Last week, I started a two part series on Suffering Saturdays, and how we are to suffer like Jesus. I would encourage you to read last week’s if you haven’t already since the concepts build upon one another. Last week I dealt with the ideas that we are to expect suffering, as well as, we are to exult in our sufferings. In this week’s article, I want to deal with exalting in our suffering (different from exulting) and entrusting ourselves to God in our sufferings.
So we expect, we exult, and now we exalt. Specifically, we exalt God for He alone is glorious. “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christ, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name,” (1 Pet 4.16, ESV). To exalt is to lift high. It is to raise in the sight of others.
I was recently listening to Allistair Begg, who was telling the story of Polycarp. Polycarp was a young disciple of the apostle John and a strong believer. As he grew older he became the bishop of Smyrna, and would eventually be martyred. He was a wanted man and so he had fled a few homes and towns, but his captors were always on his heels, and so, he at last decided not to leave the house he was in, saying instead, “God’s will be done.” Soon his captors were there entering the house. He came down, at least 86 years of age, spoke with them, and then called for food and drink to be brought to his captors, asking that they allow him an hour of prayer before taking him off. This they did.
The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
It was all done in the time it takes to tell. The crowd collected wood and bundles of sticks from the shops and public baths. The Jews , as usual, were keen to help. When the pile was ready, Polycarp took off his outer clothes, undid his belt, and tried to take off his sandals – something he was not used to, as the faithful always raced to do it for him, each wanting to be the one to touch his skin – this is how good his life was. But when they went to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.”
So they simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
That is what it is to exalt God in your suffering.
It is also what it is to entrust yourself to God in your sufferings. Entrust means to place fully into the hands and let them have control. It was Polycarp realizing after fleeing from place to place, that God had this in store for him, giving himself over and saying, “God’s will be done.” He gave up trying to protect himself but rather allowed God to do with him as He willed. That’s not easy. But Peter wrote that it was worth it.
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner,’” (1 Peter 4.17-18, ESV). God is your judge. He is the judge of the whole world, the living and the dead, future and past. The judgment starts with believers. It is only by God’s grace shown on the cross of Christ that believers will even make it in. You are trusting him with your future judgment, a judgment that will last for all eternity. It’s now time to trust him with your present circumstance, your present reality. He is not only your judge but He is your Creator. He made you and He will keep you, love you, and give you what is best, even if that means losing everything, because He in fact is the very best. There is not greater prize, no higher gift than God Himself. And He is giving Himself to and for you. “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good,” (1 Peter 4.19, ESV).