6th Sunday of Easter “Our Inspiring View”
May 14, 2023 1Peter 3:13-22
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Alex Honnold is a 30-something man from California who has one claim-to-fame: ‘free-solo climbing,’ or ‘free soloing.’ That’s a term used for those who climb cliffs without ropes or safety harnesses. He’s considered the best in the world. While most of us look at a cliff or mountain for its natural beauty, Alex looks at it as a challenge = a puzzle of foot-holds & hand-holds. You can easily find a picture of him climbing a rugged cliff, suspended high above the ground. (displayed) What we want to notice this morning is the tension between the struggle of the rock climber and the inspiration of the setting.
In almost any picture of this rock climber, we see only his hands & feet holding him to the stone. His body leans into the rock, his hands are lodged in a crevice, and his face is close to the stone. Looking at the larger setting, we see what inspired him to do this. The vast expanse of rock jutting up into the sky; the endless blue heavens & puffy clouds above him; the thick forest or green landscape below him. We call this a ‘juxtaposition’: his limited vision vs. the unlimited view; the panoramic beauty vs. his focused struggle; the world of life vs. being one hand-hold away from falling to his death. This is a picture of tension. Alex’s personal vision is limited, & his struggle is intense & dangerous. But he’s part of the world that is much larger than his limited experience; & the whole beauty of creation is much more than any single struggle with a cliff.
Even tho Alex Honnold says that he is anti-religion & an atheist, as Christians – we can identify with this life-tension. To be a listening, learning, & following disciple of Jesus is often difficult; to climb from morning to night in our rocky daily life can be an intense struggle.
Yet, the Spirit of God draws us to the cliff and we are challenged to climb; often with our face pressed against the wall, searching for a good foot-hold, & always facing death. But by God’s Word we can also see that larger scenic view; we see a real spiritual beauty in this life, with the promise of life to come, and we are inspired to carry on to the next day’s climb.
In the Epistle reading, Peter writes a letter to some churches, and offers them an majestic & inspiring view of life & salvation. He writes to Christians in various places:
in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, & Bithynia. Even tho these are churches in different cultures, one thing is common among them: they are all struggling. The people are all having difficulty with discipleship. They are surrounded by self-focused, worldly people; /people immoral in thinking & living; /biased against those who strive for God’s truth; /they are against those who are trying to live by what is right & wrong; /against those who fear God & strive to be kind to others.
So, as Christians, they were struggling with how God’s holy faith interacts with the sinful world. Sound familiar? The Holy Spirit here, thru Peter, is offering all disciples a wide, inspiring view. He offers a larger vision of God’s glorious work in Christ that helps us endure the climb – day by day.
Christians will sometimes interpret struggling//suffering in their life as if something were wrong with them; sometimes that’s true, sometimes not. Like the story of Bill & Janel. They began having trouble with their friends. They had been part of a group of couples for 15 yrs. Their children had been in scouting together; they had watched their kids play in soccer games & basketball games; they had celebrated together graduations from high school & college, & even some weddings. However, now some things had changed. Everything was being viewed as ‘political.’
Any event from the news they tried to talk about became an argument & a strain on friendships. Bill & Janel tried to explain from a Biblical & Lutheran view what they thought of the issue, & how they would handle things; but now they were accused of being bigots or racist, or ‘phobic against marginalized peoples’; they were told their ‘white-man’s religion’ & view was outdated & no longer acceptable. Bill & Janel struggled, thinking they would have to keep their faith to themselves if they were going to keep these friends. Janel said, “I must be doing something wrong. Having friends that you can be honest with shouldn’t be this hard.”
But actually, it can be. There is a reason that, when our Lord called us to follow Him, He told us we’d be taking up a cross. Sometimes friendships are easy; but discipleship has never been easy. Satan doesn’t care as much who your friends are as who your Master is. Satan will tempt us to believe that we are doing something wrong when we hear, share, & follow Jesus’ teachings.
Satan will tempt us to believe that the Christian life should be easy and, if it’s not, we either have to change what we believe, or we have to be quiet about this Faith.
We just heard Peter’s response to that; it’s a 3rd option with a larger vision. He said, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1Pet 3:14,15) Can we do this? We can
because of the larger view created for us in Christ. It teaches us that we can not control what others say or do; but the Spirit & power of God in Christ Jesus inspires us to endeavor to be disciples with a good conscience.
There is no better choice. As His disciples, we must be honest with God in our faith; we must honor our Savior Jesus = whose teachings guide our hearts, minds & daily lives;
and after that, we will commend those around us into the care & influence of God Himself to change their hearts & minds. Peter says that to deal with the difficulties of discipleship we will look to Christ.
When we think about the disciple Peter we think of things he did. We remember /how Peter early & openly confessed Jesus as Christ & God, /how he wanted to walk on water, /how he wanted to build shelters & stay on the Mount of Transfiguration, /how he claimed he would never run from Jesus – even if it meant death, / how he denied Jesus 3-times, /& how he boldly preached of Jesus on Pentecost Day & was jailed for it. Peter’s life is varied with some good highs & bad lows; so, he could give us some good advice on this faith & discipleship.
However, we should note that Peter does not want us to consider what he did as a disciple. Instead, he wants us to view what he saw = he saw Christ suffering; that is his witness as a disciple that all disciples -of any time or place- can relate to. So Peter wants to be remembered -not for what he said & did- but that his life was a witness for the sufferings of Jesus Christ.
The point of this IS: that Peter has seen how God enters into sufferings, and God triumphs over it for all of us. That is the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Suffering was not a hinderance to our Savior = it was the chosen pathway back to God thru this fallen world.
And so suffering is still not a hinderance to God for us; He is able to use suffering to make good disciples in His kingdom because everyone of us can relate to it = & therefore, we can relate to Christ the Savior.
As Peter wrote to Christians who are suffering in their discipleship, so the Holy Spirit continues to write to us. God worked salvation thru suffering back then & now. Vs.18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” This is that wide, majestic view. Thru Christ’s sufferings, all sinners, worldwide, have been brought back to God. Forgiveness is the bridge across the unbridgeable canyon that separates man from God. Without the sufferings of Christ, there would be no return-path;
we would remain separated in the sin we inherited from Adam, and in the sins we commit in thoughts, words & deeds.
But because of the sufferings of Christ, because of His death upon the cross, the just & proper condemnation of God is lifted, & paid for. The Righteous One has died for the unrighteous that -with Him- YOU would be included in His people & kingdom. That is the large, majestic view for the life of the disciple.
As a disciple of the Father, the Son willingly took that path of suffering in this world for that purpose = for your sake. He came among us to climb with us on that dangerous spiritual cliff; to struggle to find the same foot-holds & hand-holds; to teach by example the way of discipleship, from the bottom to the top, & safely back to God. Of course, as Savior, He battled with the worst of our enemies & danger because we could not defeat sin, death & the devil. But the ancient promise was: by the tree of the cross & by the grave, the Messiah would suffer, die & rise over death, and He would open God’s kingdom for every man, woman, and child.
Since we live in the same fallen world Jesus came to, so we will share in the same kind of suffering that opposed Him in His own discipleship. It’s not that we will face that same Roman cross, but we will bear a cross of various sufferings as people who are called to be holy in an unholy world. We can endure that suffering because of the majestic view that Jesus has saved us. The death & resurrection of Jesus is the hope that ‘is in you.’ Jesus is the reason we will be blessed, even when struggling.
And Jesus’ suffering for other sinners is the reason we can respond to them with gentleness & respect when we are slandered for our faith, or reviled for our good behavior. Jesus puts away our fears because all powers we face are subjected to Him.
Albrecht Altdorfer was an engraver & painter working in Germany in Martin Luther’s day, about 500 yrs ago. Altdorfer is noted for his ability to paint some Biblical scenes of Jesus suffering with a background of very colorful landscapes. It’s this same idea of juxtaposing beauty with struggle, or blessing & suffering. This tension is that lesson in Christian living; suffering for the faith always occurs within a much larger beautiful scene of God’s blessed & saving work in the world.
In one of his paintings, Altdorfer shows Jesus praying in Gethsemane. In the foreground, we see Peter resting on a rock, facing away from Jesus; John is asleep on his back, & James is seated with his head down. Behind them, in the center of the painting, is Jesus. He is kneeling before the face of a cliff, and an angel is bringing him the cup of suffering He will drink. And back in the distance, behind Jesus, is the posse on their way to arrest Jesus, led by Judas, coming out of a red/orange background, as if lit by the fires of hell.
Now, the arrangement of the people is a lesson in itself. The disciples are asleep & defenseless. And kneeling between the disciples & the forces of darkness is Jesus. His prayer is their defense; His willingness to bear the cup of God’s wrath is their salvation; altho He appears weak under suffering, He is the power of God that protects His people. And because Jesus stands between the disciples and the forces of darkness, nothing will be able to come upon them that has not first come thru Jesus.
That is a picture of the suffering in your life = it has been filtered thru your Savior;
it cannot harm you or your faith; it is meant to toughen you, & give your faith focus. That must be true, since Jesus is the Victor, having triumphed over all evil in His death & resurrection.
And since you have been baptized into Jesus = the same Jesus who oversaw the salvation of Noah & family thru the flood, so not even the worst suffering can drown your hope. And not only that, says Peter, Jesus’ victory is so thorough, that Jesus descended into hell, but not to suffer. He went to proclaim His eternal victory to all those souls & evil spirits who could not witness it being accomplished on earth. They needed to know the truth of salvation in Christ which they rejected – forever.
This is how Peter gives us a glimpse of the wide & majestic glory of God so as not to be overwhelmed by whatever struggle or suffering we face in our days. Jesus suffered with us & for us; Jesus conquered death, & ascended to rule over all things; Jesus is our way back to God
When -in our life- we face a rock wall, when we are pressed up against it, when it appears that we are all alone, not sure if we can find a hand-hold or foot-hold, when we struggle in fear of the danger of facing death; == when for a moment we think that no one has faced suffering like we are facing, the Holy Spirit brings to our mind-of-faith – Jesus, our Suffering Savior.
He & His work is the larger, majestic, more colorful picture of the loving mercy of God that we can count on. Jesus reigns; and He is with you daily; He is leading all His disciples =including you= thru this world to enter safely into the kingdom of heaven.