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The Fiery Trial, Part 1

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
August 17, 2021 4:00 am

The Fiery Trial, Part 1

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Peter tells them basically four things are necessary if you are to be triumphant in a fiery ordeal. Number one, expect it. Number two, rejoice in it.

Number three, evaluate its cause. And number four, commit yourself to God. Expect it, rejoice in it, evaluate its cause, and entrust yourself to God. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Several years ago, a pastor of a house church overseas told about being thrown in prison and being physically abused so many times that he lost count. And yet an official government document said that despite being arrested and, quote, educated many times, this pastor's heart has not died and his nature has not changed. That's what you call knowing victory in the face of persecution or having faith through the fire.

That's the title of John MacArthur's current study. It's preparing you for the heat of persecution and showing you how to stand strong no matter what. So turn to 1 Peter chapter 4 and here's John. On July 19th in the year 64 A.D., Rome burned while Nero fiddled. That's sort of a famous point in history. Everybody remembers that Rome burned and Nero fiddled, but that has significant impact on the writing of this epistle.

Let me give you a little background. The great city of the ancient world was consumed that day in an unbelievable holocaust of fire. Rome was a city of very narrow streets. It was a city of high wooden tenements.

They built what would today be known as apartment houses out of wood and they were very close together. The fire spread fast and although it began on that day, it lasted three days and nights and it broke out again and again even though they tried to check it. The Romans actually believed that Nero was responsible for burning their great city and their homes.

Why? Because Nero had this strange fixation with building and he wanted to build a new city and so they believed that he burned down the old one. He stood in the tower of Messenas and watched gleefully as the city burned to the ground.

In fact, it is said that he was charmed by the loveliness of the flames. People who put the fire out or tried to put it out were hindered by his soldiers and new fires were started. The people were absolutely devastated. They lost everything.

The temple of Luna, the Ara Maxima, the great altar, the temple of Jupiter, the shrine of Vesta, their homes, all their household gods, everything was gone and they were homeless. The resentment obviously was great. The bitterness was deep and somewhat deadly and so Nero needed to divert the attention away from himself. He needed a scapegoat so he selected a scapegoat, the Christians. Publicly, he blamed the Christians for burning Rome.

It was an ingenious choice, frankly, on his part because the Christians were already the victims of hatred and already the victims of slander. They were connected with Jews in the minds of most people who had been dispersed in the Diaspora and since there was a rather growing anti-Semitism, it was easy to have an anti-Christian attitude as well. The Lord's Supper which Christians held was closed to pagans and so they sort of developed all kinds of strange imaginations about what happened. They heard about these Christians who were eating flesh and drinking blood and accused them of cannibalism. In fact, they began to say that they ate babies and Gentiles at the Lord's Supper.

They also said that the Christian kiss of love which supposedly was used at their love feast was really a demonstration of this unbridled lust and orgy that took place called the Lord's Supper. Christians were also very unpopular because they split families. When a man became a Christian and his wife did not, it was an obvious fracture and the same would be true in reverse. Christians also used to talk about a time when the world would be dissolved in flames and so it would be easy to blame them for this fire thinking they had tried to develop a fulfillment for their own prophecy. And historians tell us that even though there were in Rome some judges who were honest enough and prepared to acquit the Christians of this baseless charge, those judges were overpowered and ignored. Christians were incendiary.

Christians were anarchist. Christians were guilty of hatred against civilized society. This really began what later developed into a full blown persecution. If you go later than Nero to Domitian, Trajan, and the other Roman emperors, you find that what began here as an initial hatred of Christians became a fixed policy and the question whether a man was a Christian became the most essential part of any charge against him.

As a result of this accusation, persecution began. Tacitus, the Roman historian, reported that Nero rolled Christians in pitch or oil and then set fire to them while they were still alive and used them as living torches to light his garden parties. He served them up in the skins of wild animals to his hunting dogs to tear them to shreds. They were nailed to crosses, etc., etc. Christians perished in a delirium of savagery at that time and even lynching became very common. Within a few years, Christians were imprisoned, wracked, seared, broiled, burned, scourged, stoned, and hanged. Some were lacerated with hot knives and others thrown on the horns of wild bulls.

Dr. H. B. Workman, in his chapter Caesar or Christ from a very interesting volume called Persecution in the Early Church, wrote this, For 200 years from Nero on, the leaders among the Christians were branded as anarchists and atheists and hated accordingly. For 200 years to become a Christian meant the great renunciation, the joining of a despised and persecuted sect, the swimming against the tide of popular prejudice, the coming under the ban of the empire, the possibility at any moment of imprisonment and death under its most fearful forms. For 200 years he that would follow Christ must count the cost and be prepared to pay the same with his liberty in life. For 200 years the mere profession of Christianity was itself a crime. Christianus sum was almost the one plea for which there was no forgiveness, in itself all that was necessary on the back of the condemned as a title.

For the name itself in periods of stress, not a few, meant the rack, the blazing shirt of pitch, the lion, the panther, or in the case of maidens, an infamy worse than death." Now, what is interesting about that in relation to 1 Peter is that from the best that we can ascertain, this letter was probably written just after that all began, sometime toward the end of that same year, 64 A.D. So it would be written then at a time when Christians were undergoing the beginnings of the horrors of a 200 year persecution. As we look then at verse 12, and I'll call your attention to it, we are not shocked therefore to read the words of Peter, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you. Now as we approach this text, Peter then is going to draw their attention to the recurring theme of this epistle and that is the Christian's response to suffering. And he gives them four key features in a proper response.

And if we can get a grip on these, it will go a long way to helping us deal with suffering for righteousness sake in our own lives. Peter tells them basically four things are necessary if you are to be triumphant in a fiery ordeal. Number one, expect it. Number two, rejoice in it. Number three, evaluate its cause.

And number four, commit yourself to God. Expect it. Rejoice in it.

Evaluate its cause. And entrust yourself to God. Now this in a way sums up all of the instruction in this epistle heretofore along the lines of suffering. Much has already been said.

Let's jump right in and take that first point. We find it in verse 12. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you which comes upon you for your testing as though some strange thing were happening to you. The point here is to expect suffering. Expect it. Don't be surprised at it.

Don't think it's some strange thing. Expect it. Peter has consistently through this epistle said that persecution for the Christian in various forms is inevitable. It is inevitable.

In fact, the surprise would be if it didn't come. Do not marvel, said John in 1 John 3.13. Brethren, if the world hates you, don't be surprised. In John 15 and 16, Jesus said they hated me, they're going to hate you. Paul writing to Timothy says all that live godly in this present age will suffer persecution, 2 Timothy 3.12. And so Peter is really echoing the instruction of the others who have written in the New Testament that we're not to be surprised when suffering comes. Godly lives lived in an ungodly world confront that world and we become a kind of unwelcome conscience that is distasteful. And if we name the name of Christ loudly enough, we become offensive.

The goodness alone of a Christian can be an offense to a wicked world and when you add to that the proclamation of the name of Christ, we become particularly offensive. It's as if Peter is saying suffering is the price of discipleship. Certainly Jesus had that in mind when he said you're not going to become a Christian, are you, without counting the cost. Nobody even builds a tower without counting the cost.

No general goes to war without counting the cost and assessing his troops and his ability to deal with the enemy. And you certainly wouldn't be so foolish as not to realize that when you become a Christian, you take up a cross and a cross speaks of pain and suffering and even death. There is definitely a price to pay because if you name the name of Christ, you will become a conscience to an evil world which does not welcome such a conscience. Now it is inevitable that a faithful Christian will suffer some persecution and that's what he's talking about. He's talking about suffering for righteousness sake or suffering because you're a Christian or suffering because you proclaim the name of Christ.

Now let's go back to our text. It starts by saying beloved, literally beloved ones and he is being very pastoral here but he's also introducing a new section. The second section in the epistle began in chapter 2 verse 11 with the word beloved and now the third section and last one begins in chapter 4 verse 12 with the same word beloved. It does introduce the final section but it is a pastoral word. It is a word of tenderness. It is a word of compassion. It is a word of affection.

It is a word of care. You remember back in chapter 1 verse 22 that Peter talked about a sincere love of the brethren. Then in chapter 4 verse 8 he talked about the fact that we are to keep a fervent love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins. Well here he's exhibiting that compassion, that fervent love, that intense love as he speaks of these believers in this gracious term.

It is a reminder that they are loved by Peter and more than that they are loved by God. That my dear friends is a sweet pillow to rest your weary soul on in the midst of persecution. You are still the beloved of God. You are still the beloved of a Christian brother. I suppose it would be a temptation in the midst of suffering, in the midst of temptation and who knows but that some of the very Christians to whom Peter was writing were suffering under the terrible reign of terror of Nero. It would be very easy under that kind of situation to question the love of God, wouldn't it? Do you really love me? Do you really care?

If so, why is this happening? I mean you would be sort of cashing in your chips if you had bought into the prosperity gospel, wouldn't you? You would be wondering if what you had been told was in fact true, if somebody came to you and said Jesus wants to make you healthy, wealthy and prosperous. And no sooner had you given your life to Jesus Christ than somebody was rolling your children in pitch and using them as torches in their garden party. And you might be saying, wait a minute God, this doesn't look like a loving God to me. Circumstances might make it seem that you're not loved. In the midst of persecution like that, the enemy would tempt you like Job's wife, curse God and die.

Haven't you had enough? And so Peter gives us this lovely reminder, beloved, you are still the beloved of God. You are still the beloved of the apostle. Beloved, do not be surprised. Don't be amazed that you're being persecuted. Don't be shocked that life is difficult. Don't be surprised when somebody takes issue with your testimony. Don't be surprised when you can't get the promotion you want at work, when your employee friends are hostile toward you, when you're mocked, when you don't get what you deserve.

Don't be surprised when your neighbors seem to have a vendetta against you for a reason that you can't understand. Don't be surprised. Don't be amazed. Christians should easily understand that suffering goes with the Christian faith. It isn't foreign.

It isn't alien. It belongs. Christianity never promises immunity from suffering. It promises, you ready for this? Suffering. Suffering.

What kind of gospel presentation would it be if instead of saying Jesus wants you to be happy and joyful and peaceful and solve all your problems and make you prosperous and wealthy and healthy and all of that. If we said to someone, you know, you're in desperate need of Jesus Christ to save you because you're on your way to an eternal hell and you have this choice. You can suffer forever in hell or you can become a Christian and suffer here for a while because that's the bottom line.

Personally, that's not a tough choice for me. I'd rather take a few shots here than endure an eternal hell. But men seem to want to live under the illusion that if you claim Christ and if you name Christ and if you, quote unquote, serve the church, God will eliminate all your difficulty, all your adversity, all your pain, all your persecution. That's not true.

That is not true. In fact, I think the more effective you are for God and the more faithful to divine truth, the more you stimulate animosity. You become, to those who believe, a saver of life unto life but to those who do not believe, a saver of death unto death. So, don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you.

Now, what does that mean? Well, literally, the term is a burning. The word is used for furnace. In the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew, it is used for furnace. In the New Testament, it has the idea of a furnace as well.

In the Old Testament, it was used of a smelting furnace where metal was melted down to be purged of foreign elements. So, he is saying, don't be surprised when God puts you in the furnace to melt you down. Psalm 66, 10, for example, says, Thou, O God, hast proved us. Thou hast smelted us as silver is smelted.

God, you did it. It is here, then, a symbol of affliction, a symbol of persecution, a symbol of rejection that God designs to be a purging, purifying process. Back in 1 Peter, look at verse 6 and 7 of chapter 1 for a moment because here is the same concept. Verse 6, it says, In this you greatly rejoice, that is, in the eternal salvation yet to come. You rejoice in that, even though now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. So, he says, look, you're willing to endure some fiery trials here because you know it will prove the genuineness of your faith which will be rewarded at the appearing of Jesus Christ.

So, the fiery trial here is not just any trouble. It's talking about persecution for your faith, persecution for righteousness' sake, persecution because of the identification with Jesus Christ. But God allows it to come. Verse 12, which comes upon you for your what?

Your testing. God allows it to come because it proves the genuineness of your Christianity. Do you remember the parable of our Lord Jesus, the parable about the soils? Do you remember that some seed fell on stony ground and it went into the soil and all of a sudden a plant shot out of the ground?

But it says there was rock underneath the soil and the roots couldn't move down to get the water and when the sun came out, it burned that plant to a crisp and it never bore fruit. And our Lord was describing the kind of person who hears the message of the gospel, has an emotional response, gives some outward semblance of reaction, but because the soil of the heart has never really been plowed up, as soon as tribulation comes, they're gone. So, this is exactly what Peter is saying. Suffering for the sake of Christ reveals who's genuine, right?

The phonies aren't going to hang around. That's why through the years we have always said the persecuted church is the pure church. So it comes for your testing. It's an essential feature of God's working in you to prove you, to purge you, to cleanse you. So, he says, expect it and don't treat it as though some strange thing were happening to you. That verb, were happening, is an interesting verb, sumbino.

It means to fall by chance. Don't think that when you're persecuted, it's something that happened by chance. No, God allowed it and designed it for your testing, your purging, your purification, your cleansing.

First, it proves whether you're real and then it purges the dross out of your life. Persecution, affliction, suffering are not accidental, nor do they interfere with God's plan. They are right in God's plan. Should be common to all Christians.

They are common to all faithful Christians. So, the first thing to deal with suffering is to expect it. Expect it. And if you can expect it, you can waylay its initial impact.

It's part of God's design. It's the way he proves the genuineness of your faith and it's the way he purges your life. It takes out all the pride, the illusion of self-control, the illusion that you can control your world and all of its responses.

It strips you and makes you totally dependent on him. And that's a good process. Faith Through the Fire. That's the title of John's current study on Grace to You.

And along with teaching on this radio station, John also serves as chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. Now, you explain today, John, that God uses suffering both to prove the genuineness of our faith and also to purify us. So, with that in mind, would you say that as a general rule, knowing why God allows us to suffer, knowing the purpose behind the pain, is that helpful and maybe even necessary in order to get through the suffering? John Dickerson Yeah, I need to say, first of all, that the biggest lie propagated by the health, wealth and prosperity people is that God only wants you to be happy. God only wants you to be successful. God only wants you to have all your dreams and desires fulfilled.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Spiritual life, spiritual growth really comes from suffering. You don't gain much from spiritual blessings and spiritual benefits and the outpouring of spiritual grace.

You should have a thankful heart. But it's the suffering that drives us to God. It's the suffering that weans us from the world. It's the suffering that allows us to share even in the sufferings of Christ. And suffering is the primary tool by which the Lord knocks off the sin in our lives, trims off the sin in our lives. In the language of the Gospel of John, prunes us.

It's painful, but it's a pruning process. So suffering has really the greatest power when suffering is seen the way God wants us to see it. So you need to understand why you're suffering and what God is accomplishing. And I would just mention a book that we've been distributing for a number of years, and the title is a little bit strange, The Power of Suffering. The Power of Suffering, Strengthening Your Faith in the Refiner's Fire. It examines God's sovereignty and God's purposes in our suffering, in our persecution.

Here's the good news. We'll send you a free copy of The Power of Suffering if you have never contacted us before. If you have contacted us before, obviously you can order the book, The Power of Suffering.

But for those of you that are new, we'd love to send one as a get acquainted gift. The title, The Power of Suffering, free to anyone contacting us for the first time. And friend, this book will not only help you better understand the important role suffering plays in your life, it will also equip you to comfort others during their trials. Again, The Power of Suffering is our gift to you if you've never contacted us before.

Get in touch today. You can let us know you'd like a copy of The Power of Suffering by calling 800-55-GRACE or by visiting our website, This book makes an ideal gift for someone struggling with health problems or facing financial trouble or grieving the loss of a friend or a loved one.

Again, we'll send you a free copy of The Power of Suffering if you have never contacted us before. All you have to do is call 800-55-GRACE or go to our website, And friend, if you are benefiting from broadcasts like today's, know that we're able to produce these programs and strengthen spiritually hungry believers with verse-by-verse Bible teaching because people like you support us. So if you're benefiting and you're able, I would encourage you to express your support today. You can make a tax-deductible donation by mail, write to Grace To You, Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412, or call us at 800-55-GRACE. Or you can donate online at Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for praying for John and the entire staff, and make sure you're here tomorrow when John continues unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-15 04:23:07 / 2023-09-15 04:32:45 / 10

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