Easter 6a - Confirmation

Preached: April 27, 2008

Keep Jesus Christ #1 in Your Heart
1 Peter 3:15-22

Grace and peace in abundance from God our Father who has given you rebirth into a living through the resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit keeps our hearts focused on Jesus is 1 Peter 3.

But sanctify Christ, the Lord, in your heart, always ready with an explanation for everyone who asks you for an account of the hope that's in you. But [do so] with humbleness and fear, having a good conscience, so that when bad things are said about you, those who abuse your good behavior in Christ are put to shame. For it is better to suffer, if God's will wants it, as a doer of good than as a doer of evil.

For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous One for unrighteous ones, in order to bring you to God, on the one hand being put to death in regard to flesh, on the other being made alive in regard to spirit. In this way as well he went and preached to the spirits in prison, such as those who disobeyed at one time when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, who had built an ark in which a few, that is eight lives, were saved with water. This water, picturing Baptism, now saves you also -- not putting off of dirt from the flesh, but the request to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Having gone into heaven, he is at God's right hand, with angels, authorities, and powers subordinated to him.

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ and especially you, our 2008 confirmands:

Life as a Christian is hard. And it's going to get harder for you three. It may seem hard today standing in front of the congregation confessing your faith, giving the reason for the hope that you have in Jesus Christ. But you are among friends here, fellow Christians who confess the same faith, family who support you. Out in the world it's a lonely wilderness. You will be among many who do not confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In fact, deep down inside they hate the real Jesus and that hatred can flash out against you. Life as a Christian is hard.

On top of that, Satan has you in his sights. Many in the world already belong to him, but he doesn't have you. So like a pack of wolves in the wilderness, he and his demons try to hunt you down and tear you away form Jesus' flock . He'll throw temptations at you: sex and drinking and money and drugs. But those aren't the only temptations. He'll tempt you with many things that the world calls good. He'll say, “Trust in yourself. You don't really need Jesus. You can do it. You're invincible. Nothing can knock you down if you believe in yourself.” You'll see many who follow that self-faith appearing happy and successful with a life of ease. They have the money and the excitement and the fun because those were their number one priorities instead of Jesus. Such temptations make life as a Christian is hard.

And your not just fighting the enemies outside of you. A traitor lives in you, your flesh, your sinful nature. It betrays you. Stabs you in the back. It makes what's wrong feel right. It lures you into coveting what you do not have. It wants you to think that coming to worship and listening to Jesus' words is boring, that life's too busy to spend time with Jesus in his Word at home, that following Jesus and serving him takes all the fun out of life. Your sinful self tries to make you feel those thing, making life as a Christian hard.

The only way for you to survive as a Christian is with Jesus. I don't mean with Jesus as someone you call only in case of emergency like the fire department or police. I don't mean with Jesus as a last resort or an afterthought. The only way to survive as a Christian in deadly wilderness of the world is with Jesus as number one in your heart.

That's the theme today: Keep Jesus Christ #1 in your heart. Or to use the words of the Apostle Peter: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). Do so by remembering the victory Jesus won for you. That's the first part. And then with him in your heart, you ar read to speak up for Jesus with gentle words and good behavior. That's the second part.

A. Remembering the victory Jesus won for you

Keep Jesus Christ #1 in your heart. Yes, life as a Christian is hard. But with Jesus there is hope. Not a doubtful hope that might prove false, like hoping we were done with winter already. No! When Jesus is #1 in your heart, you have a sure and certain hope that will not disappoint. For Jesus has already won the victory for you. Remember that victory. That's how we keep Jesus #1 in our hearts. Remember his victory for you.

Peter holds before us that victory in the second part of the text. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NIV-footnote)

Look at what Jesus did for you! He died on the cross, just once. Unlike the sacrifices of the Old Testament that were repeated day after day after day, Jesus sacrificed himself only once. Why? Because he paid for all sins by that one death. For since he is our God, his one death has infinite value. Since his blood is the blood of God, it pays the price to ransom every sinner, once and for all.

Think of what that means for you and me as we struggle through the hard wilderness of this world. When you've wandered away and Satan, like a wolf, has attacked you leaving you bloodied and mangled, as you lie there wondering how your Shepherd could ever welcome you back after what you've done, what Good News! Jesus has paid for all sins, no matter how great. Don't believe the lying doubts that say your sin is unforgivable. Jesus already died for it, once for all, for you.

For he, the Righteous One, died in the place of unrighteous people. He died in your place. Jesus certainly had God's verdict of “righteous, not guilty.” God declared that verdict at Jesus' Baptism and transfiguration: “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well-pleased.” God gave that verdict again when he raised Jesus to life on Easter Sunday morning.

Our sin has earned you and me the verdict of guilty. “There is no one who does good, not even one.” We are the unrighteous who deserve God's death-sentence of hell and damnation. But when Jesus died, it was the righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He took your place. So when God raised Jesus from the dead that verdict of righteousness is for you as well. Jesus took your place. The righteous one for the unrighteous.

The Lord's Supper brings this Good News to you. Jesus gives you his body to eat and his blood to drink. He wants you know for sure that what he did on the cross he did for you. The Righteous One for the unrighteous, for you. Come often to remember his death in your place that pays for all your sins. For as you remember what Jesus has done for you, you are keeping him #1 in your heart.

Now since Jesus has taken your place. His victory is yours as well. And what a victory that is! For early Easter Sunday morning, after his soul had returned to his body but before he made his resurrection appearances, Jesus descended into hell to proclaim his victory. “He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built” (1 Peter 3:19, 20 NIV).

Think about that. In Satan's stronghold, in hell itself, Jesus has the power. He proclaimed his victory there, so that the souls in hell knew they had lost and Jesus had won. That's what we confess in the Apostles' when we say that Jesus descended into hell. He has won the victory over Satan for you. What strength that gives you when Satan howls at you in life's wilderness! Jesus has won the victory already! Satan cannot harm you when Jesus is #1 in your heart. So although the Christian life is hard, you are safe in Jesus.

You're Baptism brought Jesus' victory to you. After talking about how the waters of the flood saved Noah by making the ark float, Peter writes, “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also . . . It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21 NIV). Baptism connects you to Jesus, so that just as he was raised from the dead, so also Baptism brings you that victory. It brings you a clean conscience. For Baptism didn't wash away dirt from your body; rather, it washed away the stain and filth of sin -- washed it away with the blood of Jesus Christ. And so Baptism brings you Jesus victory.

And as your victorious and risen Savior, he is ruling all things for you. For he “has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand -- with all angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3: 22 NIV). What hope that gives you! A sure and certain hope. For the Savior who loved you so much that he died for you, now reigns over all things at God's right hand for you. So keep Jesus #1 in your heart.

B. Ready to speak up for Jesus with gentle words and good behavior

With this hope, this sure, certain hope built on Jesus victory -- with this hope living in you and Jesus #1 in your heart, be ready, be ready to speak up for Jesus. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” ( 1Peter 3:15 NIV), Peter writes.

Be ready to speak out the hope that you have in Jesus for this life and for the next. This hope that no matter how hard life gets, -- even if you're crippled in an accident, or your friends leave you,or your family disowns you, no matter what happens, Jesus won't fail you. He has already won the victory. He reigns over all things for you. Nothing is beyond is control. And he is with you through life's wilderness. So since in these worst of cases you have hope in Jesus, how much more so when you face the smaller problems of life - a bad grade, someone breaking their promise to you, someone making fun of you. With Jesus as #1 in your heart you can face all things with this sure and certain hope.

Let that hope shine out in your words. That means you need to know the words. Keep on learning God's Word. Confirmation is not the end, but the beginning of your life-long pondering of God's Word. You learned that in the 3rd commandment, not to despise preaching and his Word but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.

Now when you shine out, speaking up for Jesus, others may make fun of you or belittle you. Speaking up for Jesus can be like a light on warm, humid Minnesota night. Just like that light draws the bugs and mosquitoes, so words of hope in Jesus can attract the ridicule, persecution.

What are we to do? The devil tempts us to turn off the light. Pretend that your hope comes from somewhere else besides Jesus. “Keep quiet about Jesus,” he whispers to you. Or maybe we slap at the bugs. We retaliate with angry words and threats. We argue trying to force the other person to admit we're right and they're wrong. These also are temptations Satan leads us into.

But when Jesus is #1 in our hearts, look at the attitude and actions that we want accompanying our words. Peter writes, “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-17 NIV). Did you catch the attitude and action that accompany our words of hope in Jesus? “But do this with gentleness and respect.” That's the attitude. “Your good behavior in Christ.” That's the action.

When Jesus is #1 in our hearts we speak our words of hope with gentleness and respect. Why? Because we want those who hear them to have the same hope in Jesus that we have. Even if presently they are our enemies, we want the Holy Spirit to change their hearts so that they too hope in Jesus and become our brothers and sisters in Christ. That's why we also strive for good behavior, for lives of kindness and love towards others. Even if others harm you for doing good and you suffer, keep doing good. For that good behavior can bring others to see the power of Jesus that changes hearts and lives.

Keep Jesus #1 in your heart, always ready to speak up for him with gentle words and good behavior.

Here's a final picture to keep in mind. Picture how much we like to shout “We're #1” when our athletic teams are competing. Yet how doubtful that claim is. We can just as easily lose as win. But when your words and life shout out “Jesus is #1” that is sure and certain. That is the rock solid foundation for your hope.

So even though life as a Christian and will get harder, keep Jesus #1 in your heart. Be ready to speak up for him with gentle words and good behavior. But most of all, know that the only way Jesus stays #1 in your heart is when you keep on remembering the victory he has won for you. Keep on remembering his promises that he makes to you in his Word, in Baptism, and in the Lord's Supper

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313