Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In this fallen world when people try to promote peace, or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness, they find opposition. One would think that such a life would attract people to the kingdom of God. But the fact that it does not naturally do that tells us clearly that creation is not only alienated from God, but in rebellion to God. John the Baptist called for righteousness and went to an early death. Jesus proclaimed all the right virtues but found opposition to His message because it called for them to enter His kingdom. And if they persecuted these, will they not also oppose the disciples?
This beatitude is for followers of Christ, those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. And as the next verse clarifies to the disciples, that means suffering for Christ’s sake. They have been identified by faith with the King, they carry His name, and they proclaim the good news that there is a kingdom of righteousness and peace that is spiritual and eternal. But they will find opposition. Nevertheless, they should rejoice, for their reward in heaven will be great.
As Peter writes his epistle, he could hear the protests: “People will take advantage of us.” “Be kind to these people when they’re trying to kill us?” You can just imagine the protests the people were making, probably the same protests that you and I have made as well. But the words of Peter echo that of Jesus: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” Jesus had taught Peter well. Even in times of persecution, Peter wanted the believers of Jesus to hang on to and trust that God would take care of His Church.
Peter has said that on most occasions no one will insult, threaten, or harm us if we do what is good. But even if we should experience suffering for doing the good things we do in Christ, there is no reason for us to be afraid of such threats. The unstated question is “How can we be unafraid of those who threaten us even when we have done nothing wrong?” The answer is clearly given by Peter: “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
First and foremost, we are to “regard Christ the Lord as holy.” To regard Christ as Lord is to give the Savior first place in our hearts. Just as every sin of thought, word or action can be traced to the sinful desires of the heart, so the effective rule of Christ in our lives must begin with His reign in our hearts. Christ rules in the hearts of all who trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life and who rely on Him for providential care and protection.
All too often, we put many things before Christ: our families, our jobs, our hobbies, our problems and many other things. If there is time left in our busy schedules or our hectic lives, then we will make that time for Jesus; however, that is not the way that it should be. Jesus is not someone that we can put on a shelf, pull Him out when we need Him, and then put Him back on the shelf until the next time. Christ does not place anything above His bride, the Church. He came to give His life for the Church. He died so that His bride, the Church, could live. He died so that YOU could live. Nothing in this world is greater than each and every one of God’s children.
The second half of Peter’s answer is just as difficult, if not more than the first half: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
The situation in which a Christian may find himself could prove personally embarrassing, potentially threatening or even life-endangering, but he is to be ready to give an answer. He is to be ready to make an “apology,” that is, a defense of his faith.
Making an apology of the faith is nothing new to Lutherans. We even have a document in our Lutheran Confessions entitled “The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.” The princes of the German provinces gave their statement of faith to Emperor Charles V in the Augsburg Confession. When the Roman Catholic Church refused to accept that statement of faith, Philip Melanchthon issued the Apology, an even greater defense of the faith that the Lutherans held. Both documents were essentially a death sentence, insofar as they were confessions that were contrary to that of the Roman Catholic Church, yet both were presented and the Lutherans refused to back down on their confession and defense of the faith.
Times have changed since 1530. A defense of the faith is not as quick to come by as it was then. We don’t want to make a confession of faith because our non-Christian friends may look at us differently if we start with the “God-talk.” Our defense of the faith may not be good for our career. It may not be good for our reputation. It may not be good for any number of things. However, that doesn’t mean that we are not to give a defense of the faith, especially when the opportunity presents itself to us.
To bring the message of love and forgiveness that Jesus brings, Peter sums up the work of Jesus for us: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” In one sentence Peter summarizes the scope and effect of Christ’s work. The first part of the sentence tells us what Jesus did and how effective His work was while the second part of the sentence reminds us that Jesus is the sinless Son of God who died for sinners. Jesus is not our Savior because He gave Himself as an example for us to follow so that we might save ourselves. Jesus is our Savior because He is the perfect Son of God who gave His life in our place in order that we might be brought to God. This faith and hope is not a misplaced faith or an unsure hope. Jesus is the perfect substitute who has fully completed His atoning work in our behalf and has brought us, without sin, to God. All of this was done for us through His life, death and resurrection. This gift of everlasting life is given to us in our Baptism. Baptism is more than a rite of initiation, more than a church ceremony or christening. Baptism saves you. How does Baptism save you? Baptism saves you “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Without Jesus’ resurrection there would be no baptism, no salvation; in fact, there would be no righteousness at all.
As the baptized children of God, those made to be His disciples through Baptism and the teaching of God’s Word, you are continually being made ready to make a confident defense of the eternal hope that is in you through the life, death, descent into hell, resurrection, and reign at the right hand of the Father of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.