An Inspiring View
The Roman god Janus has two faces. One looks forward. The other backward. He is a god of beginnings and endings. One of the interesting things about Janus is that he is often pictured with a staff in his hand. The staff is there to guide people on their journey. There’s wisdom in this ancient pagan art. Knowing where you’ve come from and where you’re going helps you find your way in the present circumstance.
In our culture, we are tempted to get lost in the moment. The present experience is all that matters. “You only live once,” people say as they jump from one experience to another. While it is true that we only live once, our present experience is not all that matters. Our lives are part of something much greater. God’s work in the past and God’s work in the future help us understand our present moment. Our Baptism and our resurrection give shape to our life. Peter reminds us that discipleship is not just about the present moment. The work of Christ in the past and the promises of Christ for the future help Christians make sense of what they are doing right now (1 Pet 3:18).
Our text this morning is from the Epistle reading from 1 Peter. The text opens with Peter asking us a very interesting question, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? It seems that everywhere you turn anymore, those who are ‘zealous for what is good’ are the one’s being trampled on by the media, by the militant feminist movement, the LGBTQ community and also our state and federal governments seem to be against us right now as we are held in exile.
How many times have you posted a ‘pro-life’ meme or even personal message on Facebook and not be slammed for it. They call the ‘Right to Life’ a ‘War on Women’, when it couldn’t be farther from the truth. The sacrifice of living human beings for the sake of convenience, being a drain on society, or a drain on your family’s money, or even your “choice” of dying “with dignity” as a physician prescribes you a lethal dose of medication so you can “die on your terms”, you get to play God and decide when you are going to die. No matter how you slice it, it is still suicide.
Suffering, that is not a vision we wish to see. To this day, I still have a rough time watching war movies, horror movies and even sci-fi thrillers. I don’t like to see people suffer. Suffering is something we will turn away from at the drop of the hat. I mean, really, who here looks forward to suffering? There are medications to dull your senses so you just don’t care about the pain any more, you become physically dependent upon them because it is the only thing that takes or even dulls the pain. Others turn to alcohol or other drugs to numb away heartbreak, sorrow or whatever they are suffering through just to make it through each day.
Sin makes people suffer. And when we suffer for being zealous for what is good, that is if it is for righteousness sake, you will be blessed (v. 14). So, what is Peter trying to say here by being “zealous for what is right”? We could look at it in the sense that Jesus taught in the gospels, turn the other cheek, and love you enemy. Peter reiterates just a few verses before our text today. Verse 9, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for refiling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing. For “whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him seek peace and pursue it. for the eyes of of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”” (vv 9-12)
Here Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16, and the Word of the Lord is very much relevant today as it was 3000+ plus years ago. Beautiful thing is the Lord’s Word to us today to give is great hope, strength, and everything else we need as we endure the suffering we are currently.
You see, we are suffering because we are the enemy of the world. We have died with Christ in His death, and raised together with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6), and so we are new creations through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. But not only, he says, can no one harm you if you suffer for God’s sake; but you are also blessed, and you should be glad that you have to suffer, as Christ also says in Matt. 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad.
Yes, we suffer. We suffer in two ways, by our own hand, and by the hand of all that is evil. You know, when Jesus chose you to be His disciple, did He show you or say to you that your life was now going to be a bed of roses? No. Once you were sprinkled, dipped, dunked or splashed in the name of the Father and + the Son and the Holy Spirit, you were clothed with Christ (Gal 3.27). Unfortunately, Jesus has a target on His back according to the devil, the world and even our own sinful flesh. Remember, Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age, as we are baptized into Him. He is with you when you do the good stuff, but where have your brought Jesus into when no one is looking. And because Jesus has a target on His back, we do as well. This is why Pete quotes that portion of Ps. 34, to remind us that we are in the world but we are not of this world.
As targeted Christians, we have a more inspiring view. God strengthens us through His Word, as He has done today, to remind us again who we belong to, and that we only belong to Him through God given faith in the Son of Man who “came to seek and save the lost”; and that He would pay the price for our sins. Jesus suffered prior to His conviction and torture, He suffered as they mocked Him in the court of Pilate, then through the streets of “Holy Jerusalem”, to Golgatha. There He suffered extreme shame as He was stripped naked, bloodied and ripped apart by Roman whip, thrown onto a piece of wood where His hands were stretched out and nails driven through them, each blow of the hammer the course nail rubs bone and tears flesh as it’s driven through the cross.
Jesus knows suffering. He knows rejection. He knows abandonment, He knows corrupt leaders and governments. Jesus knows YOUR suffering though this time. It is lonely, it is totally unfair that you can go into busy grocery stores, and home improvement stores and be around all kinds of people who have forgotten what Social Distancing is by wanting to be right next to you in line or in an isle, yet we are not allowed to actually practice social distancing while still attending Sunday Worship services in person and being able to receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is down right unfair, and down right bordering on removal of our first amendment rights to freedom of religion and the expressed rights to exercise our faith and worship, as well as the right of free assembly. And so we suffer, and Jesus takes on Himself on the cross our suffering we are going through right now. Our loneliness, depression, anger, rage at the “man”, and there those sufferings and all the sin wrapped up in human suffering, and there they died, our suffering, our sin, all on our Savior.
Therefore, as Peter reminds us, “for Christ 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. (v. 18) It has been said, “It will not come about that those who are on the way to heaven will have good days on earth, since those who do not come into heaven cannot have good days either.. for all men are subjected to what God says to Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” and to the woman, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing.” Now, since we are all subjected to misfortune, how much more it is necessary for those who want to come to eternal life to bear the cross!”
Such words of hope and comfort for us today, dearest family. Bearing the cross is all about suffering. You see, Jesus never said to anyone, “If you desire to follow me, pick up your easy chair, or your golf cart, or your protection of your home.” No, Instead He tells us that if anyone would come after [Him], let him take up his cross and follow Jesus. The cross always leads to suffering and death.
Regardless of the suffering we are enduring for the sake of Christ, being held in exile in our homes and not allowed to enter God’s House for what we believe is the most essential thing in this life, allowing God to reach down from heaven, Sunday after Sunday, receiving the scriptures read to you, where in hearing you believe, and the faithful reception of the Sacrament of the Lord.
Yet even though we suffer, the Apostle Peter reminds us to have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (vv 14b-16).
St. Peter tells every one of us to be prepared to make a defense of our faith. When the time comes for you to die, neither I nor the pope will be at your side; and if you know no reason for your hope and say: “I want to believe what the councils, the pope, and our fathers believed,” then the devil will answer: “But what if they were in error?” Then he has won, and he drags you into hell. Therefore we must know what we believe, namely, what God’s Word says, not what the pope or the saintly fathers believe or say. For you must not rely on a person. No, you must rely on the Word of God alone.
And making that defense of our faith is not anything that is difficult for us to do. We start by speaking about hardships and trials, our own hardships and trials. In this dialogue, we can make a connection to the person we are speaking with. With compassion and love we wait and we listen to their tales of woe. One thing that every person on the face of this planet is connected to is suffering and death. There is no way around it, no way of escape. But we have this beautiful message of reconciliation between God the Father and us, and that reconciliation was meted out by Jesus Himself who assumed human flesh to live with His creatures in His creation. He lived the Law perfectly in our stead, because we fail daily, and suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. The key in our defense of the hope we have within us is that it was due to these things, the innocent life, suffering, death, Jesus took upon Himself all our own suffering and it died with Him there on the cross.
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteous, that He might offer us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. We who are marked by the King in our baptism, a shape of a cross upon your forehead and upon your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. And since we are His now through water and blood, we need no longer fear the bad stuff going on around us.
Even though everything else is taken away from us, our home, our finances, our spouse, our children, and anything else we hold of value, we can still praise God with a righteous voice as we place ourselves in the sandals of Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord be praised.
This can be our voice too. Even though everything be stripped away from us, we still have somethings that no one can take away from us: Namely our forgiveness wrought by Christ the Crucified; an inheritance waiting for us in the heavens where no one can get to it to steal or destroy; and we have the promise of an eternity with the Lord our God who shed His blood for us, that we might be His Children and live with Him forever in blessedness and peace for all eternity.
In the name of Jesus and for His eternal glory. Amen.