May 15, 2011

Monday after the Third Sunday after Easter


Morning – Ps.85, Ex. 25:1-11, 17-22, Heb. 9:15
Evening – Ps. 77, Is. 45:20, Eph. 1:1-14


Hebrews 9:1-14 brought us to understand the finality and full sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.  His offering of Himself on the cross pays in full the price of our sins and restores us to God.  The animal sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament could never accomplish this, but God can and did in Christ.  Thus we are free from the dead works of the ceremonial law.  Attempts to continue or revive them are actually insults to Christ, which is why Galatians 1:6 says such people have left Christ for another gospel.  This mornings reading continues to insist that the Old Covenant, was temporary, and has been fulfilled in the work of Christ and in calling together the New Israel (Church) in the New Covenant.  The point of Hebrews 9:15-28 is that Christ did not come to continue the Old Covenant but to be the mediator of the New Covenant.

This point is made first by comparing the Old Covenant to a will, which takes effect at the death of the person making the will.  The point is that the promises of the Old Testament become the possession of God’s people at the death of the One making the will, God.  Thus, when Christ died, the promises became ours.   The Church no longer lives in anticipation of the promises, but in the reality of them.

The point is made second by showing that the people and Tabernacle of the Old Covenant were “purified” with the blood of animals, but the New Covenant and its Tabernacle, which is the true Tabernacle in Heaven, is purified with the blood of Christ Himself.  The old Tabernacle was a pattern (copy) of the true Tabernacle (9:23), and Christ entered into the true Tabernacle and holy place with His own blood to bring us into God.

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter

Why Not?
1 Peter 2:11-17
Third Sunday after Easter
May 15, 2011

Why would anyone not give himself to the enjoyment of the pleasures of the flesh?  Why would anyone restrain himself and even abstain from them?  That is the question before us in the Epistle for this morning, 1 Peter 2:11-17.  We all know the answer most people would give to this question.  “There is no reason,” they would say, “to deny yourself the pleasures of the flesh.  They are natural and good and you should enjoy them while you can.”  Most people would say that the one guide to their enjoyment is that they not hurt anyone else, but many, quite obviously don’t even recognise that guide, and they indulge themselves freely, regardless of the consequences to other people.  Listening to any news program on any day will confirm this fact with seemingly endless reports of crime, corruption, and violence.  The Bible demands restraint from us.  The Commandments of God are often as much about the things thou shalt not do as about the things thou shalt do.   Why is this?  What is it about our physical desires that makes the Bible, and most thinking people, believe their unbridled indulgence is not in our best interest?

Let me name one thing that is not a reason to “abstain from fleshly lusts” as St. Peter put it in today’s reading.  We do not abstain in order to earn our way to Heaven.  I know I spend a lot of your time repeating this, but I do so because it is important.  We cannot earn our way to Heaven because our good deeds cannot atone for our sins.  The only way we can ever get to Heaven is if God gives it to us as a free gift.  When I was in seminary a statement was bantered around in most of the classes.  It was meant to be funny, but it was also true.  It said,   “Heaven is a gift; grades are earned.”  There is much truth in those words.  We can earn our wages.  We can earn respect, friendship, and even love, but we can never earn Heaven.  We must receive it as a gift from God.

So why do we abstain from the wanton pursuit of pleasure if abstention won’t get us into Heaven?  One reason is that it is good for us.  I mentioned that many people in the world agree that there should be some kind of control on human behavior.  Some advocate very strict control, while others think only minimal control is necessary, but most agree that some control is needed.  We could assume that calls for stricter control come from narrow minded bigots if it were not for the obvious fact that uncontrolled pleasure seeking causes much of the sorrow and suffering people endure in this world.  Seeking their own gratification, people have a tendency to ignore or abuse the basic rights and needs of others.  Without controls, some would party all night with loud music that disturbs the sleep and peace of their neighbors.  And that is only a mild example; we have only to watch the crime reports in the news to see more serious and deadly examples.

Having some controls is good for society, it is also good for us because much of our pleasure seeking is accomplished through self-destructive behavior.  Drugs, alcohol, the party life, and thrill seeking obviously have deadly potential.  But seemingly innocent, harmless acts can have lasting consequences, as any teen-age mom can attest.  To keep us from danger, God has given us His Word, which tells us to avoid some behaviours  because they are destructive, and pursue others because they are constructive.

Peter makes the point that abstaining from certain things and devoting ourselves to others honours God.  In other words, we abhor evil and do good because we love God.  We love the One who first loved us and went to the cross to forgive our sins.  We love the One who gives life to our souls and promises Heaven as a gift from Him to us.  We love the One who is love itself, therefore we love to please Him.  We rejoice that our good works glorify God in the day of visitation or in any other day or way He wishes to use them (1 Pet. 2:12).

Christians abstain from evil and pursue good that by our well doing we may “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15).  Christians in Peter’s day were being falsely accused of much evil.  Killing babies, political rebellion, and the destruction of the home and family were but a few of the many charges leveled against the Church.  These accusations were the beginning of a terrible persecution of the Church that lasted more than 250 years and unjustly took the lives of countless people, whose only crime was believing in Jesus.  Naturally the Christians wondered how they should respond to the persecution.   Peter is telling them not to become belligerent or vengeful, but to live quietly, morally, and justly in their communities.  They are to do right, and trust God in every situation.  This will prove to the world that the accusations against them were false, and silence the ignorance of foolish men.  It did, but at what a cost.  And yet, the more they persecuted the Christians, the more sympathetic people became to them.  Gradually the Roman Empire developed a respect and compassion for the Christians that caused many to actually seek them out and convert to their faith. 

This brings us to the final reason why we should always keep our actions and desires under control, it is a testimony to those who are outside of Christ.  I refer you again to 1 Peter 2:12.

“Having you conversation (way of life) honest among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

The day of visitation is the day they stand before God to be judged.  Peter is saying that on that day, even if they are condemned for sin and unbelief, people will see that Christians were right and the persecution of them was a terrible and wicked act.  They will see that they should have followed the Christians into the presence of the grace of God.  They will see that the Gospel of Christ is peace to the soul, and Christ Himself is the way the truth and the life, and no man cometh to God but through Him.  Hopefully, many of those persecuting Christians will recognise this before they face the Judgment Day.  Perhaps your life of faithfulness to God will be one of the things God uses to bring them into Christ.

“Almighty God, who showest to them that are in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness; Grant unto all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s Religion, that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”