Easter 3a

Preached: April 6, 2008

Live in Fear
1 Peter 1:17-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from Jesus Christ, the Lord, who has ransomed with his blood to be his very own. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit works in us is from 1 Peter.

If you call on him as Father, who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourself in fear during this time of your traveling. For you know that you were redeemed from your worthless conduct handed down by your forefathers, [you were redeemed] not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood as of a lamb, blameless and spotless, [the blood] of Christ. Not only was he foreknown before the founding of the world, but also was revealed in the end of times for the sake of you, who through him have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Live in fear. That does not sound like a Christ-centered sermon theme, does it? Live in fear. “But Pastor,” you might say, “didn't the Easter angel say, ‘Don't be afraid’? How can you say, ’Live in fear’?”

It's not me who is saying that. Listen to the words that God the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Peter to write: “Live your lives . . in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17 NIV). Live in fear. “But Pastor, it says reverent fear. Isn't that entirely different than normal fear?” The NIV does say “reverent fear,” but that word reverent is added by the translators. The Greek words that the Holy Spirit gave Peter are ἐν φόβῳ “in fear.” φόβῳ is the regular, generic vocable for fear. He get our English word phobia from it. But you are right that the phrase, “live in fear,” can be taken several different ways. In what sense are we to live in fear and in what sense are we not to live in fear?

Now the basic, naked emotion of fear has the same kind of feeling inside of us no matter what fear you're talking about. That's why good fear and bad fear are both called fear, φόβος. But the differences is why do we feel that way. What is the source or cause of the fear? That's the key question.

1) Why is it spiritual deadly to live without fear?

To help us think this through, here are a series of stories. Peter describes our lives on earth as being strangers here, just passing through. So imagine a small band of travelers led by a guide through a strange and dangerous wilderness. As they prepare camp for the night, one of the travelers sees no reason to fear, so he fearlessly wanders off. He falls prey to the dangers of the dark.

That's why I and the Apostle say to you, “Live in fear.” So many who claim to be Christian and call God Father have this self-centered fearlessness. They think they can wander out of earshot of Jesus' voice. So they skip coming to church and don't read or reflect on his Word throughout the week. They think they can wander into this sin or that sin. “It might be a little fun and it's no big deal. God will forgive me afterwards anyway.”

We all face those temptations. We must see the grave danger of wandering away from the Word and walking into sin. Thinking that we can hear his word when we get around to it or that some sins are no big deal is the opposite of the fear the Holy Spirit works in us. Remember how each of the explanations to the commandments starts? “We should fear and love God . . .” For when we walk away from Jesus, we walk straight into death and hell. That's something to be afraid of.

For God, the impartial judge, will leave no sin unpunished. If you leave behind Jesus, you leave behind his righteousness that alone can cover our sin. Then you will stand before God with your every sin exposed and your naked shame on display. Trying to call him your Father will do you no good then. Rather you will hear the Judge's verdict, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 NIV). Live in fear.

2) What are sinful sources of fear?

But we haven't yet addressed the question of the source or cause of godly fear in us. We have seen the danger of living without fear. But living in fear can be sinful as well. Let's go back to our band of travelers.

That night one of the travelers did not get any sleep. She worried. Did the guide know what he was doing? Was this really a good place to camp? Could he keep them safe from the dangers out there? She was living in fear, but her fear was driven by doubt. She did not trust the guide. That's not what I mean when I say live in fear. Don't live in fear that flows from doubt. Can God really provide for me and protect me? Has Jesus really taken away my sin? Will I be in heaven? Such doubts bring fear but that's not the fear the Holy Spirit works in us.

The next day another of the travelers whispers to his partner, “I want to head out on my own. I can make it through. But I know this guide. He'll hunt me down and beat me until I come back. That's the only reason I listen to what he says. I don't want to get on his bad side and face is threats and abuse.” That fellow as well is living in fear, the fear of punishment. But that's not what I mean when I say live in fear. Don't live in fear that is driven by threat or punishment, that changes God into a tyrant and ogre.

3) How does the Holy Spirit work the right fear in our hearts?

But another traveler held the guide in high regard. He had been an orphan, living off the dirty streets, when the guide had taken him into his own home. He trusted the guide. Sometimes the guide led them through thick underbrush. But even though he couldn't see what was ahead, he followed on trusting the guide. Sometimes the guide had him stand watch in the middle of the night. Though tired, he gladly did so, knowing that the guide knew what was best. When one of the other travelers ridiculed him for being afraid to think for himself and do his own thing. This young man replied, “Yes, I am afraid not to follow our guide. For I know that any other path would bring me danger and death. But where my guide leads me, I can walk with confidence, for he loves me.” Are you beginning to understand what it rightly means to live in fear?

This fear flows from God's great love for us. That's its source and cause. Notice how, right after he urges us to live our lives in fear, Peter holds before us the greatness of God's love. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18, 19 NIV).

Born from sinful parents, our lives were pointless, meaningless, worthless -- worse than any street urchin. That's our natural inheritance, handed down by our forefathers. Yet look at what your God did for you! The Father gave his Son as the bloody Sacrifice, the only sacrifice that pays for sin. The Son poured out his blood for you. Such precious blood! The blood of God, the holy, blameless, spotless blood. As the lamb he poured out his blood as the sacrifice for you, to bring you into his house, into his family. He paid the greatest price for the most worthless trash. He ransomed you with his precious blood.

Since his love has already done this for us, we fear to follow any other path. For his love leads us on the way that is best, even when we cannot see it. Any other path must bring death and destruction and is to be feared.

What is more, your God has seen to it that this Good News of blood and ransom has come into your heart. He knew this plan from before the creation of the world, but he has made sure that this plan was made known to you so that you believe that Jesus' blood ransoms you. For Jesus, the Lamb of God, “was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20, 21 NIV). Through his Word and through the Lord's Supper your God makes known to you the blood, the precious blood, that has ransomed you.

God raised Jesus so that you have faith and hope in him. For Jesus' rising from the dead and ascending in glory to God's right hand is the proof of payment, the sales receipt. God has accepted Jesus' precious blood as the ransom that redeems you. So our faith confidently holds on to his promises and our hope eagerly anticipates the end of the journey when we are home in heaven.

For through faith in Jesus, God is our Father and heaven is our home. So we eagerly await our journey's end, when we will stand before the Judge of all washed clean in his blood and dressed in his righteousness. For through faith Jesus' works count as yours in God's courtroom. That's why in faith right now you call on God as your Father, for through Jesus you are his dear child, baptized into his family. Right now, you eagerly anticipate being at the journey's end and your true home.

Until then we follow Jesus in that fear, hope, and love that the Holy Spirit works in us. For this fear flows from faith that trusts in Jesus, our loving Savior. In that sense I say to you, “Live in fear.”

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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

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