15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
2 Thessalonians 2:15-17
Daniel held it in his hands.
An edict. Signed by the King. “No man was to pray to any god or man, other than the king. The penalty for breaking this law? A night in a den filled with hungry lions.”
It was scary. What was Daniel to do? Would he abandon his God? Would he change his traditions? Would he break the very first commandment that his mother had taught him, “You shall have no other gods,” and worship the king? If he didn’t, he would certainly die. The deal had been sealed with the king’s ring. It was irrepealable.
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Luther held it in his hands.
A demand had been made by the Holy Roman Emperor. “Recant your writings or you will be excommunicated. You will not be in the church. You will be rejected. Your writings burned, and with the power of the state in our corner, you will be an outlaw. Arrested. Convicted."
What should he do? Should he go against his conscience? Should he go against God’s Word? If he didn’t, he would face imprisonment…or worse…death! It wasn’t unlike the Emperor to have heretics burned at the stake. Should he suffer the same fate?
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Have you held it in your hands too?
Maybe it’s on an iPhone. Maybe it’s the headline of a newspaper: The definition of marriage has been changed. Evolution is preached as fact. Mentioning Jesus in a grade school can get you into more trouble than dropping an F bomb. Your friends storm any Facebook message mentioning Jesus, call you an ‘idiot’, and threaten to UNFRIEND you.
What should you do? You know the Bible. You know what it says. You know what this cross up here means. But if you hold on to it, you could be ridiculed, mocked, unfriended, even despised! The more transparent you are about your faith in today’s society, the more it will change your life – and not for the better!
What should you hold on to: Your life or God’s Word?
Before you make a decision, because I’m sure you’ve heard the world’s opinion on what you should do already. Could you take 10 minutes and consider what God’s would have you do? He created you. He died for you. It may be worth a look to see what the One who loves you more than anything would have you do.
Take a look at 2 Thessalonians 2 and hear God out as to why you should hold on to His Word. It says, “Brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
Now you might say, “God wants me to do that? That’s a little strong. Isn’t the author Paul? Wasn’t Paul a man? Isn’t he just recommending that we hold on to his teachings? How is that teaching special? Why should I hold on to it? Why is it any more special than Gandhi's or Buddha's?”
It’s like trying to figure out whose word to trust more: Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis. My mail tells me that Thom Tillis hates kids. And I believe it. Until I read the next piece of mail that tells me Kay Hagan hates kids.
How are you supposed to know?
In the same vein, what makes Paul’s teachings and the teachings of the Bible so important that I should hold on to them?
Do you know who the main figure in the Bible is? It’s Jesus. Remember last week, many struggled with why they should trust Jesus. But Jesus was not short of reasons to do so:
Give me some reasons not to trust Jesus and I’ll give you hundreds more to trust him. (Or just one really good one!) Jesus was God! No one else ever did the things he did. No one else ever taught the things he did. And what he taught is recorded in this book. It is God’s Word.
God’s Word backs up it’s claims for truth with divine miracles of incredible proportions and thousands of witnesses to the works of the central figure of it’s story: Jesus Christ. Why would you doubt it? Why not believe? Hold on to His Word!
Of course, it’s very easy for us to misread this passage. It’s easy for our sinful mind to warp God’s command here and make us think we are holding onto God’s Word, when we are really holding onto something else entirely. Here are just a few of the pitfalls:
1) Your Desires. This is a common sentiment into the world today. “God loves you. He couldn’t possibly ask you to do anything that would make you feel bad. So anytime you see the Bible telling you to do something different than what makes you feel good, just ignore it."
But defining truth by your desires is a terrible way to define truth:
Think of your kids. On Halloween, did they stay up late on Halloween night? Maybe you were on a candy rush and watching It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on the TV. When you looked at them and the clock that said “two hours past normal bedtime,” plus the whiny voice that they had, did you say, “They can’t be tired, because they told me they didn’t feel tired.”
Or try this. Take a look at the color shirt you are wearing. Say you think that it’s white. Now ask your coworker what color he thinks it is. If he says, “hot pink” is he wrong? What if he says, “green with yellow polka dots.” If he feels that’s the color, does that mean that is the color it is?
Of course not.
Feelings and desires are not truth. Not in mundane things like colors of clothing. Certainly they aren’t Divine Truth either. So stop holding to your own desires instead of God’s Word.
This is a second things we substitute into 2 Thessalonians 2. We love to “hold on to tradition.” This was a huge problem in the Catholic church at Luther’s time. They valued tradition over God’s Word. Tradition was that whatever the Pope said was truth. What the pope said was that you could literally buy your way out of purgatory and into forgiveness, even while you provided the church with a good way to make some money and build a brand new facility.
But tradition is not always God’s Word.
Of course, this isn’t just a 16th century problem. It has modern applications. We need to be careful that we don’t say,
§ “I go to church, because I always have; not because I think it’s true.”
§ “I’m Catholic because my family is, I know they don’t teach God’s Word, but I don’t want to abandon tradition.
§ “I can’t go to church to learn God’s Word, because traditionally I sleep or I work on Sundays.”
Tradition is not truth. It’s not even divine truth. So don’t hold onto it like it is!
3) Your Desires Disguised as Tradition.
Sometimes the last two combine in our minds to produce a brand new thing to hold on to. This happens especially among long time church goers. We like to hold onto desires disguised as tradition. For example,
“That’s not the right size of cookie to serve after church. I don’t like it. I’ll tell that person: You can’t serve that.”
“That’s not my favorite kind of music to hear in church. It must be from the devil.”
“That’s not the normal way of filling out a council report. I need to give that newbie a piece of my mind so they never do it again.”
Isn’t it interesting? We get angry and upset with a fellow, active church member for serving in the church in a slightly different way than we’re used to, but when a relative or friend is openly living in sin against God’s Word, we think, “No big deal. That’s just the way this world is.”
How sad. Again: your desires disguised as tradition are not God’s Word!
4) Your Pride.
This leads to the most dangerous substitution. In fact, this one is related to the other three. It is the foundation of the other three. Pride.
Humans love to hold on to pride. It was the problem for the king who told everyone to bow down to him. It was the problem for the church at the time of the Reformation. They didn’t want to hear what God’s Word said about them. They didn’t want to hear that they were sinners. They didn’t want to hear that their good works were nothing before God. They didn’t want to hear that God demanded perfection and couldn’t be bought back with a few dollars to the visible church leaders.
This is the same dangerous thinking that can attack you today:
“I don’t need Jesus. I’m a pretty good person on my own and I’m sure God’s cool with me.”
“I don’t need to repent, this sin isn’t that bad and even if it is, I’ve done plenty of other things good in my life to make up for it.”
“I can’t turn to the Bible for salvation. I never have before and I don’t want to admit that I’m wrong. Mostly because I’m never wrong.”
But your pride isn’t God’s Word. In fact, it is only in the way of God’s Word. It’s the very thing that God’s Word doesn’t want you to hold on to at all. Because pride says you can save yourself. Pride says that’s traditionally how I’ve thought. Pride says I desire to be able to save myself, so it must be truth.
But God says differently. If you hold to your desires, tradition or pride over against God’s Word, that doesn’t make it truth!
It just makes God angry.
Imagine for a moment facing God at the end of your life. What will you say to him for all of those times that you totally and completely disobeyed him and went against him because you didn’t feel like it or you didn’t think you needed to listen?
I don’t want to find out either.
So listen again to 2 Thessalonians 2: Hold on to God’s Word.
II. Why Hold on to the Word?
At my home up in my top dresser drawer is a little chest. Inside this chest, is a little tie tack. It is a tad tarnished. There’s a picture of a Ford truck on it. It isn’t worth all that much money on eBay. I have shinier looking tie tacks and more modern looking ways to wear my tie. Why do I hold on to it?
It came from someone special. My grandpa. Maybe you have something similar. Something special because it was given by someone special.
This is the first reason to hold on to God’s Word. Because it comes from God! Verse 16 says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father…gave this.” They gave you his Word. It is a gift from the divine, incredible, world making, universe shaking, Creator of the universe to you, came down to do die on the cross, so you wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell, God given to you!
Why would you throw it away as a tarnished relic that holds no value in modern society? Instead hold on to it as it actually is: A divine book of love written to you by your Father above! In this book he gives you the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. He gives you his life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of peace with God.
Verse 16 adds to the benefits: “God… gave us eternal encouragement.” Eternal means unending. It means that it always lasts.
Now your desires may change. Punk Rock may no longer be your favorite type of music to listen to and your favorite kind of Dorito might change from Nacho Cheese to Cool Ranch.
Same thing with traditions. It probably takes only one year of not finding the Pickle on the Christmas tree for you to forget all about it.
And pride only lasts as long as you are foolish enough to believe it. You can be proud that you are so good at basketball until you try out for the high school team and get cut. Then, your pride is gone.
But God’s Word? That lasts forever.
Think about it. If you open Colossians 2:13 in your Bibles, it will still say, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins."
Ok close it. If you open up today after you read an article online about how the Bible isn’t true, God’s Word will still say, "Christ died for sin." If you get addicted to a sin, but then stumble upon it months from now it still says, “Christ died for sin.” If you ignore God’s Word for years, but after lots of goading and ‘pestering’ you join us at church and the pastor just happens to be preaching on this passage, it will still say, “Christ died for sin.” If all the Bibles in America were destroyed, but a friend came to you in a conversation at night and said, “Christ died for your sin,” it’d still be true!
Because God’s Word is forever. Put your hope in it. Hold on to it!
It will provide you with “Good hope.” Because without the Word of God, what would your hope be?
“I hope to have a family and get a good job…until I die then maybe I’ll impress God with my life. I don’t know. I hope. I think. I’m not sure. I hope God isn’t real because then I’m in trouble and I hope hell doesn’t hurt all that bad.”
That’s hope? Not so much. Not when compared to the true and real hope that God’s Word gives us. It’s nothing compared to the good hope of forgiveness that the prophets promise you when it says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds you are healed” (Isaiah 53:5-6). It’s hope of eternal salvation from your sins when God’s Word says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life!” (Jn. 3:16) It’s the hope that comes from Jesus’ promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it weren’t so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And then I will come back to take you there with me.”
Finally, this eternal encouragement and good hope strengthens our hearts – which in turn – strengthens you in every good deeds and word.
Let’s go back to Daniel. Know what happened to him? He went to his room and prayed like always. He didn’t care if he was thrown into the Lion’s Den. He held on to God’s Word. God kept him safe through the night and he brought the good news of our saving God to the King! He’s in heaven now.
Know what happened to Martin Luther? He came back the next day and confessed, “It is not wise to go against God. So…here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.” God kept him safe for a long period of time and Luther brought the saving news of God’s grace to many people! He’s in heaven now.
Know what will happen to you? If you hold on to God’s Word, you will find comfort. You will hear of the awesome power of God. You will hear of your Savior's dying love for you. You will be reminded of your God who died but then rose from the dead for you!
Besides. All this talk about having to give up your life to hold on to God's Word is a misnomer.
Jesus said, "I am the Life. Whoever believes in me, will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die." (Jn. 11:25-26)
Because, when you hold on to God’s Word, the truth is, God is holding on to you. Amen.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
1 Peter 5:8-14
Over this Pentecost season, we’ve been in the book of 1 Peter. We’ve learned what it is to be People of God. Strangers on this earth. Heirs of heaven. Holy in God’s sight and imperishable. Hungry for God and revelling in being chosen by Him! People of God serve as citizens, employees, and spouses. They are saved, but remain clear minded through suffering always remembering you are in this together!
It’s nice, isn’t it? Nice to be People of God.
Have you ever gotten one of those urgent emails from your In-Store Credit Card company? WARNING: You are about to lose your membership benefits! Your account has been inactive and unless you buy something in the next three months, we’ll close your credit card membership and you’ll lose all your privileges: No more rewards points. No more special deals. No more ability to buy things without having any money. No more privilege of paying them 25% interest on all purchases!
This morning at the end of Peter’s letter – the Apostle leaves us with a similar warning. He wants Christians everywhere – he wants me; he wants you – to remain a person of God and continue to enjoy all the privileges associated with it. Today he warns us of One whose very goal is the destruction of your faith! Listen then to his warning as he tells us to stand FIRM.
I. Why to Stand Firm
Peter wants us to stand firm in faith. Read verses 8-10 with me. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
The first striking command is to be alert and of sober mind. To be alert is to be awake. It’s to be watchful. To be ready for anything.
With our new puppy, I’ve been learning to be alert. I fell asleep for a 15 minute nap this past week and awoke to 5 shoes out on the floor, some ripped up toilet paper and a few little presents beside. Had I been alert, this wouldn’t have happened.
Peter wants you to be alert so that you don’t lose your spot in the People of God. He wants you to pay attention so that you remain saved. He wants you to be aware so that you can prevent someone from taking these privileges from you!
But…you might ask…who would want to take these privileges from me?
The answer is as simple as it is scary: THE DEVIL.
He is the father of lies. The demon of destruction. The one who caused humanity to fall into sin. The one who brought death into the world. The one who brought pain into the world. The one who tempted the people at the time of Noah’s flood to continue to rebel against God and face their own destruction. The one who came into Judas and caused him to betray Jesus. The one who has caused countless people to disregard God and join him in hell!
He’s as formidable a foe now as he was in that ancient garden long ago.
Pay attention to what Peter calls the devil in verse 8. He calls him “your enemy.” He doesn’t call him God’s enemy, although he is. But Peter’s stress here is that he is YOUR enemy. He hates you.
“Jesus loves me this I know.” That’s what the children’s song says. We don’t sing a song for the devil. But if we would, do you know what it would say, “Satan hates me this I know…”
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when it feels like the devil is the good guy. “He just wants me to have fun. God’s the One who’s a prude. God needs to lighten up on his hatred for sin…it isn’t that bad.” We picture him like the cool guy enlightening us on how to live the good life.
BUT THAT IS NOT THE DEVIL! Make no mistake about it: THE DEVIL HATES YOU!
And this hate isn’t something to scoff at. Notice Peter doesn’t call him an “annoyed rabbit.” He doesn’t call him a “frightened Chihuahua.” He doesn’t call him “a declawed kitty that doesn’t like you all that much.” Peter calls him “a roaring lion…prowling…looking for someone to devour.” Ruthless. Powerful. Dangerous.
Tell me, would you like to cuddle with a hungry lion that hasn’t eaten for days?
Be even more frightened as the devil. He is that dangerous! Because listen again to his end game, “He is looking for someone to devour,” “to completely swallow up.” But the devil isn’t interested in physical food; he feeds on souls.
Think of those National Geographic specials where they show the unfortunate carcass of the slowest antelope as the lion has antelope hanging from his lips.
This is the very real picture of what the devil wants to happen to your soul! He wants you to disown God, abandon your faith, turn to sin, and spend forever in terrible torment of his lair – hell itself. He wants to tear apart your obedience to God, to rip to shred’s your faith in Jesus, to devour any hope of heaven that remains, and feast on your fear, doubt, and hatred!
Peter says, “Resist him!” But rather than just saying it, I feel like Peter could be shouting it like a safari guide whose tourists have gotten too close, “Resist him! Resist him…..because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
The call is urgent. The devil is dangerous. The devil is vengeful. The devil is…here.
Look at our scary world.
I heard this past week about a group of Christians in Nepal. In Nepal these Christians are viewed as the lowest class of society. They are the bottom of the cast system. It is illegal to share your faith there and could result in prison.
It isn’t the worst is it? Beheadings in the Middle East. Imprisonment in China. Hatred in Africa.
But don’t forget about the United States – where the devil presents a sneakier front. The Bible mocked. Sexual sin at new levels of perversity. Social media encouraging everyone to disavow the real God of the Bible. Unbelief in America is climbing at an incredible rate!
"The most dangerous trick the devil ever played is in getting people to believe that he doesn't exist!"
Isn't that America? And isn't that true for you too? It's dangerous out there. Dangerous FOR YOU!
So…I need you to answer this question for yourself: Are you ready? Are you prepared?
We should go on a field trip. Let’s drive up and down Falls of Neuse, there are a lot of churches. If you head over to Six Forks, you could add even more. But what do they look like right now on a Sunday morning? Bustling and filled with People of God getting ready to fight the devil?
Or empty. Half full. Hard to notice that there’s anything going on as you drive on by?
Actually, we could probably play a decent game of kick ball in our parking lot – and for the ball? Why not roll up all the papers from our church mailboxes of people who haven’t been here in awhile, because it doesn’t seem all that important.
Would some of your papers be used?
Brothers and sisters WAKE UP! If you think the devil isn’t a big deal, wake up and resist him! Stop sinning. Stop ignoring God’s call. Hear God’s message and stand firm against the foe!
II. How to Stand Firm
Of course, you might be feeling a little nervous right about now. The devil sounds like an awful foe. And to be honest – I’m no match for him. His temptations are too strong. The doubts are too much. He’s worked on former Christian after former Christian – even member of my family. How can I withstand him? How can I defeat. I don’t stand a chance alone!
You’re right. Our frail human flesh cannot withstand the wily and dangerous traps of the hellfire breathing dragon himself. Not alone.
But you aren’t alone.
The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (v.10-11)
Do you not remember who you are? You are the People of God. As people of God that means you are of God! He is with you. And he will support you.
What is our military campaign doing against ISIS right now? They are sending air support. Drones that are dropping bombs with the goal of helping the people of Iraq defeat the terrorists there.
God is the support you need in fighting the devil. Only he doesn’t miss. He doesn’t accidently hit citizens. He doesn’t have all kinds of squabble and politics tying up each and every time you ask him for help.
Peter says, Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you! And His help is swift. It’s quick. It’s powerful.
Take note this support from God comes by his grace! That’s why it says, “The God of all grace.” Be careful, because it’s easy to think, “He’ll help me when I show him I’m worthy of being helped.”
But that’s not real grace. That’s like “If you earn it, then possibly I’ll think you’ll worthwhile enough to help you” grace.
Remember this is how Jesus worked. Scripture says, “When we were dead in our sins…God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins!” (Colossians 2:13)
And God isn’t someone who loves you, but can only send the occasional letter of encouragement that helps you out sometime.
God is powerful. All powerful. “To him be the power…forever and ever.” (v.10) The truth is: Satan is powerful, but God is more powerful. He doesn’t say God has a little power, a bit of power, or some power. He doesn’t say he will have this power in the future OR only for a limited time.
He has all the power – which is way more than necessary to defeat Satan – and Jesus has it now and forever.
Here’s a little math for you:
The Devil > You.
God > Devil (Because I don't know if there is a mathematical symbol for "Much greater than.")
You +God > Devil.
Didn’t God already prove this power on the cross? Is that not when he completely destroyed any power that the devil truly had? Did he not defeat sin – which the devil brought into the world? Didn’t he defeat death – another comrade of the devil’s – by walking out of the grave on Easter Sunday morning? Didn’t he stomp on Satan’s power to accuse you? Didn’t he get rid of any excuse the devil had to say, “But they're sinful, God send them to hell!” Did our Lord completely and utterly destroy Satan in every way?
This too is great news. It’s what Peter repeats in verse 11 with his little doxology. To him that’s God, to God be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Now, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to pour a bowl full of Wheaties – filled with vitamins and nutrients for a championship day – and then not to eat it. It would also be foolish, if you made a delicious meal of pasta for the marathon you had coming up, but you didn’t eat a single noodle.
It is equally – and even more foolish than that — to avoid God. It is just as foolish to stay apart from His Word where he gives our faith the nutrients it needs to stay in faith. It does harm to not run to church and receive the service prepared like a pasta dinner for a runner in order to convict you of sin, strengthen you in faith, and keep you standing firm forever!
So -- run to God. Get the strength you need. And listen to his promise once more, “The God of all grace...will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Now we come to the final words of 1 Peter. Verses 12-14. And as we look at them we are reminded – this letter – this script we’ve been following throughout summer – is no story. It is no fantasy. It is not the end of a historical fiction novel.
With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.
A very real letter to very real people. People of God. A letter from people of God (Mark, Peter, and Silas) to people of God – Christians everywhere, Christians here. You.
And this very real letter to very real people from the very real Apostle of Christ? It is has the very real blessing of the very real Savior of the World – of the very real God himself.
People of God. Listen to these words and receive their very real blessing.
Stand fast in God’s Word.
Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Over confirmation, I hope that these two young people learned a lot from me. But I do have to admit that I learned from them as well. Specifically, I learned some brand new lingo. (Apparently “groovy” and “neato” or no longer “cool").
For instance, I learned about the word “fangirl” or it’s counterpart “fanboy.” Have you heard the word? It's a term used to describe someone who is fanatical for a certain pop culture item or person. You can be a fangirl of Justin Bieber. A fanboy of Harry Potter. A fanperson of the Hunger Games.
This is basically a word to describe "Trekkies" or “Wolfpack fans.”
Today, you confirmands are professing to be "fans" of the Lord. You are professing to be followers of Christ. You are professing publicly to be people of God.
This is why I don't think there could be a better day to start our summer sermon series entitled: People of God. It is important for you confirmands and you (former confirmands) to remember exactly what it means to be a Person of God.
To see what a person of God is we're going to look 1 Peter. Peter is an expert on what a person of God looks like. Peter had spent time with and learned from God himself. He had been rebuked and restored by God himself. He had been given a commission from God himself. If anyone knew what it meant to be a "Person of God"-- it was Peter.
Take then at the first truth he reveals about the people of God in verses 1-2. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, that's who's writing it. "To God's elect those chosen to be people of God. Believers. That's an expected and important theme throughout Scripture.
But then Peter calls these people of God a strange word: Exiles. Refugees. Strangers. Specifically, in the Greek, the words means "temporary dwellers." They are only passing through and won’t be here forever.
This isn't a physical thing. Peter isn’t saying that they are strangers in south Italy and need to return home to Israel. He isn’t saying that we are strangers in North Carolina and need to return home to the Midwest.
He is speaking to all Christians everywhere and reminding them that they are strangers on this earth.
I. Strangers are Scattered
Maybe you're a positive person. Perhaps you think, "Home is where the heart is." As long as you are with all the people in your family, you're at home.
But the people of God aren't in the same place. They are all over. Look at the words again: scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Asia and Bithynia. This meant that the family of Christians was scattered. They were in small house churches that had to deal with persecutions all around them. They couldn’t even be together and encourage each other. They were scattered.
This is still true today.
It was never more evident just how scattered than this week at the Youth Rally. There were teenage people of God from all over. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, even Alberta, Canada just to name a few. And it was awesome. Awesome to be with Christians your age from all over the world. Awesome to see 2000 some young people filling up the seats of an auditorium with praise.
But now we're apart. The youth group shrunk. It’s less impressive.
Maybe this has happened to you:
It's hard to be scattered from one another.
That's not all. Remember that word “stranger.” The implication is that there is a permanent place where we belong. This is where our Father dwells. It's heaven.
The history of the world explains what happened. God created earth. He created a beautiful earth. He created a beautiful garden on that earth for humans to dwell in peace with him as his family members forever.
Then, humans sinned. They rebelled against him. They placed a separation between God and them.
This is still true today. We are a part of that sinful, dangerous, guilt filled, hateful, scary world. . We, the people of God, are scattered the perfect presence of our Father on an earth far from perfect.
But there is an interesting phenomenon that takes place when you move away from your hometown. Think about college. At first, you live life just like you did back at home. You love going to McDonald's. You listen to alternative rock. You eat chili the way your mom makes chili -- with the noodles in it.
After time that starts to change. You try different things and your opinions, likes and dislikes, evolve. Suddenly, you love going to Chick-fil-A. You listen to the Country station on the radio. You like your Chili without noodles in it!
Now this isn't necessarily a danger when you are move from one earthly place to another. But it is a danger when you forget all about your heavenly home.
Here's a way for you to see if you starting to get too comfortable with this world. I want you to tally up one for each side after I give you some options. The option listed first is from this sinful world; the option listed second is from God’s heavenly home. Think about which one makes you more comfortable. Are you more comfortable….
...at the bar or at the Lord's Table?
...saying swears in public or saying a prayer in public?
...inviting your friend to an R rated movie or to a Bible study?
...navigating to XXX.com or Biblegateway.com?
…never missing a church service or never missing an episode of Family Guy?
...listening to what CNN has to say about homosexuality or what your pastor does?
...confessing your how awesome you are to your friends or how sinful you to God?
Brothers and sisters, if you are more comfortable with worldly things, there's a problem. You are comfortable with a place that will not last. You are comfortable with a place that cannot exist in eternity. You are comfortable with a sinful world that God cannot tolerate. You are a comfortable with a place that he will simply obliterate.
Repent. Turn to your heavenly home. Ask your Father for forgiveness.
Because He misses you.
II. Strangers are Missed
Your parents will miss you if and when you go to move out. They will call you on the phone. They will email you. They will text message you. Facebook you. Twitter you. Whatever it takes to get your attention and let you know that they miss you and love you.
If you have gone astray, know this: God misses you right now. If you haven't remotely kept up your Confirmation promises, God wants you back!
Look at verse 1-2, "To the elect…you have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of the Father." Do you understand what that is saying? It is saying that God knows you well. He knows you better than you. He has known you longer than you. From before the creation of the world, he knew that you would be born into sin. He knew that you would be born into a sinful world. He knew that you would need a Savior from this sinful world.
That's why he sent his Son. Jesus. The only one who had not left his Father to earth. Jesus, who is divine and out of this world, became a stranger in this world.
But he never adopted the way of this world. He never was lost in sin. Instead, he conquered it. He lived perfectly. He died innocently on a cross and rose triumphantly for you. When it was time for him to go home? He ascended to heaven. He ascended to fulfill his promise from our Gospel lesson, "In my Father's house are many rooms, I am going there to prepare a place for you."
It's as if Jesus is fixing your room. Cleaning it up. Fluffing the pillows. Putting up your favorite posters. Making sure that God's house in heaven is ready for you. Ready for when God brings you home.
But God is also busy preparing you!
It’s similar to a family reunion. As you prepare to go to one, you have to get mentally prepared. You have to memorize names so that you don’t mistakenly refer to your Uncle Joe as Uncle George. You have to remember what it is your Second Cousin does for work again. You have to breathe deeply so that you stay calm when you speak to Aunt Louise –who really upset you last time.
God wants to prepare us for our heavenly home as well. This is why God gives his Spirit. Again, look at verse 2. "Through the sanctifying work of the spirit." Sanctifying. That’s a word we learned it catechism It means "setting apart as holy." It's God's work of changing our lives here on earth.
And it starts with faith. Faith that Jesus is God's Son. Faith that Jesus knows the way back to heaven. Faith that he will bring us...home.
This is why God has given us his Sacraments. The Holy Spirit works through them to bring to faith and strengthen faith. In baptism, God promises that we are his children. Though we are in this strange world, we are his and he will one day bring us home to him. In Lord's Supper, God send us a divine meal. Just like mom sending a care package when you are off in college, God has sent us a divine care package. It's his true body and blood. A promise that your sins are forgiven and you will be in heaven.
III. Strangers Live Differently
So…what now? As People of God, you are strangers. But how does this affect your life now? Here are three suggestions from our text.
1) Live according to your Father’s rules.
As Peter reminds us, “You have been chosen…to be obedient to Jesus.” Obedience to Jesus means faith, but it also means living a life of faith that God and his way of living is the correct way.
Think about this:
Once you leave your parents household, you might feel emancipated! You can live by your own rules. You don't have to follow the rules of your mom and dad.
But then, over time, you realize how good those rules were. You realize that going to bed at a decent hour is a wonderful idea. You understand that it is important to have a clean house. You may even eat some broccoli every once in a while, because it keeps you feeling healthy.
Don't forget the rules of your Divine dad." In preparation for returning home to him, live according to God’s laws. The Ten Commandments? They are there for a reason. Not because he hates you, but because He loves you!
And you know what, nothing will please your mom and dad more than calling them up on the phone and saying, “I am wearing clean clothes. I am eating a balance meal and I am saving my money.”
Similarly God is pleased when he sees you following his rules for life!
This then is a way to say Thank You to the Lord. It’s a way to give thanks to the one who gave up his only perfect Son for the forgiveness of our sins.
And another way?
2) Be proud of your Strange Foreign Heritage.
You can tell when someone is proud of their foreign heritage. They bring lots of reminders of home with them. They have pictures on the wall. Candles lit in certain places. Colors and clothing that express the culture of the former city.
Be proud of your Christian heritage. Proclaim. Be bold. Make sure others don’t just know from your words, but from how you act and live your life.
Be proud of your Christian heritage even down to the soap youuse.
Ever notice that sometimes people from different areas have different soaps. They don’t have Dove or Irish Spring. Nothing like that. They have soap made from honey. Soap made from Goat's milk. Soap made from oatmeal, hemp plant, and even bees wax.
The soap of your heavenly Father is strange too. It's blood. Blood, which stains and doesn't get you feeling Zesty fresh on the outside. But this blood isn't for cleaning the outside. Jesus' blood cleans from within. It purifies us from all sin.
The only thing is you can't see it. You can't look at the mirror and see "Did I wash all of the dirt off the back of my leg?" or touch your face and think, "Did I get all the oil washed off?" There's no way to look and see if you have really been completely cleansed of all sin. Other than God's promise.
So, think about it. Meditate on it. Don’t wash with the stuff of the world. Alcohol, sex, drugs, sports, money. They can’t wash a guilty soul. Only Jesus’ can. His promise of forgiveness. His promise that through faith in him all of your guilt is removed.
Use this soap. Wash daily with the Word. Come to church. Come to communion. Come and wash with the precious blood of Jesus!
3) Surround Yourself with Gifts from Home.
Peter concludes this opening address with the words: 'Grace and peace to you." These are gifts from God to his people. The gifts of grace (forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for free! By faith alone) and the gift of peace (peace with God -- He has forgiven all sin). These are his gifts to us. Gifts, not to hide in a cardboard box, but gifts to be displayed. Gifts to be remembered. Gifts to meditate on.
I received a cup a gift from my wife about a month after we moved down to North Carolina from the Midwest. It says “Minnesota Twins.” She simply left it with a note be thankful for and always remember where we come from. To remember our parents, the lessons we have learned, and to always be thankful.
Now think of a cross. Brothers and sisters, it reminds you of whose child you are. It reminds you where your dad lives. It reminds you that one day you will go back there.
Surround yourself with this truth. Surround yourself with people who will remind you of this truth. Surround yourself with God’s Word. Never forget it. Never forget where you came from and where you are going.