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Sermon for April 23, 2023 – Third Sunday of Easter

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5022 | Born Again
Greg Williams

As a Christian, you are probably familiar with the metaphor of being “born again.” Jesus used it when talking to Nicodemus to try to explain the radical difference that one must undergo to enter the kingdom of God. Peter later used the same image to encourage a church that was being treated as exiles because of their faith in Christ.

The image of being born again works on both fronts. Certainly, entering the kingdom of God is like being born again as one becomes a new creation filled with life. But have you ever considered that this metaphor also speaks to the experience of believers being exiled from their old way of life?

Peter did. When he began his letter to a church that was being ostracized because of their faith, he chose to use the “born again” image to encourage them not to conform to their former ways of living.

Let’s read how he uses this image in these verses.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

Did you catch the picture? Being “born again” involves being born into something – “a living hope.” It also includes being born out of something – “from the dead.” Like a newborn baby, the new life it has after birth will be completely different than the life it had in the womb. Can you imagine a baby trying to live as if it is still in the womb? That would be nonsensical.

But, as Christians, we live with the constant temptation to return to a life that conforms to our old ways of moving and breathing. Especially since we are surrounded by a culture that resists and even persecutes those that live in such a way that challenges and calls into question the status quo. Being a Christian in this world is to live in exile. We are no longer at home in the womb of this world.

But that does not mean we do not belong. We belong to our heavenly Father, and we belong to a new family of brothers and sisters who live together in his love. Our new life of freedom lived in the light is beyond compare to the dark and restrictive life we once had.

So, if you sometimes feel like an exile in this world. Take courage and live in hope. It comes with the territory of being born again.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 • Acts 2:14a, 36-41 • 1 Peter 1:17-23 • Luke 24:13-35

This week’s theme is receiving salvation’s new orientation. The call to worship Psalm reflects on the psalmist’s experience of deliverance and his offering of himself to live a life of devotion in thankful response. The reading from Acts records the final section of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost where he urges repentance and baptism as a response fitting to receiving forgiveness. The text from 1 Peter is a reminder to those who have already been saved by the blood of Christ to live accordingly. The Gospel reading from Luke recounts the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus who opens the hearts of two disciples, who at first did not recognize him, prompting them to return to Jerusalem to share the story of their encounter with the risen Lord.

Living In Exile

1 Peter 1:17-23 (ESV)

Today marks the third Sunday of our Easter season celebration. Easter day is now in the rearview mirror, yet we still celebrate. In fact, even after the season of Easter is complete, the church will continue to celebrate the risen Lord every Sunday hereafter. And that is as it should be on account that Jesus’ resurrection has changed everything. There is now a new creation, the old has passed away. We cannot go on living as if Easter did not occur. And that is what Peter will aim to remind us of today. Even as believers in the risen Lord, we need constant reminders that Jesus is alive as Lord and Savior.

We encounter a constant barrage of messages from our experience in this world that tell us the lie that Jesus is still in the tomb, and his Father has abandoned us as well. We are tempted to believe the lies of the guards who circulated the message that Jesus was still dead. We must remember that they were paid off by those who were threatened by Jesus and his Gospel. They were paid handsomely to accuse the Lord’s disciples of stealing Jesus’ body in order to create a false narrative.

The guards of power and control were also at work when Peter wrote the letter we will read from, and these guards have been repeating this pattern up to the present day. So, we would be naïve to think that a single celebration of Jesus’ resurrection would immune our ears from such lies. These lies often speak to confirm our experience of being exiles, left to find our own way in the world as if Jesus was no longer with us, and his Father had moved on to live without his dear Son. But it is indeed a lie. The truth we will be reminded of again today is that Jesus has risen, and we belong to his Father. We are not alone, we are not abandoned, and we are not without hope.

A bit of context

Peter is writing a letter to scattered Christians who live in Asia Minor under the control of Rome. The letter begins by identifying these people as those who were formerly Pontians, Galatians, Cappadocians, Asians, and Bithynians. These groups all once had their identities embedded in the very strong social, political, and religious ties to those regions, and now were trying to live under Roman rule.

The recipients of Paul’s letter are now Christians, and had severed these regional ties, choosing to no longer participate in the cultural expectations of paying homage to multiple deities, and more costly, choosing to renounce emperor worship which was encouraged by Rome in these societies. We could rightly label them as a minority of minorities. When Peter addresses them as “exiles of the Dispersion” he was speaking directly to their very real status and experience of living under foreign rule as well as living as Christians. By doing this he not only speaks directly to their real situation, but he also speaks to all of us who feel out of place, living as strangers in whatever context we find ourselves in. Feeling like an exile is common to all people even when you belong to the dominant culture or in-group. There is still a longing within us that urges us to seek deeper belonging.

We seem to know at some level that we are made for more, that we belong to something, or someone, that we have not yet fully encountered. So, we search, desperately seeking approval, acceptance, and belonging in the next circle we think will give us a meaningful identity.

As Christians, we face a paradox. We have found the source of our belonging in Jesus Christ, who has brought us into his fellowship with the Father by the Spirit. We know the mystery of our being, that we were created to belong forever in the life and love of Father, Son, Spirit, and by grace this is given to us in Jesus alone. However, this truth is not received well in a world still bent against God, a world resistant to grace, settling for its own self-defined identity and self-determined destiny.

In this world, the evil one is still shooting his poisoned darts of lies that tell us we are not loved, that we are not good enough, that our past forever taints our future. Once the poison from these lies sets in, we begin to live as if the lie is true, treating others in ways that conform more to the ways of this present evil age than to the Kingdom of God in which we now belong. Peter knows this so he writes to remind these exiled believers of who they really belong to, encouraging them to live out the truth of their belonging in Christ. It’s a reminder we also will all need to resist the lies and the temptation after Easter to return to living as if we do not belong to Christ and his Father by the Spirit.

Peter will give these believers some ethical instructions later in his letter, but in this section, he is going to remind them of the reality of their community in Christ – a good place for most letters or sermons to begin.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. (1 Peter 1:17 ESV)

Peter knows that these believers live in an environment that no longer feels like home, even in their own households. He knows they will be tempted to search for a sense of identity and belonging which will pressure them to return and conform to old patterns, attitudes, customs, and behaviors that belonged to their life before conversion.

It is easy to return to what we know when feeling alone and isolated. Isolation will tempt us to conform to the dominant group in order to gain a sense of belonging, even when that means going against our own values and convictions. We want something of normalcy, something that seems familiar.

What Peter wants them (and us) to see, is that we belong to a new family. He reminds them that they belong to the “Father who judges impartially.” Obeying one’s father was a high expectation in Greco-Roman society. Peter wants them to see their true Father, their heavenly Father who gave them life, and therefore their allegiance and obedience belong to him. Peter has already established that the Father is holy, and on that foundation, they are to be holy. He is not giving them a raw command to do what God tells them.

He is grounding their call to holiness in the character of the one they now belong to, their holy Father. This is who they belong to, and therefore they can conform to him rather than to the pagan culture around them. What’s more, Peter reminds them that their Father judges impartially. He does not show favoritism to anyone. This was unlike the Romans, who would give special treatment to those who were citizens, while ostracizing and disadvantaging those who were not, or were not “born” citizens. In contrast, the judgment the Father has for his children is also the same judgment he has for the Romans and everyone else. He is the true Father worthy of worship and these believers belonged to him. Peter can go on to say from this reality that they should conduct their lives with “fear” while they live as exiles.

What does Peter mean to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile?” That’s a question we should answer for ourselves in a time where Christians in more and more countries are considered the “fringe” group, the outsiders, and even the troublemakers of the world. This is certainly the environment the early church found themselves in. Considering this environment, we may live in “fear” of the dominant culture and their authorities and be tempted to bow down in worship by conforming to their ways in order to avoid the shaming and persecution that could come to us if we don’t.

But Peter reminds us know that we live in “fear” because we belong to the Father. This is not the same kind of fear that we may have of those who aim to do us harm. This is a reverent fear that takes seriously who God is. Our heavenly Father is the true ruler. This means believers can embrace a lifestyle that makes one an exile in this present evil world because they know they belong to the only world that will last, God’s Kingdom. The behaviors and ways of thinking that were once common to our old way of life must now be seen as foreign and outside the borders of the new Kingdom we are brought into. There is now a deeper belonging that comes to the believer. We belong to that which will never fade away and which has always been. This is a lasting and life-giving belonging.

Living in this kind of reverent fear will enable us to be the witnesses we are called to be, even in a dark world. Christians do not withdraw from the dominant cultures in which they live, but they can engage in them while living according to the holiness they have in Christ. This may make us stick out like a sore thumb, but it enables us to point to Christ, who is not only our hope, but the hope of the whole world.

Peter will go further to remind us of some other things we should know.

Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21 ESV)

Peter reminds us that Christ’s blood has the power to redeem and liberate us from our past, empowering us to live out the new life we have in Christ. We are not being called to live on some form of willpower. That belongs to our old futile ways, from which we have been “ransomed.” And the ways of this world are indeed “futile.” We are in a whole new situation now. Peter uses a comparison to show the difference. Our “futile ways” were inherited from our “forefathers,” not our heavenly Father. Our heavenly Father predates our forefathers by an eternity.

In Greco-Roman culture, one’s tradition and way of life gained weight by being grounded in antiquity. The further in the past your way of life could be traced, the more legitimate and substantiated it was considered. So, Peter goes all the way back before creation by grounding our inheritance in Jesus who was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Not only that, but he also compares the price of “ransom” between “silver or gold” and “the precious blood of Christ.”

In the society Peter was writing in, it was a common understanding that the world was invaded by all sorts of real and perceived evil powers and spirits. So much so that people would often wear amulets, presumably made of silver or gold, to protect against these powers and to bring good fortune. Peter, making the comparison of silver or gold as “perishable things” with that of the blood of Christ, has invited us to think differently about how we live our lives in exile. Living in the reverent fear of God with an awareness of the precious price paid for our redemption, we can live free from the fear that tempts us to resort to the various means of protecting ourselves, or insuring our future by placating to human or supernatural enemies. We know who is in charge and how valuable we are to our Father. As the Apostle Paul stated more succinctly, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Considering all this, Peter wants to affirm that their “faith and hope are in God.” That will make all the difference living as exiles. It is through Jesus and his resurrection, according to Peter, that has made us “believers in God.” Notice Peter’s focus on being a “believer.” It is “in God.” Everyone is a believer one way or another, but it is what or who we put our belief in that really matters. Thanks to the Father’s plan from the beginning to bring us into fellowship with him through his Son, we now can be “believers in God” as we come to know him as our loving Father who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

Peter will now leave us with these concluding words:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23 ESV)

In light of the disruption that will take place for believers who dismiss the ways of the world as “futile,” Peter concludes by using familial and affectionate terms to describe what it means to live as exiles. Believing in God the Father means we know we are not orphaned or homeless. We belong to the belonging that exists in the Triune God from all eternity. This belonging is one of purity and love – a purity and love that will never fade as it finds its source in the “living and abiding word of God.” Since we are “born again” into this reality, we can turn and renounce our former ways and embrace a life that is characterized as “brotherly love.”

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we belong to the same Father, and we can love one another with the same love he lavishes on us. In this way we belong to the only belonging that lasts and has meaning. As we live this out in our relationships with one another, we glorify the Father and participate in his calling of others to join us in exile. This is why Jesus tells us to love others as he has loved us. Think about this as you go through the week. Am I loving others as Jesus loves me? And let’s pray, Lord, help me be the disciple you have called me to be, so I can join you in sharing your love with others.

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W4

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April 23 – Third Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 1:17-23, “Mutuality Through Kinship”

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Program Transcript

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W4

Anthony: Mandy, let’s go to our next passage of the month. It’s 1 Peter 1:17-23. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the third Sunday of Easter, which is April the 23rd. Would you read it for us, please?

[00:30:06] Mandy: Yes. And this is my birthday, so it seems fitting that I would read this passage. Yeah, alright, here it is.

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. 22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

[00:31:11] Anthony: As I was listening to you read verse 19 about the Lamb of God, I was thinking about how I often want Jesus to show up as the roaring lion of Judah, the victor—which he is. But often the way that I experience him is as the lamb, broken for the world and for me. And I’m encouraged by that.

I just want to ask you what does it mean that God judges, all people impartially? And maybe as a tag onto that, how do we join in how he does this?

[00:31:40] Mandy: I think we often come to the word judge through our lens of the judicial system, that you’re engaging with an institution. And this is the judge’s job to do this. And in the Old Testament, the judges were spiritual leaders, people who sat in the gateway of the city. And if anybody had a dispute or a question or a problem, they sought the judges for their wisdom and for their discernment and for their mediation.

And I think we see God in a different way when we see God through this lens of judge, that this is not judgment in the sense that we think of it as in a legal sense. There’s a relational piece and a spiritual piece and a wisdom that we want truth. We want to be seen according to who we truly are.

And there are sometimes where I have been judged really harshly by human beings, and I want God’s judgment in that space because he knows what my heart really was. And there are other times where maybe I have got away with something when my motives were not good. And I need God to come.

This is the judgment he gives us even as we’re living, not just when we die. I want God to say, Mandy, that was not a good motivation right there. So, either way it’s truth, and either way, it’s not for our damnation, but bringing us to the fullness of who God’s truly created us to be, to be our true selves and to reflect his goodness and his glory in ourselves.

So, it brings healing. This is the kind of judgment that ultimately brings healing and makes all things new. That’s how I try to see judgment.

And I think those who are in times of suffering as we see in books, especially in the New Testament, where there are people in oppression, they want to hear that those who oppress them—and we’re talking, blood’s flowing in the streets here. This is not just somebody teasing them. They want to know that there is a God who sees it and who will bring things to order. And so, I think we can judge them for writing such intense kinds of passages. And we see it in the Psalms too, where the psalmists are saying, God, will you come down from heaven and will you bring about judgment on this person who is oppressing me?

But maybe we don’t really understand what it feels like to be in that place of having someone who is a wolf at the door. And maybe if we were, we would also want that kind of God who can judge and make things right.

[00:34:09] Anthony: Yeah. We want judgment that’s healing, and therefore we see the vivid judgment of God at the cross. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, and he didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it through him. Hallelujah. Praise God.

Our theologian for today, Mandy, the apostle Peter, seems to believe that the purification of our soul should lead to genuine mutual love, experienced in kinship. So, my question for you is, how are we getting this right and how might we be getting it wrong?

[00:34:42] Mandy: Interesting. So actually, along the lines of what I was just saying as well, I’ve been really encouraged in recent years to be reading a little bit about the difference between the guilt gospel and the shame gospel.

So, folks who do ministry in places outside of Western culture often have to know this distinction between a culture that understands guilt and then the resolution of that is to have your sins forgiven in that usual sense that we talk about, the cross shaped bridge. We’re far from God because we’ve sinned and that’s definitely scriptural.

But in an honor, shame culture, which is often eastern cultures. And I think our culture. There’s been studies that have shown that our own Western culture is also becoming more this way. So, this is not just something to learn when we go overseas anymore. They’re more—and this is getting to your question here—they’re more interested in shame and honor, which is a more relational thing.

So, the guilt thing, as I said earlier, can be more institutional. This is my personal sin, and I have been called up before this judge, and I have to be convicted or found guilty or innocent which is a personal, an individualistic kind of thing, whereas the shame on a culture is mostly to do with being outside of the community, being unacceptable somehow.

And this is actually how a lot of people come to understand their need for the gospel, that they feel not good enough for God. And so, if we are only evangelizing through the lens, oh, you know how you’ve sin. You’re a horrible person and you’re far from God. If they’re already feeling shame and excluded, then we have just made them feel even more that way by telling them they’re horrible people.

And there’s actually a great website, I think it’s just unashamed.com, where they’ve shared a lot of research along these lines, that the kinship is the thing that we are inviting people into. That scripture has lots of different ways of communicating what the gospel is to different cultures, and I think we’ve got stuck in that one way, in the guilt / innocence way.

But to understand the honor / shame way is to say, they often use more relational language, more communal language and family language. There is a family that you are being adopted into, and to be saved is to be welcomed once more. Again, you thought you were excluded, but you are included.

I think this is not just, oh, let’s all be friends so that we can feel warm fuzzies. But this is a salvation issue. This is a way that many people I know and myself as well, especially people who are marginalized. I think this is meaningful because they feel the shame of being excluded, of being marginalized. And for them salvation is Jesus has made it possible for you to be welcomed in and for you to be seen and known.

And kinship then is not just, let’s make friends but a salvation thing.

[00:37:33] Anthony: Yeah. I’ve often thought that salvation is best understood as belonging, which is relational. That you belong to God. And it’s good. He can be trusted. Come on in. The fire’s burning. Coffee tastes good. You belong here.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Using the metaphor of being “born again,” discuss what we are born out of.
  • Discuss what we are born into.

From the Sermon

  • Why do we need constant reminders that Jesus is alive as Lord and Savior?
  • In what ways can everyone, believers and unbelievers, identify with living as exiles?
  • In what ways do believers specifically experience living as exiles?
  • What does Peter mean to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile?”
  • What are some of “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” that we have been freed from?
  • In what ways are we tempted to return to these futile ways of thinking and behaving?
  • How might we embrace our belonging in Christ by how we belong to one another as Christians? Or, in other words, what does living as brothers and sisters in Christ look like?

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