The Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 30, 2013| 1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. 1 Peter 3:15
Have you ever denied your Lord Jesus? You were given the opportunity to confess him and you kept your mouth shut? You hemmed and hawed and squirmed away from making a clear confession of your faith? Jesus said,
Whoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33
These words of our Lord appear at the beginning of the rubrics for the rite of Confirmation. God calls on those he baptizes to confess the faith into which they are baptized. We baptize babies as the Church has always done. Baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Ghost for both infants and adults. Those who reject the baptism of babies will often point out how many babies that are baptized never make a personal confession of the faith. It’s a scandal. Millions of nominal Christians bring their babies to be baptized and never bother raising them in the faith. What is worse is how many young folks who do make the confession of Christ on the day of their Confirmation are rarely seen in church afterwards and quickly adopt the standards, values, and beliefs of the godless culture in which they live.
To confess Christ is to give a defense of the faith. It is not to share our religious feelings. We don’t trust in our feelings. Feelings are notoriously fickle, changing with the seasons and circumstances of life. Faith is grounded in God’s word, and that is constant and unchanging.
To confess Christ is to defend the faith. It is not to talk about our religious experiences. Experiences vary from one person to another. One person has a dramatic awakening in which his whole life turns around in front of his eyes. One day he is heading straight to hell in unbelief and impenitent sin. The next day he is glory bound, confident in Jesus his Savior. Another person can point to no such experience in his life. He was baptized as an infant and has known Christ as his Savior as long as he can remember. There is no one size fits all religious experience for Christians. The only religious experience that the Bible joins to faith is Holy Baptism. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
Defending the faith isn’t to talk about ourselves. It’s to talk about what God reveals of himself to us for us to believe, teach, and confess. God gives us reason for the hope that is in us. Consider how we confess this in the Apostles’ Creed.
The Creed has three articles, corresponding to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. In the first article, we confess God the Father who created us in his image and provides for all our needs. We did not evolve from the animals. God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and he made Eve out of Adam’s rib. God brought the woman to the man and established marriage and blessed it with children. We confess this. We will be called ignorant for rejecting what science has supposedly proven. We will be accused of hate for rejecting same-sex marriage and defending marriage as God established it: as the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Then what do we do? We confess the truth.
In the second article of the Creed, we confess Jesus Christ. I know of no words that make this confession better than these words from Luther’s Small Catechism:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
In the third article of the Creed, we confess that we could not know Christ or come to him by our own reason or strength, but the Holy Spirit called us by the gospel and brought us to the saving faith by his grace alone. Without the Holy Spirit we are blind, and dead, and at enmity against God. With the Holy Spirit we can and do believe everything God reveals to us. This faith is a living and daring confidence in God’s grace. It is not the mumbling of an indifferent “whatever” to whatever God says. It is the firm and confident “Amen” to what he promises.
The Holy Spirit comes to us in our baptism, in the gospel we hear, in the Holy Scriptures, in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood and he works within us trust in divine mercy that forgives us our sins for Christ’s sake and guarantees us eternal life in heaven.
God makes us ready to confess this hope. When Peter depended on himself and his own faithfulness to Christ, he boasted that he would die before he would deny Christ. Then he denied Christ. In his pride he fell away. When Jesus looked at him after his third denial, Peter cried bitter tears of self-recrimination.
But Jesus graciously restored Peter. Peter understood what it meant to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” He had tried to be a Christian without sanctifying the Lord God in his heart. It doesn’t work. Before we can confess our faith, our faith must be firmly established. This is why our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray in the first petition of the prayer he taught us, “Hallowed be thy name.” With these words we lay claim to our baptism where God’s name was placed upon us and the hope we confess was planted deep within us. It is as we sing in that wonderful hymn by Thomas Kingo:
On my heart imprint thine image, blessed Jesus, King of grace
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures have no power thee to efface
This the superscription be: Jesus crucified for me
Is my life, my hope’s foundation and my glory and salvation.
To sanctify God in our hearts is to set him apart from the things of this world that will perish with the world. It is to treasure the word and promises of God more than our money, our jobs, our status, our popularity, or anything else in this world that we prize. It is to know what is truly valuable in life. Then we are ready to answer those who ask us why we hope for what we hope.
Peter wrote this epistle to Christians who were suffering persecution because of their faith. They had reason to resent the poor treatment they received from unbelievers who were hostile to their religion. Peter told them that when they had the opportunity to defend their faith they should do so “with meekness and fear,” that is, with a gentle and respectful spirit.
The Christian is at war, make no mistake about it. The enemy is the devil with his lies, false religions, deceptions, and temptations. But those who oppose what we believe and consider us fools, ignoramuses, and impediments to social progress are souls for whom the Lord Jesus shed his blood. St. Paul, the greatest missionary in the history of the Church, started out as an enemy of the Church. St. Peter, who confessed the faith without fear and was finally crucified on account of his Christian testimony, was the same man who denied even knowing Christ when asked by a servant girl if he wasn’t one of Jesus’ disciples. We should not regard those who reject Christ and his gospel as our enemies. We should regard them as prospective members of our congregation and of the Holy Christian Church.
Jesus compared the preaching of the gospel to the task of fishing. He told Peter to throw out his net in the deep water where Peter knew there were no fish. Peter knew there were no fish there because he had just wasted several hours fishing there. But Jesus told him to lower the nets so that’s what he did and he caught more fish than they could hold in two boats.
They fished with nets; not hooks. We don’t need to bait the gospel with all sorts of goodies to lure people into our churches. The gospel itself is all we need. The “reason for the hope that is in you” is not some system of rational proofs for the Christian faith. It is the gospel itself.
I’m not saying that we as Christians may not shoot down false arguments raised against what we confess. It’s a good idea for a young person who is going off to college to become acquainted with scientific arguments against evolution. It is good for us Christians to know a bit about how our Bible has been preserved over the centuries from corruption and how the various so called errors that people think they find in the Bible aren’t errors at all. Bogus arguments that are raised against Christian teaching need to be exposed for what they are.
The Christian apologist, John Warwick Montgomery, began his journey to Christianity by attempting to disprove the Christian religion by demonstrating that Jesus did not rise from the dead. He figured that if he could debunk the resurrection he could disprove Christianity. He was right. He could. But he couldn’t. In trying to disprove the resurrection, he became persuaded that it had to have happened as the eyewitnesses reported it in the Holy Scriptures.
But proving that Jesus rose from the dead and disproving the attacks on the reliability of the Bible will not convince an unbeliever to become a believer. The hope that is within us is grounded in fact, but proving the fact isn’t enough for faith. Faith comes from being forgiven by God. You see, the reason people reject Christ is not because they have some highfalutin intellectual objection to the Christian gospel. The reason they reject Christianity is because they don’t want to admit their sins. They don’t want to be accountable to him who will return to judge the living and the dead. They’d rather deny God than to face him as their Judge. So they deny God the way an ostrich puts his head into the sand to protect himself from attack. Out of sight; out of mind.
The hope that is within every Christian heart is what these people need. We aren’t afraid of facing Jesus on Judgment Day because we have met him where he suffered and died for us to take away our sins. We never tire of hearing this gospel of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We never tire of coming to church, week after week, confessing our sins and being absolved, finding refuge in our baptism, and eating and drinking the medicine of immortality that gives us eternal life by giving us the forgiveness of all our sins. As we receive these precious gifts, God is sanctified in our hearts and we are ready, willing, and able to give a reason for the hope that is in us, with meekness and reverence. Amen