April 28, 2014
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments and Observations
After his wife died, C.S. Lewis once wrote that he thought that his grief might be less if he intentionally avoided the places he and Joy had frequented by limiting his travels to only those places where they had never been together. So he switched grocery stores, tried different restaurants, walked only along streets and paths that he and Joy had never taken. But it didn’t work. To paraphrase Lewis, “I found out that grief is like the sky above—it is over everything.”
The two travelers in Luke 24 seem to think that by getting out of Dodge maybe they, too, could walk away from their grief, leave the bad memories of the previous Friday behind. Jerusalem had become like an empty house from which all the children had gone. It was haunted with memories. It was haunted by hope deferred. Jerusalem was the place where their dreams had died. It was more than high time to hit the road and see if they could leave their troubles behind.
As Frederick Buechner asked in his classic sermon on this text, where is your “Emmaus?” We all have one.
Maybe it’s the mall where the noise of commerce and the rush of people keep you from thinking about life. Maybe it’s a bar where the booze and the beer nuts help numb you to the more bitter truths that swirl outside the windows of that darkened, smoky room. Maybe it’s a matinee at the movies where you go to take in what Hollywood proudly touts as “escapist fare.” Maybe it’s the TV remote that takes you away from it all as you mindlessly channel surf every single evening. We try to escape our troubles. That’s when we head to Emmaus. Maybe we can escape our grief and troubles.
Of course, it doesn’t work now and it did not work very well then. Grief is like the sky . . . The two followers of Jesus thought Emmaus maybe would be the place to go but as they trekked that way their conversation kept circling back and back and back again to the death of the One they had loved, the One in whom they had hoped. Had hoped. What a wretched pluperfect that is.
In fact they were talking about all that—failing singularly to forget their troubles, in other words—when the clueless stranger came up to them. “Shalom! What’s up, friends?” The question catches them up short. After all, doesn’t everybody know the latest?! “Where have you been, friend” they ask. “You must be the only one in the whole county who hasn’t heard about the recent disaster!”
It is probably a sign of the enormity of their grief that they reacted like that. In truth, there could have been lots of people who hadn’t heard this. Sure, to the disciples this was headline news, but to some people it may have been noted only in passing. Just another Roman crucifixion. Happens all the time. It was just a side story buried on page 3 of the “Jerusalem Gazette.” Big deal. Pass the Sports section.
Well, this stranger on the road must have been one such clueless tourist because he didn’t seem to know a blessed thing about any of it. So they explain things to the stranger, more or less admitting in the end that the One on whom they had pinned their hopes did not pan out. They had made, it appeared, a rather large mistake. We all make mistakes, of course, and when the mistake in question is no more significant than burning your breakfast toast or accidentally calling “George” “Harry,” you can pick yourself up and move on. But when the mistake you’ve made is more along the lines of trusting a neighbor who ended up molesting your child or trusting your husband only to find he’s been a serial adulterer for decades, well then you feel not just embarrassed or a bit upset over your mistake but shattered by it. “How could I have gotten things that wrong?” we want to ask ourselves.
But then, suddenly, the stranger, who had appeared so clueless a moment before, changes. He has the audacity first of all to call these disciples foolish, and before they can object to this, the stranger has launched into a quite serious and thorough Bible study. And after that, the rest of the trek to Emmaus just flew by! With breathtaking sweep and exegetical precision, this anonymous fellow traveler re-tells Scripture’s story. It is Israel’s story, all right, but the stranger tells it in a quite new way. The last time they’d heard anyone talk about the Bible in such an invigorating a fashion was . . . well, nevermind.
Before they knew it they were standing at their destination. With a slight wave and a nod the stranger says, “Nice talking with you” and then keeps walking. So Cleopas pipes up, “Sir! Look, the sun is setting which means the thieves along the highway will be coming out soon. It’s not safe to travel alone–stay with us at least tonight.” The man agrees. After having washed the dust of the journey off faces, hands, and feet, the three find a place to eat. Before they knew what’s happening, the stranger reaches for the flat bread, lifting it up in a strikingly familiar way. He then gives thanks, breaks it just so, and hands it to Cleopas and his friend. They knew instantly who he was but just as they are ready to cry out, “Jesus!” he was gone.
“I knew it!” Cleopas exclaims. “Didn’t you wonder about this, too! The way he taught us, the way he applied Scripture, wasn’t it eerily familiar all along!” Then, stuffing the bread into their pockets, they sprint back to Jerusalem, covering those seven miles in record time. A little of their thunder is stolen, however, in that before they can spill the beans of their news, the others say, “The Lord appeared to Simon Peter!” They then share the news of their encounter, making special note of the fact that Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Grief is like the sky. It’s over everything.
But so now, apparently, is hope.
If you compare Luke 9:16 with Luke 24:30, you will discover that the verbs are basically identical in the Greek as Jesus takes the bread, eulogizes (or gives thanks) for the bread, breaks the bread, and gives the bread to his disciples.
Even as the words are nearly identical in the Feeding of the 5,000 and the room at the Emmaus Motel, so the actions would have been unmistakable to the disciples. And there can be little doubt that the whole thing is also semaphore for the Lord’s Supper. In fact, if you zoom all the way forward to Acts 27:35, Luke repeats this set of taking, thanking, breaking, and giving as Paul feeds his shipmates just before their boat is wrecked by a storm. Again, there can be no mistaking the sacramental presence of Jesus, the bread of life.
In the ancient Greek myth The Odyssey we read the epic tale of Odysseus. Odysseus was the valiant warrior who fought so bravely in the Trojan War. But, according to legend, his homeward journey after that war was interrupted for many years as the gods had decided to test Odysseus’ true mettle through a series of trials. His journeys carried him far and wide as he encountered mythic beasts and lands, many of which have passed into common parlance: the Cyclops, the Procrustean bed, Scylla and Charybdis, the sirens’ voices.
Meanwhile, back at his home, Odysseus’ wife and family presume he must have died en route back from Troy. Finally, however, the day came when the gods released Odysseus and he arrives back home at last. But instead of simply waltzing through the front door and crying out some Greek equivalent of, “Honey, I’m home!” Odysseus decides that he wants to determine if anything has changed during his long absence. Did his wife still love him? Had she been faithful? In order to find out, Odysseus disguises himself so as to approach his home looking like a stranger in need of temporary lodging.
The housekeeper, Euryclea, welcomes the apparent traveler and performs for him the then-standard practice of foot-washing. As she does so, Euryclea regales the stranger with anecdotes about her long-lost master, Odysseus, whom she had also served as a nurse when he was young. She told the traveler about how long her master has been missing and she noted, too, that by then Odysseus would be about the same age and of about the same build as the man whose feet she was washing. Now when Odysseus had been a young boy, he was once gored by a wild boar, leaving a nasty scar on his leg. As Euryclea went about her servile task, suddenly her hand brushed against that old scar and instantly her eyes were opened and she recognized, with great joy, her beloved friend and master!
Recognition scenes like that have long exercised a strong pull on the human heart. Sometimes this can be used for comedic effect, as in any number of episodes on the old I Love Lucy show when Lucy would disguise herself so as to worm her way into one of her husband, Rickie’s, shows. And you always waited eagerly for that moment when Desi Arnaz’s eyes would widen right before he’d exclaim, “Luuucccy!” But such shocks of recognition are also the stuff of high drama, as in The Odyssey and any number of plays, novels, and films across the centuries. And, of course, in also Luke 24.
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
“And for all who are far off . . .”
I guess that’s us.
I guess that’s everybody.
It was even, at least for a time, Peter and company. After all, the crucifixion accounts make it clear that the disciples watched Jesus die from a distance. It’s the same word as in Acts 2: makran, far off, at a distance. The disciples kept their distance at the end. The very ones who had promised (and then doubled down on the promise) that never would they leave Jesus’ side ended up leaving Jesus’ side so fast the dust flew up from their sandals as they ran. Over there, some distance off, was the Son of God, God-in-skin, the Messiah, writhing on a cross to save the world. But a chasm yawned open between that God and those frightened disciples.
But hadn’t that been pretty much the case ever since, very early on in the story, humanity turned its back on God and tried to light out on its own? Isn’t the most sorrowful part of the Bible’s story of The Fall into Sin the part where Adam and Eve hide from God? Oh, they claimed they were embarrassed to be naked but that surely counts as history’s first bold-faced lie. Even back then Adam and Eve were clever enough to wrap themselves up in something or another and, once they had done so, they could have happily gone to meet their Maker when he called out for them. If nakedness were the only issue, it was resolved easily enough. No, what placed them makran from God was something far more sinister and far, far less easy to cover up or repair. In fact, from the human side of things, the canyon that cleaved open between God and humanity way back when could not be bridged. We were forced to remain far off from no less than God himself
It took the Son of God to solve the problem. He journeyed directly into our far country of sin, coming down personally (and in person) to do what all of us who lived far off could not do: bring about a reunion of Creator with creature. Perhaps predictably, though no less tragically, the encounter did not initially go well. The One who made the world was persona non grata in that same world. He was unheralded, unrecognized, and finally unwelcome by the very people who were in as good a position as anyone to welcome him properly. But they kept their distance from the odd rabbi from Nazareth.
For a while, though, some drew near. Lots of people did briefly. They drew near to see what they could get from him, mostly in the form of healings or free lunches. But a select few got even closer and formed an inner circle of love and devotion. Deep down, though, they were also hoping for Jesus to deliver some things he had not come to deliver, like political clout and power and prestige. And so once it became clear that this was neither Jesus’ goal nor his destiny, they withdrew and beat the same path away from Jesus as the larger crowds had already done. By the time Jesus was approached by men wielding hammers and spikes and spits of wood, there was no one on earth to stand up for him. In the end the only people close enough to touch Jesus were the ones holding down his wrists and ankles so the spikes could be positioned just so.
“This Jesus whom you crucified . . .” Peter said. You. Of course, no one in that crowd that day had actually delivered any hammer blows. Peter had not either. He was too far off to do the actual dirty work. Still . . . Jesus was crucified precisely because we are all far off from him and, left to our own devices, we would still keep our distance even to this day.
Lots of people do, after all. Mention faith in Jesus in the “polite company” of cultural sophisticates and intellectual snobs and you’ll see eye-rolling and perhaps find yourself on the receiving end of a red-faced diatribe against the stupidity of still holding to religious faith in the modern world where science has upended and uprooted every religious precept ever naively embraced by humanity. Some people are still far off and they like it that way.
But we all were once. So what is the solution? According to Peter the way to draw near after all is baptism. We become united to Christ Jesus in the very thing that initially caused even the disciples to back way off: his death. We repent. We own up to the fact that what happened to Jesus was our fault, our doing. Those were our sins laid on him. We own up to that ugly fact and so in baptism die with Jesus. We drown. But if it’s Jesus we go down with, it is also Jesus we rise up with.
And once that happens—once Jesus easters himself into our hearts—then we find that we are no longer far off. Nope! Now we are one with him, we live “in Christ” to use the Apostle Paul’s favorite two-word prepositional phrase for the Christian life. We are reunited with the loving Creator God who in the beginning so plaintively called out for his lost children, “Adam! Eve! Where are you?” Someone once asked a rabbi why God had to ask where Adam was. “Didn’t God know?” “Oh yes, God knew,” the rabbi replied, “it was Adam who needed to know he was lost.” Indeed it was. Indeed it still is so long as we remain far off.
Thanks be to God reunion has happened. Thanks be to God for Jesus of Nazareth whom God has made both Lord and Christ. Thanks be to God that all of us who have been far off have now been brought back from that far country to live with our God forever.
From a sermon by Hugh Reed, as quoted in Paul Scott Wilson, Setting Words on Fire: Putting God at the Center of the Sermon (Abingdon, 2008, pp. 159-60):
Allan (not his real name) came to me at my previous church in Hamilton, wanting to be baptized. He was a child (or victim) of the “me decade” and felt compelled to leave home and family to find himself and, of course, lost himself, becoming a stranger to himself and the world, wandering the streets of Vancouver trapped in a world of drugs. One night he managed to get off the street for a night in one of the shelters. He crashed into the bunk, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the groans, and trying not to be overcome by the odors of the strangers in the bunks around him. He didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know who he was, but he wanted it to be over with and he considered how he might take his own life.
He was shaken out of these thoughts when someone came in and called out a name from another world.
“Is Allan Roberts here?”
That had been his name once but he hadn’t heard it for some time. He hardly knew Allan Roberts anymore. It couldn’t be him being called.
The caller persisted, “Is there anybody named Allan Roberts here?”
No one else answered and so Allan took a risk. “I’m Allan Roberts (or used to be).”
“Your mother’s on the phone.”
My mother, no, you’ve made a mistake. I don’t know where I am, how could my mother know where I am?
“If you’re Allan Roberts, your mother’s on the phone.”
Unsure what to expect, he went to the desk in the hall and took the receiver. “Allan,” it was his mother, “It’s time for you to come home.”
“Mom, I don’t know where I am, I have no money, you don’t know what I’m like anymore. I can’t go home.”
“It’s time for you to come home. There’s a Salvation Army officer who’s coming to you with a plane ticket. He’s going to take you to the airport to get you home.”
She hadn’t known where he was, she just called every shelter and hostel for months until she found him.
He went home and, supported and loved by his mother, who had never ceased to know him even though he had forgotten himself, and influenced and inspired by the faith that had sustained his mother’s hope and love, he began attending church services and one day came to my office seeking to be baptized.
He did not find his own way to my office . . . A path, not of his own making, [was] made by the love that found him, that knew him better than he knew himself, and invited him to “follow me.”
Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19
Author: Doug Bratt
Comments and Observations
Psalm 116 is a rich psalm of thanksgiving that the poet fills with vivid imagery. Yet might those who preach and teach it also proclaim it as a love song to God? Not of the romantic feeling that we sometimes confuse with love but of the kind of wholehearted adoration of the One who makes and cares for all things that are created? After all, the poet calls on the name of the Lord and finds rest in the Beloved. She also recognizes that she always lives in the Lord’s presence, fulfills her vows to the Beloved and serves the Lord.
Psalm 116 portrays an intimate, loving relationship between God and the psalmist that, as Kathryn Roberts notes, “engages all the senses.” The distressed poet has called out to be heard. The beloved God has listened to the poet, kept his feet from stumbling and wiped his tears away.
The Revised Common Lectionary appoints only verses 1-4 and 12-19 for this particular Sunday. However, that seems to unnaturally stunt the psalm’s expression of love and thanksgiving. After all, Psalm 116 begins with the poet’s song, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice.” Yet it’s not until verse 12 that the poet describes his response to God’s hearing of her voice. So even those whose preaching and teaching the lectionary shapes should feel free to explore and present the entire psalm.
Those who do so will want to reflect the psalm’s lovely tone of thanksgiving in their presentation. The psalmist is, after all, deeply thankful to God for God’s past activity. Something clearly threatened her well-being. The poet may even have been on death’s doorstep. However, scholars generally suggest that the threat to the psalmist also engulfed the whole community. So some propose that while the psalmist felt threatened, he was part of a community that was perhaps endangered by either Egyptian slavery or the Israelite exile.
Certainly the imagery the poet uses to express that threat is very vivid. He remembers feeling that “the cords of death entangled” him. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of ourselves trapped by something like seaweed or kelp that drags us down to the bottom of deep water. Or one might imagine the psalmist being in Jonah’s water-logged sandals. In fact this psalm’s language is reminiscent of Jonah’s prayer from the great fish’s belly in Jonah 2:5: “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep waters surrounded me; the seaweed wrapped around my head.”
The psalmist mentions “death,” what James Mays calls that “terrible, final word” three times. So it’s as if she felt as though she were already under death’s power. Before God graciously rescued her, death shaped the poet’s life. That’s echoed by her memory of the “anguish of the grave” (or Sheol) coming upon her. In her deathly condition the poet felt, in other words, as though she was beyond God’s loving reach.
That’s why some scholars suggest that the “precious” in “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” refers not to death’s value to God, but its costliness. They suggest that the death of God’s beloved is “precious” in the same sense that we refer to metals as “precious” or “costly.” If, after all, death or Sheol is a place from which, as Israelites believed, no one sings songs of thanksgiving to God, then death of just one saint is costly to God because it silences a song of loving thanksgiving to the Lord.
The psalmist doesn’t explicitly identify the source of her suffering. While the language is “deathly,” as Roberts points out, the psalmists often thought of distress as simply the work enemies and slanderers. So Psalm 116’s references to death and the grave may be metaphorical, perhaps alluding to the trauma of persecution, attacks by enemies or physical or mental duress.
This gives those who preach and teach it an opportunity to reflect on what leads worshipers to feel as though the death’s cords are entangling them. It also offers an opportunity for worshipers to identify with and pray for those whom God has not yet rescued, who still feel the anguish of the grave.
Whatever the source of the threat was, the psalmist cried out for help, not unlike a child whom a storm or nightmare frightens and calls for someone to come to his side. The psalmist celebrates God’s response hearing his voice, his cry for mercy and delivering his soul from death. This faithfulness shows that, as Roberts also notes, the poet’s ongoing trust is well-founded.
God’s faithfulness also fuels the poet’s determination to express her thanksgiving. So in verses 13-14 she sings, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of his people.” (italics added). And in verse 17 she adds, “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you.” (italics added).
The psalmist’s determination to audibly and publicly thank God for God’s goodness offers those who preach and teach Psalm 116 a chance to reflect with worshipers on their own responses to God’s goodness. It challenges worshipers to ask ourselves about our natural response to signs of God’s faithfulness. Do we tell God how much we love the Lord? Do we publicly and vocally express our thanksgiving to God for all God’s goodness to us?
Psalm 116 expresses the poet’s thanksgiving to God that God heard his cry for help. Yet, candidly, worshipers don’t always feel as though God hears our cries. So God’s hearing of worshipers pleas for help is sometimes a profession that experience seems to belie. Psalm 116 offers those who preach and teach it an opportunity to reflect with worshipers on the nature of God’s hearing. After all, we sometimes think that God doesn’t hear our cries. So preachers and teachers might help worshipers ask if that failure to hear is actually God’s “no” to our prayers.
However, the psalmist responds to God’s salvation with a profession of trust. He sings that God is gracious and righteous, that God is full of compassion and protects the simplehearted. So it’s as if the psalmist can lecture himself to “be at rest again.” Yet the psalmist isn’t telling himself to take a nap or go to bed. Perhaps, instead, this call to “be at rest once more” refers to the poet’s intention to visit the temple as a place where God’s presence provides both relief and security. This God has been good to the poet. God has delivered her soul from death, wiped her tears from her eyes and prevented her from falling on her face when she stumbled.
Psalm 116 is the language of an individual psalmist. Yet others have appropriated it for their own use. God’s Israelite sons and daughters recited it at the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. It’s a song individual worshipers whom God has healed or freed from some threat might sing. It’s appropriate for individual and communal celebrations of God’s faithfulness at times like Maundy Thursday and Easter. In fact, Paul seems to allude to Psalm 116:13 in his description of the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthians 10:16. He, after all, calls the communion cup “the cup of blessing for which we give thanks.”
In fact, is it too much of a stretch to think of Psalm 116 as a psalm the resurrected Jesus recited? The cords of death, after all, entangled him. The anguish of the grave came upon him. Yet God heard Jesus’ cry for mercy. On that first Easter, God raised him from the dead. And because of that resurrection, worshipers walk before the Lord in the land of the living, both now and in the glory of the new earth and heaven.
Those who preach and teach Psalm 116 might consider beginning their presentation by announcing, as a colleague once did, that they’d talked to President Obama (or Prime Minister Harper or some other world leader) on the phone that very morning. They’d note that they’d had a friendly conversation and that they’d asked that national leader to do something for them. The preacher/teacher would then announce that the president or prime minister had agreed to do that very thing.
Worshipers might think the preacher/teacher was either lying or under the influence of a drug. Yet is the psalmist’s claim any less audacious when he claims that the Lord heard his voice? That the one who makes and cares for everything that is created turned God’s face toward him and not only heard but also answered “yes” to the poet’s cry for mercy?
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.”
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.”