Living Fear, 1 Peter 1:17–25, Third Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2020
*************************************************************************Last week we began a six week reading of 1st Peter. (You can go back and hear last week’s sermon through our website, Facebook page, or YouTube channel, by the way.) 1st Peter 1:3-9 reminded us of our living hope, the hope we have as Christians. But isn’t that hope a kind of escapism, turning its back to the present world? Won’t it lead to excessive preoccupation with “pie in the sky, bye and bye”?
Absolutely not! C. S. Lewis in his Mere Christianity gives us this truism, he said “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither”.
Just as an example, the apostles, energized by the same Spirit, laid the foundation for the conversion of the Roman Empire. In the centuries that followed, the living hope resulted in acts of mercy and concern by Christians for all of humanity. Because of this living hope Peter urges the church to live in reverent fear.
Well that’s easy, fear is all around us. Having urged us to keep our living hope as the highest priority in life, the apostle Peter would now have us live our lives in fear? Yet, there are many kinds of fear.
Fear of punishment is perhaps the most common. The child who misbehaves, or the thief who steals, are descendants of a man who once said to his Maker, “I was afraid because I was naked.”
And fear of injury or of death in an accident is also high on the list. Jesus rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith when they cried out, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” as a storm engulfed their boat.
And the fear of the unknown frequently surfaces; at the appearance of angels to Zechariah, and to the shepherds; to the women at the empty tomb; and even to the soldiers on Easter morning, Saint Matthew tell us, “the guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became as dead men” (Mt 28:4).
In spite of this, there is a “good fear”. It is that “good fear” that Peter is talking about in our text this morning. It is not the fear of a slave, but a fear or deep respect born out of love toward our heavenly Father. Because He has blessed us with undeserved gifts, we want to please Him by keeping His commandments.
How do we do this? We do this by loving God and living in this reverent fear. That’s how we are “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers”, for we are a people belonging to God. And as such we do not become attached to the things of this world.
Living in reverent fear is an ongoing rejection of “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does” (1 John 2:16). The Lord Jesus Christ has called His church to holiness. The Christian is called to live by high standards, even when many recent surveys indicate that the conduct of the church isn’t too different from that of the world.
Yet, as both Saint and Sinner, we must strive to live in fear of the Lord, even though we know we are redeemed! Peter says not with silver or gold, which was commonly used to buy slaves. For we know Joseph was sold to Midianite merchants for 20 shekels of silver. We know Judas sells vital information leading to the capture of Jesus for 30 silver coins. We even know the guards at the tomb on Easter are paid a large sum of silver money if they say that the disciples came during the night and stole Jesus’ body.
We strive to live this way only because of the precious blood of Christ, and that makes us free to live the life we are called to live as children of God, with a living fear. And as His children, He now has a special relationship with us too.
In March 1960, the little town of Agadir, in Morocco, Africa, was reduced to rubble by an earthquake. At the time, Lt. Gerald Martin was stationed there accompanied by his wife, Sue. While he was not harmed, his wife simply could not be found. Several days of fruitless searching ended when the military people were told to leave the area as a second earthquake was likely to occur. Lt. Martin stayed on. After another day he found Sue, still alive, buried under six feet of debris.
What do you think he did? Scold her for being there in the first place? Offer advice to her so that she might free herself? Pass down a survival kit? Cheer her up and console her with comforting words? Of course not! He got busy, and with his two hands dug away the rubble until she was free.
God’s relationship with us works in a similar way. Advice or a simple do-it-yourself salvation kit would do us no good. Cheerful words of encouragement from God would really not help us at all. Rather, through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, God set aside the rubble of sin to rescue us. Slaves to sin, we were ransomed from its guilt, burden, and fearful consequence: Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin, If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”. That is why we live in a reverent fear of the Lord.
Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, “was chosen before the creation of the world” to accomplish what we could not do. Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. He rescued us from our dire predicament. Not only did He pour out His Son’s blood to ransom us, but He raised Him from the dead. That changing everything for us!
Peter proclaims, “that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (18–19).
Ransomed is a beautiful word for the saving work Jesus did for us. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).
If money could have ransomed us, we might have been able to pay it. But it requires a holy, powerful currency: the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. That is why we conduct ourselves with fear throughout the time of [our] exile.
From man’s view, the death of Jesus and His shed blood was about the most atrocious thing ever! No one, without the aid of the Spirit, could look at a dead Jesus hanging on the cross and see it as anything but meaninglessness. Where is His kingdom? How can this be the One, who healed the sick; raised the dead; opened blind eyes and deaf ears; preached good news to the poor, gave forgiveness to sinners, comfort to the troubled, and life to the dying, how can the death of Jesus be good?
But you now know, what could not be seen with the naked eye. This was the Father’s plan for our rescue. Jesus took on our undoing. The innocent Lamb of God, had poured out on Him, the punishment for all rebellion. The wrath for all evil, and the wages of sin was poured out in full.
All this, so that God’s only-begotten Son could pour out His blood for you and me. Jesus is the full payment for us to live out our righteous fear, a fear of respect, born out of our love toward our heavenly Father who accomplished all this for us. Jesus redeemed us with His blood. And then at Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead.
This is the beating heart of today’s reading, of this joyful season, and of every day. Jesus is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia! Amen! The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the opposite of the typical earthly fear. Death now has become futile! What can death do? Scare us, concern us, stalk us, maybe, but in Christ Jesus it cannot harm us. It must release us, just as it released our Lord Jesus.
Jesus’ death was not the mere withering of another blade of grass; it was the brilliant, saving plan of your heavenly Father to rescue you, and all of fallen mankind. Jesus destroyed death from the inside. Death died. Consequently, His grave is empty and so will yours be.
That is the Good News that I bring to you this morning. Amongst the Corona virus, amongst the social distancing, among all the stress and earthly fear of this life, we hang on to this Good News. Death is kaput. Jesus lives. God raised Him from the dead. We are set free by the good news of Jesus!
Luther beautifully comments on this Good News. He says: “To be sure, it is quickly spoken and heard; but when it enters the heart, it cannot die or pass away. Nor does it let you die. It holds you as long as you cling to it.
Thus when I hear that Jesus Christ died, took away my sin, gained heaven for me, and gave me all that He has, I am hearing the Gospel. The Word is soon gone when it is preached; but when it falls into the heart and is grasped by faith, it can never slip away.
No creature can invalidate this truth. The depths of hell can do nothing against it; and even if I am already in the jaws of the devil, I must come out and remain where the Word remains, if I can take hold of it. Therefore St. Peter says with good reason that you need not look for anything else than what we have preached”.
The Bible has been called a blood-drenched book. From the time the Lord made coats of animal skins for our first parents, to the Song of the Saints in Revelation, blood has been involved in humanity’s relationship with their Maker.
It is not just the “blood” of Christ, but the “precious blood,” precious because you are bought with a price. He is the Lamb without blemish who takes away the sin of the world, your sin.
Your living hope and your living fear are in God, because He revealed the Son in His resurrection. Both are true. We do not know God or His love except through His Son. The Father’s raising of the Son discloses Him as the living, almighty God, who accomplished this, for you. Amen.