A Gift of Grace- Sermon for February 21, 2021 from Pastor John


Sermon for February 21, 2021


     I enjoy the musicals staged by the students of Northland Pines. The hard work of the students, both on stage and behind the stage is a marvel of talent, skill, and dedication. This year’s musical, “The School of Rock”, I figured I would have to miss. Attendance was restricted to parents of cast members, another example of a “Covid-casualty”. I could have planned to view the production virtually through a live-stream, but I am not computer savvy and it would not be the same as actually being present. But then I received a text from someone who had an extra ticket asking would I like to attend? I did not hesitate to answer ‘yes’. It was a gift, by grace, that I was given access to see the musical in person.

In today’s reading from 1 Peter we heard what Jesus has for us: grace, a gift of access before God. We heard “For Christ also suffered for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous,, in order to bring you to God.” Jesus had paid the price of our admission for heaven, to be before God, so because of Jesus our faith and hope are set on God. The phrase “once for all” is used elsewhere in the New Testament to remind us of the grace of the cross. In Romans we read “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has any dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In Hebrews we read, “And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.” Jesus died on the cross once: in the gospel of John when Jesus died he said “It is finished” not only meaning his death, but meaning he finished his mission of taking away the sins of the world, Jesus accomplished by himself our salvation. Jesus died for all as the familiar verse from John says, “For God so loved the world.” His death on the cross was not only for the few who accomplished purity and perfection for as we heard Christ suffered and died, the righteous for the unrighteous.

It is recommended that during Lent we review the Catechism. While explaining the meaning of the Second Article of the Creed Luther wrote “Jesus, Lord and Savior, has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold or lots of cash, but with his holy and precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death.”

What followed next in the Catechism is powerful grace: “Jesus has done all of this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom and serve him, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.” Jesus’ death and resurrection, once for all, did not have Jesus say, “I accomplished my mission, so good by earth, and good luck dealing with the sin, death, and devil on your own.” We belong to Jesus, which shows how much he loves us. We live under him in his kingdom that shows how much he loves us. We are sanctified, that is given “Jesus-power” to serve, again showing how much he loves and needs us in this world. The power of sin is to have no dominion over us. This does not mean we no longer sin for we are tested all the time. But with Jesus sins are taken away so they do not define us, they do not confine us with troublesome guilt, they do not malign us as hopeless cases because the gift of belonging to Jesus cannot be cancelled. We are freed from the power of death. This does not mean we will not die, but we are freed from the fear of death dominating our lives for we live under Jesus in his kingdom. We rely and trust Jesus to take care of us in death, for even though we die we shall live in and with him because his kingdom is forever. We are freed from the power of the devil. This does not mean we are never attracted to that which is evil. The good news is that Jesus does not flunk us when we are tempted and fall into disobedience for what the commandments teach. Jesus finds us and forgives, and ever remains our friend who shows the way of overcoming evil by serving others.

In times of testing and temptation we may wonder if we truly belong to Jesus. In this world of constant news feeds of suffering and death we may wonder if Jesus is even with us. Our reading from 1 Peter answers with baptism. We heard, “Jesus was put to death in the flesh, and made alive in the spirit, in which he also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey when God, in a long-suffering way, waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is eight persons were saved through water.” We pause a moment to ponder this text which has caused scholars to scratch their heads, just what is meant by Jesus making proclamation to spirits in prison? The story of Noah was mentioned and sometimes we think of Noah and the Ark as a wonderful children’s story mainly because of all the animals in the ark. But it is a sad story because the whole building of the ark was premised of the persistent and pernicious wickedness of human beings. Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit preached to those imprisoned spirits, the disobedient and the wicked from the time of Noah. Jesus made a proclamation. The word used means the gospel. A proclamation can only be made by one in authority. By his death and resurrection, Jesus overcame the rule of sin, death and devil, and had the authority to make the proclamation. However difficult it may be to try to figure out what is meant by this text of making proclamation to spirits in prison, the good news is clear: there are no boundaries or hopeless cases as far as the gospel of Jesus’ cross and resurrection can reach. In some Christian traditions, the Orthodox churches, this text is about the emptying of the place of the dead and even hell, picturing Jesus with his feet on the head of Satan. In short it is a text of Christ’s victory won for us.

Here is a trivia question for you: why are many baptismal fonts eight-sided in shape? Our text said eight persons were saved through water: Noah and Mrs. Noah, their three son and their spouses, all adding up to eight. Eight is also a number associated with the new creation when Jesus will come and make all things new. All of this associated with baptism: the gift of salvation and the promise of the new creation. The text read, “And baptism, which this story of Noah prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers, made subject to him.” Baptism saves us, no wonder we call it a Sacrament or Means of Grace. But baptism saves us not as an outward ceremony of washing with water. The power of baptism is that we belong to Jesus, and we live with his gift and power to save and forgive. In the catechism Luther wrote that in baptism God forgives sin, delivers from death and devil, and in summary, grants eternal salvation for all who believe what the Word and promise declare. Baptism gives us each day the gift of repentance, renewal by living under the dominion of Jesus and not the rule of sin. Depending how your translate a word, Baptism is both an appeal to God, and a pledge to God for a good conscience. 1 Peter is very concerned how Christians conduct themselves in the world. For example “Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are mocked or criticized for your faith, you will put your detractor to shame. Also 1 Peter wrote give an account of the hope that is within you, but do so with reverence and gentleness. The author wrote ‘be serious about your faith, maintain constant love for one another, and be good stewards of the many ways God is gracious, and serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

The appeal or pledge to God for a good conscience comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This letter known as 1 Peter began by giving us the good news that through the mercy of God, we have a new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus obediently suffered and died for us, sinless one for sinners, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God, and belong to God forever, as beloved and blessed children of God.