May 8, 2011

Sermon for Second Sunday after Easter


Living for Christ When Life Is Hard
1 Peter 2:19-25
Second Sunday after Easter
May 8, 2011

Like all of Scripture, today’s text must be understood in its broader context, so allow me to attempt to explain that context for a moment.  First and Second Peter were written from Rome near the beginning of the period of persecution which the Book of Revelation calls "the great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14).  It was a time of death and suffering for the Church, beginning with Nero in A.D. 64 and lasting nearly 250 years until Constantine granted the Church official status.  Peter and Paul were martyred during this time.  John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation, and Christians throughout the Empire were tortured and killed in an attempt to wipe their faith off the face of the earth  

1 Peter, like Revelation, was written at the beginning of this tribulation to urge Christians to keep the faith, even at the cost of their lives.  Its recurring  theme is faithfulness under trial based on the inheritance reserved for us in Heaven (1:4).  Peter reminds us that we are strangers in this world, therefore, we should not be surprised to find that the world opposes us, or that we are never quite happy with it.  But, though we face troubles and sorrows, we rejoice, for they are only the fire that refines our hearts for God.  And when they are over, we will receive an inheritance with Christ, and the salvation of our souls. Do you find that the world disappoints you?  Are you discouraged at the actions of your civil leaders?  Does the future look uncertain?  That is the way of the world.  Sinners sin, and we cannot expect them to think and act like Christians, nor can we expect their plans and activities to solve the problems of life.  Do your burdens seem heavy?  Is life filled with disappointments and trials?  Did you expect God to make things easy for you?  Worldly peace and happiness were never the goal of God for you.  Do not be discouraged.  Your "heaviness" lasts but for a "season" (1:6), your joy in Heaven will last forever (1:4).

Since we are elect by the foreknowledge of God (1:2), kept by the power of God (1:5), and have an incorruptible inheritance and salvation (1:4 & 9), we are called to conduct our thoughts and lives in ways that are compatible with the will and nature of God.  "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16).  Holiness is our goal in life.  Or, at least, it should be.  Truthfully, however, we often forget about holiness.  We try to make personal peace and comfort our goal.  We try to devote ourselves to amusements and pleasures, and to enjoying the good life instead of living quiet and holy lives with God.  But amusements and pleasures, and even the good life, can never really satisfy the needs of our souls.  In fact, they often bring more frustration than pleasure, for they always fail to live up to our expectations.  It is much more satisfying to devote ourselves to our God given duties, and to seek holiness in every aspect of life.


The first three verses of chapter two build upon the truth stated in verse 25 of chapter one; "But the word of the Lord endureth forever."  These words conclude a thought, which permeates chapter one, that life on this planet is short, and what ever it brings to you, whether joys or trials, will be over soon, “but the word of the Lord endureth forever."  "Wherefore," meaning, based upon this truth, chapter 2, verses 1-3 encourages a response from us, which is plainly stated in 2:2; "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby."

The reasoning in these verses goes as follows.  First, we have been redeemed with nothing less than the precious blood of Christ Himself, who shed His own blood to pay for our sins (1:18-19)  Second, by the preaching and hearing of the word (Gospel) of Christ we are born again into the Kingdom of God.  Third, unlike flesh and grass, the word of God "liveth and abideth forever" (1:23-25).  Therefore, feed on the Word.  Feed on Christ.  Feed your soul with the Gospel.  Feed your soul with the Bible.  Lay aside all impediments and sinful inclinations, and, as newborn babes desire their mother's milk, desire and be nourished with the sincere milk of the Word.
When Peter wrote this letter a fire had recently burned much of Rome, and Nero, Emperor of Rome, falsely accused Christians of starting it intentionally.  Soon Christians were being blamed for everything from crimes to natural disasters.  Christians were accused of practicing cannibalism in Holy Communion, and of stealing babies to kill and eat them in their worship.  They were accused of promoting an armed rebellion of slaves against their masters, and of urging women to desert their families.  All of these accusations were false, of course.  The flesh and blood of Holy Communion were bread and wine, just as we use today.  The equality of all people, before God and in the Church promoted peace between masters and servants based on Biblical morality and on their brotherhood in Christ.  And the equality of men and women encouraged, rather than diminished their working together in the home.  But the Romans did not understand these things.  They feared that a rise in Christianity would lead to the demise of the Roman system, and that, if allowed to increase, Christians might become powerful enough to overthrow the Roman government by force.  So an anti-Christian agenda began to spread throughout the Empire fed by official propaganda.  How would the Church respond?  Peter wanted it to respond by exemplary living, which would show the Romans and non-Christians that Christians are a benefit to their country and to their community (2:12).  Christians were to show this by living by the principle of forbearance and good will, following the example of Christ. Thus, Christians should be good workers and good people to work for. This is true even of slaves; even slaves who are kept by cruel masters (2:18-24).  It should be noted here that Peter is not justifying slavery. He is telling slaves to endure their condition as Christ endured His, and to do their work as unto God, so the Romans will have no grounds for accusations against them. Slaves should be gentle and forgiving, not pushy or vengeful, and they should bear wrongs done against them with patience as Christ also bore His suffering (2:19-24).
Peter gives one of the most succinct statements of the Gospel message in verses 21-25.  He begins with Christ as our example when faced with unjust accusations and sufferings (2:23).  But he moves beyond that to the blessed result of Christ's sufferings for those who receive Him by faith. Christ, "in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (cross), that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (2:24).  Christ suffered for our sins.  He took our stripes (beating, punishment).  He died in our places, the innocent for the guilty, and the righteous for the wicked.  He suffered for us because we were like sheep going astray, lost and defenseless in a wilderness filled with danger.  By His suffering He has brought us back to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

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