7th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 842, 532, 680
Text – 1 Peter 4:13
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.
SHARING THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
I arrived at boot camp in May of 1978, assigned to a company of around 70 other recruits with whom I’d go through training. One of the first things our company leaders screamed at us is this, “If one of you messes up, in any way, you have all messed up. And you will all share in the suffering that follows!”
Not that the Navy approach was unique. I’d already experienced that in high school gym class, but then it was only an hour a day, Monday through Friday. Boot camp took sharing the suffering to a whole ’nother level. However, there you could at least look out the windows, & you even got to spend time outdoors, marching somewhere of course.
Living on the submarine it was literally true that if one guy messed up everyone on board could really be messed up, sharing in the suffering & dying a cold & miserable death. If those words strike you as too harsh & cruel to hear in a sermon, then you missed the point that God Himself was trying to teach when His Spirit inspired the apostle Peter to write:
“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.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV) Human beings, weakened by sin, have a difficult time confronting the harsh reality of suffering & death. And that, in spite of the fact that our world is filled with it – everywhere.
The headlines are all about conflict, suffering & death. People gawk at it, are amazed by it, & still have no clue what to do with it. Now, the media loves to rub our face in it because that is what sells. It doesn’t matter if it’s big tech & instant social media, or the slow moving & old fashioned newspaper & magazines. They highlight the horrors of life & provide no solutions to it. In fact, a solution to the very real horrors of suffering & death on this earth would destroy the profitability of the media. In the big picture, they have little interest in solutions. They need conflict & suffering & death because they make money off of it.
But the media is not the Church, & the media’s mission is not the sharing of the Good News that Jesus Christ has provided a solution. That is the purpose for which Jesus created the Church – to share that amazing & totally unique news. Nowhere else in the world is there a true solution to conflict, suffering & death.
But people have no desire for God’s solution as long as they are able to deny the true nature of the problem. It’s part of our corruption by sin to ignore, avoid & deny the harsh & cruel reality of suffering, especially when it looks like it’s going to be personal. Thus the Spirit inspired Peter to write:
“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.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV) And a chapter later are more words on the topic: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
The recent sinking of the submarine from Indonesia is an example. The Palestinian-Israeli war is another. The Covid 19 pandemic, & the killing of George Floyd, are others. Each of us also has our own personal losses & frustrations that bring suffering into our daily living. Each of us are under attack by the devil as he looks to devour us through our suffering.
Our knee jerk response is to attack suffering, to fight against it & work toward eliminating it. The sinful nature cannot accept suffering as part of my own reality. That refusal is not entirely wrong, but if it is our only plan to deal with suffering, then what do we do when cancer wins, & your loved one dies, especially after months or years of suffering? If your loved one dies of cancer, or Covid 19, or an accident, does that mean you have lost? Does it mean that God has failed? Can suffering be part of God’s plan? Can there be a place for it in God’s plan? As challenging as they are, the answer to those questions is revealed on the cross.
Satan is like a roaring lion looking to devour not just you, but your loved ones, your parents & children & friends. So God warns us not to be surprised by suffering & He points our eyes to reality beyond this life: “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV) And after warning us that the devil is like a roaring lion, St. Peter continued:
“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 & establish you.” (1 Peter 5:9-10 ESV)
The cross answers our question, “Can there be a place for suffering in God’s plan?” And it is the empty tomb that points to a glorious reality beyond what we can see or imagine today. It’s in light of that revelation that Peter wrote: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)
Suffering does not mean that God has permanently abandoned you. That fear is from the roaring lion, sent as a temptation. Even in our suffering the children of God can live a life of hope that is evident to the people around us.
A struggle that American Christians have is that, relative to Christians in the less developed countries of the world, we have not had a lot of suffering in our lives. This makes it more difficult for you & me to accept this particular Word of God from St. Peter. Poorer Christians in this world are used to living lives of hope in spite of all the suffering in their daily world. Another struggle that American Christians have is developing the Holy Spirit’s gift of humility. Because our culture is no longer Christian in any respect, virtues like humility have gone out of style! Of course, to the sinful nature, humility has never been in style.
Realizing that Satan is like a roaring lion looking to devour us should encourage humility in us. It may be the only attitude that can suffer with joy. Peter urges us to humble ourselves under God’s authority in order to pass through the test of suffering & persecution.
Instead of rebelling against God for allowing our suffering we will subject ourselves to His will & wait patiently for God’s time to deliver us & restore us to His glory. Do you see how that viewpoint is focused upon God & not upon me, myself & I?
It is God’s will that we train ourselves to wait patiently for the Lord. The Holy Spirit is working this in us at all times, since it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It’s easier on us if we work on this along with the Spirit instead of fighting it. Of course, our sinful nature will never see it that way. It is our saintly nature that is being trained to share the sufferings of Christ.
Navy boot camp was 43 years ago & I hated it then. Now, I can see the good that God accomplished & be thankful for it. Faith in Jesus as Savior brings good out of suffering. No faith in Jesus as Savior leaves the suffering as nothing more than that – suffering. It is the perverse nature of a sinful world that God must use suffering to draw us to Himself.
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.” Amen. (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)
The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now; a royal diadem adorns the mighty Victor’s brow. The joy of all who dwell above, the joy of all below to whom He manifests His love & grants His name to know. They suffer with their Lord below, they reign with Him above, their profit & their joy to now the mystery of His love. Amen. LSB 532:1, 3, 5 .
Pastor Dean R. Poellet