if we do encounter suffering on account of our Christian faith, that even in those circumstances, we have something to rejoice over, that we can consider ourselves blessed, that we can give glory to God, and that we will experience glory in the end. Thats different than saying we go out looking for trouble or that were some sort of masochists who enjoy suffering.
Make no mistake: Christians do and will experience suffering and persecution on account of belonging to Christ. The world will bring it upon us. The devil will bring it upon us. Only, dont bring suffering upon yourselves, Peter is saying, by doing things like being a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Peter has made this distinction throughout this letter. Make sure you dont blame your suffering on your being a Christian, when really youre experiencing trouble because youve done something bad. Well have enough trouble as it is, being on the receiving end of suffering from our adversary the devil and the hostile world around us. They will give us grief enough.
And that is happening. It happened to the people to whom Peter wrote, those Christians in Asia Minor in the first century. Persecutions broke out in various places in the Roman Empire during the first couple of centuries of the church. Peter himself would be put to death--by crucifixion, in Rome, under Emperor Nero--within a couple of years of writing this letter.
And the suffering and the persecution havent stopped since. For instance, today, June 1, is a day when the church commemorates Justin Martyr, a Christian theologian from the second century, who was martyred, put to death by beheading on account of his Christian witness.
Peter reminds us: The same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. Yes, they are, still today. Christians are being crucified and beheaded, literally, in various places in the world today. Muslim jihadists are violently persecuting and killing Christians in our day, in parts of the Middle East, in Africa, and in other Islamic lands. In the African nation of Sudan, there is a woman in prison, Meriam Ibrahim, who has been sentenced to death for becoming a Christian. There are reports that she may be freed soon, but nothing is definite as of this morning. In Nigeria, the militant Islamic group Boko Haram has been murdering Christians and blowing up churches for several years now. Not as violent, but over in China, the government there is removing the crosses from on top of church buildings. In Europe and America, things are a little more subdued. Were not facing imprisonment or death, not yet, but the culture and even our government have turned against Christianity.
How about you? Have you experienced any kind of suffering for being a Christian? Maybe not. Maybe its been mild. But dont think it couldnt happen. Or maybe you havent given much of a Christian witness with your life, so there hasnt been anything to persecute you over. If you have been keeping your mouth shut as a Christian for fear of being rejected by others--well, thats not good. Im not saying you should go out of your way to be obnoxious with a Christian witness, but dont hold back either. Dont be afraid to speak up for Christ or for his church.
You see, thats what Peter is getting at. Hes giving us Christians courage and hope and confidence in this letter, even in the midst of sufferings and trials, as we have heard throughout this series on 1 Peter. You have reasons to take courage, in Christ. You have cause for hope, in Christ. You have glory awaiting you, at the coming of Christ. And you have God beside you, even now, caring for you, watching over you, strengthening you for whatever ordeal may come your way. This is how and why we can rejoice, we can consider ourselves blessed, we can glorify God, even in the midst of sufferings.
And this is where the glory and suffering paired up in our Gospel reading for today comes in. In John 17, Jesus himself uses the ideas of glory and suffering, paired up, over and over again in his high priestly prayer to his Father: Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
Glory and glorify all over the place. Jesus doesnt use the word suffering here, but thats what hes talking about--his own suffering, just about to happen. The hour has come, the time for his suffering and death. Jesus is about to enter into it, momentarily, on the night when he prays this prayer. Jesus will be betrayed, arrested in the garden, taken to trials in the night, handed over to the Roman governor, beaten and crucified. That is suffering in the extreme.
And yet Jesus says this is how his work is being accomplished. This is how Jesus is glorifying the Fathers name--by going to the cross. This is the work the Father gave Jesus to do, that is, to win the salvation of the world by and through his suffering. This is how God is glorified, because it shows the great mercy and love that God has for us fallen sinners. God gave his own Son to redeem us, to free us from our bondage to sin and death. Gods own Son made the perfect sacrifice for sin that covers all our wrongdoing. Your sins are forgiven, on account of Christ. Death has lost its stranglehold over you. Christs own resurrection shows whats in store for us. You share in his righteousness and his victory. You receive his life, being baptized in his name. And this life is eternal; it lasts forever.
And this, this is what makes Christian suffering so glorious. By sharing in Christs sufferings, it tells us that we also will have a share in his glory. Not that we earn our way into glory by our noble act of suffering. No. But because we are Christians, the sufferings will just come with the territory. It was that way for Peter the apostle and the readers of his epistle. It was that way for Justin Martyr and all the martyrs of the past. It is that way today for Meriam Ibrahim and all our suffering sisters and brothers around the world. And it may even be that way for us, that is, this suffering for the faith. Yes, it may happen to us, too, to one degree or another. If it does, when it does, at those times rejoice and glad, and give glory to God. For this suffering, suffering for the sake of Christ--this is reminding you that you are truly blessed. Glorious suffering indeed!
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christs sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?
Therefore let those who suffer according to Gods will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
John 17:1-11 (ESV)
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
Overseas there is intense suffering every day; perhaps mostly vividly illustrated by the recently-commuted death sentence on Sudanese convert from Islam Miriam Ibrahim who gave birth in prison shackles.
We’ll get a taste of it soon enough here as gay marriage becomes the law of the land by judicial fiat. Those of us who stand for marriage as God intended it at the dawn of creation are destined for the ash heap of history...that’s what the judge said in Pennsylvania.