1 Peter 4:7-11
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The Christian then walks by faith and not by sight. Christian faith is a belief not in facts that see with our own eyes, but in an interpretation of those facts given by God. It is an historical fact established by multiple witnesses inside the Bible and outside of it, friendly and hostile, that Jesus did miraculous things. It is an historical fact established by the same witnesses that this man rose from dead. But what does it mean?
It means that He is God. That He has rescued human kind from Adam’s sin. That sin is vanquished, death is defeated and reversed, and salvation is won. This is the Christian faith. This is the Christian interpretation of those facts of history. More than that we hear from Him that His resurrection means that the end of all things has come near. It is upon us. But it has been here for 2000 years which seems like a long final chapter. Why is God still waiting, tarrying, putting off drawing all things to a close?
I don’t know the full answer to that. Only God the Father knows. In His wisdom He sees fit to continue this world. We do know that He is waiting till the full number of souls He has chosen has come into His kingdom (Romans 11:25-26; Revelation 6:11). Thus if He has not drawn everything to its conclusion, it is because He has yet more people to call unto Himself through the marvelous word of Christ’s victory over death.
This is why we are still here. So that more will be saved. So that His Holy name will be exalted and vindicated in all the earth. He vindicates His name by calling people everywhere to faith. But in the meantime, if we are still here, if the end is upon us and could come any day, it is for one purpose: to give witness to not just to the facts of Our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, but especially to what that means for humanity, and each one individually. We are here so that others might also believe it and have life in His name!
Our Lord tells His Twelve Apostles that they will be His witnesses, or martyria in Greek, from which we get our English word, martyr. To be a Christian witness infers that you will suffer, even die for what you give testimony to just as so many Christian through the ages and even now suffer. Because of this suffering, which is the lot of the Christian Church, today’s Gospel and Epistle do not talk about how must live toward the world we witness to, but toward other believers who, like us, will suffer for their faith and its witness.
The Twelve Apostles were His divinely authorized witnesses whose job it was to declare all they had seen from the beginning of His ministry. That is why the New Testament books were written either by these Twelve men, or under their authority (St. Paul being a special case whose direct calling from Jesus was recognized and accepted by the Church as an extraordinary case, Acts 9:1-30; Galatians 2:1-2, 6-7). If you have ever wondered how we got the books of the New Testament, as in, how did the Church know which books to add to the Bible, it was books that everyone in the Church knew were written by these Twelve Apostles, such as Matthew or John, or by someone who was recording their eyewitness like Mark or Luke.
So why does Jesus not say, “Here is a top 10 list of ways to be a really good evangelist?” It is because converting unbelieving hearts is the Holy Spirit’s work not ours. Special techniques will not do it. His Word does it. You and I must simply believe His message and repeat His message. He does the rest through His Spirit.
Instead of how to evangelize people He gives instructions of how to treat them ONCE they have believed in Him. First off, be clear headed, sober, not given to drunkeness either by liquor or by fanciful thinking. Do not get caught up in the world’s trends and fads. Keep your mind clear of that. That takes discipline. Sometimes you may find you need to disengage from the world a bit now and again. Many of you comment that you are listening to the news less and less. For some of you that will help you keep clearer minded. But whether you must chose not to read certain books or magazines, or not do certain activities because it influences you away from Our Lord, all of us stay clear minded by abiding in His Word. We abide in His Word by attending Church regularly, by having a regular devotional practice, or daily Bible readings, by memorizing and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Do you know any Bible verses, hymns, or sections of the Catechism off by heart? If not maybe you should. It would be a blessing to you.
We do all of this for one purpose: so the sake of our prayers. So they do not falter, and so we know better what to ask for. For when get intoxicated with the world we forget to pray at all. Or we pray for the things the world thinks God should care about, not what He actually cares about.
The second thing St. James counsels is to have a high regard or esteem for each other in Christ, just as God has for you in Christ. Why? Because these are God’s chosen ones. They are your eternal brothers and sisters in His family. Also, because love covers a multitude of sins. If we are indeed a family we spend time together, now and in eternity. Here on earth that means we are going to rub each other the wrong way. We are going to sin against each other. We will hurt each other. We are fallen humans. It will happen. Thus, we must love each other. We must put up with each other. We must assume the best of each other and not ascribe the worst motivations to each others’ actions. This kind of love, real love, covers over many sins. Such love does not remember those sins or hold grudges. You cut someone a lot of slack when you love them. But when you do not love them you pay attention to and count every little flaw in them. You can list them off, and often repeat to yourself every supposed slight they have given you.
Of course, commanding you to love someone will not actually enable you to do it. Such a command does not change the wrongs that have been done, the hurts you have felt, the resentments that you harbour. As a Christian you know it is wrong to harbour such anger and hatred toward others. So repent. For you are already forgiven. You are your Father’s beloved child as are they. Whether you like it or not they are your family. If you do not love them, if do not hold them in high regard, repent. Love them by praying for them. If you do not love them simply because they are unfamiliar to you then show hospitality to them. The word “hospitality” in the Bible is literally “to love a stranger”. Many people in these pews may be strangers to you. And we are called to love the brother in Christ who is a stranger, to open our homes and our hearts to them, to be hospitable.
For each of you has received salvation. They say blood is thicker than water, but in Christ you have a bond that transcends even family blood bonds for it is forged in His blood, strengthen by the water of His baptism. And with your salvation you have received gifts of grace, abilities, strengths, passions, whatever you call them, apportioned to each of us in different ways. They are given so that we may love and support each other. For it is not easy being a Christian.
The Twelve Apostles were told, “Your fellow Jews, your fellow believers in God, fellow men of faith who long for the Messiah will cast you out of their midst. They will take your name off the church membership rolls. They will excommunicate you and treat you abominably. They will call you wicked and evil for the sake of Christ.” If that is what they would lose for the sake of Christ and His salvation, what are you going to be called to lose?
For each of us it will be different. Our circumstances are not all the same. But we must love each other as we suffer together. Because the world will not do it. We are all each other has in a world that hates Christ Jesus. He has given us to each other to get us through and take as many more with us as we can with us. And He has given us His Holy Spirit. So do not despair. Your life will be tough. But your Saviour knows. He has sent His own Spirit to give you life, strength, endurance. He has already won your eternal salvation and is working through you to give the same salvation to others.
For Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON