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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

23-06-24 - THE BULLETS ARE REAL - 1Peter 4:22-19

MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG

FROM BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC.


Let us pray, If you are visiting the blog I invite you to pray with me, God the Father hears our prayer, we humbly cry before your word to say "Whatever you ask for in prayer, believing, you will receive" (Matt: 21 -22) we are asking for healing for our dear members of our family and also dear friends who are suffering with illnesses in their lives fighting and suffering under a lot of pain, we are asking for a miracle for each of them, You know them by name (Gaby, Vicky, Nancy, Tere, Liz , Stevie, Les, Miguel, Socrates, Kate, Sara's mom) as your precious children, strengthen their faith in you with a miracle in their lives oh Father God hear our prayer, and we also pray for all the people around the world who are suffering with wars, devastation, hunger, pain and sadness we ask you beloved Father God to strengthen their faith in you we know that you love them so much oh Father God hear our prayer, we ask you in the name of Our Lord of Lords and King of Kings you beloved son Jesus Christ. AMEN!


In your mind’s eye, come with me for a minute.  You’re not sure how you got here but at the moment, that’s not your concern.  What is your concern is the surgical green standing beside you.  The anaesthetic still to take effect, you hear the surgeon’s, This is going to be a tough one and then the attendants not too comforting, I’ve never seen this before. Completely new to me.   


Despite your haze, you want to climb off the table or at least, drift into unconsciousness but you don’t. Instead you hear the whirl of the saws and see the glint of the scalpels.  Moving about this picture, apparitions of men and women, identities hidden behind masks and gowns.  


Your mind screaming, ‘No saws and blades. Out of here.’  But your body not able to do what your mind is telling you to do.  


How did it go from a quick, 5 minute doctor’s office consult to this?  Not a word about saws and cutters.  Not a word about how deep blades would cut.  Nothing about how much would be removed or how unattractive future scars might be.  And with your last, ‘Not right!, unconsciousness finally puts all protests to sleep.


It strikes me that in many ways, this experience isn’t much different from how many Christians embrace what Peter puts before us this morning.  That for whatever reason, we’ve heard and laid hold of all the good post-surgical things that await - a return to the slopes or renewing travel brochure subscriptions while turning a deaf ear to the things that may need to come first, before stepping out in our new improved identity.


Ignoring things like surgical incisions and chest compressions or disregarding body blows that sometimes do come.  So too, as Christians we often gloss over what we’re told about times of opposition and suffering.  


:12 tells us that for some, following Christ will involve fiery trials. The word used is pýrōsis – from which we get the word pyromaniac.  Some hearing Peter know that to be literally true as we are reminded that for 9 straight days, fire has swept through Rome, destroying almost everything. The chief suspect? Nero who wants to rebuild Rome but his plans have been denied by the Senate.  One report said that Nero “stood … and watched gleefully as the city burned to the ground. In fact ...he was charmed by the loveliness of the flames.”


In order to quell rising anger, Nero blames the Christians. This wasn’t hard because some already thought them to be cannibals eat my body, drink my blood and, who divided families because they refused to participate in immoral practices of the religious feasts or bow to Caesar as god. 


So Nero’s assault on Christians was in full force - crucifixion, being sown in animal skins to be attacked by predatory animals and pitched as human torches to light Nero’s events.  Unimaginably barbaric - fiery trials of the worst kind.


So that’s the backdrop as Peter writes.  Now as applied to us, I don’t think Peter is suggesting that this level of fiery trial is what we should expect. But what it does speak to is that following Christ is not simply another convenient and acceptable belief.  Just one choice among many. Nor is it a ‘Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise’ portrayal some would have us believe as, ‘all good, all happy’ Christian faith.


It's a good thing those espousing this ‘all is happy’ belief, didn’t have a ‘face to face’ with Peter because it’s likely they would come away from the encounter missing far more than an ear.  Instead he warns in :12, BELOVED, DO NOT BE SURPRISED at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 


The point is that as followers of Jesus we have been called into a battle, a battle in which there is no classification for conscientious objectors.  But as said, often our portrayal of following Christ is one that has papered over war-ready ‘recruiting’ posters with attractive murals extolling door-opening education possibilities and exotic destinations to be visited.


So when battle comes, we are like the soldier, new to the battlefield who goes to his Commanding officer, bags packed, gun cartridge disarmed and resignation papers in hand,  ‘Sir,I didn’t sign up for this.  This fiery trial thing – I’m not on board.  They’re using real bullets and people around me are going down.  No one told me that ‘lifelong friends’ are just little while friends with a short expiry date.


And the Commander’s response?  some rather colourful, unprintable words that in short says, get your butt in gear and get back into action.   


It’s what Peter is saying when he writes, ‘Don’t be surprised’ yet our Commander does not tell us this with rebuke or demand but with love, assuring that the life we’re called to hasn’t been given with deceit.  It doesn’t promise that our Christian life will always be happy and blessed.  There will be difficulty.  There could be suffering.  People will attack what we believe.  Some will insult.  Ahead? - there will be a life of great joy and no pain but until then, there will be struggle.  


To make sure we get this, Peter writes about suffering 21 times in this letter so, contrary to what many have come to believe, these things are, “not strange” and should be expected. That means suffering is not a sign that God has abandoned us.  It is not confirmation we are unloved.  Instead, it is a sign that we are in a spiritual battle that most often appears in human face.


That said and with the clear understanding that Peter doesn’t say what I’m about to say, I think, in a sense, there are VERY understandable reasons why we should be surprised.  And it is simply this – deep in our hearts, we know that we weren’t made for suffering and insult.  That pain isn’t a world of God’s design.  That contribution given us by the enemy, not God.  The truth is the images of pristine beaches, radiant sunsets and creation at play is exactly what we were made for – where death cannot come and pain cannot live.  A world on the other side of the battlefield.  


So when suffering does come - it IS discordant because it strikes at the core of things that should not be. 


Understand, when you and I gave our lives over to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, we stepped onto a heavenly battlefield, a Kingdom battleground for authority where the enemy is doing everything in his power to overthrow God’s plan.  Our problem is that the battlefield is usually unmarked and other than periodic appearances of atrocities like what we saw in Israel, it’s not centralized in one location.  So the spiritual battle goes unrecognized when discord and offense breaks out in our workplace, in our homes, in our churches.  They are just ‘issues’ or deeply held disagreements rather than Kingdom battles with Kingdom consequences.  But they are.


This reality of a spiritual battle is also why some of you here this morning are battling whether you will give your life over to Christ.  At its root, it’s a war over who will have your life, a battle of authority. And that’s a problem because you don’t want anyone to have a voice of authority other than you. You - in charge of your life, depending on your good, thinking your well-lived life will be sufficient.  But your good will never be enough.  Deep down, you know that.  


But if you don’t, the Bible puts it in black and white terms, There is none righteous, no not one. Rom 3:10 And in this, God doesn’t place me alongside my standard, my goods against my wrongs.  Rather, He places me alongside His standard, His standard that is never distant from His love which cries out to us, ‘In Jesus, God’s standard is met’.  His love gift for all who will receive.


Peter centers us in that love even as he talks about suffering, as he says, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you :12.  Some of your translations will start with Dear friends but that expression is FAR weaker that what Peter says. No, he says, you are dearly loved, deeply loved – Beloved - a term he uses 8 veces in 1 & 2 Peter to ingrain in our minds , how much we are loved by God. (2:11,4:12. 2 Pet 1:7, 3:1,8, 14,15, 17).

The Bible’s use of this word expresses great intimacy.  It is the word God uses when He affirmed Jesus at His baptism, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”.  This is Peter throwing arms around his children under attack.  More than that, it is the picture of God calling us close – into the arms of our Father who assures – ‘I’m right here, right close.  Always looking, always affirming.  Proud.  Supportive.  Present, always for your best, even if you are knocked around, knocked down or feel, sometimes as you will, knocked senseless.’   Beloved, He knowing where this battle will go, how this battle will end.  With this, Peter redirects our focus,  


Rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed  :13. 


At first glance this is a disconnect, an oxymoron if you like - joy in suffering. C’mon really?  As far as I can tell, there is suffering in suffering.  But this paradox is the clear teaching of both Jesus (Mat 5:12) and the apostles.  Rejoice is the Greek verb chairō, "to be in a state of happiness and well-being, rejoice, be glad."   Choosing joy – not with eyes closed shut but with eyes wide open - seeing past what looms, to see around and beyond.  To see Christ.


Rejoicing because the colours you wear are His colours.  The trophy upon which your name is inscribed, is His trophy.  Rejoicing even in times of suffering.  Why?  Because God will use our  suffering for His good.  His purposes will be accomplished.


A parallel we can draw is Navy Seal training, so grueling, so intense that only the best make it through.  Only 6% of qualified applicants succeed.  Seems rather discriminatory.   I mean really, those not making the grade don’t even get participation ribbons? But the purpose of the training is for the mission ahead.  I’m certain the pain of training isn’t welcomed.  I’m sure many are tempted to opt out but they don’t because they know what awaits once training is done.  It is eyes fixed on the goal, that allows us to rejoice, despite the pain.  


For now struggle and suffering – but then the glory and reward after ‘Mission accomplished’.


James says, Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials  1:2


Great joy?  I admit, it’s easier to read, than to live.  Like most of you, it is hard to imagine how we might respond as the circumstances we face, intensify.  I can’t fathom what it would have been like to be one of the captives in the Congo who this last week were marched out by ISIS and decapitated because of their faith in Jesus.  I don’t know how I would have reacted as these emissaries of Satan challenged, “Deny your faith or die.”  Their actions were similar to Polycarp, a pastor and disciple of the Apostle John, many years before. 


These were the days when Christianity was spreading at an alarming rate for the Roman emperors, despite the tortures of fire, sword, and beasts.  It was in this context, this elderly man was brought before the proconsul to renounce his faith.  As Polycarp entered the place of execution, it is said there came a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and play the man.”  


Under interrogation, he refused to renounce his faith despite threats to throw him to the lions.  Angered, the proconsul continued, "I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts." 


Polycarp’s reply, You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly, cannot be quenched.  But why do you delay? Come, do what you will."

As soldiers took him to nail him to a stake, Polycarp responded: Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails."   


As Polycarp took his position, the proconsul gave one last opportunity to recant. “Reproach Christ and I will release you.”    Polycarp’s answer is among the most famous, ‘last words’ ever spoken, Eighty and six years have I served Him, and in nothing has He wronged me; how, then, shall I blaspheme my King, who has saved me?”


The order was given; the torch was applied and flames leapt upward. But to the astonishment of those watching, the flames curled upward and around the elderly martyr, leaving him in the middle of the flames. It was as if the flames refused to touch this servant of God. 


Finally the executioner was ordered to run the old man through with a sword, which he did. But upon this act, such a quantity of blood flowed out, that the fire was extinguished.

I’d like to think my response would at least be a shadow of his.  The truth is, at the time of my greatest need, it will be the power of the Holy Spirit that will enable me to stand, not my strength, my personal courage or my depth of faith.  When I choose to stand in His strength not my own, I understand what :14 speaks to this as it states, The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  This verse something of a mystery.  We know that as believers, God’s Spirit lives within.  Romans 8:11 tells us, The very spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us.  BUT this verse tells me that during times of opposition and suffering God presences Himself with us in an even greater way - that His Glory rests upon us.  Revealed through us as we, as:19 makes plain, live, “Entrusting our souls to a faithful Creator while we do good.”  


I would love to pass by THIS idea Peter is putting before us that in following Christ, there will be opposition; there will be suffering.  The simple truth is this, there will be times when we will be called to make a stand for our faith – that we are called to wear in the market place, at the school, in the office, on the job site - without others to support, the very same faith we wear on a Sunday when we gather with others of like mind and faith.   Let’s be honest – these times are tough.  Yet as Peter reminds, SUFFERING PURIFIES US as we live an audience before the King.  He stripping the impurities away.  Now for a little while if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ 1 Pet 1:6,7  a reveal of the glory that is His, a glory that will be ours. 


SUFFERING ALSO MAKES US DEPENDENT ON GOD.  Remember when Paul prays about his thorn in the flesh that he describes as a messenger of Satan that torments him.  We’re told that 3 times he pleads with God to remove this from him and God’s response, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG.   2 Cor 12:9, 10.


MY WEAKNESS – HIS VICTORIOUS STRENGTH.

Some years ago I had to make such a stand though not even close to the things just referenced.  I was new to this particular workplace, known by a few, unknown by most. In the background, my mother was dying of cancer in an ugly, life destroying way. And then news of a pending strike that would place me in another form of ugliness.  


At the time, strike action for our profession, which in the traditional sense wasn’t a union, was illegal and so hitting the street was against the law. For me that meant as a Christian, I wouldn’t be joining others, a decision I made known in a meeting of over 100 people only days before.   


Threats of violence for those crossing the line rumbled and so as I prepared for the next morning, I had no idea what awaited.  And then the phone call.  It was Coach phoning to tell me that in the morning he would be at my home to pick me up and that together, we would walk across the line.  He wasn’t going to stay but he would be present to do his best to ensure that I had safe passage.  And safe passage was exactly what I experienced.  Largely because of him, coming alongside just when needed.  A 6’ 2” 225 lb God gift.  The months ahead were difficult.  Some had things to say.  Most would close in ranks if I came into the room to eat lunch.  People would pick up and move away.  Few risked talking with me.  


Like I said, small scale in light of what we have just considered but it does reflect some of what Peter talks about in :14, but in those times making a decision for whom I lived.  Again, a very small version compared to what some of you may have or are, experiencing.  But as Peter reminds, as followers of Jesus Christ these are our marching orders - living out our faith, to stand so others will see in you and me a reality so powerful, so attractive, so real that they too will “Entrust their souls to their faithful Creator”  SO:


:14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 16 If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.  19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God are to entrust / commit their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.


One last observation, take a look at :19.  Commit is a banking term, the idea here is a deposit that is placed in God’s hands.  Which is to say, that your trust placed in Jesus – during tough places, sometimes uncertain, with no assurance your prayers will be answered as you want, will never go unrewarded.  Your investment, who suffer according to God's will, who trust in Him will be returned multifold.  


Tim Keller says it well, Jesus lost all his glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took that so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.” 




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