September 13, 2020
Dave Zuleger (South Campus) | 1 Peter 4:12-14
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 Christ's 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.—1 Peter 4:12–14
Introduction: The Shock of Societal Rejection
Nobody likes rejection. We’ve all felt it. Perhaps it was in a relationship, making us sad and confused. I have memories of kids picking teams for kickball and of my nervousness about when I’d get picked.
It stings all the more when it comes in an unexpected way or at an unexpected time. An unexpected breakup. A friend who suddenly turns on you. A place that once made you feel safe and whole suddenly feels uncertain and broken. So often these moments are the ones that leave the deepest wounds and take the longest to recover from. We are made in the image of God, who is love, and that means we are made to love—first God and then others—and be loved. When that feels like it has come to an abrupt halt, we can lose our bearings.
In a lot of ways, many Christians have felt this way in our country over the last decade or so. Society continues to legislate things that God calls sin on a wave of support. Christianity—or at least many of the social norms associated with it—feel foreign. In fact, much of the cultural capital or influence on morality has gone away, which means that either the church must change or the culture will be increasingly at odds with the church—and the church must follow Jesus. This has picked up in pace over the last 20 years, leaving many afraid of what will happen in the next 20 years.
This rejection has stung, all the more because of the speed and unexpected way in which much of it has come. If you were to look up the beginning symptoms of shock in a medical dictionary you’d find things like “anxiety, agitation, confusion, and restlessness.” Pile social unrest, COVID-19, and an election on top of this general shift, and we could all admit to experiencing some of these symptoms of shock these days.
Those are the circumstances, but what’s our diagnosis? Sometimes we need to step back from the fray and diagnose our hearts so that we can begin to know what treatment is necessary. It was painful to hear that our little man needed open-heart surgery last year, but it would have done us no good to pretend we didn’t have a problem, even if it was a treatment that made us tremble.
And I think God is at work among his people in these days and in this text to free us from the heart problems of hoping in comfort, control, and solutions that are only temporary. So as we dive into this text we are going to see that the apostle Peter wants us first to expect suffering; second, to exult in suffering; and third, to know we will be empowered in our suffering. Let’s dive in.
Application: The Settledness of the Spirit’s Resting
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.
What I want to do is ask the question of this verse, “Why should we not be surprised?” But, first, I want to pause on the word beloved. We should not move past this too quickly. This is our ultimate stability in suffering—knowing that we are loved by God and therefore suffering does not signal rejection by God but fellowship with Christ. It would be hard if in our suffering we needed to wonder if God was also rejecting us. He’s not. Remember, God called Jesus his “beloved Son” in whom he was “well-pleased,” and yet he went to the cross to suffer for sins.
If you are feeling this societal rejection, the unsettling shift of culture under your feet, or simply other fiery trials that have come into your life, you must remember that you’re loved and let that be your foundation. When God looks on you, he sees you clothed in the righteousness of his Son. He calls you his son or daughter. You are beloved. Your suffering doesn’t signal rejection. Peter emphasized that we are children of God in chapter 1. It is an astounding thing to be beloved children who can cry out, “Abba, Father” in our suffering—like Jesus did—and know that our Father hears us, loves us, and will stoop down to help us from his throne of grace. In your suffering and rejection, you are loved.
So with that reminder of love, the apostle Paul tells the believers not to be surprised. Why? I want to give you two reasons. First, Jesus predicted it, and second, Peter has already told them they are exiles and sojourners who are not home.
Jesus predicted it in some of his last words to his disciples (many times!):
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.—John 15:20–21
We have a crucified King. It is not popular to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior because we are proclaiming that we are not our own masters and not our own saviors—the two principles that govern the culture’s idea of happiness today. It is not popular to call “sin” the things people run to for happiness. In this world we will have trouble.
And Peter has already told them who they are. They are “elect exiles,” set apart by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord and for sprinkling with his blood (1 Peter 1:1–2). “Jesus is Lord” was and should still be a political statement stating allegiance to another Kingdom. We can’t stop proclaiming or obeying Jesus; only because we bow to our King and believe in him alone is there any true freedom or happiness. That doesn’t make you many friends—in fact, Peter says they will revile you and call you evildoers. This is simply part of the call of counting all else as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. We take up our cross and follow Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
If you look throughout church history you will find a well-worn path of rejection, persecution, and death. So, Bethlehem, let us not be surprised at the fiery trials as if something strange was happening. Now maybe you’re wondering if your general suffering is in view here. Well, it’s not the main thing in view for Peter here. Persecution is. However, there are truths that apply. All suffering—whether chronic pain or callous persecution—comes from the brokenness of a sin-infested world that is not as it should be. And as people who know we are not yet home, we should expect suffering—criticism and cancer, persecution and pain, mocking and mental health struggles—as a part of this brokenness. We are not surprised at it, and we know we are loved in it.
And Peter says these trials are coming to test us. Does this mean that it’s a pass / fail test? Like, if you don’t suffer well enough, you will lose your salvation?
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 1:6–7
The “testing” means God is bringing these things in his sovereign goodness to you as his child in order to refine your faith and focus your hope and your joy solely on Jesus Christ alone. What others mean for evil, God means for good. He is carefully—as a good Father and faithful soul-physician—giving us the prescription to wean us off of the soul idols of comfort and control so that we can find soul-level rest in the unshakable reality of the person and work of Christ. We are not surprised. We are loved. God is working these things for our ultimate good.
And then Peter calls us to rejoice in it!
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
This is a command: “Rejoice!”
When? As you share in Christ’s sufferings. Why? So that you can rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. Notice a couple things.
First, notice that these are not just our sufferings. For those of us who are children of God, we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Christ is not here on earth anymore, but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are his witnesses, his church, the embodiment of his presence here on earth. When we suffer for the sake of his name, we are sharing in his sufferings. We are identified with him. We are continuing his mission and his purposes for the sake of his glory.
This means you are with him in these sufferings. You are not alone in them. You are in Christ and he is with you to the end of the age. Paul says it this way:
And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.—Romans 8:17
With him. In his presence. In our suffering with Christ we can rejoice, because it proves our identity as children of God and points forward to the day when we will be glorified with him. Our rejoicing in suffering with Christ shows a people who are looking forward to their permanent inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading rather than the perishable, defiled, and fading earthly comforts.
So we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that we get to be with Christ in them, that we will be with Christ forever in glory, and that these fiery trials are refining in our faith into the kind that can rejoice with joy inexpressible and glorified because it is looking forward to glory with Jesus.
Now, let us be clear about something. Peter does not say trials suddenly get easy. They are called trials. It is called suffering. Sometimes we can hear this doctrine and then feel bad when we are struggling in suffering or when we want to escape suffering. But we are identified with the suffering of Christ! Do you remember what his faithful and perfect suffering looked like as he was rejected and crucified?
The Gospels record him sweating drops of blood, falling to the ground and pleading for the Father to take this cup away from him. Sometimes we hear these “rejoice in trials” sermons and we suddenly picture Jesus chilling on a beach and calmly listening to “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “Oceans.” Or we perceive others this way. That’s not the picture of the Bible. What did he do? He cried out to his Father. He remembered that he was a beloved Son meant to do the Father’s will as his greatest joy. He looked forward to the joy set before him in his suffering.
What do we do? We cry out to our Father. We cry with other believers and ask them to help us remember Jesus. We remember that we are beloved children meant to do the Father’s will. We rejoice in suffering because we get more of Jesus now as we fellowship with init and because we know we get the fullness of Jesus forever through it. We are not surprised and we know to run to our Father and the body of Christ for help to get through the sometimes suffocating and horrific pain of it.
We rejoice because we know whom we are with, where we are going, and what this suffering is ultimately doing for us—even though we are sorrowful in the midst of it.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
The word for blessed simply means a deep soul-level happiness in Jesus. When people insult you because of your worship of or obedience to Jesus, you will be empowered to rejoice—to be genuinely happy. How? The gift of the Holy Spirit. The story of the church in Acts is a story of the name of Jesus being proclaimed amid persecution. How was that happening?
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.—Acts 9:31
The Holy Spirit is the way that Jesus keeps his promise to be with us “always, even to the end of the age” and to never leave us or forsake us. And our text today holds out a promise for the pain of rejection and persecution: The Holy Spirit will rest upon us with particular power to empower our joy in Jesus in suffering.
Again, Peter is mainly talking about persecution here, but this is certainly true of all suffering that comes from the brokenness of this sin-infested world. How will you make it? How will you rejoice? How will you call out for help? How will you get up another day? The Spirit of God and of glory will rest upon you. Listen to Ephesians 3:16–19:
That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The Spirit will come in power so that Christ dwells in your heart and you are rooted in his love. The Spirit will give you glimpses of the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ so that you know it in a personal way. The Spirit will come and sustain you in the love of Christ and remind you of his glory that is going to be revealed one day and vindicate all of your suffering as you enter into glory with him! And as you remember that glory, you will rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory—even through tears—and obtain the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your soul.
Application: The Settledness of the Spirit’s Resting
And so, family, I have been praying for God to come and fix our eyes on Jesus again this morning and for the Spirit of God and glory to come and help us. That we would move from shocked and shaken to settled and sustained. That we would not be surprised, remember we are loved, rejoice, and expect new help and hope in hardship. Here is what is so amazing about the Spirit being the fulfillment of the promises of Jesus to be with us: It is guaranteed.
That is why it should be settling. When can we cry “Abba, Father” by the Spirit? Whenever we want, because of the blood of Jesus. We have 24/7 access to the throne-room of grace. How often is Jesus with us? All the time. He never leaves us or forsakes us.
We talked at the beginning about the shock of rejection. Jesus was rejected so that we could be eternally accepted. Jesus took our curse so that we could walk in eternal blessing. Jesus took our shame so that we could walk into the light, free from any fear of rejection.
You remember how Jesus hung on the cross and said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was forsaken so that we would never be forsaken by God. This is what it means to be a child of God. And God has made you his child to bring glory to his name. He loves you and will work for your good and his glory—they are not at odds.
I love the end of Romans 8 that ends in such a stunning crescendo of triumph for those who belong to Jesus. We can be settled instead of shocked, we can be sustained instead of shaken, even in the midst of suffering, because God will keep all of his promises to us in Jesus Christ and he will do it for the sake of his name and the good of his people by the power of his Holy Spirit. We don’t need to hope in anything other than the finished work of Jesus Christ. We don’t need the acceptance of anyone but our Father. We have a merciful high priest who knows our suffering and intercedes on our behalf. Therefore, we need not be surprised by trials but can rejoice even through tears as we are empowered to find our joy in Jesus alone.
Let me end by reading the end of Romans 8, which says it better than I could:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.