Ever been surprised and disappointed all at the same time?
It’s happened many times in my life, but none were more shocking than the time I was about 10 or 11 years old. I was hot and thirsty. I’d been out playing or riding my bike, you know, one of those with the long banana seat and the handle bars that came up to meet you? Well, I came running into the house, in a hurry and looking for a glass of tea. I spied a glass on the counter with tea in it. There wasn’t a lot in it and even though I hadn’t poured it and had not idea who’d been drinking it, I grabbed it and began to drink.
I immediately knew something was wrong. What hit my tongue was not cool, sweet tea, but something warm, slimy and very bitter. I immediately began to spit and sputter and thought I was going to throw up. That’s how nasty it was. You see, my mom had cooked up a few slices of bacon and had poured off the grease into the cup to be used to season beans or something and I, thinking it was tea, had just wolfed down a cup of bacon grease. I’ll never forget the surprise and shock of that moment. Disappointed? You better believe it.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of the world and I suffered nothing other than a temporary spike in my cholesterol, but other disappointments aren’t so easily resolved.
I remember in the move, Braveheart, which I have seen a number of times on TV, Mel Gibson’s character who is leading the mean seeking freedom for Scotland from England suffers a dibilitating disappointment. He has a leader in Scotland whom he thinks has become his ally and whom he is depending on for support. Without him knowing it, this ally betrays him and joins forces with England. In the middle of the battle when Gibson’s character is expecting support from his friend, he gets none and has to fight alone. In the heat of the battle, thinking his friend just hasn’t shown up he is attacking a lone rider on a horse. He cannot see who the rider is because he has on a helmet. But finally he catches him and throws him to the ground. In the middle of mortal, hand-to-hand combat, he removes the rider’s helmet and there he discovers that his enemy is the very man who he thought was his friend. He is so shattered by that discovery that he just sits down on the battlefield in shock, unable to move and has to be carried to safety by his own men.
That scene has been repeated on many a spiritual battlefield. In the heat of spiritual warfare, because we are often expecting the wrong thing from God, we turn around and we think that we discover that the one who was supposed to be our ally is really fighting against us and it destroys us. It so destroys our confidence till, like Gibson’s character, we sit down on the battlefield, devastated.
I just heard of a dear friend of mine in ministry. He suffered a severe brain problem and was in a coma for many days. Now he has come out of it, but he has been told by his doctors that many of his disabilities like his speech problems and his paralysis are not going to get any better and depression has set in. The other day he said, “I don’t understand this. All I wanted to do was to serve God.”
Now, maybe you haven’t suffered physical paralysis, but you have been through the very same emotion that my friend did. You are suffering! It may be an economic crisis in your life. You never thought you’d be in the position you’re in right now. You know that people may look at you and think, “Well, he must be a poor manager,” but you know in your heart of hearts that, while you may not have done everything correctly, you really tried to do your best, but it still wasn’t good enough. And now you’re facing ruin and you really can’t understand it. You used to think that God was in control, but now you’re not so sure. If he was, why would this happen. All you wanted to do was to serve God.
It may be a marital crisis in your life. You got married and you and your husband or wife really loved one another. But the non-stop jobs, the busy kids, and the just the everyday grind of life slowly squeezed the intimacy right out of your relationship till now you feel like you’re living with a stranger. You may have already talked about or even completed a divorce and you are devastated. You believed that marriage was a forever thing and you can’t understand why God allowed this in your life. Is He really in control? All you ever wanted to do was serve Him.
It may be your health. The diagnosis came back positive. The MRI wasn’t kind and the doctor was concerned. More tests confirmed the worst, and now you’re shocked. You thought you were drinking tea, but you’ve had a taste of something so bitter that you’re gagging on it and you wonder where God is. All you ever wanted to do was to serve Him?
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned your issue, but I bet you if we took a pole in this room today, there are some disappointed people here. You expected one thing from God, but you’ve received something else entirely. Why do we get so disappointed in God?
Well, I think that at least part of the problem is that we create a lot of false expectations in many people. It comes from our society and it even comes from some in the church. Let me show you what I mean.
This is a book by Paul Zane Pilzer. It’s entitled God Wants You to Be Rich. Pilzer tells you in that book how and why God wants you to be rich in every possible way – in health, love and peace of mind, as well as material possessions. He argues that every individual’s success promotes the good of overall society, because wealth begets wealth. Now picture yourself, having just lost your job, or your business, or your home reading that, as a believer, God wants you rich. I don’t know about you, but my first question would be, “Well, if God wants me rich, and I’m poor, then God is either powerless, or I am clueless. I must not know God very well if He wants me rich because I surely haven’t tapped into the wealth yet.
An article in Charisma magazine said it like this:
God wants to pour out His love to you as He did to those I have mentioned. He does not want you to be broken, beat-up and sick! He wants to demonstrate that He is a God of power and might and that there is nothing too hard for Him.In his third epistle, John says, "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" (v. 2). Notice the use of the term "beloved." Jesus wants you to know He loves youI believe God wants you to "prosper in all things"-to have enough money to meet all your needs, a decent car, a nice home and good health. You can appropriate these things as you learn to prosper in your soul by meditating on the Word of God.
There’s only one problem with these ideas: They’re really not at all biblical. Not really. Paul wrote in 2 Tim. 3:12 that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Notice, he didn’t say you might, or it could happen, he said YOU WILL! That’s pretty clear. No reason to whine; no reason to complain, and there’s certainly no reason to be shocked. If you’re a believer, you WILL suffer. Period!
And it wasn’t just Paul, Jesus echoed as much in John 16 when He told the disciples, “In the world YOU WILL HAVE tribulation. Again, not you could, or it might happen, YOU WILL HAVE it. And Jesus went on to say in Luke 14: 26-27
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
Now folks, that’s pretty clear. If it were the only time Jesus said something like that, that would be enough. But its not. Over and over again He tells His disciples to get ready because the hammer of persecution and suffering WILL fall. Which just brings me to the book I want to introduce to you today.
Today we begin a walk through the epistle of 1 Peter. This book addresses a group of people who were sipping a little bacon grease of their own. Persecution was rampant. It all began, probably in Rome. Around 42 a.d. someone probably arrived on the scene. While there may have been Christianity present in the city before he arrived, I’m sure that his arrival kicked things up a notch. Three things began to happen. For one thing, Christians shared their faith and began to see Romans converted from emperor worship to Chirsitianity. For another, the new converts began to live differently and, by their life and probably by their lips, critique the pagan living around them. And all of this led to the third thing that happened: The Pax Romana or the peace of Rome was definitely disturbed.
That would have been bad enough alone, but the collision with those in power became unavoidable because all three of those things violated a direct policy of the emperor, Claudius. He had said that, in order to preserve religious tolerance, converting native Romans, offending accepted morals, and disturbing the peace was forbidden. That’s why, probably around 49 a.d., the emperor kicked all Christians out of the city or Rome. He basically said, “If you Christians want to make trouble for me, I’m going to make trouble for you.” It is probably to this expulsion that Peter refers when he opens his book like this:To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. “The dispersion” simply refers to this expulsion of the people who followed Jesus out of the city. What Peter goes on to write is a letter of encouragement to people who were starting new lives in foreign cities through no choice of their own.
Now, you and I have not known that kind of persecution in our culture. We’ve not gotten kicked out of Wilson because we decided to go on visitation or because we dared to lead someone to Christ. But it is interesting to me, however, that some of the things people hated about Christianity in Peter’s day are some of the same things they hate in our day. Want to have your faith ridiculed: Just go “disturb the peace” by preaching Christ on the street. Want to be laughed at? Have the nerve to say premarital sex is a sin or that materialism is wrong. Want to be dismissed as intolerant? Have the unmitigated gall to say that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life. You may not lose your citizenship, but you’ll certainly lose your standing in our society. You see, whether in Rome in 49 a.d., or in Wilson in 2010, being a Christian is really just asking for it.
So the question becomes why? Why would you agree to be made fun of like that because you call yourself a Christian. You say, “That’s a good question, Rusty, and it’s one I’ve been asking myself. I’m a Christian and all I ever catch at work is incredible grief. I took a stand at work and all they can ever do is pick at me about it. They make fun, in a round about sort of way. They talk behind my back. They even try to sabotage my faith. Honestly, all I want to do is just shut up. I want to just fade into the background so they’ll leave me alone.” Well, listen! God wants to show you why being a witness at work is so important.
And maybe your persecution happens at college. When you were in high school, you ran into a little bit of conflict, but now you’re in college. What used to be hinted at is spoken boldly: Christians are the problem in this society: they’re a bunch of naive, dangerous, homophobes who deserve nothing but ridicule. You’ve already stopped speaking up because your professor makes you feel so foolish. What’s even worse is that you’ve begun to wonder if he’s right. I’ll tell you, God wants you to know it’s worth it to stand for Him. 1 Peter tells you why.
Whereever your “persecution” happens and however it comes, I want you to know there’s are some good reasons for enduring it and not backing down. Why would you do that? Why would you sign up to be the laughing stock of this world? Why would the people in Peter’s day been willing to be kicked out of Rome? Why would they have felt so strongly about Christ that they would have continued to follow Him even though it made no rational sense?
Well, by way of introducing you to Peter’s first letter, let me try to answer that question. Peter addresses it. He really gives us the “why” of our faith. He tells us why signing up for persecution makes sense. First he tells us that you can sign up for the persecution
HE - EXPOSITION
BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE
Now fasten your seatbelts, because we’re going to take a sort of whirlwind tour of this book. Peter introduces the theme of this letter in 1:6, where he says, In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials . . . Expelled from their native city, these believers were undergoing a lot of stress and trouble. I’m sure that some, like I would have, had begun to question: “Why is this happening to me? Where is God in all of this?” Peter anticipates that question when he says that the reason they are undergoing this stress and trouble is that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Peter tells them that God is going to turn the tables on their trials. He is going to use what Satan means for destruction to actually bring glory and honor to Christ. Now that’s an awesome turnaround, but it is only achieved because of that first phrase in verse 7: It only becomes through the genuineness of their faith. They endure because they’re the real deal. Their faith is tested and found to be genuine.
And this genuine faith is further proven by their character. You see, they aren’t being different just for the sake of being different. They aren’t the typical 15 year old who pierces every part of their anatomy to make some statement about their individuality. They’re not into questioning authority because it makes a good t-shirt slogan. O no, their difference is more than skin deep. It’s a difference that comes from an inner connection with God Himself. That connection is described in chapter 1, verse 13
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but (watch carefully) as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
The word “holy” means “unique” or “set apart” . . . different. Peter is saying that we are to be different because we are connected to a “different” God. If you “scratch and sniff” a believer, he smells like Jesus. What is it that causes this uniqueness? He goes on to tell you in v 17. He says:
17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Since I have this vital union with God, I am different from the world. Peter says over in ch 2:9
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
That’s it! We are different because of who we are, and we really can’t change that. As the saying goes, “it is what it is.” Isn’t it funny how we try to change the way “it is,” though? Over the last few decades Christianity has made a concerted effort to “fit in” with the world. We have, in some cases, tried to reach the world by becoming like the world. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I do think that there are things we should do to love those who don’t know the Lord and we ought to bend over backwards, just like Jesus did, to reach out to those who are hurting.
But all of these efforts are self-defeating if, in the process of “selling” the gospel, we “sell-out” the gospel. Listen, believer, you’ll never fit in, not if you stay true to God. You’re a royal priesthood; you’re a “set apart” nation; You’re part of a special people and your difference shines out just like light cuts through darkness. And that’s why you choose to suffer. It’s because of who you are. If you’re true to who you are, you won’t have to go looking for it, it will find you. It will be as automatic as light challenging darkness!
APPLICATION - YOU
And, by the way, that’s just one of the reasons you must choose to suffer. It will just happen to those who are following Jesus. That’s the why, but what about the “how?” I mean, if being a believer guarantees trouble, how do you and I stand up to the trouble when it comes. Well let me just give you 3 quick applications, and I’ll be done.
First, if you are to stand up to persecution, you’ll have to learn to overcome rebellion. Now when I say that, you may be wondering, “Rebellion? Just who is going to rebel?” O that one’s easy to answer. If you want to know who’s going to be tempted to rebel, look in the mirror. None of us likes pain. Not a single one of us, unless we are psychologically twisted, want to sign up to be beaten up. In fact this is willingness to undergo persecution may be the hardest thing to face. The tendency when you and I are being tried, or undergoing suffering, is to rebel against what God is doing in our lives. Pain causes anger and that rage sometimes gets directed against God.
I still remember as a teenager when my family went through some difficult times at the hands of some church members getting very angry at God. Now notice: Instead of blaming some ungodly, unspiritual church leaders who didn’t deserve the trust they’d been given, I blamed God. Isn’t that typical? It’s so easy to fall into. That’s why Peter says over in 5:6
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
See what’s being said? In the middle of your suffering, there will be a temptation to run for the hills. Peter is saying resist that temptation to rebel. Instead, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.
So what is it that God has going on in your life? Is there some health issue that is plaguing you? You thought that by now you’d be better but nothing has changed. That cancer diagnosis has stolen your confidence and now you live with this unexplainable feeling of doom and you want to run.
Maybe it is a financial stress. Perhaps you face credit problems you cannot conquer. Maybe it was something that happened that you didn’t anticipate and you’re living with great fear and anxiety and you want to turn your back on God, stop honoring Him with His resources and maybe even do something that isn’t right to pull yourself out of the mess you’re in.
Maybe you’re suffering persecution. You’ve been standing up for God at work and you’re weary of the off-hand comments and the isolation you feel. If that’s true, the way to victory isn’t to run, it’s to submit. It’s to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.
You can stand up to persecution when you submit your will and overcome rebellion, but you must also overcome something else. You must overcome anxiety. Now we all know that worry is the usual companion of suffering. Peter speaks to this in 5:7. It’s one of the most comforting verses in all of scripture. He says, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. The word “cast” there pictures us gathering up all of our troubles as we would wet snow, balling them all together and packing them down and heaving them up to God.
When Bulstrode Whitelock left as Oliver Cromwell’s ambassador to Sweeden in 1653, England was in shambles. A Civil war had lead to the execution of Charles 1, the former king. The result was a split between the army and the government that didn’t seem to be heading toward a resolution. Not only that, the Presbyterians and Cromwell’s Independents, two branches of the puritans were also in conflict. It’s difficult enough to represent your country in a foreign country, but it is impossible when you, as the ambassador, have no direction where it’s headed. The night before he left, Whitelock was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. He paced nervously back and forth, unable to rest. Finally a servant whose Christian advice he had come to trust said to him,
“Sir, may I ask you a question?”
“Certainly,” came the reply.
“ Sir, do you think that God took real good care of this world before you came along?”
Whitelock replied, “Absolutely.”
“And don’t you think that He will take real good care of it when you’re dead and gone?”
“Of course.” Whitelock said.
“Then, sir, if He took care of it before you came along and He’ll take care of it when you’re dead and gone, don’t you think you can trust Him to control it as well as long as you live?”
The question left Whitelock speechless. He went to bed and was soon fast asleep.
Listen, you’ll not handle things very well if you’re worried about them. Worry will drive you to take shortcuts or maybe make compromises you should not make. Whatever you’re struggling with you can cast on Jesus. He took care of things before you got here and He’ll take care of things when you’re gone, surely He can handle your trouble now. And it is only that faith that will allow me to endure my trouble and my persecution. I submit my will and I surrender my anxiety. Last of all,
APP 3 - I OVERCOME ATTACK.
Listen Christian, never forget this! Behind every struggle; behind every argument; behind ever persecution; behind every difficult time you go through there is not just a problem; there is a person. Lurking in every trial is your mortal enemy who wants to use your struggle to discourage you and discredit God. Peter says it this way
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
You see, the truth you and I have to grasp is that our troubles and persecution have eternal significance. That snide remark didn’t just come from your co-worker, it was inspired by the one who is planting those thoughts in your co-worker’s mind. That physical sickness you are experiencing, while it may be the natural result of the aging process, or the genetic make-up you inherited, it becomes an opportunity for your enemy to attack your confidence in God. That financial reversal, while it may have been caused by a banking crisis, becomes an opportunity for your enemy to call into question God’s faithfulness to meet your needs. If you’re ever going to endure trials, you have got to overcome the attack.
Now what does Peter say is the key to winning this victory. Look at verse 9. He says there:
9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.
Isn’t that it? When Satan comes to me in the middle of my struggle and tries to make me question God, I resist him, steadfast in the faith. I believe, and believe, and keep on believing God and my faith becomes the victory that overcomes the world.
So are you under attack this morning? What thoughts have been cruising through the town square of your mind as you’ve heard this message? Have you been thinking, “Yes, Rusty, but you don’t know my situation; yes, Rusty, but you don’t know how badly I’ve been hurt; yes, Rusty, but I have prayed and nothing’s happened.” These and a million other negative possibilities are actually not thoughts at all. No they are ROARS! They are the roaring of your adversary the devil walking around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. But you can defeat him this morning. You can endure if you will realize who your enemy is and trust God for deliverance.
You see, if you really know the Lord, this morning, you are different . . . very different. He’s set you apart for His glory. Your connection with Him has changed you on the inside and no matter how hard you might try to fit into this world, you just can’t. He has forever changed you and that means that you’re nothing other than an alien in this world. And there’s no bill the congress can pass with can ever make you fit here. This world will always give you trouble, but you can overcome that trouble. You can submit your will; you can surrender your anxiety, and you can subdue your enemy.
Sundar Singh was born into a wealthy family in India in 1889. His mother trained him from birth to become a Sikh holy man, and by age seven he could quote by heart vast portions of Hindu holy books. Seeing his intelligence, his mother eventually sent him to a Presbyterian school for a one-year’s course in English. There Sundar, forced to read the New Testament, rebelled, his hot-blooded heart raging against his missionary teachers.
Being tall, good-looking, and muscular, he quickly became the leader of the anti-Christian students, on one ocasion burning a Bible page by page before them.
But Sundar’s white-hot emotions couldn’t absorb the tragic death of his mother, and he found himself at age fifteen overcome with despair. On Sunday night, December 17, 1904, he went to bed planning to commit suicide before breakfast. He rose according to plan at three a.m., took a ceremonial cold bath in keeping with Hindu custom, and prepared to cast himself in front of the five a.m. express train speeding by his house.
But as Sundar prayed, a light suddenly illumed the room, shining so brightly that he thought the house ablaze. A strong, serene figure seemed to appear in a vaporous white cloud and in perfect Hindustani spoke these words: “Why do you persecute me? Remember that I gave My life for you upon the cross.”
Sundar was instantly converted to Christ. When he later shared the news with his family, they were appalled, and failing to dissuade him, they tried to poison him. But Sundar, not to be denied, was baptized on his sixteenth birthday. He sought theological training, and soon put on the yellow robe and turban of a sadhu, a wandering holy man, to go forth preaching the gospel.
Through the mountain passes and over the rugged hills of northern India he journeyed, braving hardship and persecution. He was imprisoned. He was stoned. He was tortured. He was thrown into wells, naked, to die. His travels were so rigorous that he was called the “Apostle of the Bleeding Feet.”
The Indian Christian Sundar Singh once ventured into the forbidden land of Nepal on the borders of Tibet to preach Jesus. In a village there, as he distributed copies of Mark’s Gospel, one of his listeners ripped the Gospel apart and hurried to notify town officials. Sundar was promptly thrown into jail, but he used the time to witness to his fellow prisoners.
When the jailer forbade him from evangelizing, Sundar, sounding much like Peter, replied, “I must obey my Master and preach His gospel, regardless of threats and sufferings.”
The jailer ordered the prisoners not to listen, but they replied, “This man tells us how we can become better, which is what we need.”
Sundar was taken from the cell to a filthy cattle shed. The jailer stripped off his clothing, tied him down hand and foot, and threw upon him a swarm of leeches that had been collected from the jungle. The loathsome creatures latched onto his body and began sucking his blood. But, I lifted up my heart to God in prayer, and He sent such heavenly peace into my soul that I soon began to sing His praises.
After he had grown weak from loss of blood, the authorities released him and returned his clothes. Sundar was soon seen again in the center of town, preaching the gospel and telling the people, It is a joy to suffer for my Savior. In bearing my cross, I hope to direct men to His cross with its offer of peace and pardon. In the cross of Christ alone I will ever glory.
Yet his dark, shining eyes, full beard, and graceful poise reminded people of the Savior, and many believed he looked expressly like Jesus. Great crowds gathered to hear him, and his fame spread throughout the Orient, then around the world. In the years that followed, he preached in some of the greatest pulpits of Asia, Europe, and America. Biographies of him were written and stories about him printed. His face was known everywhere.
Then he disappeared. Being a missionary at heart, Sandu longed to take the gospel into the mysterious and forbidden land of Tibet. In April, 1929, spurning the advice of friends, he set out into the Himalayan foothills, heading upward and inward, disappearing from sight. He was never seen again.
“It is a joy,” he once said, “to suffer for my Savior. In bearing my cross, I hope to direct men to His cross. It was that cross that lifted me out of despair into the peace of God and in the cross of Christ alone I will ever glory.”
The old gospel song writer said it like this:
Just a little while to stay here
Just a little while to wait
Just a little while to labor
On the path that's always straight
Just a little more hard trouble
In this low and sinful state
Then we'll all go marching over
Marching through the Pearly Gates