Life’s Not Fair!
1 Peter 4:12-19
“Hey! That’s not fair!” a child cries out in protest after landing on Park Place with three houses on it and losing all his money in one turn. “It’s not fair!” Serena Williams remarked after the umpire called the game costing her the most recent Grand Slam in women’s tennis. I’ll even bet every one of you can think of something from just this past week that was unfair, and not right! I can still hear my mom’s words echoing in my mind, “Life isn’t fair!” or my brothers’ more macho rendition of it, “Life’s tough!”
It’s true. Life isn’t fair. But not just in a general sense among all people. Jesus says right in the gospel reading for today, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). Many are caught off guard by this truth. Many seek a Savior who will give them an easy life or a quick ticket to success. After all, if we are children of God, it would make sense that God will look out for us and make our lives as easy as possible. But Peter says, “Dear friends, do NOT be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pt 4:12). Some come to Christ expecting to find an easy life, but they are surprised and frustrated once the reality of the world sets in. “This isn’t fair!” they say. Why does it seem everyone is against me as a Christian? To this, Peter says, “do not be surprised… as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pt 4:12).
Oddly enough, it’s this same Peter who not too long ago was surprised when Jesus predicted his own fiery ordeal. “[Jesus taught] them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed” (Mk 8:31). But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Jesus (Mk 8:32), “This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22). How often do we ourselves nod along to Jesus’ encouragement to deny self, take up your cross, and follow him (Mk 8:34), and yet throw our hands up in frustration when we are persecuted or spoken against as Christians. “Why are people so against Christianity?” we might question. “Why doesn’t God just give me some clear, surefire explanation I can use to just prove myself right and them wrong in every case?!”
Do not be surprised as though something strange were happening. Life just isn’t fair. They persecuted Jesus himself, “The way, the truth, and the life.” Don’t you think they will also persecute followers of the Truth? As I stand here, telling you not to be surprised, I have to admit that I was pretty surprised when I read page after page of persecutions throughout history. There was intense and gory persecution under the Roman emperor Nero. I’ll spare you the details. A decade later, Roman emperor Domitian demanded his subjects recognize him as “Lord and God.” During this time, the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos – the only apostle to die of natural causes. All the rest were martyred. Under emperor Trajan, regional governors could arrest, punish, and even kill Christians just for bearing the Christian name. This continued in the Roman empire for centuries until finally Diocletian ordered the destruction of all Christian churches, the dissolution of all congregations, confiscation of Christian property, and death to any Christian caught in public assembly. This type of persecution has continued in every century and in every part of the world. In the early 1600s, Japanese shoguns were convinced that the West was planting Christians only to soften up Japan for invasion. And it has only gotten worse. In the early 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Christians were slaughtered by Muslim Turks. Vladimir Lenin with the Bolshevik revolution made hostility to Christianity a central feature of Soviet life which continued through Stalin. It continued into Communist China under Mao Zedong. And it is still seen as millions of Christians are captured and put to death in Islamic countries. It still shocks us and surprises us every time it happens. And I’m not saying it shouldn’t. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be outraged at this. But understand that Jesus said it would happen.
Although it’s so prevalent and so unfair, although it may not seem worth it being Christians in such places, be sure to take a moment to look up. Look up from your cross and see your Savior, marching in front of you, carrying his own cross. I know life doesn’t seem fair for Christians. But it wasn’t fair for Christ either.
“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Pt 4:15). Yes, you will suffer for being a Christian. But it’s not the same kind of suffering as that of a criminal, evildoer, murderer or thief. Your suffering is different. It’s not a just punishment for things you’ve done wrong and what a blessing that is! Because, there may not be any murderers in the room, but I’m sure every one of us have cut down others with thoughts of hatred. Maybe you wouldn’t consider yourselves thieves, but how often do thoughts of greed sneak into our lives? You and I could go through every one of God’s commands and think of numerous ways in which we have broken those commands in thought, word, and deed. But do we suffer like the wicked lawbreakers we truly are? No. Because it was Christ numbered with the transgressors (Is 53:12) as he hung there between two criminals on the cross. It was Jesus who was treated unfairly, coming down from the highest place to suffer and die as the worst of the worst. It was Jesus who took on the punishment of sin so that all you would ever have to suffer was injustice. That’s why Peter says, “if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pt 4:16). Praise God that you have been called by the Gospel. Praise God that you have been baptized into his family. Praise God that he has justified you from all unrighteousness and clothed you with the holy robe of Christ! Praise God that when the world and when God sees you, it is through the lens of Christ!
And then remember, that as you suffer, Jesus knows what you go through. He doesn’t merely say, “Oh, it’s not really that bad.” He doesn’t minimize your suffering. He knows your pain is real because he knows your pain. He understands the rejections you face because he faced rejection. He understands how it feels when others make it hard on you because there were many who made it hard on him. He came and experienced your suffering. He went before you in your suffering. So, in the midst of your trials when you want to cry out that life isn’t fair, remember that you are merely following in his footsteps. It wasn’t fair for him first.
Then keep your eyes firmly fixed on him, because what happens next is truly amazing! Yes, Christ was insulted and mistreated. He was betrayed and crucified. But it wasn’t for nothing. Christ came with a purpose and that purpose did not end in suffering. He didn’t remain dead. He rose! And not only that, but “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:9-11). Just as you follow Christ and bear your crosses through life, keep following him. Follow him into the honor and glory that he once again has! He takes you there! “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:11-12).
Life doesn’t seem fair for Christians. It really wasn’t fair for Christ who gave up all honor and glory to be mistreated right along with us. But when all is said and done, when Christ comes on the last day and sets things right – and he will set things right – then the statement still holds true: “Life isn’t fair.” But… not in the way you and I usually think about it.
The apostle Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rm 8:18). Just as Jesus’ story did not end in suffering, so yours also will not end in suffering. Praise God that you bear his name because it is the way into the eternal glories of heaven! The means by which everything is made right – in fact, not just made right. The glory that awaits is not even worth comparing to what we face now. And that puts reality into perspective. Just as growing older puts things into perspective. For a young child, a broken crayon can be the end of the world. How trivial, you might think. For a young adult, test scores and breakups are earth shattering news! What is it for you right now that really stresses you out? And how trivial will all these things be when you are 1 year into glory… 50 years into eternity… 10,000 years reigning with Christ?! The reality is, this is just the smallest sliver of the life you have ahead of you. Life definitely isn’t fair, but the scales will be strongly tipped in your favor in the end. Therefore, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed… If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pt 4:14,16).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You are my hope, just as I was in your despair on the cross. You are my sanity, just as I am your confusion; my joy, just as I am your sorrow. You are my healing, just as I am your pain. Indeed, you are my life, Lord Jesus, just as I was your death on the cross. Thank you for making life unfair in my favor. Amen.