Sermon 1 Lent Yr B
February 28, 2009 1 Comment
1 Lent Yr B, 1/03/2009
I Pet 3:18
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Confessing our faith”
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words of today’s second lesson, I think that this is an early creed. The words remind me a lot of our Apostles’ Creed. Originally, these words, confessing the faith of the early Church, may have been used in public worship; and, in particular, at baptisms. As we consider today’s second lesson, we may find helpful the following question: What is the purpose of a creed?
Well, I think in part, that a creed is born out of the context of the need to clarify our Christian faith. A creed is necessary to confess our Christian faith over against misconceptions and false teachings. In every age, including our own, there have been no shortages of false and even harmful teachings, beliefs and practices—so our creeds address such concerns by communicating clear statements of faith. Our creeds also serve as a unifying force and witness when facing persecution. Many a faithful Christian and Jew has died a martyr’s death with the creedal-confessional words of faith on their lips. People witnessing such deaths have been deeply touched and they have turned to God.
If this is true, then what is it about such confessions of faith that turn people to God? Well, I believe that it is the work of the Holy Spirit, combined with the content, the message of these creedal-confessional words, along with those willing to die for such beliefs that draw people to God.
So, if that is the case, then let’s unpack the words of verse 18 in particular of this second lesson a little now, because they affirm our present season of Lent, when we focus on the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. In verse 18, we read: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.”
The words, “For Christ also suffered for sins,” highlight the truth that Jesus was a human being and so he suffered like every other human being. However, the words “for sins” indicate that his suffering on the cross was not due to him being a sinner or sinning. Rather, it is a reference to Jesus’ willingness to suffer on the cross for the sins of humankind.
The next three words, “once for all,” lift up the point that Jesus made the perfect sacrifice of atonement for our sins. He did not have to repeat it over and over again, since he was perfect, without sin, and satisfied God’s requirements for the atonement of humankind’s sins. Other sacrifices atoning for sins were imperfect because they were offered by imperfect, sinful humans and only lasted for a certain time, and applied to a very limited group of people, usually for only specific sins—unlike Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement. Jesus’ “once for all” sacrifice of atonement was perfect, covered all times and places, and applies to all people for all sins. In other words, we’re completely covered, thanks to Jesus!
The words, “for all,” indicate that Jesus’ sacrifice is intended for all people, everyone, at all times and places, including us—you and me here today. The words, “the righteous for the unrighteous,” have often been interpreted by biblical scholars and theologians to refer to what is called the “substitutionary” theory or doctrine of atonement. We, being guilty before God for our sins, deserve to be punished for them. However, God in his love and mercy sent Jesus, his own Son, to be our substitute, to take the punishment that we deserve for our sins.
The apostle Paul made this point most clear more than any other New Testament author, when he wrote in Romans 5:8: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Martin Luther, picking up on this biblical truth, also provided a corrective in his day, by emphasising that it is precisely when we are farthest away from Christ that he comes close to us and claims us as his own—over against the medieval theology of good works that falsely taught only when you reached your highest good deed would Christ reward you with his grace. Luther rightly said that we can never know for sure when we’ve reached our highest good deed, since we are always at one and the same time saints and sinners. Our motives shall always be tainted and mixed, never without sin—hence we need to stand under the cross of Christ and trust in his saving grace through his sacrifice of atonement and be forgiven.
Mary Ann Bird is a short story writer. She wrote a short story about her own life titled “The Whispering Test.” She said she grew up knowing that she was different and she hated it. She told how she was born with a cleft palate, and when she started school her classmates made it clear to her how she looked to others. She was a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech. When schoolmates would ask, “What happened to your lip?” she would tell them that she had fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. She said, “Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside of my family could love me.” There was a teacher in the second grade whom she adored. Mrs. Leonard was a short, round, happy, and sparkling lady. Annually in her class she would conduct a hearing test which she gave to every student. Students would go to the wall and cover one ear and listen for her to whisper a sentence, and the student would have to repeat it back to her. The teacher would say such sentences as, “The sky is blue,” or “Do you have new shoes?” Mary Ann said she went to the far wall and waited for those words that God must have put in her teacher’s mouth. Mrs. Leonard whispered to her, “I wish you were my little girl.” She said that those seven words changed her life.
You do not need to worry whether you are acceptable to God or not. Regardless of what, who, where you are — God has already made that choice.1 In response, we are called to share the message of Christ’s saving power.
So, with Peter and Paul; with all the company of sinner-saints down through the ages and even today; let us stand firm in our confession of faith; bearing witness to the world and all of its peoples who need a Saviour as much today as ever. In the following creedal-confessional words, let us reassure every troubled soul: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” Amen.
1 Cited from: <sermonsuite.com>.