Twentieth Sunday after Trinity October 17, 1999
1 Peter 3:8-15
538, 157, 442, 47
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Here ends our text.
In the name of Jesus, who is Shield and Protector, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
As I was driving down the highway the other day, I met an armored car coming the other way. I imagine he was delivering a payroll, or transferring currency between banks, or something. I have to admit that, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always gotten kind of a thrill when an armored car comes into view. Just the sight of one conjures up visions of exciting hold-ups and daring raids. The vehicles are equipped with bulletproof glass and thick steel plating. They have reinforced tires, and there are even slots for the guards inside to shoot through in case of a robbery attempt. An armored car is really a rolling fortress, and from top to bottom—it’s designed to be bulletproof!
Did you ever think of yourself as being bulletproof? In a very real way you are! You’re a believer who trusts in God for your physical and spiritual safety. He promises to protect your physical life, as it says in Psalm 91, “Surely He shall deliver you…You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day.” But much more importantly, your Savior has disarmed the deadly power of sin to condemn you. As Paul said, “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen.” Rom 8:34. In a sense, God makes us Christians “bulletproof,” and that changes (or should change) the way we live. How? Let’s look at our text for today. It tells us several things about—
There’s an expression people use to describe a person who’s born into a wealthy family—a person who’s had all the advantages of money since he was a child. Do you know the cliche I’m talking about? They say, “He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” In a way, Christians are “silver spoon” people, too. We have been born again through faith in Jesus, most of us long ago, at the time of our baptism. That is a very “noble birth,” and it carries with it a very special blessing. When you think about it, we Christians really have it made! From the very beginning, our text says, we were “called to inherit a blessing.” That blessing is better than money, better than social status—it’s the blessing of eternal life! Earlier in this letter Peter says, “God…has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” I Pet 1:3-4.
You believers are blessed with the bulletproof, foolproof, incorruptible inheritance of eternal life. You were called to receive this blessing, and Jesus blood guarantees it to you. And knowing that you are blessed allows you to bless your Christian brothers and sisters, too, in all the ways our text describes—by being all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing. It’s interesting that each of those words which describe how Christians feel toward one another occurs only in this passage of the Bible. The bond between fellow believers is so unique, so warm, so close—it’s almost as though Peter had to make up new words just to describe it! Because we are blessed ourselves, we “bulletproof believers” are able—and eager—to bless others.
Another thing about us believers—because we are righteous through Christ, we can enjoy life. After all, that’s what everyone is after in our day, isn’t it? To get happiness, and enjoy life. Unfortunately, so many people around us are looking for happiness in all the wrong places; they think that wealth, or glory, or pleasure, or love—or some combination of those things—will equal happiness. In our text, Peter gives us the real formula for happiness. Listen for the key word in the formula: he says, he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers.
The key word in there in “righteous”. Only a “righteous” person is under the loving, protecting eyes of the Lord. Only the prayers of a righteous person are heard by Him. Only a righteous person is able to refrain his tongue from evil, or to eschew evil, and do good. Do you think you are such a “righteous person?” Well, I’m here to tell you that you are exactly the kind of righteous person Peter is describing! Not because you’ve kept all the commandments—actually you’ve broken every single one, and so have I. NEVERTHELESS, you and I, and every single true believer, has a perfect righteousness—the righteousness of Christ! We can’t lead perfect lives, but He did. We can’t suffer to pay for our sins, but He could, and He did. This righteousness of Jesus is what makes us “bulletproof believers.” It’s our armor-plated shield that the worst sin cannot penetrate. Paul valued this righteousness so highly that he said he’d sacrifice anything in order to keep it, “I count all things as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” Phlp 3:8-9. When we have this righteousness, our text says, we can enjoy life. We can “see good days,” with a conscience cleared by our Savior. We are enabled to “eschew evil and do good.” We can “seek peace, and pursue it.” And God promises we will find it, too!
The third thing our text tells us about bulletproof believers is this: following Jesus, they can be fearless. Have you ever seen a bulletproof vest? They’re getting to be standard equipment on police departments and law enforcement agencies around the country. They used to be big and bulky, but a new model—called the “Second Chance Vest”—makes use of a space age plastic material named Kevlar to make the garment lightweight and comfortable. A friend of mine in the is a county sheriff in South Dakota. He took one of those vests out to the range one day and shot at it from close range, but the bullets couldn’t penetrate the amazing material. It’s easy to see how wearing one of these could make a policeman feel fearless—or at least a lot safer than before!
The same is true about us. The fact that we are followers of Jesus is like a bulletproof vest that protects us. But unlike a policeman, we know we’re going to get shot at! Every time we turn around, Satan’s loading up with high-powered rounds of sin and guilt and accusation, firing at us from every angle, and at every opportunity. But as disciples of Christ, as followers of what is good, our text tells us we have nothing to fear. Peter says, And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? The answer is obvious: nobody will harm us!
Does this mean that Christians will never suffer at the hands of the unbelieving world? No, and Peter admits it. But he goes on to say, But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled. Sometimes we suffer because we are Christians. People talk us down because we won’t join in their secret lodges and anti-Christian societies. They say we’re “stuck up” because we won’t sacrifice the pure teachings of God’s Word in order to join them in worship. They criticize us for our practice of “close communion”—the fact that, in keeping with the Bible’s teaching of fellowship, we do not allow people who don’t share our faith to share the Lord’s Table with us. These and a hundred other small indignities we suffer, all for the sake of following Christ. Does it hurt? Yes! Will it harm us in the long run? No—in fact it gives the added blessing of strengthening our faith. This you can say about bulletproof believers: in following Jesus, they can be fearless!
One final thing we can say about them: by sanctifying God, they can be witnesses. Our text says, But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
It’s been many years ago now that a young minister’s son named Gil Dodds came out of Nebraska to set the indoor track record for the mile, in Madison Square Garden. It was an amazing performance, but even more amazing was what the young man said as he stepped to the microphone after the race, “I thank the Lord for guiding me through the race, and seeing fit to let me win. I thank Him always for His guiding presence in my life.” The crowd was hushed in the huge stadium. They hadn’t heard anything like that before! This athlete had shown them something about the Christian faith, something that’s true for us, as well: in order to be a witness to other people, you need to “sanctify the Lord God in your heart.” That means to make God special and holy in your life. To clear out the central place in your heart, and reserve it for God alone. You can repeat Bible passages to people from memory all day long, but your witness won’t be convincing unless you have personally taken God’s Word to heart. When you believe God’s Word—trust in it, rely on it—then you are truly “hallowing His name,” as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Then you can’t help but influence people. Then your faith will be a fire that people will see in your life and hear in your speech, and that fire will spread to their lives, as well!
A while back I saw a newsreel about a visit the Pope made to his home country of Poland. The clip showed him traveling down a street thronged with people, his hands uplifted, blessing the crowd. What made it look kind of comical was the vehicle he was riding in—a sort of modified golf cart, with a high, bulletproof dome protecting the pontiff from would-be assailants. You and I, of course, don’t travel with that kind of protection. The protection that we need—for our bodies and our souls—comes from God alone. And, for Jesus’ sake, it is very good protection indeed. In fact, it’s protection that God uses to make us what we were called to be—bulletproof believers! God grant that we may trust His Word, and fulfill that calling in our lives. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.