Philip Casmer

Don’t Let Suffering Catch You by Surprise

by Philip Casmer on September 26th, 2021
Luke 10:25-37

Having house guests can be hard.  When you know they’re coming, you have enough to do just to make things ready – cleaning, cooking, etc.  On the other hand, if the houseguests are unexpected, well, sometimes that can cause problems.  House not cleaned, chores to do, errands to run; all left undone in a hurry and rush because of visitors.  There isn’t much you could do to limit that surprise either – other than always keeping the house in “ready-for-company” condition.  That thought alone might make unexpected guests to always be unwelcome guests.  

The surprise of unexpected houseguests is built into Peter’s word for “surprise” today.  He doesn’t want us to be surprised at suffering for being a Christian.  He doesn’t want us to be surprised as though suffering were some unexpected houseguest who shows up on your door unannounced.  No, Peter wants to be sure that we Don’t Let Suffering Catch Us by Surprise.  To help us be ready, he offers some principles for “good-spiritual-housekeeping”: to Rejoice as Blessed and to Praise as Christians.

As Christians, we have a lot to rejoice over – every reason to, in fact. But even for Christians, to say “rejoice in suffering” can seem hard advice to follow.  Peter says it anyway, but for one great reason: we “participate in the sufferings of Christ”.  In them, there is comfort – joy even – why? Because we know, from God’s Word, about Jesus’ sufferings – what they were.  His life and death of sorrow and pain was one of service – perfect service under/to God’s will; perfect service that blesses you and me; service in suffering so perfect it’s complete. Jesus conquered death and rose to life and finally, he ascended from this world of suffering into an eternal life of glory.    

In fact, Peter says that’s the purpose of our “in Christ” sufferings – “so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” He means that suffering now in service to God will finally bring us to stand before Christ on that last day when all the glory his suffering won is shown to be true. And then to have so much joy we overflow with it. Because, as St. John said, “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him…” (1 Jn 3:2) Peter calls us to rejoice in suffering because we are connected to Jesus and Jesus’ suffering for God’s glorious will ended with glory for him that we’ll one day see – glory that we’ll also be.

There’s the promise – the purpose – but this is the problem: your life doesn’t look that glory yet.  Your lives probably look more like pain, at least part of the time. More, as Christians we live, as Jesus said in the gospel, under the cross – carrying it, following him – which can bring pains. To help us to rejoice in these pains and to look with longing to that day when we’ll be overjoyed in glory, Peter was actually specific about what our pains are.  He said he didn’t want the “painful trials” of life to take us by surprise.  

That “trial” or “test” is that picture of metal being purified by fire – really, really hot fire. You’ve felt it burning before – when the world ridicules and insults you for your faith – that what you believe couldn’t possibly be and how close-minded you are for believing it. When you struggle to choose and do what is God-pleasing – sometimes not knowing the best way; sometimes tempted to terrible things. When family members don’t understand the gospel and what it means; friends or coworkers treat you sometimes like an unwelcome houseguest because you conduct your life according to a different standard. All of it, simply because you carry Christ on your heart – painful, burning trial.

This testing is like this… Metals are purified by fire, freed of the stuff you don’t want, molded and shaped into something great – like a wedding ring, or a key.  When Peter calls our sufferings trials he’s saying that God tests us by fire like this, to shape us into people who rely on his glory. God uses them to burn away our trust in the glorious things around us or the glory of our own working or our own powers and to put our hope in the glory Jesus won. And in that way, Peter says you can be ready to rejoice: God’s glory rests on you right now through his Spirit. 

That was the confidence of Isaiah of old – in trials he said this morning, “the Sovereign Lord helps me…He who vindicates me is near.” (50:7-8) God’s Spirit is present with you, planting Jesus’ vindicating work in your heart so that you do not fear shame or disgrace or scorn or pain. Through his Word, through the gift of Baptism, through the forgiveness of Communion, he’s connected himself to you and you to Jesus’ glory. In fact, how God speaks about his Son, he speaks about you – Peter called you, his readers in v.12 not just “dear friends” but actually “beloved” – ones loved by God in his forgiving grace and merciful love. And in v.14, those insulted because of Christ’s name are actually “blessed” – ones who enjoy God’s gifts, finally into heaven. 

No matter how things look, no matter the trial or difficulty, this is how God calls us and what’s true. And this is how Peter urges us to Rejoice as Blessed. We may be mocked and ridiculed for Jesus, but our lives are covered by God’s love and accompanied by his blessing – are really attached to the glory Christ won and we will have.  Knowing that end, we’re overjoyed because we’re blessed with forgiveness and hope and love in Christ. We show that blessed joy in one way, lifelong. And it helps us put suffering into the proper perspective. In it and sometimes through it, we praise as Christians.

As Christians, you bear the name of Christ in everything you do in a world that doesn’t know or love him. And, if not openly, at the very least you know it inside. The difficulty is, though God looks at life in the long view, from the end, we’re still living the work-in-progress. And that can put is often in the middle of the tug of war between two concepts Peter mentioned: praise and shame. In all the scenarios we mentioned before, it’s hard, isn’t it, to make that choice, to give praise, and not to be shamed?  It’s difficult sometimes to bear the world’s hatred for God’s will or its disgust for the same – even more when it’s personal in those you know or personal in what you have to choose. It wears on you. Floating nearby is always the temptation to be overpowered by sin. Maybe to do that from which Peter steers us away: to give in to sin and to have to be punished for it publicly – be the murderer or the thief or the criminal or the meddler – to get our way, to save face, to find glory. But he reminds: that’s not suffering for God. In those things is no witness to higher glory, no praise. Even in Christian suffering, for Christ, we can be tempted to take the “no glory/ no witness” stance. Take the name of Jesus and hide it away, because fear and shame and surprise took over – it looked like Jesus would cause too much suffering in this situation or that one. If it’s shameful to me, I won’t do it – “no glory/no witness”. But from God’s point of view, that stance is really “no witness/ no glory”. 

God’s judgment comes against sins like those.  Those who step away from the gospel of God and who deny Christ and suffering in his name – their end is punishment deserved.  For lives that have been overpowered by this kind of sometimes selfish fear, we must turn in repentance to God.  To remember again that we are his “beloved” family. 

Hear Peter’s words again and listen carefully, “[P]raise God that you bear that name. 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?”  Perhaps for fear of God’s judgment you turn from sins. Most often I’d guess it’s because you recall who you are – beloved. You welcome judgment because you know where you stand. Jesus’ suffering made the judgment about you once for all – by faith in Christ you are “not guilty”.  In the sight of God, you’re forgiven of every sin because the name of Jesus is on you.  He brought us into the household though we were strangers, to be family.  And from there, in suffering or not, the only thing to do is to praise him for that salvation. Whether in witness and admonition and rebuke; in deeds of joy and praise that don’t seem to fit with suffering – you say just what Christ’s name means to you every day; and what it can mean for everybody else who is just like you.

In fact, Peter wraps up this whole section just like that. So that we’re not caught off guard this morning, he reminds us how it is: 

  1. We’re blessed in Christ to be connected to glory everlasting and far surpassing and when we suffer in his name, we can rejoice… 
  2. And our joy comes out… As Christian people, we praise God before the world because we’ve been judged as his very own already and we want many more to be blessed the same. 

And that could seem very complicated. Like trying to keep your house always ready for guests – constant cleaning, continual maintenance, perfect preparation. Or it could be very simple like v.19. We who suffer in a sinful world because of faith in Christ and because of following the will of God? We who are blessed with Christ’s glory and want to praise God’s name specifically as Christ-people? As one translation put it, “So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.” or like ours said, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” The primary action is trust, everything else is doing good…

Let’s do that, entrust ourselves to our faithful God, knowing his love in Christ for us, and together do whatever is good and pleasing to him so that we bring glory to his name until that day when he brings the glory of his name to us and receives us as guests, ones who’ll stay in his house forevermore. Amen.

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