March 21, 2010

The Huge Scale of Redemption - Mar 21, 2010

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A while ago, my sister in law, Erin, was in the hospital giving birth to her fifth child. Everything was going well. My brother Seth said they felt comfortable. With four kids already, they’d been in this situation before. The baby was experiencing a little stress during delivery. The heart rate was fluctuating up and down a bit. But, it didn’t seem like anything particularly unusual.

And then the moment came. One of the nurses looked up at the other medical technicians in the room and said, “This baby needs to come out NOW.”

And just like that they started unplugging everything. With everything unhooked, they quickly pushed the hospital bed out of the room and down the hall.

Nobody said anything to Seth. The only person saying anything to Seth was a helper of sorts who was eagerly asking him, “Do you have your baby book? Is this your baby book? Is this your sweatshirt yours? Do you have all your stuff?”

She didn’t know it, but this woman narrowly avoided being punched in the face. They had just wheeled his wife away, and Seth didn’t know what was happening.

He was told to wait outside the room where they had take her. What he didn’t know was that they were prepping Erin for an emergency C-section. When they were ready they let him into the room where he could sit by his exhausted, tearful and scared wife.

Seeing the football sized cut that had been made in his wife’s abdomen was a new experience for Seth. One that brought a whole flood of personal prayers.

It was one of those times when you stop taking things for granted. When you realize how powerless you are in this world. When see how much you really need God to be there. When you pray, “God, I know that whatever your will is, that will be what is right and good and best. But in case you’re wondering, this isn’t a good idea. I can’t raise this family without my wife.”

Everything turned out fine. Erin gave birth to a screaming, peeing, healthy little boy. They named him Drew. Mom and baby are just fine today.

Have you had an experience like this? Not just a scary birth experience, but something that made stop and reflect on your life. Something that made all the frivolous things fall away? Maybe a car accident that threatened to change everything, but didn’t. Maybe a cancer diagnosis that turned out wrong, or was treatable.

Sometimes God calls us to take a step back and see what really matters. Makes us appreciate the people who are most important to us in life. Helps us to see how blessed we really are. Blessed by Him.

During the season of Lent, we focus on how Jesus suffered and died. We examine the events that led up to the cross. We review the things that happened around it and on it. We do these things because the cross is for us, an epiphany moment. An experience that changes everything.

Today’s reading from First Peter calls us to take a step back from the cross and see where it is in the bigger picture.

1 Peter 1:17-25 (NIV)

17Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18For 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, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22Now 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. 23For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For,
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.

The apostle Peter wrote this letter to Christians who were scattered throughout Asia Minor. Asia Minor is a chunk of land that lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.

But, the geography doesn’t matter much here. What’s important is that these people were followers of Jesus. They knew the Gospel. They understood that sins means hell for sinners. They understood that Jesus took our sins away when he suffered and died on the cross. They got it. They believed it.

In this section Peter holds up the cross to his fellow Christ followers and says, “Hey! You see this cross? This cross is our epiphany moment. This cross gives life a whole new meaning.”

The cross says that the Christian’s life is to be a life of fear.


Yeah, that’s what Peter says. Look at verse 17 again.

“17Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17 NIV).

The New International version translates it “reverent fear” because they don’t want you to get the idea that this is a life of terror. A life of cowering because we’re scared that God is going to judge us. As followers of Christ we know that Jesus suffered the punishment for ALL our sins. In Him we don’t have to fear God’s judgment anymore. We are forgiven.

Turn to Luke 5, verse 24. Jesus said…

“24“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (Luke 5:24 NIV).

So what does it mean that we are to “live lives as strangers here in reverent fear”? What kind of fear is this?

Well, let me try to explain. A couple of years ago I flew down to San Francisco for pastoral conference. My friend Neil Radichel is pastor down there, and he decided he’d introduce me to rock climbing.

We drove out to a ridge of mountains that looks over the Silicon Valley.

The kind of rock climbing that Neil and I did was called top-roping. You go to the top of the route first, clip your rope in so it’s secure, and then you throw both ends of the rope down to the bottom.

Then you go down to the bottom and put on your harnesses. When the harnesses are put on properly, they’re impossible to get off, even if you were to fall upside down.

The harness of the climber is attached to a robe with a figure eight knot, and a safety knot above that. It’s not coming free. The other guy is called the belayer. He attaches a belay device to his harness and puts his end of the rope through this device.

As the climber climbs, the belayer takes up the slack rope keeping the rope tight, but not so tight that he pulls his buddy up the route.

If the climber loses his grasp, the belay device on his partner stops the rope and his fall. In top-roping you never fall more than a foot. Really you’re just falling as much as the rope stretches.

We also had helmets on. I’ve told you all this so you know what I knew. I was safe. Since we were doing this right, there wasn’t any way for me to fall.

If I thought I was in real danger, I wouldn’t have climbed at all. A hobby shouldn’t put your life in danger. And yet as I climbed up to the top of our last route, I was afraid.

On the last route you climbed up into a little cave shelf. Then to a second shelf. Then at the end of the route there was a bulge of rock that you had to climb out and over. It didn’t have any hand holds. You just had to kinda flatten yourself out and palm your way up the incline until you topped out.

If you looked back over your shoulder there was a beautiful view of the valley. Only birds and clouds and lot of sky. I was afraid. I knew I wasn’t in danger of falling. I wasn’t afraid of falling. But everything up here was HUGE.

It was exhilarating being there on that huge rock, with that huge drop below. My fear wasn’t a fear of terror, it was a fear of realizing the hugeness of everything around me.

This is the same kind of fear that Peter says we should have when we think about what Jesus did for us on the cross. This was what it took to redeem us from hell. It took a HUGE payment. It took the bloody death of God’s SINLESS Son.

Peter tells us that God’s plan to save us through His Son’s sacrifice had been arranged even before the creation of the world! That’s HUGE! It was all arranged before a single atom of the universe was made. And when the right moment of time came in the history of man, Jesus did it.

Peter reminds his Christian friends what the cross means fro their future. He reminds them that through Jesus’ cross they’ve been brought back into a good relationship with God. Their faith and hope rests in the God who created them.

Before they heard the message Christ, these people didn’t have this relationship with God. They were enemies of God. Their sins stood between them and God, making any relationship impossible. But Jesus changed that.

Peter says the life of a Christian is a life of fear. But not the fear of God’s judgment. We know Christ has us covered there. The fear we live in is a reverent fear. A realizing and a recognizing of how big this thing is that we’re involved in. How important it is, and how much it took for God to involve us. It took blood, sweat and death.

In the first half of our reading Peter holds up the cross and says, “Here’s what God did”. In the second half of our reading, Peter holds up the cross and says, now look what He’s doing now. Look at verse 22.

“22Now 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. 23For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For,
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:22-25 NIV).

The message of the cross had already begun to change these Christians. They had begun to re-order the way their lives were lived. They had all sorts of sinful habits and attitudes just like you and me. But there were removing these things. Replacing them with the way God wanted them to live. The Holy Spirit was leading them in this direction.

Later in this letter Peter talks about how their friends didn’t understand these changes. Their old friends wondered why they didn’t come with them on Friday to get trashed anymore. Peter writes:

“3For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Peter 4:3-4 NIV).

In our sermon reading Peter tells these Christians that they’ve already begun to purify their lives from their old ways of living. And he encourages them to continue. They love each other. Now, he says, take that love to a deeper level.

Peter says describes the change made in their life by the cross of Christ as being a new beginning. A re-birth. Through faith in Christ they’ve been born into the Family of God. Now they’re learning to LIVE in that Family.

On the day of our wedding, my wife and I got married. But today, nearly nine years later, our marriage is a lot different than when it began. We’ve grown together in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We’ve grown together in some ways we don’t even realize.

When Jesus brings people into God’s family it’s just the same. From the moment of faith, they’re God’s people. But faith in Jesus isn’t like a sticker that we put on any more than marriage is a sticker. Faith in Christ is a rebirth. And a new and different life follows this re-birth.

Unlike our earthly lives, this new life in Christ will never end. It was through the living and enduring Word of God that we have been re-born. And just as the Word of God stands forever, the life we receive through the Word will stand forever.

This is huge.

In the movies, people sometimes have an epiphany moment. They have some experience that shocks them, and changes them for good. That would be nice, but it’s a little unrealistic.

Those of us stuck in reality know that the things we learn during our “epiphany moments” are often lost or forgotten like new years’ resolutions. The resolve to be different can fade with time.

God reminds us here to fight this fading by looking to the cross of Jesus. By remembering the precious blood that washes our sins away.

God reminds us that when we came to faith in Jesus, we were reborn. Born into God’s family. And now we are to grow up in Christ. Now we practice for living forever in God’s Holy family.

Let’s close with prayer.

Prayer: Father, help us to recognize and appreciate the hugeness of all you’ve done to make us Your people. Jesus, thank You for spilling Your own blood to wash our sins away. Holy Spirit, thank you for the ways You’ve changed us so far. Stay with us, and continue to take out the old and put in the new. You have made us God’s children by faith. Make us Your children in all that we do. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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