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1 Peter 2:11-20 + John 16:16-23
We’re going to focus on the Epistle today, but as always, we’ll consider it in light of the Gospel.
In the Gospel, Jesus was talking to His disciples on Maundy Thursday evening about that “little while” that they didn’t yet understand. A little while of not seeing Him, and then seeing Him again. A little while of sorrow, followed by an unending time of joy. A little while between Friday and Sunday.
There’s another “little while” of which the Scriptures speak: this little while between Christ’s Ascension and His return. What does Jesus say at the end of Revelation? Behold, I am coming soon!
And within that little while, while Christ reigns at the right hand of God, there are still other little whiles of sorrow and suffering, of which St. Peter writes in chapter 1 of his first epistle: In this—in the permanent inheritance of heaven for which you wait—you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.
All of these “little whiles,” these temporary situations, are assumed by St. Peter as he writes to the scattered Christians, reminding them that they are “sojourners and pilgrims.” Strangers in a foreign land. Temporary residents. People who are wandering through someone else’s territory, outside of their own country, not living in their permanent home. Even if you have a home of your own and are living in the country of your birth, Peter reminds you that you’re still just passing through. You are citizens of heaven, not by birth, but by rebirth.
And that should have an effect on how you live here in your temporary home.
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts. What are these fleshly lusts? They are the desires that come from and that appeal to our sinful flesh—the flesh that will be destroyed after this little while is over, to be replaced, for Christians, by a resurrected body and a sinless soul. Fleshly lusts certainly include sexual lust and all the sins that flow from it. They include insatiable pleasure-seeking of any kind, whether in drink or in drug or in leisure or in game. They also include greed: the lust for money, the lust for influence and popularity, the lust for nice things and a nice earthly life, the lust for other people to treat you how you want to be treated, the lust for all the things we don’t have.
Why abstain from such things? Because, as Peter says, they war against the soul. The fleshly lusts that still live in Christians battle against the holy desires that come from God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in you. While the Spirit desires the things that glorify God and that serve our neighbor, the flesh desires only the things that serve the self. And so there’s a war going on inside every Christian. And to indulge the fleshly lusts is to lose a little battle during this little while, to give a little ground in the war between the Spirit of God and the evil spirit called the devil. As Peter will say later on in his first epistle, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Whatever the fleshly lust is, it’s got the devil’s army behind it, coming after you.
Why else should we abstain from fleshly lusts? Because they’re dying things. Christ suffered for such things and freed you from their guilt and from their control. You died to those things in Holy Baptism. How can you live in them any longer? You’ve been raised from spiritual death through faith in the risen Lord Jesus. You have a permanent home waiting for you after this little while is over—the home of righteousness, of peace and joy and kindness and love. Why would you dabble in the devil’s deeds as you make your way to that heavenly home?
And why else abstain from fleshly lusts? St. Peter writes, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. God calls on you, His chosen people, His cherished possession, redeemed by the blood of Christ, to live honorable lives as you live among the “Gentiles,” which means here, among the unbelievers of the world. Because, even though they may indulge their fleshly lusts here for a little while, even though they may rejoice in such things for a little while, even though you may suffer here for a little while, Christ will return, and the world’s temporary rejoicing will turn to permanent sorrow, while the temporary sorrow of God’s people will turn to everlasting joy. So give the world something to remember you by as they pass from this little while of rejoicing to the eternity of regret in hell. Force the world to admit on the Last Day that, in spite of their treatment of you, you behaved righteously. You behaved like God’s children. And they will give glory to God as a result.
That’s exactly what Jesus said back in the sermon on the mount: You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
What are to be the outstanding good works of Christians that unbelievers are to witness? It seems like the main thing, maybe the only thing people think of today is the work Christians do in helping the poor and the sick, works of extraordinary charity. Those are fine things. But what specifically does Peter talk about when it comes to the good works that men should see Christians doing?
He writes: Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Submission to every human authority under which we live. Showing nothing but honor and respect for kings, presidents, governors, judges, lawmakers, policemen. Civil obedience. Being law-abiding citizens. Honoring—respecting—all people, no matter their skin-color, social status, moral worthiness or religion. Showing special love for fellow “the brotherhood,” that is, for fellow Christians. Fearing God, not just in your heart, but in the sight of men, which clearly includes regularly gathering together for the worship of God, setting aside time for catechism instruction, Bible study, etc., so that the world can see that God is more important to you than anything else. Honoring the king, no matter how good or bad he may be.
That can be hard, and yet it’s very simple, isn’t it? These are the everyday good works that Christians are to be about. That means, it’s to be expected that Christians will not be the ones out there in the world rioting, protesting, striking, fighting, yelling, screaming, threatening, whining, cheating or lying, just as it’s to be expected that unbelievers will be engaged in all those things. Not all of them, of course. But certainly Christians should never be found among them.
St. Peter even applies this willing submission to the lowest form of human authority, a house-master who has house-servants. See how God honors even the lowest forms of service! During this “little while,” there is no job, no task, no career that is more God-pleasing or less God-pleasing. (Obviously we’re not talking about shady or immoral professions.) But from president to policeman to house-master, from citizen to neighbor to house-servant, every task for a Christian is equally pleasing to God and has the potential to glorify God on the day of His visitation, as we use this little while, not to serve ourselves, but to serve the One who died for us and rose again.
But what if you suffer in your vocation? What if people mistreat you, even as you seek to honor all men and abide by the laws of the land? Well, that’s bound to happen. But it’s only for a little while, and it will finally result in glory for God and in praise from God for those who suffer for the sake of Christ. As Peter says, For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.
God, as always, is very honest with His people. He doesn’t depict the Christian life as easy, but as a constant struggle against our fleshly desires. He never paints a picture of a fair and just world for us Christians, where we do what’s right and people praise us for it. Quite the opposite. Christians can expect to be mistreated for doing good, and there’s no point in complaining about how unfairly Christians are treated in our society or elsewhere. On the contrary, rather than complain, let us do good all the more, and with a joyful heart. Because Jesus, our Savior, is risen from the dead. Your sins are forgiven freely, for His sake, by faith. Sin, death and hell are conquered. And this little while of sorrow will soon be replaced with an eternity of joy for all who persevere and remain faithful until the end. In the words of Jesus, Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. Amen.