Praising God…Even in the Furnace!

// October 7th, 2019 // Sermons

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series 1 Peter Series

On April 5, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested… You can listen online or download it and listen later…Praising God…Even in the Furnace1…and imprisoned by the Gestapo for his resistance to the Nazi regime in Germany.  For several years he had spoken out against the Nazis, and eventually it caught up with him.
As he saw his country sliding into the abyss, he felt that he could not remain silent.  Two years later, only a few weeks from the end of World War II, he found himself in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, facing the death sentence.  On Sunday, April 8, he led a service for other prisoners, and shortly after the final prayer, the door opened and two civilians entered. “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us,” they said.  Everyone knew this meant the gallows.  The other men quickly said goodbye to him.
An English prisoner who survived the war describes the moment:  “He took me aside and said, ‘This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.’”  The next day he was hanged.  The SS doctor who witnessed his death called him brave, composed and devout to the very end.
“Through the half-open door I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer still in his prison clothes, kneeling in fervent prayer to the Lord his God.  The devotion and evident conviction of being heard that I saw in the prayer of this intensely captivating man moved me to the depths.”
What can make a man facing certain death be like that?  Where does that kind of find faith come from?  I suggest that he had discovered the “living hope” that goes beyond the grave.
Most of us have wondered why God would make His children go through trials.  It might be a critical illness, death of a loved one, loss of a job, the breakup of a marriage, trouble with your children, a season of depression, financial difficulties, or a time of intense persecution from others because of your faith.
In 1 Peter 1:6-7 we find an important perspective that we need to know.  It doesn’t answer every question about trials, trouble, and the sufferings of this life.  But it does provide a crucial framework for seeing the hand of God at work in the worst moments of life.
Notice two key words – first, the word “trials” at the end of v. 6.  This is the Greek word peirasmos – the KJV uses the English word “temptation”, whereas most other translations use the word “trials”.  Depending on the context, it can have a positive or negative connotation – when we face a test in school, we either pass or fail, just like in life.
God sends those tests so that what is in the heart will be revealed for all to see.  God may have sent it to test us, and Satan might use it as an occasion for temptation.  It all depends on how we respond to the test.
When trouble enters our lives…
• We can turn to God in prayer or we become bitter.
• We can become contemplative or we can complain.
• We can be tender and compassionate or harsh and cruel.
• We can learn to trust in God or rebel against Him.
• We can be courageous or we surrender to fear.
• We can choose to draw close to God or turn away from Him.
The same trial – but very different results.  It all depends on how we respond.
The 2nd word is in the first phrase of v. 6:  “In this you rejoice.”  The root of rejoice is joy – what is joy?  We know that joy and happiness are two different things. Happiness depends on circumstances – it depends on the emotions of the moment.  But joy is deeper and more profound because it comes from God.
When you think of it – Joy comes from satisfaction with God.  When we are satisfied with God, we will have joy even in the hardest moments of life.  G. K. Chesterton called joy “the gigantic secret of the Christian life.”  He wrote, “Joy is always at the center for the Christian; trials are at the periphery of life.”  Pastor Ray Pritchard wrote, “Joy is the ability to face reality—the good and bad, the happy and the sad, the positive and the negative, the best and the worst—because we are satisfied with God.”  With that kind of perspective, joy and trials belong together.  We need to see four important truths about the trials of life – from this text:
1) Trials are Short Term
The ESV reads, “…though now for a little while…”  Peter assures his readers that their trials are short term.  When you are “in the furnace” it can feel like forever.
In what sense can Peter say that our trials are for a little while?  For one, everything in this life is brief compared to eternity.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  If I tell you that so-and-so can hold his breath for a long time, I’m talking about maybe 2-3 minutes, at most.  When holding your breath, that is a long time.
Our trials may last for a few weeks, months or years, but compared to eternity, even the worst trials here are brief.  God doesn’t ask us to deny the harsh reality of our trials; He asks only that we take His perspective on our suffering and hardship.  Secondly,
2) Trials are Necessary
V. 6 in the NLT reads – “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.”  The Greek reads, “If necessary for a little while.”
Peter didn’t know how long they would suffer, but he knows that the suffering is necessary.  Whether for a long or short time, life has taught us that hard times come to every believer.  And, those hard times that come are all different.  And they come over and over again.
Even Christians are not exempt from trials.  Some have more, others less, but we all share in the “many trials” Peter talks about.  And, not only are they common to all, but they are necessary to help us grow spiritually.
For this reason, Martin Luther called adversity “the very best book in my library.”  George Whitefield said, “God puts burrs in our bed to keep us watchful and awake.”  Maybe that’s why you have trouble sleeping some nights.
We need to understand that those trials are proof that we belong to the Lord!  John Duncan wrote:  “If we have not got a cross, alas! We may conclude that we have not Christ, for it is the first of his gifts.” #3…
3) Trials Purify Us
This is the heart of what Peter wants to convey.  Look at v. 7 – the NLT is the most wordy – listen to how it reads:  “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
In most translations you find the phrase “so that” – if you make notes in your Bible, highlight that phrase – it is loaded with hope.  The words “so that” tell us that our trials have a purpose!  They are not mere random acts – not fate, not coincidence – they are purposeful.
There is no such thing as accidents for the children of God.  Everything happens for a reason, even if we find it hard to see the reason.  Our faith can survive the tough stuff if we know with confidence that there is a reason for this tough stuff.
Peter tells us that God sends trials in order to test and purify our faith. The phrase that reads “tested genuineness” in the ESV is “trial” in the KJV – the Greek word dokimos – which means to test something in order to prove that it will not fail.
Think of it like this – if Dodge were to put Ford and Chev trucks to a test, they would try to prove that they don’t pass the test.  But, their own trucks they would want to prove they passed the test.
The Greek word used means that God puts our faith to the test by allowing hard times to come, not to destroy us but to demonstrate that our faith is genuine – it passes the test.
Notice the contrast between faith and pure gold.  I read that it takes four tons of gold ore to produce one ounce of pure gold.  During the refining process, the gold ore is heated in a giant furnace until it liquefies – the dross or waste material is skimmed off, leaving only the pure gold.
When the goldsmith would be able to see his reflection in the gold, he knew he had pure gold. That is what God seeks to accomplish through our trials.  He puts us in the furnace to burn off greed, impatience, unkindness, anger, bitterness, hatred, lust, and selfishness.
For most of us, that’s a lifelong process.  But, after we have been tried, the image of Jesus is visible in us.  It is exciting to see that happen in people – after a period of hardship suddenly you the reflection of Christ.
God wants to prove our faith is genuine, and trials are the most reliable proof.  We can train ourselves to say the right things to sound spiritual, but what happens when life caves in around us – that proves what we truly believe!
And, whether you realize it or not, people are watching us – watching to see if what we believe will change the way we live.  They may not understand what we believe, but they watch us to see how we respond when hard times come.  And, the watching world is profoundly moved by a believer whose faith remains strong in times of trouble.  This is proof that our faith is real.
This is how it works:
• You lose money – your safety net – but you gain a devoted faith.
• You lose your health, but gain patient faith.
• You lose your job, but gain persevering faith.
• You lose a loved one, but gain a grieving, dependant faith.
• You lose your friends, but gain courageous faith.
God brings triumph out of trials, and lifts us from the valley of despair to mountaintop of great faith.  The tough stuff is the only to make strong saints.  #4…
4) Trials have Eternal Value
In v. 7, God sends trials to prove our faith is genuine so that it “may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed”.  Usually when we read words like praise, glory and honor, we connect them with Jesus Himself.  But Peter says we are the ones who gain praise, glory and honor – the Lord Himself puts His praise, glory and honor on us.
Because of our faithfulness during our trials in this life, we get to share in His praise, glory and honor.  Imagine the scene in heaven, when this will happen.  Jesus says, “Father, this is _____.  He suffered for my sake on earth, and he never denied my name.  He is one of my faithful ones.”
As the introduction is made, a great cheer rolls across the heavens from the gathered throng.  As all those who suffered much in this life, those who endured ridicule, hatred and martyrdom – as they are revealed one-by-one, they will be rewarded for their faithfulness.  Further, those who suffered sickness and pain with joy, those who lost their possessions but not their faith and those who walked a hard road on the earth but never gave up…they will be recognized and honored by the Lord.
When Jesus comes we will see what our trials in life have accomplished.  Those things that seemed useless and unfair will be seen as instruments of God’s grace.  Things we thought were hard and even cruel, we will discover were tempered by God’s mercy.  We will all realize that:
• When I thought I was alone – He was right there!
• When I had no faith left, He was faithful!
• He used my trials to develop my faith!
• He used my faith to encourage others!
Oh, our hindsight will be 20/20 – as we look back over our lives, we will see that nothing was wasted.  God knew what he was doing all along.
There are three thoughts about the troubles of life that I want to finish up with:
1. Accept the fact that trouble will come
After what Jesus went through for us, how can we ever say, “Why is this happening to me?”  It is better to face the trials of life understanding that suffering is part of God’s Spiritual Growth Class.
2. Trouble is meant to draw us closer to the Lord.
It may seem strange, but our troubles are a sign of God’s love.  If he did not love us, he would not discipline us.  C. S. Lewis wrote that God whispers to us in our pleasure but shouts to us in our pain.  Many times God speaks to us through our pain because we won’t listen to him any other way.
3. Don’t waste your trouble, use it!
Rom. 8:28 is a reminder that God can work “all things for our good” – for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  He intends to “prove” that our faith is genuine by the way we respond to our trials.
• Before our trials, our faith is unproved.
• After our trials, our faith is improved.
God is not looking for educated people, rich people, talented people or people this world says are beautiful.  God is looking for faithful disciples who having passed through the fiery trials, and now have a faith for all the world to see – a faith that is proven!
I know some of you are going through incredibly difficult things right now…what is God saying to you?
1) Remember, this is but a phase – it will not last forever.
2) It is needed for you to grow spiritually.
3) And, He sent it to help you, not to hurt you.
Nothing of eternal value will be taken from you while you are in the furnace.  The things that are taken from you will be those things you didn’t need anyway.
The Christian position is not:
Joy, then trials, orTrials, then joy, or
Joy or trials.
It is always joy and trials, at the same time, working together, mixed together.   That way we can have joy in our trials, joy beside our trials, joy during our trials, and sometimes, joy in spite of our trials.  For this reason, David wrote in Ps. 34:8 – after he had mentioned his fears and troubles, he wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
It’s a fact!  God’s mercies endure forever and are new every morning!   We are best able to discover this truth in the furnace.  Like the three Hebrew boys of Daniel 3, when we are cast into the furnace, we discover “the fourth man” is there with us – just when we need Him Jesus is there.
We need to get to the place where we can say:
 Whatever it takes, Lord, do your work in me.
 Whatever it takes to purify my heart, do your work in me.
 Whatever it takes to build my faith, do your work in me.
 Whatever it takes to make me like Jesus, do your work in me.
 If that means doing “time in the furnace”, do your work in me.
 If that means fiery trials today and tomorrow, do your work in me.
This is God’s call to all of us.  Embrace the cross that God is calling you to bear.  Stop resisting Him, stop complaining and stop blaming others.  Instead, open your heart and experience His joy.
Our Lord endured a fiery trial that goes beyond anything we will ever have to go through.  And, we have the privilege of joining together around a Memorial Celebration to help us remember what He endured for us.  On this 1st Sunday of the month, we will distribute and eat a piece of bread to remember that He gave His body to that fiery trial and He gained the victory.
And, we will drink from a cup, juice from the fruit of the vine that reminds us of His blood that was poured-out for the forgiveness of our sins.  He endured the ultimate fiery trial so that we would not have to go through it.

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