1 Pt 2:11-20
James Leistico was a pastor in our district during most of the time I have been at Good Shepherd. His experience in the Southern Illinois District actually extended back even before he was ordained, since he did his vicarage at Our Savior Lutheran in Carbondale.
Awhile back, Pastor Leistico received and accepted a call to a Lutheran congregation in Windsor, Canada. Windsor may be just across the river from Detroit, but that small distance makes a very big difference. In that journey you go from one country to another. Around 1990 a group of us from Concordia College, Ann Arbor drove over to Windsor just to be in Canada. The trip involved nothing more than a brief stop at the border to explain where we were from and where we were going. Today, if you don’t have a U.S. passport you aren’t going to get into Canada or back into the U.S.
Pastor Leistico and his family are U.S. citizens living in Canada. This means that they have to navigate the Canadian bureaucracy as it relates to foreigners living in that country. Pastor Leistico came to Ft. Wayne for James Peterson’s call service, and so I had a chance to visit with him.
It was interesting to hear about what it is like to live in Canada as a U.S. citizen. Pastor explained that periodically he has to renew his status as a foreigner who is allowed to live in Canada. The funny thing about this, is that in order for him to do so, he has to pass an English test. He has to prove he can use and communicate in the English language. Since he has been doing this for his whole life, we agreed that the English test is not much of a hurdle.
The apostle Peter begins our text this morning by saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Writing to the Christians in Asia Minor, what is today Turkey, Peter addresses them as people living in a foreign country. They are sojourners and exiles. They are not citizens of that land.
Peter speaks about the status and situation that they have as Christians. Legally, some of these Christians may have been citizens of the Roman Empire, or of the city in which they lived. But the apostle wants them to know that as baptized believers in Jesus Christ they were not citizens when it came to the really important things. When it came to a matter of their standing before God, they were sojourners and exiles as they lived in the world.
Peter says the same thing to you. You are, of course, citizens of the United State. But when it comes to what really matters – when it comes to your standing before God – you are sojourners and exiles in this world. You are because you have experienced something that has completely changed your reality – it has completely changed you.
Peter begins this letter by writing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
You are not the same person as you were when you were born. Instead, you have been born again. The source of this new birth – this new life and status – is the event we are celebrating during this season of Eastertide. You have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Son of God died on the cross. His dead body was buried in a tomb. But as he had told his disciples, on the third day he rose from the dead. And he wasn’t just alive again. He was alive with the resurrection life that can never die again. Jesus Christ has passed through death in order to conquer it forever. He has begun the resurrection that will be ours, and already now he gives eternal life to us.
God gave this forgiveness and life to you through his word. Peter writes at the end of the previous chapter that, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” God has included water in his command and combined it with his word in Holy Baptism. He has given us a fixed and objective event through which you know you have been born again and become children of God. You do not have to wonder whether it is true for you. Why? You have been baptized!
Because God has done this, Peter writes in the verses immediately before our text: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In the new birth worked by the Spirit – in the application of Christ’s death and resurrection to you – God has given you a new status. You are a royal priesthood called to serve in the vocations where God has placed you. You are a holy nation and a people of God’s own possession. You belong to him. This has changed everything. As Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
God has given you this new life and status. You are sojourners and exiles living in a fallen world. And in our text, Peter describes what this means for the way we now live. He writes: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
The passions of the flesh are still present. They are present in the world around us. They are present and still cling to us because of the old Adam. They are all the ways that we let sin run the show as we give in to those things that we know are against God’s will. Peter warns us that these sins wage war against the soul. Giving in to sin, makes it easier to give in to sin. Continue that process and you end up in a very bad place. Peter warns against this.
Instead, the apostle gives us a different way. He says in our text, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Through his death on the cross, Jesus has set you free. You are free from sin. But this freedom is not meant to provide cover for us to engage in sin. Instead, Peter says we are to live as what God has made us to be – his servants.
This is possible because of what Jesus has done for us. Just after our text, Peter says about Jesus: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Peter says that Jesus bore our sins in his body. He did this to win forgiveness. He did this so that now sin will no longer reign over us. Instead, we are to die to sin and live to righteousness.
Peter doesn’t express things exactly like the apostle Paul, but their ideas are very similar. Christ died on the cross bearing your sins. What happened to Christ, through Christ happened to you. Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit you have received forgiveness and Christ’s sacrifice changes you. Christ died for your sin, and now you die to sin. Christ rose from the dead, and so you have been born again to live to righteousness – to live in ways that are true to God’s will. As Peter says later about how Christ’s death on the cross relates to the way we live: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
Living for the will of God by the work of the Spirit will put us at odds with the world. After all, as Peter says in the first verse of our text, we are sojourners and exiles. He says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Our translation here is a little weak. More literally Peter says that the world “slanders you as evildoers.” We live at a time when the world calls evil good, and good evil. To uphold and advocate God’s ordering and gift of sexuality and marriage which is so clearly taught in the Scriptures will bring you the world’s hatred.
But remember, our whole existence as Christians is shaped by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection is a Last Day event. Jesus’ resurrection means that the Last Day has already started. And if it has started in Christ, it will certainly arrive for us. It will arrive when Jesus Christ returns in glory on the Last Day.
Peter says that on the day of visitation the world that has seen our deeds will glorify God. It is unclear whether this describes those former enemies who have come to faith, or whether it means that in the overwhelming glory of Christ’s arrival, even those who rejected and hated him will have to glorify God for the way his people lived.
Either way, the resurrection of Jesus gives us the living hope that allows us to keep our eyes set on the final goal. We are able to live according to God’s will, and even experience hardships as a result of it, because we know that we will not always be sojourners and exiles. Instead, we are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. We will be the ones at home in the new creation because through Christ God has made us chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.