1 Peter 4:7-14; John 15:26 - 16:4
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Setting proper expectations is a very important thing in life if you want to be content. If you have unrealistic expectations for something, and then it fails to meet those expectations, you’re unhappy. If you’re more realistic and expectations are met or exceeded, then you’re quite happy. You’ll sometimes hear it said that you should manage your expectations. You can have great hopes and dreams, but you should also be careful not to set yourself up for a fall.
In a very real way, that’s what Jesus is doing for us in today’s Gospel reading when it comes to the Christian life in this world. For we sometimes have the notion that if we just work hard and stay positive and have enough faith, everything’s always going to work out well for us. The marriage will be wonderful, the job will be fulfilling and pay nicely, the family will stick together, people will always think well of us, we’ll be able to enjoy a prosperous retirement, our health will be good all the way until we reach a ripe old age, and then we’ll die painlessly and peacefully in our sleep.
But when those things don’t all pan out, then we can become disillusioned and disappointed. And with our faulty expectations, the worst part is that we can begin to stumble in our faith and question God and think He’s not coming through for us. We can stray from the Church because it’s supposedly not giving us what we need. You remember in the parable of the sower how the seed that was planted in the shallow, rocky soil sprung up quickly, but then it also withered away quickly because it lacked moisture. It wasn’t deeply rooted in God’s words and promises. Which is to say, as soon as times of testing came and God wasn’t fulfilling people’s expectations, they fell away.
So out of love for us, the Lord in His Word gives us a heads up and tells us what’s coming, so that we know what to expect as His disciples. “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.” The Epistle reading says, “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” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV). We should expect troubles in this life–first, simply because we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world that is full of death and disease and decay. All creation groans, and so do our bodies. Our expectation should not be depressive and pessimistic, for reasons I’ll point out in a moment. But we should not be shocked either when a bad diagnosis comes, or when nature convulses with a destructive storm or earthquake, or when animals and insects annoy and destroy. For we know that this old creation is passing away.
However, today’s readings are especially talking about the troubles and suffering we might have to endure because we are disciples of Jesus. And it’s not something we can necessarily escape, even within our own homes. Jesus says in Luke 12, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Holding to Christ and His Word may mean family division. Family is important, but it’s not the most important thing. Don’t be surprised if friends or family turn against you for what God has given you to believe. You are called to love the Lord more than your parents or children or grandchildren. Expect that this might bring you heartache.
And in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus doesn’t mince any words when speaking to His disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” Being put out of the synagogues means that you may well lose your place or your status in certain groups or clubs or circles of friends because of your Scriptural beliefs. You may well lose your job or be demoted because of the faith that you confess. People are already being browbeaten into keeping their mouths shut when it comes to speaking out against abortion or gay marriage or transgenderism, even on social media, lest their be negative repercussions. There is a secular, progressive orthodoxy that is not to be contradicted, or else.
Note that Jesus talks in these spiritual terms about those who oppose Him and His Church, that the people who do so are religious about it, even thinking that they are offering God service, upholding some sort of distorted and corrupted notion of goodness and love. Today’s Pharisees and Puritans are not so much the old time Bible thumpers but the enforcers of the new secular spirituality. You most hold to their doctrine and their creed purely, or else you’re rejected and cancelled. You can always tell what the dominant cultural and religious beliefs are by who or what you’re not allowed to criticize without consequence.
The time is coming, Jesus says, when people will think that they’re doing God’s work by killing Christians who don’t tow the cultural line. That’s how it was with Saul before his conversion to being the Apostle Paul, right? He thought he was serving God. Saul was devoted to living righteously according to the law; he was a rising star among his fellow Pharisees. And he was so zealous and passionate in his religion that he devoted himself to rooting out and getting rid of those whom he thought to be heretics, particularly those Christians who worshiped Jesus as the Son of God. He oversaw the stoning to death of a Christian deacon named Stephen. He was willing to travel long distances in order to persecute and imprison those who followed Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It was only the grace of God that turned Paul’s life around when Jesus appeared to Him on the road to Damascus, bringing him to repentance and faith and a new life. Only by grace did He come to worship the true God, through faith in Christ alone.
So don’t be surprised but expect the modern equivalents of Saul to come around today, those who consider it a good and holy thing to fight against Christ and His Word, who reject Him as God in the flesh, who hate the teaching that there is no salvation except in Him and His righteousness alone, who love their own spirituality above all. Jesus said in the Gospel, “These things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.”
But then in the midst of all this, have this expectation, that God is working all things together for the good of His people, as He has promised. Note how in the Epistle, Peter says that the fiery trial is to test you. That’s not just to see if you pass the test of faith, but that through the fire, your faith will be purified and strengthened, like molten iron is purified by fire and the dross is removed. That’s why it is written in James 1, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” God is doing good for you and in you through these things.
So it is that Peter says in today’s Epistle, “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” Christ suffered all the way to death for you to take away your sins. He completed that task fully. Now, being baptized into Him, you share in His sufferings which put to death your old Adam. And Romans 6 says that if we have been united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. If we share in His humiliation, we will also share in His exaltation.
That’s how we can follow the example of the saints and rejoice in trials and persecutions. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before You.” And where are the prophets now? They are comforted in the presence of the Savior and Redeemer whom they prophesied. God sees your suffering and will not abandon you but will vindicate you.
Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his Master.” If they crucified Him, those who follow Him should not expect a life of ease in this world. But remember that in following Him, you are walking the path that leads through the grave and out the other side alive. The Lord reminds you not to get too comfortable here. Your citizenship is in heaven, your life is hidden with God in Christ, safe and secure. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. So while we’re realistic about what to expect in this world and in this life, we still live with confidence and joy, for we have a sure hope and expectation of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
In fact, the whole universe shares with us in this hope. It is written, “The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” That’s you! Whatever your expectation is of what heaven and the new creation is going to be like, your expectations are going to be exceeded. You will be filled with overflowing joy in that place where Christ is all in all.
So trust in God in the midst of affliction or persecution. For Christ has overcome the world and conquered the evil one. “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” Do not be afraid; do not think for a moment that your heavenly Father has abandoned you, even in death. For He loves you and has gathered you out of the world’s synagogues to be His own Holy Church, His new creation by water and the Word.
And who knows? Perhaps like Saul, one day your enemy will become your brother or sister in the faith. This is our prayer in Christ, who prayed for His enemies, who offered God the Father true service not by killing others but by sacrificing Himself for you to save you. And now He gives Himself to you in the Sacrament that you may share in His life. This is where everything is set right, where the madness of the world and its lies are held at bay. For where Christ Jesus is, there is your home, your peace, your comfort, your joy in all hardships, and your entry into eternal life.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠