Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
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Note: All Scripture quotations in the written sermon are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The sermon text for the seventh Sunday of Easter is the epistle reading from 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction: Nobody saw this coming, nobody at all. I imagine six or seven months back nobody could have guessed that this type of trial could come on the world: a coronavirus and the loss of many personal freedoms and how almost everyone in the world has been affected, personally. through their job, through their business, the world’s economy, nobody saw this coming. Except of course God. God knew, for God knows all things, He has foreseen all things, and because He is God He has allowed this trial to come upon the world.
1) Do not be surprised at the fiery trial which has come upon us to test us
St. Peter gives us some help as we are going through this difficult time as to how to think about all of this, how we should process it, and how we should deal with it as Christians. He writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12). St. Peter is saying whenever a difficult, a fiery trial, comes upon you, or your family, or the church, or maybe even the whole nation, he says don’t be surprised as if something strange is happening and he says rather the fiery comes upon you to test you. This is faith language. He is saying whenever we go through a difficult trial it tests our faith, it tests our ability to continue to trust in God as a loving God as we go through the trial. The test is will we remain in the faith or will we reject God and say, “God I don’t want to have anything to do with you because you have allowed this trial to come upon me.” Or it can be a test where we try to take matters into our own hand and try to engineer a way out of the trial and so save ourselves from the trial.
2) But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed
What does Peter tell us to do? He says, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet 4:13). Rejoice? What is St. Peter talking about when he says rejoice? How can I rejoice during this coronavirus lockdown? St. Peter is not talking rejoice as in a bravado, cover-opposite kind of rejoicing where we are trying to show the world how wonderful our faith is in the midst of suffering. He is saying, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” He is saying when you suffer as a Christian for bearing Christ’s name, when suffering comes that way then you rejoice. Today in our current situation with the coronavirus and lockdowns all around the world this is not a suffering directed right at the church, it is a government response that we could say might not be the smartest response to lockdown everything in the economy, people can argue that. It may not be the smartest response but it is an equal opportunity response in that it is not just Christians who are being affected, every religious group is being affected, every religion that gathers to worship, and also all parts of society are being affected at the same time. In many ways sports is an idol of our society and that is not being allowed due to the lockdown, the same for kids’ sports or theatre and the arts or musical concerts and going to a movie theatre to watch a movie. All of that has been equally affected by the government’s reaction to the coronavirus. And so while I don’t think we can say we are suffering directly because we are Christians because of the coronavirus we certainly are suffering because the Bible speaks of the regular way of worship being Christians gathering together to hear the Word of God and we receive the sacrament together. And so we are suffering because we greatly desire to have that fellowship and receive the sacrament together and because that is not happening right now we are suffering. St. Peter is saying, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed”. The idea is we suffer now but we always have the end in view and the end is Christ will come and He will raise us from the dead and we will be glorified with Him. We look forward to that even in our sufferings. Before we became Christians, St. Peter says in chapter one, our lives were meaningless and our pursuits were meaningless, but now they have meaning and our life has meaning because it is in Christ. And in the end even though we don’t understand the reason for our suffering and our trials now, in the end we will understand. That will come later. As for sufferings he says we must not suffer for being criminals for disobeying the authorities for being a murderer or a thief or an evildoer, we must not do any of that but he does speak a little of judgement.
In verses 17 and 18 he says, “For it is time for judgement to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'” (1 Pet 4:17-18). Peter is speaking of something fairly unique and not spoken of much in the New Testament. He is speaking of inaugurated judgement. To understand this think of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God came in Jesus Christ as He began His ministry. The kingdom of God is the gracious rule and reign of God in Jesus Christ, as Christ went around and beat back Satan and healed sick people and forgave sins and ultimately died on the cross and redeemed the world from sin and death. All that began in Christ’s ministry. The kingdom of God has come into the world in Christ and is here now and will be here until Christ returns on the Last Day and then the kingdom of God will be revealed visibly in total power as Christ reigns. Peter is saying that in essence a portion of God’s end times judgement to sinners has come on the world now. Peter is not talking to us as Christians here, his focus is on the unbeliever which he has spoken of earlier. He’s speaking to the unbeliever and he is saying a bit of God’s judgement for sin has come on the world now and it has even indirectly fallen on God’s church. Don’t think that God will judge you on the Last Day because of your sins. No. All your sins have been taken away in Christ. Christ has been judged for all your sins, they have been put away in Christ, you have been justified. And so this judgement that has come upon the world is not for you the Christian but is for the world. The purpose of the judgement is so that people who are not in Christ might feel the wrath of God in order that they might repent of their sins and the Holy Spirit might give them faith in Christ. But for us as the Church, this judgement of God that has been poured out on the world it comes on us the Church and functions like discipline, that God disciplines us so that we do not love the world and so that we seek to follow Him and not love the world knowing that our true life and inheritance are in Christ and in the world to come.
3) With for the God of all grace to lift you up
What is Peter’s message of comfort and Gospel as we suffer as Christians in these coronavirus days? It is wait for the God of all grace to lift you up. That’s the good news.
The first part of it is wait. That’s not easy, that’s difficult. He writes, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet 4:19). His message is while you are suffering you wait but you entrust your soul to a faithful Creator who hasn’t abandoned you and who loves you. He writes also in chapter five, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…” (1 Pet 5:6). His call to us as we wait is we humble ourselves , that’s what we actively do, we don’t try to save ourselves from the fiery trial, we humble ourselves unto God and what He is doing, so that at the proper time He may lift you up. The promise is that while we wait the suffering will not happen forever and when the right time comes God is going to raise you up out of the trial and the suffering. Speaking of the end of it all in verse ten he says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10). Peter is saying yes the suffering is going to happen for awhile but once it is done the God of all grace who has called you into eternal glory in Christ will restore you, perhaps even right back to how things were before this trial started. He will confirm you in your faith as you know you have made it through this trial and He has provided for you. God is strengthening your faith and establishing you in it. In the end you will come out of this trial stronger in your faith in Christ than you were before.
But maybe you are saying to yourself, I know that Pastor Korsch, I trust in God that there is going to be an end to this and God is going to make me stronger at the end of this, but I’m suffering so much now, it’s so difficult now Pastor, what do you have to say to me now! I hear you. It’s difficult. What does the Word of God have for us? St. Peter writes, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Pet 5:7). Cast all your anxieties on God right now because He loves you and He cares for you. Jesus Christ, your Lord and Saviour, He takes all of your anxieties from you even in the midst of your suffering. He does that through prayer as you communicate to Him all the things that are happening to you and your anxieties. Maybe you have many anxieties: for yourself and your health, and your children’ health. Maybe you have anxiety for your job, if you are going to have a job when this is all over or for your business if it is going to survive this and be able to keep going when this is over. Or maybe you have anxieties about the country and the direction that the country is taking. Whatever your anxieties might be the Lord calls you: place those anxieties on me and I will take them all off your back and I will give you peace. That’s what Jesus does, He takes all your anxieties off of you and He loads them on Himself so that you may walk free of them without their daily burden.
God’s care for us truly begins with forgiveness. That’s where it all starts. God in Christ has lifted all your anxieties and He has put them on Christ as He was lifted up on the cross to death for our sins and then raised from the dead defeating death and now is ascended into heaven. Christ lifts your anxieties and He takes them to His tomb where they die and He rises from the dead and you know that a heavenly welcome awaits you and the joy of being with Christ and having no anxiety awaits you. That’s what Christ says to you, that’s the beautiful Gospel: cast all your anxieties on Me, because I care for you.
Right now is a beautiful time to remember the Gospel that comes in Isaiah 26:3-4, where God the Father speaks, “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3). That’s the beautiful gospel: God keeps you and me in perfect peace as we unload all our anxieties on Him. He by His Spirit changes our minds so that it is stayed on Him and our minds have peace as we know and trust that God is in control of all things and He will not let things happen to us that we cannot handle that will take our faith away. He is in control and that gives us peace. He is in control now and He is in control of the future. Verse four ends, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (Isa 26:4).
Conclusion: Nobody, nobody could have predicted that this would have happened six or seven months ago, that this fiery trial would have come upon us and the church and the whole world. But the good news we have from St. Peter’s first epistle is wait for the God of all grace to lift you up because He will lift you up. God is strengthening us even in the midst of this trial. He takes our anxieties and replaces them with His peace. He gives us rock solid trust that He is in control. He is blessing us now in giving us strength and endurance in the midst of this trial. And then of course at the end will come the glory when Christ returns. He will raise us from the dead and we will be with Him forever in glory. Then all these trials will have meaning and we will understand them all. But until then, wait for the God of all grace to lift you up! In Christ’s most holy Name. Amen.