On Sunday, 5 November 2017, my family entered our church, we said hello to different members of our church family, and excitedly settled in for the sermon. This is very similar to what goes on in hundreds of churches all over the world, believers gathering excited to worship Jesus and serve one another. This very morning, as our pastor preached a sermon out of the book of 1 Peter, a church family gathered in a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was massacred by Devin Patrick Kelley.
“Beloved”. Peter chooses this title carefully as he addresses the subject of suffering and persecution in 1 Peter 4:12–16:
Peter is writing to Christians who are being persecuted, reviled, ostracized, and even killed. He wants to let them know that they are beloved. But by whom? By Peter, in a way, but more importantly he is telling them they are the beloved of God the Father. Beloved means dearest, precious, much loved, cherished or treasured. This is what a believer in Christ Jesus is to God. Think of the price God paid to liberate us from sin and death in the person and works of Jesus Christ!
Peter knew his hearers were weary under the persecution they were facing and that they needed encouragement, so he called them “Beloved” as a way of reminder. Peter also pointed out that fiery trials should not be strange if you are a follower of Christ. CMI has touched on the subject of why a good God allows bad things multiple times over the years. It is even one of the most-asked questions our speakers receive during the question and answer times at speaking events.
It may seem simplistic to say that bad things happen because of Adam’s Fall, but I can assure you it is not. We live in a universe that has been corrupted by the effects of the curse placed upon creation by God the Creator, due to the disobedience of the first man, Adam. Death is an intrusion upon God’s creation due to sin.
In Genesis 1:31 God’s word tells us, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” In the Genesis creation narrative, we see the Hebrew word for good used six times, and then the author summarises the entirety of creation by using a term for “very good”, to drive home the point that no evil or death is found anywhere in all of creation! Here, we find a major theological truth; you cannot have death before the fall of Adam!
Paul tells us in Romans 5:12 that “sin came into the world, through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” I remember as a child hearing adults say, ‘the only two things certain in life are death and taxes.’ I would like to set the record straight: the only thing certain in life is death and the resurrection of the dead for those who believe in Jesus Christ!
Enter Romans 5:17: “for if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Jesus reversed the curse by his perfect obedience, taking upon himself the due penalty of sin, which is death, for all who believe in him. Jesus faced the ultimate fiery trial of death, and he was the only man who didn’t deserve it, as he was perfectly obedient to the Father and totally righteous, without sin. This is grace in fullness, and it is an amazing thing!
1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Christianity is the only basis for true love, trust and compassion. The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Once believers are saved by grace from sin, the process of sanctification occurs, the Holy Spirit takes control of our hearts, and we die to the flesh and are reborn by the Spirit of God. We are now able to fully understand what love is. We are able, though not perfectly, to have compassion, and serve others out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. This is why we can heed the command of Christ in Matthew 5:44–45 to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
People who claim to be atheists, to be consistent with their beliefs, would have a nihilistic worldview. They could never truly know the love or compassion imparted by the Spirit of God. Fortunately, consistent atheists are rare. I have met many atheists who fund charities that seek to do well to others, and also love their families and friends, but, to be honest, they are only borrowing morals from the Christian worldview.
What took place at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, is a horrible tragedy performed by someone who was living out his worldview. My prayer for the people directly impacted by what took place on Sunday, as well as for all people facing various trials and the effects of sin on creation, would be that they would find much comfort in the title we have in Christ: “Beloved”. Hear Peter—if you know and love Jesus, you are known and loved by God and nothing is outside his watch! Glorify Christ in your sufferings and make famous the name of Jesus Christ, for it is the only name by which people are saved.