Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: 1 Peter 4:12-19
Lent Midweek 5 – March 25, 2020 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
(Please note that there will be no worship service at Immanuel on March 25. This sermon is provided for those who may wish to read or listen to the sermon that would have been preached that night in our Lenten series “Simon to Peter: Denier to Defender; Lessons from the 1st Letter of Peter).
What part does logic and human reason play in our Christian faith? Many would quickly answer that question and say that logic and human reason play no part in Christian faith and determining what Christian doctrine or teaching is. And there’s a lot of truth in that thought and that concern. For example we believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. Logic and human reason play no part at all in that belief. Logic and human reason, and science, say that a virgin birth is impossible. Or we believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Logic and human reason play no part at all in that belief. Again, logic and human reason, and science, say that the resurrection of the body is impossible.
But on the other hand God created us human beings with logic and human reason programmed into us. Sin has to a great extent corrupted our logic and human reason, but there’s also a very good and useful portion of that logic and reason remaining that is quite essential for us to live our lives.
In our Lenten devotion tonight the Apostle Peter makes a logical statement that is also theologically and biblically correct. It’s also a statement that ought to lead us to think very seriously about living faithful lives and depend on God for his mercy and forgiveness. He asks, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” In other words, “It’s hard enough for believers in Jesus to get to heaven. Just imagine the judgment then that’s going to come down on the unbeliever!
Tonight we consider Peter’s question
IF IT IS HARD FOR THE RIGHTEOUS TO BE SAVED . . . ?
Peter wrote this 1st Letter to Christians who were scattered in Gentile areas and were being severely persecuted. He addresses that issue with them. And his words may surprise us a little. If we think that Peter is going to tell these persecuted Christians how sorry he is for them and that it’s not fair that they’re being persecuted, we should probably think again.
First of all he says, “Don’t think that anything strange is happening to you.” Those might have been difficult words for these persecuted Christians to listen to. After all, persecution was difficult. They likely endured imprisonment, mistreatment, and some may have even been put to death. So shouldn’t they get special sympathy and recognition?
But Peter is really saying, “Don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Don’t be surprised. For Christians this is the new normal. If you’re going to be a Christian you’re going to be persecuted. That’s the way it is in the Roman Empire. That’s the way it’s going to be in this unbelieving world. And as a matter of fact, don’t be angry, don’t feel mistreated, ‘but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.’”
That’s quite a statement and admonition – rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ. First of all Jesus had warned his disciples often that if they followed him they would bear a cross and suffer just as he suffered. Peter understood this now by experience. In the book of Acts we’re told of an account where he and his fellow disciple John had been arrested for healing people and preaching in the name of Jesus. After they were rudely and falsely accused and ordered not to preach in Jesus’ name again they were released, and we’re told, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus].”
So Peter goes on to encourage his readers, “If you are insulted . . . , you are blessed, . . . If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” Honestly what Peter is encouraging in this admonition is against logic and human reason. There’s a lot of voices in the political, social, and educational world today, actually there’s a lot of voices everywhere today, that are bitterly opposed to Jesus Christ and anyone who follows his word.
Recently when President Trump appointed Vice-President Pence to head up the task force to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, there were those who falsely and sarcastically denounced the vice-president as incapable of such a responsibility. Anyone heading up such a task force would have to rely heavily on science to direct decisions, which is correct, by the way. However, the critics point was that a Bible-believing Christian like Mike Pence could not possibly incorporate the teachings of science into his ill-informed and foolish brain. In plain terms: Christians are incapable of using science to guide their decisions. Christians are ridiculously stupid.
Two-thousand years after Peter wrote the words of this letter he would still tell us the same thing today: “Don’t be surprised that there are people who despise Jesus and despise you for following him. And don’t be discouraged that you are not respected or even persecuted. Consider yourself blessed that you are disrespected like Jesus was. Praise God that you are associated with Jesus. And most important of all, just think about how overjoyed you’re going to be one day in heaven when you will be with Jesus victorious over all those who hated Jesus.
But then Peter turns very logical. God has allowed this persecution, this mistreatment, (he actually calls it judgment), to come down on the family of God, on Christians. God allows these kinds of trials to strengthen and purify his people. God allowed Jesus himself to face the temptations of Satan to strengthen him for his ministry. And Jesus ultimately faced physical suffering and death, but it meant our forgiveness and eternal salvation. God allows difficulties and persecution to challenge us so that we grow in our faith, give him glory, and become even stronger Christians.
Then Peter makes his logical point: “If [judgment] begins with us [Christians], what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter’s logic and reason ought to strike terror into the heart of every person who carelessly rejects Jesus and doesn’t worship him. Be sure to understand what he’s saying: If God allows some pretty terrible persecution, mistreatment, and, yes, judgment to come down on Christians, on his own people, just imagine the judgment that’s going to come down on those who are not his people, those who have rejected him, those who defy him, those who live godless lives and have godless beliefs!! It ought to frighten every human being into repentance.
Peter puts it another way, with different words: “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Do you think it’s hard to be saved? Do you think it’s hard to be a Christian? There are those who say that it’s easy to be saved because you don’t have to do anything to be saved. God has done everything to save us. That’s what it means to be saved by grace alone.
There’s an element of truth in what they say, but there’s far more to being a Christian and being saved than just saying God has done everything. When it comes to our justification, that God has declared us not guilty, that God has forgiven our sins, we certainly can say that God has done everything. It is entirely by grace that God has justified, forgiven, and saved us. As a matter of fact God chose us, justified us, and forgave us before time began, long before we could do anything.
But we’re saved by faith in God’s promise to forgive us and justify us for Jesus’ sake. And generally speaking we have a long time to live in this world by faith before we get to heaven. And the actual truth is that we need to make every effort to live as Christians in this world and to endure in our faith. We need to make every effort to avoid sin and faithfully live godly lives. In his 2nd Letter Peter urges his readers, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this [new heaven and new earth], make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with [God].”
God has indeed done everything to save us from our sins, but it’s very difficult to live and endure as a faithful Christian in this world. And that’s why Peter’s logic and reason asks, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” There’s a very clear warning in that logic and human reason from God to all people – first of all for Christians and then for those who disregard God and his gospel message. If you’re a Christian then with fear and trembling continue to believe and trust in Jesus. Make every effort to avoid sin and live a godly life. If you’re not a Christian the judgment that’s going to come down on you will be unimaginable. It would be better if you had not been born. You would be very wise to repent, and repent right now.
It’s no wonder then that Peter ends this section with these words, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” May God the Holy Spirit lead all of us to do that very thing! Amen.