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The Word of God: Our Victory!

The Vigil of Easter, 3 April 2021

A Sermon on 1 Peter 4:1-8 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

1 Peter 4:1-8 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

THE WORD OF GOD: OUR VICTORY!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

So you have heard the story of who you were created to be. And you have heard how God rescued Israel from bondage in Egypt, causing the angel of death to pass over their houses that were marked with the blood of the Passover lamb, and how he made covenant with them by grace at Mount Sinai. And you have heard that the power of God’s Word is such that, through it, He accomplishes His purposes. And you have heard that the Spirit of the Living God can raise God’s people from the dead. So you have been baptized by the grace and mercy of God into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. And this night you have renewed your baptismal vows by renouncing the devil, his works, and his ways. And you have heard that God raised His Crucified Son Jesus from the dead bodily and not merely spiritually. So, then, what does all this mean?

Peter, who denied his Lord not once, not twice, but three times. Peter, who faltered when he had to climb out of the boat and come to Jesus on the water. Peter, who one minute confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and hardly more than a couple of minutes later insisted that Jesus could not allow Himself to be rejected, crucified, dead, buried, and raised (all though Peter didn’t hear that last part even when Jesus repeated it three times). Peter, who didn’t believe when he saw the empty tomb of Jesus. Peter, who was fearful behind locked doors until the Risen Jesus appeared to him. Yes, Peter, who even after all of that, went back to fishing for fish instead of fishing for people and had to be rehabilitated by the Risen Jesus asking him three times if Peter loved Him, and, if so, to feed His sheep. Simon Peter tells us what all this means.

Baptism isn’t that “tevilah” of John the Baptist, that ritual washing that a Jew needed when he had become ritually unclean. Baptism isn’t even that “tevilah” that Jews give to Gentiles who decide to convert to Judaism. Baptism, from the Greek word “baptizein,” which means to wash with water, takes on a whole new meaning after the death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus. Baptism is, as our Lord Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:5, that new birth from above, whereby one is born anew by water and the Holy Spirit. None of that made sense to Nicodemus, to John the Baptist, to Peter, to John the beloved disciple, or any of the others until God’s beloved Son Jesus did exactly what He said. He was rejected and beaten. He was crucified. He suffered. He died in our place and for our sins. He was buried in our tombs. He rose again as the firstborn from the dead, the beginning of a new creation. Only then, did what all this means register.

In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost when the apostles had been clothed with power from on high by the Holy Spirit, Peter had to tell the people in Jerusalem what they had done and to Whom. They had insisted that the Romans kill the Author of Life, the One through whom all things were made. And when that crowd was cut to the heart, they asked, “Brothers, what must we do?” And Peter and the others said to them in many languages but in the same three words: “Repent and be baptized.” They would be born anew, born from above, by water and the Holy Spirit. And, then, Luke tells us, “They continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread (which is the Lord’s Supper), and the prayers (which was the singing of the psalms and the ordered prayers at the morning and evening sacrifice in the Temple, which they continued to observe before gathering in their homes for the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper).

Now, Peter in his marvelous first letter, tells what it means to be baptized, a royal priesthood, God’s chosen people; what it means to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship; what it means to receive Jesus in the breaking of the bread; and what it means to live worship-filled lives not just for forty days of Lent but for all our days in this life and throughout eternity. Baptized into the death of Christ Jesus who suffered in the flesh, we have been raised to new life in which the mind of Christ shapes our thinking, our being, and our doing. God is working on us through His Word and His Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to give us new minds not directed by sin and not directed by human passions but directed by the will of God. We are no longer like our unbaptized neighbors, who mock us as “uptight” if we don’t join in all their childish, selfish, destructive behaviors. They do not know what the baptized know. All of us are going to give an account to the One who is coming again to judge the living and the dead. All!

We know how far we still are from what we will be when Christ comes again in glory to raise us from dust and ashes and to make us and all things new. We know we need to hear the old, old story of Jesus and His love again and again, that He died our death and suffered our punishment, because we know how far we still are from what we will be. We know that the wages of sin is still death. We know that the devil is still walking about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. We know that the end of all things is always at hand, because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And He has promised that where He is we shall be also. So, because Christ Jesus promises that He is with us most intimately in the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper, we cannot not be changed when He gives us His true Body and His most precious Blood. And receiving Jesus and knowing that He goes with us as our Risen Lord, we are shaped by the Living Word, who is our victory over sin, death, and the devil. And by the Holy Spirit, we can be shaped to live self-controlled and sober-minded lives on account of the prayers that our Lord and the Holy Spirit are praying with us and for us. We are works in progress, and this assembly, this Body of Christ, is the Spirit’s workshop where sins are forgiven and life and salvation are given.

So…because all of us are works in progress, we keep serving one another with the love of Christ Jesus, because His love covers a multitude of sins – both ours and other’s. And why do we do this? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And that news changes us and everything!

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA