As You Share Christ's Sufferings

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“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I don’t know of anyone who enjoys suffering. I think that would be considered a psychological disorder. But there is some suffering that results in our good. There’s the suffering of the athlete who trains hard for the Olympics. There’s the marathon runner who runs miles each day just to compete. Christian suffering, like the suffering of an athlete in training, also results in good, only more so. For a Christian never suffers alone, but shares Christ’s sufferings.
Christian suffering will come. It comes in the form of “fiery” trials (4:12). These fires test the confession of faith professed by the believer. These fires test the works, the life, of the believer. Suffering persecution as Christians is a way to bear the cross of Christ, and the promise of God that He strengthens us through affliction. Luther writes: “God lays a cross on all believers in order that they may taste and prove the power of God—the power which they have taken hold of through faith.”[i]
Seeing suffering as an opportunity to bear Christ’s cross reminds us that in doing so, we share Christ’s sufferings—an honor for us, who know that our Savior first suffered to save us. Before His death, Christ called His cross the moment of His glory. Here, in our text, Peter unites the “not-yet” glory of Christ’s return with the “now” glory of sharing in His cross, which results in joy when His glory is revealed, not only at the end of time, but in the present moment, as the Gospel’s effects are seen in the life and witness of those who suffer for His name.
Some in the Church expect the crown without the cross. Theirs is a theology of glory. There is no depth to their confession and no endurance to their faith. Some in the Church expect the crown because of the cross. They confuse sharing Christ’s sufferings with worldly suffering and believe God will be forgiving because of all the misfortune in their life.
But Scripture teaches a theology of the cross. We must expect the cross to come first, before the crown. We must believe Jesus’ teaching that the world hates those who boldly confess him as Savior: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). We must not be willing to compromise any teaching of Scripture for the sake of earthly unity and peace. But don’t be surprised! For this insistence, you will be persecuted and despised.
Not all suffering is alike. Suffering the consequences of sinful behavior is not sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Suffering the persecution of those we sin against is not sharing Christ’s sufferings. It’s just acting like a jerk!
Lutherans talk often about “cheap grace,” that is a self-justifying concept of a tolerant God, which has no respect for the actual cost of God’s favor in the innocent blood of Christ. But we seldom talk about the other side of the coin, “cheap Law,” again a self-justifying concept of a God who is always on the side of believers who feel they have the freedom to act as offensively as they please, and then chalk up everything they suffer as a result of the world’s persecution because they happen to be Christians. Such suffering is not to identity with Christ’s wounds; rather it puts us on the inflicting side of those wounds!
This is not limited to “big sins” such as murder and theft, but even things we might more easily justify in ourselves. Meddling and gossiping are not against human law, but they may lead to broken relationships and hurt feelings. In the end, those who engage in such behavior may end up suffering painful backlash as a direct consequence of their own sin.
Sharing Christ’s sufferings has to do with Christ and your relationship to Him. For your sin in which you were born, you faced only the prospect of suffering God’s eternal wrath and judgment. But so that you might be saved, Jesus Christ set aside His glory and suffered rejection by the world. But even more, He suffered God’s wrath and rejection on the cross, as His Father condemned Him for all the sins of the world—for all of your sins, too. Now He is risen from the dead, risen to give you forgiveness and life. For all the times that you sin and thus deserve God’s fiery trial, Jesus declares that He has suffered and died to deliver you. For all the times that you resent suffering, He declares that He has died for that sin, too.
And how do you share in Christ’s sufferings? Christ shares His sufferings with you in His means of grace—His Word and Sacraments. He declares, “I’ve gone to the cross, been stricken, smitten, and afflicted for your sin. Now, with forgiveness, I give you the credit for My sufferings so that you will not be damned for your sin.” Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you share all that is Christ’s—His name, His righteousness, His blessedness, and His sufferings.
You are blessed if you are insulted for the name of Christ, for “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:14). You are blessed if you suffer simply because you are a Christian. Sharing Christ’s sufferings brings an honor distinct from suffering for wrongdoing, and the proper response to such suffering is to glorify God by confessing Christ, even if it means death or adversity.
Peter call us to judgment among ourselves: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). Repentance is the goal of such judgment, as we see the effects of our own sin, and even as God allows us to face consequences. The difference between us and unbelievers is that we face such suffering in faith, recognizing our sin, and trusting in God’s deliverance.
As we share in the sufferings of Christ, we are called therefore to suffer according to God’s will: not for sins (Christ suffered for sins already—once!, for all time), but for the sake of the Gospel. Luther reminds us of this truth: “[Peter] teaches us to subdue the flesh with sobriety, watchfulness, temperance, prayer, and to find comfort and strength through the sufferings of Christ.”[ii]
Sharing Christ’s sufferings in this way will be blessed in the judgment (4:17-19). We will rejoice and be glad when Christ's glory is revealed, while the ungodly will stand in terror. Yes, as Christians, we endure the judgment of the world now, but those who disobey the Gospel will not endure God’s final judgment. We suffer “a little while” but are called to an “eternal glory” in Christ, while the world rejoices now but is condemned to an eternal suffering.
Peter calls us to be sober-minded and watchful as we pray for Christ’s return, because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion. Even though he has been defeated, Satan still seeks to harm us. The devil “tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient.”[iii]
Peter reminds us that the enemy can be, and is to be, resisted. Christians resist him by God’s Word, which gives us strength and guidance to face temptations. Luther comments: “You must be sober and vigilant, but in order that the body may be ready. But this does not yet vanquish the devil. It is done only in order that you may give the body less reason to sin. The true sword is your strong and firm faith. If you take hold of God’s Word in your heart and cling to it with faith, the devil cannot win but must flee.”[iv]
We do not suffer alone: Christ Himself suffered in the flesh. And our Christian brothers and sisters in faith all over the world are suffering too as they wait for Christ to return and create a new heaven and a new earth. Just this week, in Egypt, 28 Coptic Christians were killed for their Christian faith.
The same God who called them to eternal glory through the Gospel will not let your sufferings go on one minute longer than He allows, and He already has His plan of relief ready to go. From God’s point of view, your sufferings last just a little while, for at the right time our loving Father will come with strength and restoration. He will make the suffering times serve you and the Church by making you strong, firm, and steadfast.
Our Lutheran Confessions state: “Holy Scripture also testifies that God, who has called us, is faithful. So when He has begun the good work in us, He will also preserve it to the end and perfect it, if we ourselves do not turn from Him, but firmly hold on to the work begun to the end. He has promised His grace for this very purpose.”[v]
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

[i] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, pp. 126–127). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[ii] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 35, p. 391). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[iii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 433–434). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[iv] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, p. 142). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[v] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 607). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.


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