The Seventh Sunday of Easter May 28, 2006
1 Peter 4:12-17, 5:6-11
217, 223, 457, 216
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the empty tomb continue to live in your heart and mind as God’s promise of sins forgiven. Amen.
Dear Fellow Heirs of the forgiveness won by our Lord Jesus:
Since World War II, virtually all military aircraft are built with an IFF system—an acronym that stands for “Identify Friend or Foe.” The system includes a sending and a receiving unit that electronically identifies whether an aircraft belongs to an ally or an enemy, a friend or a foe. The value of such a system is beyond calculation to those charged with our nation’s air defense. Being attacked is bad enough. Being mistakenly attacked by a friend is unthinkable, as is the thought of letting your guard down when facing an enemy bent on your destruction.
Would that Christians could come equipped with such a system—some foolproof method hardwired into each of us at birth that would allow us to determine who is truly a friend and who is truly a foe. Christians are not always good at identifying which is which.
God has actually supplied each of us with such a system. It’s called the Bible, and if we would only take the time to study what it has to say about identifying friend from foe, we would all be much better off. Today our text serves us well in that endeavor, offering us practical guidance in many areas, not the least of which is in the area of how we ought to go about identifying friends and enemies. Our text for this morning is found in Peter’s first epistle, the fourth chapter:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the Gospel of God?…Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
These are the words of our God, written for our learning, growth, wisdom, and encouragement. God grant us all the grace to hear and apply these words according to His good pleasure. To this end we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
A young man is confronted by his parents concerning the recent troubles in his life. His parents attribute at least a part of the troubles to the fact that he has chosen his friends poorly. One friend in particular has introduced this impressionable man-child to cigarettes, alcohol, and body piercing. His musical tastes include all things violent and rebellious. His moral code is “Don’t get caught.” The police are definitely not his friends. When confronted by his parents the young man defended his relationship with this individual on the basis of one thing and one thing only: “He is my friend.”
Ever have a friend like that? Allow me to answer for you. The answer is, “No, you have never had a friend like that.” How can I presume to know that? The answer lies in the definition and understanding of the word friend. We will examine this aspect of our lives on the basis of the text we have just read.
Most of us base our friendships on things like affection, admiration, loyalty, and the like. It ought to come as no surprise to us that Christianity includes a new set of qualifications for friendship. This ought not surprise us because conversion to Christianity is always portrayed in God’s Word as a radical departure from the norm in almost every aspect of our lives.
Try, for example, to think of a single component in your life that was not profoundly changed by your conversion to Christianity. Though this may not be possible for those brought to faith in the waters of baptism as an infant, it remains true that Christianity (true conversion) is portrayed in God’s Word as a 180-degree change of direction. Does it not then stand to reason that there is very little in life that will remain unaffected by such a dramatic change? Does it not stand to reason that after conversion a child of God will swim against the same current that had once carried him along?
Prior to our conversion we were very simple creatures. We were directed by our passion, carried along by whatever made us feel good. We felt right at home with the world in all of this, for that is the very thing on which the world thrives. The music the world listens to is whatever makes them feel the way they want to feel. Those emotions include rebellion, sexual arousal, revenge, and the like. The movies they watch and the books they read are all based on similar themes. All is a flood, racing for the yawning pit of Hell. Once in awhile they toss in something like love (whatever that means to the world today) or some other vague emotion that carries the appearance of goodness. In the end, every single bit of man’s universe is tainted beyond cleansing by sin. Self-help programs, books, magazines, seminars—all are geared toward fulfilling the desires of our own egos, our own passions, our own desires. The world exercises and diets. Why? To be admired and desired. To live longer and enjoy more of what this world has to offer. To finally be able to fit into that thoroughly immodest bikini that will…what? Create sinful thoughts?
Why should it then surprise us that the criteria for and choice of our friends, both young and old, would undergo a dramatic change when everything else about our lives is changed? Why should it surprise us to learn that friendships for the child of God should not be based on the same sorts of things that they used to be? Why should it surprise us that also in connection with our friends we are called to “come out and be separate”? (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:17).
It seems altogether good, right, and natural to pick our friends based on mutual attraction and affection. Is that what our Lord has in mind for us? Take another look at the text. Our text lists an enemy that all of us share. There we read, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith.” [v.8] The enemy we all share is, of course, Satan himself. To us that seems quite obvious, but let’s take a look at the Devil based on our former criteria for friendship.
If we are determined to base our friendships on what makes us feel good, then the Devil ought to be at the top of our list. He would like nothing better than to make you feel good every moment of your life here on earth. To this end he would be loyal to a fault. He would do anything and everything in his power to preserve his relationship with you. He would give you whatever your heart desired. He would jealously defend his connection with you by any and all means at his disposal. He would never condemn even the worst of your emotions or desires. He would offer you absolute and unconditional support.
But you know that he is not your friend, don’t you. Why is he not your friend? Because he is the enemy of your Lord Jesus, your one and only Savior, and he is, therefore, the enemy of your very soul. The Word of God we just read made that fact very clear to us. It ripped the sheep’s clothing from the back of this imposter and revealed him for what he really is—a ravenous predator intent on feasting upon your very soul. He wants nothing more than to drag you kicking and screaming into the fires of Hell.
Our text also describes for us our truest and best friend, Jesus Christ. Why is he such a great friend? To answer we must first understand why He is not the kind of friend the world is looking for. This true friend does not support our every feeling and emotion. He supports only what is truly good, condemning what is evil. He does not offer us health, wealth, and harmony on earth, but He does offer us what is best for our souls. He has never offered us a life characterized only by ease and comfort because that kind of life in a sinful world is simply not possible (an indisputable fact we would all do well to dwell upon for just a moment). Sin irreparably broke God’s perfect creation, it shattered the harmony God intended for all of his creation. Jesus would never pretend that life for the child of God would be any other way. True friends don’t lie.
Have you ever seen a brand new car after it has been in a terrible accident? You can see faint glimpses here and there of its former beauty and shine, but for the most part it is fit only for the crusher. So it is with this world. A beautiful sunset or a spectacular mountain vista might give us a brief glimpse of the perfect beauty and harmony this earth was supposed to enjoy, but it dare never fool us into believing that things have not been ruined beyond all repair. This earth is waiting to be burned (2 Peter 3:7ff).
In a world like that, one that has been polluted beyond salvage by sin, a true friend would never promise you a life of uninterrupted joy and harmony. Again, such a thing is simply not possible. So what does our true friend promise us? We are told in our text: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings… If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” [vv. 12ff, 6] True friends don’t always make you feel good about yourself or offer you impossible predictions of peace and joy in a shattered world, but they will always tell you the truth. The truth is that life in a sinful world is always going to be difficult for those who really do swim against the tide; for those who cling to their one true and reliable friend, Jesus Christ, and follow where he leads.
Yet, such a life would be absolutely unbearable if not for one glorious fact: there is an end in sight. Our friend in this text does not only warn of fiery trials and blasphemous persecution, he promises us certain victory. He not only tells us to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God,” he also promises that he will “exalt us in due time.” [v.6] He not only revealed to us that we would have to “suffer for a while,” he promised to “perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle us.” [v.10]
How will all of this come about in light of all the filth and decay of this existence? It has already been accomplished. Jesus did that for us too. He broke the death-grip Satan had on every single one of us by carrying our sins to the cross. Sin was the chain that bound us to Satan and the torments that await him. Jesus satisfied the damning requirements of the law by taking the sum total of the necessary punishment upon His own shoulders. Because He won, we win.
This past week we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord (Thursday, May 25). Do you know what our Lord went to heaven to do? He told us: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). What a friend we have in Jesus!
Our friend has warned us that a life of ease and comfort in a sinful world is not possible. Learn then to recognize your true enemies where they truly exist. Some will be charming, approachable, clever, funny. Some will be attractive, powerful, creative. Learn to reevaluate on the basis of God’s Word and will. Though our Savior warned us of the hard times, He also promised us that “when His glory is revealed, [we] may also be glad with exceeding joy.” [v.13]
The struggle will be long, and there will be times when doing the right thing will not even feel right. This is to be expected. Why else would Jesus tell us to resist our enemy except that He knows that the Devil’s temptations will often seem good, right, and desirable to us? Like a true friend He did not leave us to fend for ourselves. He is here with us, every step and at every moment, and He has left us with this incredible offer: “Cast all your care upon Me, for I care for you.” [cf. v.7]
Our Lord has taken upon Himself all of our sins, let Him have the cares and anxieties too. He is that good of a friend. 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.