In the deep and murky past, that time before COVID19, so long ago… Perhaps you remember this concept called “international travel”? Where one would leave their home and be free to travel to a distant, foreign land. You remember that? Many of you have done it. You take your passport, you pack your bags, and you fly to Spain for a three week tour, or to Jamaica for a honeymoon, or maybe to Thailand. And there you experienced beautiful, sometimes life changing things. You made memories in those foreign locations. But wherever/whenever you were, this reality was also hanging in the background: you were a stranger in that land. You were a citizen of the United States and not of Thailand – which meant that you might not be afforded the same rights as in your homeland. The basic principles sometimes were dramatically different than at home. You might not be received the same way as in your own country. And so you were cautious, deliberate about where you went and what things you did. You tread carefully with an awareness of who you were and where you really belonged. You operated with great respect for the fact that you were under the control of a foreign regime and subject to foreign rules.
It’s so easy to forget it, but the same is true for you even when you’re here – as believers, I mean. Do you remember? When Peter began this letter we’re considering together in this Easter season, it was like this: “To God’s elect, strangers in the world…” which implies that, no matter where you are, as believers you are strangers; you belong somewhere else. In v.17 today he continues: “live your lives as strangers here…” Peter doesn’t just say that we’re strangers, but that Children of the Father live like strangers here. But what will that mean?
Well, it means we live in fear… I don’t mean that we live being afraid of some human rule or law or imprisonment. Certainly not that we’re afraid of this current virus. In fact, Jesus himself has said exactly the opposite. I’m thinking of Luke 12:4-5, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (NIV84) That’s very close to what Peter says today. Strangers live with a different perspective. Peter said, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” It’s the same word Jesus used – fear – but “reverent” helps us to remember that Peter doesn’t mean that we are afraid of God. Peter’s describing a cognizance, an awareness of the divine relationship you have, and a respect that shows up in how you live…
I’m reminded of this past Lent season and some of our last fellowship meals and gatherings. During those meals, we asked families to keep their children from running wild in the gym. This year, I heard one father saying, “Now, I’ve told you not to be running. You’re my daughter and you know my rules. You behave just as if I were standing there no matter what anyone else is doing.” Peter’s talking that way. In the line of Peter’s argument he’s saying, “You might think that because of your close relationship to God as your Father, he will give you a more favorable judgment than others; that you’re just free to live however. But that won’t happen.” No, he’s holy and impartial. He’s going to judge things at the end. And what you do as believers shows that you’re his children or not… In your respect for his commands / though you’re tempted to love the world’s “freedoms”; in the love you show to those around you / though you’re tempted to participate in the world’s hateful division; in the conversations you carry out online / though it’s tempting to destroy those who disagree; in a spirit of trust that God is in control when you’re tempted to trust many human solutions… Far from taking advantage of your relationship with him… worlds away from disregarding what your Father in heaven loves… Children of the Father, who are strangers here, live in reverent fear of him.
And that’s no strange ask… That’s exactly what happens in families where children know they are loved. They don’t live in fear. They live inside of a respect for the father because they have a clear mental grasp of what he’s done. They’ve seen his love and it moves them, shapes them. And that’s how Peter goes on… He calls children of the Father to live this way because of what we know…
Peter says, “you know…” You have a clear, mental grasp on some serious facts, some undeniable things, some amazing things. In v.18 “You know…that you were redeemed” from an “empty way of life”. I think Peter’s original audience and us have it in common though separated by thousands of years of time. Perhaps he was talking to Jewish believers who had formerly thought their national identity or their holy deeds brought them to God… Maybe to the non-Jews in the congregation who had received an upbringing under pagan gods and superstitious things… No matter… You know the same foolishness. The kind the world’s fathers and mothers hand down to their children by nature – desire for sin, disregard for God, ignorance of the same. You have only to turn on the TV or look to the news to see what the world loves and would have you respect and hold dear. And even more, you have a clear, mental grasp of the foolishness, the mindlessness of that sinful life – you’ve given in to its temptations, you’ve trusted worthless human things, you’ve wallowed in fear, you’ve operated with hate… And you know that you should be afraid because of your sins – the Father is the judge, impartial, holy.
But you’re moved to love your Father and live for him by one thing. It’s that thing in v.18 again, “You know that you were redeemed…” You don’t live the foolish life the world would daily pass on and ingrain in you. You were bought and paid for, set free to really, truly live. You know that a price was paid to set you free from that foolishness and its fearful end. And it was not “with perishable things such as silver or gold.” Not with this stuff subject to inflation and corruption, whose purchasing power rises or falls, whose value is only comparable. Not with anything like that were you redeemed, but “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
An extraordinary price was paid for you. St. John says, “the blood of the Son of God.” (1 Jn 1:7) And not by accident… v.20, God planned it from before he founded the world – before he created beautiful plants and fashioned quantum mechanics or designed the iris – he planned this. That Jesus would fulfill all those Old Testament animal sacrifices, and bring actual blood-payment for your lives. That in these last days, this New Testament time, he would die on his cross – a spotless, unblemished, perfect life stepped in before the judge to declare your foolishness and mine paid, to be the sacrifice. And by God’s plan it’s been “revealed…for your sake” so that, by faith, our hearts might be forgiven and set free to live not for any of this but for our Father above.
You are, by this planned payment, at this great price, children of the Father. Know that you were redeemed; that you are his; so that you live like strangers here.
You will only be able to do that if you know where your hope lies. This is a terrible time in human history. There is a story on every side that tugs at our hearts: of COVID19 death for young and old and trials of medical personnel and of others dying from all the normal disease that runs through life and businesses and lives that are being decimated. There is so much fickle, human decision involved – no things here have been handed down from the Father. There are solutions and arguments on every hand – all made by man. I think one way about many of these things. You may think another. But for us, who believe, this one thing prevails. This is the truth: Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins and we are God’s child because through him we believe in God – the one who gloriously raised Jesus from the dead. And this Redeemer rules over all things, promising life before God in joy and peace, with power over virus and death, giving life everlasting.
“And so…” you are strangers here. As Peter said, “your faith and hope are in God.” Your trust that things will be right, our hope that things will resolve to good – in this or anything, it does not finally rest in medical advice or statistical analysis, it never has; it doesn’t rest in federalism or an article of the Constitution, that’s not the end; it doesn’t reside with some coming vaccine or people or the whims of world powers or influential figures. Your faith and your hope continually rests in God. You have seen his works of love, you know he hayd sealed the victory, and you trust he will work in love for you. And you call on this Father above to show it – that pandemic would end, that life would open and that those plans would succeed, that he will continue to use every means in this and any other thing to keep us his own, that his will be done and that we desire to see it and do it too. That’s how children of the Father live…
Martin Luther, having faced circumstances similar to those we see today, once said, “We need to hear the gospel every day, because we forget it every day.” He knew what we know. The dangers and circumstances of this life can stomp out the flame of our faith and turn us from the comfort we have in our Redeemer. The gospel reminds us that God has forgiven our sins, that He will also raise us up on the last day, and that there will actually be a last day before the judge. But he’s our Father and through his Son we live – just as though we belong somewhere else. In his explanation to the 2nd article of the Apostles Creed, I think Martin Luther put it pretty well, “He has redeemed me…that I should be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” This is most certainly true, children of the Father… so live like it.