Monday, July 07, 2014

Sermon on Romans 7:14-25, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, "Christ, our Deliverer", Part 3



Note: The following sermon is part 3 of  a 13 part series on Romans 6-14, adapted from the Series "God's Greater Story" by Rev. David Schmitt of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.          

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The section of Romans 7 that we have before us today is familiar to Lutherans. It names a struggle, the struggle between sinner and saint. This struggle is real and hidden in the heart of every Christian. Some people confess this struggle openly, asking others to help keep them accountable; other people hide this struggle, putting on the best face they can. It’s the struggle that is magnified for every Christian, between the desire to do what is good and the temptation and desire to do what is evil. We all face this struggle and it isn’t something we can leave behind. Until the day when our conqueror, Jesus Christ, returns, we will be both sinner and saint.
Paul’s description is personal, individual. It tells the story of one man and one struggle that never seems to end. Paul knows the good that God desires and Paul himself agrees with this desire. What God wants is truly good. Yet Paul also discovers that he is “sold under sin” (7:14). Paul uses the language of slavery and of captivity. His members “wage war” and he is “captive” to the law of sin (7:23). Paul knows the good he wants to do, but can’t do it. Instead, what he doesn’t want to do, that he does. Slave to sin, captive to his flesh; Paul cries out for deliverance.
His story, however, is not only one man’s story. It’s a universal story that touches all people. Paul’s cry echoes through the Scriptures, with saints of the Old Testament and New, who wrestled with their old sinful nature; experiencing triumphs and more often than not, failures. Our Old Testament reading from Zechariah speaks to spiritual prisoners locked in that struggle, and the hope of the coming Deliverer, when it says, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” It speaks of a captivity or slavery that will be broken. It speaks of a coming freedom; a double restoration. From individuals to families to nations, the captivity to sin is nearly as old as our human story. But Zechariah and Paul both zeroed in on the same hope: the promised Messiah, whom Paul knew in Jesus Christ.
We probably can all identify with Paul’s small story, his one small revelation of this personal private experience. This, however, is not the main story that Paul wants to tell. In fact, it’s God’s Greater Story, that Paul wants to highlight for all people. The story of God’s faithfulness. Not the story of how our personal victories and triumphs won us salvation—because they don’t. Not the story of our faithfulness to God; but God’s faithfulness to his people. The story of God conquering sin for us in Christ Jesus, and how that victory spills into our lives.
As early as the Fall in the Garden of Eden, God had begun telling this story of his love. As Adam and Eve stood there, naked before God, ashamed of themselves, and yet unable to hide, God began to speak of his love. They overheard it, in a conversation he had with the snake. God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Here, was the first glimpse of God’s promise. He would send one, the offspring of a woman, who would bruise the head of Satan and conquer in the fight. Adam and Eve lived in hope. They were “prisoners of hope” waiting in confidence for their restoration.
That hope was passed down as God’s promise from generation to generation of individuals, families, and nations that followed them, struggling with their sinful nature, but living in the hope of God’s story of a Deliverer coming true. And the apostle Paul writes this letter to proclaim that it did come true, in Jesus Christ. “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul cries out. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In this section of the letter, Paul lets his one small story become swallowed up by a much larger story. The story of Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is the one who came as our deliverer. We delivered him up to death as Satan worked through us to bruise his heel and yet he delivered us from death and from the kingdom of Satan as He rose in power in His resurrection and called us into the kingdom of God. This God loves us, dies for us, and rises to gives us new life.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” Paul proclaims and, with those words, he invites everyone into God’s greater story. Jesus Christ rules, as God Himself, and is our deliverer. He is at the heart of God’s greater story of the rescue of his people from slavery and the redemption of all people in the world. Sold in sin was where our story began, but it ends in the redemption of our bodies through Jesus Christ. In the ancient slave markets, redemption was when someone purchased your freedom for you—paying off all your debts. Likewise Jesus Christ has paid all the debts of our sin, He has redeemed us or bought us back, so that we are freed men and women in Christ Jesus. Since we are in Christ Jesus, the law has no claim for judgment against us because of our sin, because Jesus paid in full on the cross. There is no “debt-collector” who can hound us for our sins, as we have confessed them in Christ Jesus and He has delivered us completely from them. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
As I said in a previous sermon, we don’t use this new-found freedom to throw it away, by returning to the captivity of sin. Our rescue from sin by baptism into Christ’s death is the very entry point into our struggle and Paul’s struggle. The struggle between the new freed man in Christ Jesus, the saint—and the old enslaved man in us, the sinner. The sinner hungers for the pleasures of sin, but is blind to their chains. The saint hungers for righteousness and to do what is right, but finds that whenever we pursue doing what is right, evil lies close at hand. This is the tension between the “now and the not yet” of the Christian faith. We already have the forgiveness and promises in Christ Jesus, we already now have no condemnation in Him. But we have not yet reached the end of our sanctification, which is eternal life. Daily now we put to death that old sinner in us, by repentance in the waters of baptism, and our sins die in the cross of Jesus Christ. But we have not yet been delivered from this body of death, this flesh. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul exclaims.
See, the victory doesn’t depend on you. You have the Champion who has won the war, fighting in your daily battles too. Jesus Christ has not left us to die alone on the battlefield after He sealed the victory and turned the tide. Rather He is with us in all the places He has promised to come to us for our aid. He has joined Himself to us in Baptism. We are clothed with His righteousness. He has armed us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to guard us against the tempter. He feeds us with His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, strengthening us for the journey and the battle. He will see us through to victory. Whenever our eyes are cast down by the suffering and fury around us, He lifts our eyes back to His cross through the preaching of His Word, through messengers that He has sent.
The evangelists tune our ears in to this message; this much larger story. Listen today to the words in Matthew: “Jesus declares…Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-29). Jesus calls those who are weary and burdened under the guilt and burdens of life, to find rest for their souls in Him. When we are forgiven we rejoice that the love and the healing of Christ Jesus comes into our heart to cleanse us from all sin and heal us from our self-inflicted wounds, the festering guilt, or the scars left by what others have done to us. His forgiveness and healing is both comprehensive and intensive. His love and forgiveness can heal even the most ingrained sin. It makes new life where before there was only death—it creates freedom where before there was only slavery. Finally Paul’s great comfort is to know that the only escape and freedom from the wretched struggle with sin is through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today, in a very tangible way, Jesus brings you once again to the heart of this greater story of God. As we gather for the Lord’s Supper, we join the much larger story of God’s loving rule over his world. This is the story of Jesus, our Deliverer, now come among us in his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, we come with our smaller private stories, the moments when we failed to do the good that we wanted to do, and the moments when we did the evil that we didn’t want to do. That struggle is there and it is real and we come today confessing our sin. But we also come trusting in our deliverance. Jesus is faithful. He remains faithful to his promises. “Take eat. Take drink. This is my body. This is my blood. Given for you. For the forgiveness of sin.” We come as prisoners of hope—captive to the joy and the freedom of our Lord—confident of a destiny secured for us by Christ Jesus. A destiny far from the shackles of sin, death, and pain, but made perfect in the image and likeness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen!


Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. How do you experience the struggle between saint and sinner in you? Where are your weakest points, that the tempter will seek to exploit? Why must your confidence for victory depend not on you, but on Christ Jesus? Romans 7:25-8:1; 1 John 4:4; 5:4-5

  1. What kind of captivity do all humans experience because of sin? Romans 7:14, 23; Psalm 51:5. How does the prophet Zechariah anticipate freedom from that captivity? Zech. 9:11-12; Isaiah 61:1ff; Luke 4:18ff.

  1. “Redemption” means to “buy back” and was especially a rich concept in the context of the New Testament world, where slaves were commonly sold or purchased—but then could be “redeemed” by someone who was generous enough or cared enough to purchase their freedom. How does the New Testament tell us that Jesus purchased our freedom? 1 Peter 1:18-19. What does this redemption mean for the accusation of our sins? Colossians 2:14; Revelation 12:10-11

  1. Explain how the Christian experiences the “now, but not yet” of the Christian faith. How is this tension related to our life as at the same time “saints and sinners?”


  1. How do we find rest from the constant battle with sin in us? Matthew 11:28-29. How is the Lord’s Supper one of the ways that Christ has promised to be with us and strengthen us for our journey? What is our hope?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sermon on Romans 7:1-13, for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, "The Resurrecting Christ", Part 2

Note: The following sermon is part 2 of  a 13 part series on Romans 6-14, adapted from the Series "God's Greater Story" by Rev. David Schmitt of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.          

   In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Last week we began our sermon series on Romans in chapter 6; how we have been Baptized into God’s Greater Story through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We learned that we are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. This gives us a new identity in Christ Jesus, where we live not under the law, but under grace. Paul explains in 7:4, where Paul says, “My brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” We now belong to Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead and now raises us to new life also. He is the “Resurrecting Christ,” who in the power of His resurrection continues to raise us from the dead.
The power of Christ is found all throughout Romans. Consider how he opens the letter: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus . . . [who] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (1:1 and 4). Paul serves Jesus Christ, the ruler of all things, declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead. Paul then states the main theme of his letter: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). Paul’s letter is all about power. The power of the gospel to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Finally, consider how Paul closes the letter, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (16:20, cf. also 15:18-19). God’s power is at the beginning of Paul’s letter, at the end, and all the way through. The power of the resurrecting Christ brings life and salvation to all people.
And why wouldn’t it be? Paul, himself, had met the resurrected Christ and, in meeting Him on the Damascus road, Paul discovered Jesus to be more than just the Christ who had risen from the dead. He was also the resurrecting Christ. When Jesus appeared after his resurrection, he changed lives – Mary outside the tomb mourning, Thomas in the room doubting, Peter out on the lake fishing. Individuals raised from sorrow and fear and discouragement to life. And last but not least, the apostle Paul. Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and raised him to life. Paul now proclaims this power to all people, to the church at Rome and to us today. Paul turns our eyes to Jesus, for Jesus raises us to life.
For the church in Rome, Paul was concerned that people were looking to the law as a source of life. Israel believed in God’s good law. It was a design for life and they couldn’t imagine their relationship with God apart from it. They turned to that law, seeking to obey it, in order to have life from God. Unfortunately, they were so focused upon the law that they lost sight of Christ. We can easily do the same, when, for example, we bring our children to church or Sunday school just to build good morals, respect, and good behavior, but our focus is not on their faith in Jesus and the growth and depth of that faith. Plenty of youth are walking away from churches in their teen and college years, and may even be model citizens, but have missed the importance of a lifelong growth in their faith in Jesus, and the power of Christ to continue to transform all their life. If being a Christian and going to church was just about being a good person, they may soon conclude that they don’t need the church for that. Or if their faith comes under fire and they don’t have the depth or foundation to withstand it, they may also walk away from their faith. But the church’s aim is not mere good behavior—but a living faith solidly built on Jesus Christ, the One true God. It’s that we might know that no amount of good behavior on our part can save us or please God, but that we are lost without the saving death of Jesus Christ.
The law is holy, the commandment is holy and righteous and good. But the law is not an end in itself—for if it were, the end the law leads sinners to is death. Rather, the law is the wrecking ball that clears away the dead and rotten stuff of sin, and paves the way for Christ’s resurrecting power—the Good News of the Gospel, to rebuild our lives in Jesus’ image. To create in us the new life of the Spirit. The victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death—that good news—is the real end. Or as we heard last week in Romans 6, that the “end” of sin is death, but the end of God’s work of making us holy, or sanctifying us is eternal life. Or in Romans 10:4, Paul tells us that some will try to gain righteousness on their own by the law, but that Jesus is the “end” of the law for righteousness, for everyone who believes. The law’s power terminates with our death in Christ Jesus—but by faith in Him we are raised to new life.
What’s the practical importance of that for your daily Christian life? Paul writes this letter to be sure that no one sees the law without seeing Jesus. Because Paul knows the terrifying power of the law. The power to awaken our sin and hold us captive till death. God’s law is good but our lives are not. Holding on to the law without Christ is like holding on to a knife as it cuts you to death. The law has a condemning power. Paul writes that it arouses “our sinful passions.” When you hear what you are not supposed to do, you end up wanting to do it.
Did you catch in the reading that sin is opportunistic? It seized the opportunity through the commandment to produce coveting in Paul. He didn’t know what coveting was until he was told not to covet and then sin awakened and created all kinds of coveting within him. Coveting is the greedy or lustful inner desire to wrongfully get or have something that doesn’t belong to you. It’s the precursor to things like stealing, or sexual temptation, or scheming to take possession of what’s not yours. Sin is also opportunistic in deceiving and killing us. It takes the power of God’s law, which was meant for our good and our blessing, and it turns it against us so that we are cursed and die. Sin pulls the pillars out from under God’s design, and brings the law toppling down on us. This is why clinging to the law apart from Christ is deadly.
For this reason, Paul points us to Christ. The One who dies while holding on to us. Buried with us under the rubble of our sin and self-destruction, Christ burst the bonds of death and rose to new life. Christ saw us in our sin and offered his life for our salvation. He died under the condemning power of the law for you. Through his dead body Jesus Christ sets you free.
As Paul writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ.” Baptized into his death, Christ puts to death the condemning power of the law. By his death, Christ brings you to life. Set free from the law, we no longer live with the dread of its crushing judgment toppling down on our heads, but rather we live under the gracious canopy of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. We live not under law, but under grace. And under grace there is no judgment to befall us, but only the gifts of the Spirit to pour down on us, and fill us with a new life and new obedience not motivated by fear, but by the love of Christ.
            Paul describes this life dedicated to God as a life of true freedom. As Americans, we think we know all about freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, academic freedom… the list goes on and on. In fact, in America, some even believe that they have the freedom to rewrite the laws of God and create a different way of living in the world. For many Christianity feels binding. It’s filled with rules and regulations. You can’t just live however you want.
So, some Christians celebrate a freedom from God’s good design. A distinctly American freedom from the laws of God. Take God’s good design of marriage or human sexuality. They redefine it to fit our present day. People presume to redefine the ways of God for our 21st century world. God is always kept loving and good, but His love and his goodness supposedly set us free us to be whatever we want to be. Old notions of sin and punishment and the law of God are discarded so we can live in the freedom of the American dream and claim that God is loving toward us and good.
But does God give us the freedom to become our own “lawmakers” and re-write God’s laws? Is it truly an American notion that freedom should know no bounds? I cannot find an example of such a freedom. Cross borders from a free country into an oppressive one—say from South Korea into North Korea—and you may very well have left your freedom behind, and entered a place where your freedom is in serious danger. Test the bounds of gravity by flying off a cliff, and you will find that you’ve left your freedom behind. Rob a store, and despite all your protests “But it’s a free country!”—they will still cart you off to jail. Freedom is a precious thing, and our soldiers know it well, that freedom didn’t come for free. Liberating people from oppression often comes at great cost. Guarding freedom from those who would take it away, requires determination. And freedom is easy to lose.
Our American attitudes about freedom would seem strange to the apostle Paul. The law of God is not something you can redefine. The law is God’s. It is part of God’s design and it has been built into creation. You can delude yourself that it doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t matter to God. But in the end, you will be held accountable to God. Paul wants you to know that you are not alone. God does exist and rules over all creation. He has set his law in place and everyone will be held accountable to it before him. But when God claims us in the death of Christ, He sets us free from the condemning power of the law and raises us to new life in Christ.
Christ stands there, on the edge of Paul’s letter, ruling over the world and raising people to life in him. The death of Christ was not the end of the story for Paul. It’s just begun because of the resurrection of Christ and His continuing power to raise us to new life in him. Hear it again: “Likewise my brothers, you have also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God” (7:4). All eyes are on the resurrecting Christ. It’s not just that He frees us from the condemning power of the law but He also forms us by his Spirit to live as a people for God. In him, our lives are shaped by the Spirit and take on the shape of the goodness of God’s law, God’s ways,  and God’s people in the world. But it happens not through the threat of punishment for disobedience—which is the way the law works when sin is in the picture—but it happens through the pouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives—which is the way the Gospel works.
            We’re invited to live in the power of the Resurrecting Christ. Though we do not see him now, we know that he is risen and ruling over all things. His law is holy. His commandments are holy and righteous and good. In him, we have died to the curse of the law, in his body crucified for us on the tree. In him, we have been raised to a new life in the Spirit. And we are only now beginning to experience the first fruits of faith in the kingdom of God. That new life is grown organically from His Spirit, and the imagery of Scripture is of plant growth—slow and patient—not the imagery of microwave meals and instant results. Though you may never be aware of the pace of growth or of the changes the Spirit is working in you, we should never be focused on ourselves, but rather on the power of the Resurrecting Christ, who is the Son under which we grow! Amen.*/


Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com


  1. How does Paul’s letter to the Romans emphasize the power of Jesus Christ? Romans 1:4, 16; 15:13, 19; 16:20. Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ the power for the Christian’s new life? Romans 7:4-6; Phil. 3:9-11; 1 Peter 1:3; 3:21.
  2. How were the lives of Mary (John 20:11-18), Thomas (John 20:24-29), Peter (John 21:15-19), and Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-22) transformed by the risen Jesus Christ? How does sin or fear still cling to your life, and why can you confidently turn it over to Jesus to handle?
  3. Why is the Law—even while it is good and holy, and given by God—not the way by which we find life? Romans 7:8-13; Galatians 3:10-14. Is this because of a defect in the law, or some other problem? Why is moralistic Christianity pursuing the same dead end? Why are good works unable to help us before God? How deeply is sin ingrained in us? Where should our faith be focused instead? On whom?
  4. At the same time, we do not reject or abandon the law, but it does its proper work, to prepare the way for the Gospel. What new life in us is created by the Gospel—the good news of the Resurrecting Christ?
  5. How is sin “opportunistic”? What is it looking for an opportunity to do? Romans 7:8; 11; Galatians 5:13; cf. Matthew 26:16; Luke 4:13; Ephesians 4:27. How does this reality make it deadly to live under the law, rather than under grace? Romans 6:12-23; 7:11.
  6. How does a life lived under God’s grace bear fruit by obedience? Galatians 5:16-26. How do we use and maintain our freedom? Galatians 5:1, 13; 1 Peter 2:16; Jude 4.
  7. How has Christ rescued us from our self-destruction under the law? What does our participation in His death, via baptism, mean for our relationship to the law? Romans 7:4. How is our growth in our new life more like a growing plant than like instant meals? 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sermon on Romans 6:1-23, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, "Baptized Into God's Greater Story", Part 1

Note: The following sermon is part 1 of  a 13 part series on Romans 6-14, adapted from the Series "God's Greater Story" by Rev. David Schmitt of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Have you ever caught your reflection in a window? You saw your image transposed on a busy scene on the other side of the window, or perhaps behind you? Maybe it made you seem small and insignificant; maybe it made you seem larger than life. Today you’re invited to catch your reflection in the waters of Holy Baptism, as St. Paul pictures our new life in Christ Jesus, begun in baptism, and how it draws us into God’s Greater Story. A story that pulls us in from various places in life. Some of us are struggling with loneliness or depression. Some have just started a job, while others are going away to college. Some may be celebrating joys, others may be carrying sorrows. Regardless of where you are in life, where you’ve been or where you’re going, God has brought you to this place. Today, He asks you to stand here and look through a window and to see your reflection and place in God’s Greater Story.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a missionary letter, written to a church that Paul had never visited. Paul may not have known these people but he knows their God and he pictures for them the way God works in the world. Paul narrates for them the greater story of God. He trusts that when they hear that greater story, they’ll catch their reflection in the glass. They wouldl see how God has brought them into something greater than their lives in 1st century Rome, and we’ll see how God brings us into something greater than our lives in 21st century Maui.
Starting at Romans 6 this week, we’ll read to the end of the letter over the course of the coming weeks. Today, we begin with God’s work in baptism. The way God joins us to the power of the resurrecting Christ. Then, we’ll focus on God’s greater story, God’s greater people, and God’s greater plan for you, as we follow this sermon series on Romans. Come. Listen. Watch, as God makes you part of his larger story. Catch your reflection in the glass. It will change the way you live in God’s world.
It may catch you off guard that we begin a series on the book of Romans in the middle—Romans 6. It would be much easier to start at the beginning. To hear Paul, introducing himself to the Romans, and then to follow the natural flow of the letter. But sometimes that’s the way God works in the world. Often we show up in the middle of an on-going conversation. We overhear people talking and, over time, we discover who they are. Our family in Christ. When you were born as an infant, God timed your entry into a world already fast in motion. You didn’t know the people who passed you from person to person at the hospital, and poked and prodded you, washed you and bundled you warmly. Over time, however, you recognized voices and put together stories. Strangers became family and a simple gesture could remind you of love. At first you mostly listened and learned, but gradually you learned to speak and join in the conversation.
In a similar way, God’s work did not start with you. You arrived in a story in progress, when you were born by water and the Spirit into God’s family. You were not there in the very beginning. God alone existed. He existed before anything else was made. And God alone created this world out of nothing. We read last week in Genesis 1-2, about all the works of creation that God called into existence, and last of all, man and woman. God made Adam and Eve and brought them into his story.
So we come to God’s story, late in the plot. The story began with God’s perfect creation, the crisis began with the first sin, and a world of sin and trouble followed. But God was faithful to generation after generation, and He kept calling people back to Him, pulling them into His story. Making it a story of salvation or rescue, as He time and again delivered His people from their sin and its punishments, and gave them His promises to hold onto like a refuge in a storm, or a lighthouse in the midst of a crashing sea. We arrived late in the plot, 2,000 years after God revealed Jesus Christ as the center and source of our salvation or rescue. We call Him Savior, because He died on the cross to carry our sins far away, and He rose to new life so that He could make you His new creation. The climax of the God’s Greater Story, and the resolution of the crisis in the plot centers on Jesus Christ our Savior. In baptism, you were crucified, buried, and raised with Christ Jesus, so that God has made you a new person. While we’ve arrived late in the plot, the story is not yet over, as Jesus has promised that He will return one day, and come to judge the living and the dead, and take all believers in Him to be raised with new bodies and to enter the completed new creation of the new heavens and the new earth.
Paul describes this moment of our rebirth in baptism, our entry into the story, most clearly when he writes, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So, you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That is what you are. Paul asks us to take a deep long look into the reflective pool of baptism. In those reflective waters we learn to say, “I am dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We repent of our sins, confessing them as wrong to God, and watch our sinful nature be plunged down into the waters of baptism, and to be drowned and die with Christ Jesus on the cross. “We were buried with Him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And as our sinful nature drops daily into that watery grave, so we behold a new man and a new woman rising to live before Christ Jesus in newness of life.
Let’s mediate for a moment on those words. In the opening chapters of Romans, Paul has described sin with power and force. Sin enslaves, sin imprisons, sin rules over us. Paul says consider yourselves dead to that sin. Paul describes God in Jesus holding even greater power and love. God created all things, God rose from the dead, God now reigns in the glory and wonder of heaven. God sends his Spirit among his people, God frees, God lives, God brings about a marvelous new creation. Paul says, consider yourselves alive to this God in Christ Jesus. Dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. For Paul this is baptism.
God in Christ Jesus has put your old sinful identity to death in His cross, through the waters of baptism. So the way you live forward from here is not controlled by, enslaved by, imprisoned by the old identity that you have left behind in those waters of repentance and baptism. The way you live forward from here is shaped and directed by your new identity in Christ Jesus. When you look into that reflecting pool of baptism, it is the cross of Jesus, His empty tomb, and our risen and ascended Lord Jesus who stands above us, larger than life, but truly in our life, reminding us that we are a part of God’s Greater Story. We see His victory loom large over sin and death, and our light momentary struggles take on their perspective in the great sweep of Jesus’ saving work—and we realize we’re safely in His hands.
When we fall back into sin, it’s like those waters have been stirred up, and we don’t see our reflection—or like the book of James says, it’s like we’ve walked away from a mirror and forgotten what we looked like. When we fall back into sin, we’ve momentarily forgotten who we are in Christ. We’ve taken our eyes off of Jesus, like Peter when he tried to walk on water, becoming overwhelmed by the wind and the waves around us. But whenever we’re sinking down into our sin, or whenever the waters are stirred up and we can no longer see our reflection, Christ Jesus reaches down and takes hold of our hand. He cries out to the storm, “Be still!” and a great calm is restored. And when the waters still again, we see again our reflection—baptized into Christ Jesus. Dead to sin, but alive in Christ Jesus. It isn’t sin that has a hold on us, but it’s Christ who holds us firmly in His hands. Eyes on Him!
For this reason, Paul calls upon the Romans then and us today to present ourselves to Christ Jesus as people who have been brought from death to life. Jesus will put our bodies, our minds, our skills, our talents, to use as instruments for righteousness. There’s a beautiful mystery to being part of God’s story. We often find ourselves amazed at what God will do. We bring our lives to God, present ourselves to him, and God uses our lives in the unfolding of his kingdom.
A woman, dying of cancer, discovered this. Marie’s time was short. Her bone cancer had spread. She had just entered hospice. A confirmation student, Amy, came to visit her. She had been her prayer partner. Her parents didn’t think Amy should go. “Hospice is no place for a child,” her mother said. But Amy wanted to go and Marie was happy to see her. It was awkward. Amy didn’t know what to say. She was just so conscious of the fact that Marie was dying. Everything she thought about saying seemed stupid. So, she sat there. And held her hand. Marie, however, started talking. She told Amy what it meant to see young adults in church. Why she wanted to pray for the confirmation students. She could only imagine the challenges they faced.
That led to a conversation about faith. How important it was. She spoke of her hope. Even now. Her hope for that day when Jesus would return and she would have a new body, without sickness, without pain. How comforting to know Jesus, raised from the dead, returning to bring her into his new creation. In a sense, Amy’s mother was right. “Hospice is no place for a child.“ But God knows that and so God sent his Spirit to guide the conversation. God used Marie to fill that room with hope. A hope that lives even in the face of death. Marie’s life became an instrument for righteousness. A revelation to Amy of hope that lives in the face of death. In a room filled with dying God used Marie to speak about a world filled with life.
As Christians, we confess that we are dead to sin and alive to Christ. And we present our bodies to God as instruments for righteousness. As you give yourselves over to Him, there’s no telling how God will unfold your part of His greater story—how He will work through you in this world. But we’ve been set free from sin and it’s old enslaving ways. We’ve been on that path before. We were on the path of sin and death when God first called us by the Gospel and brought us into His story. But now He’s set our feet on a path that leads to righteousness and life. The one destiny—that of death and separation from God—we had earned that. This new destiny—that of life and fellowship with God—it’s a free gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paid in full, given for free. True story! God’s Greater Story in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1.      In the coming weeks, we are going to read through the last chapters of the book of Romans, and our sermon series will focus on “God’s Greater Story.” Read the book of Romans through in one sitting (it should take less than one hour). What key themes do you pick up? What is Paul’s general message?
2.      What makes us lose sight of the fact that we are part of a story bigger than ourselves? What do we become focused on instead? How does that lead us to magnify our problems and difficulties? How does refocusing on God’s Greater Story help place things back into perspective?
3.      What does it mean that we’ve arrived “late in the story” or “plot” of God’s salvation history? How did the story begin? Genesis 1. What crisis developed in the beginning of humanity’s story? Genesis 3. How is Jesus Christ the climax of the plot and the resolution of the crisis?
4.      How did you enter the story? Romans 6:1-11. Was your entrance accidental, or when did God “write your part” into His “script”? Ephesians 1:3-6. How did you experience death and rebirth? Romans 6:3-13.
5.      How does Paul sum up the power of sin? How does he sum up the even greater power and love of God? Romans 5:12-21
6.      How does baptism reflect our new identity and place in God’s story? Romans 6. What can turn our attention from this mirror? James 1:22-25. How does Jesus’ forgiveness restore the image of who we are in Him, and in the baptismal waters of rebirth?
7.      What does this new identity set us free for in our new life lived after Him? God has a plan to use you and your life as “instruments for righteousness (Rom. 6:13). Pray that God would use you and lead you to follow His will and plan for your life.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Sermon on Genesis 1:1-2:4a, for Trinity Sunday, "It was very good."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—the God who by His almighty power and spoken word created the heavens and the earth! Amen. The Creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 is such a rich passage that we can only scratch the surface in a single sermon. It answers the deep questions of our existence, “How did we get here? And who are we?” The simplest answer is, God created us, and we are His creatures. To be a creature means that we were specially created by our Creator—we are not self-made, we are not accidents of nature, we are not eternal—we have a beginning and an end. That relationship of creature to our Creator is a very important one, and to scratch the surface of this reading, we’re going to reflect on what was “very good” about God’s original creation and mankind’s place in it, and what is very good about our relationship as creature to Creator. We’ll contrast that to what went wrong, and how God in Jesus came to restore the good in creation.
As God spoke all things into existence during that first week of creation, this pattern emerges as day by day, evening and morning, God creates, and then He surveys what He has created, and sees that it was good. After the sixth day of creation, when God has made His crowning work, man and woman, in His image, God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good. The careful organization of the days of creation show that God is a God of good order, of good planning, and finally the results of His work are good. There was nothing haphazard or unintentional about it, but God shaped the form or outline of creation in the first three days—the form of light and darkness, of sky and sea, of dry land and plants, and then in the next three days God supplied the fullness of creation. He filled in the outline with life and action. Sun, moon, and stars to sustain the light and darkness cycles, measuring times and seasons, birds and sea creatures to fill the sky and sea, and land animals and mankind to fill the dry land. And all that He made was filled with His goodness, care, and love—and man and woman above all else reflected Himself in His own image.
Why is it so very good and even necessary to relate to God on this level, as creatures—created beings—to our Creator? Take note that the first temptation to Adam and Eve involved a false promise to rise above their creaturely status—“when you eat this fruit, you will become like God,” they were told. But this was a lie. Despite our sinful desire to be in control, or to either reject God or to try to take His place (i.e. I make my own rules, answer to no one but myself, etc), we cannot change our status as creatures made by God. And that’s actually a really good thing, because it is with love and good intent that God made us, and placed certain limits on us to protect us. So to reject Him as Creator is to try to shut out His love and His care for us. Also, being a creature is actually a beautiful honor for us, because as one pastor put it, God enlists His creatures as “junior partners” to contribute to and share in His ongoing activity. So for example, in childbearing, we “procreate” with God, bringing forth new, unique life on earth.
Accountability is one big reason people reject God as Creator—simply because they don’t want to have to admit they are accountable to anyone. Life seems easier without accountability. However, tossing away accountability can make us very irresponsible and often selfish, as we are only concerned for ourselves, our own needs, and expectations. It can lead to hurt others. Cain threw aside accountability after he committed the first murder in human history, saying cynically, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is good and right, that part of our status as created beings, is to be accountable to God who made us, and understand and know what His expectations and commands of us are. Accountable to Him, God gave man and woman the positive role of stewards, or caretakers of His creation. To live accountably and care for God’s creation is hard work, but comes with great blessings and the reward of your labor, in all areas of life, from family life to career, from sports to the arts.
But we can’t even get this far in describing God’s plan for mankind, before realizing how far we’ve fallen from God’s original good design. Our “track record” is not one where we’re the scorekeepers and can fudge the numbers. Knowing God is Judge of all, does keep at least some of the more flagrant acts of sin in bounds. It helps to “curb” or “tame” the acts of open sin and rebellion against God. But it has not kept us from repeatedly breaking the rules and trying to change the score. Far from being happy as creatures, and living obedient and accountable lives to our Creator God, and serving Him and our neighbor as good stewards, humans have introduced every kind of sin and disorder into God’s creation. At every point that God has ordered and organized the creation for our good, we have seen fit to reorder or disorganize it. While the world as we see it today has remarkable beauty and countless wonders that bear the fingerprints and signature of our God’s designing hand—the world is also a far cry from the form and fullness that God originally made. From natural evils like disease, predation, and destructive weather, to moral evils like violence, hatred, selfishness, and lies, the world has long been plunged in the effects of our sin and rebellion. We find ourselves in a “wounded world” that we ourselves cannot heal—despite our best efforts. Having opened Pandora’s box, we cannot undo the damage we have done, least of all to ourselves. This is the work of sin, it is reaping what we have sown.
But thanks be to God that He loves His creation so much, and has invested so much into it! God witnessed the terrible state of affairs things had come to, and our human need. He alone is able to repair and heal the wounded world, and to cleanse the creation of all that is evil, broken, and sinful. And because He so loved the world, He sent His only begotten Son Jesus into the world, to take on human flesh into His divinity, and become one with the creation He had made. He bound Himself to the creation He had made. At the cross, Jesus assumed the burden of all the sin and evil that we were responsible for, as disobedient children, and He crucified and buried it, assuming the penalty of what we had done wrong. And with all sin and guilt bound to His death on the cross, He has cast our sins far away from us, into His tomb. By His victorious rising again, He has brought us back into right relationship with God—as creatures to our Creator—children of our Heavenly Father.

Now that we are redeemed, or purchased back for Him, He calls us His New Creation. He has begun His restoration in us. Being born again in Him of water and the Spirit, we have a future place in the home of righteousness, the home of all that is good. We anticipate the day, when this old, wounded, dying planet will pass away, with everything on it, and by the saving and cleansing work of Jesus Christ, we will be rescued out of it. Then by God’s almighty power He will create the New Heavens and the New Earth, that will again be very good. In that future glory, God in heaven will “make all things new”—free of the death, sorrow, and disease that fill the present creation. At the beginning of creation, what God had made was very good. Redeemed in Jesus and renewed by faith in Him—God is preparing us for the new day when everything will again be very good. Rejoice that God has not abandoned His creation, but loved it so deeply, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Note: This sermon was brief and underdeveloped, but there are many more themes that could be explored on the meaning of our status as creatures, especially, for example, that we were created for the worship of our Creator, which ties in with the Sabbath day, or 7th day of creation. The article "Back to the Beginning: Creation Shapes the Entire Story" by Charles Arand in the Spring 2014, Vol. 40 Number 2 edition of Concordia Journal gave some ideas. 

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

Note on the Athanasian Creed: The end of the creed makes reference to all people rising and giving an account concerning their deeds, and that those who’ve done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. Examine these Scripture passages that refer to the judgment: Matt. 12:35-37; 25:31-46; John 5:21-29, esp. 5:24, 29 & John 6:28-29; cf. Rom. 8:1. While works are examined in the final judgment, those who have “done good” by believing in Jesus are spared eternal judgment on account of Jesus’ righteous life.
  1. In Genesis 1, why do you suppose God’s evaluation of His work was “good” on each of the first five days, but “very good” after the completion of His creating work on day six? What was the creation like when God finished? How would “harmony” fit as a description of the relationships between God, humans, and among the living creatures?
  2. How does the creation show God’s planning, order, and design? How did days 1-3 create the “form” or outline of creation, and days 4-6 create the “fullness” of the creation?
  3. Though Adam is not explicitly given responsibility until the more detailed account of his creation, in Genesis 2:15-17, why was/is it good for mankind to be answerable to God, knowing His expectations for life in His created world, and being accountable to Him? Why do people want to reject that accountability? Rom. 1:18-25; 3:10-20; Luke 20:24-25
  4. How was evil, disorder, and rebellion introduced into God’s perfect creation? Genesis 3. How have we been adding to that since? Romans 3:10-29. How does it affect our understanding of our predicament? 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Mark 16:14.
  5. How did God invest His love and effort into restoring the ruined creation? What did it cost Him? John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-12. What is the future goal and completion of Jesus’ redemption of creation, and how will it again be very good? What will be our place in it? Revelation 21:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 3:11-13. 

Monday, June 09, 2014

Sermon on Acts 2:1-21, for the Festival of Pentecost, "The Spirit's Harvest"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we celebrate the festival of Pentecost, which began as an Old Testament festival of harvest. While we might think of autumn as the time for harvest, the festival of Pentecost marked the ending of the late spring barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest, as these grains were the first crops to bear fruit, and people were to give their first and best as offerings to the Lord.
Today we don’t pattern our lives so much by the cycles of planting and harvesting, of summer and winter. Especially here in Hawaii, where produce can be grown year-round; especially in our modern age of international food markets and grocery stores, where you can get tomatoes or apples or just about anything else, almost any time of year. We notice some local fruits or vegetables are best “in season,” but unless you watch carefully, you probably don’t notice much about those seasonal cycles. And with food coming in from all over the world, we are shielded from the full effects of drought, famine, and pestilence, all which devastate farmers, especially in the ancient world, who were so dependent on local conditions and their prospects for getting their daily food.
But if farming and harvest themes seem distant to us today, they’re all over the Bible. In the reading from Acts, we hear of Jews and proselytes (full converts to Judaism), traveling from great distances from where they lived in other countries around the Middle East and the Mediterranean, to attend the annual festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem. With slower forms of travel, this was a major trip. But they had no idea that at this year’s harvest festival they would be the harvest that was coming in.
As Jews living in foreign countries, they still knew the Old Testament, they knew the promises of the Messiah or Christ, and they still hoped for the deliverance of the Lord. But what a surprise when they saw the signs of the Spirit and heard the message that the Messiah had finally come, Jesus Christ! This Pentecost would be the Spirit’s Harvest, as people coming to celebrate their grain harvest would rejoice that God had harvested them as new disciples of His Anointed One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And they heard it through the miracle of tongues, as Jesus’ apostles spoke in words that all of them could understand! In their native language, they heard the apostles of Jesus telling “the mighty works of God.”
When they begin to ask each other what this all means, Peter speaks up and quotes from the prophet Joel, that this was to fulfill God’s prophecy that in the last days He would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. The book of Joel is about harvests. It describes a time when Israel’s harvest was devastated by a drought and a locust plague. Locusts were swarms of billions of insects that would devour every living plant in sight, leaving people in a terrible food crisis. The prophet called the people to repent of their sins, to weep, and humble their hearts before God, so that He would relent from the disaster, restore and bless them. Joel called on the people to return to the Lord God, who is gracious and merciful, and hope in His deliverance. And in the midst of Joel’s promises of God’s restoration and compassion on His people, God promises to pour out the Spirit in the last days. These promises were above and beyond the restoration from the destruction of the locusts. These promises gave them a great new hope, and made the people watch for a coming spiritual harvest—the harvest that came on that Pentecost.
We too, must be watchful for the harvest, and the words of Joel and Peter speak true to us this Pentecost 2014, just as much as they did 2,000 years ago to that crowd, or some 2,800 years ago to Joel’s hearers. While our lives may not depend on paying attention to harvest cycles—our lives do depend on paying attention to God’s harvest cycle. It’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t come with changing temperatures or colors in the fall; but Jesus used the language of signs and seasons and harvest to remind us of God’s spiritual harvest, just like Joel did. He said there were other signs that would signal God’s harvest. That harvest is a two-sided coin. On the one side is judgment for unrepentance and sin, or for being enemies of God—and on the other side is salvation or deliverance for those who have turned to God, and are His people. Joel, Jesus, and Peter all held out the same message and promise—that if we call on the name of the Lord, we will be saved. But Jesus Himself was that promised Messiah to whom Joel and Peter were both pointing.
The great harvest will be that Day of the Lord, that day of judgment, when those who believe in Jesus will be gathered like wheat into God’s barn (i.e. heaven), and the chaff, the empty hulls of the wheat, will be burned in unquenchable fire. One side of the coin is frightening for those who do not turn back to the Lord, but the other side of the coin is great hope and comfort for those who are saved. The festival of Pentecost was a celebration, full of rejoicing. It was a day to remember the blessings of the Lord, and to live in the anticipation of the future blessings of the Lord. So for the Christian, we rejoice to call on the name of the Lord Jesus, and know that in Him we are saved. In Him we are prepared for the joy of the harvest, for the gathering into the barn, for the rescue from our sins, from death, and from the fear of our enemies. In Him we live in the One who endured the judgment for our sins and suffered death, so that He might bring us safely through that future judgment into His blessed life.
Jesus compared Himself and His death on the cross to a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, but then bears much fruit (John 12:24). Harvesting can’t happen unless seeds are planted and die; so also in the Spirit’s harvest, there is much planting to be done first. This happens whenever we plant “Gospel seeds” in the ears and hearts of those who hear the good news about Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection scatters many Gospel seeds as it bears fruit in the hearts of all who believe in Him. The crowd in our reading were ripe for the harvest because they had been brought up in the Old Testament faith, and just needed to hear about the promises coming true in Jesus. But for missionaries and for many of our churches today who meet people who have never heard at all, we may be looking at unplanted soil, instead of grain that is nearly ripe. Individually, people may be at all the various stages of spiritual growth, from soil that has not yet received the seed, to a mature Christian who is at the end of their life, ready to be harvested into eternal life, as a seed dying and giving birth to a new life.
But whatever the stage of growth, wherever the individual is, Jesus’ life and His Spirit are the life, energy, and spiritual growth of the Christian. When we call on the name of the Lord, and are saved, it is Jesus who answers. Jesus who saves. Jesus who hears our cries of repentance, of our sorrow for our sins, and our cry for God’s mercy. It is Jesus who turns our sorrow into joy and gladness by the forgiveness of our sins. It is Jesus who answers our cry for mercy with the promise that our sins have been taken away. And as we live and grow in faith in Jesus Christ, His Spirit pours life-giving gifts into us. Gifts of faith, hope, and love.
But the prophecy from Joel says that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Do you prophesy? Prophecy makes us think of telling the future. But prophets, even Joel, spoke about present day events, explaining them in the Light of God’s Word. So can you, as male and female servants of the Lord, do either? Can you tell the future, or can you explain the present in the Light of God’s Word? We do, in a sense, when we simply tell what God’s Word says. We can see our life, our trials and sufferings in light of God’s Word, declaring that God is testing us, that He is patiently preparing us for the harvest as He continues to call people to repentance. We can declare the future, when we confess with the Creed that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. We can be confident of the hope of eternal life. In this way, each Christian can prophesy. We know what is in store for believers in Christ.
But what about the more specific sense of speaking direct messages and revelations from God? The Apostle Paul writes in the letter to the Corinthians that different members of the body of Christ receive different gifts, and that prophecy is one of them. But he says we should “earnestly seek the higher gifts”—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. He also says, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). However we understand those words of Joel and Peter on Pentecost, about prophecy, visions, and dreams—and it is somewhat mysterious—we can be certain that the Holy Spirit is real and active, and that He gives gifts to men because Jesus is risen to glory, and that among these gifts, the greatest are faith, hope, and love.
But until the partial passes away, and until we see face to face, we can simply celebrate each Pentecost as a continual harvest. The harvest of the Holy Spirit who has sown the seeds of God’s Word in our hearts, and who gathers us into salvation through Jesus Christ as we believe in Him. And we can look forward in hope to the final harvest, when believers are gathered like wheat into God’s barn, which means eternal life. To Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be all the praise and glory, Amen.


Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com


  1. Pentecost, the “Feast of Weeks” or “Festival of Harvest” is actually an Old Testament celebration. Ex. 34:22; Deut 16:10; Num 28:26; Ex. 23:16a. Pilgrims would gather in Jerusalem, and on Pentecost morning, a flute player would lead the farmers up Mount Zion as they sang the “Song of Ascents” (Psalm 120-36). When they reached the temple, the farmers would present a basket of grain as an offering while reciting the words from Deuteronomy 26:5-10a in Hebrew. (The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 1835).
  2. How would your life be affected if your food supply was only sustained by the local harvest, and how the related weather and pest conditions impacted local agriculture? Would it change your attitude toward God and prayer? Read the short book of Joel, and how it describes the drought and locust plague, and its effect on the nation of Israel. Joel 1:4, 10-12. What does the prophet urge the people to do in response? Joel 1:13-14; 2:12-14. How does he promise God will respond? Joel 2:19-32.
  3. In Joel, but also in Jesus’ descriptions, judgment and salvation are two sides of the same coin. How are the people of God delivered? How do the unrepentant and the enemies of God perish? How does this relate to harvest themes? Luke 3:16-17; 10:2.
  4. How does Jesus compare the reading of seasonal and harvest signs to understanding the timing of God’s judgment and salvation? Matthew 24:32-44; John 4:35-38. Since God’s “harvest” is not on the calendar, how do we watch for and prepare for it? How is the timing different from what we would anticipate?
  5. How was the first Christian Pentecost itself a harvest? How were the Jews who were gathered that day for the Old Testament harvest festival primed and ready for the message that Peter proclaimed to them, about Jesus Christ? How were they “ripe for the harvest?”
  6. What were the visible effects of the Holy Spirit bringing in this harvest? How do we end up on the salvation side of the harvest? Acts 2:21. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Sermon on 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, "The Christian on Trial"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Last week we heard in 1 Peter 3 about the Christian living their life with good conscience, despite persecution and opposition for their faith. The theme continues in today’s reading. We’ve talked before this year about how we don’t experience persecution anywhere on the order of how millions of Christians in foreign countries do today, or early Christians. Yet Peter almost took it for granted that persecution was a basic reality of Christian life. Our reading opens with, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” This challenges us to consider why we don’t experience more persecution. Is it because we enjoy a period of relative peace in our country? Or do we see warning signs that the “goodwill” toward Christianity is fading in society? Or does it tell us we aren’t speaking up or witnessing boldly enough, about Jesus Christ? In other words, if we were witnessing as boldly as the early Christians, would we face more persecution?
However you answer those questions, one thing is for certain, that the Christian is always on trial. Of course “trial” can mean both sufferings and temptations that challenge our faith, and it can also make us think of judgment and courtrooms. And the Christian is always on trial in both of these ways—and the great comfort we have, as Peter tells us, is that we’re not on trial alone. Jesus is on trial with us. What do I mean? We can “rejoice insofar as [we] share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” Jesus said that the world would treat us the same way it treated Him—which is why Peter can tell us it’s no surprise to experience hardship or trial for the faith. 
But we’re also “on trial” in that people will always scrutinize the life, behavior, and words of Christians—whether they perceive we are genuine, sincere, hypocritical, intolerant, loving or unloving, or whatever other judgments they might make. While it’s not on the level of persecution experienced elsewhere in the world, there is at the very least, an increasing amount of scorn, ridicule, or antagonism toward Christianity. The temptation for Christians is to become “wallflowers”—to blend in with the culture, or be the neatly trimmed blades of grass that don’t stick out among the rest.  A temptation to quiet our witness or avoid challenges to our faith.
But this is no solution for the Christian. However much we don’t want to be visible in the “court of public opinion”— we cannot forget that ultimately it is only God’s court that matters. Whatever judgments—true or false, deserved or undeserved—are made by men, God’s ruling is the only final verdict. Our reading from 1 Peter today helps us as Christians to put aside fear of suffering for our faith and the fear of whatever man can do to us. He reminds us that suffering as a Christian is not the same as suffering for our own evildoing. And finally Peter reminds us in all circumstances to entrust ourselves to God’s mercy and care, knowing that He will carry us through suffering to His glory. “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6). So then we must stand up and give a good witness to Jesus Christ, even if we’re falsely slandered, and we must be unafraid to face the difficult questions of our day with the Word of God and the compassion of Christ.
It’s one thing to be insulted for the name of Jesus, or to suffer for His sake, and another thing altogether for us to be insulted or suffer for our own sins. Peter says, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler” It’s obvious why Christians must not engage in criminal offenses like murder or theft—but Peter expands it out to all evildoing. Don’t think that you are suffering for being a Christian, if you are bearing the consequences of your bad choices or sinful actions. If that’s the case, we must shoulder the responsibility and confess our sins to God, and if possible, do what we can to make things right. Zaccheus the tax collector did this when he repaid the people he cheated, after becoming a disciple of Jesus. People in the book of Acts who had practiced sorcery did this when they burned their books to put aside their former sinful way of life. We likewise may have consequences to deal with in our life, and facing them is not suffering for being a Christian—but it does involve a duty to do what’s right.
The last one Peter mentions, is being a meddler. The Greek word gives the idea of busying yourself or interfering with someone else’s affairs or responsibilities—as though we are supervising or overseeing something that’s not ours. To avoid the sin of “meddling” then, should require us to know where our own responsibility (or “kuleana” in Hawaiian) lies, and what is somebody else’s. In St. Paul’s letters, he addresses this issue several times, once urging the brothers “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12), and in other places warning about idleness that leads to gossip. Jesus Himself once refused to involve Himself in settling an inheritance dispute, but instead warned about the danger of a love for money and material things (Luke 12:13-21).
But this cannot be used as an excuse for inaction or neglecting to do good when we ought to, by always saying, “it’s not my business.” This happened in the story of the Good Samaritan, where a priest and a Levite walked by the injured man on the roadside, and did nothing to help. The Good Samaritan did not excuse himself from helping, on the grounds that it wasn’t his responsibility, but saw that help was needed and gave it. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus did something similar, when they bravely stepped forward to request the body of Jesus, so they could give Him and honorable burial, after His death on the cross. Avoiding meddling means we should not interfere where responsibility belongs to someone else, or our help isn’t wanted—but it doesn’t mean we can become passive and not step up when help is needed, or no one is taking responsibility. Or when the helpless, voiceless, or defenseless need our love and aid.
Peter goes on to say that “it is time for judgment to begin with at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” Then he quotes, in some variation, Proverbs 11:31, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So the Christian is on trial, and it’s God’s judgment that ultimately matters—and judgment begins with us! That sounds like a frightening prospect. What is Peter getting at? Taken together with other passages in the Bible (i.e. Hebrews 12), we can understand our present sufferings, trials, and even persecutions as God’s discipline or judgment on us now. It trains us for righteousness, it exercises and strengthens our faith, it turns us away from self-dependence to dependence on God. But whoever hears Jesus’ words and believes in the Father, do not come into judgment, but passes from death to life (John 5:24).
Christians will face hardship and suffering, and this present trial is preparing us for the future glory—but we can’t say the same “for those who do not obey the gospel of God”. When Peter quotes, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinner?”, are we to picture the Christian is constantly teetering on the brink of destruction or of losing their faith? On the one hand, we should take seriously the warning, “If anyone thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12)—so we don’t become proud or complacent, and ignore the dangers to our faith. On the other hand, Scripture resoundingly bears witness that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. So if the righteous are “scarcely saved”—we should think of that “scarcely” not in terms of God being stingy—but in terms of the “narrow gate” through which we are saved, and the contrasting broad path to destruction (Luke 13:24). Or we can remember that there is scarcely a difference between us and those who are not saved—it’s not as though we are more deserving than them—Scripture is clear that our universal guilt is measured the same. But rather it is only by the mercy of  God that any of us are saved.
So the following words are all the more vivid—“therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” We should never mistake God’s faithfulness and His love for us—and we can have absolute confidence to entrust our souls to Him. And if we do so, we face our trials and hardships with the confident trust that we are doing so with Christ Jesus, and that just as God brought Him faithfully through the cross and resurrection, so also He will exalt us in due time, if we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. We can be like Job, accepting the sufferings we now experience, trusting that God will ultimately work good from all things.
This gives the Christian the great freedom to cast all our anxieties on Him because He cares for us. Stop doubting that God is big enough to handle your worries and troubles! He’s got the biggest shoulders and the mightiest hand—so our cares and worries that terrify and frighten us are nothing to Him. Since God is in control—what are you worrying for? Peter doesn’t let this turn into a sleepy, unguarded security, however, when he warns us to watch out for that devil, the prowling lion, seeking whom he can devour. As an adversary, the devil will do everything to sling accusations and slander against Christians, to discourage and demoralize us, or to get us to shrink back from speaking God’s life-giving word. But His powers are limited, and he’s a chained lion, as Revelation tells us, so we don’t need to fear him if we stay out of his circle of influence. Should it surprise us then, that Peter tells us to “resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world?” Does it surprise you to know that we can resist him? We resist Him because God fights on our side—or rather, we are on God’s side when we are in the faith.
Fight against the devil and his accusations with the Word of God that speaks good news to your heart. When the devil turns your sins against you to drive you to despair, confess those sins to God, repenting, and clinging to the Word of forgiveness that Jesus speaks to sinners. Our confidence through the trials of the Christian life is that we suffer together with Jesus who suffered for us. And while we sometimes need to be disciplined or corrected because of our sins, He lived a sinless, spotless life for us. While we are often not deserving of a good judgment in our trials, Jesus fully deserved the verdict of innocence, of righteousness. And He shares that verdict with you by faith! After you have suffered these trials, “the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  The confidence of the Christian is that the outcome of our trial will not be as we deserved for our sin—but it will be as Jesus deserved for His righteousness. The outcome of the Christian’s life is to be delivered from our judgment into eternal glory, just as Jesus was delivered from death to His resurrection and then to His eternal glory.
God will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. The trials of this life take a toll on the Christian. We are not invulnerable, we are not superhuman. We feel the pain and weakness of our mortality and our sinful natures. We hurt from the slander and the scorn of men. We suffer under the crosses that God in His wisdom allows us to bear. But ours is a faithful Creator; ours is a loving God. “13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust”  (Psalm 103:13–14). And so God will restore us for whatever we have endured; He will confirm and strengthen our faith so that we stand firmly established on Him. Jesus Christ endured the real suffering on the cross, the righteous for the unrighteous. And He did so to deliver us into His eternal glory. In the last analysis, the Christian doesn’t fear  that they are on trial, because whatever we endure in this life, we know God’s final verdict in advance, that God makes us innocent by faith in Jesus Christ. And with the same verdict as Him, we can sing praise, “to Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen!”




Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Last week we read in 1 Peter 3 about keeping a good conscience as you suffer as a Christian and bear witness to Christ. In 1 Peter 4, what does Peter identify as the legitimate grounds for suffering as a Christian? What does not qualify as suffering as a Christian?
2.      In 1 Peter 4:15, Peter coins a word, translated “meddler.” The word gives the image of overseeing or supervising someone else’s affairs, not your own. What does the Scripture have to say against “meddling” in someone else’s business, or interfering with someone else’s responsibility? Luke 12:13-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13. By contrast, what about these examples keeps us from being passive under the guise of “minding our own business?” Luke 10:29-37; 23:50-53; Prov. 31:8-9.  How do we recognize when we are “meddling” or “interfering” and when we ought to take action or responsibility out of love and concern?
3.      Why does “judgment begin at the household of God?” See Amos 3:1-2; (Psalm 147:19-20); Jeremiah 25:29. 1 Peter 4:18 quotes Proverbs 11:31, though Peter quotes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Both translations, however, come to the same conclusion, that if the righteous even suffer, how much more fearful the fate of the ungodly and sinner. What does Peter remind us about when he says the righteous are scarcely saved? Cf. Luke 13:24; 2 Timothy 1:9. How are we elsewhere reassured of the abundance of God’s mercy? Romans 5:17
4.      Why is humility an indispensable characteristic for Christians? How does a Christian set aside worry? 1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 6:25-34. What is remarkable about the fact that Christians are told they can resist the devil? By whose strength and power do we do so? Last week we sang this hymn verse in defiance to the devil: Satan here this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled. And against your tyranny, God, my Lord unites with me! (LSB 594:3). How does Christ restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us, after and through trials?