Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pilgrim Living: How we Persevere in a Fallen World - I Peter 4:1-6

Pilgrim Living: How we Persevere in a Fallen World
I Peter 4:1-6
Introduction:  Peter wrote this letter to “God’s elect, strangers in the world…” Even though they were chosen, he makes it clear in 1:6 that “…for a little while, you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…” It’s only for a “little while,” relatively speaking because we were created for eternity, and the future that God has planned for us is better than we can possibly imagine. We’ve called this series “Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World” because the idea of living in the world as an exile and foreigner, and the likelihood of suffering for our faith, has come up in almost every paragraph, certainly every chapter.  Jesus suffered willingly for us, we should expect suffering if we follow Him.  I am not a salesman. If I were trying to “sell” the Christian faith, I might have emphasized other aspects of the blessings that come with knowing God.  But Peter is reflecting the approach of Jesus when He called His disciples: “If anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” As we grow in our knowledge of God and our understanding of the gospel our thinking and our living will be changed. One thing that will happen is that we’ll desire others to know Him more than we desire our own comfort and security. It is not all about us, it is about Jesus, and His glory. In this passage we see that believers may suffer in this life as Jesus did, but even so, we choose to live for Him and share the Good News while there is time.
The Maine* Idea: As surely as Jesus suffered to bring us to God, believers may suffer as we seek to bring the Gospel to the world. Even so… we go!
I. Pilgrims “Arm themselves” to think like Jesus (1-2). In an election year when, once more, there will be an issue on the ballot concerning the “right to bear arms,” Peter uses that language to describe one means that Christians are to “arm themselves,” and that is by thinking like Jesus and by following His example…
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,  2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
Think like Jesus – The word “suffer” in verse 1 is where we get the word “passion,” as in the passion of Christ. He endured such treatment for us, to address our sin problem – He was willing to suffer if necessary (1).
       “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body…” Peter immediately connects when he is saying here with the previous context. Remember in 3:18, “Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous…” Remember before that in 2:21 he had said that “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Christ suffered to the point of death—bearing our sins in His body on the Cross. Jesus had already said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends…” That sacrificial love, that Servant attitude is what we are called to as followers of Jesus.
       As believers in America in the 21st century, it is not easy for us to make this kind of connection between discipleship and suffering. We don’t risk our life when we name the name of Jesus. Rarely does our faith result in that level of persecution. Throughout the history of the church, in many places on the earth, to identify yourself as a Christ follower meant that you were putting your life on the line. Yes, at this moment, in this country, that kind of persecution is something of an anomaly. Elsewhere it is happening. We read stories about what it cost the Christian believers in Syria who were forced by Islamic terrorists at the point of a sword: renounce Christ or die. Or worse, renounce Christ or watch your children die. Such hatred! That is what Christians through the ages have often experienced. America, for the last 200 plus years, has been a momentary reprieve for a few years, for many of us at least. Many, but not all.
       I’ve told you before the story of my conversion experience which involved being a juror on a murder case. The accused killer had murdered his wife, strangled her, and then dumped her body in a field. She had become a born again Christian, and her talk about heaven and hell, about sin and forgiveness, about Jesus and the Gospel, drove Him “temporarily insane” he claimed, and he killed her.  He was convicted of his crime, but was sentenced to a relatively short time in prison.  Years later, in a church somewhere in New York state I was sharing her story, and someone came up to me after the service and said, “I knew Carol Dubek. We [her friends] were worried about her, because her husband had threatened her several times [that never was mentioned in the trial].” Carol had told her friends, “Don’t worry about me, if anything happens to me it will all work out for the glory of God.”  She trusted Jesus, her hope was in Him. And in her case, her faith cost her life. We get so defensive, so afraid to speak the truth. What will people say? What will they do?  Maybe they’ll laugh at me, maybe they’ll stop being my friend. Would you want one of your friends to say to God on the day of judgment, “No one ever told me about Jesus! No one ever asked me to believe!” What’s the worse they can do? Remember what Peter said in 3:13-17…
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  15 but in your hearts regard 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;  16 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.  17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 
Who can harm us is we are doing God’s will? And even if they do, we will ultimately be blessed. As Carol Dubek said, “It will all work out for the glory of God.” So we remember Jesus, what He endured, and we try our best to share Christ with those around us who need to know Him.
       “…for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” I don’t think Peter is saying that a believer, especially a believer who is suffering, will never sin. The point is that we are not in bondage to sin, we don’t live under the control of our sinful nature.  Paul put it this way in Romans 6:10-12…
"For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions."
That is Paul’s meaning in Galatians 2:19b-20 where he said,
I have been crucified with Christ.  20 It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Jesus redeemed us, He paid for our sins, once for all, the Just for the unjust. Because, by faith, we are united with Christ, our sins have been nailed to the cross, and we live a new life, empowered by His resurrection.
Live like Jesus – Not to satisfy the flesh, but to do God’s will (2).  That is what Peter is talking about in verse 2, the believer chooses to live his life seeking to walk according to God’s will, not guided by “human passions.” If we are seeking God’s will, we are essentially asking, “What would Jesus do?” We know what He did. He was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for His sheep. He said in that same chapter, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down His life for his friends.” And he did. He showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Believers may suffer in this life as Jesus did, but even so, we choose to live for Him and share the Good News while there is time. As surely as Jesus suffered to bring us to God, believers may suffer as we seek to bring the Gospel to the world. Even so… we go!
II. Pilgrims love God more than they love sin: they have turned from their old way of life to God (3-4). Where do you find greater pleasure, in God, or in sin?
"The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.  4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you…"
Our old way of life “in the world” (3). Do Peter’s words sound familiar? We have some of the same language in Galatians 5:19-21,
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."  
That is the way of the flesh, the way of the world. The kind of living Peter describes and that Paul speaks of here, are the attitudes that guide fallen humanity. Paul spoke to the Corinthians and said,
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God..." (I Cor 6:9-11).
God is holy, he hates sin. There are absolutes of right and wrong, God is the creator and He has given us His Word to discern right from wrong, truth from error. And when we trust Christ as Savior God begins a process or changing us, of transforming our heart and mind, and our actions.  It all starts in the heart! If we know God and love God we’ll desire, more and more, to live in a way that pleases Him. To the scattered believers in Asia Peter says “enough is enough,” in the past you lived like the world, but the time has come to make choices that honor God, to act in a way that shows our respect for His authority.  That kind of conduct will evoke a response from the people around us…
Abuse may come from rejecting a pagan lifestyle (4).  Suddenly our old friends may be surprised when they see us acting differently, when we don’t join them in their partying and immorality… and many will, as Peter says, “malign” us, speak evil about us, maybe mock us, because we are acting differently.  A young girl who had recently become a Christian asked the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, “Do I need to give up my friends now?” Spurgeon replied “You do not have to give up any of your friends, though some will give you up soon enough!”  He told her the truth! There is tremendous pressure that we all experience: we all want to be liked, we want to fit in. No one wants people to think of you as “weird.” That pressure hits as at all ages and in many situations, and we know it by the two-word phrase, “peer pressure.” Let’s live in a way that we turn that around!  I recently heard a story about a high school football player who was a Christian. He was a big fellow and a great athlete. He led his team to the best season they had ever had and won many awards. He was being interviewed and the reporter asked him this question…
“You know you have the reputation of being a devout Christian. Isn’t it hard o be a devout Christian with all the peer pressure you face?” And he said “Ma’am, I am the peer pressure.”
     I don’t care how old you are, everyone faces some degree of pressure. But Christians should be so courageous, so unashamed, so distinctive in standing up for Jesus Christ that others are attracted to Him, not repulsed. Life with Jesus means being willing to be distinct from the world!
If we are consistent, standing for the truth while not disrespecting people, some at least will respect our opinion. Better still, a few might be intrigued enough to ask us about the difference in our way of life.  And yes, it could be that some are just waiting, wondering if God is real, if we can know Him. With the Evangelism Explosion ministry that I was involved in thirty years ago, we would first converse with people about their secular life, before moving the conversation to “spiritual” things. A few times people would say, “I was hoping you would get to that!” The soil was ready! Listen, believers may suffer in this life. Jesus did, so we shouldn’t be surprised!  But even so, we choose to live for Him and share the Good News while there is time. As surely as Jesus suffered to bring us to God, believers may suffer as we seek to bring the Gospel to the world. Even so… we go!
III. Pilgrims are different, because they are on a mission: Pilgrim Living means urgently proclaiming the Gospel while there is time (5-6).
…but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
A day of judgment is coming. “…but they will give an account to Him who is ready to judge…” God is going to judge. There will be a day of accounting, God will not leave the guilty unpunished.  The very people who would mock our faith or speak against our stand for morality, if they persist in their unbelief, will one day stand before the holy judge of the universe and answer for their sins. We are sent to them by God to warn them, to urge them to be reconciled to God.  We can go through life and do our best to “fit in.” Maybe no one around us will ever know that we are a Christian. God is calling us to take a stand and risk rejection, knowing that we are God’s missionary, we are “on assignment,” we have been entrusted with the “Word of Life.”
We preach “good news” to the living, while there is time.  Verse 6 is alluding to the fact that “it is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgement.” “Those who are dead [now]” were preached to when they were alive! We don’t know how much time anyone has. Whether it is an accident, an illness, or the return of the Lord, time is short. Have you seen the bumper sticker, “Life is hard… then you die.”  I would add one more phrase, “Then what?”  Are you ready?
       No more popularity contests. It’s not about how many “friends” we have on Facebook. It won’t be about the car you drive or the neighborhood you live in, or the designer of your clothes. We are going to stand before God. Either we’ll be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, because we trusted Him as our Lord and Savior, or we will stand there in the filthy rags of our sinful life, without excuse, guilty. While there is time, while it is day, we have a mission to carry out. God has planned your life. He has sovereignly and strategically placed you where you are and He has placed a small number of people on the “front burner” of your life. These are people you see regularly, people you rub shoulders with. Experts tell us that for most of us, at any point in time, there are between eight and fifteen of them that we see regularly.  You are already witnessing to them, with your life. Some may be believers that have fallen away from church attendance, others may have not yet put their trust in Christ. What would God have you to do?
What is God saying to me in this passage? Believers may suffer in this life as Jesus did, but even so, we choose to live for Him and share the Good News while there is time. As surely as Jesus suffered to bring us to God, believers may suffer as we seek to bring the Gospel to the world. Even so… we go!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Next Sunday we have a church breakfast and a special service geared toward our visitors. We are calling it our first “Friend Day.” By now, I hope you have made a list of people that God has place in your life, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, relatives. A few of them are not attending church regularly, some probably don’t know the Lord. If you haven’t written those names down yet, that is part one of your homework assignment!  Writing their names down reminds you to pray for them, daily. Next Sunday is one opportunity that makes it easier to invite one or more to come with you, enjoy breakfast, meet some other Christians, and hear the Gospel message.  Will you pray for God’s leading, then take a chance and invite someone to come? Let’s see what God will do!  Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pilgrim Living: The Message, The Mission, and the Master I Peter 3:18-22

[This post is more specific to our church in referring a couple of times to an upcoming outreach event called "Friend Day." The idea of outreach can and should apply to the lives of believers everyday, regardless of what is happening that week at church! SN.]
Pilgrim Living: The Message, The Mission, and the Master
I Peter 3:18-22
Introduction: First Peter, this little letter written by Peter to believers, scattered among the nations, has been our focus for about 6 months, since we started with it on Palm Sunday. He is speaking to us as Pilgrims living in a fallen world. Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus to persevere, to have hope, and to continue to proclaim the message of Jesus.  The attitude he calls for was expressed by Cyprian, the north African church father from the middle of the third Century A.D., who wrote in a letter to his friend,
“It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians. . . and I am one of them.”
In the previous passage Peter called us to be ready to share our faith, ready to “give a reason for the hope that is in us.” We are to do that with gentleness and respect, but even so, it may not be well received, we may suffer, even for doing something good, even for telling the truth. This week I read the story of the Robert E. Lee, a river steamboat which caught fire at 3 am on September 30, 1870.  As the crew ran through the boat trying to wake the passengers, some were angry at all the racket that was being made—and 21 people died because they didn’t heed the warning in time. We are called to speak the truth, in love. Our message offers comfort to the disturbed, but it may also disturb the comfortable. We need to speak the truth.
       The passage we come to today has some of the most discussed and disputed verses in the entire New Testament. None other than the reformer Martin Luther in his commentary on I Peter 3:18-22 said, “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” Even so, any uncertainty as to some details shouldn’t obscure the big idea that Peter is emphasizing which, it seems to me, is clear enough. That is…
The Maine* Idea: We are called to persevere, proclaiming the message of Christ, the One who suffered, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. We are sent by Jesus, and He is Lord!
We’ll look at this from three perspectives…
     I. The Message: A Perfect Substitute. Jesus purposefully suffered for us (18).
     II. The Mission: Proclaiming the Gospel—God is announcing His message through us (19-21).
     III. The Master: Jesus is Presiding over His Creation: He is Lord (22).
First then…
I.  The Message: A Perfect Substitute—Jesus purposefully suffered for us (18).
18 For Christ also 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…
       Most people, when they think of Christians and Christianity, default to the idea that our faith, like most religious systems, is about a set of rules, about being good enough to earn the favor of “God.” A question that I learned to ask people that reveals the heart of the matter comes from D. James Kennedy and the Evangelism Explosion ministry: “If you were to die today, and stand before God, and He were to ask you ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”  Most people I have asked that question through the years (who have not yet come to faith in Christ) have responded in a similar way, “I am a pretty good person. I try to treat people right. I try to keep the 10 commandments…”  The answer is typically about what “I” have done.  We’ll see in this verse that the Bible gives a different perspective, it points to Jesus and what He has done for us.
       It is always important to remember the context when we read passages like this from the Bible.   We read in 3:17…
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
Remember the Maine Idea* in that context was that, “Our devotion to Christ should motivate us, regardless of the cost, to lift up Jesus as the only way to salvation and to live a life that points others to Him.” Peter now reminds us that if we suffer for doing good, like sharing our faith, remember that Jesus did only good, and He was rejected, beaten, mocked, scourged, and nailed to a cross. The message of the cross was an offense to the Jews and a stumbling block to the Greeks. The Jews asked, “How could God allow his messiah to be crucified? Impossible!” The Greeks complained, “What does the death of a Jewish rabbi on a hill outside Jerusalem so long ago have to do with me? Ridiculous!”  The Cross was necessary because we had a sin problem. Sin separates fallen humans from a holy God. God is just, and he must punish sin. God made a way for sinners to be reconciled to God through the cross.  Some use the name of Jesus, but reject the message of the Bible. One writer said, “[Liberal Christianity espouses that] A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross…” That’s an inclusive, affirming, unoffending message! But there is one problem with it: It is a lie.  The truth is that “…Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” That is the Gospel, that is Good News! Notice what Jesus did, why He did it, and how he did it.
       First, He suffered for sins, once for all. There is no need for repeated sacrifices, a perfect sacrifice, atonement for all who would believe past, present, and future, once for all, in the blood of the Cross. He suffered for sins, but not His own. He was righteous, without sin, but He willing suffered for the unrighteous, fallen humans like you and me. He bore our sins in His body on the tree! He was our substitute, He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
       Notice why He did it: “…that He might bring us to God…” This is the greatest need of fallen humans. Our sin has separated us from God.  Since the fall of Adam there has been a barrier between sinful, fallen humans and our holy God. He is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity. Jesus took our sin so that we could receive his righteousness. That beautiful song by Natalie Grant, “Clean” says…
There is nothing too dirty, that you can’t make worthy, you wash me in mercy, I am clean! …What was dead now lives again…  Washed in the blood of your sacrifice, your blood flowed red and made me white, I’m clean!
Do you realize what that means? Jesus loved you that much, He died for you, He paid the penalty for your sins and for mine. The enemy would whisper His lies in our ears, saying there is no hope, God could never love someone who did the things that you did. Well, Jesus paid it all. I’m clean! Jesus did that for us, that He might bring us to God. That is why the veil of the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. We now, in Christ, have access to the Holy of Holies!
       Finally, Peter tells us how He did it: “…being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit…” That is the good news: Christ died for our sins according the the Scriptures, he was buried, and He was raised up the third day, according to the Scriptures. He was the perfect substitute, bearing our sins is His body on the tree. That message hasn’t changed. So the “Maine* Idea” is that “We are called to persevere, proclaiming the message of Christ, the One who suffered, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. We are sent by Jesus, and He is Lord!”
II. The Mission: Proclaiming the Gospel—God is announcing His Word through His servants (19-21)! These are the especially difficult verses in this text…
…in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,  20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
       These are some challenging verses!  Who are the imprisoned spirits? When did Jesus preach to them? The time of Noah? After his resurrection? How does baptism save us? What is that about? There are more theories than you can imagine about this, so we need to approach these verses with humility, and I am not going to try to touch on the different ideas that interpreters have suggested this might mean. Rather I’ll give you the explanation that seems most likely, that seems to fit best in the context.  Then you can go home and search the Scriptures for yourself. Peter’s readers no doubt knew what the apostle was referring to, we want to seek to discern his meaning.  One writer proposed an alternative translation that makes it a little easier to make sense of what Peter is saying. Dr. Wayne Grudem translates,
He went and preached to those who are now spirits in prison when they formerly disobeyed when God’s patience was waiting in the days of Noah.”
       First of all, the description of the people who are being preached to is important. They “…formerly disobeyed …in the days of Noah…”  The writer to the Hebrews used the same form of the word “disobeyed” twice in the New Testament. First we read in Hebrews 3:17-19,  
17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
The other usage is in the great “Hall of Faith,” in Hebrews 11:31
31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 
In both cases the writer is pointing to the “disobedience” of human unbelief in a time past. Humans are called to hear the word of the Lord, and to take God at His word. A form of this word is used in John 3:35,36,
35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.  36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
“Believing” is contrasted with disobedience. It is the disobedience of unbelief. In our passage in I Peter 3, Peter points to those who did not believe during the time of God’s patient waiting in the days of Noah. As Noah built the ark, for a hundred years he warned of impending judgement. God patiently waited, yet just eight souls, Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives, were saved from the flood.  The rest of humanity perished in unbelief.  They are “now imprisoned,” that is, they are in Hades, awaiting the final judgement when they will be cast into the lake of fire. Peter is saying, it seems to me, that Jesus preached to them, through Noah.
       The Bible is clear, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this, the judgement.” The idea that the Lord speaks through his people has already been alluded to in this letter. We read in 1 Peter 1:25,  “…but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” It wasn’t the merely human words of the prophets that saved, but is was God’s word that came through them. Now in Chapter 3 Peter says, Jesus spoke, through Noah, to the people of Noah’s day. Yet only 8 believed and were saved. Just as they demonstrated their faith by getting on the ark and were saved through the water, believes today demonstrate their faith through the waters of baptism. It’s not the outward washing that takes away sin, that might remove a little dirt but it can’t cleanse the heart! It is faith in Jesus, our unity with Him in His death and resurrection, that cleanses our conscience, our heart, as we put our trust in Christ alone. Washed in the blood of His sacrifice, we’re clean!
        Jesus spoke through Noah as he called his generation to repentance and faith. And He still speaks through us, as we bring His word, the gospel, to the people around us.  Many people you know don’t come to church to hear that message. I hope you are praying about inviting a couple of them on October 2nd! We will do our best to point them to Jesus! But you know even though many of your friends don’t come to church, because you are in their life, the church goes to them! God has intentionally put them in your life and you in theirs, and just like Noah preached while he lived his life and built the ark for a hundred years, you are God’s “undercover missionary,” in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your school, in your family.  You need to be praying for an opportunity to give a reason for the hope that is in you!
       The message hasn’t changed, the mission is still in force… The Maine* Idea is just that: We are called to persevere, proclaiming the message of Christ, the One who suffered, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. We are sent by Jesus, and He is Lord! He reminds us of that in v.22 which points to…
III. The Master: Presiding over His Creation—Jesus Christ is Lord (22)!
…who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with
angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

       Remember the scene in Acts 7 as Stephen is being stoned. He saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the Fathers right hand. Even as he testified to what he saw, he showed grace, praying for his attackers, “Lord, don’t hold this charge against them…” Peter is writing about Christians suffering, and about the promise of ultimate vindication because Jesus conquered death. He may be alluding to Psalm 2 which anticipated the coming reign of the Messiah. We read in Psalm 2:6-11,   
6 "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."  7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.  9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."  10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling…”
We won’t look at the details here, but I believe Jesus intentionally alluded to this passage when He commissioned His disciples (and us!) at the end of Matthew…
All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus is Lord! He is at the right hand of the Father and has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and He says, “Go, make disciples…” That is His Word, as the Lord of the Harvest, to the church, to us. Will we listen?
What is God saying to me in this passage? The message is still the same, the mission is still in force, and the Master is still on the throne… There are some difficult details in these verses, but The Maine* Idea is clear enough: We are called to persevere, proclaiming the message of Christ, the One who suffered, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. We are sent by Jesus, and He is Lord!

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you experienced trials since you believed in Jesus? I’m not surprised. But don’t be discouraged, God has promised to be with you always. And somehow, He speaks through our faltering lips to bring His word to the world. In two weeks we are going to have a church breakfast and we’ll celebrate “Friend Day,” as we seek to invite friends and relatives and neighbors to come. We’ll not embarrass or pressure anyone, we simply want to lift up the name of Jesus. Write down the names of your friends, relatives, and neighbors, and commit to praying for them daily.  Pray also for an opportunity to turn the conversation toward spiritual things. We have some resources on the back table, Gospels of John, and also some gospel tracts, that you can give, and invite them to read it. God’s word won’t return void; it will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent! We can bring the gospel to our friends, we can also bring our friends to hear the gospel. In two weeks, at our church breakfast and then in the morning service, you can do just that!          Amen.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World: Be a Voice in the Wilderness! I Peter 3:13-17

Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World: Be a Voice in the Wilderness!
I Peter 3:13-17
Introduction: A survey was given to those attending training sessions for a Billy Graham crusade... One question asked, "What is your greatest hindrance to witnessing?" Nine percent said they were too busy to remember to do it. Twenty-eight percent felt the lack of real information to share. None said they didn’t really care. Twelve percent said their own lives were not speaking as they should. But by far the largest group were the 51 percent whose biggest problem was the fear of how the other person would react! Since God is watching over his people (v.12) we should boldly be about His work!  I caught a part of a message Friday morning that was talking about a good approach to witnessing that takes off some pressure. It really follows a model that Jesus himself often used: Ask questions! Start by asking the person about their religious background and beliefs. He mentioned two helpful questions: 1) What do you mean by that? And, 2) How did you come to that conclusion? Jesus did that right? In his teaching for example. “What is the greatest commandment?” Or to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? ...Who do you say that I am?”  It’s a low pressure approach that really doesn’t take a lot of preparation.  An easy follow up would be to simply offer them one of our Gospels of John, or a gospel tract, and ask, “Would you be willing to read this over and get together again to talk about it?” Most people, once you have listened to them, would at least be willing to take it, some might read it. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ!
The Maine* Idea: Our devotion to Christ should motivate us, regardless of the cost, to lift up Jesus as the only way to salvation and to live a life that points others to Him.
I.  The Foundation of a Good Witness (3:13-15a).
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy…    
     First, be zealous to live a good life that honors God and shows grace (13). Remember that the verse divisions were put in later, they are not a part of the original letters that the apostles sent to the churches, so verse 13 follows and is logically connected with verse 12.  “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil…” “Who then is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”  In other words, as Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If we dwell on this one, simple, truth we should be emboldened in our witness!  The King of the universe is watching, and He hears our prayer.  Put Peter talks about the “righteous,” I don’t always feel righteous, how about you?  Well, if we are in Christ, we are righteous, because the righteousness of Jesus has been reckoned to our account. So we know His is watching us. Does that encourage you?  Repeatedly we see admonitions in both the Old and New Testaments: “Fear not, I am with you!” Therefore we should boldly, zealously, pursue “what is good.” But what is good?
       The word “good” appears through the opening of the Bible as God created the universe, at each stage, he saw that it was “good.” It was exactly as God had planned it, without flaw. “Good” in this fallen world is that which conforms to the revealed will of God.  Who is there to harm us if we are God’s, if we are following Him and doing His will?  We can know this, “Nothing can touch us without first passing through the hands of our loving heavenly Father, nothing.” THAT is quite a comfort. God is in control. He has a plan. And He is good, and He does good, so His plan is good. By grace we have been included in that plan. He is not only concerned with the end of the story, our “destination,” but He is also present and working as we pass through this vale of tears, the Valley of Baca, working his purpose both IN us and THROUGH us.  He is not saying that believers who live a “good life” will never suffer.  On contrary Jesus warned, “In the world you WILL HAVE tribulation…”  It is a certainty.  The only question is the degree to which we will experience it.  But we can have joy and peace despite our trials, and that is “good”!  We should be zealous to obey Him, to walk with Him, to be engaged in His mission in the world.
     Secondly, Don’t fear what people can do to you—trust God (14; cf. 17). Put verses 14 and 17 together for a minute, “14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” Verse 14 made me think of the prophet Daniel’s friends: Shadrach, Meshack, and Obegnego. “Our God is able to deliver us… but even if He does not…”  Here Peter says, “Who can harm you…?” And then he says in v.14, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake…”  I think this reflects the reality of living in the world as a citizen of heaven, of living a life where we are called to be light in the darkness. Jesus said “Don’t be surprised if the world hates you… it hated me first…” He said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!”  What can anyone do to us? We belong to Jesus forever! And we know the end of the story: Jesus wins! But, now, for a little while, we may be grieved by various trials (I Peter 1:6). That’s the Maine* idea, our devotion to Christ should motivate us, regardless of the cost, to lift up Jesus as the only way to salvation and to live a life that points others to Him.
     We see in the next phrase that we are to have a heart devoted to Christ, an attitude of worship (15a). The ESV says, “In your hearts, regard the Lord Jesus Christ as holy...” Another translation says, “Sanctify the Lord Jesus Christ in your hearts...” This precise form, an imperative telling the reader to “sanctify” or “set apart” someone or something occurs only here in the New Testament, but it occurs about a dozen times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was the Bible most commonly used by the early church. A few examples can illustrate the sense of the word...
ESV Isaiah 8:13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. [It is a call to reverence Yahweh, the God of the Bible].
ESV Jeremiah 17:22 And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers.
ESV Joel 1:14 Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.
ESV Joel 2:15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly;
ESV Joel 2:16 gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
ESV Joel 3:9 Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up.
Finally, 1 Peter 3:15,  “...but in your hearts regard 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...”
The phrase was often used in setting apart the people for Holy War, to be dedicated to God, available and yielded for the Lord to use. It is used of leading the people into a “solemn assembly,” a time of repentance and contrition, of a time of fasting to put aside the distractions of the flesh and to fix our hearts on God. Here Peter is calling on his readers to set Christ apart in their hearts. Like an army dedicated to a battle, like an assembly dedicated to solemnly seeking God, Jesus alone is “set apart,” He is the most precious, the most important, the most exalted, the most sought after, the most treasured reality in our heart. Even in referring to the “heart” Peter implies that we are to love HIM above all. That is how the song “Above All” by Michael W. Smith put it,
Above all powers, Above all kings
Above all nature and all created things
Above all wisdom and all the ways of man
You were here before the world began
Above all kingdoms, Above all thrones
Above all wonders the world has ever known
Above all wealth and treasures of the earth
There's no way to measure what you're worth…
Is that your heart? Is it mine? Do we love Him, do we treasure Him above anyone and anything the world has to offer?  That is a radical love, it’s crazy love, and it is the kind of love that will well up in our hearts when we grasp, even a little, who He is and what He has done for us. When we treasure Jesus like that, when we love Him and desire His fame to spread to those around us, our witness will be changed, we will be enthusiastic, sincere, devoted ambassadors for Christ. Do you know someone who is such a Patriots fan, that as soon as you start talking about football, their expression changes, and the joy just exudes as they share about their team?  That kind of joy should be evident when we talk about Jesus – and much more. We should treasure Him, set Him apart in our hearts, and that will show when we speak of Him to those around us. Our devotion to Christ should motivate us, regardless of the cost, to lift up Jesus as the only way to salvation and to live a life that points others to Him.
II. The Freedom of a Ready Witness (15b-16).
…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;  16 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.  17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
     Always ready… Implies preparation, alertness to opportunities. We are in the middle of a sentence here, the idea carries through, as we set apart Christ in our hearts, the One who alone is worthy of our worship and adoration, we should be ready to defend our faith, to explain why we believe what we believe. Peter says “...always ready…” This is a key aspect of our calling to be a witness. It is not only during a church service that we are ready, or during a “designated” outreach event… it’s not only when we are out on a church visit or discussing the Bible in a small group meeting or a Sunday School class. We are to be “always ready.”  This is implied in the Great Commission itself. Jesus said “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations...”  Grammatically, the command in that verse is to “make disciples.”  “Go” is a participle, and the sense seems to be “As you go...” or “When you go...” [make disciples]! I think Jesus was implying that as we go about our lives in this fallen world, we are on assignment, we are a part of His mission. You know that my dad was a police officer in New Jersey. I noticed when I was young that he would always take his off duty gun and put it in his waist band before going out. When I asked him why, he said police are always on duty, they need to be ready to intervene at all times if something happens. Like a police officer who is always “on duty,” alert to criminal activity or to people in danger, believers in Jesus go about life, but always alert, looking for the lost, the seeking, always ready to point them toward JESUS, the one who is the answer to their deepest need. “Always ready to give a reason for our hope...”
       I don’t think we should conclude from this that we are expected to have all the answers.  Sometimes the right reply to an objection to our faith might be, “You know that is a really good question, and I really don’t have an answer to give you.  I’d be happy to look into that and maybe we can get together to talk about it.” You could give them a Gospel of John or a good gospel tract and ask, “In the meantime, would you be willing to read this and we could talk about it when we get together again?” Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ! Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice...” That implies listening, recognizing the Word of God, believing Him, taking Him at His word. We should be “always ready.”  
       “ make a defense...” A reasoned apologia [defense] of our hope…  This week New England Bible College will begin giving a [free!] course at FBC Waldoboro called “Apologetics.” You can just audit it, and “soak in” as much information as possible, or take it for college or seminary credit. It sounds like you might be studying the art of learning to say “I’m sorry” but that isn’t it! (Though that isn’t a bad idea either!) Apologetics prepares us to give a reasoned defense of our faith. Why do we believe what we believe? How can we defend our faith from some common questions and objections?  That course will give you some tools to have a more ready response. To some degree all our Bible teaching in Church, Sunday School, and small groups should be helping you to deepen your faith and to have a more ready answer when objections come.  That course will be a more targeted preparation and training time. Whether that is convenient for you or not, we should all be students of the Word, reading the Bible, learning from others, deepening our faith.  We have some of the best Bible teachers in the world available to us on WBCI... We should listen, and then, like the Bereans in Acts 17, go home and search the Scriptures to see whether what they are saying is true.
       “...with gentleness and respect...” I remember someone saying that no one will ever find Christ at the end of an argument. We want to live a life that attracts people to Him, and Peter is telling us that gentle, respectful sharing will go a long way.  People need to know we care, and if we show some humility and respect as we share with them, they are more likely to listen. I read the story of a missionary to China who, the first day of language school was in class. The teacher came into the class, and without saying a word, slowly walked up and down the aisles, between the desks of the student. Finally she returned to the front of the class. “What did you notice?” she asked. The students were baffled, as she hadn’t spoken a word. Finally one student spoke up, “I noticed you were wearing a lovely perfume.” The other students chuckled, and the teacher said, “That is exactly my point. It is going to be quite a while before you can say anything to the people in words they will understand, but even so you can live in such a respectful and gentle way before them that shows Christ in your living. Then your words, when the time comes, will be received more readily.” Sharing the gospel will require at least one meaningful conversation. For that to happen, the permission of two people is needed. Our living, like a fragrant perfume, can earn that permission. We need to be respectful, gentle and discerning, prayerfully engaging those around us with the Good News of Jesus.
      Having a good conscience – notice the following phrase, “ that when you are slandered those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”  Remember back in 1 Peter 2:12,  “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” It is not about us, it is living in such a way that God gets the glory.  As we said last week, we certainly don’t want our life to give someone an excuse not to believe! Above all, do no harm! If our love and compassion and good works can make them see something different, something real, it can evoke questions, or at least soften hearts, so that we can point them to Jesus. Who will see our life the most? Those people we rub shoulders with on a regular basis, our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers... Our living before them lays a foundation for our witness...
What is God saying to me in this passage? Our devotion to Christ should motivate us, regardless of the cost, to lift up Jesus as the only way to salvation and to live a life that points others to Him.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? You may not have filled out your response to the commitment letter I sent out this week. Maybe you left it home, maybe you didn’t even get to your PO Box to pick it up. We want to make sure you have an opportunity to indicate your support for the mission, your determination to serve God as a part of this church. We don’t want anyone to be over extended. But we want everyone to be involved, because that is how God designed His church, many parts, but each one working together. Maybe once a month, standing behind a welcome table. It may be hosting a small group in your home, or being a helper or a teacher in Sunday School or nursery or youth ministry.  It may be joining with us in a “Dare to Care” type ministry on Wednesday night. Whatever it might be, you can’t just be a spectator. God has you here for a reason. This isn’t my idea, it is God’s plan, revealed in Scripture.

       He chose you on purpose, for a purpose. He gave His Son for us, we need to be available for Him to use as He carries out His mission in the world. That means using our gifts here, because Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function,  5 so it is with Christ's body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other...  (Romans 12:4,5). And it means prayerfully considering those that God has put in your life- the people around you, friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, classmates... Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you.  To God be the glory.    Amen.