Lent's Connection to Real Life!
O Lord God, our dear heavenly Father, You have called us out of darkness into Your marvelous light by the power of Your Spirit working through Your Word. You have instilled faith within our hearts and imputed to us the righteousness of Your dear Son, Jesus. We now stand before You not as the sinners we are, but the saints You have declared us to be. Help us, O Lord, to worship You this day in Spirit and in truth, to grow in our understanding of Your Word, and finally to increase our desire to serve You always with faithfulness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
When Moses and Aaron asked Pharaoh to let God’s people go, he refused. In fact, he added blasphemy to his refusal by asking, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice?” Pharaoh followed those wicked words with wicked actions—depriving Israel of straw, yet demanding of them the same quota of bricks. This sad situation led Israel to become angry with Moses and Aaron. At times our paths on this earth are not easy. Persevere, however, and you will see the deliverance of the LORD!
Jesus demonstrated both the extent of His power and His ability to save by raising Lazarus from the dead. We are told that many people came to believe in Jesus because of that miracle, but others—among them the chief priests and Pharisees—were moved to hate Jesus even more. They began to plot His death, but God reveals His greatness by using the message of Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection as the means of calling people of every nation to faith!
Text: 1 Peter 1:13-23
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 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. He 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. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, nor of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
In Christ Jesus, through whose righteousness we are right with God, dear fellow redeemed:
In just two weeks we will celebrate Easter and our Lord’s resurrection. Before the Season of Lent ends, I would like to review with you its true meaning and its connection to our everyday lives as Christians. For many people Lent is mistakenly viewed as simply a time of deprivation. You are expected to give something up for Lent, just as Jesus gave up His life when He died on the cross. Unfortunately, because of this many people indulge themselves in sinful pleasures during the pre-Lenten Mardi Gras season. Their attitude seems to be: “Let’s get in all the sensual pleasure we can, before we have to give it up for Lent!” Lent, however, is not a time for deprivation, but rather a time for added spiritual reflection. We, therefore, hold our special mid-week Lenten services, so that we have additional time to think about what our Savior indeed did for us during His passion.
Do people ever ask you why you go to church twice each week during Lent? For many the thought of going to church once each week is a bit much, but to go twice each week seems almost fanatical! After all: “Life is busy and, besides, you don’t have to go to church twice each week to be a good person!” But that, you see, is the problem! For many people the purpose of religion is to make you good. They reason that if your character is sterling and your works impressive, you will make it to heaven! But, the truth of the matter is that the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone makes us right with God, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone atones for our sins. This is the message of Lent, and it is that message which connects directly to our every day lives, for our justification leads directly to our sanctification! Let us, therefore, considerLENT’S CONNECTION TO REAL LIFE! We will see that God’s grace leads to holy living; Christ’s redemption leads to reverent conduct; and our spiritual rebirth leads to brotherly love!
The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to Christians facing severe persecutions and being pressured to give up their faith. In the verses immediately preceding our text Peter reminded them of what their Jesus had done for them and of the future their Savior had won for them. He pointed their eyes ahead to the wonders of heaven and encouraged them to persevere! As our text opens Peter turned the eyes of those readers to their everyday lives and began to show them the connection between those lives of sanctification and the saving gospel. He writes, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
Peter speaks first of the attitude we are to have as we approach our daily lives. We are to “prepare our minds for action.” We are to “be self-controlled.” But most of all, our “hope” is to rest upon the “grace” of God received in connection with the revelation of Jesus Christ. Now in both the NKJV and NIV translations it seems that Peter connects that hope of grace to a future revelation of Christ at the end of time, but a literal translation of the passage suggests a broader interpretation. Every day we are to place our “hope” in the “grace” we receive in connection with Jesus’ revelation at all times—when He first revealed Himself at the time of His earthly ministry, when He now reveals Himself to us through His gospel word and His sacraments, and when He ultimately will reveal Himself at the end of time. Everything, in other words, that Jesus Christ has done for us, is presently doing for us, and will ultimately do for us is the result, Peter states, of God’s “grace,” which in turn is to affect our attitudes and our daily living.
How does it affect us? We are to strive to “be holy in all (we) do!” Now it is true that we cannot be completely holy no matter how hard we try! But God by His grace has declared us sinner to be saints for Jesus’ sake. Peter tells us in later in this epistle, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9). We are holy in God’s eyes, for as the apostle Paul explained to the Romans, “By one Man’s obedience (that Man being Jesus Christ) many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19b). We have been declared righteous or holy in view of Jesus’ perfect obedience! Consequently, we are saints, even though at times we sin! When we do sin, we can take comfort in the fact that as Paul again explains to the Romans, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20b). Consequently, as we ponder the Lenten gospel of God’s grace bestowed upon us in and through Jesus Christ, that gospel message will move us out of sheer gratitude to strive to be holy, even as our God is holy. That is LENT’S CONNECTION TO REAL LIFE!
We see the connection as well as Christ’s redemption leads to reverent conduct! Peter writes, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 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. He 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.”
We live in a world, which likes to believe in a “watch-maker” God—a God who supposedly created the universe, wound it up, but then simply left the universe run on its own. People like to believe this, because it relieves them of any personal responsibility to an all-powerful, all-knowing, just God. God, however, is all-powerful, He is all-knowing, and as Peter relates He is a God who one day will “judge each man’s work impartially!” We will stand before our God and Savior one day to give answer for our every word and action! That thought strikes absolute fear in the hearts of unbelievers in this world. It should strike “reverent fear” within our hearts as believers. The difference between the two, however, is like the difference between day and night. The fear of unbelievers strikes terror in their hearts. That is why they try so hard to deny God’s presence and power—they do not want to think about experiencing His just judgment for their sins. The “reverent fear” of believers brings awe to their hearts—an awe that is based in part upon the powerful work of creation, but which is based even more so upon the gracious work of Jesus Christ’s redemption. That work, in particular, moves the believer to live in reverent fear!
The Bible affirms for us that “the wages of sin is death,” but it then goes on to affirm for us that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). How can this be? If the consequence for our sins is justly death—spiritual, temporal, and eternal—how is it that you and I can look forward to receiving “the gift of…eternal life”? The answer is found in the Lenten gospel message. Jesus redeemed us—He paid a price sufficient to ransom us from the judgment we deserve by suffering that judgment Himself. Jesus did not and could not pay that ransom with gold and silver—not even with all of the gold and silver in the universe. Rather, He took on our flesh and blood and then shed His precious blood, so that our sins might be washed away.
This great redemption, Peter says, was planned by God and our Savior “before the creation of the world” but was “revealed in these last times (this New Testament period)” for our benefit. That message should fill our hearts with awe. God planned to redeem us before the world began, but that is not the only thing God planned in advance. Paul tells us in Ephesians that God also planned our lives of sanctification: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That is amazing! God has great things planned for our lives—lives which according to His plan are temporary here, but will last throughout eternity in heaven. Our knowledge of God’s will and plan for us provide us with hope and joy and blessing! Is that not awesome? Consequently, we are to live our lives with “reverent fear” knowing that we are but “strangers” here in this world for heaven is our real home! This then, again, is LENT’S CONNECTION TO REAL LIFE!
Finally, Peter points out the connection between our spiritual rebirth and brotherly love! He writes, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, nor of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” We reflect upon the Lenten gospel message each year, because it is that precious gospel message which lies at the heart of God’s “living and enduring word.” That gospel is the “imperishable seed” planted within each of our hearts, and which takes root and grows into our Christian lives. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). Being “born again” simply means to come to faith in Jesus Christ.
My dear friends, coming to faith in Jesus Christ changes everything for us—we lost sinners become saved saints; our hearts of stone are turned into hearts of flesh; our wills perverted by sin are changed into wills desirous of salvation; we who were individuals dominated by selfishness are now moved by the gospel to selflessness. Oh, that change in our lives of sanctification takes time, and it will never be perfect until we reach heaven, but within the heart of every believer there will be a strong desire to comply with the encouragement of Peter to “have a sincere love for your brothers, (to) love one another deeply from the heart.”
Do you want to know how to love “deeply from the heart”? Jesus said, “Love one anotheras I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus’ love was an active, self-sacrificing love. The apostle John says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Deep, heart-felt love is not content just to talk, but when it sees a need it acts—it seeks to meet the need encountered. Deep, heart-felt love picks up those who have fallen, forgives those who have failed, hugs those who are broken-hearted, is willing to walk the extra mile. When such love—motivated by a faith in faithful Jesus—becomes evident in our lives, then everyone can see LENT’S CONNECTION TO REAL LIFE! May our final weeks of Lent truly prepare us for the joys of Easter—may our personal reflection upon the Lenten gospel reveal itself in our real and sanctified lives! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting