Day of Pentecost – A LSB #856
Text – Acts 2:13
But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
FILLED WITH NEW WINE
The Gospel of Mark says, “One time Jesus entered a house, & the crowds began to gather again. Soon He & His disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When His family heard what was happening, they tried to take Him away. ‘He’s out of His mind,’ they said.” (3:20-21 NLT)
The family of Jesus thought He had lost His mind. Have you lost yours? That’s what the unbelievers were saying about the children of God on the feast of Pentecost: “They are filled with new wine!” That’s how the works of God look to unbelievers, but we have to confess that there are many times we think the same. 1 Corinthians 1 says to us,
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men… But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.” (V. 25 & 27 ESV) All of us are familiar with that red-faced feeling when shame has washed over us. At the cross, Jesus took that upon Himself as He hung there, naked, for the mockers & all those who would scorn Him from their petty little hearts.
Maybe it was recognition of your own pettiness that brought you that feeling of shame. The Son of God suffered & died a brutal death on the cross & we nitpick over the failures & faults of those we love & of those we don’t. There’s plenty of failure to point out too, across our nation right now, as the rioting goes on, along with the unjust killing of a helpless man.
Failure is everywhere & there is only one true solution to it, but sinful beings just love to point out failure & who’s to blame. That is anything but the solution. The devil is not on the side of the police & he’s not on the side of innocent civilians. The devil is not on the side of white people, nor is he on the side of black people. Satan is not on the side of the Democrats & he is not on the side of Republicans. He comes only to steal, to kill & to destroy. What have we seen way too much of in the news this past week? Stealing, killing & destruction has been all over the news. Doesn’t that tell you something about where Lucifer is working? The only side the devil is on is his own. He is the ultimate selfish & self-centered creature. He provokes the worst in each & every human being regardless of skin color or political affiliation.
Satan is the enemy that we should be united against, because all of God’s creation matters. The devil is not just trying to destroy certain groups of people. He’s working to destroy everything that our heavenly Father created. Screaming & yelling profanities at other human beings, no matter how righteous the screamers think they are, is simply doing Satan’s work.
Revenge, taken out on other human beings, does not pay for a single crime, not even for the killing of a helpless human being. All of us need our Lord’s death on the cross to pay for our sins. Only the Son of God Himself dying on Mt. Calvary can pay for the death of George Floyd. Whether he was a believer or an unbeliever, George was still God’s child, God’s creation.
And while the officers involved should be tried & brought to justice, that will not bring George’s life back. Only believing in Jesus can do that. If George did, then his soul is already in heaven, alive & with his Creator. If you tried preaching that to the rioters right now, in the best case scenario they’d probably assume you are drunk – maybe even filled with new wine.
And still, even the rioters are not whom we should be united against. All those involved should be tried & brought to justice, but it will not restore businesses that were destroyed or the jobs that were lost with them. As St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:
“…we do not wrestle against flesh & blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (6:12 ESV) Seeing the horror of a helpless man being killed, live on video, how do we wrestle against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers & spiritual forces of evil? Well, the answer is laughable. It’s the kind of suggestion that makes you think someone must be filled with new wine. They have to be drunk & out of their mind. “…it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21 ESV) In light of all that’s transpired in the past week that seems pretty weak, doesn’t it?
Understandably, for the death of a helpless man, some of the protesters want blood. And God, knowing better, instead of giving them the worthless blood of a sinful human being, gives them the innocent blood of His holy Son who was without sin. The blood of Jesus does actually pay for all the racist sins & all the injustices, of any kind, the world has ever seen.
That is not easy to accept or to believe. That’s why no unbeliever ever prays for Jesus to come into his heart. God must take the initiative & 1st come to us. Once Yahweh has created faith within, then & only then, is a sinful human being able to ask Jesus to draw near. As the reading from Acts 2 draws to a close, God had been busy creating faith, & it says,
“So those who received his word were baptized, & there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41 ESV) Pentecost celebrated the 1st harvest & if that was a good one, it promised an even greater harvest in the fall. As we remember & celebrate the miracle which occurred at Pentecost we need to understand the symbolism God is using.
Yahweh is restoring the unity of all people that were once scattered across the globe after the debacle at the Tower of Babel. As we hear the names of the many nations, realize that Pentecost is a foretaste of the true end to all racism:
“Parthians & Medes, Elamites & residents of Mesopotamia, Judea & Cappadocia, Pontus & Asia, Phrygia & Pamphylia, Egypt & the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews & converts to Judaism, Cretans & Arabians…” (Acts 2:9-11)
The arc from Parthia through Mesopotamia is the “Old (Testament) World;” the rest of the list (through verse 10) describes the “Mediterranean basin,” the “New (Testament) World” with Rome as its outermost part. “Jews and proselytes,” i.e., lifelong believers and converts, are religious not ethnic or national categories. Are “Cretans and Arabians” simply place/people names, or might they constitute a merism of seafarers and nomads? In any event, the “whole world” has converged in Jerusalem, and is hearing “the mighty works of God” (2:11, ESV).
Pentecost is the reversal of the Babel exiling. It reverses the scattering and gathers in the Temple. At the heart of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit launches the new Temple of the Lord, His holy Church.
Sermon hymn about the calling of the 12 to new things.
It’s sort of what you hear in the media today, Christians living out their faith must be filled with new wine. They’re drunk! They’re crazy! They’re fools. Peter goes along with the gibe of drunkenness, but quickly corrects the misunderstanding. He quotes Joel 2:28–32, though not verbatim. Of significance is that the apostle eschatologizes the prophetic utterance. God announces, in Joel, that he will pour out his Spirit “after this”, after he restores the “grain & wine & oil” (Jl 2:19) that locust & drought had destroyed; there is no explicit eschatological value. However, under the influence of the poured-out Spirit, Peter perceives the promise in salvation-historical perspective. “The kingdom of God,” “the day of the LORD,” “the last days,” are now but also, still, not yet. It is gospel that God pours out, has poured out, his Spirit on all flesh, because this too signifies that God has come to his people—the people he made for himself in creation. We who believe in Jesus – the Spirit has called & gathered, is enlightening & sanctifying, and will keep.
Peter preached & through the Spirit life came to be! And unbelievers, those without the Spirit, ridiculed it, “These people are filled with new wine.”
To be forgiven before God through Baptism into Christ and to be for the poor who need us is not our human project but the generous work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is the last great act of God before the last & final day of the world.
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
Marshall: Pentecost is the NT name for the Feast of Weeks, when the wheat harvest was celebrated by a one-day festival during which special sacrifices were offered (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:15-21; Deut. 16:9-12).
On this special Pentecost the Lord was preparing a great harvest of souls for his people.
2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated & came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
Bruce: Verses 5-8: From the far-flung lands where the Jews of the dispersion lived, great numbers had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks.
6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"
This catalogue is symbolic of the universal preaching of the Gospel which was to come.
Acts 2:12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
The real miracle was the giving of the Holy Spirit. These people saw the result of this giving.
Acts 2:13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."
Bengel: Mocking begins with ridicule, then it proceeds to questioning, 4:7, then to threats 4:17, then to imprisonment, 5:18, then to stripes, 5:40, and then to murder, 7:58.
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice & addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews & all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
"No" means "quite to the contrary." What greater contrast could there be than drunkenness and the fulfillment of a prophecy? It reminds one of Isaiah 5:20: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil." (NASB) Jesus' enemies often called good evil. They said He cast out demons with Satan's power. They implied sinful motives when He ate with publicans and sinners.
17 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons & daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
This prophecy is found at Joel 2:28-32.
Bengel: All the days of the NT are last days; and these last days are now far advanced.
Luther: Thus now, as concerning this passage of the prophet, prophesying, visions, dreams are all one thing, namely the knowledge of God through Christ, which the Holy Spirit kindles and makes to burn through the Word of the Gospel. This causes believers to teach the Word, undertake great things for Jesus and to have the Gospel as the center of all they do, think or say.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
"Signs" are the clear warnings of God which dare not be disregarded. "In the heaven above" & "on earth below" denote the fact that no part of God's creation is exempt from these wonders & signs. We cannot escape them by moving to a different climate, to an island or to a culture which is simpler than ours. The same phenomenon is mentioned at Matthew 24:29. No one really knows what it is like to have the sun turned into darkness and moon into blood. Eclipses are, of course, a taste of this. The believer will know when it happens. Our text calls it "great and glorious."
Acts 2:21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"
The salvation of the believer is just as certain as is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, which has gone on for nearly 2,000 years. Once God speaks, He will not take the word back. To call on the name of the Lord is the OT way of saying "believing in the Lord Jesus."
In this prophecy of Joel the day of Pentecost and the Day of the Lord, the last day, are viewed together. There is an interval, of course, between the two. But, as Stoeckhardt says, the out-pouring of the Holy Ghost is the final great act of God before the Great Day of the Lord.
Acts 2:9-21 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt & the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews & proselytes, Cretans & Arabians – we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12And all were amazed & perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice & addressed them, “Men of Judea & all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, & give ear to my words. 15For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
John 7:37-39 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (instead of death & rioting & destruction)
O Christ, who led the Twelve among the desolate & broke as bread of life for all Your love compassionate: Lead us along the ways where hope has nearly died & help us climb the lonely hills where love is crucified. O Christ, who sent the Twelve on roads they’d never trod to serve, to suffer, teach, proclaim the nearer reign of God: Send us on ways where faith transcends timidity, where love informs & hope sustains both life & ministry. O Christ, the apostles’ Lord, the martyrs’ strength & song, the crucified & risen King to whom the saints belong: Though generations pass, our tribute still we bring, our hymns a sacrifice of praise, our lives an offering. Amen. LSB 856:3-5.
Ascension Day Observed – 2020 LSB #’s 493:1-3, 492, 493:4-6
Text – Acts 1:6-8
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, & you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem & in all Judea & Samaria, & to the end of the earth.”
AWAITING THE PROMISE
Another Memorial Day is just around the corner. I attended many of those services as a child, because my father was very active in the American Legion. But during all those years of being around the ceremonies, the speaker was never of interest to us boys; except as our parents scolded us for making too much noise.
I don’t remember any of the speeches, but I do have distinct memories of those services, nonetheless. The boys always waited with nervous anticipation for the gun salute. We’d try to sneak around the back side of the formation & creep as close to the men as we dared. The salute utterly fascinated us, & once over, we’d eye up the location of the empty shell casings.
As soon as the ceremonies ended, & the men marched out of position, we’d swoop in on those casings & gather them up like treasure. Memorial Day brings back fond memories for me now, even though I would not have guessed that as a child.
All those years I was ignorant of what was happening, yet, God was at work blessing me in spite of my ignorance. He was creating in me an appreciation for America’s tradition of honoring war veterans, along with the sacrifices they & their families have made.
During my enlistment in the Navy, God gave me a more personal perspective of those sacrifices. Since graduating from seminary, God has blessed me with the privilege of bringing honor to the veterans, & comfort to their families, through being the guest speaker at several Memorial Day services. I can assure you that as a child, impatiently waiting to collect shell casings, it never once occurred to me that some day, I would be the speaker at one of those services. However, those speaking opportunities have given me an even broader perspective on Memorial Day, & through them I’ve discovered that a promise has been fulfilled.
Not that, as a child I was aware of any such promise. It’s one of those things you only recognize once it is fulfilled. The faithful attendance of my parents at all those years of Memorial services were like a promise finally fulfilled by God. My parents were handing down to me the heritage of honoring those who’ve sacrificed for our freedoms.
Unfortunately, fewer people are hearing the promise of that heritage these days. The number of people attending those ceremonies has undergone a continuous decline. Attendance at Ascension Day services has undergone the same decline, & Christ’s Ascension has become an almost unknown celebration among the members of our congregations.
The heritage surrounding the celebration of Ascension Day is no longer being passed on in most of our families. That promise is not being heard, & most people are no longer even aware of the promise that Christ made in connection with His ascension:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer & on the 3rd day rise from the dead, & that repentance & forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Pentecost was the fulfillment of that promise as Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His Apostles. For three years they’d followed Jesus everywhere, up & down the Jordan River, up & down the mountain to the city of Jerusalem. For three years they had no home; no place to call their own. For three years Jesus taught them day in & day out.
Yet, throughout that time, Scripture shows that the disciples had no appreciation for what
Jesus was patiently doing. The disciples were impatient at times, & fell asleep at others. Things no doubt got tedious & boring for them, just like all those years of my waiting for the speaker to get done on Memorial Day. I expect the disciples often wished that Jesus would just get to the point. We hear those thoughts even as Jesus prepares to ascend into heaven.
“So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6 ESV) Now, doesn’t that question make it sound like Jesus had wasted three years of teaching on those disciples of His? They were still looking for an earthly, material kingdom; a kingdom of riches, influence & power. Why did Jesus bother?
People today have the same attitude toward Ascension Day services. Why bother? What good will they do? It just seems like there’re so many more important things to do, & we already have plenty of opportunities to attend church. What good can come out of attending on a Thursday evening? It does not seem worth the effort.
The same could’ve been said for Jesus’ teaching of His disciples. Yet, God still worked through those disciples, & worked very powerfully. He always works powerfully. It’s just that sometimes the results are more noticeable to the human eye than at others. Sometimes, we have no appreciation for what God is patiently doing.
Sometimes God requires us to see with the eyes of faith. On Pentecost God converted 3000 souls & that was impressive to the human eye. But the conversion of even one soul is just as mighty & powerful a deed, even if it doesn’t look that way to us; even if we are too impatient to spend years waiting to see the promise fulfilled.
The celebration of Ascension Day requires that sight of faith & so far, this sermon may seem to be nothing more than preaching to the choir. I expect that few of you ended up watching this by accident, & those who most need to hear the promise given at Christ’s Ascension are not watching. However, I believe that you are not simply for your own benefit, or because it’s what you should be doing. God has you watching this morning in order that you might have the promise fulfilled, of receiving His Holy Spirit. Then, you are to take God’s promises into the lives & into the homes of those who are not watching at this moment in time.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, & you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem & in all Judea & Samaria, & to the end of the earth,” even to Holt, MI.
God has you watching, to empower you for living His message of hope & promise. As God’s children we are to live that message for those who do not know Christ, & for those who do – but are weak in faith. Our Lord has given us His body & His blood for strengthening us in that mission, because He knows how difficult it is. He was crucified for it.
He died because He understood that the promise of the forgiveness of our sins, is the only promise that will heal. His forgiveness alone brings life & salvation out of death & damnation. Now He’s patiently waiting for you to get to the point; the point of living in the reality of His fulfillment of His promises.
We live in that reality as God Himself grows our faith, as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us through God’s Word & Sacraments. Like attending Memorial Day services for years on end, living in that reality becomes tedious. We get bored. We wonder if it’s worth the bother. Our eyes wander off to more fanciful activities & more enticing pursuits.
Those reactions, however, are not the new man of faith in us. Those are from the old man, the sinful nature. As we trust in God we’re drawn back to the words & the waters of our baptism where that old man is drowned by God’s Spirit. For in our baptism we find a daily renewal of His recreating promise to each one of us, His children.
It’s at baptism that we received the Spirit promised at Christ’s Ascension, the Spirit of
Pentecost. In Holy Communion, & through the Word of God, we also receive that promised Spirit. God has fulfilled His promise each day of our Christian lives, & will continue to do so until the ultimate fulfillment on that day when He calls us to our ascension.
Until then, it’s our privilege to pass down the heritage of our faith, to our children, our neighbors & whomever else Christ brings into our lives for that purpose. It is a difficult task requiring much patience & perseverance. The task is very similar to attending Ascension Day services. It gets tedious & boring. We’re frequently led to doubt if it’s worthwhile.
We often do not see results until years later. Yet, today, I’m thankful to my parents for taking me to all those Ascension Day services. I’m thankful to my parents, pastors & teachers for their patience & perseverance. But especially, I’m thankful to my heavenly Father for instilling in me the hope to await The Promise, & for clothing me in His power.
As Paul wrote in today’s epistle lesson, we’ve been called to the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance in the saints. Therefore as you await the final fulfillment of God’s promise, the awarding of your inheritance as His children, may you rest in the power & the strength of His Holy Spirit. Amen.
On Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of my ascension; this hope alone has always stilled all doubt & apprehension; for where the Head is there as well I know His members are to dwell when Christ will come & call them. O grant, dear Lord, this grace to me, recalling Your ascension, that I may serve You faithfully in thanks for my redemption; & then, when all my days shall cease, let me depart in joy & peace in answer to my pleading. Amen. LSB 492:1, 3.
 Luke 24:46-49 ESV
6th Sunday of Easter – A LSB #332:1-2, 4-6
Text – 1 Peter 3:18-19
For Christ also suffered once for sins… being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which He went & proclaimed to the spirits in prison.
THE DESCENT INTO HELL
“Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died & was buried. He descended into hell.” It probably doesn’t sound like a sermon you’d hear during the season of Easter. Where’s the glory? Where’s the resurrection? Where is the joy? Where is the alleluia?
And yet, if you follow Jesus in any of the Christian denominations you should have spoken those words on every occasion that you recited the Apostles’ Creed. That creed is a summary of all the major teachings of Jesus Christ. Still, quite a few people think the Apostles’ Creed is so basic that it’s hardly worth bothering with. “I know all that,” they say.
It’s for that reason that we are looking, today, at the descent into hell. Though we recite that phrase frequently, few Christians can explain what’s going on there, or how relevant it is to the struggles of their daily lives. However, St. Peter was writing to Christians that were being persecuted for their faith & he includes the sermon text in his letter.
Peter wrote to new Gentile congregations that were enduring significant suffering due to persecution & alienation from the corrupt culture in which they lived. I can’t speak for you, but I have definitely been feeling some alienation from the culture in which I live.
The corruption seems to grow by leaps & bounds with all the revelations of arrogance & self-importance in recent leaders of our nation’s FBI. There’ve been numerous allegations of sexual harassment & sexual assault against congressmen & women, senators & candidates for president. Those allegations involve Democrats, Republicans & even fringe party candidates.
And the ‘free press’ that is supposed to be a cornerstone of our democracy has become a
joke with all the lies & extreme bias that have been exposed. Anymore, they function as not much more than the propaganda arms of the political parties. They have sunk to the level of tabloid news & could hardly investigate the county dog catcher with any level of competence. Many of the headlines they print one day are proven misleading at best within the week.
The 6th commandment has been completely erased from our culture, & the 3rd commandment has become irrelevant. If you aren’t even sure which those are, “Yes, I am preaching to you!” And none of those thoughts & examples include the corona virus, which is only the biggest thing to affect the entire world since the last world war.
There’s a reason why anti-depressants are such a popular medication in our nation. The reason is sin, & the corruption it brings. Jesus is needed more than ever, not because our people are anymore sinful then they were 50 or 100 years ago. Jesus is needed now, more than ever, because the majority of our nation no longer follow Jesus with any commitment.
Can you instantly recite the 3rd or the 6th commandments? Do you know 90% of the members of your congregation? We aren’t that large! If you were following Jesus with commitment you could answer both questions with a resounding, “Yes!” When it comes to holiness & godly love – you & I are a car wreck. Our spiritual lives have crashed & burned!
And that is why Jesus descended into hell. Just three days before, He’d been hanging dead on a Roman cross. Betrayed by one of His own disciples, & crucified at the request of His own people – the Lamb of God was slaughtered for Passover by the pagan Gentiles. If you were a Jewish believer of Yahweh’s promises, things could not have looked any worse.
Completely lacking wisdom, due to their rejection of God’s Holy Spirit, the spirits in hell may well have been celebrating their victory. Then Jesus arrived! His 1st appearance on Easter morning was not to declare forgiveness, but judgment. Christ descended to hell in order to let evil know that its rebellion against the Creator had failed, & miserably! Jesus shows up right in their own little corner of creation to give convincing proof of His victory, & to show them, in His person, what true life is. Jesus is the Way & the Truth & the Life. Death had been defeated for the children of God, but any who rejected Him would die for eternity.
That message is for you & me as well. Christ’s descent into hell was a preview of Judgment Day, for the demons of hell & for us, to let us know that Yahweh cannot be trifled with. Yes, He is patient & long-suffering beyond what we can bear. So our heavenly Father simply calls us to trust in Him. Jesus was sent to bear the load of sin on behalf of all creation.
In chapters 3 & 4 of 1 Peter, Christians are admonished to bear patiently in this life the suffering & slander heaped upon them by the unbelieving world. Jesus traveled the same road of suffering & contempt. We’re to do this in expectation of God’s righteous judgment, which shall come upon all unbelievers & blasphemers of His Church on Judgment Day.
Hostile, aggressive self-defense instinctively seems the best reaction to the world’s harassment of Christians, but Jesus teaches & models a different way. He goes to hell Himself & declares not just His, but our victory in Him! In His glorified state as the exalted Savior & Lord, Christ descended to hell & declared victory over the spirits in prison.
Just as Christ’s suffering & death in this life were NOT defeat, neither is our suffering & death. Yeah, it’s not easy to look at our lives that way. Even if we don’t get hostile & aggressive in attempting to defend ourselves, grumbling & complaining certainly are far too often our response. We are already the victors. We have nothing to grumble or complain about.
Even as God’s children, we have plenty of room for repentance. By way of the example Jesus makes of the spirits in hell, we too are being called, once again, to repent of our sins before it is too late. Thank God there is forgiveness for grumbling & complaining, as well as all other sins. Our sin is real, & it is not becoming of children of the Heavenly Father. Battling against our sinful nature is suffering in itself, sort of like a civil war going on within each of God’s children. So whether the persecution is from without, or within, St. Peter is writing to encourage us to remain in Christ.
Peter wants us to know that feeling alienated from our culture is not something to fear as we remain in Christ. If we look at Jesus’ descent into hell, His resurrection appearances, & His ascension to the right hand of God, we find they all belong together as a unified proclamation of Christ’s victory in the three different but related realms of hell, earth, & heaven.
The only begotten Son of God is the victor in all three realms. There is nowhere that we need to be afraid, not in our joys & not in our sufferings. Yahweh is working through each of them, & through all of them, to bring about the glory of His will. And His will is that we join Him in His eternal kingdom. Not even Covid 19 is able to prevent that.
Christ has liberated mankind from the obvious contradictions between the way things are & the way things ought to be. We ought to live together in harmony – yet we are divided from one another. Humanity was created for life – but everywhere there is death & destruction. In heaven that harmony & that life will be restored perfectly.
Because of Jesus’ descent into hell we know that Satan is no longer in control. By the death & resurrection of Jesus God overcame the powers of death & destruction that tyrannize people’s lives. By His descent into hell, Jesus exposed the forces of division & alienation to public view as objects of defeat.
Satan’s rebellion has failed & all who followed him are powerless. Their suffering & persecution will last forever. Peter wants us to know that our suffering is not harm but gain, however it really helps us to understand that by knowing Jesus descended to hell in order to declare His victory. Remember the words from the 1st reading in Acts, “…Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being…’” (17:27-28 ESV) Amen.
Savior of the nations, come, Virgin’s Son, make here Your home! Marvel now, O heaven & earth, that the Lord chose such a birth. Then stepped forth the Lord of all from His pure & kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began. God the Father was His source, back to God He ran His course, into hell His road went down, back then to His throne & crown. For you are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the victory won. By Your mighty power make whole all our ills of flesh & soul. Amen. LSB 332:1, 4-6.
5th Sunday of Easter – A LSB #’s 912, 575, 645
Text – 1 Peter 2:5
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
WHAT’S YOUR PURPOSE?
It’s not about you! That statement has become popular in the last 20 to 30 years. It’s used in the attempt to help someone see outside themselves. When we get so wrapped up in the details of our own lives, we lose sight of the context or the purpose for which you & I are here. Life truly is NOT about you! Of course, it’s not about me either!
You know it’s about Jesus, but that is seldom where your feelings or your heart lead you. That’s because “…out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19 ESV) It’s not a pretty list, but those are not my words. They come straight from the mouth of Jesus. Do you take them seriously?
Our slanderous hearts, so quick to un-lovingly highlight the ugly truth about others, despise having the truth of our sins pointed out even when done in love. My heart loves me & that is where it stops. The same holds true for you. We need a new heart. We need a new purpose. We need to be about anything but ourselves. Jesus steps in to give us that opportunity.
It is not about you. That’s how the book began, the book that took by storm Christian churches across the nation almost 20 years ago. You should have at least heard the title The Purpose Driven Life. At chapter one it begins with these words:
“It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams & ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by His purpose & for His purpose.” Those are painful words to listen to, for our sinful nature. “It’s not about you” is the Law at work on your heart. It hurts to hear because my sinful & self-centered nature does want my life to be all about me, my joy & my fulfillment. “It’s not about you” points out our core sin which is the idolatry of self, but that pointing out can be put to a good purpose by the Holy Spirit.
The prophet Nathan pointed to King David & said, “You are that man!” (2 Samuel 12:7 NLT) He was the man who committed adultery with Bathsheba & then had her husband murdered. You can bet those words hurt David like a stake driven into his heart, yet that pointing out was guided, & put to a good purpose, by God the Holy Spirit.
What is your purpose? It is to humble yourself before the Lord & then to accept His will for your life. For the Christians that St. Peter was writing to that meant suffering persecution. Christians were being scattered & battered across the Roman world. The aliens & exiles, the slaves & the wives that Peter addresses are marginal people, the ‘deplorables’ if you will.
They are easy & constant targets of ridicule & persecution. They are the people seemingly forgotten by their Creator & yet their very lives display the glory of Yahweh. To them, as well as to the marginal & persecuted of our day, Peter brings words of identity & mission in Christ. Their sole purpose is to remain in Him, in Jesus, in the Son of God.
As they remain in Him they will bear much fruit, but it is their heavenly Father who brings forth that fruit. No hard work, no wisdom, no skill or effort on our part can produce the fruits of God. We are merely His tools, like a shovel or rake. It is the power, wisdom & love of the Almighty God who condescends to work through sinners like you & me.
“All this He does out of fatherly, divine goodness & mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” (What does this mean? The First Article of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism) Like the throw away Christians of the early Roman era, Jesus was also a throw away in His culture. He was rejected by men & accepted by the Father in heaven. By virtue of your Baptism you have been accepted by the Father in heaven. He accepts you because in Baptism God unites you to His Son. We suffer here because Jesus suffered here. This life is not heaven, & is not meant to be. If you think this life should be heaven, you have placed your faith in the wrong Jesus.
When God brought Israel out of Egypt & set them down at Mt. Sinai, He called them a kingdom of priests & a holy nation. They – slaves & refugees – were to be intercessors for the world, teachers of the Torah.
Far from being a religious elite, this holy & royal priesthood consists of the marginalized & persecuted – aliens & exiles, wives & slaves, the broken & the helpless. Yet, their sacrifices to Yahweh are acceptable to God when they are given through Jesus. In the face of unrelenting persecution Christians can feel vulnerable & question the relevance of their faith.
Writing to exactly such Christians, Peter calls them to Christ Whom it is that makes them exactly what they truly are. The truth we stand upon, as children of God, is becoming less & less popular in our nation. As the United States drifts away from its Creator, more & more of what we teach & believe points to our people & to our government saying, “It’s not about you.”
Those words will be painful for them to hear as well, especially if they are not believers. “It’s not about you” is the Law at work on their heart too & it points out their core sin which is the idolatry of self. Since God’s children deal with the same struggle it is possible for us to empathize with them. We also were called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.
As a church, we are still in the season of Easter, even though the corona virus lockdown has put a shroud over our celebration of it this year. This year, as much as ever, you & I, God’s children, need to be reminded that the resurrection of Jesus is the dawn of the new creation. Jesus has been described as the “hinge of history” because in Him the story of the world has made a decisive turn. The fate of our Lord’s creation was forever changed on that Sunday morning thousands of years ago. Unbelievers are also part of God’s creation. Even corrupt government officials have a new & glorious future awaiting them if they will only believe it.
In His mercy, God has placed us into the lives of people who are struggling with the reality that life is not about them, because we deal with the same struggle. We also, once were not a people, but now we are God’s people; once we had not received mercy, but now we have. (1 Peter 2:10) So God has placed us, His children, here to be a holy priesthood to the nations:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV) We are to proclaim the dawn of the new creation that occurred when Jesus destroyed the hold that death had upon the world.
Though we are still physically withering away like the grass, which is here today & gone tomorrow, we are already now living an eternal life. We just can’t see it, or feel it with the corrupted bodies in which we live. And in that, we share in the struggles of those who do not yet trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin & death.
We have been chosen & set apart from a world overshadowed by the virus & the doom of death. Now our purpose is tell them they can leave that behind. The Holy Spirit is directing us toward the world for the sake of God’s love. As a priesthood, God’s people live for the sake of the world in prayer & in sacrificial love.
As a living temple built upon Christ, we bear the presence of God into our world. The resurrection from the dead, of the Son of God, has changed the entire course of history, for those who trust in Jesus as Lord & Savior. In the text from 1 Peter the stones are living people, as opposed to the dead stones of whatever false gods the people around us are following. Each individual in the kingdom of God is called upon to perform the office of priest to the unbelievers around them. We are to sacrifice our wants & our desires for the good of those who only chase after the dreams of this life. Even though pastors perform this work professionally, on behalf of the congregation, all members of a church are to reflect the light of Jesus into the darkness of sin.
That is our purpose in a general way. Since God knows every detail of our personalities He has millions of differing ways to use each of us in specific ways. Yahweh Himself has prepared in advance each of the good works we are to do.
The only thing we need is to remain connected to Christ. He is the Rock & Cornerstone. We are the chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession. Proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light – that is simply what God’s children do. Amen.
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood & righteousness; no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high & stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, His covenant & blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope & stay. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. Amen. LSB 575:1-3.
4th Sunday of Easter – A LSB #’s 790, 763, In Christ Alone
Text – 1 Peter 2:19
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
In the history of Christianity there have been quite a few church leaders, professors & pastors who have pointed to Jesus as the ultimate example of how His followers are to live. In general, their suggestions usually revolve around doing some type of good deeds & avoiding whatever they define as evil deeds. It’s a practical & understandable teaching.
So back in the 1990’s, the initials WWJD were quite the rage in the United States. They stand for, “What Would Jesus Do?” The bracelets with the initials burst upon the scene & were showing up everywhere. Whenever you came upon a difficult decision to make, the bracelet was meant to remind you to think, “What would Jesus do?”
It was simple yet profound; the dream of any marketing guru. However, the phrase did not originate in the 1990’s. It 1st became well-known a hundred years earlier. In 1896, a man named Charles Sheldon wrote a book about following Jesus. He titled it, “In His Steps” with the subtitle “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s turned out to be one of the top 50 bestselling novels ever.
A lot of people are interested in hearing about what Jesus would do. That He could be an example to us is appealing to followers of many different religions, even those that are not Christian. People appreciate thinking of Jesus in terms of an example. By nature, we love to think that, with a little help anyway, we truly can do what Jesus would do.
Yet, the Son of God, who is also fully a human being, is vastly more complicated than any marketing slogan is able to convey. Boiling down Jesus’ entire incarnation, life, suffering, death & resurrection into What Would Jesus Do, & how that can help me walk in His steps, cannot help but fail. The problem lies, not with the slogan, but with our sinful nature. The work of God can never be boiled down to effective marketing slogans. The nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming sinners into saints can be comprehended only by God Himself. Seeking guidance from God is a good practice, but if asking “What Would Jesus Do?” gives the impression that I am capable of doing that – then I am lost.
That’s the point the Holy Spirit is making as He guides John to record what was said to the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.” (John 9:41 NLT) The danger with a slogan like “What Would Jesus Do?” is that we will remain guilty if we end up thinking we can do what Jesus would do
It’s a very easy trap to fall into, all the while thinking you are being a Christian. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had fallen into that trap & been there for over a hundred years. They thought they were doing all the things that were good, & were avoiding all the things that were evil. That kind of self-righteous attitude is a difficult one to break.
Sorrow tends to break of us of that mindset, or even prevents us from getting there in the 1st place. Yet, the main character in Fiddler on the Roof asks God in one of his songs, “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?” Jesus effectively answers him with these words in the Gospel of Matthew:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!” (19:24 NASB)
The apostle Peter is fleshing out that teaching when he writes, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (2:19 ESV) It also dovetails nicely with what the book of Hebrews tells us:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance & the sin which so easily entangles us, & let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, & has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:1-2 NASB) The idea of endurance shows up twice in that quotation.
For one of the Sundays in our celebration of the Easter season, this text from 1 Peter runs into some conflict with our idea of happiness. Almost all people seem to inherently believe that once they are following Jesus life should be like a walk in a rose garden. Now, that’s our sinful nature talking, just as it was in the Pharisees when they thought they could lives holy lives as only Jesus would do. Christ Himself clearly teaches that if you are going to follow His example in that way, you need to do so perfectly:“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)
That is where we need to be careful with a slogan like What Would Jesus Do. Doing what Jesus would do is entirely impossible when the standard is the absolute perfection of the heavenly Father. You see, the Pharisees didn’t measure themselves against God. They only measured their perfection against other sinful people.
Doing good deeds & avoiding evil ones may sound practical & understandable. The problem with a slogan like What Would Jesus Do is that it dumbs down the life that God calls us to. We see that clearly in the difficulty we have in living according to the text from 1 Peter:
“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly… For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (2:19 & 21 ESV) There, the Word of God tells us exactly what Jesus would do & therefore what we should do. Jesus did leave us an example to follow, & that is enduring sorrows while suffering unjustly. Just following a slogan like What Would Jesus Do is not going to empower you to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly. Many of the wealthy lawyers in this country are making their living off of suing people or companies who have treated others unjustly.
God calls us to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly, & He tells us that because it is what Jesus did. God calls us to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly because Jesus left us that example that we might follow in His steps. The heavenly Father also knows that we are incapable of doing it. That’s why Jesus took our place.
When people have a problem with Jesus it always boils down to this, we want credit for doing things ourselves. That Jesus has to do it for us crushes our pride & self-righteousness. We know from experience that arrogance is a tough nut to crack. The complete opposite of that is when we are willing to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly.
Jesus is the greatest example of that, but there are others, like Abel who was murdered by his brother because Abel gave an offering to God out of love for God. Stephen was murdered because he was preaching the good news concerning Jesus Christ. Parents suffer the wrath of their children unjustly on many occasions when they discipline them out of love.
The arrogance of such children is highlighted against the humility of Jesus as He hangs on the cross enduring sorrows. There, Jesus is obeying His Father by suffering & dying for our sin. In this season of global pandemic, Peter’s letter is especially potent as he writes to sustain the hope born of Christ’s resurrection in believers whose lives were marked by suffering.
Yes, Jesus suffered & died a brutal death, but He did that for the joy set before Him. That joy is His resurrection & life eternal in heaven with all who believe that Jesus did everything necessary to gain their entrance into heaven. Jesus knows what our suffering entails & has promised to be with us, even in that, through the end of this age. Claiming to know the things of God through the use of a slogan is to shrink God down to what little a slogan is able to convey. Jesus calls us to a much greater existence than a four word slogan, but it will not be easy, & it will not be a rose garden.
To the credit of those who popularized the slogan WWJD, they later came up with the follow on – FROG = Fully Rely On God. That is what our heavenly Father calls us to. Just trust & believe in His wisdom, His power, His love. Then, out of that, like Abel, we will do what God has prepared in advance for us to do, simply because of our love for Him.
For a Sunday in the season of Easter, this is not a very happy text. It calls us to something that every human being instinctively fears & that is suffering. Even worse than that, Peter calls us to suffering unjustly. Of course, Jesus’ entire life was about that. Just being born as a human creature was suffering for Him, even if He had had the perfect life.
What fundamentally & truly matters about me is not what I do, but what has been done for me. When I trust & believe in that, then I can live freely for my Creator & Savior. Yes, in this life, sin will still affect me. Things like the corona virus might even kill me, but if I belong to Jesus there is nothing I can lose that is of eternal value.
Suffering here on earth can never take haven away from me, & God promises that He will use even our sufferings to shape & mold us into the image of His perfect Son. Amen.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows, like sea billows, roll; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, through trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate & hath shed His own blood for my soul. And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trumpet shall sound & the Lord shall descend; even so it is well with my soul. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet