Let us pray: Dear Savior, it’s easy to be either scared or discouraged by current events around the globe, especially when we see evil seemingly winning out and Christians being persecuted. Lord, to counteract that, keep our gaze fixed upon You. Prompt us to give all our worries and anxieties to You in prayer and to leave them in Your almighty hands. And also give us backbones to steel when it comes to resisting sin and confessing You. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SAVIOR WHO BEARS OUR BURDENS AND CARES OUR SORROWS
TEXT: I Peter 4: 12-17, 5: 6-11
Dearly Beloved by Christ:
IF PETER CAME BACK TODAY… I’ve been thinking about that lately. If St. Peter, that champion of religious truth amid suffering returned to planet earth, what would he think, say, and do? Well, our text gives us some direction. Let’s see what it says.
St. Peter wrote this epistle to Christians who were undergoing severe persecution for their faith. The Roman emperor Nero had initiated this persecution. The believers in Galatia and areas of modern Turkey bore the brunt of it. The dateline was around 65 AD. His opening words are insightful of what some of this persecution consisted of: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Most of those early persecutions consisted of extra fines and taxes, shutting down businesses and boycotting them, beatings by local toughs, jail time, and sometimes even death. Apparently that later was being employed in these areas with fire as the tool to kill off Christians. People were afraid. People wondered: “Where is God and His salvation and protection?”
The current pope recently highlighted the modern day persecution of Christians around the world in his trip to the holy land. The Vatican keeps track of these things and they report that 100,000 Christians are being killed each year for their faith around the world. The bulk of these murders occur in Muslim countries, hence the pope’s speech about them in the Middle East. So, if Peter came back today he would discover: nothing has changed.
We in America are not focused in on these persecutions because they are largely underreported. And yet, all of you suffer persecution in the form of being labeled a “proponent of hate speech” for speaking out against certain sins. Believers have lost businesses and been fined for not compromising their religious convictions—think of the Arizona case of a wedding photographer or the wedding cake baker who turned away gay wedding work and were fined. Any college student soon discovers that if they talk about Christian morality on campus, they are labeled, ostracized, and some suffer in class, too. Heathen professors love to pick on Christians, we are the modern equivalent of the medieval whipping boy. And the beat goes on and on.
To be sure, sometimes Christians don’t use common sense when around the mockers. It’s the old “don’t wave a red flag in front of the bull” syndrome. Peter addresses this here, too, when he says: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” In other words, don’t blame God if you do something wrong, use poor judgment, and bring the wrath of the authorities down on you. You did it to yourself.
That being said, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name….Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
If Peter came back today he’d also remind us that the answer to persecution is the same today as it was then. Namely, Jesus Christ! In fact, that’s exactly what he does right here: “Cast all your anxieties upon him because he cares for you.”
I recall many years ago the story of a little country church. It was situated in a superb location. There really wasn’t any competition for members from the farming community for miles around. It should have been thriving. Yet, it wasn’t. It stumbled along and barely hung on. Why? Well, it wasn’t the preacher, as they had many who came and left. It was the membership. They didn’t like new people or their ideas. And they made their will known early on whenever anyone new walked in. These folks were anxious about their survival, prayed about it, too, but they never wanted to change their attitudes. So, those new folks voted with their feet and always left.
The moral to the story is this: when we give our anxieties to the Lord in prayer, we also need to pray: “Thy will be done.” And we also need to adopt the loving, kind heart, the forgiving heart that He hands to us in faith and then show that loving attitude to the world. Yes, there are some persecutions that we bring upon ourselves because we think Christianity is all about my wants and desires instead of always putting Christ # 1.
We also need to be aware that the devil is always lurking and the moment we invite him into our life, he’ll pounce. So, as Peter says: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
Every church and every believer will always have to suffer scorn, mocking, nasty comments, and harsh words for trying to stand up for Christ. We live in “label world” and the labels others use for us are seldom positive. But, don’t let that get you down. Don’t give in and adopt their harsh, worldly mindset as you deal with each other. No, do what St. Paul tells us in Ephesians: “Speak the truth in love.” In love. Why? Because the devil has no defense against love…..
Jesus Christ proved that point by lovingly giving up His life for us on the cross and thereby, in love for us, beating back Satan. Peter knew this because he was there and saw it. He knew it because he was direct recipient of that love, that grace. And so now he concludes by reminding us about the amazing power of grace in the midst of any and all persecutions: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Folks, that is another of those promises of God. When you cling to Christ in humble faith and trust in the Lord instead of leaning on your own understanding, good things will come of it. And that is why Peter is in heaven today and his persecutors are not. Amen