Sunday, November 08, 2009

Extreme Suffering

This sermon was preached on November 8, 2009

Extreme Suffering

Read: I Peter 4:12-19


T.S. I would like to suggest that Peter has four lessons for us.

  1. Suffering should comes as no surprise
    1. Peter starts out, “Beloved, do not be surprised ...

(Ill.) Do you knows how it feels to be at home, expecting a relaxing evening alone, and then someone comes to the door. You know them, but they certainly are not your closest friend. You are surprised – aren't quite ready to entertain. That is the kind of surprise that Peter is warning against.

  1. Beloved, do not surprised at the fiery trial that awaits you ...

(Ill.) As Jews, the readers of Peter's letter had known persecution. As Christians, they had also experienced persecution. But there was a new Roman emperor – a Roman emperor that was so full of himself, that even his friends began to desert him. Ultimately, he gained the reputation (though that may be all it is) of being cruel and vicious. The story goes that he would take Christians and tie them to poles and use their burning bodies as torches for his almost nightly orgies. How much of this is true, but the reputation that Nero had sets a tone that means a great deal of increased persecution for these early believers.

    1. Whether Peter had special insight into the fiery trial that the church would be facing, I don't know.
    1. But the fact that suffering comes, whether it be ordinary and expected or it be suffering to the extreme.
    1. Once Peter establishes that fact, he has three characteristics that he would expect to see in the lives of Christians who are faced with suffering.
  1. Suffering gives us opportunity to rejoice
    1. I can think of a lot of words that could be used to describe suffering – rejoicing is not one of those. But that is exactly the word that Peter uses:

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

    1. Why rejoice – because we are the body of Christ and we are going to suffer as the body of Christ.
    1. And when we suffer as the body of Christ, we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

(Ill.) When I was seminary I struggled with my call to ministry. I stumbled on two books the helped me to decide the process I was in, though it would take me almost 20 years to complete the ordination process. One of those books was written an autobiography by a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Clarence McCartney. Rev. McCartney tells of a series of pictures hanging in the Boston Library in a room known as Sergeant Hall, named after the artist who created all the pictures. At one end of the hall there is a picture of the Jews suffering in Israel under Pharaoh. Along the sides of the hall are pictures from the history of God's interaction with man. On the far side of the hall is a picture of the Trinity standing together in all the glory of the Godhead. But in front of the three members of the Trinity is a picture of Christ on the cross. At the foot of the cross Sergeant has placed a man and a woman, Adam and Eve, symbolic of all humanity. The artist allows us to see that Christ had identified with all humanity through his death. He suffered for us – as we join the body of Christ we can expect to suffer as He did for us.[1]

  1. Suffering prepares us God's blessing

(Ill.) Hudson Taylor was perhaps the most famous missionary to China. Historian Ruth Tucker comments that “No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematised plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.”[2] At one point while going through a very difficult period in his life, he wrote, “What circumstances could have rendered the Word of God sweeter and the presence of God so real, the help of God so precious?”[3]

    1. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” That is how Peter put it, but it can be found throughout scripture.
    1. The Psalmist writes, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50 ESV)
    1. In Isaiah we read, In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, 'Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.' Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord”  God heard Hezekiah's prayer. The illness resulted in blessing.
    1. Perhaps the best testimony comes from Paul. You will remember his words written to the Corinthians:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    1. Suffering can lead to blessing.
  1. Suffering allows us to trust God.
    1. Suffering and rejoicing, well, maybe; suffering and blessing, you might see the connection – but if I am suffering, how can I trust God?
    2. How am I to glorify God when I am hurting so much? How can I stand up for God, when all I feel is pain?
    3. But it would seem to me that if there never any suffering, why should I trust God?
(Appl.) As Sandra and I have learned over the last few years – whether it be our careers or our health – we continue to come back to three simple questions:
            1. What do I have to do? The best I can
            1. Who do I have to trust? God
            1. What else do I have to do? Nothing
    1. It seems to easy – whether there is stress in your life or if you are concerned about the life of the church.
    1. We can trust God – our suffering does allow us to trust God.



[1] C.  E. Macartney found in Tan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700  illustrations  : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and  quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX:  Bible Communications.

[2] Tucker,  Ruth quoted at

[3] Morgan,  R. J. (2000).

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