The Rev. Paul J Cain
1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11
Under God’s Mighty Hand
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Exaudi, 08 May 2016
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
To those who are elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (Based on 1 Peter 1:1-3) Amen.
When bad things come our way, we feel like shouting, “Why me?” We’re surprised by trials and tribulations, tragedies and times that test our souls. But does it make sense to be so surprised when “bad things happen to good people”? Not if you read 1 Peter.
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. No, we shouldn’t be surprised. Christians live in a fallen, sin-tainted world. Trials come to test our faith in order to strengthen it. God allows such things for a purpose. He has a long-term heavenly purpose in mind, where He looks out for the salvation of His people. All things happen under God’s Mighty Hand. Yet, we’re usually surprised, aren’t we? No, something strange is not happening to you. You should expect to live under a cross in this world. Jesus never promised everything would be perfect in your life when you became a Christian. He only promised and delivered perfect righteousness.
These optional additional verses at the end of today’s Epistle are so helpful, I wonder why they were made optional.
Instead of being surprised, what does St. Peter recommend?
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Rejoice? Peter, Pastor, is God kidding? No. Scripture shows us that happiness and joy are very different things. Joy remains when happiness evaporates. Happiness lasts but a short time. Joy is eternal, joy in Christ, that is. Pain is temporary. Under God’s Mighty Hand, He carries you through the difficult times.
Peter shares an important warning with His Christian listeners and readers: But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Murderer. Thief. Seems easy enough to avoid. Evildoer. That depends on what you mean by evil. Remember God’s definition. Every sin is evil. But meddler? Of the four sins Peter mentions, which one trips you up the most? Is it “meddler”? St. Peter calls us to repentance. He puts meddling on par with murder. Meddling goes hand in hand with gossip. But we’ve covered that before. Does St. Peter have your attention now?
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
Suffering for the Christian faith, for Jesus, for Biblical truth is honorable, or as Peter wrote previously, “It is a gracious thing.” Those who suffer for the faith suffer along with Christ. Not to atone for sin—no. When we suffer with Him, we appreciate all the more what Jesus went through for us. When a Pinedale, Wyoming Municipal judge makes the national news, we pray that religious liberty may be preserved!
The lectionary, both Historic One Year and the Three Year, skips over the last few verses of 1 Peter 4 and the opening verses of chapter 5. Let’s see what we’re missing.
And "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Peter builds on his theme of suffering. After quoting Proverbs 11:31, he points us to trust in the Lord. Let us have faith in Him who has the whole world in His hands. The devil plots against and attacks Christians—after all, the old evil foe has the rest of the world already. But even the devil is God’s devil. The two are not equal counterparts. The devil is merely a fallen angel. The devil schemes and deceives, but the Lord still uses the devil’s evil toward a purpose of ultimate good.
Think back to Good Friday. Wouldn’t the devil have seen that day, the death of Jesus, the Son of God, as a good thing for him and his hellish plans? Sure. But God used that great defeat, that unjust suffering and cruel death to atone for the sins of the whole world. Defeat became victory. Good Friday was no longer good for the devil, but good for us.
St. Peter begins chapter five with five verses are helpful whenever a congregation Calls a pastor. What qualifications is a congregation to look for? How is a pastor to fulfill his Call? Peter uses the term “elder,” to refer to the Office of the Holy Ministry.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
That’s a helpful list. A shepherd, not one who is domineering. Today, we have a board of lay elders here at Immanuel who help the called and ordained “elder,” the pastor.
The remainder of my sermon text from 1 Peter 5 applies to all of us:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
This is a text of wonderful Gospel comfort. No wonder this is one of the brief lessons that are part of Compline, Prayer at the Close of the Day, the service we used this Lent on Wednesday evenings. Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Care for one another. Be comforted. The Lord loves you and is looking out for you. And it’s a good thing, too. Someone else has his evil eye on you. And he’s hungry.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…
The devil can be resisted. Successfully. Jesus did it. Jesus used the Word of God. Sometimes Christians think, “I’m strong enough. What do I need more Bible Study for?” Or, “I even went to Church last week. I’m good for the month.” To such we must respond: be careful if you think you are standing firm, lest you fall. Rejecting the Word and refusing to receive the Lord’s Gifts are sins on the road to the sin against the Holy Spirit. Faith that is not fed by the Word will die. Faith can die. You’ve seen it happen. When the devil comes prowling around, why do we try to fight Him without the armor of God’s Word? Why do we run away from Jesus when bad things happen and life threatens to overwhelm us? That’s just going in the wrong direction.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Giving in to his temptations does not cause him to flee. He only gains more influence over your life. Why return to chains and slavery? The prison doors are open, yet some remain in their cells. Others keep digging at the concrete walls trying to free themselves. The Lord calls us to venture outside our dank, dark cell into the marvelous light of Christ. And a few remain outside with Him. But others run back in to what they think of as the “safety” and “familiarity” of their old cell, their old sins. In Christ you have been pardoned! Do not strap yourself back into the electric chair! Christ already suffered capital punishment in your place. It is finished! Resist the devil, standing firm in the faith Christ gives you as a gift.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
No one likes to suffer. Everyone in this world will suffer. Christians have suffered for the faith since Stephen, the first martyr. For Christians, suffering has purpose because of the cross of Christ. Christ suffered there and can identify with what you go through. As the writer to the Hebrews says, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
When we cut God out of our Sunday mornings, when we’ve made ourselves “too busy” for church or Bible Class or personal prayer and Bible Study, we’ve actually chosen not to hear God.
Instead, Peter and our Lord are calling us to suffer for the sake of Christ. I don’t mean to imply that Sunday morning Divine Service or a pastor’s sermon are things that a Christian has to suffer through. Life in this world is hard enough without making it harder on ourselves by depriving ourselves of God’s strength from His Word.
You may have heard me say this before: The Lord has good gifts for you here. If you stay away, if you refuse them, you not only are hurting your own faith, but you also discourage your fellow saints by your absence. There is nothing like Lutherans singing together on Christmas Eve or Easter Morning. Why doesn’t that happen every Lord’s Day? Can you give a good reason the Lord would listen to?
We live and move and have our being and life in Christ under God’s mighty hand. In this world you will suffer. In this world you will have trouble. Yet, in this world you have a Savior who loves you and gave Himself over to death for you so that you may have life and have it to the fullest. Even when you suffer, the Lord carries you through. The author of “Footprints in the Sand” got that part right. When we feel alone in the midst of sorrow, trials, and pain, the Lord does not abandon you. There is only one set of footprints at those times because the Lord is carrying you. Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you under God’s mighty hand. Amen.
Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Peter 5:14) Amen.