17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.1 Peter 3:17-18
The meeting lasted longer than you had expected and you still had to walk several blocks to your parked car. The wind picked up and you could smell rain in the air and you didn’t have your umbrella either. But, you know this city and realize that if you cut through a couple of ally ways it would be a shortcut to your car before the storm hits. You turn down the second ally and immediately feel the eerie closeness of the tall buildings. No windows, but fire-escape ladders beginning two floors up hanging like charred skeletons on black curtains. Puddles of water reflected the faint glow of the street lights on the other end of the ally. Each dumpster you passed seemed to cast a darker shadow as you quickened your pace. Then out from the shadow a figure emerges and in a low, gravelly voice demands, “Turn around!” In an instant you can feel your heart beating as you turn around and catch a glimpse of the gun pointed right between your eyes. “Give me your money and your watch.” You do. Then he says, “Turn around and face the other way.” The sweat is dripping down your forehead into your eyes as you turn around.
That’s how the Christians in Asia Minor felt. Everywhere they lived it seemed there was a gun to their heads because they followed Christ. What a difficult way to live! How could they ever cope with the twists and turns of their life? Peter knew. So he wrote this letter to them with this encouragement, “conduct yourselves during the time of your pilgrimage.” The word Peter was inspired to use takes into consideration the fact that life often turns this way and that, reflecting the past and anticipating the future as you deal with the situation. Knowing that Satan will be doing his very best to derail your faith and confidence in the Lord Jesus, so he gives us this truth:
Turn Around With Jesus
“Turn around,” says the gunman and your life flashes before your eyes. Probably the great birthday presents, Christmas decorations, Easter altar and the last time you were in a packed church. Probably the wrong decisions you made, the people you hurt, and the temptations you failed to conquer. Racing through your fight or flight mind is the stark reality that if you die in this ally you’ll leave behind those you love, things left undone, and your troubled past. In the verses just before today’s section Peter writes, “14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 Rather, just as the one who called you is holy, so also be holy in everything you do. 16 For it is written, “Be holy, because I am holy.” Like the Christians who first read this letter, we look back and see our life littered with crinkled beer cans of sin and McDonald’s wrappers of guilt. Look back on a life of misses and messes and hear God’s demand of perfection. How can we cope when we turn around and face the past?
Yet, during our worship we often start out with a confession of our sins. I confess, I don’t think of this part of the liturgy as a gun pointed at my head. But, maybe I should because I’ve often spoken these words out of my mouth, but not out of my heart. It’s my defense mechanism because when I turn back and see my past, I don’t like what I see. Oh, I know there are also pleasant memories so I’d rather skip over the potholes of sin—lack of compassion for a hurting friend, the words I wanted to shout out at the Zoom meeting, the envy I had of the neighbor with bigger and better than mine, the kind word I should have said but didn’t, the hours I frittered away but should have used wisely, the chilly air of silence in the relationship what was begging for a warm word of peace and a silent ear to listen. Like dirty socks and half full Coke cans left over from visiting kids, my past looks pretty messy. Yours too? How can we cope when we turn around and see the past?
Well, turn around with Jesus. For Jesus “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Turn around with Jesus and you’ll see his blood splashed all over your sins, washing them away through your baptism. “18 because you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, not with things that pass away, such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like a lamb without blemish or spot.” He did it because he’s your perfect Savior sent by God just for you. “20 He was chosen before the foundation of the world but revealed in these last times for your sake.” So, we take God at his Word and Turn Around With Jesus because we were Redeemed, and because we were
“Turn around and face away,” the gunman says. As you do you can see the light at the end of the ally, but it seems miles away because you’re not sure you’ll make it. Is he going to slip away and make me stand there wondering if I should turn back and look? Maybe. Is he going to march me to my car and steal that, too? Maybe. Is he going to pistol whip me to knock me down and let me live? Maybe. Uncertainty about the future is fearful. Peter was writing to Christians who were uncertain about their fearful future. The human experience teaches us about the grim future described by Isaiah, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like a wildflower in the countryside. 7Grass withers, flowers fade” (40:6-7). Like the Christians who first read this letter, we turn and look ahead, and wondered what the future will bring. How can we cope when we turn to face the future?
And how can you face the future? The elephant in the room is Covid-19. You hear so many reports and predictions and then a week later it all changes. But, there is so much more to life than Covid-19. Will young people learn enough to advance to the next level? If you’ve been furloughed from work, when will you work again? And what about our church members? How many of you are battling arthritis, back problems, cancer, dwindling finances, etc. like a gun pointed at your back? What is there to look forward to? With so many fearful things how can we cope when we turn around and look into the future?
Turn Around with the Resurrected Jesus! “21 Through him you are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Look what God has done for you! Every step you take down the ally of life lands on the concrete foundation of God’s promises. God raised Jesus from the dead. God gave Jesus all glory once again in heaven. That is the foundation of your faith and hope in God. Through faith in Christ you died with Jesus and you were raised with Jesus. You are resurrected people right now through faith in Jesus. At your baptism God gave you that resurrected life to remove all uncertainty and fear and give you what you needed the most for the future. Turn Around with Jesus Redeemed and Resurrected and with
“Turn around and face away,” says the gunman, and then he adds, “And get on your knees.” You can hear him chamber a bullet and click back the hammer of the gun. Is this it? The meeting you just had and the car you hope to reach seem pretty meaningless. The only thing that matters is the here and now. What to do? Nothing? Something? Duck, kick back, get up and run? Now what?
Peter wrote to Christians who knew their past, were uncertain about most things in their future, and were concerned about what’s going on in their lives right now. Like the Christians who first received this letter we look around and wonder if we will survive today. They could think about the past, wonder about the future and pray they weren’t overwhelmed by the present. How could they survive? Peter wrote, “17 If you call on the Father who judges impartially, according to the work of each person, conduct yourselves during the time of your pilgrimage in reverence.” The word, “reverence” is commonly translated “fear” in the Bible. Often it has a negative meaning of withdrawing from the Lord’s will. But, it also has a positive translation of “reverence” in regard to the relationship we have with God. That is the meaning here. No matter the circumstance in life, those circumstances need not dictate our heart’s condition. Peter isn’t telling us to have fear like being called into the principal’s office. It’s honor and awe like Adam when he took his first breath, saw the beautiful creation of the world and his wife, like Noah seeing the rainbow, like Moses hearing the Lord’s voice from the burning bush, like Peter, James and John with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. So, that is our life right now because we turn around with Jesus and see our Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life with us at all times.
Now, the practical application to this are these words, “17 If you call on the Father who judges impartially, according to the work of each person, conduct yourselves during the time of your pilgrimage in reverence.” When you hear that God judges fairly, are you filled with fear or joyful awe? Fear because we still have our Old Adam. Awe because Christians know God looks at them through Christ and declares us not guilty of all our sins. We do call on our Father in heaven like dear children ask their dear parents. We are confident that he will judge impartially no matter skin color, economic status, or age. Jesus’ blood makes us all, and everyone we meet, a candidate for heaven. So, we Turn Around With Jesus who takes all our sins away, and gives us his eternal holiness so that we know we’ll be with the Lord forever. Yes, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!
So, we are on our knees, close our eyes and confidently place all things into God’s hands. Suddenly, you see a bright light and hear a loud voice that says, “Freeze! Police!” You turn around and the gunman is arrested and your life is saved. Dramatic? Like the Christians who first read this letter from Peter we, too, Turn Around With Jesus! Redeemed, Resurrected and with Reverence. Amen!