Prepared for Pentecost

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His Glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.     I Peter 4:12-13

Many times In the past, whenever the theme of Christian suffering came up, I would accent how this suffering was the result of one’s faith being resisted by Satan and the world, how as St Paul emphasized, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” [Romans 8:17].  Since Jesus’ suffering was to bring salvation into the world, and Christian suffering has been given a share in that important goal, then the normal aches and pains of life which come to all people would not apply.

But as I was working on this sermon, Lillian Klette came to mind.  She’s a hero of mine.  She was a older woman who was a quiet pleasant church-goer who probably would never have earned any awards for outstanding leadership, stewardship or evangelism.  And then she got cancer.  I don’t remember which one, but it was an extremely painful terminal cancer.

Whenever I visited her, the hospital staff – doctors, nurses – would take me aside and tell me about her.  She was always thoughtful and kind.  As an example, sometimes she would ask for pain medication, and although they knew how much pain she was in, not always could they fulfill that need immediately.  Yet she waited patiently, and when they did bring the medication, she always expressed appreciation and thanked them.  When she died, probably half the congregation at the funeral was staff from the hospital.

No, Lillian was never persecuted or martyred as we would think of in regard to sharing in Christ’s sufferings.  But what was outstanding was that she acted contrary to what the world expected of someone in pain.  She revealed that there was something stronger, more comforting in her life: an enduring hope, a confidence, an assured expectation which steadied her walk, despite her suffering.

The staff admired her, but those who came in contact with her were also aware that she took refuge in a Presence in her life, a Presence Who made her see beyond circumstances and gave her the moment-by-moment endurance she needed, a Presence Who had proved He had conquered all suffering and Death, and had provided her with unrestrained life, eternal life.

At least to me, she made Job in the Bible take on a modern face, reflecting in a present-day way Job’s trust in the Lord and his ability to look past the tragedies he experienced, to see the One Who rules over Death and Who irrevocably gives eternity to those who trust in him.  Despite the calamities, in the depth of grief, still “he fell to the ground and worshiped and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD” [Job 1:20-21].

Job’s story provides a needed insight in how affliction is not merely the whims of earthly life, but rather had a larger, even cosmic background to them.  We know that in chapters one and two, it was God Who challenged Satan to do his worst, short of killing Job (in which Satan would have lost anyway).  No, Job wasn’t perfect, but would he discard his faith when severely tried?

Notice that this was a challenge which occurred in front of all creation, particularly both the heavenly and the satanic hosts.  It was a challenge to prove whether faith could still be alive and strong in the midst of bewildered suffering.  And although Job did complain, he still clung harder to his Savior.

Despite his bewilderment, despite the fatigue of existence, he could say with complete confidence “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, Whom my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!”  [Job 19:25-27]. 

He didn’t understand what the Lord was doing, but rather than rebellion and rejection of God, he chose – and it was his choice – to acknowledge God’s will in directing his life, knowing that blessings will come and go on this earth but that God’s important promises will in the end be completely, wonderfully, eternally filled to overflowing.

Now that I am older and am experiencing aches and pains and some sleepless nights, I am often faced with a choice:  I can become bitter and irritable, giving in to a rebellious attitude, making myself and others miserable; or I can, even in the handling of these things, express as to how the Lord affects my actions and manners.  Is this some great evangelistic deed or heroic confession of faith?  Of course not – or is it?

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Prior to our text, Peter was talking about having love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins; be hospitable without grumbling, as each has received a gift – ministering. stewardship, speaking or preaching – do it so “that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to Whom belong the Glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” [v 11].  Then in our text, Peter declares “that when His Glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

The word “Glory” always stands out to me, because God defined His Glory in Exodus 33 and 34, as His goodness and Covenant Name, His grace and mercy, His patience and longsuffering, His steadfast love and faithfulness, His forgiveness and justice.  “When His Glory is revealed,” this is not just on the Last Day, but rather something which started in the Cross and the Resurrection, actually throughout the Old Testament, and is being revealed up to now and into eternity.

Peter is identifying that all which is done in the Lord’s Name is revealing His Glory right now – and you and I are already in the middle of it.  It’s not merely something for the end of time – it continually surrounds us.  That’s exciting!

So when we ask for and receive forgiveness, when we are driven to prayer, when we discover again the hand of the Lord leading us in our life (many times in spite of ourselves), when we discover even another promise – another way He is affecting our life – all of this is the revealing of the Glory of God.

When we are placed into suffering by Satan like Job, or are challenged to look past present conditions like Lillian, or are boldly stepping forward through the resistances and disappointments of the daily life, here God is revealing His Glory – His Covenant relationship, grace, mercy, faithfulness, steadfast love and the rest.  When we are clumsy and get in the way, and also when we do “get it right,” the Lord still is affecting how we respond to issues and situations, and His Glory is still being revealed.

Peter says, “that you may be glad with exceeding joy.”  All of this isn’t for the sake of show, but rather that in the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, life takes on excitement and eagerness, and this presence of God is the antidote to life merely falling apart whenever suffering or other ugliness nibbles away at our faith.  In fact, as we realize how He is in full partnership with our every moment, there can be confidence, peace, and a rising elation!  But how can we maintain this “exceeding joy”?

That’s why today’s lessons [Acts 1:12–26; I Peter 4:12–19; 5:6–11; John 17:1–11] come as the conclusion of the Lenten-Easter celebration, because this ability to live in joy flows from those events we have just witnessed again.  We sat with the followers of Jesus in the upper room devastated by the supposed defeat on Good Friday, and then watched what had been so familiar about Death be pulverized by the overwhelming eruption of life on Easter.   Displayed before us is the power of God to take what is most feared in our existence and prove that He is not hindered by its bluster.

Now as we have walked for forty days with Jesus, learning how all this was not a casual series of events, but a closely planned demonstration of God’s heart and involvement, we are relentlessly pursued by this reassurance, by the ramifications of their concrete authenticity, and by the repeating of the unmistakable Glory of God’s eternally deep desire to save us and to bring us home, to His home.

And then here at the altar, just as Lillian made Job’s tenacious faith “present-day,” we find in the Body and Blood “which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands” [I John 1:1], we find God’s tenacious proof that He is forever a part of every nook and cranny of our lives, and He will make His extraordinary Glory radiate through us as we humbly in return give ourselves and our existence into His hands and into His forgiveness.

Now we are prepared to leave the celebration of Easter – although still taking it with us – and enter the world of Pentecost, taking with us the intensity of God’s love and the sharp detail of how deep is His moment-by-moment commitment to us, how passionate His goodness and faithfulness is toward us in every circumstance to come.  Here is a firm footing to face all which the future may require, whether it be Satan’s attempt to discourage, or the world to persecute – or to find delight in the glimpses of God’s unfailing love as He works in, through, and around us.

So then let us be “glad with exceedingly great joy,” because we know that we are sharing in – although sometimes in hardship – the triumphant Glory of God as it is demonstrated in grace, mercy, steadfast love, faithfulness, forgiveness and justice, and especially in His Covenant connection in our lives, to the eternal praise of His Name.

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