Easter 3A

April 28, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Luke 24:13-35

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Acts 2:14a, 36-41

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle

    1 Peter 1:17-23

    Author: Stan Mast

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

                In this season of Easter, we are still basking in the glow of Christ’s resurrection and the new life we have with him.  Our first reading from I Peter urged us to praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because we’ve been born anew into a living hope.  In this second reading from I Peter, Peter urges us to live in the light of that new birth.  We’ve been born into a new family.  Picking up on the greeting of the letter, God is referred to as Father (verse 17).  We are now “obedient children” (verse 14) who must love each other as brothers (verse 22).   These words sound like Haus Taufeln (Luther), or family rules.  Since we are now part of God’s new family, here’s how we must conduct ourselves in a hostile pagan world.

    The key word is holiness.  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (verses 15 and 16).  Our reading for this third Sunday of the Easter season gives substance and urgency to that call to holiness.  Specifically, Peter gives us three strong reasons to be holy: our Father is a judge who judges each of us impartially; we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ; we have been born again into a family that we must love in a special way.

    That first reason will sound peculiar to evangelicals accustomed to addressing God in the intimate way taught by Jesus and by Paul.  “Abba, Father,” is often translated “Papa” or “Daddy.”  And that is right, but that kind of intimacy can be abused.  It can lead to an overly casual approach to God, a “God is my good old buddy” approach that assumes God doesn’t much care about how we live.  We’ve been saved.  All our sins are forgiven.  So we don’t have to worry about a holy life.  Au contraire, says Peter.

    The God you rightfully call “Father” is a judge who judges each person’s work impartially.  Don’t presume on your relationship with God as your Father, the way the Jewish leaders did in John 8:31-41.  Yes, you are God’s forgiven children, but God will still judge your actions without regard to your face.  (That’s the literal reading of the peculiar Greek word aprosopolemptos.)  The universal judgment of every human being according to what they have done in their earthly lives was a key doctrine of early Christianity.  The doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law didn’t cancel that doctrine of judgment.  We’re pardoned, but we’re still accountable.  God is our Father who loves us unconditionally, but he is also a judge who cares deeply about how we live as his beloved children.

    We have to be careful how we preach this.  We can’t suggest that salvation is tentative and conditional.  But we also can’t teach that the judgment of God won’t happen.  We don’t want to sow seeds of doubt about our membership in the family of God, but we also don’t want to sow seeds of lazy disregard for holiness.  “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18), but the Father who loves us perfectly expects us to live our lives in “reverent fear (I Peter 1:17).”  Because we know we are loved by our Father, we don’t have to live in terror of punishment.  But because our Father is the Judge, we have to live before him with awe and reverence.  He is not to be trifled with.  He wants his children to be holy.

    This leads Peter directly into the second reason we ought to be holy.  Indeed, verse 18 does not begin a new sentence (as in the NIV translation).  It is a subordinate clause, “knowing that….”  In other words, we must live in reverent fear because we know how we were redeemed.  That word “redeemed” is elutrothente, a popular and powerful word in both Old and New Testaments.  Related words are antilutron (translated “ransom” in I Tim. 2:6), lutrosis (translated “redemption” in Heb. 11:12), and apolutrosis (again translated “redemption” in Rom. 3:24, I Cor. 1:30, Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14, and Heb. 9:15).

    At the heart of this cluster of words is the idea of paying a price to set something or someone free.  In the Old Testament it might be the redemption of property held in mortgage, or the payment of a sum of money to God for a first born son, or deliverance from enemies or death, or, most powerfully, release from the bondage of Egypt or the Exile.

    Here Peter uses that rich and well-known word to move the children of God to holy living.  “You know that… you were redeemed….”  You know that because it is a standard part of the Faith.  Indeed, this “you know” is the first hint that we might be dealing with some creedal material here.  Some scholars think this is liturgical material known to every Christian because it was part of some ancient baptismal ceremony.

    Peter reminds these children of God that they were not redeemed with the silver and gold that paid the price of freedom in their everyday world.  They had been redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”   This is clearly sacrificial language, probably related to the slaying of the Lamb in the Passover ceremony that reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt.  Even as the blood of that Lamb on the doorposts and lintel of Israel’s houses delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, so the blood of Christ delivers us from the “futile way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.”

    This whole idea of being redeemed by the blood of Christ as a sacrificial Lamb is abhorrent to many modern Christians.  To whom was the ransom paid?  For centuries theologians have debated that.  Was it to God or to the Devil?  Both ideas boggle the mind.  And in the end, many have rejected as barbaric and non-Christian the very idea of a payment of blood for our freedom.

    Peter and the other early Christians didn’t seem to think so.  They never attempted to answer that question—to whom was the price of our redemption paid?  Their concern was, from what did the precious blood of Christ deliver us?  They all agreed that we have been redeemed from bondage to sin with all that entails, which Peter here calls “the futile way of life….”  We’ve been redeemed from a way of life that was empty, vain, powerless, foolish.  It’s the way the pagans live; that must be the referent of “your forefathers.”  A Jew like Peter would never have called Israel’s God-directed life “empty.”  The pagans boast of their freedom, of their wealth, or their privilege, but their way of life is bondage.  And you have been redeemed from that sinful way of life by the blood of Christ.

    You would think that such powerful language would motivate any Christian to holy living, but Peter says even more about Christ.  “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”  The perfect parallelism of the Greek here leads scholars to think that this is a carefully worded creedal formula: chosen/revealed, before the creation/these last times.

    The whole sentence was intended to be awe inspiring.  The Lamb was chosen before the foundation (kataboles) of the world.  “Chosen” is proegnosmenou, which is literally “foreknown,” but it probably has about it the sense of predestination as suggested by the NIV’s “chosen.”  However we take that word, the sense is clear.  The sacrifice of Christ wasn’t a spur of the moment action by God; it was planned long before we came on the scene.   As Calvin put it, “God anticipated our disease by the remedy of his grace, and provided restoration to life before the first man had fallen into death.”

    What’s more, the revelation of this God-ordained Lamb has ushered in “these last days.”  The coming of Christ at Christmas was the beginning of the end of this sinful world.  These are the last days that will culminate in the Last Day and the new world.  This is why Peter calls these Christians “strangers” in verse 17.  The Greek means that we are living in a foreign land of which we are not citizens.  Thus, we must conduct ourselves differently than the natives do.

    Perhaps the most earthshaking words in the momentous sentence in verse 20 are the last three words.  All of this, the “chosen/revealed,” the “foundations/last times,” is “for your sake.”  God’s long and complicated plan that has now been revealed to you in the death and resurrection of Christ is “for your sake.”  So, live holy lives.

    Before Peter leaves this second reason for living in reverent fear, he reminds us that we believe in God because of Christ.  Verse 21 may seem unnecessary in the context, but it is really the culmination of this second reason.  We should live holy lives, because we really do believe in God.  Many people say they believe, but their lives show that they don’t.  We do believe in God, because we have seen God raise Jesus from the dead and glorify him.  We have seen what God can do, because we have the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.  That is why “your faith and hope are in God.”  And that is why we should live as strangers in a world that is without hope and without God.

    Finally, we come to the third reason to live distinctively.  We belong to a new family—not just the human family, but the family of God into which we’ve been born again.  By virtue of that new birth, the process of purifying ourselves has already begun.  “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth, so that you have sincere love for your brethren….”  This is the “already” of sanctification.  We are purified in principle; we have the status of holiness; we are already saints, “God’s elect (verse 1).”  That new status became a reality in our lives when we obeyed the truth, which is probably a way of saying, “when we believed the Gospel and came to Christ.”

    Now, we must complete the process of purification by growing in our love.  We already have “sincere love for our brethren” (the word here is philadelphia).  Now we must move on to a higher form of love (the next word for love is agape).  You already have that warm affection that characterizes happy families.  Now you must grow in love, so that you can love even when the family is dysfunctional.  You already know how to love the way good pagans love.  Now you must learn to love the way God does, with a love so deep and heartfelt that it can love sinful children and even enemies.  Demonstrate your holiness and godly fear by loving one another as God has loved you in Christ.  Don’t talk about it.  Just do it.  That’s the sense of the strong command agapesate.  Even when your new family drives you crazy, love them.  “For you have been born again… through the living and abiding word of God.”

    Illustration Idea

                I loved my late father dearly.  And he loved me.  He would do anything for me.  I knew that his love was unconditional.  No amount of childhood foolishness or adolescent craziness or downright wickedness could change his love for me.  I knew that beyond the shadow of a doubt.  And I loved him in return.

    But I feared my father, too.  I knew that if I did something wrong, he would punish me.  In those days, corporal punishment was not seen as child abuse.  I knew that his huge right hand would be firmly applied to my backside if I did something wrong—not because my wrongdoing made him stop loving me, but because his strong love wanted me to stop doing wrong.  That’s not how a child of his should act.

    I had a father and a judge in one flawed human being.  I wanted to please him because I loved and feared him.  How much more should that be the case with God?  Do you remember how the old hymn, “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art,” said it?

    “O, how I fear you, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears,

    And worship you with trembling hope and penitential tears!

     Yet I may love you, too, O Lord, almighty as you are,

    For you have stooped to ask to me the love of my poor heart.”