2 Pt 1:2-11
When I was thirteen years old, I began to realize that something was wrong. It happened during the summer – during baseball season. I realized that I wasn’t picking up the ball very well when I was batting – especially during night games. Sitting in the dugout, the score board numbers were now fuzzy. And when we had night games I started to get a dull headache by the later innings.
As you have no doubt guessed, what was happening was that I was discovering that I was nearsighted. I had no trouble seeing small things up. As a model railroader I accurately applied tiny decals of letters and numbers all the time on the sides of model engines and freight cars. But when it came to seeing things at a distance, they were no longer as clear as they once had been.
It is a problem that has only increased with time. And so today, without classes, I can’t tell you who any of the saints are on the wall of the nave. I can’t make out Jesus or Martin Luther on the print at the back of the nave. It is just a blur of different colors. Without glasses I really can’t see at all.
In the epistle lesson for Ash Wednesday, the apostle Peter refers to nearsightedness. In Greek it is an amusing compound word since it is formed by combining the word “close” and a word for “eye”. To close the eye – in other words, to squint- is the word used to refer to nearsightedness. The apostle uses it to describe a Christian life that has lost sight of what Jesus Christ means for how we now live. Peter says that a person who lives in ways that do not show the Spirit’s work in his life is “so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
Peter begins our text with a remarkably positive evaluation of our situation as Christians. He writes that God’s, “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”
The apostle says that God has called us. This was not our doing, it is a gift of God done without anything on our part. God has called us by his grace. And Peter tells us that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” God has given us his promises fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; his promises about what the Savior means for us; promises that are now grasped by faith, so that through them we can be among those who share in the fellowship of the divine nature.
God has given us this through faith in Jesus Christ. And Peter says he has done even more. We learn that God has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. He has given us in Christ those things necessary for eternal life with God. And he has also granted to us those thing needed to live life in God’s way.
Peter really does mean this. Because he builds on this thought by saying, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” This is no static life satisfied with “good enough.”
Instead Peter reminds us that the gifts we have received in Christ push us forward to be growing in knowledge and self-control, and steadfastness and love. He says of these things, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When knowledge and self-control and steadfastness and love are present and increasing we are not useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus.
Peter operates on a very simple assumption: When you know Jesus Christ and the forgiveness he has won for you, it makes a difference in how you now live. It does. It has to … or else something has gone wrong. The apostle goes on to explain: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” For these characteristics of a godly and Christian life to be absent is to be blind. It is no longer to see how things are and the way we are to go. In fact Peter says that it is too forget that we have been cleansed from our former sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is to forget Jesus.
And that is why we are here tonight. That is why we begin the season of Lent. We have arrived at the yearly event that lifts before us the truth we confront each day and each Sunday. But Ash Wednesday takes this up with a tremendous clarity of focus. It does not allow us to side step the fact that yes, at times we act like we are blind. We do act as if we have forgotten that we have been cleansed from our former sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It is an ugly truth. It is revealed by even more ugly words and actions that all revolve around three basic themes: God comes second; my neighbor comes second; I come first. The devil wants to you accept this as normal and the world is his ally in seeking to make it seem normal. The old man in you believes it is normal.
That is why we gather tonight to hear God’s Word proclaimed to us. For God declares that this is not normal. Instead, it violates the norm – the standard he has established for what life is to look like. His Law reveals our sin and casts aside all of the ways we try to excuse it. And so there is nothing else we can do – nothing except to say with the psalmist, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”
We repent. We confess our sin to God as tonight we enter into a season that focuses on repentance. We confess our sins and turn to God knowing that in his precious and very great promises God has declared that through faith in the crucified and risen Lord we receive forgiveness. Because of Jesus, those sins are no longer counted against you.
You know this is true because Jesus Christ died on Good Friday in your place and then rose on Easter. You know this is true for you because you have been buried with Christ through baptism. You have shared in Jesus’ death and so now the forgiveness that he won is yours. You have received one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Through water and the Word Jesus Christ has washed all of your sins away.
And by this Christ puts our glasses back on so that we can see clearly. He takes away our forgetfulness of the cleansing of our former sins. And to sustain this clarity he gives us forgiveness in yet another way. He brings us to his altar to receive his true body and blood, given and shed for you.
What is happening tonight, happens during the coming season as a whole. Lent leads us to renewed attention to the ongoing presence of sin in our lives. We confess. We repent. And the church year brings us to the Vigil of Easter. It brings us back to baptism through which we shared in the death of the Lord and also have the guarantee of sharing in his resurrection. It leads us to the great feast of Easter as the risen Lord gives us forgiveness and life at this table.
By these means the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – strengthens and leads us back to what we are in Christ. He leads us back to the precious and very great promises of God that give us comfort in the present and hope for the future. He leads us as the forgiven children of God to seek to grow in Christ. He leads us in our every effort to supply our faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For we know that in this way – when these qualities are ours and are increasing, they keep us from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.