Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. For the time has come for judgement to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?’
Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.
Today’s opening verses could easily be paraphrased: ‘don’t be surprised you are being burnt’… We know the stories of how the emperor Nero, hating the new Christian faith and blaming Christians for the Great Fire of Rome, determined to burn many believers alive. It is clear from our reading that those to whom Peter wrote were already facing fierce persecution.
The Christian faith is counter-cultural. Wherever Christianity goes, it faces opposition, because the piercing light of Jesus uncovers the dark corners that the world wishes to hide from or ignore. The light forces the world to face up to the dark. Instead of facing up to things the darkness often finds it much easier to oppress the light. Oppressive governments threatened by the Church still persecute Christians today. . We, I suspect, have never faced persecution on the scale of Nero’s victims or our brothers and sisters in China or North Korea (to name but two examples), but if we have ever been ridiculed or persecuted for our faith, let us take courage, because the darkness only persecutes and ridicules that which it finds threatening or challenging. This will continue as long as our lives are counter-cultural and challenging to a society that would rather remain unchallenged. If the ridicule and persecution stop we should question whether we are counter-cultural enough, or whether we have simply begun to fit in with the culture around us.
Peter sums up our calling well: our calling, as Christians, is to expect persecution as part and parcel of our faith, to entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator, and continue to do good.
Lord, we pray for those who are persecuted for Your sake, that they may find strength, and for those who hate You and Your Church, that they may repent. Help your Church always to be counter cultural, ready to speak against evil and injustice, to shine Your light into dark places