Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “The Good Kind of Pain” based on 1 Peter 4:12-19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, September 16, 2018
Pain is bad. Ask someone who lives with severe arthritis and they’ll tell you. Or someone who has dealt with kidney stones or migraine headaches. Pain is bad. We go through life trying to get rid of and reduce and avoid pain. But is all pain bad all of the time?
In his book, Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey talks about the research that was done among people suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). There’s a misconception that fingers and toes just start falling off. But in reality, those who suffer from leprosy often experience nerve damage and lack of sensation in their hands and feet and faces. The result: they can no longer feel pain. Their damaged nerves don’t send out warning signals – “Hey, that surface is too hot…pull away.” “That metal edge is sharp…don’t grab hold of it.” Without that sensation of pain, they risk greater injury and danger.
So pain isn’t always bad. Some pain can be a blessing. Some pains, while uncomfortable, can steer us away from bigger dangers. Today Peter takes on the issue of pain. He addresses the “painful trials” we might face. But here he’s talking about not a physical pain but the discomfort that is unique to people who believe in Jesus. You and I would call it persecution. Jesus in the Gospel for today calls it a cross.
What does it look like and feel like? For Stephen, one of the faithful deacons in the early Christian church, his persecution was physical. Because of his faith in Jesus, he was stoned. For Christian living in North Korea, they could be arrested, sent to a labor camp or killed. Again…physical persecution. For you and me, the pressures are different.
Do you ever feel like you’re part of this small, shrinking group that still believes….
…in God’s 6-day creation
…that human life is precious (even and especially the unborn)
…that there are two genders
…that sex is for marriage and marriage is for life
…that there really is a hell and really is a heaven
…that church is for sinners who need Jesus because he’s the only one who saves?
What kind of world do we live in? Well, it’s not illegal to be a Bible-believing Christian, but it’s not popular either. According to a recent Gallop poll, only 24% of Americans believe the Bible is the true, literal Word of God. What that means is, not everyone out there in the world shares your same beliefs about God…your same standard of right and wrong…your same values. In fact, most people don’t. So you may not get arrested or thrown into a labor camp, but you will face some pressures…some painful trials…some oppositions to your faith in Jesus….from strangers maybe…from co-workers maybe…even from friends and relatives who make it clear they think our faith in Jesus is foolish.
When that happens, don’t be surprised: “Do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice…”
Did I hear that correctly? If and when we are persecuted…looked at funny…ridiculed…shunned…we aren’t supposed to fight back….we’re not supposed to seek vengeance…we’re not even supposed to be shocked. Instead, we are to be filled with joy? Yes. Because not all pan is bad, remember. Some pain can actually be a blessing. And Peter is going to tell us why the pain of persecution…the pain and discomfort of not fitting in with this sinful world is actually a good kind of pain.
- Any pain you have now…any suffering you endure as a result of your faith in Jesus will only heighten your anticipation for heaven. “Rejoice…so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
Robin Graham was a 16 year-old who attempted to sail around the world…alone. In 1965 he set out. It took him five years. As you would imagine, he had near-death scenarios and storms upon storms. Repairs to his boat. More repairs to his boat. Once, being so fatigued and depressed, he doused his boat deck with gasoline, lit a match, and hopped overboard. He reconsidered, climbed back up, put out the fire, and kept trudging alone. After five years he sailed into a Los Angeles harbor. He had completed his journey. A crowd had gathered. Cars honked their horns. Boats blew their whistles. People cheered. That moment for him was awesome. The depths of his agony made that welcome so, so sweet. His agonizing journey was now over and it was capped with an over-the-top welcome home.
Could it be like that for us when we go to heaven? Does God allow the conditions of this world to be so degenerate and depressing that we realize we don’t belong here…that we sometimes want to light a match to it all…but that we also realize that at the end of our journey, he’ll bring us into a safe harbor…an over-the-top welcome home harbor. Keep sailing, because the pain and agony will soon take a drastic, wonderful turn. It will be worth it.
- Any pain you have now…any suffering you endure as a result of your faith in Jesus is a vivid reminder to you that you belong to Him! “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
Praise God that you bear that name. When you suffer pain…when you carry a cross…it is a little gospel sermon…a vivid reminder that you belong to the One who carried THE cross. The One who looked upon a sinful world and he didn’t sit idly by. He went “all in” and took on your flesh and blood and took up your sins and carried those sins to THE cross. Your suffering today makes it clear that you don’t fit in with a world that hates Jesus and despises his Word….you fit in with Jesus…you are on the right side…you are bearing the name that really matters…the name of Christ.
- We know what it looked like when Jesus carried our cross…when Jesus was committed to us. What does it look like for us to be committed to him? “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
You’re in good company. The world hated Jesus too. So don’t be surprised when the world hates you too. Don’t take it personally. Instead, take refuge in the hands of your Creator. Take comfort in his faithfulness. Amen.