Philip Casmer

Don’t Let Suffering Catch You by Surprise

by Philip Casmer on May 24th, 2020
I Peter 4:12-17

Having houseguests is a wonderful thing. When you know they’re coming, you do things to be 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: someone you don’t like, someone for whom you aren’t prepared, someone you don’t know how to handle. No, Peter wants to be sure that we Don’t Let Suffering Catch Us by Surprise.

And, to help us be ready, Peter offers some principles for “good-spiritual-housekeeping”: the first, to Rejoice as Blessed. Even for Christians, to say “rejoice in suffering” can seem hard advice to follow. Peter says there’s one great reason we can rejoice: we “participate in the sufferings of Christ”. By this time of the church year, we’ve walked in the footsteps of the Savior. We know, from God’s Word, about Jesus’ life and death of sorrow and pain. One thing causes us to rejoice to participate in Jesus’ sufferings: his suffering is complete. Jesus conquered death and rose to life and finally he ascended from this world of suffering into an eternal life of glory. If we participate in Jesus’ suffering because we’re Christians, then we know what kind of end we have too. You can see it in the first word Peter spoke today. Peter called us at the start: “dear friends”. But you’re more than “dear friends” to God. The word Peter used really describes you as “beloved” – loved by God. God’s special love is the kind that isn’t motivated by anything in us but only by God himself. His love is grace that forgives sins by the suffering of Jesus and promises eternal life. You and I can endure suffering; can even rejoice in it, because by faith we are connected to the grace of God in Jesus who has beaten suffering by winning glory and who promises the same to all who believe in him.

Coronavirus has been a fun reminder that your life isn’t glory yet, right? It’s been a trial… Peter said he didn’t want the “painful trials” of life to take us by surprise. Trials like this recent time and it’s temptations not to trust that God has it all well in hand. It’s a trial in the online comments of the guy who calls you fools for gathering here or when the world attaches deleterious effect to worshiping Jesus in person. Those divisions between you and family over God’s Word? Trials… The same when friends or coworkers who treat you sometimes like an unwelcome houseguest because you conduct your life according to a different standard.  All of it – painful trial – simply because you carry Christ on your heart.

Peter says, in the midst of all these, you can be ready to rejoice rather than be surprised. “You are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” It might seem inglorious, terrible, but God’s glory rests on you right now through his Spirit. He’s present with you wherever you go – because through his Word, through the gift of Baptism, through the forgiveness of Communion, he’s connected himself to you in faith. For all your failings, in all your trials, you bear the name of Jesus Christ – so you’re blessed. You have the same glory of God that Jesus has – an eternity in heaven, an eternity without suffering.

Peter calls us to Rejoice as Blessed – as the ones who struggle in the sinful world, but whose lives by Jesus’ work are a perfect, joyous, finished product. And we show our blessed joy in one way, lifelong that helps us put suffering into the proper perspective: 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. The difficulty is, though God looks at life in the long-view, perfected and planned to a glorious end, we’re still living the work-in-progress. And there’s a real pull between two concepts Peter mentioned: praise and shame. Isn’t it hard to make that choice, to give praise or to be shamed? Isn’t it difficult sometimes to hold on to the faith? It wears on you. Floating nearby is always the temptation to be overpowered by sin. Maybe to give in to sins, to be the murderer, the thief, the busybody, and to bring shame and suffering on ourselves that way… Peter clarifies – that’s not godly suffering; in that there’s no witness, no praise. But even in Christian suffering, for Christ, we can be tempted to take the “if no glory /  then no witness” stance. Take the name of Jesus and hide it away, because it looked like Jesus would cause too much suffering in this situation or that one. You became afraid or were surprised or just ashamed. 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, who deny Christ, who refuse to suffer in his name – their end is punishment deserved. For lives that have been full of fear and sometimes overpowered, we need to turn in repentance to God. And we can repent with confidence: we’re his 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?” You praise God and you welcome judgment, friends, because you know where you stand. 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 “obey his gospel”, to praise him for that salvation. In words of praise, with 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 everyday; and you show what it can mean for everybody else who is just like you – in need of the confidence being in God’s family gives.

I remember going to Grandma’s house occasionally. It was always clean there – especially the front room. It was a place for entertaining guests and it was always clean, just in case. Grandma didn’t want to be caught by surprise. Peter doesn’t want you to be either. He wants your spiritual house to be in order. Because you are different than the world by faith, and it will persecute you in many ways and you will suffer. Don’t Let Suffering Catch You by Surprise like some houseguest you’re not ready to entertain. You have everything you need in Jesus your Savior and therefore, no matter the circumstance, you have every reason to rejoice and praise.

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