ed. note: The following is an unedited manuscript from a sermon preached at First Baptist Church of Marquette, MI at this year’s Good Friday Service, a wonderful celebration of the cross of Jesus in which five area churches gather together to sing and hear the Word preached. The selection of the text was an assignment given to me from my dear father, Pastor Randy Reed, to whom I am eternally grateful for the joys discovered in preparing this message, another in the endless list of ways in which I am indebted to him. -jr
Seeking Glory in the Suffering of the Cross
1 Peter 4:1
It’s always such a delight and joy, and really a high honor to be here with you, and to open the Word of God as we remember the momentous events concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior which happened this weekend some 1,988 years ago. Our text this evening is found in 1 Peter 4, and I want to invite you to turn there.
I want to speak to you this evening on the subject of “Seeking glory in the suffering of the cross.” You know, God is the ultimate multi-tasker, and when He acts, He often accomplishes a thousand things at one time. Never is that more true than in the cross, which is why we can come to the cross year after year and examine it from any number of different angles, and invariably find much richness and beauty. Two years ago we considered the stunning thought of the Lord Jesus drinking down the cup of God’s wrath against our sin, and last year we pondered the wonder of how the cross removes our guilt before God.
This evening we are going to look at the cross from a different angle. We are going to look at the cross not in terms of what Jesus did for me, but what Jesus accomplished for Himself, and then apply that to our own periods of suffering. There are two verses in Peter’s letter that give me the go-ahead to look at the cross in this way, the first in found in chapter 2:21 where Peter says “you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” Walk in the steps of Jesus. Jesus’ steps led him to the cross and into the grave. Follow those tracks.
The second green light Peter gives us to view the cross in terms of what Jesus accomplished for Himself, allowing us to apply His suffering to ourselves is in our text in chapter 4:1 “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose. Same purpose as what? The same purpose as Jesus had while suffering. What purpose did Jesus have while suffering? Well, He purposed to die for our sins, of course. But that’s not a purpose we can share with Him, is it? We don’t die for anyone’s sins. So if we are going to see the cross this evening as an example, chapter 2, or a purpose to imitate, chapter 4, we have to ask the question, “What did the cross mean to Jesus?”
So to that end, we’ll read the first 5 verses of chapter 4, then skip down to v.12 and read to the end of the chapter, pray, and dive in.
Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead…
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
My aim this evening is to put a weapon in your hand. Verse 1 of our text says “arm yourselves,” and that’s what I want to do this evening, is to arm you with the same purpose, or same mind, or same way of thinking, that Jesus was armed with as He suffered death on the cross. Suffering, and Peter has in mind here specifically suffering because one is a believer – this is unjust suffering in view – suffering is something then that we are to prepare ourselves, or arm ourselves for, and that weapon we arm ourselves with is a mindset, namely, the mindset Jesus had in His suffering. Peter says think about your suffering like Christ viewed His suffering.
Now I’m going to drive us into a bit of a theological ditch, and try to steer out of it, are you ready? Hang on, and listen carefully. Verse 1 takes a difficult turn when Peter says “arm yourselves also with the same purpose” that is arm yourself with the same purpose as Jesus had, “because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Now Peter says Jesus suffered in the flesh in the first part of the verse, and then he says the one who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. That’s tricky, right, because Jesus never ceased from sin, because He never started sinning. Suffering, we will see, has a purifying effect in one’s life; but that could hardly be said for Jesus, because he was already pure. So we have some work cut out for us if we want to grasp what Peter’s getting at.
I want to begin our journey to the foot of the cross this evening with some good stout Christology, that is, some truth about the person of the Lord Jesus. True and faithful Christianity has always understood the Bible to teach that Jesus Christ is and always has been fully God, and when He came to earth He became fully man without ceasing to be fully God. That’s pretty basic, and many of you learned that in 3rd and 4th grade Sunday School. But careful theologians have also been very careful to say that Jesus was not only fully God and fully man, two natures in one person, but that between His human and divine nature there was no mixture or confusion.
Here’s what that means: Jesus is God, and Jesus is man, and while these two natures are inseparable in Him, they also are never mixed together; they both exist in Christ without bleeding into each other. Here’s why that’s important: If one drop of the God-ness of Jesus bled into the man-ness of Jesus, Jesus wouldn’t really be a man, He’d be a superman; He wouldn’t really be human at all, would he? Imagine injecting yourself with the tiniest bit of the infinite nature of God – you wouldn’t really be a true human in the sense the rest of mankind is, would you? On the other hand, the humanity of Jesus never bled into the God-ness of Jesus, because at that point, He would cease to be God, and be instead a demi-god or a lesser form of God. So to be fully God and fully man, Jesus has to be both of those things at the same time, without confusing and mixing the two natures together. And there’s mysterious and dark ground in the details of what is called the hypostatic union, but it’s not all dark; Jesus is God, and Jesus is man, distinctly God and distinctly man, without mixture or confusion of His two natures.
Now that’s going to be the doctrinal foundation for making sense of what Peter is saying. If Peter is saying that Jesus suffered as an example, and if He’s going to say in v.13 that we “share the sufferings of Christ,” it means that the sufferings in mind are the sufferings of a man, that is, sufferings we could actually imitate, or sufferings we could share in. We couldn’t suffer the way Jesus suffered in His God-ness – we’d be obliterated by the cup of God’s wrath for sin if we tried to drink it down in three hours. An eternity in hell wouldn’t empty the cup of God’s wrath for myself, much less for you.
So when we look at Christ on the cross, we have to say this: There is an element of the cross that is entirely beyond anything I could ever do. I can’t pay for sin – I could die a thousand deaths and not pay for my smallest sin, not simply because the sin was so great, but because the one whom I sinned against is infinitely holy. Hell itself is populated with people suffering incredible pain and misery, and eternity itself is not long enough for them to pay for their sins. So when we stand at the foot of the cross, we see the God-ness of the Lord Jesus doing things only God can do. Only God can appease the wrath of God; only God can purchase redemption. If salvation could be accomplished by the sacrifice of a host of glorious angels, do not think for a moment that God wouldn’t have filled the universe with them, and spared His Son. Do not think for a moment that if the price of your sin could be bought with money, God wouldn’t have created galaxies of solid diamonds, and spared His Son. But ladies and gentlemen, the price for sin was so high, because the offense against an infinite, holy God was so great, that absolutely nothing less than the death of the Son of God Himself could atone for your sins and for mine. Do not think for a moment that there is, was, or ever will be, or ever could be, any thing or anyone other than Jesus Christ Himself hanging on that cross that would absorm the wrath of God against you and me. Jesus Christ is God, and when we look at the cross, we say, “God is taking care of sin by pouring out His wrath on His Divine Son.” The cross is an inter-trinitarian mystery of epic and eternal proportions, and if Jesus is not God, we are dead in our sins and the fires of hell will be our eternal home. Thank God for the Deity of Christ – it is a doctrine you will die without, but with it, you may live, and that abundantly, for all eternity.
But when we look at the cross, we also say this: This is a man up on that cross. A man like myself. Drive nails through His hands, and He bleeds, just like me. If he is tortured for hours, he gets thirsty, just like I would. If I were heading to the cross, I’d be crying out in the garden, breaking into an awful sweat! So at least physically and humanly speaking, I could suffer like Jesus did. There were two other men on crosses right next to Jesus that day who physically endured just as much as He did. So part of Jesus’ suffering, the suffering of His humanity, can be emulated. Who could forget the dying words of Stephen, as the rocks began to break his body, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Where did he get those words? He took that straight from the cross of Christ. He died, in a very human sense, very much like Jesus died.
So there was a God-man on the cross. Not a superman, and not a sub-god. The cross contains the mystery of the holy Son of God becoming sin, and it contains the less than mysterious suffering of a man such as you and I.
And I think that’s how Peter is asking us to look at the cross. Look at Jesus who, v.1 says, suffered “in the flesh.” Jesus suffered as a man. Suffer, when you do, like him.
That gets us partway out of the hole of making sense of v.1. Now, about this ceasing to sin business. “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Jesus never sinned. Let’s get that set out up front. But as a man, he had the same desires we do. Satan’s initial temptation was a temptation to mix His natures and use His God-ness to feed his Man-ness, do you remember that? “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” And what made that temptation so powerful? He hadn’t eaten for almost six weeks. Jesus was tested in all points as we are, yet without sin. God is not tempted by sin, because sin is entirely opposed to His nature. But man, even a sinless man, like Adam, may be tempted by sin, mightn’t he?
Let me back up a little in the life of Jesus, because this will be helpful to us. Luke 2:52 says, referring to a young and growing Jesus, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Do you know Jesus wasn’t born knowing advanced trigonometry? Did you ever stop to think that there were boards that were too heavy for the young Jesus to carry? As God, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but as a man, Jesus increased in wisdom and stature. That means He became more wise, and taller, and stronger. He wasn’t superman. He was a man. And Jesus increased in favor with God and man, isn’t that amazing? God was more pleased with Jesus at age 12 than at age 8. So was Mary; so was Joseph. Why? How? Well, at age 12 Jesus had done more things to earn favor with God and man than he had at age 8. At age 18 He was wiser, stronger, and still more favorable yet in the eyes of God and man than He was at 12, and so on.
Hebrews 5:8 is an amazing verse, and if you don’t turn to it now, at least write it down so you can look at it later. The writer to Hebrews says this: “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect…” we’ll stop right there. Two important things we will notice in those verses. One, Jesus learned obedience, and that through suffering. Two, Jesus was made perfect.
Jesus learned obedience, without ever being disobedient. Does that even make sense? It does – in this respect: As Jesus grew, His responsibilities and the demands laid upon Him from the Father grew also. Have you ever wondered why Jesus died at age 33? Why not 18? or 6-1/2? And isn’t it interesting that we know practically nothing about Jesus’ life between Jesus’ birth and baptism save the one little incident in the temple at age 12? What was He doing all that time? Ignoring the speculations of gnostic gospels and Hollywood for a moment, apparently, He was growing up like pretty much every other boy, and when he got older, He was working – making money to care for His single mother and feed his younger siblings. As He grew, so did His responsibilities, and as His responsibilities grew, so also did His obedience to those responsibilities. God the Father never lays more upon us than we can handle; and the Father never demanded more of the man Jesus than He, in His humanity, could handle.
And when those final hours before the cross arrived, and the Father would ask the Son to suffer the death of a cross, it seemed almost as if He would literally die at the thought of it – the blood vessels burst under the strain, and the blood poured out mingled with the sweat of His agony – if the trauma was that great after 33 years of growing in obedience and being perfected by suffering, what must it have done to Him had the Father demanded it age 16? Jesus learned obedience, and He learned it through suffering. He learned it through the simple suffering of being a peasant boy, He learned it through the suffering of being called a child of fornication, He learned it through the suffering of losing his adopted father and all the anxiety and uncertainty that would accompany such a tragedy, he learned obedience through being sent into the wilderness and exposed to the raw temptation of the devil while he was hungry, while he was weary, while the angels that would minister to him were held back, while the entire world was paraded in front of him and offered to him, and he must have not only fought with the devil, but fought the very human urgings of his flesh to eat, and to be known and loved, and you’ve never suffered if you’ve never gone through the labor of saying “no” to your strongest desires. He learned it through the suffering of being misunderstood, of being envied and hated, of being slandered, of being rejected, he learned obedience through suffering when his dear cousin John was beheaded, He learned obedience through the suffering that was so much a part of His life from beginning to end that He would be called “the Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
Jesus’ human obedience to the Father grew in every moment of suffering, and as the sufferings intensified, His obedience intensified also, until, to use the phrase from Hebrews, Jesus had “been made perfect.” Jesus became perfect without ever being imperfect; as He learned obedience, his perfection grew and was tested and was found to be complete.
When Peter says “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” here’s what that means as it relates to Jesus: Jesus conquered sin. Not just as God conquering sin for you and me; He conquered sin as a man. He said to sin and to Satan “no, no, no, a thousand times no, it doesn’t matter how much I gain from saying yes or how much I lose from saying no, I will not sin.” We read that after Jesus’ temptation, the devil left him “for a little while.” You can be sure he was back often throughout Jesus’ ministry, and back in full force, even in Jesus’ own friend Judas, when He died. And as Jesus agonized in the garden He prayed “Abba, Father, if it is possible, remove this cup from me,” and in those words you hear the voice of a man who really, really, doesn’t want to do what he’s being asked to do, if there’s any possible way He can avoid it, and the angst and the trauma literally began to tear Jesus’ body apart in that moment, and in that moment your eternity and mine hung in the balance, I’m not sure we appreciate the dramatic nature of that scene, and Jesus said, “Not my will; Yours be done.” That, my friends, is ceasing from sin. Having said “no” one last time, it seems sin had no more power over him.
A half hour later, he’s being arrested, and says in effect, “Peter, I could call for 12 legions of angels. My father would send them.” But he doesn’t – He could say to the soldiers, “You’re all going to be known forever as the ones who killed the Son of God, and you will rot in hell for this, because I will put you there myself!” but He doesn’t. And you don’t get the same sense of drama in those moments, like “is he going to call the angels? Is he going to try to pull rank on the soldiers?” No – he’s like a lamb led to slaughter, and a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. The suffering had done its perfecting work; sin, the sinful temptation to disobey His father and save His own skin, it seems, ceased.
But there’s more here, and there’s more to our text. “Arm yourselves with the same purpose.” When Peter says “arm yourself,” he’s referring to preparing some sort of weapon with which to fight a battle. If suffering is the battle, what then is the weapon with which we fight? The weapon is a mindset, right? “Arm yourselves with the same purpose,” “the same mind,” “the same way of thinking.” Whatever this mindset is, it is what brought Jesus through suffering, and it will bring us through suffering pure, rather than being destroyed by it.
What was the mindset that brought Jesus through suffering? Most of us might think it’s just a grit-your-teeth determination to do what’s right. I have heard very dear and very well-meaning men of God say bluntly and with great dramatic effect, “Don’t sin,” as if the command itself was enough. Sin is bad – don’t do it. Just say no.
That’s all well and good, so far as it goes, but I want to suggest this evening that’s not the mindset that Jesus armed himself with. “Don’t sin” is a weapon of sorts, but can I be honest as a man for a moment? When the suffering is hot, and the temptation to sin is increased by the suffering, “don’t sin” is about like arming yourself with a sharp stick when you need a machine gun. I want to give you the machine gun to arm yourself with. And I say this because Jesus Himself armed Himself with a weapon far stronger than just a ragged determination to obey the Father. And if, in the moment of suffering and the consequent temptation to sin, if Jesus makes use of a stronger weapon against sin, maybe we need this weapon too.
You’re in 1 Peter 4, turn back to chapter 1:10. “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” Something came after the suffering, do you see it? There are glories that follow out of the sufferings. Here’s an intriguing thought – as God, Jesus was already infinitely glorious in His deity. John says “we saw His glory.” That’s Divine glory. And Jesus never lost that glory, though it was for a time largely hidden, save a few brief glimpses, like Moses peeking at the glory of God in Exodus 34.
But, if you will, there was a glory that was given to Jesus that wasn’t already His as God, it was the glory given to Him as a man. When Jesus became the perfection of humanity, He was glorified by the Father in a manner fitting for the perfect and ultimate man.
In fact, here in 1:10 the glory of Jesus was something predicted in the Scriptures. Let me take a brief rabbit trail here. There’s an intriguing statement Jesus makes, you know it well, Jesus says in Matt 24:36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” In His humanity, Jesus didn’t know the time of His own return; it wasn’t recorded in the Bible, and the Father hadn’t revealed it to Him, so He just didn’t know. But even in His humanity Jesus could search the Scriptures and understand this great truth that the prophets understood: After obediently suffering, the Father gives great glory. Glory follows suffering. The timing in 1:10 was foggy. The suffering and the subsequent glory were crystal clear.
Now look at 1:21, “who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead, and gave Him glory…” After resurrection came glory. Now look at chapter 3:22, which sounds a great deal like the prelude to the Great Commission: “who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” Let me ask you something – when were the angels and authorities and powers subjected to Jesus? We might ask when were they not, right? Jesus is God, after all, and as such is never and never has been subject to any created being.
Except – Jesus was subject to His mother. Jesus was subject to His adopted father. Jesus paid His taxes. Jesus the man was subject to the same persons and institutions you and I have been and will be subject to all our lives.
This power, this authority must come from the Father – it is only His to give. I want to consider one more text with you, and that’s the familiar text of Philippians 2:8, which says, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus became a man, (which He wasn’t before) and as a man he became obedient with human obedience (which He of course hadn’t been before). The humanity of Jesus, and the human obedience of Jesus, that’s v.8. Now verse 9, and pay special attention to the first words: “For this reason (Wherefore, therefore) also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Why did the Father exalt Jesus and place Him above all things? Paul says it was because Jesus became a man and became obedient as a man. So Jesus possesses ultimate authority over all created things a) because He is God and infinite sovereign authority is part and parcel of His nature, but also b) because as a Man, the Father has handed him all the glorious reigning power of the universe. This world is ruled by God, but it is also ruled by a man – the Man Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the Name above every Name, and he is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and angels and principalities and powers are subject to Him, not just because that is His right as God, but because God the Father gave it to Him as a man. That throne was given to Him by the Father because He suffered obediently, and God has glorified him greatly.
Hebrews 12:1 says that Jesus suffered death, even the death on a cross “for the joy that was set before Him.” What joy was that? The joy of being the ruler of the universe – the joy of having angels and principalities made subject to Him – the joy of ruling His people for all eternity, people He is not ashamed to call his brothers, people with whom we will joyfully share his inheritance, which is everything, that’s the mindset Jesus went to the cross with. On the other side of this suffering because of His obedience of the Father is infinite glory, not just the glory of His deity, but the glory of an obedient, suffering man.
And that’s a weapon we can arm ourselves with. Go back now to 1 Peter 4, and v.13. “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” That phrase “at the revelation of His glory” means the end of all suffering. When Jesus shows up again in glory, our suffering stops immediately. Peter continues, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because, (get this now!) the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” For those who will suffer in obedience to the will of God, the Spirit of glory rests on you. In chapter 5:6, in context of our obedience to God in the way we relate to each other as believers, Peter says “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” why Peter, because it’s the right thing to do? That’s not what He says! Look at what he says: “that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Suffering in humble obedience to God leads to exaltation and glory!
For the human nature of Jesus, the other side of the cross was freedom from the pull of sin and infinite glory. For us, having been first redeemed by Christ, and regenerated by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit and justified by faith, the other side of our suffering is freedom from the pull of sin and amazingly intense glory; in 2 Cor. 4:17 Paul calls it an “eternal weight of glory.” Jesus prayed in John 17:22 that the Father would glorify us with the glory that He gave Jesus. I think the glory in view here is the glory that Jesus had coming to Him on the basis of His perfect life of obedience even in suffering. He’s speaking of the glory of a perfected human being, exalted by God for His faithfulness. So Jesus is praying this: “Father, I have glory coming to me because of my obedience as a man. Give it to Me. Don’t withhold it! And Father, for those precious ones who have taken up their cross and followed Me, I want You to give them the same glory You’re giving Me!”
I want you to see one more parallel and then we’ll move on and apply this more directly. In 2:21, Peter says Christ has suffered for us, leaving us an example, and then in v.22-23 lays out the way Jesus suffered – He committed no sin, no deceit in His mouth, while being reviled he did not revile in return, while suffering he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously.” Here’s what I think that means: Jesus knew it would be right for the Father to give Him that kind of glory. Jesus isn’t King of kings as a Man by the grace of God, no sir! He’s earned it, and it would be improper for the Father to withhold it from Him. The Father will judge the Son, not graciously, but righteously. This doesn’t mean that only mean negatively that the Father will punish the evil of those who caused Jesus to suffer unjustly, but positively, it means the Father is going to vindicate and exalt the righteous and sinless Jesus who was treated like and suffered as an evildoer. The glory the Father gives Him removes all doubt as to the true perfection of Jesus. Now jump ahead to 4:19 and see if this doesn’t sound similar: “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” This is almost mind-boggling. Jesus suffered with the mindset that the Father would judge Him rightly and glorify Him appropriately. We are to suffer with the same mind, the same purpose – the Creator is a faithful creator; do what is right, He will judge rightly, and I don’t think we’re out of line to add here, glorify us appropriately. In fact, 2:20 says “if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” Jesus found favor with God through patiently suffering; you and I, through patient, obedient suffering may find the same favor with the Father.
Let’s apply this. 4:1 again, last phrase: “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” If, by faith, we can grasp the weight of glory that comes from the hand of the Father to the faithful, we have a great motivation to live for the will of God no matter how much suffering that involves, and sometimes the will of God entails suffering, that’s explicit in 3:17. There is, I think, hardly more powerful deterrent against sin than the expectation of eternal glory for the one who suffers righteously. Peter makes a great point throughout this book that suffering as a result of sin or sinning in suffering earns no favor.
We sin for a very simple reason – we sin to be happy. Often we’ll commit sin to be happy for 5 lousy minutes – why is it so hard to say no to sinful passions to gain eternal glory? I’m not talking earning salvation here, that’s beyond us, I’m talking about gaining the glory by obedience to the Father in the same way that the man Christ Jesus gained glory. Sin offers pleasure, without fail. But that pleasure is short-term, pain-filled, conscience stirring, self-destructive, financially and socially costly, but the unsaved, and all too often believers too, run after them like they’re the hottest thing going!
Nuts to that! We’ve got eternal glory to win! Look at v.3 – “for the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles,” you already had plenty of time to try out all that stuff – sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries, been there done that – it didn’t gain you any lasting, permanent, eternal glory! Give it up! Put the bottle down, quit your carousing, quit chasing the Almighty Dollar; those things only last a brief moment, and chase after obedience to God which results in unimaginable and incorruptible glory.
Now if you do this, v.4, people are going to think you’re really weird. “They are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation.” You’re so odd! Why aren’t you coming with us? This doesn’t make any sense to the unbeliever, does it? They can’t see the glory on the other side; you can’t expect them to say no to sin for the sake of a glory they don’t believe in, can you? It ain’t going to happen. But Peter, and Jesus, can expect the people of God to say no to sin for the sake of eternal glory.
There’s more to v.4. Peter says “they malign you.” The King James says “they speak evil of you.” The Greek is literally “they blaspheme you.” When the world sees a child of God saying no to sin and chasing hard after obedience and glory, they will first be surprised, and second they will be angry. Anger then turns into violence, and just like that, you are in the fires of suffering.
Peter’s letter is written to people in the midst of intense suffering, specifically suffering for the cause of Christ. Most of here have probably not suffered greatly for the cause of the gospel, but none of us here are exempt from suffering, and here I’m not talking about the suffering that comes because you cheated on your wife and she left you, or you were stealing from your company and got fired, that’s another matter altogether. But life is full of suffering. The day before Valentine’s day my wife unexpectedly gave birth – to a lifeless 2-1/2” baby, we think it was a boy. And you know where our minds immediately run when we suffer? They immediately go here: “Why, Father? Is there a reason for all this pain? Is there some comfort to cling to that all these tears and all this heartache and all the unanswered questions will come together and I’ll say, ‘Yes! I see it now! The pain really was worth it!’” Suffering and pain is far more bearable if we can be assured that it will pay off in the end.
The mindset of Jesus says there is a reason for suffering. Suffering perfects obedience. Suffering can inoculate us from sin, v.1. But the great part is, suffering, in the end, leads to great, eternal glory.
I am no prophet, I couldn’t accurately predict when I’ll finally finish this sermon, but I’m at least a casual student of history and observer of culture, and it seems to me that as believers, we may have some suffering for the name of Christ in our future. Look at 2:12 with me, and see if Peter can’t help us analyze the situation we find ourselves in here in the USA in 2016. “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” Notice the phrase “the thing in which they slander you as evildoers,” or “when they speak against you as evildoers,” Peter is making a very helpful observation: There are times when the ethics of the Bible and the ethics of the world are diametrically opposed. There’s almost always a general agreement between the morality of the world and believers, because society needs some measure of morality to hold itself together, but there are seasons where the world and the Bible are on directly opposite sides of an issue.
Sometimes what the Bible says is evil the world says is good and should be celebrated, and what the world says is evil and should be despised, the Bible says is good and should be celebrated. And when that happens, those who do good according to the Bible are doing evil according to the world, and vice versa. I think that’s what Peter has in mind when he talks about being spoken of as evildoers. You see that happening even in our society. There are certain things that the Bible condemns as evil, but if you echo that sentiment, you are in fact calling evil what the world calls good. And when you and I, in the eyes of the world, act upon the Biblical ethic, we are doing evil in the world’s eyes. So if you believe and practice what the Bible says is good, you may be in fact spoken of as an evildoer. So what do we do? Notice what Peter doesn’t say: He doesn’t say, “Straighten out their ethics.” He says this: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles.” Over and over and over again in these five chapters he’s going to say, “when you’re suffering, don’t let it push you to sin; don’t be bringing trouble on yourself.”
Because Biblical and even worldly morality run roughly parallel, the idea here is that when you are walking in obedience to Christ, while some of your good will be spoken of as evil, generally speaking your good deeds will be evident. And here’s why he says that, look at the last line of 2:12, “they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” So – you may be viewed as a threat to the Roman government by refusing to say “Caesar is Lord,” and seen as unpatriotic or even treasonous, you still love your children; you care for your aging parents, you respect your employer, you treat your employees fairly, you pay your taxes, in other words, you might be called an evildoer, but someday those people who slander you as a wicked person will stand before God and say, “You know, it was pretty clear that this was a good person. And in that day when their own moral understanding is corrected by standing in God’s presence, they will say, “I was wrong – these Christians were right, and I should have seen it, because even in my warped sense of right and wrong, I could have and should have appreciated all the good things they did.”
Christians are already being slanderously called all sorts of things – we are called homophobes, haters, we are even told Jesus wouldn’t be a rotten bigot like we are. What do we do? Shovel our neighbor’s driveway; work an extra shift when the boss needs some help; visit those in the nursing home; minister to those in prison; the list goes on and on. Do what Christians have always done – be a valuable asset to your neighborhood and your community, despite what they call you. And someday, those who slander you will have to tell God they called you a wicked evildoer, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Let me take you back to the cross. Jesus only ever did good deeds. But He was slandered as an evildoer. The Jews pegged him for a blasphemer, the Romans for a troublemaker. The thieves on the cross were revolutionaries, and you can bet they were disappointed in Jesus – he could have done so much more to throw off the yoke of Rome and restore the glory of Israel, but he turned out, it seems, to be a fraud and a joke.
And so an entire nation was turned against him, and they plotted against him, and they killed him. And when He was on the cross, the people said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from there!” Wouldn’t you put an end to your own suffering if you could? But Jesus didn’t come down. He was the Son of God; He had 12 legions of angels at His command, He could show them! But he didn’t come down. The thieves began to join the mocking – if you’re all that, save yourself, and save us too!
But then there was a change in one of them – he spoke to the other, “don’t you fear God? We deserve this – he doesn’t. Jesus, remember me, when you come into paradise.” This man didn’t come to Jesus because Jesus proved himself powerful by coming off the cross and ending his suffering, he proved himself by unimpeachable character during suffering – this man doesn’t deserve the cross, yet he stays on it silently, but we are getting what we deserve!
The hour of Jesus’ death was fast approaching. The three hours of darkness has come and gone. Jesus shouts out, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachtani?” “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” Some thought He was calling for Elijah. Let’s just see if Elijah comes and takes him off the cross. If He is who He says He is, surely God will send someone to take Him off the cross. If God is so pleased with Him, surely He won’t allow Him to suffer. Beware of that logic, because it’s still with us, and it’s very very dangerous! They waited for Elijah, but he never came. And finally, Jesus uttered a loud cry, “It is finished!” and breathed his last. Mark says that when the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”
Jesus didn’t take Himself off the cross, and Elijah didn’t come take Him down, and suffering gave way to death, yet it was the dying breath of the Lord Jesus proved to that Roman soldier that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God. Jesus didn’t have to prove to the thief or the centurion that He was the Son of God a miraculous end of His suffering, He overpowered their objections in the way He suffered.
A few hours later, Jesus did come off the cross. A man named Joseph came and took him down. John says that Joseph was a secret follower of Jesus, because he was afraid of the Jews. I suppose it would have made the most sense that the death of Jesus would have frightened his followers and emboldened his enemies; after all, Jesus’ death only seemed to prove that He wasn’t who He said He was. But the Bible says that after Jesus died, Joseph “took courage,” and stepped out of the shadows and walked up to the cross, finally gaining the courage to identify with Christ at the exact moment you’d think this frightened man of weak faith would be overcome by his fear. Joseph found courage, not by Jesus taking Himself off the cross, not by Elijah coming to take him off the cross, but after Jesus died. And so, Joseph took the lifeless body of Jesus down with his own hands, no doubt getting blood all over his aristocratic clothing, and took him to his own tomb, and laid him there.
Three men – a thief on a cross, a soldier at the foot of the cross, and a cowardly aristocrat lurking in the shadows, all in heaven today, because they were gripped by the power of Jesus not coming off the cross, not ending his suffering, not threatening or reviling. He was called to suffer, and he suffered with perfected obedience, and His suffering brought His death, and with it, great glory!
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, the day I think is rapidly approaching when we too, like Jesus, will be deemed a threat to our culture, to our society, and to our nation. The day may be rapidly approaching and is already here when we will be slanderously called evildoers. There has been a change in the wind in our nation over the last decade; it runs deeper than politics, and it seems it is growing stronger than the laws which have been created to protect our religious freedoms. The days of suffering because of our obedience to the Father may be at hand. Take courage. Jesus has suffered in the flesh, but He now reigns in glory unspeakable. Arm yourself with the same purpose. Suffer well, and cease from sin. The day of visitation is coming. Let our friends, our neighbors, and those who call us evildoers glorify God in the day of judgment because they have seen our good works.
But we must suffer as Christ did – we must commit no sin, we must utter no threats, when reviled, we revile not again. We must continue to do good, we must continue to care for the orphans and the widows, we must serve each other selflessly. The fires of suffering will cause us, by the gracious design of the Father Himself, to cease from sin.
Historically speaking, suffering in obedience to Christ does two things. The first is that it shrinks the church. This part bothers me. 4:7 says judgment begins with the household of God. If our nation is under the judgment of God, know this: the church will fall under the heavy hand of God first. The judgment on the nation will come second. So the church shrinks. False believers run away; I wish there weren’t false believers in the church, but there are, and suffering will root them out in a hurry. Christians in word but not in deed will flee with incredible speed. But history tells us something else, just as the cross does – there is great evangelistic power in the suffering of a Christian. Three men came to Christ because he didn’t come off the cross. The blood shed by the people of God for the sake of the gospel is incredibly powerful. The blood shed by the people of God has been known for centuries as the seed from which the church grows. And so the church shrinks under the heavy hand of suffering, but then, in God’s time – it explodes. Suffering first, glory second.
Arm yourselves with the weapons of Christ for the days of suffering. Trust your soul, v.19, to a faithful Creator, and do what is right. May your obedience be perfected, and may you cease from sin, and when, on that great day, we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, we will bow before Him, thank Him for saving us, and wonder of wonders, He will glorify us with a great and eternal glory – tears will be wiped from our eyes, we will no longer groan, “This is going to be worth it, right?” We will enter into the joy of the Father and be glorified with the same glory that rests on our Beloved Savior, and we will say with the Psalmist in that great and eternal day, “It was good for me, that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes,” it was good that I suffered, that I might cease from sin – because the glory that is around me and upon me is 10,000 times 10,000 times greater that any pain, any tears, any shame, any slander I endured on the earth. It is greater than the pleasure from any drunken party, any carousing, any revelry, any pleasure the world had to offer. Praise be to the Lord Jesus who set the example for how and why we suffer! Now dear people, arm yourself with His same purpose. Go for the glory. Seek it in the suffering.