Suffering For Bearing the Name
Title: “Suffering for Bearing the Name”
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
Text: I Peter 4:12-19
We are continuing in our series of sermons on the First Letter of Peter in the New Testament. So turn with me today to chapter 4:12-19.
Last week we listened to the beginning of chapter 4 as Peter spoke to us about how to face all kinds of suffering that inevitably comes to us in our lives. Today, in the last verses of chapter 4, Peter speaks to us particularly about the suffering that comes to us as a result of our faith. Suffering that comes to us because we are Christians.
The first Sunday in November each year is a day set aside by many churches, denominations, and Christian organizations as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. So let’s listen to what Peter has to say to us today about suffering persecution for bearing the name of Jesus.
The Christian missionary organization called Open Doors reports that in just the last year, there have been:
Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination;
4,761 Christians have been killed for their faith;
4,488 churches and other Christian buildings have been attacked;
4,277 believers have been detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned.
They also report that the 5 countries which top the list as the most dangerous countries in which Christians can live are: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan.
But China has also just passed a new law further limiting
already restricted religious freedoms that has led to churches being closed, house churches being raided, pastors being arrested, crosses being removed from buildings.
I don’t know how many of you pick up and read a copy of the Church Around The World bulletin we put out each month. But every month there are specific stories of what Christian brothers and sisters around the world are experiencing, both the good and the bad.
In the October issue is the report of how a court in Algeria ordered the closure of Pastor Rachid Seighir’s church, and gave him a one year suspended sentence and a fine for shaking the faith of Muslims with Christian literature at the Christian bookstore he also ran. They ordered the closure of the bookstore, and shut down the church.
In the November issue you can read about how 5 Christians in Iran were just sentenced to 5 years in prison for “spreading propaganda against Islam” after they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. They were the first Christians to be sentenced under Article 500 of Iran’s newly amended penal code, which states that “any deviant education or propaganda that contradicts or interferes with the sacred Sharia Law will be severely punished.” I would well imagine more arrests and imprisonments of Christians in Iran will follow these five.
In Nigeria, it is not the government that is coming against Christians. It is a militant terrorist group called Boko Haram. They’ve targeted and either killed or kidnapped about 1400 Christians in the past few years.
My friends, the world can be a dangerous place for Christians, as it always has been for Jews throughout the ages.
In our country, we do not face that kind of concerted hostility because of our faith in Christ. We are not afraid to publicly worship. No one is threatening to close the Forestdale Community Church down. I am not in danger of being arrested for preaching the gospel this morning. And you are not in danger of being kidnapped or attacked or having your house burnt down because you came to worship today.
For us, the opposition to our faith comes more in the form of being dismissed as politically incorrect, or as intolerant, hypocrites, or as bigots, or as hopelessly out of date, naïve, prudish about sexuality, self-righteous, or just plain dumb for believing what we believe.
But mostly, we are free to go about our lives doing just what Peter calls Christians to do in this letter:
We seek to live in the culture where we are and do good.
We seek to love one another and offer hospitality.
We seek to use our gifts and talents to serve the common good.
We worship and we work, we pray and we serve.
We care for the hungry and the homeless.
We give our money away generously in order to help other people and promote the gospel.
And as Peter says, no one comes against us for doing all of those things. In general, Christians are very good citizens of the countries in which we live, and very good neighbors in the communities in which we live.
But what happens when the world turns against us? Like it has for our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world? What happens when you and I face rejection from our peers at work because of what we believe? What happens when the culture around us moves further and further away from the biblical values we hold dear, and we are made to look like jerks for holding on to those values?
In our earlier Scripture reading from the Book of Acts, we read that when Peter and John and the other apostles faced rejection from their former friends and neighbors, and faced arrest from the authorities in Jerusalem, and in fact were flogged and whipped and beaten for their faith in Jesus,
“…they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for bearing the Name.”
My friends, it is this attitude that Peter is urging his readers then, and all of us in our day, to adopt.
1. First he says that we shouldn’t be surprised when we face opposition for our faith. We shouldn’t think something strange is happening to us. Instead, he says, we should rejoice that we are participating in the suffering of Christ.
In other words, if the world is doing the same thing to you that it did to Jesus, then rejoice that you are on the right track. It’s a sure sign that you are in fact following in Jesus’ foot-steps. As a follower of Jesus you shouldn’t be too comfortable in the world, and the world shouldn’t be too comfortable with you. Don’t be a jerk, Peter says, or a thief or a criminal or a meddler. Don’t let that be why the world doesn’t like you. But if the world doesn’t like you because you trust in God, and follow Jesus, and are committed to the authority of the Bible as the guide for your life, then rejoice that the world is noticing that you don’t fit in very well anymore.
That’s a good sign, Peter says. If you are insulted because of the name of Jesus, then let that be a blessing in your life. You are being counted as an authentic disciple.
2. But secondly, the other reason not to be surprised at the sufferings that will come to you, or to think that something strange is happening to you, is that the time for judgment has come.
Back in verse 7 Peter had written, “The end of all things is near, so be alert and sober minded.” And now in verse 17 he writes, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God.”
Peter is writing here about the “end times judgment.” And he believes that he and his readers are living in those end times. That they are living in “the last days.” And that the intensity of the opposition they are facing is because God is on the move toward the redemption of all things, and the devil is doing everything in his power to come against God’s work and God’s people.
So don’t be surprised at this, Peter says. And don’t think it is strange if it gets worse before it gets better. It likely will, but rejoice because God will ultimately reveal his glory and you will be overjoyed at the outcome, when Satan is defeated fully and your sufferings for Christ will be vindicated.
The good news, Peter says, is that as Christians you will come through this time of judgment to that place of glory. The bad news is, that those who do not respond to the gospel and put their faith in what God has done in Christ to save us from the judgment, will not come through it.
And why did Peter believe that he and his readers were living in the last days? Well, for the same reasons you and I should still believe it. Because the prophets foretold what would happen in the last days. The Messiah would come and be from the line of David. He would redeem His people and establish a new covenant. He would inaugurate an everlasting Kingdom and be exalted as its King. And He would pour out His Spirit on His people, men and women, young and old.
When these things happen, the prophets said, it is the time of the end. And that’s what Peter stood up and preached in Jerusalem from the Prophet Joel on the day of Pentecost.
“In the last days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people….”
You see, in Jesus of Nazareth, all of the prophecies had come true, and all of the NT writers proclaimed that the end times were now upon us.
And though we live 2000 years later, it is still true. It’s true that we are still living in the “last days” when the gospel is being proclaimed in all the world to every nation, tribe and people, and we are awaiting the coming of Christ and the consummation. That’s the last and best thing that is to happen in redemption history, and it’s what’s up next though it’s been a long time coming, and it’s not here yet.
But Peter says all through this letter, that as we await that great consummation, we are to live our lives now in service to our faithful Creator, and we are to keep on doing good. Just don’t be surprised when opposition comes because of your faith. Don’t think something strange is happening to you when
you must face trials and persecution. Don’t be shocked if suffering comes your way.
Rather, rejoice that you are participating in the suffering of
Christ. You are being counted worthy of His Name. Your faith is being tested and tried, but it is being authenticated and strengthened in the process. So rejoice as you look forward to the day when Christ will come and vindicate you, and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Come and enter the joy of your master.”
My friends, how might it change our perspective on the
opposition we face in this country, and the even worse opposition our brother and sister Christians around the world face:
· if we embraced the fact that we are following Jesus in the way of the cross?
· if we simply accepted that the opposition we face is normal, and to be expected.
· If we took seriously that there are spiritual forces of darkness out there, which oppose all that God is doing in this world, and all that God is doing in you and me, and they will come against us!
But when they do, it’s a sign we are actually doing something right in our faith, not something wrong.
This is what Peter is urging us to take seriously today. And he began this section in verse 12 with the words, “Dear friends.” In Greek it’s the word “Agapetoi,” the root of which is that Greek word for love “agape.” And Peter is calling his readers his “beloved ones.” And it was a term of endearment that not only reminded them that he loved them, but that they were part of a “beloved community.” They were all “loved ones” who were in this battle of life together.
They weren’t isolated individuals who had to make it on their own. God was with them, because they were now “His beloved.” And he, Peter, was with them, and they also had each other. You see, they were a beloved community because God had loved them in Christ in a selfless, self-sacrificing way. Christ had suffered and died for them, and for us. He laid down His life as ransom for many. He bought us with his blood so that we might be his “Agapetoi,” his beloved ones.
My friends, as we come to the communion table today, we do so in remembrance of Him. And we do so today in remembrance also of all our brothers and sisters in Christ who right now are facing severe suffering simply for bearing His Name.
We want to pray this passage from First Peter for them. And we want to learn to pray it for ourselves as well, so that no matter what kind of suffering we face in our lives because of our faith in Jesus, we might be able to endure it, and somehow even rejoice that we are being counted worthy of bearing the
name of Jesus.
Let us pray.
Our gracious God, in Christ you have not only sent us your beloved Son, but through Him You have cleansed us from sin and made us your beloved sons and daughters, too. Help us not to be surprised at the fiery trials when that come upon us because we now belong to you. Help us not to think that something strange is happening to us. But by your Holy Spirit cause us to rejoice that we are sharing in Christ's sufferings. And may such suffering cause us to look forward with even more hope and longing for that day when Your glory is fully revealed and we will truly rejoice and be glad.
But we pray today especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are being more than insulted for the name of Christ. Those who are being persecuted, arrested, having their churches shut down, attacked, burned. Those who are being killed for their faith in you. Lord, in their time of trial and even at the point of death, may their eyes be opened to see you like Stephen in the Book of Acts, and may they see your glory, and may your Spirit rest upon them. And for all of us, Lord, no matter where we live in this world, may we your people entrust our souls to You, our faithful Creator and continue to simply pursue doing good, loving You and loving others, and making disciples who will do the same. And may Your Kingdom come, Lord, and your will be done on earth as in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.