Video of Matins is here. The sermon begins around the 27:00 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is it that can make Christians suffer gladly? What is it that causes Christians to be glad when they’re mocked, insulted, tortured, or killed? What makes Paul and Silas thank God and sing hymns in prison (Acts 16:25)? What makes the apostles rejoice that they suffered dishonor for the Name of Christ that they bear (Acts 5:41)? What can cause Christians to rejoice, even in the face of death, to grieve in a way different from those who have no hope?
Peter writes his entire first letter to Christians who are suffering, being persecuted, being mocked, and dying. So Christians in the United States might actually have a bit of trouble understanding Peter. Though we might be mocked, we have not been actively persecuted as those to whom Peter was writing would have understood it. But more than that, we in the twenty-first century—even Christians—have largely bought the anti-Christian story that suffering is something to avoid at all costs, and death is the worst thing that can happen to us—unless it is to avoid suffering. Almost all medical technology is dedicated to overcoming suffering. Alleviating suffering is good, but it can lead us to think that suffering itself is automatically bad. If that’s true, then we’re going to have trouble understanding not only Peter and Paul, but Jesus too. Jesus assumes we will have trouble and suffering, simply because we bear His Name. They will hate you because they hated Me But take heart, He says, I have overcome the world.
Paul, too, in 2 Corinthians knows the value of God’s comfort in the midst of suffering: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). And Peter says it is a good thing to suffer, if you suffer because you are doing good. But it’s not good if you suffer because you’ve stolen or murdered or done evil. Peter tells the Christians who are suffering for bearing Jesus’ Name not to be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon them, as if it were something unexpected or strange. No, he says, but rejoice, because you share the shame of Christ.
When Peter tells these Christians always to be prepared to give a defense of the reason for the hope that is within them, he’s not telling them to spend all their leisure time studying the Scriptures so that they can answer all the questions of the lazy skeptics and atheists. Compared to the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, we live in an extraordinary time, where we actually have Scriptures to read and time to read them. Those Christians probably didn’t have leisure time to study, and if they did, they probably didn’t have a way to read the Scriptures to and by themselves. When Peter tells them to be prepared, he’s thinking of a very specific answer: when people want to know how you can suffer gladly, why you’re not afraid of death, be prepared to give them an answer concerning the hope that is within you.
And what is that hope? Is our hope that we will avoid suffering and be comfortable? Is our hope that because we are Christians we can act foolishly and endanger our neighbors? Is our hope that we will have a high quality of life? That we can put off dying as long as possible? That when we die, we’ll leave these damned bodies behind and float around in heaven forever? No. Peter is clear: when he speaks of their hope, as he does two other times in his first letter, he means something very specific: the resurrection of Jesus.
In chapter one, he says that they have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1:3). And then he speaks of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, so that your faith and hope are in God (1:20). They don’t have to know all the answers, or even most of them, because they have the one answer that encompasses all the others: the resurrection of Jesus. And so they can go around doing good in this world of suffering and death, because they know death has been overcome in Jesus’ own flesh and blood. They do good in whatever ways they can, and if they suffer, they suffer. If they die, they die. If their love for others costs them jobs or family or friends, it costs them. They have a good conscience; they are free.
But neither are they fatalistic. They live this life fully and joyfully, knowing that their true life is hidden with Christ in God. And the hope of the resurrection is sustained by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Helper and Comforter, not by our own fortitude or resolve. The hope of what will be is sustained in the midst of what is, because Jesus has not left us as orphans. He hasn’t left us free-floating, parent-less and place-less, groping around in the dark for any kind of light. He who helped us by laying down His life and taking it up again has sent Another to our side, to shine the light on Christ until He brings us finally into eternity. Our good conscience is bound to that love of the Lord, a love than which there is none greater, and that is the love that we are to demonstrate in concrete ways toward those around us. Remain in Jesus’ love, which is the love of the Father, by holding to His Word above all else, and don’t let others move outside your love for them.
How did Peter’s hearers, and how do we, get and keep this good conscience, so that our fear disappears like fog on a summer morning? Peter mentions a “good conscience” a second time. Toward the end of these verses he says, baptism now saves you, because it is an appeal for a good conscience to God through the resurrection of Jesus. You have a good conscience in the midst of an evil and perverse world that hates Christ and all those who bear His Name, because you have been joined to the hope of the resurrection. You have been put into it and it has been put into you. The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son and the Son is in you and you are in the Son. Your baptism, the Name of God put on you by water, puts you into the ark of the Church, by which you are saved. It appeals to God through the resurrection of Jesus and that appeal will certainly be heard and answered.
You have a good conscience because you have been baptized into that living hope of the resurrection of Jesus. And so you can go about doing good for whomever needs it. You can carry out your vocation, even if you suffer, or are mocked, or die. But maybe you aren’t suffering now. While we are not suffering is the time to prepare. Before we die is the time to hear and believe and hope in the baptismal hope of the resurrection. And then, when we do suffer, we will be prepared to give a defense of the reason for that hope. As Christ comforts us, we comfort others with that same comfort. Jesus, who is risen and ascended, is keeping a hope prepared for us with Him in heaven—not only until we go there, but until He comes here and makes this world of suffering and death a paradise of the resurrection and the life.
In Him is our hope at all times: in suffering and in comfort, in life and in death, in good times and bad, for ourselves and for others. At all those times, our hope is the same: the resurrection of Jesus, into which we have been baptized. “God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ! … Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ! I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice. Should a guilty conscience seize me since my Baptism did release me in a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood? … There is nothing worth comparing to this life-long comfort sure! Open-eyed my grave is staring; even there I’ll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!” (LSB 594:1, 2, 5)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/15/20