I’ve read of an ancient Persian custom where, when the armies came back in victory, they would pick a select slave and would elevate this man and make him king for three days. For three days this man would walk around wearing royal robes, he would be honored, he would be feasted and after three days he would be slain. They would sacrifice him as a sacrifice to the god of folly.
A lot of people are like that in their fun. It’s a foolish kind of fun. It has no eternal connection and so they are living for the fun of the moment. As in a flash flood, there is a gush and it’s soon gone in an hour. Like the morning dew under the rising heat of the sun, it does not last. It vanishes away. That’s not the way it is supposed to be for a Christian. A Christian is told he is supposed to rejoice all the time, even in trial. But along comes the trial and it puts the fires of our joy out in coldness.
Now many of us haven’t learned to get this together. We don’t understand what Martin Luther meant who went through so many trials and he said, “Rejoice in sorrow and sorrow in your rejoicing.” He meant by that, that you’d better be more concerned and on guard when you’re having a happy time of it. And give God praise in joys if you are sorrowing for the moment. Now this confuses many people who have the false notion that if you are a “good boy” you are not going to suffer anything. And, that trouble is always punishment for sin. Not necessarily so. A lot of people are thoroughly confused and do not realize that suffering and joy can go together and suffering does not put out of the fires of joy that comes with the Spirit.
Now Christian joy, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is an effect that the Spirit of God produces in our character. It is a character trait, not just a passing feeling. It is a way of looking and responding to life — coming from the Holy Spirit as a fruit of the Holy Spirit in a personality. That has real value to it. Someone has said that joy helps us to meet situations in life. It gives buoyancy to the life. It makes the long road seem shorter. And, it concentrates the thought and keeps us from being all discouraged and scattered and uncontrolled in our thinking. It gives lift to life. Jacob labored for cruel, long years for a wife. He was trapped and tricked into this. But, it seemed but a day to him because of the love he had for his bride-to-be. And for that happy prospect, it made the road shorter because it had joy constantly there in his heart, instead of just bitterness and hatred. You as a Christian can have this, if you have the Holy Spirit and if you have not the Spirit of Christ you are none of his. You can have joy in your heart even in trial. But you have to obey God for that. Obedience brings joy and joy is lost when there’s not obedience. I’m going to give you a couple of commands that you probably didn’t notice in this text. They are short punches of truth. If you’ll heed these commands then you will have joy in your heart even in trials. The first one: verse 12 – “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing happened to you.
Perhaps you have been amazed at the universality of suffering, the intensity of trials that come to you and to others. Look around and you will not find a person who does not have trials. Even little children have their tests. Fortunately, they are usually measured to them by a loving Providence. There are some children who are literally crushed in life by the load they have to bear until their own personalities are torn and distorted. You look at a person who is a godly, good person, and maybe elderly and maybe suffered a lot in their life and then some further blow comes to them and you say, “Why this one?” You look at a poor one and you say, “Why suffering to them?” Or you look at a rich strong man and you say, “I’m amazed that all this would happen to him, he seems to have so much strength and resources for everything.” But look! Suffering is a universal thing, but it has special significance to the Christian. Sometimes it can be very intense, indeed. An interesting text when you realize that the name over this book (Peter) was written in his maturity years. Here is a man who thought otherwise earlier. Matthew 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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (All that suffering.) Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.'” You need a visitation from God to get out of this mess. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.'”
That’s the only Christian life there is. Stop trying to make another one. Stop trying to get out of the will of God and get around difficulties. Accept what God brings. Avoid that native instinct of dodging every difficult thing, screaming to God, “Get us out of this!” before you even know who brought you into it. The Lord has a command that says this:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Are you sure a hand bearing nail prints did not bring it to you? Christians are to expect suffering. “…you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” I Peter 5:9.
I Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.”
In Acts we are taught that Christians will only enter God’s Kingdom through much trial and tribulation. In Romans, Paul made the statement in Chapter 9: “I have continual sorrow in my heart for the Israelite people (My fellow Israelites) that they may be saved.” He said in another book: “I am always sorrowing, yet rejoicing. Always rejoicing in my sorrow.” Here is a man who wrote repeatedly of affliction and repeatedly of joy.
I took the concordance and looked at the writing of Paul. I was amazed — almost dumbfounded — at the multitude of Scripture — his sayings — about joying and rejoicing and rejoice. Look those up. It is amazing, Scripture is filled with it. And here was a man who said, “I always rejoice.” And said, “I have continual sorrow in my heart.” Therefore, you may have joy in your heart even in trial.
When the Apostle Paul was thrown into prison, he was beaten and he and his companion were lacerated in their backs and their feet were in stocks. So there they sat fastened in the stocks, their feet bleeding. Now if your feet are fastened out straight in the stocks and your back is bleeding, how can you lie down and be comfortable? That would really break the back or something. So, there he is bleeding, those injuries from beating were terrible, the pain was just excruciating, terrible. And, there in the prison they began to sing. And, it says the other prisoners heard them. Suppose I had come here tonight and said I’ve got a secret folks, “even if you’re suffering, if you’re bleeding, battered, thrown into prison, I know something that will help you to sing.” It would be hard to believe. Would it not? Let’s get into Matthew 5 where your enemies really misuse you — verses 10 and 11: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
In the book of Luke he actually says you are to leap for joy. Did you ever see anybody who got really abused for being good and the boss says that we’ve had enough of this in our place and get out of here and they got thrown out or really cursed and even slapped or lost their job or something terrible happened to them — did you ever find them bouncing down the road, hollering whooooopppppeeeee! this is great! I never had it so great! I am the happiest man in town! Well, you would want white jackets to come quick to lock this man up. But, that is what Jesus says. But what will we do — the exact opposite? We do just the opposite because we don’t see how God sees. If you want joy, I’ll tell you where to find him. He lives along suffering avenue. That’s where to look for him. Not out in the pleasant fields but where the stones cut the feet and where the gutters are awash with the tears of the people who have found it. That’s joy! That’s what it is!
The Apostle Paul wrote more of suffering, he took more beatings. He said, “Let me alone, I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.” He said, “rejoice always. I always rejoice. I’m ready to be poured out as a burnt offering for your souls. And, I greatly rejoice.” So, a companion of real joy is suffering. Now, notice when I say this first command is to expect trial and suffering, I’m not saying become very cynical. There are people like that — pessimistic — “Well, I knew it was going to happen; it always happens to me that way.” That’s not the kind of things I am talking about. Because joy never goes with that person, only complaining. That’s not the expectation I am thinking of. But don’t think it strange to find that the twin are joy and suffering. They go together. O God, not that! “That which I dreaded has come upon me,” wrote the Psalmist. And, yet, how tender were the mercies of God to him. Now let’s go to the next verse, though. It says, “But rejoice.” Expect testing, yes, it will come. But rejoice. That is an order; that’s a command. At that time, rejoice. But how will you do it? How can you possibly obey this? How can you hurt and be happy? It can be so by choosing it to be so; thinking of this as truth and in obedience to God, the Holy Spirit will produce the fruit of joy in you even through the suffering. And do you know it is not very difficult in a way, either.
Let me explain that because there are actual grounds that you can know. There is good ground for a Christian. He just does not crank it up — there is good ground for his joy and he can see these through tears a lot more clearly. And there are just many teachings which do not shine until there is some suffering. The Christian life is fitted out that way. There are some of you who get nothing or little from Scripture because you haven’t a need — you sense no need — you’re having fun. You are benumbed with the Novocain of pleasure — just human good living. But, if God loves you, he’ll want you near at hand and just like the couple were holding hands and care for each other obviously, that’s what God wants from us. He wants the human response, a reaching out, a need for him. And there comes a day in a man’s life when he is worth God’s attention. And he will reach out, he’ll reach out with both hands and say, “God help me!” And then it seems like black velvet shuts off those truths until that man just tears it aside and how he hungers for God’s word and then God says, “I’ve waited all these years. And now you cry.” And he still hears you. I don’t know why, but he really wants us. Friends, when the Apostle Paul, with bleeding back and legs that were bent out of shape there in the stocks, when he and Silas sang, do you think that they were just so happy? He said, “Silas, I just can’t help it. We gotta sing. What will it be?” Silas said, “Boy, I’m glad you suggested it. I’m having the hardest time keeping it in. Just let it go, Paul.” And he said, “Now, you led on that one, now let me lead out on this one.” It wasn’t that way! “Silas?” “Yeah?” “You all right?” “Well, let’s sing, let’s do something. Let’s don’t give in.” And I tell you there was something in that song that I think there might have been missing in the singing we do sometimes. Not with all of you. There are some of you, I know, are in real heavy-heartedness. Your whole world has fallen in on you. Well, the joy of the Lord is your strength. And, don’t you feel, “I hope to get through this so that I can have some enjoyment.” That is a lie from Satan. Don’t think it strange. Expect it and rejoice now. Claim it now. Look into those truths. They are for you. There are times of black velvet. Pull them aside. Claim from God.
Now when I say there is good grounds, I’ll just quickly mention some. First of all there is a sense of participation, if you look right in this teaching. “Rejoice inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” You are in this with him and he is in it with you. He said, “I won’t leave you.” The Apostle Paul said in Colossians — “I am appointed a minister of the Lord, and my role is to fill up in the lack of the sufferings of Christ.” What an amazing text that is!
Turn to Philippians 3. And, let me remind you of something. When I say that we rejoice because there is a sense of participation in Christ’s sufferings, I remind you that the word “participation” in the Bible is the same word for “Communion.” There is a communion with Jesus in that dark valley. None but his loved ones know. Philippians 3:8: “What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” Would you like to be like the one who said, “Father, forgive them.” How are you going to be like that if somebody doesn’t wrong you? Would you like to be like the one, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” That was the thing that stuck in Peter’s life. He is the one who wrote about Jesus, “He has set us an example of suffering that we should follow in his steps, who when he was reviled, he did not answer back but he just committed himself into the hands of God.” Are ye able, saith the Master, to be crucified with me. Yeah, the sturdy dreamers answered, “to the death we will follow thee.” Little did they know that that was what it meant. All these men, Jesus disciples, one by one were executed for their faith, except John, perhaps. He was driven from pillar to post. “Think it not strange.” Expect it and practice rejoicing. It’s an order from God. You enter into suffering with the Lord. Somebody says, “But you don’t understand! My problem is that I’ve lost all these finances. It is sort of a material thing. If I could be thrown to the lions or something for Jesus’ sake, I would feel glory. But it is a mundane thing.” Not so! — If you take it for Jesus sake. He who suffers in his fleshly life will be led on and you can enter into the sufferings of Christ. It says in verse 14 — “Why the spirit of glory will rest upon you.” Do you suppose for a moment if I told you that I know a secret and would you like to be a really, wonderful Christian. You say, “Yes.” I could tell you something that will bring a brand new visitation of God’s power into your life. I can tell you something that will lift you up to a new height you have never known before. I could tell you something that will bring a perfection in your character that you have never known before. All of these things are a result of suffering. It tells us in the Bible that very thing. If there were time, then we could look up all these Scriptures, but let’s just look up a little bit. In the first chapter of I Peter at verse 3, “we’ve been begotten to a lively hope, to an inheritance that’s there in the heavens.” Verse 5 — “But through faith you are shielded through God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have suffered grief and all kinds of trial, these have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes, even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
So, the matter here is that if you will be faithful to the Lord, your faith is going to be exercised and strengthened and result in glory to God. While you are there at that spot, just turn back to the book of James — James 1:2 — “My brethren, count it all joy when you undergo all various kinds of trials.” (That’s what that literally means). Have you obeyed that command? Have you got any grounds for rejoicing. Look at the next verse, verse 3, “knowing this that the trying of your faith works patience,” (it leads you on to an endurance and steel of strength that you would never have otherwise). Do you want to be a little old weak, hotbed plant or would you like to be used? Verse 12, “blessed is the man who endures testings. For when he is tried, he will receive a crown of life.”
Turning back to Peter again. I Peter 5:6 — “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” You’re in distress? OK. Be low, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and he will exalt you in due time. If you want to be lifted up, be willing to go down. Are you? The way up is through the valley. I told you that I would tell you something that would really lift you up to a new place with God! Would you like to be perfected, stablished, strengthened? Would you? Read the end of verse 10 — “After you’ve suffered awhile it will come.” I guess the real question is “Do we really want to be Christians?” Let’s ask this question, though, before we get too dark a picture of the Christian life. The chief joy that the world can offer, along with all its bitter pain, is nothing to be compared with the darkest hours of being a Christian. There is more light in the darkest valley with Jesus than under the brightest lights of Broadway of the Devil. Choose your partner for life and make it for life. Not only in this participation, there is an anticipation also, a sense of anticipation. Verse 4:13 — there is a glory that is going to be revealed. We can enter into the power of his resurrection, also. And, the Apostle Paul said, “when I am weak then I am strong in the Lord.”
And finally there is a certification, an actual authentication, a seal where God will actually alter your life and give you a new assurance that you are really his. And that’s what the Apostle Paul really meant when he said, “just leave me be, boys, don’t bother me.” He said to some of those fellows who were pestering him, “I have the marks of Jesus in me. I’ve suffered, I’m a brand mark and that’s wonderful.” You can have the fruit of the Spirit if you’re willing to have the stigmata. It happened a lot of years ago but it is a story that historians have often studied. There was an old man, and we know this man, his name was Ignatius.
Ignatius was a friend of the Apostle John. And it’s wonderful to read outside the Bible about Ignatius who knew John. And apparently John was a wonderful man. Ignatius his pupil was, too. After John was dead and Ignatius became the chief shepherd, pastor, down in Antioch — following Peter’s steps — he was an apostle like believer. Then, the Roman Emperor Trajan came down to Antioch. As he came into the city, the cry went out that everyone was to make a sacrifice to the gods, and if anyone would not, it would be death. The noble Ignatius refused, of course. He was singled out for death. He was chained and refused to withdraw his testimony for Christ. In fact, he just came on strong and said, “I am a bearer of God in my life. Jesus Christ lives in me.” They took the elderly statesman of the Christian church and in chains sent him over land and sea on the long journey to Rome. When he arrived in Rome, all the grieving Christians came out to meet him and he refused to let any of them intervene for him. And here are his famous words: “Now I begin to be a disciple. Nor shall anything visible or invisible move me, so that I may attain unto Jesus Christ. Let the fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let the breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding to pieces of the whole frame and all the cruel torments of the devil come upon me, only let me enjoy Jesus.” The mob sat in the ampitheatre at Rome on December 20, 107 AD and they took the old man out and threw him into the animals in the circle below. Instantly, they pounced upon him and chewed and tore life from him. All that was left was a few moistened bones, and very few at that. And, he was silent. But he said, “Only let me enjoy Jesus.” Do you have the courage to follow in the trail of those who gave us the Scripture? “Yea, of the Lord, who for the joy ahead of him endured a cross.”