Living Trust, 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11, Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24, 2020
For the past six weeks we have been reading Peter’s amazing letter to the persecuted folk of Asia Minor. This morning, in the second verse of our reading, Peter once more says that suffering is a participation in the sufferings of Christ and there is great reward. He says that persecution will end. Yet a time of trial will be an occasion for God to do some really good things in our lives, it will be an opportunity to be living in trust, to show a living trust in Jesus Christ.
You know this reality too. Just as Jesus told the apostles that He wanted them to know suffering was in store for them so they would not fall away, Peter echoes this reality in a pastoral way, as if to say, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear”: “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.” (4:12).
When you are persecuted for following Jesus, when you are reviled, insulted, shunned, shut out, ridiculed, arrested, imprisoned, put to death, sifted as wheat by Satan through severe trials, do not be alarmed. There is no need to ask God why this is happening to you. There is no reason to be ashamed.
Fiery trials show us how weak and helpless we are. They reveal how utterly dependent we are on God’s grace and mercy, and how much we need the prayers of Jesus so that we may bear them. When we are in the midst of these trials, we are often driven more deeply into God’s Word and prayer. We yearn more for words of comfort and hope as we hear God’s Word and receive the body and blood of Jesus.
It is only then that we are able to live in trust, and rejoice in our sufferings. It is then, as we hear the voice of God speak to us just as clearly as Jesus spoke to the apostles, that we are reminded we are not alone through these trials. That gives us a whole new perspective. That gives us courage so that we can confess with assurance and joy that “If [we] are insulted for the name of Christ, [we] are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon [us]” (4:14).He has counted us worthy to suffer for His name!
Have you ever noticed that when someone goes charging into a burning house, and comes out with a helpless victim in their arms, they always make the five o’clock news. There was one such case where the rescuer was asked, “What crossed your mind when you heard the cry for help?” He answered, “I looked around to see if somebody else might answer it. Then I thought, you know this is not my problem! But then it dawned on me that if I didn’t go in there, I would never have been able to live with myself!”
Perhaps the quality most admired in a person is courage, especially when somebody’s life is in danger. Peter encourages the abused and threatened Christians to have courage, to be self-controlled and alert, to trust. He says, Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)
Such counsel is not new in the long and turbulent history of God’s people. Three times the Lord urges Joshua: “Be strong and courageous” as Moses’ successor begins to lead Israel. Our theme verse throughout this whole Covid Crisis has been Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
But with many of the Old Testament patriarchs the image of courage is marred by cowardice. Even Moses himself can’t find enough excuses to avoid a confrontation with Pharaoh. “O Lord, please send someone else to do it” (Exodus 4:13). Gideon obeys the command of the Lord to tear down the altar to Baal, but because he is afraid of his family and the men of the town he does it under the cover of darkness (Judges 6:27). Jeremiah begs off as well, “I do not know how to speak, I am only a child” (Jeremiah 1–6). That’s how he responds to God’s order that he prophesy.
Yet, a lack of trust, caused by a fear of being hurt or even killed is not limited to biblical figures. In one of the persecutions that engulfed the church during the first three centuries after Christ, the bishop of Carthage suddenly disappeared. And many said, “What kind of an example is that?” Others argued that a discreet general should keep himself away from the frontlines of battle. Seven years later, however, when another persecution arose; there he was. Perhaps the lesson is simply this: even those who usually display courage will, on occasion, lack trust in God.
While no concise definition for courage is given in the Bible, it could be called the “confidence and trust that God will see you through.” Back some 450 years before Christ, a Jew became Queen of Persia named Esther. Her marriage to King Xerxes could well have prevented the annihilation of the Jewish nation. Haman, the highest official in Persia, persuaded the king to destroy all of the Jews because, he claimed, they did not obey his laws. While anyone who approached the king without being summoned would be put to death, Esther decides to come to him in order to save her people. Trusting God, she courageously says, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
In the late 1700s a 14-year-old girl by the name of Marie Durant was told by the authorities to renounce her beliefs. She belonged to a Christian group called the Huguenots, a French nickname for Protestants. A very simple request was made, all she had to do was to say, I renounce. She refused. As a result she was imprisoned in a single room along with 30 other women. They remained there for 38 years, occasionally being asked to renounce. They not only said no, they carved a word in the wall: resist. Today tourists still stare at this word, shaking their heads as they hear this astonishing story.
In a day when religious beliefs are so easily thrown aside if they are too inconvenient, such trust is often beyond comprehension. When we think about those women sitting in the same room day after day, week after week, year after year, knowing full well that nothing in the future will change, we are tempted to write them off as fanatics. But to them, to renounce was satanic, because to them, it would deny their Lord.
Each Lord’s Day is a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Christians live with the reality of our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil. But we also live in the reality that until Jesus returns for the judgment, we are “in the world” (John 17:11), bearing witness to the cross of Jesus and His resurrection so that others may also receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And because we bear Christ’s name, we share in His sufferings. We are attacked and harassed by the devil, who seeks to devour us. Therefore, we gather as the body of Christ in worship to hear our Savior’s word of forgiveness and strength, just as His apostles did. Word and Sacrament are the means by which we can resist the devil, standing firm in our faith.
We are powerless, having no control when others choose to insult us. At times, it feels as if there is no end in sight. We are powerless, but God is not. Therefore we can safely humble ourselves in living trust under the mighty hand of God. In His time, He will bring an end to all of this and exalt His elect. In the meantime, we can give attention to what we can do: cast our cares upon God in prayer, be watchful of our adversary the devil, and resist him. Then, with peaceful hearts, to know with all courage and trust that after we have suffered “a little while”, the God who has elected us will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.
On Calvary there was one man, brave enough to suffer and die. It was a “must” situation, for all of humanity faced eternal damnation, everlasting separation from the Creator because of sin. Satan used worthless people to lie about Jesus and falsely accuse Him, resulting in His crucifixion, but the reality is that no one took Jesus’ life. He laid down His life willingly to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. What Satan intended for destruction, Jesus used for our salvation. When Jesus breathed His last, our sin fully atoned, Satan thought Jesus would be buried and forgotten as some misfit. But the Lord of Life would not be contained. Having destroyed the curse of sin, Jesus burst forth from the tomb, swallowing up death and giving in its place everlasting life.
Whatever your burden, whatever your cross, whatever your suffering, even when it takes great courage and trust to get up in the morning and face another day: “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD” (Psalm 31:24). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Amen.