Philip Casmer

This is grace…

by Philip Casmer on April 30th, 2023
1 Peter 2:19-25

You poured the wine without spilling a drop into the wee hours at the feast the night before. You woke at the break of day to bake more bread or muck the stables or prepare your lessons to later school the children, laundered the robes and all the smelly underthings, swept the courtyard, arranged the sandals, fluffed the pillows, all with a demeanor and tone of respect and honor… Still, as a slave in first century Galatia or Cappadocia, your day might end with a beating – the pillows weren’t fluffed enough or your words had just the wrong tone or your master was just fickle – your day might end with a beating. And we would say that’s unfair, painful, sad, tragic, unjust… 

You don’t have to be a 1st century slave – that’s who Peter’s talking to in v.18 just before our section – to know “having to put up with” or “bearing up under” or “submitting to” unjust, unfair things – suffering for doing good. Might be getting in trouble in class when you weren’t doing wrong, or getting passed over for a promotion that you’re the obvious choice for, or putting up with worldly mockery for righteous behavior… They’re the situations in which you and I might say, “This doesn’t seem fair or right; this hurts; it’s hard…” and, “I don’t want to do this…” And St. Peter would say, “This is grace…

Literally, that’s what he says, the first three words of v.19 are: “This is grace…” It struck me when I was reading it a few days ago and I’ve been thinking about that since… Properly, the translation you’ve got there in the bulletin is good – that’s what it should be, “This is commendable…” or another I like said, “This finds God’s favor…” But, I don’t think it would be bad altogether to think of what Peter’s saying today in this way – that all this is grace…

What is grace? It’s Confirmation Sunday – the students thought they were done with questions after Thursday night’s examination, but no… The definition is one of the most basic Catechism terms: Grace is undeserved love; it’s love that comes and is given when there is no expectation of repayment, no ability to do that, totally free-for-nothin’ and even to the worst of the worst; but biblically, grace is God’s undeserved love for us in Christ Jesus… It is, to paraphrase Paul, “God’s gift to us.” 

So, in Peter’s letter, here’s the gift… “God’s pleased if [you] bear up under the pain of unjust suffering…” And his logic in the next verse makes sense: It’s not to your credit to be punished for doing wrong – you should face punishment for wrongdoing. But this is the opposite: for right-doing you get punished or abused or scorned or mistreated and you bear it – and – perhaps to make it even more uncomfortable – all that “because you are conscious of God.” 

That’s like the opposite of what I did last week… My car told me I had only 16 miles left before empty. And so I took the gas card from home and I told my wife, “After church on Sunday I’ll fill the car up with gas.” I got into the car, pulled the card out of my pocket, put it into the cup holder, a bit self-satisfied that I had remembered about the gas, if I’m honest. Then 6.4 mins later, I was staring down at that gas card having just pulled into my driveway… I autopiloted, even when I intended not to…

But that’s not this… Peter’s talking about when you, because you know God – when you’re operating as a Christian on purpose – making good choices and having God-pleasing designs… When, because you know God, you submit to and suffer pain and unjust treatment even though you’re doing right – that’s pleasing to God… And I say, it’s God’s gift to you, this is grace… because Peter even says, “to this you were called…”

Callings are important. We say things like, “If you can find a career that you love doing – that’s your calling – and then life’s enjoyable…” Doesn’t have to be your career – it’s that thing that gives you this sort of satisfaction of knowing, “Yes, I’m where I’m supposed to be…” So, the calling of Christian life in St. Peter’s mind is this: “To [suffering when you shouldn’t have to & God being pleased about that, to this] you were called…” Why? Well, he’s clear… “because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” 

Let’s mark out Jesus’ steps real quick. Peter lists Christ’s example for the lives to which you are called in v.22-23.

  1. he did not do sins; don’t do wrong things in God’s sight;
  2. no lies; no framing things up for self-benefit, telling his own narrative…
  3. no retaliation when being insulted; 
  4. no threats when suffering at the hands of others (though he was quite capable of divine retaliation); 
  5. and the end of v.23, “Instead [of all those things where he’d take power into his own hands], he entrusted himself to him who judges justly,” to God…

There’s your pattern, your calling – to know that justice, right, reward and all is in God’s good hands and then to act accordingly in the best and the worst of circumstances… There’s your calling; you’re following in Christ’s footsteps… 

Did you ever do that with your kids? Out in the snow – 12 inches of snow – you footstep a pathway and then they try to follow, stepping in the holes you made – the prints? That’s a schadenfreude moment for me because, growing up in the Southwest, I did not ever have to know the plague of the comically diminished range of motion little kid snowgear brings – they’re like little marshmallow starfish. There’s no stepping in the steps – it’s like stumbling, off-balance wobbliness, and derpy faceplants – usually someone cries because they find out how evil and cold snow is… 

So, here we are, on Confirmation Day, and you/these students promise to follow in the footsteps of Christ. …to lead your/their lives according to his Word. …to put aside the temptations and whatever else and follow where he has led. Should we tell them, do you think? Should we tell them how it is, really? That it’s so many missteps, Christian life? That we’re so tempted to be treading our own pathways much of the time? That we get angry with those we love most and that we have retaliated when threatened and we’ve made threats to get what we want and it’s because it’s such a temptation to take control (or believe we can) of life ourselves – to use power or wit or money or… to get what we want or think we need – and to feel like, perhaps, God doesn’t quite know what justice is? Should we tell them that what they’re really signing up for is like, a lot of terrible face-planting over and over again? That’s sort of depressing… 

Peter would say, “This is grace…” Undeserved love – because where do Jesus’ footsteps lead? “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.” His footsteps led to Golgotha, to death – to make payment for the guilt of sins – pastors’ sins, people’s sins, students’ sins. He knew how misplaced our steps are and how feeble our balance is, how often we fall into sins. That’s why he came – for this gift – he brought his perfect life and offered it up to be our perfection and surrendered to unjust death so that we would live. You students recited it Thursday night: “by his death [Jesus freed] those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:15, NIV) By his death, his payment, Jesus brings freedom from the fear of death as punishment – your sins are paid; and from death as prison – it can’t hold you. “By his wounds [his suffering, pain, death for our sins], we are healed,” so that you can follow him. Here’s how Peter said it – here’s God’s gift: Jesus suffered and died “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness,” so that being moved by Jesus’ love for us, doing what God hates would not be part of who we want to be, and what God loves is exactly what we want to do. 

Should we be confident? Even with missteps – even with the failures and in the temptations – even though Martin Luther’s right and Christian life is one “of repentance – daily turning away from sins”? Absolutely! I’m still very confident. Not because of you… Every year, someone in class asks, “Are we the best catechism class, pastor?” And, every year, I don’t answer that question in any real way, because – does it really matter? My confidence is not really how good you are at memorizing or how well behaved or our accomplishments or how well things are going – nor should yours be… The confidence is that “this is grace…” and the undeserved love of God in Jesus Christ says this kind of thing about our lives…

You and I will surely go astray in various ways… but we live, day by day, under “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” You and I go out to live under the Shepherd: Jesus guides us and feeds us with his Word and provides for our wants and our needs and walks with us through green pastures and even the valley of death – he even laid down his life for us. We live and work under the Overseer, the Guardian – who will keep us and protect us, make camp around us like a night watch and hold the power and capability to do what he’s promised – everything that is for our best even in what sometimes feels worst. Or, it’s just like these students will sing shortly: I do not so much hold on to him; Christ will hold me fast

When you look at it that way, perhaps Peter’s framing isn’t crazy… The Son of God suffered and died to set you free – without guilt or fear – to pursue what God loves knowing he loves you. I think we’d say, “this is grace…” And, even if the sinful world besets me and you with unfair burdens and unreasonable persecution and all manner of suffering, we will bear up under that – because we’re conscious of this gracious God who holds us and guards us and keeps us as his own – and we want others to be conscious of him too. This is our calling, after all: that this life we lead, these promises you make, the things we do – it’s not our power, our designs, but his – following the good pattern Christ has made and walking in his footsteps… So that, in all of our own steps – the hard, the comfortable, the new, the suffering – we’ll say, “This is grace…” all of it. 

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