13th Sunday After Pentecost August 19, 2012
1 Peter 2:9-10
2, 26(1-5), 385(1-5), 26(6)
May our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—bless you with His undeserved love, His mercy, and His peace. Amen.
Dear fellow Christians:
Have you seen the bumper sticker: “The Devil values your opinion”? While I’m not sure what an owner of that bumper sticker means when he puts it on his car, I think I know what the intended meaning or message is, and it’s not bad.
Satan is actually big on opinions, isn’t he? More to the point, he wants human beings to be big on opinions. If he can just get mankind to accept the premise that strongly held opinions are true and right, most of his work is already done.
Human beings never come to know the Gospel naturally. Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is always revealed truth, that is, it is never something that a human being can come up with all on his own. With this understanding, the Devil’s strategy becomes fairly obvious. If he can get human beings to attach themselves to their own ideas about God, sin, and salvation, man will always and only be lost eternally because man never gets it right on his own. Christianity is that mystery that has been hidden down through the ages and revealed only by God the Holy Spirit at the time of His choosing. Someone had to tell us God’s plan and once told we have been called to tell others.
That is one of the truths revealed to us in our text today. That text is found in the Second chapter of Peter’s first epistle, verses 9 and 10:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
So far the very words of God. What a joy and privilege to have these words of God for our continual guidance and comfort. Indeed, they are most certainly worthy of our careful study and meditation. To this end we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
We live in a world that has ruled out absolutes of right and wrong. Everything is reduced to an opinion—your opinion, my opinion, the other guy’s opinion. What is more, every opinion is equally valid, equally “right.” Forsaken are any standards of dictated right and wrong.
We need to understand this basic truth about our society because the world sees you, conservative Christians, as among the most opinionated individuals on earth. More to the point, though they profess to honor all opinions, they despise you for yours. The irony is that Christians don’t really have religious opinions. An opinionated individual is someone who demonstrates undue adherence to his own views or ideas. We fail in our calling as Christians, and certainly as Christian witnesses, each time we allow such an impression to stand. We do the dying world a great disservice if we fail to drive home to them, with unflagging persistence, that in the basic matters of faith and religion we have no opinions. We are prophets of God—God’s messengers. We speak His words. Our opinions dare never be our own thoughts, our own ideas. We are bound, mind and heart, to the Word and will of God. Furthermore, God has no opinions. An opinion is something more than a hunch and less than a positive fact. Therefore, God has no opinions. His Word deals only with facts, since God’s Word is truth.
The world, on the other hand, has positively fallen in love with the idea of subjective relativism—the rightness of everyone’s own personal opinion. It will, therefore, be very easy for the unbeliever to tolerate you and what you teach and believe as long as you allow them the notion that these are just your own personal opinions. Yet that is not what we believe. What we believe and teach are objective facts proclaimed by God in His holy Word. So said Paul: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV).
Failure to simply proclaim the Word and will of God as God’s truth and not our own opinions would be tragic—for ourselves, for our family, for our unbelieving neighbor. Natural man has many strange ideas about faith and salvation. The vast majority of these bizarre notions carry with them damning consequences. We examine one such area in greater detail on this day: the mercy of God. From our text we learn that God is indeed merciful, but not as the world uses and understands the term. As the world typically understands and uses the word, God is anything but merciful.
You’ve all had experience with this “Yes, but not that way” sort of thing before. “Is your child ‘special’?” Yes, but not the way you mean it. “Is your girlfriend ‘friendly’?” Yes, but not the way you mean ‘friendly.’ We encounter the same sorts of problems in the area of religion. “Is your church reformed?” Not the way the world uses the term today even though we are named after one of the men through whom the Lord accomplished the Reformation. “Are you evangelical?” Again, yes, but not the way today’s society understands that label.
“Merciful” to our society indicates more weakness than strength. In a general way that’s exactly what the world today wants, especially in their religious leaders—they want spineless sissies. A Gary Larson cartoon several years ago pictured a bunch of round, feathered balls in a farmyard. The caption was: “Boneless chicken farm.” That, unfortunately, is what much of the world today wants in a spiritual leader—something of a boneless chicken. The world rages against any Christian who will stand on the absolutes of God’s Word. That is also what the world today wants in a god. They crave a god without mandates or conviction. They want a god who indulges humankind, a “Grampa-God” who just gives in to man’s every whim.
It is, in fact, this perverted view of God Himself that has tainted mankind’s perception of mercy. I don’t need to tell you that the world believes that if there is a God, then He must be a merciful God. What do they mean by “merciful”? He must, in their opinion, be a God who forgives any and all who try to be “good.” That works out nicely for those who thought up the notion, since most of the world’s population would categorize themselves as basically good people. Thus they can live in the illusion that God will, in the end, simply apply that spineless kind of mercy toward them and just let bygones be bygones.
Follow through along this line of thought and sooner or later you will have to arrive at the conclusion that God really doesn’t mean what He says. Again the picture is like an indulgent parent who threatens, but never carries out the punishment. God therefore really does not mean it when he says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Jesus didn’t really mean it when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6). So too He must have been joking or just kidding around when He foretold what He would say to the unbelievers at the final judgment: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Amazingly, the world at large actually believes that if they simply choose to deny that God will render any such verdict, then God will render no such verdict.
This is the world’s view of God and the mercy of God. Therefore, as the world understands the term, God is not merciful. God punishes sin. He punishes your sins, my sins, the sins of every man, woman, and child ever born. No sin is overlooked. To overlook sin would make God a liar, for He Himself has pronounced a sentence of death as the penalty for sin: “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Someone has to die for every sin.
This also explains why Christianity is the only world religion that works in the real world. Christianity does not promote the idea of a God who just overlooks sin, it introduces the one true God that has placed on His own Son “the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). God exacted punishment on the Innocent so that the guilty might go free. This means that for each of your sins God either punished his Son, or, rejecting that payment, He will punish you. The tragedy of Hell is that no one has to go there. “For (God) made (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). God has already punished His Son for our sins. Not one single human being needs to suffer in Hell. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
In contrast to the world’s idea of mercy, our text paints quite a different picture. Far from inherently deserving the love and mercy of God, we were less than nothing in God’s eyes. We were enemies. Our text puts it this way: “(You) once were not a people…” and, “(you) had not obtained mercy…” Our text says that we had to be “called out of darkness.” Understand these words well. Before the Holy Spirit brought saving faith into your heart, you could expect no mercy from your God. God is not merciful toward those who reject Him. He will certainly never overlook sin.
The bottom line is that the mercy of God can never nullify or cancel the justice of God. This is exactly the thing for which the world is hoping and planning. They hope to find a god who does not mean what he says, does not follow through on his promises, and will not administer justice on Judgment Day. It is on this notion, this man-made idea, that they gamble their eternal future. They will be tragically, bitterly, eternally disappointed.
God has shown His love and mercy to the world. He has done so by sending His only Son to bear the punishment for sin in our place. Justice had to be served. Sin had to bring death. If sin could be overlooked, God would not have sent His own dear Son to suffer as He did. What an odd thought. Not even an earthly father would subject his child to terrible suffering needlessly, and yet, mankind is hoping against hope that God has done just that. They are gambling eternity on the idea that even if God did send His Son to suffer for mankind’s sins, in the end He will simply overlook their sin for no particular reason at all—just because he is “merciful.”
In fact, it is just here that we see the true mercy of God. God could not overlook sin. He would have been perfectly justified in condemning the whole world of sinners because of their sin, but He could not simply ignore it. In Hell each one of us would have received exactly what each one of us deserves. God showed us His mercy by offering us an escape plan: His Son Jesus Christ as an acceptable substitute for perfect obedience and the blessings of that substitution which come through faith.
Dear fellow Christians, these are not opinions. These are facts that God Himself has revealed to us—life and death facts with eternal significance. Now, God has called each one of us to repeat these revealed facts to a dying world. How are we doing in our calling? Are we holding these truths always before our eyes? Do we find ourselves regularly excited—even thrilled—that God allows us to work for Him? Do we daily thrill to the fact that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people”? Is it our life’s joy “that we may proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light”? Do our hearts ache within us each day with the realization that souls are dying all around us?
Such comparisons, between what we should be and what we actually are, bring great shame, but they also work in us a profound sense of gratitude. Jesus came to die for these sins too. As a result, we work for the Lord God of heaven and earth as His ambassadors. What comfort and strength is held out to us poor sinners in our text. Once we could look forward only to an eternity of torment as the just reward for our sins. Now, “we have obtained mercy.” This is neither my opinion nor your opinion. It is an irrefutable fact that stands true though all the world rage against it. Thanks and praise to such a God, the Lord of heaven and earth, who would extend such mercy to the likes of you and me. Amen.
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