Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 4

Wednesday of Easter 4 (A)
May 6, 2020
Text: 1 Peter 2:19-25
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            St. Peter says it is a gracious thing when one endures sorrows while suffering, being mindful of God.  A gracious thing.  Not only gracious on the part of the sufferer, but a gift of grace from God. 
            Now, Peter is not talking about suffering we bring upon ourselves by bad behavior, like civil penalties for breaking just laws, or discipline administered by a parent, a teacher, or a boss.  We should also receive that kind of suffering with patient endurance, and learn from it.  But that is not what St. Peter is talking about.  He means suffering while doing good.  To endure that is a gracious gift of God, and it is gracious in God’s sight. 
            He writes this to Christians who faced very real persecution for the Name of Jesus.  Many had already lost their homes and been exiled from their homeland.  Many had lost possessions, suffered the rejection of friends and family, been imprisoned, and many had even shed their blood.  That is the kind of suffering St. Peter encourages us to endure patiently.  That is the kind of suffering he calls “a gracious thing” (1 Peter 2:19-20; ESV). 
            Of course, the ultimate example of this is our Lord Jesus Christ.  He not only suffered while doing good, He suffered while doing the ultimate good for us, bleeding and dying as the Sacrifice of Atonement for our sins.  He had no sins of His own.  Perfectly righteous, sinless, blameless before God and man, He became our Substitute.  He suffered our punishment.  He died our death.  He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world and put them to death in His body on the tree.  There really is only One who has ever suffered in perfect innocence.  That is Jesus Himself.  And in so suffering, He has not only redeemed us from sin, death, and hell, He also teaches us how to bear suffering. 
            When reviled, He did not revile in return.  He did not threaten.  He continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly, to His heavenly Father.  He continued trusting the Father all the way through the forsaken hell of the cross, knowing His suffering and death was precious in the Father’s sight, knowing that by His finished work He was redeeming for Himself a people, knowing that in the end, God would vindicate Him and glorify Him by raising Him from the dead.  And so it is.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Now, He did all this for us, not so that we would go on in sin, seeking vengeance, retribution against our enemies, but so that we, baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection, would die to sin and arise to live in righteousness.  That is to say, that when we suffer for doing good, we, too, would not revile in return, or make threats, but endure, mindful of God, entrusting ourselves continually to Him who judges justly, our Father who art in heaven.
            What does that mean?  That means when you suffer for doing good… when you are persecuted or rejected or wrongly accused… when someone hurts you by their words or deeds…  when you are slandered or maligned… even if they put you to death… you can do as Jesus did.  Pray: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
            I always pray before I work on a sermon that God would grant me His Holy Spirit and the wisdom from above, so that I preach what you, His people, need to hear.  Little did I know how the Spirit would teach me this text!  So, some of you may know what I’m talking about, though the details don’t really matter…  Let’s just say, turns out, perhaps, I spoke a little too loudly in public on matters we’re currently facing in our society, at least in the minds of some.  Or, some of you may argue I didn’t speak loudly enough!  This is one of those you can’t win.  Perhaps you know the feeling.  I know some of you know the feeling, because I’ve watched you on social media.  In any case, I spoke what I believe is right and true and good and faithful to Christ (and He will be the Judge of whether it is or isn’t), and now that may bring me some suffering, at least in terms of unwanted attention and derision.  This is certainly not on the level of suffering experienced by Peter’s original audience.  Far from it.  But it will and does hurt.  So be it.  Let the Lord do with it what seems best to Him.
            So now I need to look at this text and see in it Christ crucified for sinners, Christ crucified for me, and for my sins.  And so also I need to see in it Christ risen from the dead, Christ, whose victory is complete, and the new reality this brings, into which I am baptized.  And then I can see that all is ultimately set right in Him.  By His wounds I have been healed!  There is sorrow and suffering to be endured, but always with the end in view, that Christ is coming again in glory to raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.  I live in the sure and certain hope of that reality. 
            So reviling those who revile me does nothing but spew the demonic venom of hatred and death on myself and on those around me.  But patiently enduring and forgiving in the Name of Jesus swallows up that poison and buries it in Christ’s tomb.  Making threats against those who threaten me does nothing but drive more wedges between me and the neighbor for whom Christ died.  But speaking instead, words of grace first spoken to me by Jesus, has great potential to remove, not only the wedges that separate me from my neighbor, but the wedges that separate my neighbor from Christ.  As Christ died for me, and for my neighbor, and for all, so I can, in this sense, die to myself for the sake of my neighbor, in forgiveness of his sins against me.  See how this is a gracious thing?
            Christians are called to do the good, and then suffer.  Even death, if necessary.  But always trusting in Him who judges justly, that is, in our heavenly Father, and in Jesus Christ, His Son.  The day may come when we, here and now, face real persecution for the Name of Jesus, as our brothers and sisters have in the past, and do today in many parts of the world.  Should that happen, this is our text, and this is what we do: Endure.  Mindful of God.  Entrusting ourselves to Him.  That is a gracious thing.  That is a gift of the Holy Spirit who is in you.
            And we already know the outcome of it all.  Jesus wins!  And we win in Jesus.  For Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

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