Worship Theme: He Lives as Our Companion
Sermon Theme: Never Alone
Sometimes it’s difficult to connect with the people that we meet on the pages of Scripture. However, the words from 1 Peter 3:13-22 can be a comfort to us in our lives. We have the promises of our God which tell us that in Jesus, we are “Never Alone.” May 14, 2023.
It must have been desperate there on Bithynia Boulevard, overlooking the Black Sea. It must have felt pretty lonely on the end of Cappadocia Court, tucked into the jagged and rugged landscape of that region. It must have been hopeless in those coastal villages in the province of Asia, even as a person watched the commerce of trade and ships sailing past them every day on the Aegean Sea. Those people were separated geographically but united by a reality – a reality that they never asked for. They were united by the shared experience of sufferings and persecutions that came to them as a result of their faith in Christ. Every day they experienced persecution – emotional stress, verbal abuse, fear for their safety. “Who is coming at me today? they wondered. “Is today the day that my livelihood, my property, my family is taken from me?” For some it was family that actually caused the pain. The siblings who didn’t believe, the children that were following the ways of the world, the mockery from those who were closest. Those were the cuts that ran the deepest.
It must have been lonely living that way – detached from people, from loved ones, from a sense of safety. “Is it worth it?” is a question that they must have asked themselves on a daily basis. “Is it worth it to have people around me, but to feel this alone?” “Is it worth it to struggle this much, just to hold on to a system of beliefs?” “Is it worth it to be so different, in a world where sameness seems to be the easiest path?”
Peter wrote his first letter – and thus the words of our second reading – to Jewish people who had been scattered from their homeland because of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. And now the persecution had followed them to their new homes. Peter wrote to Gentile people who had come to believe in that same Christ and were thus were sharers in that suffering. Both groups were made to feel like strangers and exiles, even those that were still living in their own hometowns. Peter knew how lonely it could be. That’s why he writes his first letter. He wanted them to have hope in the promises of Jesus. He wanted them to believe and to live in the joy of knowing that in Jesus, we are never alone.
Sometimes it’s difficult to connect with the people that we meet on the pages of Scripture. Generations pass, technology advances, things change. But the more things change the more they stay the same. There’s plenty in your life that is different from the lives of the people who were the original recipients of Peter’s first letter, but there’s an awful lot that hasn’t changed at all! Do you sometimes feel like a stranger living in a strange land? As common sense seems to be thrown out the window and things that once were considered noble are now condemned as bigotry. Are you scared at times that if people find out who you worship that there will be negative consequences? Do you think if might be easier to keep your faith quiet? Do you feel like you are increasingly on an island and that fewer and fewer people are like you? You are not alone. No matter how much you might feel that way, you are not alone. That’s exactly who Peter is writing to and that’s exactly why the Holy Spirit saw fit to put these words onto the pages of Scripture and to preserve them for us today. These are words that can be a comfort to us in our lives as well. And it’s more than just knowing that others are going through similar struggles. We are not alone in a far greater and more glorious way. We have the promises of our God which tell us that in Jesus, we are never alone.
Does it cost you anything to have relationships with others? I suppose that really depends. I hope that you aren’t friends with anyone that sends you a bill at the end of the month. “Here is your invoice to cover the cost of me being your friend!” I would hope that you wouldn’t need me to tell you that if that is happening, then you need new friends. I don’t know of too many parents that bill their children for basic living expenses, at least not before their children have a job of their own or not before they reach the age where living on their own is at least an option.
Both of those examples are human relationships. What about your relationship with God? Does it cost anything for you to have a relationship with God? God tells you what it costs. It costs perfection. He demands holiness. And if you can’t pay up, then you deserve to be denied that relationship here and forever. Because we are sinful through and through, we deserve to pay for those sins – by being detached from God and separated from him forever. We deserve to be alone – forever – in hell.
That’s the biggest problem that mankind will ever face “How do I get connected with God?” And it’s the biggest question that a person will ever answer – “Is there anything that I can do?” And the sad truth is that the answer is “No!” There is nothing I can do! I can’t live life well enough. I can’t pay enough to undo what my sins have done.
Peter knew all that. He experienced all that – the extent of our sinfulness, the enormity of the debt that we owe, our inability to do anything to fix the mess that we are in. But Peter knew something else. He knew the answer – God’s answer to our problem. And he watched it play out as an eyewitness. He saw that answer in Jesus. That’s why he says:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. Peter knew that the people were suffering, struggling, losing hope. And he uses that suffering to connect them to Jesus. “I know that you are suffering, but you are not alone. For Christ also suffered. But Jesus’ suffering was for an even greater purpose than yours. For Christ also suffered once for sins. He made a one-time payment for your sins and for mine. “What does it cost for us to have a relationship with God?” It costs a life! And that’s the payment that Jesus was willing to pay. The righteous for the unrighteous. Jesus earned life with his obedience. Yet he paid that life down for unrighteous people like you and me – for people who were hostile to God, for his enemies.
Have you ever been inside of a prison? I won’t ask you to raise your hands, but I’m guessing that a lot of you – maybe most of you here would say “No.” I’m guessing that most would prefer to avoid prison entirely, as an inmate and also as a visitor. It can be intimidating and even scary. Now imagine going there to trade places with an inmate! Find the vilest offender and take their sentence. Or even worse, find someone there who has personally harmed you. That’s unthinkable, but that is what Jesus has done for you. He came to the prison-house of our sin and took our sentence, and paid our debt. Even though we owed our lives, Jesus took our place and gave his life for us. And Peter tells us why: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. Without Jesus, we’d be alone forever, but in Jesus we are never alone. Jesus gives us what we could never gain on our own. As our substitute, Jesus brings us into a relationship with God.
Where were you on July 20, 2021? And you’re probably thinking, “Pastor, I don’t remember where I was yesterday, how am I supposed to answer a question about almost 2 years ago?” But even if you don’t have that date memorized, I’m guessing that it was a significant one to many of you here today or at the very least it was important to a city that you love. July 20, 2021 is the day that the Milwaukee Bucks won their first NBA Championship in 50 years. And where were you two days later? Many of you and thousands of your fellow Milwaukeeans lined the streets of downtown Milwaukee for the parade. The team rode their buses through the streets of Milwaukee, right down Water Street and up to a party in the Deer District right outside of the Fiserv Forum. That’s what Champions get to do! They get to have a parade!
Did you know that Jesus had a victory parade? Fresh off his championship over death, Jesus paraded through the streets of hell, to announce his victory and to declare the devil defeated. And Peter invites us to join in the celebration! After being made alive, (Jesus) went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago. When there’s a victory, there should be a celebration. And if we are going to celebrate a sports team’s championship, how much more can we celebrate an eternal victory that has been given to us! Do you use the pronouns “we” and “us” when you talk about your sports team? Did you say “We won the Championship!” when the Bucks won? I do it too – as if I had anything to do with it! But Jesus wants us to call his victory ours. We had nothing to do with it, it’s all because of his love, but he gives us the victory and he wants us to celebrate with him. The burden of sin’s debt has been lifted. The curse of sin undone. The power that Satan once wielded over us and been taken away from him. Jesus paraded into hell to make sure that the devil knew that he is done and that Jesus was taking us to heaven. Now we can celebrate with Jesus that we are Never alone.
Suppose a loved one wants to do something nice for you. They give you a card and tell you that they’ve opened a bank account for you and planted $10,000 of starter money in it for you. What a kind gift! But it’s really only a gift if they give you the means to withdraw the funds. Having a pile of money someplace that we don’t have access to is pretty worthless. It becomes a lavish gift when we are given access to it!
God’s gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life take on their real value for us when they become ours. That’s why Jesus doesn’t stop at just making the payment for sin, he doesn’t just quietly rise from the dead and then sneak back into heaven. No, he puts his payment on our account and gives us access to his love through faith. He plants that faith in our hearts (or strengthens a faith that is already there) through the waters of Holy Baptism. That’s how the blessings of the cross and the empty tomb are given to us. That’s how the payment that Jesus made and the celebration that was his becomes ours.
…Baptism…now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Our sins are washed away in the cleansing waters of Baptism. We have the promise of forgiveness and a relationship with God forever. Our Baptism means that we are never alone. We are connection to Jesus through his resurrection from the dead. His victory will be our victory forever. His resurrection means that we too will rise! We have the assurance that he will never leave us. We have the unshakable confidence of knowing that we are heirs of heaven and members of God’s family.
Sit with Peter and disciples in the Upper Room. That’s where today’s Gospel takes place. Don’t be shy! You’re not out of place! You have a seat there. Jesus was speaking to you as well. Pull up a chair and tune your ears to the words that Jesus speaks: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.
Life in this sinful world means that there will be some suffering. Jesus promises as much. But we can have hope - even in the midst of suffering. The payment for sin has been made and accepted - and the celebration has begun. Christ Jesus has bought us and brought us into his family forever. And that means that we are never alone. Amen.
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