A Living Hope in Our Living Savior
A Hope that's Fully Paid For
A sermon based on 1 Peter 1:17-21
Sunday, May 4, 2013 – Easter 3A
$7,087. That's how much the average American carries as debt on his or her credit card. That's the average, mind you, which means that for every person who has no credit debt, someone's carrying a debt of $14,000 or more. The average debt per American (including mortgage, student loans, and car payments) is over $225,000 dollars. Again, that's the average. So for every person who's free and clear of debt, there's someone else who owes close to half a million dollars. That's a lot of debt, isn't it? That seems to be the American way.
How about you? Do you owe quite a bit? Are you in a lot of debt? Or just a little? Are you one of those fortunate few who are free and clear of any and every debt? Well, it's not really about financial debt that our sermon text for this morning speaks of. It's about the debt that we owe to God for our sin. And it's about the wonderful payment that Jesus made to make us free and clear of that debt. This morning we rejoice that we have a living hope that is fully paid for by our living Savior. Our text is from 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. Buy Now; Pay Later
Any of you ever listen to Dave Ramsey, the radio talk show host and financial advisor? If you do, you know that one of his mottos is, "Debt is normal. Be weird." In other words, he would advise that if you want financial peace, then don't do what other broke people do. Be smarter than that.
In a similar way, the apostle Peter advises that if you want peace, then don't do what other self-serving sinners do. His motto might be, "Self-absorbtion is normal. Be weird." "Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."
I think a lot of Christians love the hymn, I'm But a Stranger Here, and we sing with gusto: "I'm but a stranger here; heaven is my home." We sing it especially loudly and boldly when life is hard and we're in pain as a reminder that we have a better, heavenly home that awaits us when this life of struggle and pain is over. But I have to ask: While we're quick to profess "I'm but a stranger here," do you always act like a stranger here? How weird are you?
Normal is being self-centered. It's weird to be self-sacrificing. Are you weird? Or normal? Normal is buying lots of stuff for myself that I think will make me happy. It's weird to give a lot away to charity or church. Are you weird? Or normal? Normal is the pursuit of happiness for me and my family as we try to live the American dream. It's weird to live for an unseen Savior and strive to please him first in all you do.
Normal is "the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers…" Just like living in debt is often passed from parent to child, a learned behavior. In fact, just as some parents buy more than they can afford and pass the debt on to their kids to pay, so too we pass on the debt of our sinful, selfish, striving to please no one but myself. But that way of life is worthless, because you know where it leads. It leads to a fate much worse than Dave Ramsey's proverbial "Alpo for dinner" in your retirement. It leads to an eternal retirement in hell.
And Peter reminds us that "[God] judges each man's work impartially…" Literally God will judge "without receiving faces." He doesn't judge a book by its cover. And his justice is truly blind. So what if you're a 7th generation Lutheran or if you give lots of money each week or if you show up every Sunday for Bible class and worship? Those things don't earn you any brownie points before God. God demands that you be perfect! Peter wrote in the verses immediately preceding our text, "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.'" Pretty good is not perfect. We have done the crime and we deserve to do the time.
For every sin, we owe a debt. For every time we do some self-serving act with no regard to the consequences, it's like using the credit card to buy now with no regard to what we'll have to pay later. But we will have to pay. Just as irresponsible spending is eventually met by the bill collector, by the IRS, by the repo man, and eventually by the jailer, so too our bill will come due on Judgment Day. Sin now; pay later. And the bill is death and hell. When we die, our souls will be repossessed. Ecclesiastes 12:7 reminds us that "The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." And when we meet our maker, we will be judged and all remaining debt must be paid.
You know the Germans only have one word for both guilt and debt: schuldig. They're not big fans of debt and consider one guilty if they are in debt. Well, for our sins against God we have racked up a huge debt before God. We are schuldig. We are guilty. We are indebted to God with a debt that we could never pay. No amount of silver or gold could ever buy off God or bribe him to look the other way. We deserve hell for each and every sin. That's a steep price. And God is just. He "judges each man's work impartially…"
So thank God that Jesus paid our debt for us!
II. Paid Now; Paid Forever
I think I stood in line for close to two hours at Blockbuster that night. They had a promotion that I didn't want to miss. You see, the Reign Man, Shawn Kemp, the rookie player for the Seattle Supersonics and the youngest player to ever play in the NBA at that time. was signing autographs at that Blockbuster. And I was intent on getting his rookie card signed. On the way home from Blockbuster I stared at my signed rookie card in awe and asked my dad, "How much do you think this card is now worth?"
"Well, that depends," was dad's reply.
"On what?" I asked, "On the rest of his career?"
"Well, I suppose that could impact the perceived value. But what something is worth is exactly how much you can get someone to pay you for it. If I give you $50 right now, will you give me that card?"
"No way!" I protested.
"Well, then it's worth at least $50 to you." And dad taught me that worth and value are in the eye of the beholder. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
So, keeping that in mind, what are you worth to God? Well, what would he pay for you? He paid, not just silver or gold, but his own Son, damning him to hell in your place. What are you worth to Jesus? He willingly took on that hell for you on the cross. He shed his blood, his holy (that is, sinless), precious (since it's divine—the very blood of God) blood for you. He picked up the tab for you on Good Friday and he signed it with his blood.
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, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
And the receipt is found in Jesus' resurrection. God has revealed these truths like a blooming Easter lily, slowly revealing how he'd pay the debt from the time of Adam to Abraham, from Moses to David, down through Zechariah and Malachi. But it fully bloomed on Easter. Easter proves that your debt it paid—in full!—that what Jesus cried from the cross is true for you and me: "It is finished!" Our debt is paid now! And it's paid forever!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! He's alive! That means that your hope is alive! And it rests, not on something so shaky and uncertain as dollars—here today; gone tomorrow—but on the sure and certain resurrection of Jesus from the dead. "Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." You have a living hope that's fully paid for
And now Jesus gets a return on his investment. If I took you to lunch and at the end of our meal I said, "Don't worry about the bill. I got it," and grabbed it before you could, would you say, "Great! Thanks! And hey, as long as you're buying… I'll take four more entrees to go, please, waiter!" Of course not! You wouldn't want to take advantage of my generosity. Likewise, we don't say, "Jesus, thanks for picking up the bill. Now I can do some more sinnin'!" No! Now we offer our thanks. We give him our praise. We give him our service. We give him our silver and our gold… and our hands and our feet. We give him our very selves to thank him for picking up the tab that our sins earned. We choose to be weird as we "live [our] lives as strangers here in reverent fear."
Did you know that every Monday through Friday individuals and couples go to visit Dave Ramsey's office in Tennessee so they can do the "Debt Free Scream." That is, they go into a small sound booth and scream into the microphone those words they've been so excited to scream, "I'm debt free!"
Well, dear friends, we don't need to go to Tennessee. We can cry out in joy those same words in eager excitement! "I'm debt free! All my sins are paid for by Christ! All my debt to God is paid for forever! I'm free and clear!" We shout it in the way we speak. We shout it in the way we live. We shout it in the way we serve. We shout it in the way we give. And will we look weird shouting "I'm debt free! Thanks to Jesus I'm debt free?" Sure! But who cares? Debt is normal. We're thrilled to be weird. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.