Easter 4 May 19, 2019
1 Peter 2:19-25
196:1-3, 207:1-4, 409, 207:5-6
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!
May the love of God the Father fill you with wonder; may the sacrifice of God the Son fill you with thanksgiving; and may the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit fill you with comfort, faith, and hope. Amen.
Fellow Servants of our Lord Jesus: No one needs to tell you that social networking is a modern trend of our times. Everyone has heard of social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I’m guessing most of you have such an account or have access to one through a friend or family member. What is it that drives the insane popularity of social networks? For Christians it can be something as benign (or even laudable) as the desire to stay connected with loved ones. For some it can be the desire to be entertained or amazed. But the real drivers for the godless are pride, self-love, and the desire to be admired, even envied.
Satan has his own motives, of course. The devil understands not only the basic sinful desires of the human heart; he fully understands the raw power of networking and group thought. Sociologists long ago identified what is commonly known as “mob mentality,” or the fact that people in a crowd often do terrible things that they would never think to do on their own. The problem actually goes even deeper than that. Suppose you have a conversation with one of your neighbors and he goes off on a nutty, godless tangent about something or other. You shrug it off and move on. Then you talk to two other neighbors and they spout the same nonsense. You would probably still shrug it off with a “Man oh man, do I have nutty neighbors,” but the fact that several have said the same thing makes you think about the very thing you easily dismissed from only one source. Now imagine you read the same thing on social media, from an otherwise admired or respected source, and notice that his post has gained about 5,000 likes and only a couple of dislikes. Finally, suppose you nothing about the Word of God, and you begin to understand the power of thought networking. Your natural desire for acceptance and popularity kicks in and you begin to waver. I have no doubt that Satan is social media’s biggest fan. He uses it to harness the power and popular appeal of group evil, of group thought.
So, can we as Christians turn a force for evil into something positive? Understand, first of all, that by its very nature social networking will never be highly conducive to spreading the gospel. The power of networking is the masses. The masses form the “thought tide” that sweeps others into its flow. True Christianity will never enjoy that sort of popularity because it A) conveys God’s attitude toward sin, and B) contradicts man’s natural ideas of how anyone is saved (by grace rather than works.) It is hard to imagine that true Christianity will ever “trend” on social networking forums.
What we do learn is how important it is to get and remain connected—to your God and to your fellow Christians. Our text will expand on this basic truth. That text is found in Peter’s First Epistle, the 2nd Chapter:
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
So far the Word of our God. What a joy and a privilege to possess these words of timeless truth as our sure and constant guide. That our God would bless our study of these perfect words, that he would better connect us to himself through these his words this morning, so we pray, “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
The devil, as you know, is nothing if not clever. That means that while the devil is neither omnipotent nor omniscient (he isn’t all-powerful and doesn’t know all things) he learns from his mistakes and remembers what works. Not just in general; he knows what works best on you. He is at war against all that God loves, and he seeks to destroy whatever God cherishes— which is you. Since he can’t take God’s Word out of the world, he will seek to twist that Word.
Here’s an example of how the devil operates within the confines of Christianity. Jesus warned his followers that they would have hardship on earth if they followed in his footsteps. Satan promptly began twisted that truth to bring about truly ghastly atrocities. In other words, heinous acts were carried out by so-called Christians in the name of their religion. This sort of thing probably reached its low-point during the days of the Inquisition. When those who carried out such horrible atrocities were condemned by their Christian peers, or by society in general, the inquisitors actually took all such criticism as validation that they were doing God’s will. They were, after all, suffering for their actions, and in this they took great comfort. They undoubtedly wore their “persecution” as a badge of honor and trotted it out as evidence that they were “suffering for their Lord.” There is, however, a big difference between suffering for walking in harmony with God’s will and actively seeking out persecution.
God the Holy Spirit addressed this sort of thing in our text for this morning: “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” What does that mean in practical terms? It means that suffering, like group think, is absolutely no indication of whether one is thinking or acting rightly or wrongly. The key is to remain connected to our God, who will never lead us into foolishness or sin. The opposite is also therefore true: remove God from your life and you have no hope but to be swept into stupidity, sin, and unbelief with the rest of the godless. Following popular thoughts or trends would be like asking the devil to program your GPS, and yet imagining that you will still one day arrive at God’s heaven.
Remember, the great Christian Commission or goal is not to correct social ills and injustices but to save souls. True reform never precedes conversion. It does, however, follow naturally after an unbeliever is called to faith.
There are many other much more subtle examples all around us—and often in our own lives. Christian churches are now not only condoning but promoting sinful lifestyles of every imaginable sort. This is just another symptom of being disconnected from God and his Word—of failing to be “mindful of God” as our text put it—and being connected instead to the world around us. If God isn’t allowed to determine right and wrong, man will do it on his own. What we are seeing is that those who are living in open sin and rebellion against God’s Word and will now believe that they are the ones being persecuted—by other Christians.
Again, the Holy Spirit through Peter addressed this nonsense in our text when he said, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?”
The relation all of this has to our sermon theme (“Connected”) ought to be obvious. The term used in our text (“mindful of God”) means always being connected to our Creator-God. It means always considering every thought, word and action according to how God views it, and according to his will for our lives. The fact of life for a Child of God in a sinful world is that we don’t have to seek out persecution. Humbly and devoutly follow God’s will in every aspect of your life and persecution will find you. Gently try to recall someone from the sin that has taken ownership of them and you will suffer. Patiently try to share sin and grace with an unbeliever and most will ridicule you for it. Humbly refuse to pretend that all Christian churches are the same and most will despise you for it.
The difference with this sort of persecution is that you are suffering for doing what God has actually told you to do. Again from our text: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly… If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” The fact is we cannot, with any degree of certainty, know good from evil or right from wrong if we are not intimately and uninterruptedly connected to our One Source of all truth.
What we read next in our text is a perfect example. With the words “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps,” our text seems to be telling us that we were called to suffer wrongfully for doing what is right, just like Jesus himself. Is that possible? Can our calling in this life really be to suffer, like Jesus did? Is that really why we were called into the Christian faith and what our God wants for our lives? Is that really what our text is saying? Remain intimately connected to God through his Word and you will know the answer.
Does our God want us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Our text certainly seems to say just that: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Yet we have to define and qualify our terms here, since the devil loves to distort and pervert even the simplest Bible truths. In this case, Satan has successfully misrepresented these words as somehow implying that Jesus didn’t actually win our salvation and the full and complete forgiveness for all of our sins. He “left us an example” of how we must earn our own passage. According to Satan, it is only when we do as Jesus did that we can have any confidence that God the Father loves us, forgives us, and will accept us into the heavenly mansions. In other words, Jesus didn’t do it for us; he showed us how to do it for ourselves. Not surprisingly, social networking eats this stuff up.
Yet when you are connected to God and his Word, all doubt is dispelled as our text continues: “(Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Note that Jesus is the one who carried our sins in his own body to the cross. He is the one who bore the punishment that we deserved. The “stripes” by which we are now healed were laid on Jesus, not us. In this sense we cannot “follow the Savior,” since he went where only he could go. God our Savior won forgiveness on the cross for every single sinner, including you and me, and his payment was a “once for all” event.
Our God does want us to follow in our Savior’s footsteps, but not as little individual self-saviors. He wants us to walk as those who have already been freed from the slavery to sin, and liberated to walk in harmony with God’s will—as Jesus did. Again our text points the direction for us: “He (Jesus) committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Can you see how a better, more intimate connection to God’s Word dispels all nonsense here and reinforces the truth of our Christian faith? Can you also then see how a bond, a connection, with like-minded Christians can also serve to strengthen our connection to our God? Our purpose on this earth is to save souls—to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Our purpose then is life—eternal life—for ourselves and for our neighbor. For this we need our God, every moment of every day. We also need the strength and encouragement that God gives us through each other, our fellow Christians. Maintain and strengthen those bonds and you will have the strength and courage to carry out your one great purpose in life with great enthusiasm, skill, and determination. You will also be able to distinguish between popular myth and Godly truth, for Jesus himself told us, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
This is our calling. This is our purpose. Acknowledge it, accept it, and order your life accordingly. So help us God. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.