Once again, the news is full of stories about violence – this time in Baton Rouge. It seems like each day we are inundated with new reports of attacks on police officers and other law enforcement personnel. Apparently, we just can’t get this violent streak behind us and the country is hurting in almost every sector. The police are getting more scared of the public that they are supposed to protect – and minorities are worried about police with itchy fingers. I can understand the sensitivities on both sides, although it would be wrong of me to say I fully comprehend the magnitude of the challenges that both sides face in trying to de-escalate the situation.
This isn’t the first time that violence has erupted. We have had two world wars and a number of serious conflicts but things are more difficult to understand when there are so many acts of civil disobedience. Our own Civil War and conflicts within our country go back to the start of our nation. Even consider the Salem witch trials – when people were executed out of fear that they really were witches. I remember traveling to Salem and watching reenactments of the trials – it was scary stuff.
Some of the most notable violence occurred in Rome under the reign of Nero, round 64 a.d. That is the year, on July 18th, that Rome burned – 1952 years ago tomorrow. Ten of fourteen districts were destroyed and Nero used this event to further his persecution of Christians under the guise that they had something to do with the fire that engulfed Rome. Nero was about 26 years old at the time, having ascended to the throne ten years earlier at the age of 16. As a child you probably heard the story that Nero played the fiddle in his palace while the people suffered. However, there is no real evidence to support this accusation although most people would agree that Nero was a tyrant.
In fact, Nero persecuted and then executed Christians by dipping them in hot tar and then impaling them on sharpened shafts – after which Nero lit them on fire and lighted his palace gardens at night with the burning bodies. It was a horrific way to die and Nero engaged in this practice for some time. Peter, the apostle, wrote two books in the New Testament and the first one dealt with the issue of suffering. Peter set forth the premise that it was unknown at the time who would be killed and who would be left to ease the suffering of those who were left behind.
Consequently, it was the duty of Christians to be sympathetic, of one mind, making sure that they took up their fate with a strong, heartfelt, Christian attitude, worthy of the name of God and the grace that had been bestowed on each of them during their conversion experience. It is a powerful book to read, especially if you look at it from the responsibility of Christians to support one another and do whatever they can to ease the suffering of their fellow Christians.
The verse for this evening highlights’ Peter’s insistence that we are to live in harmony with one another. Furthermore, the Greek is very clear that when one of us hurts, all of the rest of us are to be sympathetic – the original definition means that we should hurt as much as the person in pain. Conversely, when one of us rejoices, we should all rejoice in unity. Peter tells us specifically, in 1 Peter 3:8-9, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
You don’t have to be a Greek scholar to understand that Peter’s mandate is as valid today as it was back in 64 a.d. when Nero was persecuting and executing Christians. My encouragement this evening is that Jesus still wants us to live in harmony and sympathy with one another. My prayer is that you will intercede with God and pray that all this needless violence will end. It doesn’t serve any of us well and it is certainly no way to advance the kingdom of God on earth. In fact, it just gives Satan a temporary upper hand to further confuse those on the earth. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…