The Sixth Sunday After Easter May 23, 2004
1 Peter 1:17-21
2 Samuel 12:1-10,13-14
202, 191, 387(1,5-8), 387(9-10)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
If you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Dear Fellow Redeemed, fellow heirs with our risen Christ:
If ever Paul and Barnabas felt like strangers in a strange world it must have been at Lystra. Things seemed to be going well when they first arrived in this city of Asia Minor. They found a receptive audience as they preached about the true God and the Savior. One crippled man, believing, looked intently at Paul. Calling on the name of Jesus, Paul told the man, “‘Stand up straight on your feet!’ and he leaped up and walked” (Acts 14:9). This caused quite a stir among the people. They stopped conversing with the evangelists in the universally spoken Greek, and began jabbering in their native tongue. Everybody seemed to burst into activity.
Paul and Barnabas, of course, didn’t know what to think. But when they saw the priest of the local pagan temple arrive with “oxen and garlands…intending to sacrifice with the multitudes” (Acts 14:13) they were horrified! Paul and Barnabas were horrified and astounded at the futility of these people’s religion. Paul begged the people to come to their senses. He and Barnabas were no more gods than they themselves were. By deifying mere men, the people were denying and defying the true God, who filled their hearts with good things (cf. Acts 14:15ff).
Paul and Barnabas were strangers in this town. They were sojourners with the fervent hope that they might share a Good News which if embraced would cause the people to “turn from these vain things to the living God” (Acts 14:15). The people at Lystra were complete strangers to God. It was the goal of these evangelists that by the Gospel they might be turned from their friendship with futile ways to become strangers to this world and friends—brothers—of Christ Jesus!
Christians, You are Strangers Here I. You have been delivered from futile ways by the precious blood of Christ and II. You are called to walk in reverent fear of the Father.
The first epistle from Peter is addressed to people living in the same regions Paul visited when he came to Lystra. Peter knew that these people had been delivered from an aimless way of life by being brought to faith in Jesus. Many of these Christians formerly practiced heathen worship. When Peter spoke of their “former lusts,” he had in mind religions based on notions of Greek pantheology—worshipping a great variety of gods and goddesses. But in the Greek order of religion and worship the gods weren’t really gods in the sense of a “supreme being.” They were viewed as superior beings—they could do things humans couldn’t—but then it seemed as though there was always one god waiting to undo what another god did.
Nor were the Greek gods superior in morality. They were gods derived from sinful imaginations and did not rise above the character of humanity. Neither were their gods the sort that you could confidently turn to in time of trouble. The scales of justice are supposedly held by a blindfolded goddess, but in reality, the gods of mythology showed themselves to be no better than human in their greed and conniving. In particular, they seemed to have a perverse streak in devising punishment for the moral failings of others. These simply were not gods to whom you could turn for mercy. The people of Asia Minor were heirs to such traditions of futile, aimless conduct that could not bring life to the spiritually dead.
We, too, do well to consider the traditions that have been handed down to us in our culture. We have a tradition of a materialism, that measures our worth and success in terms of possessions and pleasure. We have a tradition of constitutional rights which has proven to be both blessing and curse, for although the godly have long enjoyed freedom to live and worship to the glory of their God, the ungodly have also found protection to practice ways that are offensive and sinful. You cannot legislate righteousness. The religious legacy of our society is that of a Christian veneer laid over a merit-based belief in God. More recently, we have seen the sheer idolatry of humanism creeping into every area of science and art and reversing the Greek ideal. So, no longer do we dream up gods who are nearly human, now we imagine that man is nearly god!
All this is futility and worse. We have seen its fruits in the violence, aimlessness, and perversity of our culture. So people have gone looking for the answer, and thanks be to God for providing one! It is an answer that was prepared in eternity before time began. It is an answer prepared by God so that people might have hope in Him. It is a solution that has been prepared by God with whom there can be no failure. We can confidently expect success.
You know the story, but it bears repeating. This is the story that ought never be far from our lips. God sent His Son into the world—His only-begotten Son, God of God, Light of Light, Holy, mighty, and awesome in His glory! But He veiled His glory in the form of a servant. He was born of woman and born into the obedience required by God as our substitute. He became true man.
This is a far cry from the Greek assortment of deities and demigods who were neither fully human nor ever fully God. Jesus is fully God and fully man. The philosophical and learned Greeks considered this foolishness, but this is the Jesus Christ who came in flesh and blood.
The heart of the Gospel is offensive to our modern day sensibilities, for Jesus became a sacrifice. The idea that God must be appeased by sacrifice is not welcome in our culture. Ever consider why? We are surrounded by the idea that sin is a relative thing; little more than a guilt complex. In modern thought, sin is not something that needs atonement. Rather, you simply adjust your thinking from that of a holy God into a benevolent God.
If that is the case, Christ died a wasted death. But that is not the case, for Jesus prayed that if there were any other way, let it be so; but God called for the life of His Son. He became the sacrificial Lamb for all the sins of the world. The Jews were long familiar with the idea of this sacrifice. They brought bulls, goats, and lambs to be slaughtered, and the blood sprinkled. The Passover Lamb had to be perfect—without spot or blemish. Jesus is the perfect Lamb. He is the one who alone could pay the redemption price for people who are enslaved in the futility of life without God. True God, His human blood could not be compared to any other. A perfect man, His life was lived as the substitute for the billions of souls that have sinned and earned God’s wrath. Had Jesus sinned but once, there would never have been any hope of salvation. There could never again have been such a redeemer. But Jesus did not sin and He did die. He paid the price of sin. He purchased our freedom from the curse of sin, not with corruptible things like gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. By nothing less than this awesome ransom, God has delivered you from a life that would otherwise end in tragedy!
There is nothing futile about this gift of salvation. Our hearts condemn us for our blunders, even to this day. Our sinful flesh continually leads us away, despite the fact that we are certified as children of God. But whenever we look to Christ and His redemption, we know who we are. We are children of the Heavenly Father—the Father who long ago purposed to send Jesus for our salvation.
Now we are reminded that we have been called to walk in reverent fear of the Father. This is our marvelous, fruitful faith in the God whom we call Father. Having a father is an awesome gift in many ways. We fathers do our share of weakening the ideal, but a child generally has a mingled fear and love for his parents. It is proper that there be a touch of a very special sort of fear—an awe—involved in that relationship. No child who truly loves his father lacks a sense of awe toward him. A slave will fear his master because he fears punishment. A child knows his father may punish wrongdoing, but his obedience comes also out of the awe they have that makes Dad seem larger than life.
God is larger than life. And we who have come to know Him and trust in Him through Jesus Christ have reason to hold Him in the most incredible awe. Think of it — He knew you before the world began! He chose you in Jesus to be His own despite your unworthiness. Because of His love you were redeemed with something infinitely precious, making His love and commitment to my salvation infinite as well. The Psalmist asks “What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116:12). We can render to Him no less than full praise. Isn’t that what compels us to go to church to worship Him? It is the chance to show our love and fear of God with heart and hands and voice!
What shape shall my fear of God take? The world chafes under His hand, but in Christ we are sheltered by it! So then, will we not humble ourselves under it?
The world rebels against God, but will not we who know Christ’s reconciliation cherish Him in our thoughts? The world works, thinks, and worships in futility, being spiritually dead. We have the Holy Spirit as a gift from Christ. Should we not direct our lives and resources to whatever words, efforts, and activities will bear fruit in praise toward God, since by the Spirit, we know Him in truth?
Love bears fruit in holy fear: what God commands, is our desire. What God forbids, we can live without. The Law of God is a threatening club for the world, but a gentle guide for the Christian.
Love bears fruit in holy fear. What is God’s is God’s; we will not question His will nor His ways. What is ours is given by God who gave us Christ, our precious ransom. Knowing this, we will embrace God Himself in holy fear, in genuine love, in everlasting joy. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.