For the past two weeks, we have been watching the news about the tragic deaths in Orlando. A gunman walked into a nightclub and gunned down people without discrimination. The attacker took the time to call 911 and express his allegiance to a terrorist organization. The senselessness and evil of this kind of event and the probability that something like this will happen again evokes in many a sense of despair and hopelessness.
Life hurts. Trouble comes. Yes, God can heal cancer. God can stop a car speeding off of the highway. For whatever reason, God doesn’t always intervene when we ask. We know that difficulties come, and we do not have the answers. However, believers in Jesus Christ always have hope because of the cross.
Our message is not that Christians don’t suffer. To the contrary, unjust suffering is within the providence of God and can be used for good and for God’s glory. Our message is that we don’t see suffering as the period at the end of the sentence—the end of the story. The grave will not be our final resting place, and the pain of living in this world will not have the last word.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be bold and effective in talking about the hope we have in Jesus Christ while living in a troubled world. We must be bold in our living and speech. Our purpose is to give people the information they need to understand how to follow Jesus; the information that they need is that there is hope in Christ. Effective witnesses back that information up with their lifestyle and personal experience.
Do you know how to articulate your faith? If someone asked you to tell them why you believe in Jesus, could you?
Let’s think about what Peter wrote:
1 Peter 3:13-17 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
Today, we focus on verse fifteen. As we examine this verse, I want to give you three reminders for sharing the hope of Jesus Christ in this troubled world.
Three Reminders for Sharing the Hope of Jesus in Our Troubled World
1. Our focus: Honor Christ.
In our hearts, Peter wrote, we honor Christ the Lord as holy. As believers face a complicated, troubled world, we honor him. The powerful truth is that Jesus understands our suffering. He died on the cross. Jesus on a cross is the universal way people think of Jesus; pain and trouble marked his time on this earth. Because of Jesus’ suffering, we honor him as the one who suffered for us and before us. Jesus not only takes our suffering and weaves it into the purpose of God. Jesus knows how we feel.
It is impossible to support people with the hope of Christ when we are not honoring Christ. When we do not honor Christ the Lord as holy by living for him, we are Christian in name only. When we face our crises in life and give in to our fears without honoring Christ, we have nothing to offer a troubled world. If we make wrong decisions and dishonor Jesus, we compromise away any possibility we have of giving a credible word of encouragement to those who are in trouble.
Everyone who is a believer shares a transforming word of hope when Jesus Christ is Lord of the heart! When Jesus Christ is honored, opportunities open up to partner with God and advance his Kingdom! Paul talked about these God-sized opportunities.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
God takes our tragedies and crises and transforms them into opportunities to give support, hope, and comfort to those who suffer around us.
2. Our task: Be prepared to make a defense.
If you look at the next phrase in verse fifteen, you will be struck by the reality that we are expected to give a defense for our faith in Jesus. Peter wrote that we are to “always be ready to make a defense to those who ask you for a reason for the hope” that is in us. The Greek word for defense is apologia. This is where we get our English word “apology.” The technical term for this kind of argument is “apologetics.”
Peter was not saying that we should tell people that we are sorry for being a Christian. He was saying we must give a defense as in a court case. Every single Christian must be able to give a word of hope in hopeless situations. When believers respond with hope and faith, others take notice!
Are you ready to make a defense as to why you have hope in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?
Here are some basic questions you should be prepared to give some answer in your own words:
· Why do you believe there is a God?
· Did Jesus claim to be God?
· Did Jesus rise from the dead?
· Why do you believe the Bible is God's Word?
· Do science and the Bible contradict?
· What is different about Christianity when compared to other religions?
· Why doesn’t God end all suffering?
Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little is a great classic book to help you answer these questions.
Paul Little made an excellent observation in his book. He said, “The question is often asked, ‘If Christianity is rational and true, why is it that most educated people don’t believe it?’ The answer is simple. They don’t believe it for the very same reason that most uneducated people don’t believe it. They don’t want to believe it. It’s not a matter of brain power, for there are outstanding Christians in every field of the arts and sciences. It is primarily a matter of the will.”
The reality is that we live in a world that is ruined by sin. On many occasions, I have been asked why God allows death, pain, or injustice. Why do innocent people die in war or famine? Why are children born with intellectual or physical challenges? For some, atheism is an expression of their personal pain or an evolution of their anger toward God. People blame God for evil and suffering. I believe the issues of grief, suffering, and death are the key reasons for people turning against faith in God.
We cannot give a pat answer to the problem of evil. However, we cannot forget that God created humans perfect in the beginning. By Adam’s choice, he forfeited an unending life of joy and fellowship with God. Death and sin passed down to us all.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
God did do something about the problem of evil. He did the most dramatic, thorough, complete, and costly thing to end evil once and for all. He sent Jesus, his only Son, to die for evil people. The ultimate answer to evil is found in the death of Jesus Christ. Even when it comes to the matter of Hell, God sends no one there. People send themselves. God has done all that is necessary for people to experience forgiveness, redemption, and cleansing. Through what Jesus has done, God is working out the redemption of creation to himself.
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The response to the question of where one finds hope is always the Gospel. Granted, you may have to talk about other issues to set the stage, but the Cross should always be center stage. One theologian pointed out that fabric viewed through a magnifying glass is clear in the middle and blurry around the edges. We know that the edges are clear because we see the middle. Life, like the fabric, has many edges which are blurred. Events and circumstances have no clear purpose. However, they should be interpreted by the clarity we see in the center—the cross of Jesus. We don’t have to guess about the goodness of God. We know that God is good because he has revealed himself on the center stage of human history—the Cross.
3. Our approach: Be gentle and respectful.
Peter cautions Christians to be considerate and respectful in their responses. Our goal is not to embarrass another person, but to win their ear. Peter would not have instructed Christians to hold up signs promising eternal damnation at funerals. He would never have suggested that believers laugh at or make fun of others. No! The purpose is not to win an argument but to win lost souls by the power of the Gospel!
None of us should want others to suffer. Even those who do evil, we want them to repent and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation so that they will not spend an eternity apart from God in Hell. Our greatest aim in life as believers must be to glorify God. We glorify God when we give a defense for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. The imperfect and immoral people of this world need the hope of Jesus Christ more than anyone else.
Jesus said it this way:
Mark 2:17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In this diseased, sick world, you have the antidote. The antidote is the hope of the Gospel. We offer this medicine to those around us with gentleness and respect. In other words, we have a bedside manner.
Once, I sat with a family waiting for a man to come out of a complicated surgery. The situation was tense. The operation was very dangerous. Finally, after several hours, the surgeon came out to report to the family. I was shocked at how rude and disrespectful he was to the family. Granted, he was tired and had done an incredible job of performing the surgery. However, the doctor had a horrible bedside manner. I discovered that the surgeon was notorious for his lack of compassion.
Christians who have been called by God to give the antidote of hope to those who are in despair are commanded to do so with gentleness. If we fail in our approach, we make Satan’s job easy as he convinces the hopeless person that God doesn’t care. We must treat other people in such a way that even our enemies will have no evidence to speak against us. Rather, our enemies should be ashamed that they won’t listen to us because of our kindness.
I have suffered some ridiculous criticisms and hostile words because of my faith. I’ve been called an “idiot” and worse. Although I have been threatened a few times, I have not been assaulted physically for my faith. The longer I live, the more I believe that remaining calm and encouraging to those who are hostile to the faith is the most effective response. I’m still working on this area of my life.
I believe that God reminded us of our need for gentleness and respect because the truth can be used as a weapon at times. James Dobson once said, “I’ve observed that Christians are often in greater danger when they are ‘right’ in a conflict than when they are clearly wrong. In other words, a person is more likely to become bitter and deeply hostile when someone has cheated him or taken advantage of him than is the offender himself.” Maybe this is why Jesus reminded us to “turn the other cheek” and “go the second mile.”
Remember, people go through things, and when they do, they look for hope. Perhaps you won’t be received today. When a crisis happens in their life, they will remember the hope in your eyes. Someone has said that the same sun melts butter and hardens clay. That person who is not yet a believer may see how Jesus made you stronger, even in your suffering.