Easter Means No Fear… of Judgment
Easter Clears Your Name
A sermon based on 1 Peter 1:17-21
Sunday, May 8, 2011 – Easter 3A (Mother's Day)
"Moooooom! He hit me!"
"He started it! He hit me first!"
And soon, both boys are standing before the judge. And in our house, usually neither boy gets off without a sentence. The judge judges impartially and rarely is there any innocent party.
This Mother's Day many of you moms may be thinking of the many times you've had to play the role of judge. And thinking back to some of the cases that have come before your bench, you may even get a laugh or two in hindsight.
But when we're talking about God's judgment seat, it's no laughing matter. Peter reminds us that the thought should rightly fill us with fear. Listen again to what he says in 1 Peter 1:17-21…
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 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, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
I. God Will Judge You in View of Your Work
"[God] judges each man's work impartially…" What a terrifying thought isn't that? After all, how nervous does someone get when they stand in an earthly court before an earthly judge to determine the guilt and penalty for a traffic violation. How much more terrifiying when one stands before God in court where the sentence will last forever and one's eternal soul is on the line.
But why should it be terrifying? Because if God judges each man's work impartially, that means he will not base his judgment on how smooth you can talk, not on what character witnesses you have, not on what a good citizen you've been. No. He will judge impartially on one basis alone. Peter tells us what it is in the verses immediately preceding our text: "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
So… how well have you done? Have you done what the Law demands? Have you done enough to satisfy the Judge? You know, I think too often we think of sin only as doing those things that God forbids us from doing. But sin is so much more. It's also failing to do what he's commanded. It's failing to live up to the full potential that God has given to us! It's failing to be perfect!
Consider just a few: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Have you always given yourself to the service of others, seeking their best interests before your own? Or have you sometimes been self-serving? Only caring about your needs? "Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord." Have you always used your gifts and your time toward the goal of growing the Kingdom of God? Or have you sometimes sought only to increase your own kingdom and your life of luxury and ease? "Live your lives as strangers here." Have you always been eager to be different from others as you live your life for Jesus? Or have you sometimes chosen to blend? Chosen to be strangers with Jesus instead of with the world?
And the Judge "judges each man's work impartially." That means no excuse will work. "But I'm a 7th generation Lutheran!" So what?! Who cares? "But I went to church every Sunday!" Then why didn't you live what you learned?! "But I gave so much of my time, my money, myself!" Your sacrifices could never pay for your sin! "But I was a pretty good person." But "pretty good" isn't perfect.
You see, standing before God's judgment seat isn't like standing before the judges you hear about on Access Hollywood that say, "Okay, you drank 15 beers then got in your Ferrari and wrapped it around a telephone pole going 90 mph almost killing 17 people in the process, but… you know what? No one was really hurt and, well, you're a celebrity. So how about 3 days at rehab and we'll call it even?"
No! God judges each man's work impartially. Literally "without regard to face." Like Lady Justice who wears her blindfolded lest she be swayed by some irrelevant factor, God judges justly, blind to everything but this simple truth: You are not perfect. And like Lady Justice, God carries a big sword too. In fact, his sentence is worse than a sword. His just judgment means that every person deserves the punishment of hell.
Yes, knowing that we have a Father who judges each man's work impartially, should rightly fill us with fear. But not in the sense that we're terrified of God. That's not what Peter means when he says, "live your lives as strangers here in… fear…"
II. God Will Judge You in View of
Your Christ's Work
You see, Peter explains why this fear isn't fright or terror at God's judgment seat in the next verse: "For you know that… you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers…"
God rescued you. He bought you out of the sentence you were sure to otherwise face. He redeemed you from the empty and meaningless way of life that was handed down to us, namely, living to serve ourselves during this short life only to face the just wrath of the Judge on Judgment Day. He redeemed you. That is, he ransomed you. He bought you out of your slavery to fear, to sin, to death and hell. And he did it with the only price that could be paid: "Not with perishable things such as silver or gold…" For no amount of money could ever pay for the soul of a man. After all, what good is money to God?! No, "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."
Martin Luther once said that, "Just one drop of this innocent blood would have been more than enough for the sin of the whole world." But Jesus, true God in every way, gave his perfect, sinless, life ("without blemish or defect") to pay for our sin. And that payment, unlike silver or gold, is imperishable. That means it can never spoil or fade or lose its value! That means this payment will last for all of eternity!
And what God won for you on the cross, he delivered to you by faith! "He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." God created the faith in your heart to believe the message by Jesus' resurrection. Easter convinces us! And so Easter clears us!
In one sense, we are no longer judged by what we do. It's not how good I've been or how bad I've been that determines my eternal outcome. But it's how good Jesus was for me, and how God punished him in my place. But in another sense, we are still judged by our works. But now, by faith in Jesus, every sin is gone and every good work is made perfect with every impure motive forgiven. So all God sees in you and me is perfect works of service to him and to others all the time! All God sees in us is perfection. All he sees is holiness, just as he is holy!
A little boy entered the lingerie section of the department store. He wanted to buy his mom a new slip for Mother's Day. Very timidly he approached the saleslady and presented his problem: "I want to buy my mom a slip, but I don't know what size she wears." The lady asked, "Is your mom tall or short, fat or skinny?" "I don't know, she's just… perfect," said the boy. The salesperson dutifully wrapped up a slip in what most people consider a perfect size: 34. But two days later, the same salesgirl met the perfect mom who came to the store herself and exchanged the slip for a size 48. But to that little boy, mom looked perfect. It's true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Friends, that's exactly how God looks at us. Because of the forgiveness won for us through Jesus' sacrifice we are able to stand before the Lord cleansed of every spot and stain. We are perfect.
You see, Jesus wrote the check for the payment for our sins in his own blood. And because of Easter we know that the check has cleared! And because the check has cleared, we know our names are cleared! Because of Easter, we don't need to be afraid of God's Judgment. We know we'll stand. We know he will declare us, who cling to Jesus and him alone (and not to our works), to be not guilty, to be… perfect! "Your faith and your [(certain)] hope are in God." So we can face the judge with our heads held high and without any hint of fear in our eye.
III. You Judge Your Life… in View of Christ's Work
Now, earlier I said that knowing that we have a Father who judges each man's work impartially, should fill us with fear. But I don't mean we should tremble at the thought or lose any sleep when we think about Judgment Day. You see, I think the NIV translated correctly when they translated the word "phobos" (from which we get our word phobia) as "reverent fear."
You see, when we consider the just punishment that we deserve, and the gracious judgment that we know we have instead by the redemption that came through Jesus blood, we can't help but revere a God who would do such a thing for us! And, standing before him in holy awe, say to him, "My life is yours!"
This is the fear St. Peter is talking about. Reverent fear is respect for God, the one who owns us. As Luther began his explanation to each of the 10 Commandments: "We should fear and love God that we…" You see, in view of his grace to us, won for us by the cross, proven to us by Easter, given to us by the Spirit, we realize that we don't belong to ourselves. We belong to God. After all he purchased us. He paid for us on the cross. And Easter is his receipt. So, no longer our own, we, "live [our] lives as strangers here in reverent fear."
We live as strangers in this world. And we are strangers because we don't belong to this world. Heaven is our home! And so, we now judge our lives in view of that truth, in view of Judgment Day, and in view of Christ's work for us. This life isn't what it's all about. This life is short, perishable, fleeting. But not the life to come. It will last for eternity.
So we live our lives working for what will last. Will that make you weird? You bet! But that's okay. Dave Ramsey, the financial advisor and radio talk show personality, has a motto: "Debt is normal. Be weird." In other words, normal isn't good. Weird is better. In a similar way, we are okay being weird. In fact, we long to be weird! Self-centeredness is normal. Self-absorption is normal. Chasing after an empty way of life is normal. But we're strangers. And we eagerly "live [our] lives as strangers here in reverent fear."
We use our skills and resources not for building up our personal empires, but in building up the kingdom of God. We use our time not as a thing to be spent in self-serving entertainment, but in self-sacrificing service, first to our immediate families, then to our fellow believers, then to those who need to hear of Jesus' redemption.
And we do it all to the glory of God, not out of fear, because we must or else we'll face a horrible judgment. But because we want to, in reverent fear and holy awe, in thanks to the one who redeemed us from the empty way of life in which we used to live and gives us calm and peace and no fear in the face of the judgment to come. Easter means no fear of judgment, for Easter clears our name! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.