Dear friends, do not be surprised by the fiery trial that is happening among you to test you, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead rejoice whenever you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12,13 (EHV)
A prison chaplain was heard to tell inmates, “When the praises go up, the blessings come down.” To many, “blessings” mean good things happening in life.
It only makes sense to expect that a child of a rich and powerful parent will receive privileged treatment. This is certainly true if the child is greatly loved by the parent.
So, it should not be surprising to learn that some children of the heavenly Father expect to live a privileged life. When it doesn’t look like that is happening, they quickly question if the love of their Father is real. Or maybe, they have done something wrong and are being punished.
This is a common misunderstanding about the love of God for his people and how he cares for them as they live their lives on earth.
The apostle Peter was writing to people who were not experiencing what most would consider a privileged life. Just the opposite! They were undergoing severe suffering simply because they were God’s people.
History tells us of these days under the Roman emperor Nero. He blamed Christians for starting a massive fire that raged for nine days and destroyed 71% of the city of Rome.
There is evidence that he sent his own men to start the fire so that the city could be rebuilt to reflect his glorious image.
This started the first great persecution of Christians and reached all regions of the Roman Empire. Christians were hunted down, imprisoned, and often tortured and executed.
Reports came out that Nero had Christians dipped in tar, tied to posts along the road, and then lit on fire so he could drive his chariot down a lighted road at night.
Talk about fiery trials!
Those people had to wonder why their saving God was allowing this to happen. If he was the almighty One, and if he truly loved them, he surely would not allow something like this. Would he?
By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter tells them, “Yes!”—and it should not surprise them.
Nor should the trials and troubles in life surprise us. We might say, that’s what we signed up for when we accepted his invitation to follow him. Didn’t he make that clear when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)?
He did not say, “Pick up your basket of good times and easy life and follow me.” Just the opposite. “Pick up your cross” should tell us what to expect.
Even the most eager military recruiter would not promise a life of ease if a person signed up. There is such a thing as boot camp or basic training. There will be challenges. Both muscles and resolve will be tested. The end result? A better you. A person better able to face and overcome the threats that war will bring.
So it is in the army of Christ.
In fact, it is more than that. When we suffer for being followers of Jesus, as the first readers of Peter’s words did, we are actually sharing in the suffering of Christ.
That puts our trials and troubles in a completely different light. This results in getting something much better than a purple heart. This leads to a level of glory that we cannot even imagine now.
This puts us in the company of the heavenly angels. This enables us to one day bask in the glory of God.
Three disciples had a close encounter with that glory when they saw Jesus change his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. It was an awesome sight. Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here” (Matthew 17:4). He wanted to preserve the moment.
Later, John wrote, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Jesus has promised, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
First the cross. Then, the crown!
Lord Jesus, you suffered for our sake, and we praise you for that. You tell us to expect trouble in our life because we belong to you, and we thank you for that warning. Give us power from on high when we are faced with trials so that we might overcome and win the victory. Amen.
Points to ponder:
- What good can God be doing by having us endure trials in life?
- Should we expect that our lives may actually be threatened because of our faith?
- What would we tell the Christian who sees troubles as God’s punishment?
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Stillwater, Minnesota.
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