✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Today’s Epistle encourages you to ask yourselves a very fundamental question: Who are you? What is your identity? The way you see yourself, who you are is what determines the way you live in this world. So how would you answer that question: Who are you? Often, we think of ourselves in terms of where we’re from. We’re south-siders or Wisconsinites or Americans; or we’re Germans or Finns or Swedes, and so forth. Or perhaps we think of who we are in terms of groups we identify with. We’re Packers or Brewers fans, we’re workers at a certain company, or veterans of the military. There’s our family identity–I think of myself as a parent or grandparent or spouse or child. And in today’s politicized culture, people often see their affiliation with a particular cause as the core of who they are–an environmentalist or an LGBT crusader or a libertarian or what have you.
What is it that really defines who and what you are in this world? Peter would suggest that the word which best describes your identity in this world is a pilgrim, a sojourner. To be a follower of Christ is to be a traveler, a voyager. As God’s baptized people you are on a journey to another place; you are traveling now through foreign territory to a greater destination. Though the pilgrims of Christ are dispersed throughout the world, yet together in small bands like this one, we journey to the same heavenly goal.
We must never forget that this is what and who we are; this is our true and deeper identity. This world is not home for us. We are strangers in a strange land. Like the children of Israel of old, we are on a pilgrimage through this wilderness land to the promised land of God. It is written in Philippians 3, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” And Hebrews 13 says, “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”
The temptation for us is to forget our pilgrim character as Christians. Since the journey seems so long and is often difficult, we are sometimes enticed to give up the expedition and follow the native ways of this world, to adopt their thinking and their lifestyles. The lure is always there for you to see yourself in worldly terms, to think of who you are not in terms of Christ and eternity, but in terms of all things that make you feel at home in this world, to see yourself more as American than as Christian, to be more passionate about your favorite sports team or your favorite hangout than you are about being a baptized child of God, to desert your identity as travelers and instead become homesteaders, making this passing, temporary world your home rather than setting your hearts on that inheritance from God that is undefiled and does not pass away. It is written in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
If you feel a bit out of place in this world, that’s actually a good thing; that’s how it’s supposed to be. Christians are not to be conformed to this culture. It’s not our goal to fit in with this world. St. James writes, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” For instance, while our culture teaches self-indulgence and doing whatever feels good in its music and television, Peter writes here, “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” Such things are more than just diversions from the journey, they actually turn you around and take you in the opposite direction of your destination. They are traps and snares which try to hijack your making it to the final goal. They take your eyes off of Christ, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Peter says, “Do not use your liberty as a cloak for vice,” as a cover up and an excuse for sin. Abstain, stay away from any such thing.
Now, all of this does not mean that we should stay away from the world altogether and cloister ourselves off in seclusion somewhere. As pilgrim Christians who are not of the world, God still has given you to live in the world and to be reflections of His light to the world. Indeed, St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that if you were to try to avoid contact with the ungodly entirely, you would have to leave the world. And God’s intention for you is not yet to leave the world, but to be the salt of the earth as you travel on your way.
Therefore Peter writes in the Epistle, “Have your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” Live honorably and with integrity among the pagans and unbelievers and skeptics of this world. Though they may put down Christians or Missouri Synod Lutherans as being closed-minded or self-righteous or speak ill of you in some other way, let your good conduct show that their accusations are slanderous and false. Perhaps by observing your behavior, they may be drawn to respect what you believe and want to join you in this pilgrimage, so that in the end they, too, will glorify the true God for what He has done for us all in Christ.
That’s one of our primary reasons for wanting to do good works, to lead lives that honor God and His saving Gospel. It’s not so that we can somehow win our way into God’s favor. For not only is that impossible, but Christ has already won us into the Father’s favor by His good works and by His death for our sins which has reconciled us to God. No, we do good works, rather, as it is written in Titus, “to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” The Gospel of Christ is the most precious jewel we could possess. And we want our lives to be a setting for that jewel which ornaments and glorifies it, which draws others to the Gospel rather than dragging it through the mud and giving others the occasion to call Christians hypocrites. Out of love for Christ we seek to live honorably and with love toward our neighbor so that others might also know the love of Christ and honor Him.
One of the ways we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior is by submitting to the laws of the land. Even though as citizens of heaven we are like foreigners in foreign territory here, yet we honor governmental authority, just as we would honor the authorities if we were traveling through another country. Peter writes, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” Even though civil authority is temporary and of this world, yet the Scriptures teach that it is established by God. Those in authority are put there by the Lord to punish what is wrong and promote what is right. And that is good and necessary, even if the ruler is not a Christian. As long we are not caused to sin by the authorities and their laws, we are bound to obey them as God’s representatives. This honors God and, Peter says, it puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men who would want to assign evil motives to Christians in this world.
The other way to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior mentioned in today’s Epistle is to be a good and faithful worker, to be a diligent and honest employee. And the situation that Peter addresses here serves to emphasize that point. For he speaks not simply to employees but to servants. It is written, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all reverence, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.” Now, if that applies in a master/servant relationship, which we wouldn’t describe as being the best situation, how much more does it apply to an employer/ employee relationship. It is written elsewhere, “Servants, whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Of course, that’s also a reminder to employers to act not selfishly but as agents of God. But still, to honor the one in authority, in government or in the workplace or wherever, is to honor the Lord who has established the authorities.
That’s how the Epistle can state that it is commendable to suffer wrongly, if you endure grief because of conscience toward God. If a Christian endures in doing good as a citizen under an unjust ruler or as a worker under a tyrannical boss, that is praiseworthy in God’s sight, because that is the way of faith. Such a person is seeing and honoring the God who instituted earthly authorities, even if the authorities themselves are dishonoring their God-given offices. And, such a person is doing as our heavenly Father does, who gives daily bread even to the evil. Now, Peter says, if you suffer by your own fault–if you break the law or are a lazy worker and have to suffer the consequences–that is of no credit to you. But St. Peter concludes, “When you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.”
What is commendable above all is to lay down your life for your faith in Christ. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You may have heard this past week, how yet again ISIS terrorists captured and murdered dozens of Christians simply for their faith in Christ. Rather than deny Jesus and convert to Islam, they faced death, being shot in the head in one instance, being beheaded in another, their severed heads being placed on their dead bodies and photographed for all the world to see. The enemies of Christianity think this is a great victory that they are achieving. But in fact it is the Christians who win. For by their deaths, they witness to the greatness of their Savior Jesus, who holds them as His own even in suffering and who will raise their bodies from the dead on the Last Day to greater glory. Only pilgrims can behave as those Christians did. Only those who aren’t attached to this world, whose citizenship is in heaven can do what they did. They are a witness and encouragement to us who follow Christ not to lose heart. “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
It is written in the book of Revelation, “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
How long, O Lord? Jesus answers that question in today’s Gospel when He says, “A little while.” “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again, a little while, and you will see Me.” “I am about to go the cross to suffer your sins to death in My body and win your full and free forgiveness. And you are my pilgrim followers. You are baptized into Me. So don’t be surprised when those little whiles of affliction come, when you can’t seem to see Me, when life is fierce, when you are sharing in my trials, when it seems like all is lost. Always remember, it really is only a little while that you must endure. That pain, that disease, that heartache, that difficult situation is almost over. Just hang on to Me. Trust in Me to pull you through it. It may seem like an eternity, but only three days. Easter is coming. Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
This final deliverance, the resurrection on the Last Day, is what you are to focus on. It is written in Hebrews, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Trust in Jesus to carry you through. For in fact He has already carried you through by dying and rising again. He’s already conquered all that weighs you down. It’s just a matter of time for that victory to be revealed. It’s only a little while more, and then comes the forever, the unending while of dwelling in the majesty of our Lord and the perfect happiness and completeness that His presence brings. Then comes the time, Jesus says, when “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”
So, fellow travelers, do not lose heart. You can’t see Christ now, but you will. And you get to behold Christ by faith even now in this place. After the little while of this past week, you see Him again in His Supper, receiving His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He comes to give your hearts joy that no one can take from you. He comes to comfort you and strengthen you to complete the journey. For He is the Way.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠