Sermon for Lent Midweek Service, March 9, AD 2022

1 Peter 2:11-25

St. Peter calls us Christians “sojourners and exiles.” We are not in the place where we are truly from, where we are supposed to be. He recalls the memory of the ancient Judahites who went into exile in Babylon because of their sin. These people were held far from their homes as second-class citizens, with no temple to worship God. They wept at the fact of their exile, even as their captors mocked them. This is the image we have of our life on earth as Christians. We are not yet in the place we should be. Baptized and believing in Christ, we have started on our way to our goal. That it our future hope, which we hold to by faith in Jesus, the resurrection and life with God forever. Even if we are living in the place where we grew up, we are still pilgrims and exiles to this place, for the life in Christ is opposed to the life approved by the world.

As Jesus says in the Beatitudes, blessed are you when you are persecuted on account of me. That is what Christians will face. Peter does not see this as a reason to give up and give in. Rather, knowing that we are in Christ, that our hope is elsewhere, we are free. We are free to live serving our true Lord. When we serve our Lord and are spoken against for it, God is glorified. So Peter tells us to keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, for such conduct even in suffering and persecution is kept to the glory of God when Christ returns.

Even if they don’t know it, the powers in this world have been put in place by God for a purpose. God wishes there to be good government to punish sin and reward the good. When this happens, and there is peace, then the gospel of Jesus may be better proclaimed. Luther speaks about government in the Large Catechism when he explains the fourth petition, “give us this day our daily bread.” He says that a loaf of bread should be on every prince’s coat of arms, we could say on the flag of every country, to remind him that God uses him for nothing less than to provide order and peace so people can have their bread. It is good, especially in these last days between Christ’s ascension and return, that we remember that God wants to continue to provide us with daily bread. He tells us to pray for it, and He is ultimately the One from whom it comes. Even in times of wars and rumors of wars, God is still working to provide daily bread for his children.

In fact, our Father gives daily bread to all, even all evil people, only out of his great love and mercy for us. This mercy he showed in the suffering of his Son, Jesus Christ. For Jesus, though both God and man, was never accepted by the world, and knew this was not his final home. Being rejected by his own, he suffered for us, even know he never sinned. As Peter writes, when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to the one who judges justly. Jesus bore suffering patiently because He knew His Father’s plan, and that if the Father wanted to remove all his suffering He could. But Jesus submitted to this suffering because with the Father He desired that we should be saved from our sin. He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. He has taken God’s punishment for sin so there might be no more punishment for us. Therefore, our Father will be merciful to us on account of Jesus and forgive our sins. He is also merciful to the whole world and gives to it every good thing and daily bread for this same reason – Christ.

We who in baptism have joined Christ in dying to sin and rising again to live in righteousness should live as exiles in the world in his steps. Not reviling when reviled, not threatening when suffering, not living by deceit or sinful rebellion, but entrusting ourselves to God. Because Jesus has died for us and earned us every good gift from God, we do not have to covet the better life of the connected and elite. Instead we live as servants of God and of our neighbors, giving honor to all, and love most of all to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christ is our ultimate example in this, and elsewhere in scripture we can see the example of believing exiles in this world, like Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. These men were in captivity in Babylon and their king and masters did not always have their best interests in mind.

When they arrived in Babylon, Daniel and the three men were served from the king’s table unclean food which was against their conscience to eat. Not becoming rebellious or deceitful, they requested vegetables and water and we found soon to be stronger than men eating the other food. We too when our consciences are being oppressed by authorities can appeal for leniency. Many times this may work.

Other times, there is no leniency, and still Daniel and the men kept their conduct honorable. When the king made an idol and the three young men would not bow to it, they were called out due to jealousy by the other nobles. The three young men meant no offense to the king, but they could never worship another God. They were thrown into a fiery furnace, and yet Christ preserved them, as the king saw a fourth man standing next to them in the fire looking like a Son of God. They came out of the furnace and not a hair on their head was singed.

This may not always be the case. God in his wisdom may not always miraculously deliver us from death in this life, but in Christ we will always be delivered from the second death. The image of the four men in the furnace is true for you – Christ is with you in your time of exile on this earth. When you suffer for doing good, your suffering is brought into Christ’s suffering. He suffers with you. And what did his suffering do? Was it useless? Did Jesus die in vain? Of course not! Christ’s suffering did the greatest work that had ever been done in history. His death and resurrection healed the world and made peace with God.

By his wounds, you have been healed from sin and the power of death. By partaking of the crucified body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, you are strengthened as a new creature in Christ by the Holy Spirit. As a new creature in Christ, your suffering is not a waste. Being part of Christ’s cross, your suffering is just as important to God. It gains glory that comes in this life, when those of this world see exiles like you suffer for doing good and are changed in heart. Such happened to the king who saw the three young men survive the fiery furnace. And glory that comes at the end, when Christ will return, coming in his visitation to set all things right for good.

He will then gather all his faithful servants, who did nothing more than follow in His steps, and say “well done.” For we who believe the return of Jesus is not something fearful, but a return of the Shepherd to his sheep. Then all we exiles will enter our real, true home with our true and loving king. There in the completion of all our hope, we will finally have rest. Amen.

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