Thank You: Redeemed by Christ
9/25/2017 7:38:30 PM
“Thank You: Redeemed by Christ”
1 Peter 1:13-2:3
September 10, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3-2:3
It’s 1944. You’re a US Airforce crewmember on a B-17 bomber. You are flying over Romania on an important mission to destroy an oil refinery. You huddle near your machine gun on the side of the plane, bundled up in a warm leather jacket, gloves and hat. At high altitude, the bomber you’re in gets very cold! As you near your target, the enemy on the ground starts shooting at your plane. Black puffs of flak fill the sky, bits of metal exploding in the air hoping to knock out an important part of a plane.
Then, German fighter planes begin streaking around the formation of bombers, dodging machine gun fire, trying to score a hit on a bomber. Imagine your terror! Imagine the adrenaline coursing through your body. Your plane is taking hit after hit! But it’s a tough plane, designed for this kind of punishment!
Over the oil refinery, the bombadier releases your plane’s load of bombs and you feel the aircraft lift up as the thousands of pounds of bombs drop away from the bottom of the plane. Still the enemy is shooting up at you from the ground and fighters fly past you trying to shoot you out of the sky! Although your bombing run is complete, your mission isn’t over. You still have to get home! And the Germans are happy to shoot you down on your way home to make sure you don’t come back!
As your plane turns for your home base in Italy, there is a shudder. One of the four engines stops. Then another. Your plane is only flying with half power now. The pilot comes on the radio and tells you all to start dumping anything heavy you can out of the plane. You need to lighten the plane if you’re going to be able to fly over the mountains of Yugoslavia to get back home. Imagine how you feel as you and the crew start dumping everything you can find, machine guns, bullets, tools, anything not locked down. But it’s not enough. The pilot cannot get enough power to climb over the mountains! You’re going to have to bail out of the aircraft over Nazi occupied Yugoslavia!
You and the crew put on your parachutes. You line up by the side door. Imagine how you feel staring down at the tree tops getting ready to jump out of a plane. One by one, you jump out of the damaged bomber. You’re startled to notice the complete silence after the noise of the plane’s engines and the sounds of battle. In the distance, you see your plane flying along on autopilot. You watch as it hits the side of a mountain and explodes! For a while you can see some of the parachutes of the crew, slowly blowing further and further away. You are utterly alone. You have no idea where you are other than “somewhere in German occupied Yugoslavia.”
You have no idea what is going to happen on the ground. You hope no Germans see you floating down because you would be an easy target for their machine guns. You also don’t want to get captured. There are rumours that the Germans would rather shoot captives than feed and house them.
The ground below you is covered in dense forest. You try to angle for a clearing but you have little control over your chute. Then you notice people in the clearing. They’re watching you, pointing. They starting moving to intercept you. Imagine how you feel! Who are they? Are they friend or foe?
You land with a thud and see a handful of men approaching you. They have guns but aren’t pointing them at you. They’re not wearing German helmets or uniforms. As they get closer, they smile and you and hold up their hands! Smiling, they point to the American flag patch on your shoulder and give you a “thumbs up!” What amazing luck! They’re not Germans; they’re Serbian partisans fighting against the German occupation! Imagine how you feel! They pat you on the back and motion for you to come with them!
Over the next week, they move you from village to village, hiding you from German patrols. Each night, you visit a new family who offers you a meagre dinner of potatoes and whatever vegetables they can find. After the first day or two, you realize they are giving you their own food! They have almost nothing to eat themselves. Many of them don’t even have shoes. There’s barely a blanket for each family, but whatever they have, they give to you! Why? Because they are so happy that the Americans are helping to fight off the German invaders who have occupied their country for years. They are filled with gratitude! How would you feel
knowing they appreciate your efforts so much that they are willing to give you everything they have?
A few weeks go by, moving you from village to village in the hills and mountains. Finally, you are brought to a large camp hidden in a remote valley. Here there are hundreds of other US Airmen, along with a number of British and Canadian fliers. A few months later, you and over 400 other soldiers are air lifted out of the Yugoslavian mountains! Over that time, the local villagers have sheltered you, fed you and hidden you from German soldiers. Your gratitude is overwhelming as they risk their lives to keep you safe. As you and your fellow soldiers board the escape aircraft, you look for a way to say thank you to the local villagers. You all start taking off your jackets, removing your boots and gloves, and rush to give them to the villagers. Hugs and kisses abound and you say thank you and then rush to board your planes to escape. Imagine how you would feel flying home!
For the rest of your life, those Serbian villagers hold a special place in your heart. Their gratitude for the US’s efforts to liberate their country and to fight alongside them against Germany meant they gave everything they had and risked their lives to keep you safe. It is with great sadness that you watch from home as the Communists take over Yugoslavia after the war and it becomes a totalitarian state part behind the Iron Curtain.
How would you feel about those Serbians? How would you have reacted to their generosity when rescuing you? Their actions were motivated by gratitude for the US fighting against the Germans. Would you feel gratitude in response? We struggle, sometimes, in the face of generosity. Sometimes, when confronted with generosity and self-sacrifice, we feel guilty. What did we do to deserve this? But guilt is not the proper response to generosity. Gratitude is. When we receive generosity we need to respond with gratitude.
That is what the soldiers in Yugoslavia felt when the local villagers kept them safe. I read a great book about it over the summer entitled The Forgotten 500. Hundreds of US airmen were shot down and had to abandon their planes over German occupied Yugoslavia. Many were rescued by Serbians who were also fighting the Germans. These people kept them safe and moved them around and eventually the US was able to send a daring mission to bring them home. As I read the book, I was struck by the mutual gratitude the Serbs and Americans had for one another and how it motivated them to action. Their gratitude moved them to self-sacrifice and generosity towards one another.
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship
Over the next four weeks, we are going to be talking about gratitude. We are going to be talking about gratitude towards God for what he has done for us. Thank you that we are redeemed by Christ. Thank you that we are adopted by God. Thank you that we are changed by the Spirit. Thank you that we are renewed by the Spirit. We may not be US soldiers rescued by Serbian partisans, but we still have much to be thankful for. In fact, as amazing as the story is about the Serbians who helped save 500 US airmen from the Germans, what God has done for us is even more spectacular, even more impressive! And we are going to explore that over the next few weeks.
But why? Why are we looking at gratitude? Why do a series about what God has done for us? As most of you know, I’ve been on sabbatical for the past 3 ½ months. Over that time, much of my study was focussed on Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. As I was working through this challenging but rewarding material, I got thinking about why it is so hard for us to grow in spiritual and emotional maturity? Why is it that most churches are not known for being filled with kind people? Why is it that the church in the West has such a bad reputation? Why are fewer people in the West living a Christian life? Why are we not filled with the fruit of the Spirit? Why are we not very different from the non-Christians around us?
These are troubling questions because we have God on our side. Sure, change is hard, but we have the Holy Spirit working within us. We have Jesus in our hearts! Why don’t we live like it? I don’t live like it. I don’t really know many people who do. But it’s not an issue of not having enough knowledge, or not having access to enough power to change and grow. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, so why are we not very godly? (2 Pe 1:3)
I’ve been reflecting on this problem for years. As a pastor, I want to grow and I want to see all of you grow too. I want us to be like Jesus. I want us to live Christ-like lives. Why we don’t is baffling at times. How to help us all grow and change is elusive. As I reflected on this over my sabbatical, it dawned on me that in the West we have life pretty good. We don’t need to change in order to be comfortable. We don’t need to change to
live long lives. We don’t need to change much to get along very well in this world. Change is hard, we have it good, so why do the hard work of changing? I think one of the major reasons we don’t change and grow as Christians in the West is that we don’t have a lot of motivation to change.
After I finished reading my book, the Forgotten 500, while preparing sermons on EHD, God helped me put it together. Our motive for growing as Christians in the West needs to be gratitude. We aren’t facing persecution. We have access to the Bible and all sorts of tools for studying it. We have an abundance of devotional guides. There are hundreds of leadership resources for pastors and churches. But it isn’t making a huge difference because we aren’t motivated to change. We aren’t motivated to grow closer to God and more like Jesus. But when we feel gratitude, we will be motivated to change. When we feel gratitude to God for what he has done for us, we will be more likely to cooperate with what he wants to do in us. When we stop and think and let it seep into our soul that God has done so much for us, we are more likely to respond to that work and to submit to the further work of the Spirit in us.
So, in preparation for our series on Emotionally Healthy Relationships this fall, and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality in the winter or spring, we are doing a series on gratitude to God. At the end of today’s message, I want us all to walk away with an understanding of where we find our motivation for change and growth in the Spirit. I will also give us a practical step we can take each day to help build that foundation for change and growth. We need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works in us to refine our character, to clean off the dirt and grime of sin that coats our heart and to polish us to reflect the very nature of God we see in Christ Jesus. We are to be mirrors reflecting Jesus’ character to the world around us.
Over the coming months, we are going to learn some skills that will help us to cooperate with the Spirit as He works on our hearts. We are also going to learn some skills in how we relate to one another on a daily basis that will reflect the reality of Jesus in our hearts. But all of this needs to be grounded on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. So please turn with me to our passage today, found in 1 Peter 1.
What It Says
This is one of many passages that talks about what God has done for us. It is also one of many passages that talks about what the Christian life is to look like. It is no coincidence that both topics appear side by side! As we seek to grow in Christ-likeness, we must always keep in mind that our growth is a result of what God has done for us. It is never something we do in order to get God to love us more, or to get God to be pleased with us so he saves us. It is always something we do as a response, as a reaction to what God has already done for us!
Consider our passage before us today. Our text kind of makes a sandwich. The first few verses talk about Christian living- how to live for Jesus, how to obey God and that we are to be holy. That’s the top layer of bread. The middle section is theological. The middle section, the theological meat of the sandwich, talks about what Christ did for us in redeeming us. The last few verses, the bottom layer of the sandwich, get back to how to live a Christian life. It talks about loving one another and ridding ourselves of those things contrary to the Christian life, like malice, envy and slander. So there’s a section on how to live for Jesus, a middle section on why we live for Jesus, and then another section on what it means to live for Jesus. That’s the big picture, now let’s take a closer look.
Verse 13 begins with “therefore” and as I’ve said before, whenever you find “therefore” in the Scripture, it’s important to see what it’s there for. In this case, Peter has been talking about the salvation we have in Christ. Verse 13, then, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Peter is saying, “In light of the great salvation God has provided to you, prepare your minds, control your wills, set your desires (hopes) on the grace you will receive when Christ returns.”
You see here that we have several elements of the human nature, or the human heart. As we’ve talked about before, the heart in the ancient world, including the Bible, does not mean the emotions. The heart is the centre of a person’s character and personality. It includes the emotions, but also the mind, the will, desires, preferences and imagination.
Peter says we are to prepare our minds. Literally, the word is “gird up” which is a reference to clothing. In that time, men wore long robes. When they had to run, or had to do hard work, they would gather up those
robes and tuck them into their belt so they wouldn’t trip over the robe. This was “girding up” their robe in order to “get down to work.” Peter says we are to “gird up” our minds, we are to prepare them for action, for hard work.
We are also to be self-controlled. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Self-control has to do with our will. We all have desires. We have good desires. We have bad desires. We want things. Some of those things are good, some are bad, some are good things we want in a bad way. Our will directs our actions based on our desires. Being self-controlled means being in control of our will, being in control, being wise about what our will directs us to do based on our desires. When we are self-controlled, we do not satisfy those unholy desires we have, we do not satisfy our desires for good things we want in a bad way; rather we control ourselves and pursue our good desires, our holy desires.
Third, we are to place our hope on the future we have in Christ. Hope is related to our desires too. We have hope for the future. Our hope resides in our heart in the broad understanding of heart. Hope can drive us on to action, help us persevere and sets the direction or trajectory of our lives. Where we set our hope tells us a lot about where we want to wind up in the future. Christian living means putting all of our hope on the grace we will receive when Christ returns. That is supposed to be our goal in life. That should be our long term goal, our long term purpose in life. Putting all our hope on that glory means taking our hope off things like success, off things like “making it big,” off things like living comfortably, living a long life, our children being successful, etc.
So what Peter is saying is that our whole heart, our whole being, our thoughts, our actions and our goals in life are to be shaped by the salvation we have in Jesus. We are to be like obedient children not disobedient children, rejecting our evil desires. Later on Peter speaks of us having been “born again” in verse 23 and in 2:2, speaks of us as “new-born babies.” These are references to the new life we have in Jesus. We often speak of being “born again” as Christians. Sadly, that has come to mean that at one point in time we made a decision and said a prayer. For Peter, and the rest of the NT, being born again means being radically changed and having a new life that looks completely different from the world of sin. It is an ongoing experience which includes growth, just like a new baby. It includes learning and maturing as we grow into Godly spiritual adults.
This radical change, this new life, this re-birth, is made possible by Jesus. The meat of our Scripture sandwich today talks about this. Peter say in verse 18, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” There are a couple images being used here there need to be explained for us.
I will start with the second image, taken from Israel’s history in the OT. Jesus is said to be “a lamb without blemish or defect.” This is a reference to the Passover lamb that each Jewish family would sacrifice during the Passover festival. But this tradition dated all the way back to the time Israel was rescued from slavery in Egypt. When God sent Moses to free his people from bondage in Egypt, the Pharaoh kept resisting and wouldn’t let the people leave. God then sent 10 plagues on Egypt to demonstrate his power and convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. The 10th plague, the worst of the bunch, is the source of the Jewish Passover. Each Israelite family was to take a lamb that was without blemish or defect and they were to sacrifice this lamb the night before the 10th plague. They used the blood of the lamb to mark their door posts, they then roasted the lamb and ate it. They were to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Then, during the night, God’s angel of death passed through the land of Egypt, killing the firstborn son in every household. However, when the angel came to the doors with the lambs’ blood on them, he passed over those houses.
For centuries, the Jews celebrated Passover, sacrificing a lamb without blemish or defect, as a reminder of when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, when the angel of death passed over the houses of their ancestors. This was the most important festival in the Jewish year and Peter is equating Jesus with those unblemished lambs sacrificed so that death would not punish those households.
The other image I want to expand upon for us is in the word “redeemed.” We don’t use this word much anymore. Mostly we redeem coupons and that’s about it. To redeem someone, to redeem a person, however, means to rescue them or release them from slavery. As we just talked about, the Passover celebrated the time that God redeemed Israel, he rescued them from slavery, at that time in Egypt.
In the Roman world, in Peter’s day, as much as ¼ of the population were slaves. If a slave was careful,
worked hard, and had a generous master, he or she might be able to save up enough money to buy his or her freedom. They could redeem themselves. When the time came for them to buy their freedom, they would take the money to a particular temple in their city and give the money to the priests there. The priests would then take that money, minus a fee for the god of course, and deliver that money to the slave’s owner. The priest would literally buy the slave from his or her master (using the slave’s own money) and then release them from bondage to that master. Now, however, the slave was the property of the pagan god whose temple and priest were used to purchase his or her freedom. So the slave was still “technically” a slave, only now they belonged to a god instead of a person and that meant they were free to go about their business, get a job, raise a family of free children, etc.
Enter, now, Peter’s words in verse 17. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed.” This is a reference to slaves buying their freedom with silver or gold. Or, rarely, of a generous benefactor securing the release of a slave with silver or gold. Rather, the cost paid for a Christian to be redeemed from slavery to sin was the precious blood of Jesus Christ!
And, if you will follow me for a moment, this price of redemption means we are now the possession of God himself! We have been “bought with a price” to use the words of Paul in 1 Cor 7. We are not our own, but we belong to God, just as a slave in the Roman Empire, when freed, became the property of the god whose temple was used to secure his freedom!
There is more we could say about the theological meat in this scriptural sandwich, especially about the fact that Jesus was chosen from before the creation of the world and what that means! But I want to move on to say more about the new birth terminology Peter uses. Notice Peter says that as Christians we have sincere love for our brothers and we are to love one another deeply. The first word for love Peter uses is “brotherly love.” The second word he uses is “agape love.” So, as a fellowship of believers, as a community of Christians, the recipients of Peter’s letter had brotherly love for one another. But Peter encourages them to go beyond brotherly love and to show Godly self-giving love for one another like God has for us! Why? Verse 23 says, “For you have been born again….” It is because we have new life in Christ that we are to have Christ-like love for one another; love based not on warm feelings for one another, but love based on the love we have been shown by God.
Peter continues at the beginning of Chapter 2 (a bad chapter break by the way), “Therefore….” It is because we have new life in Christ, because we have been born again, because we have been born of seed that does not die, that we are to rid ourselves of malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. This “ridding of” is hard work! It is part of not conforming to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance (referring to verse 14). It is part of learning to love others with self-giving love, primarily concerned with their well-being over our own. In order to do that, we have to weed out those things that are contrary to agape love, things like malice, slander, envy, deceit, etc.
But this is all in light of the price Jesus paid for our redemption. This is all because we have been bought with a price. We have been rescued from sin so we are to stop living in sin. We have been set free to be God’s people and that means a radical, hard change in our very nature. This is the difficult process of submitting ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit so that we are reshaped, recrafted, recreated in the image of Christ.
So what are we to do with this? Some of us here are new to Christianity. This is all new stuff. It may sound pretty profound. It may seem overwhelming and new. That’s ok. It is overwhelming! It is profound!
But others here have been Christians for many years, maybe even many decades! What separates this message from hundreds of others that basically say, “Do better. Be better. Live like Jesus!”? If you’ve been a Christian for 10, 15, 20 years or even more, you’ve heard plenty of sermons talking about the fact that we “should” be living better lives, we should be holy, we shouldn’t be envious, or hypocritical, or dishonest. And yet, in spite of all these messages, we all still struggle to live out our new birth in meaningful ways.
This is why we are beginning a journey as a church. As a community of believers, we are beginning a journey to learn how to live and love together like Jesus. A major part of that journey is exploring Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Emotionally Healthy Relationships. Beginning this October, we are going to do an 8 week course on Tuesday evenings learning about Emotionally Healthy Relationships. Then, in the winter or spring, we will do Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The relationships course is about our relationships with one another. The spirituality course is about our relationship with God. EHS is vertical, us and God. EHR is
horizontal, me and you.
Why are these courses important? They are important because they actually give practical skills and habits for ridding ourselves of malice, for eliminating deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. They give us help developing self-control. They help us prepare our minds for Christian action. One of the Emotionally Healthy Relationship skills, for instance, is “stop mind reading and clarify expectations.” When we do the course together, we will spend a whole evening on this, but as an introduction, one of the ways we slander people, one of the ways we “bear false witness” against people is in our own imaginations. We try to read people’s minds, we try to guess what they are thinking. We think we know their motives for doing things, especially things that bother us or offend us. And when we read their minds, we usually assume we are right and we almost never ask! In our own hearts, we bear false witness against them. We slander them in our hearts. This skill, though, teaches us to stop reading people’s minds and to be clear with them what our expectations are. Why? Because we love them with agape love. Because God loves us with agape love. Because we want to be obedient children, not living “empty way of life handed down to us by our forefathers.”
Most importantly, though, is the reason for putting all of this hard work into growing and changing- that reason is gratitude! Just like the Serbians risked their lives and gave up their food and their homes to protect the downed US airmen in WWII out of a sense of gratitude for what the Americans were doing for them, we want to give of our time, our resources, our energy so that we can be changed and renewed out of gratitude for what God has done for us! Jesus died in our place because of our brokenness. Jesus shed his blood for our sake to protect us from the consequences of our sin. He redeemed us. He rescued us. He set us free from slavery. He bought us with a price- and a costly price it was!
When confronted with generosity, sometimes we fall into feeling guilty. It is possible for us to shy away from thinking about what Jesus did for us on the cross because it makes us uncomfortable, it makes us feel guilty. But that is not the response God wants us to have! That’s the response Satan wants us to have. He wants thoughts of the cross to drive us away from God. Yes, we should feel the guilt of our sin, but only if it leads to repentance. If it leads us to hide from God, then Satan is getting his way!
So think about the cross. Think about the death of Jesus, but think about it as a sign, as evidence of the great love he has for you! Let your heart be filled with gratitude for Jesus. And out of gratitude say to God, “I want to be more like that. I want to submit to you so that you can make me like that. I want to cooperate with you so that you can complete the difficult work of transforming me into a person who shines Jesus to everybody around me.”
In order to help us with gratitude, I have a little exercise I want us to practice this week. It will feed into a practice in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and we will talk about it with HER too. But let’s start small this week and in the coming weeks.
Think about your daily routine. Think about when you usually get up to start your day, when you have lunch, when you eat dinner, when you go to bed. As you think about your regular daily schedule, I want you to think about 2 times each day that you can take 2 minutes of peace and quiet. Maybe it’s just after you wake up. Maybe it’s just after you arrive at work. Maybe it’s over lunch hour. Maybe it’s around dinner time. Maybe before bed. Whatever fits your schedule, pick 2 times a day that you will take 2 minutes.
If you use your phone for a calendar, if you set yourself alarms, set them now. If you use a daytimer, write it in there. IF you need to, write it on the church program or the sermon outline. Pick 2 times a day that you can take 2 minutes to be quiet.
Now, when those 2 times a day come up, look at a clock, or set a timer on your phone or watch, and for 2 whole minutes, sit silently. You can close your eyes or leave them open, but for those 2 minutes, just take deep breaths and listen for God. Ask God, “I want to have gratitude for what you have done for me. Help me be thankful.” Then listen for God. Listen to what he tells you about gratitude. Just rest in being thankful for what God has done for you. Think about the fact you’ve been redeemed. Think about the cost to Jesus to redeem you. Think about the grace you have in store when Jesus returns. Whatever it is, listen to God for a whole 2 minutes focused on gratitude. If your mind starts to wander, think the word “gratitude” or words “Thank you God.”
As you do this, you may be surprised how long 2 minutes lasts! We are not used to being silent for that
long. We like to fill our waking moments with distractions and entertainment. Our world is full of noise and flashing lights. But begin practicing taking 2 minutes 2 times a day to be thankful to God for what he has done for you. Listen to him and ask him to help you be thankful. This will lay the foundation for you to be changed and renewed. This will begin to develop healthy habits and practices. It will teach you to listen to God, but also to be thankful, to have gratitude, which will drive the hard work of change under the power of the Holy Spirit.
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