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God is with you - Part 24

1 Peter 3v14b-15a

and Matthew 10v17-39

Hope in Adversity

15th September 2017

1 Peter 3v14b-16
“Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

Peter is moving into a part of the letter where he's talking about persecution, about suffering, about how difficult it can be to be a Christian and to stand up for Jesus.

Of course, persecution takes many forms and in many degrees. No-one I know has been executed for being a Christian, although it happens a lot in some countries. But a lower-level persecution can happen in any environment, and we need to know how to behave when it's happening. We need to pray for Christians who are persecuted because they're trying to preach the gospel in a hostile environment, and we need to think about people being given a hard time in what we might think of as more or less normal circumstances.

Perhaps Peter was thinking about these words of Jesus when he was writing:

Matthew 10v17-39
"Be on your guard against men. They will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!
“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

I'm sure Peter never forgot those words. So when, perhaps thirty years later, Peter's writing to the church about persecution, about surviving in difficult times, about getting on with the gospel job despite opposition, living the Christian life despite criticism and danger, Peter knew what he was talking about.

Peter knew very personally because Jesus had told him before He ascended into heaven that he would be crucified. And yet Peter spent the rest of his life not hiding from the cross but preaching the cross, putting himself in daily danger until one day he was indeed crucified for believing in Jesus. Peter understood Jesus's words when He said, "If you persevere to the end" and we must understand them, too.

1 Peter 3v14b
Do not fear what they fear. Do not be frightened.

This is a quote both from Matthew Chapter 10 and also from Isaiah Chapter 8. In Isaiah 8 the Israelites were worried because the Assyrians were coming. The Assyrian army were not nice people. When they attacked, they wreaked incredible devastation and bloodshed. And God's people were frightened. And God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah to those among God's people who would listen, and He told them: don't be like the rest of my people, don't be afraid, don't fear the Assyrians, fear God:

Isaiah 8v12-13
“Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread."

We don't often think about dreading God, but Jesus said we should fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell; fear God. When the Assyrian army is coming over the hill, you get to choose: who am I going to fear, the Assyrians or God? And who are we to fear, terrorists or God?

And some of us, whose friends want to give us a hard time, or whose families want to criticise us, must ask ourselves the same sort of question, who should we fear? Our friends, or our families, or our workmates, or even - heaven forfend - our church, or God.

Don't fear what a lot of Christians fear. You can do better. Fear God.

1 Peter 3v15a
But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord.

If Jesus Christ sends you to preach the gospel in a hostile environment, go. If Jesus Christ calls you to stand up for Him in a difficult situation, stand up for Him. Don't fear other people, fear God.

In this country, we don't have to face this as much as some of our brothers and sisters overseas, but it's good to think it through now. The next bomb might be in your town.

What can man do to me? The worst he can do is kill me, and if he kills me, I get to see Jesus face-to-face sooner. Don't fear the method by which you will get to glory; fear God. If you persevere to the end, you'll be saved. And the end might be a terrorist bomb tomorrow.

For some of our brothers it will be 30 years in a North Korean concentration camp. The Bible says "persevere to the end" because it's worth it, because great is your reward in heaven - eventually.

If you put on "Christian" TV channels you might hear stories about how God will bless us here on earth with great riches, and perfect health, and long lives and freedom from problems. I don't believe that's true. May of my Christian friends can testify that it isn't true.

It's a false promise that if I pray enough, and serve enough, and worship enough, and tithe enough, then God will prevent me ever getting ill, He'll prevent me ever having any arguments with anybody, or experiencing any problems or sadness. But if we will endure to the end then great is our reward in heaven.

And heaven's not that far away. It's only a few decades at most. And then we will enjoy an eternity without stress, without worry, in which nobody gives you a hard time about anything. Can you imagine that? I can't wait! Well if you can't wait, don't object if ISIS want to kill you! You'll be there sooner! Just stay faithful to God.

Set apart Christ as Lord. Decide now that Jesus is Lord come what may. No badly how badly I'm treated, no matter what things are said about me, no matter if I'm cast into jail or crucified for my faith, may God give me faith to stay faithful as they drive the nails in.

Jesus is Lord, and He remains Lord whatever circumstances I have to go through.