1 Peter 1:17-25
Why do we gather together for worship on New Year’s Eve? It’s not a festival of the Church Year like Christmas, Easter, or Epiphany. But the timing of this service at the close of the past year and on the eve of a New Year has come to serve a valuable purpose. It reminds us of a pattern that really is fitting for every day of our life. We look back at the past remembering what we’ve done and what’s been done for us and we turn to the future, to a new start and a new way of living.
You might hear this pattern most commonly expressed in notion of a New Year’s resolution, something which has tended to become a laughable matter when we think about how fast we abandon it. “Oops, there went my diet! Ugh, I guess I haven’t exercised all week. Oh well.” We can at least be thankful to our world on New Year’s Eve for reminding us of a pattern that the Bible talks about all over the place—repentance. Thesis #1 of Luther’s 95 thesis said this, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Our life is to be a constant repetition of this pattern: remembering what we’ve done, what’s been done for us, and looking ahead in the newness of life.
But the reason we gather here this evening in God’s house to repeat this pattern is because we know how powerless our resolutions are on their own. We know how pitiful are attempts at reform are when powered by the human spirit or our willpower. Instead, this evening and ever after, we plug in to the power source, the living word that gives enduring life. This living and enduring word is what gives power to 1) live as strangers in this world and 2) love each other deeply.
This evening the Apostle Peter guides us in this pattern of repentance as he writes a letter addressed “to God’s elect, strangers in the world…” (1 Peter 1:1). He’s talking to believers who have been scattered throughout the known world, and so they are called strangers. But that’s not the only reason they are strangers to this world. These believers have been estranged from this world’s way of life and so their life appears strange to the world around them. Peter describes this strangeness later on in the letter, “They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:4). Think you might catch a puzzled look or a wise crack when someone from work asks what you did on New Year’s Eve, and you say, “I went to church!” What a strange thing to do on a night that has been reserved for all kinds of other things!
Our world plunges itself into its empty way of life, the swamp of disobedience where the only rule is that you better not tell me what I can’t do. New Year’s Eve is a prime example of this world chasing after the mirage of happiness in the bottom of a bottle and at the end of reckless night. Then, it wakes up on New Year’s Day with a pounding headache and all its resolutions shattered. In one way or another, each of us knows what’s it like to be stuck neck deep in the guilt and shame of plunging into all this world has to offer. At the end of it all, we find out the truth, it was filled with nothing but emptiness.
So Peter calls us to a different life, to live as strangers here in reverent fear. A strange New Year’s resolution that would be—to live as strangers! What does he mean? He doesn’t want you to get to know anyone here on earth, you better not make any friends. Live as hermits! No, but he wants you to keep from becoming familiar again with the empty way of life passed on to you. It’s a good thing when people think you’re strange because you went to church on New Year’s Eve. It’s a good thing when they tease you because you don’t join in the race to finish the bottle.
He’s calling you to recognize that your life in this world isn’t just a free-for-all, “since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially” (1 Peter 1:17). You have a holy God that will judge you in the end, and his verdict will be right and true. You might think that just the shear fear of that day might scare us straight to follow our resolutions for an extra day or two. Yet we can’t even manage to muster a measly few days because the law only threatens and guides but it doesn’t empower. It doesn’t bring to life the strange life that it calls for. It only brings fear and death.
Because of this, as Peter calls us to life as strangers in this world, he calls us to remember something totally foreign and strange to this world. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18).
Perishable things don’t do any good in eternal matters because the things of this world have an expiration date. All the gold in the world wouldn’t do a lick of good for springing your soul from its hellish prison because “the world and its desires pass away” (1 John 2:17). So “it was not with perishable things you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:18).
In the Old Testament God had set up a system by which he would teach people that the price of sin required blood, innocent blood. And so, innocent lamb after lamb poured out its blood to teach people that sin causes death and demands a high price. Yet not one drop from the blood of those innocent lambs could do anything to pay the price to redeem us from sin, because they were perishable. Instead, God used something totally strange to this world and something totally beyond our concept of value—the life-blood of God, the blood of his Son, the innocent lamb who was sent to take away the sin of the world.
On the day you wake up feeling totally worthless and empty, remember this, you were redeemed with the precious blood of God. Think about how precious that makes you to him. You are worth as much to God as he values himself, because even before he even created the world, he knew the price he would pay for you, his beloved Son. “[The Lamb] was chosen before creation, but revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:20). We just celebrated him being revealed as the babe of Bethlehem and now as this church year passes on, we will follow the journey of his life to his death and resurrection. Peters tells us, “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21).
The Lamb’s precious and imperishable blood has brought you to faith and life in this dying world. As you look around at all that you see, a world constantly dying in sin, realize that you really are strange. You are living when everything else is dying. Your eternal life begins already with your life here on earth. So you are confident that even when the sleep of death comes, the precious blood that’s been shed for you will bring you through the gate to eternal life.
This knowledge, this hope, this faith gives you the power to live the life of a stranger here on earth, foreign to the pleasure on which the world gorges itself, blissfully ignorant of the deeds done in the darkness. Through belief in the truth of what the blood of Christ has done for you, you have purified yourselves from the filth of sin and now you really live. Now you can actually have sincere love for one another. When you were dead in sin, everything you did was sin and death, but now you live by faith. Now your faith and hope are in God and you can also love one another deeply, from the heart, (1 Peter 1:22) with sincere motives and gracious actions.
Now again, if we resolve to love in this way on our own, our best attempt would fall flat not five seconds after the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. But the living and enduring word brings to life the life and love that it calls for. Peter tells us, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
The blood you were redeemed with is imperishable and the word that brought you to life is living and enduring, and so the life that you receive is not perishable but imperishable. With this special kind of life you have, you can show a strange kind of love, totally unfamiliar to those who experience it—love that is not self-seeking, but patient, kind, and true.
So this year as we remember what we were and what’s been done for us in the past, we look to the future not with notions of some pathetic resolution, but with the power that comes from the living and enduring word of God. We live with power that effects real change and produces real love in our lives. Yes, it is true that we are miserable sinners, but at the same time it is true that we are also living saints, redeemed and empowered by the blood of Christ. And therefore, we live with a strange outlook on life, that others are more important than ourselves, that lowly service to the least in the kingdom of heaven is an act of love treasured by our God, that to live is Christ and to die is gain. This what the living word produces in us, 1) enduring life and 2) living love.
These things will not perish when everything else reaches its expiration date in the end. To demonstrate this, Peter quotes the Prophet Isaiah who says, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” The first part of this verse is easy to understand, but the second part is difficult to grasp all the implications.
So allow me to use a piece of art that’s very special to me. My wife gave a coloring book to my mom while she was in the hospital before she died. She was never much of an artist, so she didn’t color many of the pictures. But as I looked through the book, she did color this one, the verse Peter quotes from Isaiah. The first truth is easy to understand. “The grass withers and the flowers fall.” As you see the rose from her funeral, withered and crumbling, you see its true. As we see our loved ones enter the sleep of death, we know it’s true, “All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall. But here is the difficult part to grasp.
“The Word of our God endures forever,” and because it does, every promise that is made in it is living and enduring and true. So when Jesus gives us the promise of eternal life, “I am the resurrection and the life, the one who believes in me will live, even though they die,” (John 11:25) we know that this promise is living and enduring and true and every believer shall not perish, but have eternal life, just as Jesus promised.
The living word gives enduring life. As you look back on the past year and look forward to the new year with true resolve by God’s power, remember Peter’s words, “This is the word that was preached to you!” (1 Peter 1:25). Amen.