“In due time…” As I studied 1 Peter 5 this week, that phrase jumped out right off the bat. THere’s another one like it: “a little while.” Two pretty small phrases that probably wouldn’t form the usual opening sentences for a sermon on 1 Peter 5, but what is usual now? What is normal? Given the circumstances of the last couple of months these two simple, seemingly insignificant modifiers have a great deal of meaning for us to consider, don’t they?
It began March 16. Is everyone going to remember that day for the rest of their lives? That was the day that it all shut down. Stay home, quarantine, self-isolated, social distancing, facemasks, gloves, disinfecting, sanitizer, PPE (personal protection equipment) and all of the other things related to the coronavirus became the vernacular that has altered our lives.
That was 70 days ago. I counted. Does that seem like a long time? I guess that depends. If it’s 70 days of vacation in your favorite spot in the world, if it’s 70 days of celebrating the championship of your favorite team, if it’s 70 days doing something you love, if it’s 70 days of eating your favorite foods with no effect on your waistline, if it’s 70 days of something great, well then 70 days is not long at all, is it? But if it’s 70 days of blizzards and below zero, if it’s 70 days of blazing 100 degree scorching draught, if it’s 70 days of prison time, if it’s 70 days in a coma, if it’s 70 days in self-isolated pandemic, if it’s 70 days of being hunted down like prey, if it’s 70 days of something that is not so great, well then 70 days seems like forever.
Do you notice what’s wrong with that mentality? It’s all about me. It’s about what I like or don’t like. It’s about my schedule. It’s about my perspective on things. And that is what gets us into trouble in this life. When everything revolves around me, when my point of view is all I can see, when I am all that matters, then where is the room for the Lord? Where is his power? Where is his deliverance? Where is his timing? Where is the faith in his plan? Where is the honor and glory he deserves? And where is the place for others, for serving, for selfless love, for giving rather than receiving praise?
We all have this struggle. It is born in us, inherited from our parents and their parents before them, we naturally only care about ourselves. And that’s so dangerous. It’s dangerous because what if I can’t do it by myself. What if I need help? And I do. You do, too. Because there is a lion who is prowling around looking for someone to devour.
I guess it’s true that on your own you could be alert, you could be of a sober mind as Peter encourages in verse 8. Another translation for the word “sober-minded” is “self-controlled.” That really only involves you. You have to be the one that is alert with your own eyes. You are the one that has to be free from distractions. You are the one who has to say no to any of the things that tempt or confuse. You are the one that cannot be consumed by excess or desires. You are the one that has to stay away from any form of mental or spiritual drunkenness. It’s true that being alert and sober is what you and I work on for ourselves.
But where do you think you get this kind of self-control and sober mind? Do you think that comes from being selfish and arrogant? Do you think that comes from keeping the focus on yourself all the time? Do you think it comes from seeing everything from your own point of view?
Peter has the answer for us. He says the way to be alert and sober-minded, the way to resist the danger of the prowling lion is to stand firm in the faith. That is having an object other than yourself to keep your eyes on, and not just any kind of faith will do for this. It has to be a specific kind of faith in a very specific kind of object. It has to be faith in the kind of object that has defeated the prowling lion who is hunting for you. It has to be faith in the one who can lift you up out of harm’s way at the right time. It has to be faith in the one who cares for you and can take all of your anxiety. It has to be faith in the one who can make your suffering last only a little while and who can restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. It has to be faith that you don’t have alone but connects you to others who are going through the same thing you are.
Does such a faith exist? Is there one who can take my gaze off of myself? Is there one who can take my focus off of my perspective? Is there one who can make 70 days seem like a day and a day like 70 days, or how about a thousand years? Is there one who can give me something different to look at than my ideas of what should happen in the coming weeks and months?
There is such faith and Peter tells us where it comes from in verse 10: “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…” It doesn’t come from me. It’s not about my timing, my perspective or my ideas. This faith is given.
From the God of all grace… That’s the God I have needed over more than just the last 70 days. I’ve needed the kind of God who sees someone selfish like me, someone near-sighted, someone lacking patience, someone who doesn’t always have his eyes open and alert, someone who doesn’t remain self-controlled, someone who is good at whining, someone stubborn and selfish, someone who is such an easy target for the roaring lion – he sees me exactly as I am with ALL GRACE.
He’s got all the selflessness. He’s got all the service. He’s got all the mercy. He’s got all the willingness. He’s got all the love. And it’s all for me. It cannot possibly be deserved. Not by me with my sinful heart, sinful attitude, sinful words, and sinful actions. It cannot possible by earned by you. Not with your sinful condition that is identical to mine. This grace is so free and full from the God who loves us enough to put in motion a plan that makes absolutely no sense, not for someone like me and someone like you.
With this grace God called you… Something pretty cool happened last Saturday and this past Thursday. Maybe you saw it in the email I sent out to our church members, maybe you watched the virtual services. At Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, graduates were given assignments into the ministry as teachers and pastors. They were given their first call to teach or to preach, their first classrooms or pulpits, their first students or members. God did the work of preparing them through the work of our church body and our ministerial education schools. God opened a spot. And God is now sending them out as called workers in his church.
It’s very similar to what happened for all who believe. No, not all of God’s people get a call into public ministry as a pastor or teacher, but we all are called by the gospel into God’s family. I know that because it’s the only possible way for me and for you to be a believer. I would much rather look at myself and focus on what I like and what I want than humble myself under someone else. I would much rather fix my problems and pain than casting them onto someone else, because then I get the credit. I would much rather hunt down any foe with my own skill, because then I can show that I am able to conquer anything that comes my way.
I have to be called away from all of that. I have to be removed from my own peril. I have to be dragged away from the sinful selfishness that only cares about myself. And God’s grace has that kind of power. The call of the gospel, the good news of someone more powerful and more caring and more transformative than me, is the only way to God.
And it leads us to his eternal glory… No, it’s not an earthly solution that can undo 70 days of craziness. It’s not a cure for a disease that will last me only as long as my heart can keep beating. The grace of the eternal God that called me out of darkness leads to his home. It’s the place that goes beyond my perspective, my timeline and my thoughts. It’s his, the God who loves me and protects me and guides me from my first breath to my last and than endlessly longer than that. It’s his heaven that last forever, and through his gracious gift that called me to faith, it’s all mine. And all of it is yours.
And the object of this faith? It’s Christ. The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ… Jesus is one who crushed the prowling lion’s head. Jesus is the one who cares for you by taking all your punishment for sin and all your anxiety about the past, present and future. Jesus is the one who has power and authority to rule with a might hand and lift you up when the time is right. Jesus is the one who gives you the strong, firm, and steadfast foundation. Jesus is the one who makes eternity yours because he took away the sting of death.
Does all this sound familiar? It’s what we have been talking about for the past 43 days. This is the joy we have because of Easter. We have victory no matter what in Christ, because through faith in him we have the God of all grace. He’s on our side. Day after day, he guides us and protects with his might hand. Through faith in Jesus we have the call to eternal glory, where a little suffering and a little bit of time cannot begin to compare. Through faith in Jesus it’s not about our time, our perspective, our plans.
That’s why I really enjoy how this section ends compared to how it begins. It begins talking about waiting for God to lift you up “in due time.” There are these encouragements to be alert and stand strong as we resist the devil here on earth. But Peter ends by point us to what really matters. That’s what God has done over the last 70 days, and that’s what the God of all grace will do forever. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.