With the Help of God Strive to Keep Your Vows!
O LORD God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier—we come into Your presence this day to hear Your holy word. We pray that You would instruct us and uplift us with Your truths. Bless our Confirmands, who this day will confess their faith in You and promise to be faithful to You. Help them…help us all to keep those vows and to ever remain faithful to You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
In this reading the prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming Savior. He would come with “a strong hand” to rule over His enemies, but with a gentle and loving “arm” to carry His “lambs” next to His heart. Let us ever rejoice in our strong, but gentle Savior!
Jesus declared Himself to be “the Good Shepherd” who knows His sheep and is known of His own. As our Shepherd Jesus assures us that He will give us the gift of eternal life and provides us the safety that only He and His Father can provide. Let us always listen to Him and follow Him with joy!
Text: 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 a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
In Christ Jesus, your Good Shepherd—the One who has claimed you for His own and has given you good reason to hope, dear fellow redeemed and especial our confirmands:
“But, you promised!” Do you ever remember saying that to your parents when you were small, and they were unable to fulfill a promised made to you? Why is the breaking of a promise so emotional? It is because our promises speak to the closeness of our relationships. Promises involve the bond of trust and reflect our commitment of love. We make promises to those whom we love. We expect those who love us to keep their promises because we trust them. That is why God’s promises to us are so important to us. That is why our promises to others, including God, are important to them. Today you confirmands will be making some very important promises. We call these promises “vows.” You will promise “to continue steadfast in the confession of the truth of Holy Scripture, and to suffer all—even death—rather than fall away from it.” You will promise “faithfully to conform all your life to the rule of the Divine Word, to be diligent in the use of the Means of Grace, both in Word and Sacrament; to walk in accordance with the Gospel of Christ and in faith, word, and deed remain true to the Triune God even unto death.” These promises—vows ought not be made or taken lightly, nor should they be taken simply because others—even your parents—expect you to take them. Rather you will make them because you love the Lord who has loved you. Even as you expect God to keep His promises to you, you will want to keep your promises to Him. I would, therefore, encourage you as well as all who have and will yet take your confirmation vows—WITH THE HELP OF GOD STRIVE TO KEEP YOUR VOWS!
You can do this when you follow the apostle Peter’s admonition and sanctify the Lord God in your hearts! That is exactly what Peter says in our text, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” What does that mean? How do you “sanctify the Lord God in your heart”? To “sanctify” means to “make something holy.” How can we make “the Lord God” holy? He already is holy! You cannot make something holy, that already is holy, can you? To understand how this can be done, let us pull a Luther. What I mean is, let us define what Peter means in the same way that Luther defined what Jesus meant in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. For instance, when Luther asked, “What does “hallowed be Thy name” means,” he responded, “God’s name is certainly holy all by itself, but we pray in this petition that we also keep it holy.” Consequently, we might explain what Peter is encouraging us to do in this way: “The Lord God is indeed holy in and of Himself, but we pray that the Spirit of God would lead us to keep Him holy also in our hearts.”
My dear friends and especially you confirmands: God has brought you by His grace to this point. He redeemed you through the blood of His own Son, Jesus Christ. He sent the Holy Spirit to bring you to faith in His Son through baptism and then through instruction with His Word. He now is calling upon you to respond. Remember the famous challenge of Joshua to the believers of his day, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve!” Joshua was not talking to unbelievers, but rather to believers, even as Peter so speaks to us believers today. Joshua, just like Peter, was urging the believers of his day to choose to “sanctify” the Lord God in their lives.
How might that be done? Let us consider how some of the heroes of faith presented in Hebrews 11 sanctified the Lord God in their hearts. Noah was “moved with godly fear,” listened to the Lord’s warning, and built an ark to save his family (v. 7). Abraham, we are told, “obeyed (the Lord) when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance”—the promised Land of Canaan (v. 8). Sarah believed in God’s promise and knew that He was faithful and was able to bear a child “when she was past the age” of normally being able to do so (v. 11). Moses “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” gave up all of his worldly advantages to serve God by leading Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land (v. 26). Rahab risked her life to protect Joshua’s spies and saved them from death because of her faith and fear of the one, true God (v. 31). Other believers sanctified the Lord God in their hearts and lives in other ways. We are told, “Gideon…Barak…Samson…Jephtha…David…Samuel and the prophets…through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of aliens…(and) women receive their dead raised to life again” (vs. 32-35).
As you hear of the lives of these believers and learn how they sanctified the Lord in their hearts, several things should become very evident for you: 1) To sanctify the Lord in your hearts begins with the faith that the Holy Spirit has placed in your hearts—that simple but strong trust you have in Jesus. 2) If we are to sanctify the Lord in our hearts, we must listen very carefully to what God has to say and be determined with the Spirit’s help to obey Him, even as all of these heroes of faith did. 3) As a believing child of God and having promised to remain faithful to Him, expect great things in your lives. There will be great challenges, for Satan and his evil foes embrace great wickedness and will want to engulf you. There will be great victories, for your Savior God and his angelic hosts are much more powerful than Satan and his minions. Consequently, you are guaranteed success as you faithfully pursue your God-given calling. Finally, as you sanctify the Lord God in your heart, expect great blessings from the Lord, for He is a good and gracious God who loves you, has a plan for you, and is preparing a place for you in His eternal kingdom!
Yes, dear members of Immanuel and especially you confirmands, WITH THE HELP OF GOD STRIVE TO KEEP YOUR VOWS! Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow sinners who are redeemed—dear confirmands of the recent past and further past; dear confirmands of the future, and dear confirmands of the present.
You have something that many of your peers do not have. You have something that many of mypeers do not have. In fact, you have something that many people of any age in the world do not have. You have hope.
Other people your age, and my age, and almost any age have all kinds of hopes and dreams, but all of those hopes are iffy and uncertain. They are wishes. The hope you have is not a mere wish, it is a promise from God. There is no doubt in that hope, nothing uncertain. Peter describes this hope in the words that we considered on Easter Sunday just a few weeks ago: “[God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3).
The certain hope you have through Jesus Christ does not fade away. It is yours right now. It lies in the certainty of the forgiveness of sins and in the peace with God which comes through that certain forgiveness. The hope you have through Christ is the confident assurance that after you die you will be raised on Judgment Day to face God, and you will be judged righteous and enter into Heaven to live with Him forever.
This hope comes from Jesus and His redeeming work on your behalf. This hope comes to you personally through your faith in Jesus. Your hope is not tied to the certificates you have just received. Your hope goes beyond spending a few years in studying the Catechism and being able to recite the six chief parts from memory. Your hope goes beyond your confirmation vows. Your hope does not depend on you at all—it rests solely on Jesus, your Savior.
Several of your confirmation memory verses talk about this hope. Steven and Alix, your verse is: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). You have this kind of confidence because of Jesus, because of the hope that you have through faith in Him.
Chris K. and Aaron, your memory verse gives the assurance that Jesus will always be at your side walking with you, using His power for you. That is your certain hope because Jesus said: “Lo! I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Nick, your passage is: “Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11). What you are holding onto so tightly is the truth of God’s Word which leads to the crown of forgiveness and eternal life with Jesus. This is your certain hope. Stephanie, your memory verse speaks of great courage even in the face of insurmountable odds and danger and fear. Why can you and we be so courageous? Because of the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Christiana, your memory verse also speaks of the strength we have in our Savior and the perseverance He gives to be able to continue through our earthly pilgrimage—through the sorrows and strains and weariness of life in this sinful earth. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Being lifted up and renewed in spiritual life and strength during our lives is part of the hope that you have in Christ Jesus.
Courtney, there is a great deal of unrest in our lives. A hymnwriter describes it as being “…tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without…” [TLH 388:3] There is so much over which we might worry and be stressed. Daily we face the temptations of the Devil and the struggle between our new man and our old sinful flesh. Sinners living in a sinful world will face this kind of unrest, but you have hope in Christ and therefore you also have peace which no one who is apart from Christ can know or understand. Jesus speaks in your memory verse and says: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
This is the hope you have. Now, what will you do with it. Peter wrote: “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”
Giving a defense for the hope that is in you does not mean that it is necessarily under attack. There may be times when it will be under attack and at those times you will have the opportunity to defend the truth of God’s Word. Being ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you also includes just being able to explain the reasons you believe what you believe and why you live the way you do. Giving a defense for the hope that is in you is explaining why you attend church regularly, why you wanted to become a communicant member of Immanuel, why you go to the Lord’s Supper and what you receive there and why you intend to make use of the Lord’s Supper frequently.
Giving a defense of the reason for your hope includes being ready to explain why you sound different from others, why your choice of language is not the same as others, and why you don’t go along with the crowd when they make certain choices and involve themselves in sinful activities. Giving a defense is being ready to explain why you don’t seem to be as occupied with everything on earth as others are and why getting rich isn’t your goal and motivation in life. In this defense of the reason for the hope that is in you, Dylan M.’s memory verse is a wonderful starting point. It is Jesus’ promise: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
People will not always ask you the reason for the hope that is in you with questions like those in the catechism. Their questions may be more indirect such as a simple “why are you that way?” or “why do you do that?” Dylan H.’s is the perfect starting point: “You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). With that passage you are able to tell someone else about the work which Christ has done—you are bought at a price, and at the same time explain why you live the way you do—to glorify God in your body.
Your opportunity to give a defense of the reason for the hope that is in you might not come as a question at all. Someone may sigh desparingly, “I don’t know what to do!” You will be able to respond by explaining the hope you have in those kinds of situations. At other times it might be an observation about the world around us that will give you the opportunity to testify to the truth of God and give a defense of the hope that is in you. At still other times an individual may not say anything at all, but you will observe that they need the direction and encouragement of the Gospel and you will have the opportunity to give a defense for the reason of the hope that is in you.
Peter directs us to always be ready. Being ready is not having all the answers at a moment’s notice. Being ready is abiding in the Word of God, it is making use of the Word daily. Being ready is studying and growing in the Word for a lifetime so that you are able to testify to the hope that is in you, but you are also able to go back and search the Scriptures even more for the answers that are not right at your finger tips.
Being ready is not just formally confessing your faith with prepared words such as you have done this morning. A formal confession that comes from the heart is indeed giving a defense of the hope that is in you, but so too are the simple conversations in which you simply share the hope you have and confess your faith in normal conversation.
Naaman’s servant girl was ready to give a reason for the hope that was in her when her master had leprosy and she told him about the prophet in Israel who could heal him (cf. 2 Kings 5). Peter and John were ready when they were threatened by the Jewish leaders and they replied, “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The early Christians, Aquila and Priscilla were ready when they instructed Apollos more fully in the truth of Scripture (cf. Acts 18:24ff).
Some of you may be called directly to serve in the Gospel ministry as pastors or teachers or in other leadership roles within a Christian congregation. Others of you may not be, but all of you are called upon to share the Gospel. Always be ready… Always be alert to see the opportunities that arise in which you can share a part of the truth of God’s Word. That defense of the hope that is in you doesn’t have to be a Genesis-to-Revelation presentation of God’s Truth. It may only be a passing comment, but even in that passing comment lies the truth of God’s Word and a light for a sinner’s path, and it will be a blessing. Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, whether they ask it directly or whether it is simply their need that ”asks.“
Peter also adds how we are to give this defense. He says to do so “with meekness and fear.” Our defense of the hope that is within us should never come from pride or with an air of superiority. Rather we effectively give a defense for the hope that is in us when we do so with humility, in a way that glorifies God and not ourselves, and in a way that proceeds out of love for the soul to whom we are speaking.
Today you formally confessed your faith and promised your faithfulness to the truth of God’s Word. It is a day—one day of note in your spiritual lives. But today is just the first day of a lifetime of days for confessing your faith and giving a defense of the reason for the hope that is in you. May God so bless you with His grace and enable you to be effective witnesses to His glory! Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt