The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 22, 2009
1 Peter 1:10-16
421, 153, 535, 47
“To those who reside as aliens… who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure” Amen. (1 Peter 1:1-2 NASB).
Dear Fellow Christians:
What a blessing our God offers us to regularly gather around His Word in order to regain some sense and sensibility before we face another week of worldly madness. This is one of our most important “sacred times” during which we are realigned according to the Word and will of our Creator. It is a time to gain some perspective in the midst of a very perverse and misguided world. After a week or more “out in the world,” it would be most unusual if we didn’t need such realignment.
Regaining our sense of godly perspective and realignment begins to occur when we compare what is important to the world with what is important to God and then seek to ally ourselves with the latter.
Our world tends to be all about fluffy, silly things—Emmys, Oscars, free agency, the draft, the Final Four, sales at the mall. Do you suppose the angels are interested in such things? Those holy beings who stand in the presence of Almighty God, do you suppose they long to witness the world honoring its own for that which for the most part, is repulsive to their holy God? Do they revel in the vainglory of modern sports? Are they really interested in the ridiculous salaries of grown men who play a game for a living at the rate of $15,000 per minute? We hardly need to grace the question with an answer. Angels are serious beings. They know right from wrong; they know good from evil; and they know important from trivial.
What is it then that interests God’s Holy angels? What in turn, therefore, ought to be of primary importance to you and me—our focus and that which occupies the chief place in our hearts? For answers we turn to that Word of God chosen for our study this morning. The text that will guide and direct us in the search for God’s answers is found in Peter’s first epistle, the first chapter:
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
These are God’s words. With complete confidence that God the Holy Spirit can and will bless us through the study of these holy words, so we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
Dear servants of the Lord Jesus Christ—who was delivered up for our offenses and raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25)—what comes to mind when you hear those two words found in today’s theme: “Just Right”? Since we don’t generally spend much time on Goldilocks and the Three Bears during our precious sermon time, it is pretty safe to assume that something other than Baby Bear’s porridge, chair, and bed are intended. The point is not so much what came to mind for each of you as what probably did not come to mind. My guess is nothing at all came to mind. If that was indeed the case, it is undoubtedly because in our minds—fairy tales notwithstanding—it is hard to think of anything in our lives that is “just right.” Everything is tainted, flawed, and impure. It is genuinely difficult, if not impossible, to come up with anything that is so good that it cannot be improved.
Stop for just a moment and back up here. Think about the assertion we just made: There is nothing, or almost nothing, in this life that is “just right.” Since we are taught from little on that the world is an evil place that we are not to love, we naturally tend to regard such thoughts as reality-based and spiritually sound, and in many areas of our lives such sentiments are wholesome and accurate. The problem here is that we tend to go too far; we tend to overlook shining jewels in our lives that are just right. That is what we intend to do this morning—to humbly acknowledge what in our lives is, in fact, just right. We are obviously on dangerous ground here, but it is an area that needs to be explored.
To reach some kind of understanding in this area, we should first ask ourselves if we have a general problem with negativity in the Christian Church. The answer is probably yes and no. We tend to be positive about whatever is from God and negative about whatever is from us. The problem comes when the two meet and interact. That is when our natural negativity can begin to cast dark shadows over what is really very bright and pure.
So it is that we have little trouble accepting our first example as “just right” because it is from God alone. The first example of what is “just right” is God’s plan for mankind’s salvation as it is outlined by our God in his Holy Word.
Listen with thanksgiving and awe to this plan as Peter outlined it in the verses preceding our text: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy 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, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith; the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).
We humbly acknowledge this plan of salvation to be just right because, as we said, we have no trouble crediting God with perfection. From first to last his plan is magnificent in every way. Our contributions to the plan include sin, rebellion, doubt, and unworthiness. God’s contributions in Jesus Christ include love, mercy, self-sacrifice, and perfect consistency. God’s perfect plan was to send his own Son, Jesus Christ, to fulfill all of the demands of the Law in our place—the very demands we would not and could not keep perfectly. God’s plan then called for His own Son to offer His perfect life in a holy, innocent death. That payment, according to God’s plan, would satisfy every demand and condemnation of the Law that stood against us for our countless transgressions. That is God’s plan. Man is not saved by the good he tries to do. He is saved by the good Jesus Christ did in our place. That is the Gospel plan of our merciful God and it truly is “just right.”
However, as we said, God’s perfection at some point interacts with us, sinful human beings. It comes into our lives and hearts and the result is always a reaction of some kind. Here is where God’s perfection slams into the Christian’s natural negativity. What is the result? For the most part, God is magnified in our hearts and we humbly acknowledge our own sin and imperfection. That is not a bad thing. What we don’t want to miss, however, is the unique and amazing fact that in God’s eyes we Christians are “just right”—a fact declared by God Himself that is, in every conceivable way, absolutely amazing. We all know what we are really like because we have two things going for us: we have God’s Holy Law to tell us what we ought to be like, and we have an unobstructed front-row seat from which we can observe just what we are really like on the inside. In other words, we know what our God wants (“Be holy, for I am holy”) and we know full well that our behavior is anything but holy.
So we know what our God expects from his children, and we know how far off our thoughts and actions are from what they ought to be. Yet because of what Jesus did, our Heavenly Father sees every single believing Christian as “just right.” We are, in His eyes, as perfect and as holy as was and is His Son, Jesus Christ. There can be no doubt that Jesus was and is “just right.” There was, you will recall, a test of that fact. The test was very simple. Jesus was to offer his life on the cross and if God the Father raised Him from the dead on the third day then we can know with certainty that the Father has declared both Jesus and His work of redemption to be “just right.” Jesus passed the test. Our sins are forgiven, and not just some sins, all sins. We have not been washed somewhat clean as though we walk about with bits of sin clinging to us like spattered mud that needs to be brushed off occasionally. When faith is present we live in a state of constant perfection in the eyes of our God. In God’s sight a believer is always “just right” in Christ.
After such a statement one hates to add a “but” or a “however.” However…as we said earlier, we have a problem with the concept of “just right” whenever we are involved in any way. So we find ourselves in a rather peculiar position. Our Old Adam is constantly pushing us toward false pride and self-centeredness (which we know to be wrong), and our natural tendency is most often toward negativity. The result is that we, at times, seem bound and determined to toss out, disparage, or ignore what is truly good and right in our lives as though we (rather than God) are the ones who made it good and right.
Have you ever, for example, looked at the numbers and experienced doubts about your faith or your Church? Have you ever asked yourself, “How can we be right and all those others wrong—millions of Muslims, Hindus, Mormons and all others who reject salvation by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ?” We find it hard to accept what we have been given to know and to rejoice in the fact, that by the grace of God our feet are indeed on the path to life eternal. We Christians do indeed have it “just right.” We know Jesus Christ as the one path to eternal life. Rather than doubt this incredible blessing, we ought to lavish thanks and praise upon the One who set our feet upon this rare and wonderful “just right” path of genuine Christianity.
This is what Peter was talking about in our text and in the verses just before our text. He talked of the prophets of old longing to see the fulfillment of what stands fulfilled today—things that we take for granted and know today as accomplished facts. He talked of the intense interest of the angels in the plan for salvation that has now been carried out by Jesus Christ and revealed to us in the Word of God. To this end the Holy Spirit through Peter wrote: “To (the prophets) it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven; things which angels desire to look into.” [v.12]
Nor is this the only area where we belittle and criticize what is truly good among us. Rather than disparage God’s plans for fellowship, why not thank Him for giving us this “spiritual immune system.” It is all but forgotten in the vast majority of the rest of the Christian Church, and they are most certainly paying the awful price for getting it so wrong. Rather than doubt our Bible-based stand on God’s roles for men and women in the Church, why not thank God for preserving this truth in our midst. God gives nothing but the best to His children. Rather than lament the occasional discomfort from practicing Close Communion, or the looks of shock for condemning the work-righteousness element of certain social organizations, why not thank and praise God for preserving us from such sins in a day and age where the truth is rare and for providing us a church family that still stands on the whole truth of God’s Word. Our church body is, of course, far from perfect. But our God is both perfect and holy. He is the One who has given us all of these blessings and so many more.
In view of such things it is truly baffling how we Christians could ever feel “unlucky” or “less fortunate” during our time of grace here on this earth. Through no merit in ourselves we were chosen by God from eternity to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We have been given to know and believe the facts of spiritual life—the very truths we could only reject and scorn had not the Holy Spirit worked faith in our hearts. God now regards us as perfect and holy saints for He has forgiven all of our sins in Christ. Every single believer will inherit heaven—HEAVEN—where we will experience the ultimate “just right.”
How these facts ought to delight and humble us. How they ought to serve to elevate our appreciation for our calling and position in this world as we go about sharing what we now know. So also Peter summarized our attitude from this point forward: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” [vv.13-14] This is our desire. May God the Holy Spirit carry it to completion in every one of us. 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.
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