1 Peter: Godly Suffering, Part 1

October 13, 2009

Before we look at what Peter wrote about suffering, let’s take a quick look at the attitudes of the Israelites toward godly suffering through the previous ages.

Suffering was not a new subject when Peter wrote. Some of the earliest writings in the Old Testament tell us of the suffering of godly men. Two (of many) prominent examples are Joseph and Job.

Joseph suffered as a slave and as a prisoner for a crime he did not commit, for a period of 13 years. (Gen 37-41). Joseph suffered righteously, and God used his suffering to bring about great things for the sons of Israel.

Job suffered as Satan tested his faith in God. Job lost his family, his wealth, and his health. He suffered righteously, and by doing so he brought glory to God. But he suffered a lot.

Despite prominent examples of godly suffering such as these, the Israelites had a hard time accepting the idea that the righteous should suffer. The psalmist (probably David) wrote:

Psa 44:17 All this happened to us,
though we had not forgotten you
or been false to your covenant.
Psa 44:18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
Psa 44:19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals
and covered us over with deep darkness.

And in another psalm, Asaph wrote:

Psa 73:12 This is what the wicked are like— always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Psa 73:13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.

To man, it seems that only the wicked should suffer, and that the righteous should be rewarded in this life. To endure suffering in this life, in order to gain rewards in the next, requires great faith. Sometimes we feel it requires more faith than we have.

Early in his ministry, near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

Mat 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Mat 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus expected us to rejoice when we suffer for him, because of our reward in heaven.

When Jesus sent out the twelve (Matt 10), he told them he was sending them out as sheep among wolves. He told them they would be arrested, called before councils and flogged. He told them they would be hated and they would be betrayed. But he sent them anyway. And he told them that those who stand firm to the end would be saved.

In Matthew 16, we get a glimpse into Peter’s attitude toward suffering:

Mat 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Mat 16:22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Peter did not think it was a good plan for Jesus to suffer. Jesus rebuked him sharply for that.

Later, Peter would try to fight to prevent the arrest of Jesus. After the arrest, he would deny Jesus three times rather than risk suffering alongside Jesus. After the resurrection, Jesus confronted Peter’s unwillingness to suffer:

Joh 21:18 Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Joh 21:19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter was going to have to suffer for Jesus. Having seen Jesus crucified only a few weeks earlier, these words must have cut to his very soul. He would live with these words for over thirty years before they would be fulfilled. Peter, not wanting to face that future suffering, responded:

Joh 21:21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Joh 21:22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

What a hard teaching for Peter to accept! How many of us would have accepted that we had to suffer so profoundly, yet another disciple would not? Yet that is what Jesus called Peter to accept. Peter was going to have to suffer.

During the book of Acts, we see a transformed Peter. In chapter 4 the Jewish rulers were astonished at his courage. Later, after being released, they joined the other disciples and prayed — not for safety, but for boldness. And in chapter 5, the apostles went right back out into the streets to preach.

In chapter 12, Peter is once again in prison. King Herod had put James the brother of John to death. Seeing that this pleased the Jews, he then arrested Peter. When the angel of the Lord comes to set Peter free, he finds Peter… sleeping like a baby!

What a remarkable transformation had occurred, compared to the Peter we saw in the latter chapters of the gospels! By the time Peter was writing his first letter to the Christians, he had spent thirty years proving his repentance for shrinking back from suffering.

Next time: Peter teaches us about suffering.

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