- Isaiah 40:1-11
- 1 Peter 1:13-2:3
The Bible, in our reading this morning, refers to being “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18)
Don’t we just all remember the joy of blowing and chasing bubbles? All the expensive toys could not compete with the exhilaration of try to catch and hold a bubble. In the end everyone one of them bursts and disappears into thin air. And what about the balloons? How long do they last?
We have examples of ostrich and emu eggs which we keep in a safe place in our home. From a distance they look like the real thing — and they actually are; but look closely and you will see the holes on each end, made to blow out the contents. It is impossible for those eggs to produce chicks. They are empty and hollow.
I remember the first Easter egg my neighbour across the street gave us soon after we arrived in Australia. Where we come from, chocolate was a rarity, and our culture never took the story of the Easter chocolate eggs seriously. Soon after church we got stuck into it and ripped the shining foil off it. How big was my disappointment that the egg was nothing but a shell of a thin layer of chocolate! I thought we were going to have chocolate till Christmas.
Peter writes about a life outside of Christ. It is a hollow, empty life. It was worthless, and can only promise the joy of the moment. In contrast, the Christian life is rich, and it is determined by the best of all riches, now kept and sealed up in heaven.
Up to this point in time we learned from Peter that Christians live this life with their eyes focussed on a hope, guarded by God in heaven. This hope is anchored in the faith that Jesus Christ will be revealed then in more splendour that He had when He first came into the world to work out our salvation.
We also learned that this salvation had its roots in all of God’s revelation through the Scriptures and promises of the Old Testament, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to, through the preaching of the Gospel, constantly help us to understand an apply the salvation of Jesus Christ.
God’s children are Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ
It is fair to say that the message of the Bible would be hollow and meaningless if the concept and reality of redemption was not central to it.
Let’s try to sum it up: God made a covenant—a solemn agreement—with Adam and Eve. They sinned against God and dragged all of their descendants into sin. God promise them a Redeemer who would trample upon and crush the head of the serpent.
In and through Abraham God made another covenant—a covenant of grace— with his people to be their God. Through sinful covenant breaking, the people walked away from God and under satan became slaves to idols which could not save them. Although God punished them, and even had them do slave labour in distant countries, He remained faithful to his promises and He Himself became their Redeemer. “Redeemer” is a legal term, and meant that some close family member had to pay a ransom to get those under the curse of the law out of that curse, out of slavery into freedom. This are classical verses to illustrate this:
But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)
“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? (Hosea 13:14, NIV)
It is this act of saving grace Peter is referring to when he says that we are redeemed: the two components of saving love and the ransom price are prominent here. In Christ Jesus the love, justice and righteousness of God comes together in the act of redemption. The ransom price which would satisfy the wrath of God upon sin was the perfect sacrifice of Christ. The reference to “the Lamb without blemish” not only points back to Passover night and the miraculous redemption out of Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:5), but to all offerings which had to do with satisfying God’s righteousness over sin and broken relationships. Christ was that ultimate perfect Lamb without blemish. His blood not only washes away our sins, but it is the ransom, the price, which satisfied the righteousness of God. Of this sacrifice the writer to the Hebrews writes:
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11–14, NIV)
Christ brings us to God so we can believe in God. Why? Not only because He died for us, He also rose in our place to overcome death.
Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21, NIV)
Christians are redeemed people. They are not sinless, but they are saved sinners.
God’s Children are born by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God
We have to take a small step backward into Peter’s first chapter, verses 10-11. These verses refer to the Old Testament, which pointed forward to Christ. The apostles preached what the prophets prophesied; it was “the Gospel” of Jesus and about Jesus “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 12). There is an extremely close relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding Jesus Christ’s work and ministry. To see this we go to verse 3:
In his great mercy He [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)
How did this come about? Let’s read verse 23:
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)
The imperishable things refer back to the blood of Jesus Christ, our redemption and ransom price. How do we know about this redemption? Through the enduring Word of God. The new birth of every Christian, without which our Lord declared that no one can enter or see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3,5) is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which applies the redemptive work of Christ to our souls through the preaching of the Word. The preaching of the Word is always connected and undergirded by the ministry of the Holy Sprit. It is always related, and it as such the only God-ordained way by which sinners hear about redemption.
Peter knew that very well. He therefore declares the enduring work and certainty of the outcome of the ministry of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word:
For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25, NIV)
When Paul writes to the Romans he said exactly the same thing:
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17, NIV)
To apply this we can draw a few conclusions:
- The most important activity of the church is to make available the Word of God. It happens through translation, printing, preaching and studying the Word of God.
- Ultimately the fruit and growth is not in our hands, but it is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
- The message the church should keep itself busy with the message of the redemption from of sin, and the restoration to God through the redemptive work of the Lamb without blemish, Jesus Christ. Nothing more will do; nothing less will do.
- When the Gospel is twisted to only present Christ as a example of moral living, it has forfeited the privilege of being servants in the hands of the Saviour.
- Where this message is traded for social gospel, property gospel or feel-good pop-psychology, and when worship services have become therapeutic self-improvement sessions, the church stands condemned before her Saviour.
- When the Gospel message has been reduced to a dry theological discussion which is aimed at discrediting the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures, the church has failed its mission. Souls will not be saved because it is not the Gospel which was preached by the apostles.
God’s redemptive work endures forever
This is a glorious truth of the Gospel: not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring. Simply speaking: The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not temporary.
What is said about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church.
But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)
But when the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time. This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints. For this we must Give God all glory. No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdrew the grace He once poured out by his Spirit, based on the redemption of Jesus Christ. To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations his enduring Word, the Bible, is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of hearts. That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and life by it.
There is the world which presents is with fleeting bubbles, the colourful bursting balloons, and the empty eggs — all examples of hollow promises and and empty way of life. This will cost you your life.
And then there is the new life in Christ which is enduring: it speaks of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, hope and and eternal home. This come free, because the price is already paid. May God give us the grace to see life and follow it and set out hope fully on grace in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 April 2018