Jubilate Sunday Sermon
May 12, 2019
“Living as Free Citizens”
1 Peter 2:11-20
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:11-20
It is hard for us to see this world as a place we are just passing through when it is the only place we have ever known. We may be inspired by the story of Abraham who left his family and home to go to a land far away. This doesn’t mean we want to leave our home to become foreigners in a strange land. We like what is familiar to us.
But the Christian knows that he has a home in heaven. Others think they do or wonder if they do or wish they did. Only the Christian knows because only the Christian has Christ. Eternal life is God’s gift to sinners who don’t deserve it. Since Christ alone has earned this gift for all people, it is only through faith in Christ that anyone has eternal life. This eternal life is not just an endless existence. It is a life filled with holy love. Eternal life is to be loved by God and to love God perfectly and always to enjoy the height, depth, breadth, and length of God’s pure love. It is to have no evil desires. It is to find perfect joy in loving one another and submitting to one another without seeking to put anyone down or do anyone any harm at all.
You won’t find this life here on earth, except under the cover of sin, weakness, doubts, and pain. Secularists mock our faith. They sneer at the so-called “pie in the sky, by and by, when you die.” But we don’t put our confidence in any pie in the sky hope of heaven. We put our confidence in Christ. There is a beautiful line of a hymn that is quite instructive for us.
There is no heaven except with Christ. Jesus is not simply a means of getting to heaven. Heaven and Jesus cannot be separated. To know Jesus is to have life. The place that Jesus prepares for us is prepared for us as Jesus takes away from us everything that would keep us away from God. He takes away our sin. In this way he gives us our home. In this way he makes us free.
Freedom is not well understood. Perhaps this is because people confuse the two different kinds of citizenship and therefore the two different kinds of freedom God gives us. We as Christians live as citizens in two different kingdoms. We are citizens in heaven as members of Christ’s church here on earth. The church on earth is the church militant. She is at war. The church is heaven is the church triumphant. She has won the victory and is at war no more. These are not two churches. There is only one church that is here on earth and in heaven at the same time. Belonging to the church means we belong to Christ and that our home is in heaven. It is this citizenship that enables us to live as good citizens of whatever nation God has placed us here on earth.
The freedom of the Christian comes from the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Christ has purchased us by his blood and set us free from every kind of spiritual tyranny and oppression. When God persuades us to believe the gospel he sets us free. The gospel makes no demands on us. It is God’s gift.
We must distinguish between the law and the gospel. The law provides us with a different kind of freedom. Nations here on earth lose their freedom when people set themselves up above the law. Sometimes this is done by governments. Consider the criminal rulers of the 20th Century: Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, and many others. They stole, lied, and murdered. They acknowledged no law greater than their own will to power. The result was the enslavement of billions of people. Lawlessness deprives everyone of freedom.
Civil or worldly freedom comes by submitting to the law. This is why St. Peter urges us to curb what he calls our “fleshly lusts.” “Fleshly lusts” refers to every kind of self-centered desire within us that leads us to defy the rules that govern decent behavior. You don’t need to be a Christian to know what these rules are. You keep your word. You avoid drunkenness. You stay out of fights. You show consideration to the peace and wellbeing of your neighbor. You don’t assume that the rules apply only to everyone one else and not specifically to you as well. You, as the apostle puts it, “submit to every ordinance of man.” In the days the New Testament was being written the early Christians lived under different forms of government, but every legal government is instituted by God and so we submit to the law of the state in obedience to God. Lawlessness produces no freedom for anyone, but only tyranny, as the strong impose their will against the weak without any law keeping them in check.
Law and order is the road to freedom. If you cannot walk the streets in safety; if you cannot buy something and know that it will remain yours until you sell it or give it away; if you cannot count on the law being applied equitably to everyone alike; you cannot live free. Your freedom will be at the whim of every bully who gets into power. The path to freedom in civil or political affairs is the rule of law. It is not democracy. The majority can be as lawless and tyrannical as any dictator. In our outward lives we need law. This law God has put into the consciences of all people. This is why St. Peter can speak of the government as sent by God to punish evildoers and to praise those who do good at a time when the government was not made up of Christians. You don’t have to know Christ to know right from wrong. A Jew or a Mason can know what is good and what is bad for the country. A Christian may be utterly incompetent to serve in government. Good government, through which God brings us earthly peace and freedom, can be given through Christians or non-Christians. In either case, we Christians are to submit to the laws of the state as if they are from God. In this way we silence those who would slander the truth we confess by pointing out our own hypocrisy. When Christians submit willingly to others they win credibility. Then when they confess the Christian faith as they are given opportunity people may be willing to listen. The reason we don’t want to submit to others is because we are proud. We don’t like to put up with folks who aren’t as smart as we are. We don’t like to submit to stupid rules or to tolerate those who are ignorant and unfair. We assert our freedom from unreasonable demands and assume that by such self-assertion we make ourselves free.
That’s not how the Christian gets Christian freedom. It doesn’t come from self-assertion. Jesus said that whoever humbles himself will be exalted but whoever exalts himself will be abased. In other words, if you raise yourself up, God will bring you down. But if you humble yourself, God will raise you up. And humbling yourself before God means humbling yourself before those whom God has put into your life. Sometimes these are the last people before whom you want to express a humble spirit. Yet they are precisely the ones to whom we must submit. That is not slavery. That is true freedom.
In the movie, “Shawshank Redemption,” Andy, the hero of the story, is in prison for a crime he did not commit. One day he locks himself in a room and sends out of the public address system of the prison some beautiful opera music that mesmerizes the prison population. For his offense, he is thrown in the hole for a month. When asked how he could stand the punishment he said that he was listening to the music. No one can take that away from you, he said.
We Christians listen to the music of the gospel whenever we feel imprisoned by the arbitrary, unfair, cruel, and painful treatment we receive in this life. We don’t have to defend ourselves or stand on our pride or fight every battle. We need only the freedom that Christ has won. That is the freedom from guilt. When Jesus takes away sin, he does so completely. He doesn’t leave anything for us to do. He comes to us in his gracious and live-giving gospel and he speaks words to us from God. As he departed from this world to go to the Father, he departed through pain. What is unfair or cruel or painful or just plain wrong that Jesus did not suffer? He did so without complaint. When he suffered and entrusted himself to the One who judges justly, he not only gave us the example of humility to follow, but he won for us the true and eternal freedom we need. No longer can our sins or consciences accuse us. Jesus has borne our sin by his suffering. Jesus has washed our consciences free by his death in our stead. Jesus has won for us true spiritual freedom in this life and eternal freedom in heaven in the life to come.
We are free here in this place as we gather in his name as his holy church. We are free at home when we read his holy word and pray as God’s family. We are free in the privacy of our room or in the car or at the job when we consider the gospel promise God gave us and how he has clothed us with Christ by holy baptism. Wherever the Holy Spirit brings us the words of Jesus, there we are free. When we have to push the broom, fix the motor, file the papers, fill out the form, and especially take orders and insults and abuse, we are free. We don’t need to prove ourselves to anyone because we have him who has given us citizenship in another country. That country will never be destroyed for it was purchased by the blood of Jesus and will endure forever and ever. To that country our Lord Jesus will bring us some day. Meanwhile, we rest secure in the knowledge that there are no sufferings in this life that can be compared with the joys that wait for us Christians in heaven. For that day we pray: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Rolf D. Preus