Christians talk about the joy and peace they experience by trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord. However, Christians can also experience suffering and hardship for the cause of Christ.
When suffering comes your way, are you tempted to ask where is this God of love? Today’s text talks about what happens to the Christian in times of suffering, and we use it as our theme for this message, What If?
Peter, the writer of our text, understood the power of temptation and the depth of suffering. In Matthew 26, Jesus tells the disciples that they would all turn away from him that very night. This was offensive to the disciples, and Peter responded by saying, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I will never disown you.” All the others said the same. Jesus answered, “This very night, Peter, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times” (Matt. 26:31-35).
Then Jesus and the disciples went to a place called Gethsemane where he was arrested. The high priests and the Sandhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so they could have him put to death. Finally, when Jesus confessed that he was the Son of God, they had the evidence needed for death, and they took him to the Roman governor.
As Peter was in the courtyard watching all that was going on, a servant girl came by. She saw Peter warming himself and said, “You also were with that Jesus of Galilee.” But Peter denied it. When the servant girl saw Jesus again, she said, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again Peter denied it. Later those who were standing near Jesus said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Peter began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t now the man.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And Peter broke down and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:69-75).
Peter had been taught the power of temptation and the depth of suffering.
Years went by, and Peter was a new man in Christ. About that time, Herod, the King, put Peter in prison and was planning to kill him the next day. We read in Acts 12, “The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.”
Being in this situation did not disturb Peter’s sleep. He had gone from being afraid of identifying himself as a disciple of Jesus before a young lady, to standing before the high court, freely confessing that Jesus was his Savior and Lord. He had learned the truth of Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”
We need to be prepared for tough times. Our faith does not take difficult times away, but it tells us how we can face them with Christ at our side.
The Navy taught my brother-in-law what to do as a chaplain on the Gambia Bay if his ship were ever sunk. Then the day came that it did sink, and many were killed or badly injured while others swam around with life jackets and life rafts in shark-infested waters for 48 hours. He knew God was with them, and so his task was to share passages of comfort from the Bible he had committed to memory and pray with the sailors. They were prepared.
The words of our text say, “Who is going to hurt you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should have to suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
As an older person, living among other old people, one sees a lot of suffering. The 80s and 90s are often referred to as the Golden Years. However, it is also the time of our lives when the bodies are wearing out. If we are suffering pain that can be unbearable, our doctors can do a marvelous job keeping us going Ð new knees, new hips, and new parts added to the hearts. However, we realize they cannot do the impossible. God reminds us that it is appointed for man to die.
What a great time to bear witness to the truth that, when this life is over, Christ has prepared a place for us in heaven. For the believer in Christ, it is the beginning of eternal life with Jesus. This is our assurance, because our salvation does not depend on our good works but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We have been prepared through His Word to accept death as a conquered enemy. To share that promise of eternal life from Christ is our Christian witness.
Many parents are brokenhearted because their children have left the faith. What if this should be our loved ones? They question some of the basic truths in the Bible. Seldom do they go to church, and they never open the Scriptures. The parents ask honestly where they have failed. If they have planted the seed in the lives of their sons and daughters, and those children have learned the gospel from dad and mom, they have been taught the way. God has given us a promise, “My word shall not return void.” You may not have been able to reach them for Christ, but your word of comfort to share with others is this: “God is not done with them.”
I close with King David’s words of comfort to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20).