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April 30, 2017

 

  

4.30.17                                3 Easter                      - 1 Peter 1:17-21ESV

 

17If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

 

OUR SENSE OF SELF WORTH WITH GOD

 

Driving behind a pick-up the other day, I saw a bunch of stickers on the tailgate and bumper.  “Jesus is Lard” - “Born Again Atheist” and other similarly blasphemous sayings were proudly displayed.  Then I noticed the personalized license plate which read: “GENIUS.”  Well, that strikes me as an oxymoron – whether he was an ox or a moron, I don’t know, but I suspect he had no problem with self-esteem.  He felt good about himself and his irreligious ways, because Christians, in his opinion, I suppose, are crackpots at best, perhaps dangerous at worst.  And to be fair, sometimes avowed Christians act in ways that don’t enhance our reputation. 

 

Today we want to learn, in spite of how we may be perceived, that what we believe as Christians can give us a sense of self-worth before God, something the afore-mentioned person could not understand in his current condition.  The apostle Peter here in our text reminds us that God paid a high price for you and therefore you can have high hopes for God.  That gives us a feeling of self-esteem that is very important today.  It’s not as popular “theologian” Oprah Winfrey is quoted: “Self-esteem comes from being able to define the world in your own terms and refusing to abide by the judgments of others.”  There may be a grain of truth in that self-centered statement, but you can’t really feel good about yourself until you know how much you’re worth to God because of Jesus. 

 

Peter was writing near the end of his life, we assume, perhaps while awaiting his fate in Rome during the persecution of Nero.  Rather than thinking of himself, he was trying to encourage Christians in several churches where this letter would be read, building them up in their faith so they could face the trials and suffering they would surely encounter as well.  This is good Scripture to read whenever you’re feeling down during your time of “exile,” as Peter tells them. Whether physically they were forced out of their homeland like refugees, or they felt ostracized from their own society because of their beliefs, it tells us: Hang in there!  God will help you make it because you’re worth a lot to Him.  You can even call on Him as your “Father” who will care for His children as they serve Him. 

 

We can be so sure because it says He paid a high price for us:  (vs18) “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 

 

Ransomed.  A ransom is paid when someone is kidnapped or enslaved.  All people fall into that category by nature.  We have been kidnapped by an evil force, enslaved by a sinful nature, held hostage knowingly or unknowingly by what Peter calls the “futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” 

 

Depending on who the first recipients of this letter were, that could mean Jews who had become Christians after laboring under the rituals and rules of the ceremonial laws that had been imposed upon them by the religious establishment in previous generations.  Try as they might, they could never be sure they had done enough by their “futile” attempts to please God.  Or the recipients could have been people living under the influence of the Roman Empire which was based on Greek culture.  Both emphasized the glory of mankind: the arts and sciences were highly developed and regarded.  Their splendor can be seen in historical museums and architectural remains.  But as magnificent as it was, that lifestyle was futile, empty, vain as the word really means. 

 

You see, the common people were kept in line by steep taxes and strong-arm police.  They had little to look forward to except the next public holiday when sporting contests would be staged to entertain them.  Even the aristocratic nobles could not have been very happy for all their wealth and privilege.  To achieve fame and fortune they could enter the military or politics.  But the former required risking one’s life in fierce battles of conquest for the spoils of war and surviving the rigors of spartan camps in desolate places.  The latter meant choosing sides carefully and playing the chess match of diplomacy wisely.  For backing the wrong candidate in the intrigues of government could result in retribution or worse.  And what about the women?  Many had to bear the shame of husbands who were expected to be unfaithful.  Even among the pampered upper crust, they had to be very shrewd to maintain their status.  All of this was compounded by a religious pantheon of shrines and superstitions designed to keep the priests in power by providing a nice veneer of respectability to hide their decadent way of life. 

 

Futile, empty, vain, indeed.  Not so different, perhaps, from the American way of life passed on to us.  Ours is a society with many similarities to the golden age of Rome, it has been pointed out – a craving for pleasures, a disdain for decency, a clash of ideologies, a class warfare, and a new morality which is nothing more than the old immorality.  And who can deny that we may be part of the problem to some extent?  We get caught up in the system - to get along, you gotta go along. 

 

If that’s all we knew, we might not feel very good about ourselves today.  But there’s more.  We have been ransomed from this way of life by the life of Christ.  Not with gold or silver, as valuable as these precious metals may be as investments in uncertain economic times, they certainly cannot pay for one person’s life.  What can you exchange for your soul? Jesus asked.  Even the whole world is not enough.

 

Happily, there is something valuable enough to ransom us: “the precious blood of Christ,” it says.  How can this be?  Surely, blood is precious.  That’s why they call them “blood banks.”  But how could the blood of Jesus save us?  Well, this man whom Judas betrayed for 30 pieces of silver was the holy Son of God.  He was a “lamb without blemish or spot,” Peter wrote, alluding to the Old Testament series of sacrifices.  On the Day of Atonement, a spotless sheep was slaughtered in the temple court, the blood sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, and also sprayed in the air over the congregation waiting outside the sanctuary – a symbol that their sins were forgiven, covered by the sacrifice of a substitute.  Now Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, has actually, not symbolically, taken away the sins of the world with His own blood shed on the cross, once and for all.  Precious blood, to be sure, blood that still assures us of a clean conscience today in spite of our grimy guilt.

 

It certainly increases our self-worth with God to learn what Jesus has done for us, to remember the high price He was willing to pay for us.  Knowing that this was God’s plan from time immemorial also gives us high hopes for living with Him.  Listen again to what Peter says: (vs20) “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and hope are in God.”

 

Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that God was merely reacting to the fall of man into sin when He decided to send His Son to be our Savior.  But here and other places in Scripture we are informed that God knew what He was going to do even before He made the world.  God was our Redeemer before He was our Creator, we might say.  Of course we are delving into the mystery of eternity here.  God knows the end at the beginning.  Time is not chronological for Him, an alphabetical sequence like A to Z.  He’s outside of time, able to go forward and backward at once.   From His perspective our salvation has always been a done deal. 

 

For our sakes, however, Jesus was made “manifest in the last times.”  Interesting, isn’t it, that God regards the coming of Christ as the event that ushered in the end of the world.  Although everything goes on as it has for centuries despite climate changes, natural disasters, pandemic plagues, wars and rumors of wars, we believe that there is just one more major event: the return of Jesus in judgment.  We just don’t know when, can’t know according to Jesus Himself.  Nonetheless, the fact that God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, as we still celebrate in this post-Easter season, instills faith and hope in us – faith for the present and hope for the future.  No matter how bad things are or good things get, the best is yet to come.

 

All this should move us to “conduct ourselves in the fear” of God.  That English word, fear, is confusing – it’s more like a reverent awe of God.  You could even say it’s esteem for God above ourselves.  So we honor Him with our lips, and respect Him with our lives.  That’s the least we can do to show our appreciation for the high price He paid for us which gives us such high hopes to live for Him now and with Him forever.  

 

Jesus shows you how much you’re worth to God.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.   Amen.