Good Friday – 2021 LSB #’s 450, 451, 452
Text – 1 Peter 1:18
…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold.
JESUS’ LOVE & THE MEANING OF LIFE
With the Christian church around the world, tonight, we observe the solemn occasion of Good Friday: the crucifixion, sufferings & death of Jesus Christ. The theme tonight is that Jesus’ saving death has restored true meaning to life even before heaven. What does the shedding of the precious blood of the sinless Son of God mean for sinners like you & me?
It means being reconciled in forgiveness to the God who created us & loves us. Yet, the death of Jesus for sinners means many others things as well. Christ, by His cross, has won many wonderful blessings in this life as well as the next. Tonight, I want to focus on one precious gift that our loving Savior has restored to us by His death: true meaning in your life right now.
Peter wrote: “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.” What does he mean that you are ransomed from “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers”?
Peter’s point is more than that our forefathers were sinners, & they passed down to us sinful ways of life, so that we need to be rescued from our sin. Although that is exactly right, our Lord’s death on the cross certainly does rescue us from our sin & its guilt, here Peter did not say that Jesus’ death rescues us from the sinful ways we inherited from our forefathers.
In this text Peter wrote that Jesus rescued us from the futile ways of our forefathers. Futility is an important biblical word. Futility is the concept that the book of Ecclesiastes uses in its famous opening lines: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Or, as some translations say: “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity!” The Bible teaches that God created our world very good, & He created human existence in the world to be rewarding & fulfilling & meaningful. But the Bible also teaches that when our 1st parents disobeyed God, & sin & death entered the world because of them, God cursed the creation & subjected it to futility & decay, that is, to the meaninglessness brought by death & time.
Apart from Jesus, & the rescue from death that He purchased for us by His blood, there is truly no lasting meaning in this world. People come. People go. People build, & fires or nature or time destroy what they build. People accumulate experiences & memories, but soon they’re gone, & sooner or later, all is forgotten. They are forgotten. It’s been like this for centuries.
It was like this for your great-great-great-great-grandparents. Do you know much about them – even their names? And it continues to be like this for us. These are the “futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” The world goes on & on & on, but never gets anywhere.
The book of Ecclesiastes calls the futile existence of this life “a chasing after the wind.” Like a dog chasing its tail – in the midst of it, he may think he’s accomplishing something, but as you look on, you raise your eyebrows & chuckle. However, if all the successes & struggles of our entire lives have no more purpose & meaning than that, it’s not a funny thought at all.
Can you define the purpose of your life? Where are you going, or maybe I should say, where are you getting to? A hundred years ago, 2000 people climbed on board an ocean-going ship – a passenger ship, a high class ship. It was built strong & beautiful, intricately detailed, meticulously prepared for its maiden voyage. You know its name – Titanic.
The ship’s horns blew, & it set out into the open sea. People on the dock cheered & waved. People on deck cheered & waved. Then, everyone on the ship threw themselves fully into the work & the amusements of the voyage. Do you know where they were going? You do know . . . they were going to the bottom of the North Atlantic. Most were going to an icy death – their bodies lost until the end of time. They would never see their loved ones again, not here on earth. Yet, they played shuffleboard. The ladies drank tea & talked about the latest fashions. The men smoked cigars & talked business.
The cooks prepared Peking duck, & asparagus with a fabulous cream sauce. Some passengers made a fuss about the cabins they were assigned & did everything they could to move to better ones. Down in steerage, hundreds of poor immigrants were packed in like sardines, yet they, too, clamored for the best spots. They amused themselves with card games & whiskey.
In the boiler rooms the firemen & the engineers labored away at their assigned duties. Up top, on the sunny deck, passengers & ship attendants arranged the deck chairs just so, in order to visit with one another, to catch the breeze just right, to catch more of the sun or less of the sun, to have a better view of the ocean or a better view of the interesting people on the ship.
All that until the 4th night of the journey when the ship was sliced open by an iceberg, filled with water, tipped on end, & sank into the icy sea. Who cares who won the card game – how well the boilers were operated – whether the cream sauce on the asparagus was just right – whether it was the very best cabin or something a little less – how the deck chairs were arranged?
As it turned out, these things were not at all important. In fact, given the way the trip ended, the entire journey was meaningless & futile. We know where they were going, but they did not. Now, here is the amazing thing. We also know where we are going. The Titanic was on its maiden voyage, but our generation is not humanity’s maiden voyage.
Generations have come & gone before us. Generation after generation, people lived – some well, some not so well, some prospered, others scraped by, some lived in beautifully kept homes, others in ramshackle dwellings, some were wise, some foolish, some worked hard, some hardly worked, some liked to have a good time, some couldn’t even stand it if others had a good time, some were always true to their word, others you couldn’t count on anything they said, some had great achievements, others very few. These many, many generations have gone before us. They lived, like us, & like we most certainly will, they died. What was the point of it all – their lives? Did any of it matter? Do we have good answers to questions like those?
Philosopher Peter Kreeft writes:
“Of the 21 great civilizations that have existed on our planet, ours, the modern West, is the first that does not have or teach its citizens any answer to the question why they exist.” And he continues, “A [nice] way of saying this is that our society is pluralistic & leaves us free to choose or create our own ultimate values. A more candid way of saying the same thing is that our society has nothing but its own ignorance to give us on this, the most important of all questions.”
Tonight the image of the cross of Jesus Christ is set before God’s children. In subdued awe & praise we behold the Lamb of God – pure & holy, despised & bloody, dying for you & for me. Is that just one more futile image from a futile world – a good man, cut off in the prime of life – another sad story, to add to the tall, tall stack of sad stories this broken world has seen?
As the disciples beheld Jesus suffer & breath His last, it looked to them like a devastating scene of meaninglessness. It looked to them, at the moment, like another dead-end death which made everything that had come before pointless. Except, as you already know, the Lord Jesus did not remain dead.
By His innocent suffering & death, & by His glorious resurrection, Jesus Christ has changed all the equations. As the precious blood of Messiah is shed, the curse on this creation is removed. The saving death of Jesus Christ matters – supremely. And because of His death, everything else now matters as well. Finally, our lives have meaning that lasts – forever.
This single act of Jesus’ obedience brings meaning to the many acts of His brothers & sisters. This moment, the death of Jesus our Lord, brings meaning to our entire lives. Dear friends, you have been “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.” Do you see the meaning that Jesus now fills your life with? What is the reason we’ve been given for our existence? God has placed us here to know Him & to enjoy His love, forever. And our God, so full of love, has placed us here to love one another.
In whatever stations God places us, in all the vocations to which He calls us, we are here to love; to encourage one another in our battle against sin, to give ourselves for the good of others, as Jesus Christ gave Himself up, so completely, for us.
Our purpose is to love our parents, our siblings, our spouse, our children, our neighbors, our boss, co-workers, customers & clients, our pastors, our fellow church members, our politicians, our dearest friends, even our harshest enemies.
Behold the cross of Jesus Christ & you behold the meaning of life. There, by the obedience of Jesus, by the loving act of Messiah, joy has come into the world that will never end. And through that, true meaning has returned to God’s creation. To get personal, it means that your life matters no matter what your circumstances may be.
When we live in obedience toward God & in love toward others, when we pour ourselves into the work of our daily vocations, God will crown our efforts with lasting significance.
The Bible refers to the lives of God’s people as “fruit.” Our lives are like trees, planted by God, & we are here to bear fruit. Fruit is good, nourishing & sweet, but once picked, because of sin’s corruption, it does not last. It ripens & then rots & then it’s gone.
The death & resurrection of Jesus have changed everything. Jesus says if we remain in Him, & He in us, we will bear much fruit, & it will be “fruit that will last.” God will take up the works & the moments & the love of our lives: He will weave all these things into His beautiful purposes, His enduring, everlasting purposes, & will make them count. Your everyday life, because of Jesus’ cross, is already bearing fruit that will last. Dear friends, your good works could never save you. That’s why Jesus went to the cross, to win for you the forgiveness of your sins & eternal salvation. But His cross also means this, that your life is no longer empty of any lasting purpose.
Your good works, your life, they matter; they count & they will matter forever. That’s why the Apostle Paul writes: “My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
When it seems as if your life is getting nowhere; that your efforts are pointless; when the drudgery & the endless details of day-to-day living have you weary & worn down – look to the cross. Trace on yourself the sign of the cross. Recall the death of Jesus Christ for you.
Then, be strengthened to press on, knowing that, in the Lord, your love & your labors are not in vain, but are accomplishing the loving, everlasting purposes of Almighty God. They are fruit that He is working through you & they will last.
For God has ransomed you from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or spot. Amen.
Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ’tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man & Son of God. Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost: Christ, the Rock of our salvation, is the name of which we boast; Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built. Amen. LSB 451:3-4.
Note: The Greek adjective mataios (“futile, empty”) is directly related to the Greek noun mataiotēs (“meaninglessness, emptiness, vanity”) used by the Septuagint to translate Ecclesiastes 1:2.
Note: Peter Kreeft’s comment regarding the unconcerned meaninglessness of the modern West comes from his book Three Philosophies of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989), 20–21. In enumerating twenty-one great civilizations, Kreeft is following the categorization of historian Arnold Toynbee.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet