Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 17, 2020)

1 PETER 3:13-22

JESUS CHRIST IS OUR SURE DEFENSE.

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
C: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

      One of the great lies that the devil has sold to the world is that we should not be so rigid over doctrine.  Of course, the devil is a better salesman than that.  He is careful to couch this lie in such an appealing fashion that you sound like a godless person if you disagree.  The sales pitch is usually given in these terms: “God wants us to love one another.  We will have love and peace if we learn to get along and not be so divisive.” 
     Now it is true that God commands us to love our neighbor.  And we are eager to get along with other people.  No one likes strife or animosity.  Jesus teaches us to pray for unity within the Church.  No one is excited about the plethora of divisions within in the Church.  It would be a noble goal to end all divisions and to get along.  But what is the cost?  Is it enough just to agree that Jesus is our Savior and to say that nothing outside of that really matters?  Jesus does not think so.  Jesus commanded his disciples to “(teach) them to observe everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19)  So, the lie is that differences in doctrine do not matter as much as camaraderie.  But if we are rigid over doctrine, it is because God is rigid over doctrine.  None of God's word is negotiable.  Nothing can be compromised, not even for the sake of unity.  We cannot overlook false teaching or be dismissive of sins.
     Now, when we stand on God's truth, questions will arise.  Actually, they are more like accusations.  “Why do you hate other people?”  “Why are you opposed to everything?”  Such animosity may evolve into hard consequences.  There may be a hefty price to pay for holding firm to God's word.  The people St. Peter was writing to knew that.  They endured confiscation of property, exile, imprisonment, and even death.  But the price for abandoning God's word is both horrendous and eternal.  It is not an option.  So, if we do end up having to suffer for the word of God, then we ought to be all the more certain of what God says.  We want to be able to find comfort in hard times, to not shrink from it in fear or shame, and to boldly confess why it is all-important.
     St. Peter wrote, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...” (1 Peter 3:15)  There is no reason to belittle those who are lost or even those who are hostile to Christ.  They are not to be the object of our mockery, but the object of our love and of our prayers.  Even if others sneer at your confession, Jesus Christ is your sure defense.  He does not lie.  So if you confess what Jesus says, you will always confess the truth. 
     Some people say that the Bible is a book of lies and contradictions.  Most who say that are only repeating what they have heard.  If anyone makes such a claim to you, ask them for examples.  Most will not be able to give you even one.  In that case, ask them if they would like to learn what the Bible actually has to say.  Then talk about Jesus, who is your sure defense of the faith.
     What does the Bible say?  It says that all people are going to die.  No one disputes that.  It says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Every conscience testifies that we are guilty, and that guilt testifies that there is a God to whom we owe an answer for our lives.  Who else would set the standard of good and bad?  And why else would we feel bad for violating God's standard?  Almost no one denies these things whether they believe the Bible or not.  But the follow up question is essential: What are you going to do about your guilt, about your death, and about the fact that you owe an answer to God?  Those who are lost have no answers.
     You and I are in the same position as anyone as far as being sinners.  Our consciences burden us because we have not met God's standard.  And we are destined for death.  But we do have an answer for all of these things.  Jesus Christ is our sure defense.  St. Peter declares: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison...” (1 Peter 3:18-19)  
     Jesus Christ is our sure defense.  His perfect obedience to God's standard was exchanged for our sin and guilt.  He gave himself into a cursed death, because that is what sinners deserve.  Jesus fell under God's condemnation for us who have not lived up to God's standard.  In doing so, the Righteous One has ransomed the unrighteous—his life for ours.  Jesus has also given us the credit for his righteous obedience.  This is why we are convinced that God is pleased with us.  It is not a righteousness of our own that we boast, but it is the righteousness that Jesus has graciously wrapped us in that gives us comfort and peace before God.
     Jesus also gives us a sure defense against the devil.  St. Peter noted that Jesus was raised from the dead and “proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” (1 Peter 3:19)  We usually confess it this way: “He descended into hell.” (Apostles' Creed)  For what purpose?  To preach.  To proclaim victory over the devil and his minions.  Jesus entered the devil's home turf to proclaim to him: “I have conquered.  I have overcome you and have taken claim over the people you had infected with sin and death.  You cannot have them; they are mine.  Hell cannot have them; for I have delivered them.  They are children of God now, and heirs of heaven.”  The devil has no charge over you.  In fact, he is not even in charge of hell.  Jesus is!  He is the Lord of death and Hades.  He is the judge; the devil is but an inmate.  And Jesus is your sure defense against him.
     This is the hope that we all have, and we all have good reason to confess it.  It is divine truth and the only truth that saves.  That is why we dare not compromise on any teaching from God's word.  If you compromise, you are doing it to gain friends.  That is appealing because friendship makes you feel good.  But to compromise on God's word is to jeopardize your confidence and possibly your salvation.  It shifts your faith from God's sure word to another focus which gives no defense, no comfort, and no guarantees.
     Listen to the sure defense that Jesus gives you in your baptism.  St. Peter wrote: “Baptism, which corresponds to (the Flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ....” (1 Peter 3:21)  The most basic, whittled down sentence in these verses is this: “Baptism saves you.”  It is the means by which our Lord cleanses you, puts his name on you, and delivers you from the claims of the devil.  Since it is God who works in baptism for you, you can be confident of your salvation.  For it rests on what God has done for you, not on you at all.  This is how Jesus Christ is your sure defense against doubt.
     Many Christians say baptism is what we do for Jesus, that we are stating our commitment to him by our baptism.  Do we need to be so rigid about this?  Can we just agree to disagree and get along?  Dear Christians, how often has your commitment to Jesus failed?  How many times have you not followed through on those promises that you would not fall prey to some sin again?  And yet, you did.  If this is how your commitment goes, what comfort can you ever have if baptism is about your commitment to God?
     But God is rigid about his word so that you can have a sure defense.  You are saved not by your commitment to him, but by his commitment to you.  You are saved not because you overcome sins, but because he paid for your sins and pardons you.  And of course, you cannot avoid death; but Jesus has conquered death.  Jesus Christ is your sure defense, for he has claimed you and will raise you up to live forever.  All of this Jesus bestows on you through baptism because he attaches a promise to it: “Baptism saves you.” (1 Peter 3:21)  You are baptized “for the forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 2:38)  It is God's gift, received by you for your salvation.
     Can we really compromise on this for the sake of getting along with others?  No.  In fact, we are duty-bound to warn others that they are wrong and that they are misrepresenting God's word.  And as a result, they are threatening the peace and confidence of other people for their salvation.  These are not little matters.
     Therefore, we cling to the word of God.  Jesus Christ is our sure defense—whether we want to be sure of our salvation or need to confess the reason for the hope we have.  His truth always stands against doubt, against false teachings, and against the enemies of the Church.  And if you are standing upon that truth, you will stand with Jesus on the Last Day.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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