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When I was doing the background reading on 1 Peter, I was reminded of the terrible sufferings which the early church endured.
The exact dating of Peter's letters is not clear. It could have been during the time of Nero, or a later time. But it is clear that it was during a time of persecution and suffering.

You remember the Emperor Nero. The legend is he fiddled while Rome burned.
Rome had large slum areas that Nero wanted to rebuild. The rumors were that Nero had ordered the burning of Rome, but the new Christian sect was a convenient target for Nero who charged they were responsible.

People misunderstood the Lord's supper and assumed they consumed real flesh and blood and imagined all sorts of debaucheries connected with it. So they were receptive to believe this horrible little group might set their city on fire.
Christians had legal protection as long as they were assumed to be a Jewish sect, but as the separation with Judaism became clearer, they lost . . .

though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
 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.
 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him
and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving   1Peter 1:7-9

When I was doing the background reading on 1 Peter, I was reminded of the terrible sufferings which the early church endured.
The exact dating of Peter's letters is not clear. It could have been during the time of Nero, or a later time. But it is clear that it was during a time of persecution and suffering.

You remember the Emperor Nero. The legend is he fiddled while Rome burned.
Rome had large slum areas that Nero wanted to rebuild. The rumors were that Nero had ordered the burning of Rome, but the new Christian sect was a convenient target for Nero who charged they were responsible.

People misunderstood the Lord's supper and assumed they consumed real flesh and blood and imagined all sorts of debaucheries connected with it. So they were receptive to believe this horrible little group might set their city on fire.
Christians had legal protection as long as they were assumed to be a Jewish sect, but as the separation with Judaism became clearer, they lost their legal status and were fair game, not just in Rome but around the empire once word was out about what Nero had done to the Christians.

What he did was, among other things, to have them sewn into animal skins and then set upon by wild dogs who would tear them limb from limb. And to illuminate his gardens in the evening he took many, had them rolled in pitch then set on fire as human torches. Nero was one of the most sadistic of the emperors, but the emperor Domitian persecuted believers in Jesus with as much passion. Under his rule, Christians were fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum and in the provinces as well.

I was thinking about their terrible sufferings and was reminded that believers have suffered much over the centuries. They have been imprisoned, had their property confiscated, forced out of their jobs, their communities and their families as well as being put to death. When Peter writes to them of an inheritance that cannot perish, you know he is not using a figure of speech, but was speaking of the literal threat to their lives.

We have inherited the great gift of faith which enriches our lives and gives us the confidence of a clear conscience and our hope for eternity. And we are so fortunate.
We do not have to pay the price which they paid. Our government even gives us a tax deduction for the gifts we offer week by week.

The one thought that came to mind was to admire their bravery and their dedication.
They lived truly heroic lives.
At the end of the service, I am going to invite you to offer a few moments of silence in their honor.

I wondered about what motivates people to put everything at risk for their belief. Then I read what he says to them:

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now,
 you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (vs 8&9 NIV)

Why would people who had not even seen Jesus personally lay down their lives?
Because they are filled with the inexpressible joy of receiving the salvation of their souls. That is quite an old fashion term, "salvation of your souls". We don't talk that way anymore, at least we don't use those terms often, but think of what he is saying to them. God is not promising to save your bodies, but is promising to save your immortal soul.

We live in such a different world, don't we?
You go to the mall and all around you are the goods and services for the body.
You find people who will look after your hair, your clothing, your vitamins requirements, there is jewelry to wear, shoes for your feet, cosmetics galore, and if you have sore feet or failing eyesight, there is a product or a service to look after it.

But walk down the mall, any mall, and ask yourself, "what is here to feed the needs of my soul?"
Yes there are bookstores, but how many titles on the shelf feed your soul?
Some do for sure, but our marketplaces are overwhelmingly in service of the body. Oh, did I forget the specialty coffee or donut shops?
But remember the words of Jesus, "fear not he who can kill the body. But fear he who, after destroying the body, can also send your soul to eternal destruction as well."

Didn't God care about those people and their sufferings?
Yes, He cared immensely, just as He cared immensely about the sufferings of Jesus.
But as Peter writes to the churches in danger, there is something better. It is called eternity.

And so I am just struck with the comparison of their faith in their time and our faith in our time.
I ask myself and I ask you the same: do we share the same inexpressible and glorious joy just at knowing how deeply we are loved by God and that Jesus has secured us our forgiveness and our eternity?
Do you wake up each day with joy knowing your are in the palm of God's hand?
How did you wake up today?
How do you anticipate awakening tomorrow, Monday morning....with joy?

I wonder if our preoccupation with the body and the material has dulled us to the sense of the great inheritance we posses which nothing can steal.

And yes, I do know that we have our own sufferings here and now. It is not only the fear of persecution and death that qualifies as suffering and that most of us here understand the reality of pain in our life.
And there are contemporary heroes.

Helen Roseveare is a British medical doctor who worked for many years as a missionary in Zaire. During the revolution of the 1960s, she often faced brutal beatings and other forms of physical torture. On one occasion, when she was about to be executed, she feared God had forsaken her.

In that moment, she sensed the Holy Spirit saying to her: Twenty years ago you asked me for the privilege of being identified with me. This is it. Don't you want it? This is what it means. These are not your sufferings; they are my sufferings. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.

The privilege of serving Christ through her sufferings overwhelmed Dr. Roseveare. After she was delivered, she wrote about her experience with God: ?He didn't stop the sufferings. He didn't stop the wickedness, the cruelties, the humiliation or anything. It was all there. The pain was just as bad. The fear was just as bad. But it was altogether different. It was in Jesus, for him, with him.?1

As I was reading and meditating on what I should focus on and share with you, I think I was led to share this with you.
God has given us a great gift...the gift of eternal life.
It came at great cost to Jesus, and our Father suffered with him in His sufferings.
Down through the centuries, the freedom to worship and enjoy the benefits of our faith has been paid for in the sufferings and in the celebrations of generation after generation.

This gift is something of great value. It is an inheritance that nothing can destroy and one in which we can find inexpressible joy.
And so, it seems that this morning, the most appropriate response is to acknowledge that debt and to silently say thank you to God.
Let us remember all that we have from God to be grateful for and let us remember those who suffered much that we have this liberty of faith.

Prayer: )an opportunity for silent prayer) Lord we are humbled at the faith of those who paid with their lives to honor you. We are humbled by the great price which You paid to give us eternity. Accept this recognition of that debt to you. Amen

Preached  April 10, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

Notes
1. Philip Ryken, The Message of Salvation (Inter-Varsity Press, 2001) quoted in PreachingToday.com

Online Resources Consulted
http://www.preachingtoday.com/
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