Don’t Let Hard Times Surprise You

// May 24th, 2020 // Sermons

This entry is part 22 of 24 in the series 1 Peter Series

Good Morning – or… You can listen online or download it and listen later…Don’t Let Hard Times Surprise You      Or you could use this link to watch the whole service on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/uFroTe94sCI?t=6

if you happen to be watching this at a different time – Good Afternoon or Good Evening.  We are at a time in history when you can have church on your schedule, be that good or not good.  However, I’m glad you are watching and worshipping with others.

I was told that we even have had some folks from Germany watching – to you I say, “Guten Morgen”.  A few people from different places made contact with me this week, letting me know they are joining us.  Thank you.

Today we are going to complete our study in the 4th chapter of 1 Peter.  Next Sunday if Pentecost Sunday, so we will take a break from this series and look at Acts 2 – when our modern-day Pentecost had its beginning.  But today, let look at 1 Peter 4:12-19…I won’t read it now, but will read it bit by bit as we work our way through.  Again, before we look at these verses, let’s talk to the one who gave us these holy writings…

“Heavenly Father, this morning—and all of history—is about you.  Please help us worship you with undistracted hearts.  You know how our minds wander to the things we have before us, to present worries, and to thoughts of others and other things. 

Lord, for a few moments right now, help us put those thoughts away and focus on you and your glory.  Through the presence of your Spirit I would ask that you would cause our heart, soul, mind, and strength to exalt your Holy Name.

O Lord God, we pray for hospitals, nursing homes, and all other health care facilities – keep them safe and strong to be able to do the work that they have been trained to do.  We pray for medical researchers and those working on a vaccine, Lord help us to see that our faith must be more on you than on the vaccine. 

Lord, we pray for children and parents as some schools are opening; help children to be calm – protect them from the stuff they might hear as rumors; Lord, we pray for homes where relationships are fragile and innocent lives are vulnerable.  We pray for workers who are anxious about the safety of their workplaces and the security of their jobs.  And Lord, we pray for those that are in authority over us…may they have great wisdom from you.  And Lord, may your people be wise in determining their response to the relaunch. 

O Lord, be glorified through your word, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, while being interviewed by William F. Buckley, said: “As an old man, looking back on one’s life, it’s one of the things that strikes you most forcibly—that the only thing that’s teaches one anything is suffering.  Not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about … is suffering.”

You know, most of us don’t learn very much from good health, happy days, money in the bank, and good fortune.  We enjoy those things, but we don’t learn much from them.  It seems that we learn best when we are in the School of Hard Knocks that’s when we learn the lessons God has for us.

Peter has come back to this, again and again, in this letter.  Some Bible scholars consider this passage to be the summit of the whole book.  At v. 19 you have come to the pinnacle of his teaching on how to respond to suffering in a godly way.  V. 12-19 present us with four major lessons we need to know about hard times in the Christian life.

#I. Adversity Creates Character – v. 12

  1. 12 reads – “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” I like the simple way The Message reads, “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job.”

This is a message the Church today needs to hear.  It’s hard to be a true follower of Jesus – one of His modern-day disciples.  And Peter has been warning his readers that suffering is part of the Christian life.

As I said a few weeks ago – suffering and persecution, just because you live for Jesus is normal for many people in our world today.  Search “persecution.com” or “opendoors.com” and you will read story after story of the atrocities that are happening in parts of the world.

So, we need to see why Peter’s use of “dear friends” is so important.  The original phrase actually means “those who are deeply loved by God.”  Think about that next time you call someone a dear friend.  This is the key to everything Peter wants us to understand.

It’s like he’s saying: “God loves you deeply and profoundly.  Therefore, don’t be surprised when you suffer as a Christian.”  Love and suffering don’t fit well in most of our thinking.  Contemporary thought pushes to live the American Dream.  Peter would say, “Living for Christ with suffering, is the best life you can have.”

We don’t like to think that way.  We are surprised when trials come, how they come, and where they come from.  We think we don’t deserve them.

Last week, the Christian world mourned the passing of Ravi Zacharias –  a dear friend…yes, one who was deeply loved by God…and is missed as being a profound apologist and defender of the faith.  His cancer was diagnosed in March when he underwent back surgery and it progressed very quickly.  He was so settled in what he believed that it didn’t matter if he lived or died…he was with the Lord either way.

I read this week of another Christian man who was near the end with his cancer when he said, “Many people get cancer and they say, ‘Why me?’ I’ve never said that. Never felt that way. I’ve said, ‘Why not me?’ I’m so blessed; God has been so good to me. How could I ever complain about this? Why not me?”  What an amazing attitude in the face of adversity.

Chuck Swindoll says, “If…we view life as a schoolroom and God as the instructor, it should come as no surprise when we encounter pop quizzes and periodic examinations.  Maturity in the Christian life…is measured by our ability to withstand the tests that come our way without having them shake our foundation or throw us into an emotional tailspin.”  So true…secondly…

  1. Adversity Brings God Near – v. 13-14
  2. 13-14 – “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

There are 3 ways that God blesses us when we suffer for Him:

  1. We get to share in the suffering of our Lord Jesus.
  2. We get first-hand experience of God’s Holy Spirit poured into our lives.
  3. Finally, we know we will rejoice when we see Jesus.

People who are not true followers of Jesus don’t like the name of Jesus and don’t want to hear His name.  Occasionally I run into people who are okay with God but not with Jesus.  They hate Him, what He stands for and all He has done.

They typically don’t hate us – they hate Christ in us and want to persecute Christ in us.  Generally, the world doesn’t persecute a worldly Christian—only a godly one.

Did you notice the word “share” in v. 13?  This is the verb form of the Greek word koinonia – usually translated “fellowship.”  To most of us, “fellowship” implies a picnic or party at someone’s home.  But, in v. 13 Peter speaks of having “fellowship” in the sufferings of Jesus.  When we suffer, we are joining with Jesus in a way that nothing else can.

In order to get close to Christ we read the Bible, pray, worship, share our faith, give our money, listen to sermons, use our spiritual gifts, spend time with other believers, and so on.  But, even when we do those things, we may feel that we are still not as close as we would like.

Peter wants us to understand that nothing brings us closer to Christ than when we go through times of adversity.  It’s not that suffering in and of itself brings us to Christ; it’s what suffering does to us and in us.

When the hard things of life cause us to fall on our face, at some point if we truly know the Lord, we will lay aside our pride.  And then, in sheer desperation, we are able to cry out to God for help.

Most of us can relate to Footprints poem.  At first there are two sets of footprints—ours and the Lord’s.  And then, at some point there was only one set.  Remember, the poem says that when we asked God why He left us alone when we needed Him most, he says, “When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”  We only really grasp this once the trial is over.  God allows us to go through adversity so that we will be one with Him.

God always intends our hard times to move us from where we are to where Christ is.  Thirdly…

III. Adversity Should Lead Us To Self-Examination – v. 15-18

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Sometimes we bring trouble on ourselves.  And, I believe, God will bless those who don’t make excuses for their bad behavior.  That is the point Peter is making in v. 15.  If you do wrong, you should expect to suffer.

Peter identifies four kinds of wrongdoers.  The first three go together: murderers, thieves and criminals.  And then he says “or even as a meddler.”  That doesn’t seem to fit with the first three.

The word meddler means “one who gets involved in the affairs of others when he has no business being there.”  This person thinks they are a self-appointed overseer of the affairs of others.  They barge in where they are not wanted or needed – often making things worse.

If you suffer because you are a meddler, don’t complain.  People don’t take kindly to a busybody who constantly gets involved without being invited.

Yes, there are meddlers in every church, people who pass along information or write emails about things that don’t concern them.  We probably all know of people who like to talk and gossip about other people’s troubles because it makes them look a bit better.  I find it interesting that Peter puts meddling in the same list as murder – in a sense it is a form of character assassination.

Those four kinds of doing wrong are reasons why some people might suffer, but that kind of suffering is self-inflicted.  In v. 16, Peter adds, “but if you suffer as a Christian.”

Remember, when Peter is writing this letter, most of the Roman Empire was active in the cult of Caesar-worship.  But, as the gospel began to spread, the followers of Jesus were called Christ-followers – which was like an insult at that time.  However, the early believers would sooner die than say, “Caesar is Lord.”  This is why they were being persecuted.

The lines were drawn – it was either Caesar or Christ!

What if it comes down to this for us — either Christ or whatever?  What will you do?  What if you face threats because of your faith?  Peter’s answer is clear: “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.”

This was personal for Peter.  He had not forgotten the night Jesus was arrested.  He was warming himself by the fire when a young girl asked, “Weren’t you one of his disciples?”  Three times he had denied Christ and then the rooster crowed.  So Peter knew all about feeling shame – he never forgot the night he denied the Lord.

The word “ashamed” means “to dishonor.”  We should want to make sure we don’t do anything to dishonor the name of the Lord.  Instead, praise God that you are counted worthy to suffer for His nameIf Jesus places His cross on your back, don’t be ashamed to carry it!

  1. 17 says that it is time for judgment to begin at the house of God. God begins with His own family. Persecution makes us decide what we stand for and what we believe.  We may not like it very much, but God allows evildoers to turn up the heat on us, so that we are purified by our trials.  If you feel like you are “in the furnace” right now, this is not a feel-good passage.  But, take comfort in the fact that God is still in control.  We are saved by grace, and judged as God’s children.  God disciplines us to make us holy.

Our present time of living with Covid-19 is prime example.  I’m of the mind that God is using this time of uncertainty as a means of purifying His people – the Church.  He has allowed troubles and trials in the lives of Christians to help us loosen our grip on the love of this world and all it stands for.  I don’t know about you, but my longing for being in His presence has increased through this time.

  1. 18 uses the phrase “scarcely saved” – so many Christians are trying to live with one foot on either side of the line. By appearance it would seem that there are many who will be saved by the skin of their teeth. The reality – We are only saved by Jesus’ blood, encouraged by God’s Word, and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit – that if the only way we are able to survive the trials of life.  We suffer for a bit and then we enter glory.
  2. 18 asks a good question: “What will be the outcome for those who don’t obey the gospel of God?” The obvious answer – those who don’t obey are in big trouble. Peter said, “If it’s hard for believers to be saved, just think of what it will be like for those who don’t know the Lord.”

For those who don’t know the Lord, this world is the only heaven they will ever know.  When they die, they enter eternal torment.  What we see right now may seem like unbelievers have it made…but a day is coming when God’s patience will run out.

Ex. 34:7 says, [God] will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  When God’s patience runs out, no one will be able to accuse him of acting rashly.

2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, don’t presume on God’s patience.

Just so you know the death rate is the same for every nation and people of our world – it is 100%.  Every person must know that one day your life will come to an end and at that time your day of salvation will be finished.

Right now, God is holding back judgment so you can run to the cross and be saved.  But one day God’s patience will come to an end.  I beg you…turn from your sin and trust Christ now!

If you have been putting off this decision thinking, “I still have plenty of time,” please remember: The greater God’s patience with you, the greater will be your judgment in hell.  If you abuse God’s patience by refusing God’s grace, you will increase His wrath toward you in the judgment day.  Point #4…

  1. Adversity Helps Us to Trust God – v. 19

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Personal experience tells me that when you are in the middle of a conflict, it’s hard to get your bearings because you have a hard time identifying what you are really fighting.  As with most conflicts, there is guilt, ugly confrontations, bitter words and harsh accusations.  Friendships are broken that will never be fully repaired.

In v. 19, we need to see the phrase “according to God’s will.”  As Christians, it is easy to be more concerned about my will instead of praying for God’s will to be done, in my life, in the church and so on.

When the bullets are flying around you, all you can think about is, “Where can I find more ammunition?”  It is at such a time that we need to pray a simple prayer, “Lord, I’m tired and I just can’t fight any more.  I want your will in my life, whatever that means.”

When trouble comes—and sooner or later it does come into our lives – when it does, there is a lot of stuff we can’t do much about.  But, in v. 19, Peter tells us there is one thing we can do.

In the midst of our troubles, we can commit ourselves to our faithful Creator and His will for us.  The word “commit” is a banking term that means to make a deposit.  We need to tell the Lord, “I’ve been trying to do things on my own and they’ve only gotten worse.  Lord, would you take over now?  I want your will to be done my life.”  It’s like deciding to make a deposit of my life into the Bank of Heaven and tell the Lord that He can do whatever He wants to do.

Have you ever done that?

I imagine there are people listening right now, who find themselves in a tough and difficult place…you can’t see the way before you.  Let me tell you – that when your world craters around you, nothing is more important than surrendering yourself to Your Creator God – the One who loves you and promises to take care of you.

Instead of trying to figure out how to solve your problems on your own, you need to say, “Lord, I can’t do it; without you, I can’t change anything.  O Lord, I want Your will done in my life, whatever it takes, whatever it costs, no holding back.”  God hears that kind of prayer and our circumstances may not change, but He begins to change us from the inside-out.

Peter is teaching us that every trial that comes our way is under God’s control.  Nothing can touch us that does not first pass through the Father’s loving hands.

We will never be able to believe in the Sovereignty of God in the middle of our trials unless we also believe that He loves us with an everlasting love.  And we will never be convinced of God’s love unless we fix our full gaze on the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is at the cross that we see how the evil purposes of man are able to serve the eternal purposes of our Almighty God.  At the cross we can finally grasp how human suffering is connected to our eternal salvation.

So, fix your eyes on the cross, and when you do, your own troubles will come into proper focus.  What God did for Jesus, He will also do for you.  Without the cross, it makes no sense to try and rejoice in our suffering.

We need to hear everything Peter says in this passage:

  • We are loved by God.
  • Our suffering for Christ brings us closer to Him.
  • We must never be ashamed of Jesus.
  • God uses suffering to purify us.
  • We must commit our souls to God and continue to serve him.

Archbishop Leighton wrote, “Adversity is the diamond dust heaven polishes its jewels with.”  Have you trusted your life to Him?

Let’s pray…

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