|The Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| July 12, 2020| 1 Peter 3:15|
Sanctify Christ the Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15
Defend your faith. Don’t defend yourself. Defend the truth. You are not the truth. Jesus is. When God gives you the opportunity to defend the true Christian religion, take it! Christianity is under attack. Our faith is under attack. Our hope is under attack. We must be ready to confess. This is not an option for a Christian. Jesus says:
Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)
We defend the faith. We do so whenever we are given the opportunity to do so. We defend the faith, not as arrogant know-it-alls who stand in judgment of everybody else, but humbly and respectfully. St. Peter says “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” People may ask us to defend our faith for a variety of reasons. They may be curious. They may be hostile. They may be searching for the truth. We have something they don’t have and they want to know what it is. Whatever their reason for asking, we are to be ready to give a reason for what we believe.
The apostle calls it “the hope that is in you.” Hope is faith directed to the future. It is faith in what will be revealed, but is now hidden from sight. In our everyday speech we use the word hope to refer to something uncertain. Are we going to get more rain? I hope so. I hope so means I don’t know so. That’s not how the Bible uses the word hope. Hope is confident. It is sure. Faith and hope belong together. Faith trusts in what God gives us now. Hope trusts in what God will give us in eternity. Our hope is in Christ. Christ is in heaven. Our hope is in heaven.
We confess this hope in the Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” There is no eternal life without the resurrection of the body. God created us in his image. He will restore the lost image in heaven. He will restore the fallen creation. Our Christian hope is eternal life – not as disembodied spirits floating through space – but the full, abundant, glorious life lived in glorified bodies. No pain, no suffering, no disease will touch us. Sadness and misery will be gone forever. No sin can enter and so no doubts, no grief, and no death. This is our hope!
Thousands of years ago Job wrote these words defending the hope of every Christian:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)
Our hope in heaven is our hope in Christ. Heaven is as real as Christ is real. Without Christ there is no heaven. When Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you,” he did just that. Only Jesus could prepare heaven for us. He did so on the cross. He prepared a place for us as he bore our sin in his body. He overcame the power of the devil. He bore all the temptations of humanity. He died the death of all sinners. When Jesus overcame sin, the devil, and death he prepared heaven for us. Heaven is where sin, the devil, and death have no sway. They’re not there. There is perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect contentment.
There is no heaven without Jesus. There is no hope without Jesus. Heaven is ours by grace alone and there is no grace except through Jesus. St. Paul writes:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
The reason for our hope is God’s grace in Christ. The hope is inside of us. How did it get there? Did we put it there? No, we were dead in our sins and God made us alive with Christ. The hope that is in us came into us from the outside. The hope within gets its strength and conviction from what is outside of us. God’s word is outside of us. It is from everlasting to everlasting. It is written down in the Bible. It is incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. It is preached throughout the world. It is faithfully confessed in the creeds and confessions of the church. Truth is truth whether or not we know it or confess it. Jesus Christ is the Savior of sinners. He is the light of the world. He was shining in the darkness when we were still blind. Christ doesn’t become our Savior when we sanctify him in our hearts. We sanctify him in our hearts because he is our Savior.
We don’t make him our Savior. We didn’t put hope in us. God did. Apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit who has brought us to faith in Christ we were powerless to do anything but sin. When the apostle urges us to be of one mind, having compassion, being tenderhearted and courteous, and blessing those who do us wrong, he is talking to people whose hope is secure. We know to whom we belong. We know where we are going. We are capable of love because we have received God’s love. Our hope is not in our love. It is in God’s love. And this hope is sure and certain because God’s word is true.
We defend God’s word. When God’s word is under attack our hope is being attacked. But who are we to defend God’s word? We are Christians! St. Peter tells us to! He says, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” The reason for the hope that is in us is God’s word. We don’t have hope in heaven because we feel there must surely be a place where good triumphs over evil and we really want to be there. We don’t have hope in heaven because we have earned heaven by perfectly obeying all of his commandments, loving God above all things and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Our hope in heaven is our hope in Christ. Our hope in Christ is confidence that what God’s word says is true.
Jesus prayed to his Father shorty before going to the cross, “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth.” God’s word sanctifies us. It sets us apart from all evil as God’s precious possession. Since God’s word sanctifies us, we sanctify the Lord Jesus in our hearts. We set him apart from everything else as our most precious possession. As we sing, “Earth has no pleasure I would share, yea, heaven itself were void and bare if you Lord were not near me.”
Our hope is Christ. We know Christ only from God’s word. This is why we defend God’s word.
We defend God’s word when it teaches us mysteries that appear to our intellect to be quite unreasonable. We defend God’s word when it teaches a standard of right and wrong that shows everyone in this world to be a sinner in need of a Savior. We defend God’s word when it contradicts what most respectable intellectuals say, whether the topic is morality, science, history, or any other topic God addresses in the Bible. Our hope and the truthfulness of God’s word are bound together.
To defend the faith requires courage. The source of courage is the forgiveness of sins. We confess to God our sins of selfishness and pride, of arrogance and deceit. God graciously forgives us for Christ’s sake. We don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, but Jesus won it for us by his perfect obedience and innocent suffering and death. This forgiveness, that God freely gives us for Christ’s sake, enables us to confess our faith with gentleness and respect. Our faith doesn’t consider how good and pious we are. It sees how good and gracious our God is. Our hope doesn’t rest in the good we’ve done. It rests in the good that Jesus has done for us. Jesus is the reason for our hope. When we confess him we do so in humility. We do so respectfully.
We live at a time of intolerance. I’m not talking about racial animosity or the fights politicians engage in in an election year. The religious culture of America is intolerant of Christians who claim to know the truth. But that’s what we claim. We have hope within because we know the truth. This isn’t our truth, as if it is true only for us. The truth we believe, teach, and confess is revealed to us by God. We know that everyone needs a Savior from sin, that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and that nobody can be saved from their sin except through faith in Jesus Christ the Savior of sinners. We know that our good deeds do not help save us. We know that God gives us forgiveness and eternal life as a gift. We know that God forgives us and saves us from our sins in Holy Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and in the gospel that we hear. We know that there is no power on earth that can tear us out of our Savior’s hands. We know that when we die we are going to heaven. We know that on the last day Christ will raise us up from the dead and give us immortal and glorified bodies. We know the truth because we know what God says. Whenever we give a reason for our hope we confess Christ. When we confess as truth what God says is true we know our confession is true.
Let the world call us intolerant because we will tolerate no other gospel than the biblical gospel we have learned from the Bible and confessed in the Catechism. Our hope rests on God’s truth. We can tolerate nothing but the truth. It is through faith alone that we are justified. And what does that say about our hope? St. Paul writes in Romans 5,
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)