Two weeks ago, we celebrated Easter. We declared that Christ is risen, that Jesus broke the chains of sin and gates of hell and rose again triumphant from the dead so that, through faith in him, we can also rise with him. That’s the message of Easter. But it’s even more than that. It’s the cornerstone of our faith. It’s the very core of what we believe. It is what makes Christianity unique among all of the religions of the world.
But Easter is much more than just a day. It’s a season. According to the Church calendar, today is Easter three. The season of Easter will last until the end of May and then Pentecost will arrive on the first Sunday in June. But Easter is even more that a season. For the Christ follower, it is a lifestyle that permeates every aspect and moment of our existence.
That was what Peter was getting at when he wrote his first epistle that is found in the New Testament. It’s a letter telling the Christians in Asia Minor – what is modern day Turkey – how to live out the Gospel message is their everyday lives. In today’s passage, Peter talks about what it means to be holy. By holiness, he meant the way that we live our lives. He meant the things that we do and the way that we treat others. The message that he wrote to them is just as applicable today as it was almost 2,000 years ago when it was first penned. So let’s unpack it and see what it says to us.
JUDGED BY GOD
The first thing we read in 1 Peter 1:17 (NIV) is this: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” There is a whole lot in that verse but I want to focus on just a couple of points for a moment. First, it reminds us that God will judge each of us. That’s uncomfortable for a lot of people because we don’t really like the idea that someone might be judging us. But we have to understand what Peter is talking about. In order to judge something, there must be standards. Things should never be judged based on whims or favouritism. Take, for example, the way that farm animals are judged at summer fairs. I’ve been to the Harrow Fair and so have most of you. At that fair there are competitions between the farmers for who has the best livestock. Every year, some of the farmers from this congregation enter some of their animals.
Now to be truthful, I don’t know very much about animals so, to me, one cow looks pretty much like the next. I can tell the difference between a Holstein and Guernsey – I think – and I can pick out a Hereford from Black Angus but I can’t tell you what makes one Holstein better than another. But there are people who do know. They have standards by which each cow is measured. I suspect that there is a height standard and a weight standard. I expect that they would look at the shape of the ears and the size of the udder. And then, based on those standards, the judges decide which cow is the winner.
But note this, it’s not based on favouritism or some whim or fancy. It’s based on a standard that is prescribed and well known. That’s why Peter tells us that God judges impartially. There is standard by which we are called to live our lives. That standard is prescribed and well known. We call it the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Bible contains the standard by which we live our lives. And that standard is the same for everyone.
One day, Peter tells us, we will be judged by God and the only thing we will be judged on is whether or not we have met the standards that God has given to us. There is no emotion involved in this. There are no inconsistencies or favouritism. Each person is judged by the same standard. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, black or white, English or French, Christian, Muslim or Jew. The very same standard applies to all people and all God will do is look at your life and see how it measures up to the standard that he set. Then we will be judged by those standards.
CALLED TO BE STRANGERS
The next phrase offers some interesting insights. It says that because we will be judged by God then we should live as strangers in reverent fear. Strangers to what? Strangers to the world. While we are called to live in this world surrounded by the things of this world we are also reminded that we are not of this world. For as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20 (NIV), “…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” To say that we are strangers in this world does not imply that we don’t know what’s up. It does not meant that we are unaware of what is going on around us. What it means is that we might be called to live by a different standard than the rest of the world. That’s the strange part. We live by God’s standard and God’s standard alone. That might seem strange to the rest of the world that lives by a different standard but it’s the way we are called to live as Christ followers.
For example, in a world that says to get everything you can, Jesus tells us to care for others. That’s a different standard. In a world that says to get even when someone hurts you, Jesus tells us to forgive. That’s a different standard. In a world that seems to thrive on attacking anyone who disagrees with us, Jesus tells us to be compassionate and understanding. That’s a different standard. In a world that encourages everyone to state their opinions in the loudest possible way, Jesus tells us to listen for the needs of others. There’s that different standard again. The world has one standard and Jesus has another.
I don’t want to sound like one of those preachers who is negative about everything worldly because there are lots of times when the standards of the world and God’s standards are not so different. They both tell us not to kill or steal or commit adultery. I’m not saying that people don’t do those things. I’m just saying that when they do they are breaking both the world’s standards and God’s. Sometimes they’re the same things and I want to celebrate those times. But that’s not always true. When those two standards diverge, then we are compelled to follow God’s way and that is when we become strangers to the world.
We are called to live as strangers. But Peter also says that we are called to live in reverent fear. What does that mean? Let me start by saying that there is a difference between reverent fear and terror. Terror is when someone is morbidly afraid of something. Maybe you have a phobia and you’re afraid of heights or enclosed places or spiders or needles. People have all kinds of phobias that can sometimes be very debilitating. But while phobias are irrational fears people are also afraid of other things that are quite rational. Being afraid of sky diving is not an irrational fear. Being afraid of an aggressive dog is not an irrational fear. Being afraid of a bully at school or in the work place is not an irrational fear. Those fears are real. But whether people are dealing with irrational phobias or rational fears, people are afraid of all of these things because they perceive that they present some kind of danger. That’s the kind of fear that leads to terror.
The difference between that kind of fear and the reverent fear that Peter is talking about is that reverent fear does not debilitate. Rather it is stimulates. It encourages you to get up off your duff and gets something done for Jesus.
It’s like when you boss gives you a task to do and gives you a deadline to get it done. He gives you a deadline because without that deadline, you may never get it done. Lots of other things could get in the way and it could constantly get shoved to the back burner. But give someone a deadline and they are far more likely to complete the task.
That goes right back to what I was saying a few minutes ago about standards. The boss has a standard and the boss expects you to meet that standard because if you don’t meet the standard, there will be consequences. That’s why the boss is the boss and you’re not and a good boss will use those standards to motivate you.
Or it’s like a father who is feared by his children. Now I know that as soon as I said that, some people might get all bent out of shape because children should never be afraid of their parents. And that’s true if we’re talking about terror. I agree that a child should never be terrified of his or her parents. But remember that’s not the kind of fear that Peter is talking about. What he’s talking about is the kind of stimulating fear that gets your kids moving in a good direction. It’s a respect that let’s them know that if they are not home on time, there will be consequences. It reminds them that if they are ever caught drinking and driving, that they will never have access to any car of mine until they have convinced me that they will never do that again. It’s the respect that I hope that I’ve instilled in Rebekah’s boyfriend that’s reminds him that he’s better treat my little girl like gold. And so far, so good. Why? Because there is a healthy dose of fear in there. That kind of fear is the reverent fear that Peter is talking about. It’s not abusive. There is no association with terror. But there is an encouragement to be the best that you can be and it is respectful of the standards and the person who has set them. That’s what Peter is getting at when he talks about a reverent fear toward God.
In the next verses Peter begins to delve more deeply in to the gospel message. In 1 Peter 1:18-21 he just sort of lays it all out. He says that we were bought not with perishable things such as silver a gold but with something imperishable. That thing, of course, is the precious blood of Jesus. This is the story of Good Friday all over again. It’s about Jesus who gave his life on the cross, shed is blood to pay the price of all of the sins humanity for all time. That’s because God also had a standard that had to be met when it comes to paying for our sins. That standard was a perfect sinless sacrifice – what the Bible calls a lamb without blemish or defect – and only Jesus met that standard. That’s why he willingly went to the cross for us – because no one else could. The final part of this message is that all we have to do to be right with God is put our faith in Jesus and, in the last days, we will be raised with him to spend eternity in God’s glorious kingdom. That’s the gospel message that Jesus came to share.
I want to move now to the last two verses of the passage that we read this morning. 1 Peter 1:22-23 says this: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” This is where this whole thing about how we are to live our lives comes all together because it brings us to the highest standard that we can have before God. That standard is right there in verse 22 Peter writes, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth… love one another deeply, from the heart.” That’s it. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t get else from everything what Peter writes in this letter, get this, that we are love one another deeply, from the heart.
We see this sentiment echoed all throughout the New Testament. Paul wrote about it in Romans 13:10 (NIV) where we are told that, “… love is the fulfillment of the law.” In Galatians 5:14 (NIV) we read these words, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” John affirmed this also in one of his letters. In 1 John 4:11 (NIV) it says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
This thread of love runs through the New Testament as strongly as any other theme. There’s a reason for it. It’s because Jesus began this thread. He began it with what he called a new commandment. In John 13:34-35 (NIV) he said this: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Everything in Jesus comes together in this one theme, the theme of love. This is the ultimate standard. When the day comes at the end of times at the final resurrection and we stand before the judgment throne of God, those who are in Christ will be asked only one question. And that question is this: Did you love others as I commanded you to love them? Based on the answer to that question we will receive our eternal rewards in the kingdom of God. That’s how important love is.
But what does it mean to love one another? That’s a great question because there are many ideas about what love is. I can tell you what it is not. It is not romantic love. It is not a fleeting of the heart that is the response to attraction to another person when you fall in love. It’s not possessive love, the kind that you might feel when you really love you car or you really love pizza. That’s not say that there is anything wrong with cars or pizzas or romance; it’s just not the kind of love Peter was talking about.
The Bible is very clear about the standard of love that Jesus expects of us. Peter calls it a deep love from the heart. The word that the Bible uses for this kind of love is the Greek word agape. Agape is a self-giving, self-sacrificing love, that always looks to the good of others. It is not selfish, it is selfless. It does not take from anyone but it gives to all. That’s agape love.
But Peter adds to this agape when he says to love deeply from the heart. And as much as agape love is a pure giving love, he ramps it up even further. It’s not really clear in the English translations but the Greek is very clear. This deep agape love is spontaneous and fervent. It’s the kind of love that comes naturally. You don’t have to think about it. It’s just there all the time.
Where do you see an example of this? I think the best example is the kind of love a parent feels for his or her child. Now I know that this isn’t always true and maybe you can think of an example where it is not but then again, no illustration is perfect. But on the whole, isn’t this the way we feel about our children? Don’t we just love them spontaneously? Don’t we just love them without reason and without reserve? Can you imagine looking at your child and feeling anything other than an overwhelming sense of love? You would do anything in your power to enable them to be all that God created them to be. You will sacrifice for them. You will do without yourself so that they can have what they need. You would give up your very life if you had to if it meant that you would save theirs. And here’s the thing; you don’t even have to think about it. It just comes naturally. That’s the deep love from the heart that Peter is talking about.
And here’s the good news. The unconditional love that we give to our children is the based upon the unconditional love that God has for us because we are his children. Because God first loved us deeply, we are called to love one another deeply and from the heart. We can love because God first love us and showed us how to do it in Jesus Christ.
standard that we are called to live. That’s the love that we are called to
share, the deep abiding love of God.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, our Friend and Father, we thank you for all of the good things that you have given. We are so blessed that we often fail to recognize your great generousity. We can take for granted those things that seem ordinary but you are in the simple things of life. As we consider all of your blessings, help us never to become conceited or arrogant at our good fortune. Enable us to embrace humility in our hearts, knowing as we humble ourselves and seek you and your way of doing things, you will bring light into our lives at the proper time in the proper way.
Thank you, God, that you have called us to enter into your salvation. May we share that Good News with all the world. Enable us to encourage others to seek a deeper and stronger relationship with you through study, prayer and fellowship with other Christians. Keep us from being judgmental and narrow in our outlook. Remind us that you welcomed Gentiles from a far away place to enter into the house in Bethlehem and worship the Jesus Christ. There is no one who is beyond your salvation for you have opened the doors wide.
We pray for the sick at home or in hospital this week. Grant them a special measure of your Healing Spirit and hold them safely in your arms giving peace and comfort.
We lift up in prayer those who have lost a loved one this week. Bless them, O God, with your peace and strength as they look for a light in their time of darkness. Give them, also, the assurance of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
God, we come to a new year. Help us to remember that you are always near. There
is no limit to your great mercy, patience, and care. Thank you for the
assurance of your faithful love, freely given without condition or limit. Help
us to love you with all of our hearts and to exemplify your character and way
of doing things in all that we do and say in the coming new year. We pray our
prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 30, 2017 / Easter 3
Acts 2:14 a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Praise be to God, our Protector and Saviour.
ALL: Praise be to God, who gives us life.
ONE: Praise be to God, our Protector and Saviour.
ALL: Praise be to God, who gives us love.
ONE: Praise be to God, our Protector and Saviour.
ALL: Praise be to God, who gives us Christ.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Great and Holy God, our Father and our Friend, your hand guides us. Your eyes watch over us. Your ears hear our cries and our laughter. You know all and see all from the time of our rising to the moment when sleep comes. You protect us in our times of rest and restore us to strength. How Great and Holy you are, our Father and our Friend. Enter our worship as you enter our lives. Fill us, anew, with your Spirit that we may enter your gates with thanksgiving and praise.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy and Compassion, we come before you with gladness but we come, also, with troubled hearts. We acknowledge our sin and the harm that it causes in the world. We mourn the pain that we have brought into the lives of others, sometimes intentionally and sometimes by accident or carelessness. Have mercy upon us. Remind us of our sin and call us to repentance. Cleanse us by the washing of the blood and the power of the cross.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Though we sin, God sees the good within each of us. Though we fall short, God knows that we try to walk in a holy way. Through the simple acts of confession and repentance, we are forgiven and restored to God through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Saviour.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Here, O God, are the works of our hands, the fruit of our labours. As we give them to you, we offer them to the world that your purpose may be accomplished and your Word made known.
COMMISSIONING In God, we have our Creator. In Jesus, we have new life. In the Spirit, we have a holy presence and a constant comfort. God’s love abides. It is ours to have to and share