Beckett: Sermon – The Crucible of Faith

Date: April 19, 2020
Festival: 2nd Sunday of Easter
Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #548 Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Introduction

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Okay, now what? Every year, we go through Lent—we remember that we came from dust and shall return to dust, preparing us for repentance during Holy Week. Then during Holy Week, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, we simultaneously grieve and celebrate the Lord’s death on Friday as the atonement for our sins, we continue to mourn on Saturday, then we have the glorious celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Then what? Our Easter high wears off. Some of us won’t come back to church until Christmas. We all return to our daily routines. Only, these times of quarantine are not so routine, are they? Either way, the effect is the same: our Easter high wears off like the morning’s cup of coffee. We know and believe Jesus is risen from the dead! Now what? St. Peter has three answers to this question.

The First “Now What”

We all remember the questions and answers in the Small Catechism about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. About Baptism, it asks, “What benefits does Baptism give?” Its benefits are “forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the Devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.” Similarly, about the Lord’s Supper, it asks, “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” Its benefits are “forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.” In the same way, we can ask, “What benefits does Christ’s resurrection give?”

We know and believe Jesus is risen from the dead. We celebrated His resurrection on Easter. But now what? What benefit does this have for me? Peter answers this: The resurrection of Jesus Christ “has caused us to be born again to a living hope” and “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.”

The first “now what” is: Now that you believe Christ is risen from the dead, you have been reborn into an eternal hope that never perishes nor fades, which is possible because you are being sustained by the power of God for the inheritance of your salvation—your resurrection—that is to come on the Last Day.

The Second “Now What”

The second “now what” is conveniently sandwiched between the first and the third. I’ll go ahead and spoil the third “now what” for you, which is praising Jesus for the outcome of your faith, which is the salvation—or resurrection—of your soul! The third “now what” flows from the first one, then. {sandwich hand gestures} If the first “now what” is your inheritance of the resurrection on the Last Day, and the third is your praising that results because of this, what’s in the middle of all that? What’s the meat?

Be warned: it’s not the answer we want. As the bread of the sandwich, we have two glorious things: our eternal inheritance that never perishes nor fades and our praise, such as what we sang in our sermon hymn. But the meat of that sandwich is not so glorious. The second “now what” is suffering. As Easter Sunday came, we shouted and sang, “Christ is risen!” Then Monday came, the high wore off, and we ask, “Now what?” Now you suffer various trials.

As you might recall from my sermon on Palm Sunday, as we looked proleptically throughout Holy Week with the dramatic irony of our post-resurrection perspective, I noted how the life of the Christian is to walk where Jesus walked—to carry our cross, which means to suffer on account of Christ. Peter is emphasising this even more, using a different analogy. Much as gold is put through the crucible of fire, so your faith is put through such a crucible.

We purify gold through fire. Through the process of making gold pure, alloy and other impurities are removed and all that remains is pure gold. The same happens to us with faith, Peter says. We enter different trying crucibles, intense heat being applied to each trial until all the impurities are removed and all that remains is pure faith, that is, trust in God. The crucible does not destroy the gold; it purifies it. In the same way, the purpose of the crucible of trials is not to destroy you or your faith, but to purify it and demonstrate the genuineness of your faith. We call this sanctification—the lifelong process of being made holy. Sanctification, then, is a pressuring crucible, for we unholy creatures are being utterly changed into pure, holy beings in Christ in the last time.

Consider the testing of Abraham’s faith. God had promised Abraham that He would give him a son and that through his offspring he would become a great nation. Although this seemed contradictory to what the Lord had promised, Abraham still believed in God’s promise. By faith, he knew God could resurrect Isaac from the dead [Hebrews 11:19], or provide him another son, or even provide a lamb for the sacrifice. As we know, Go indeed provided a ram for the sacrifice, thus demonstrating the genuineness of Abraham’s faith.

Perhaps the trial that easily comes to mind for all of us is the coronavirus that’s currently sweeping our nation. This pandemic is simply one of many trials. It may seem to be paramount for now, but it will become one among many in our pile of trials. Whether that looks like the virus being eradicated or a vaccination and all of us returning to our normal lives or Jesus returning in glory, the trial will end. How might the Lord be testing the genuineness of our faith during these times?

Well, where is your trust? As Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment says, “I will fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Even the coronavirus. Even death. All over social media I’m seeing things like, “Only God can save me from the coronavirus.” Yeah, that’s true, but you should probably still practise precautionary measures and see your doctor when you get sick, whether or not it’s with the virus. If not for yourself, then out of love for your neighbour. Trusting in doctors, nurses, and others is still trusting God. As Luther said, these and all vocations are “masks of God” in which God cares for His creation.

Yet what does trusting in God during trials such as this look like? I think it looks like an end to fear. When God told Abraham to go to a mountain in the land of Moriah, Abraham didn’t fear. By faith, he obeyed; he simply trusted God. As I was studying for this sermon, I was trying to come up with a good dictionary definition of what it means to trust God, and I came up with nothing. I think that’s because there is no singular definition of what it means to trust God because trusting Him looks different in every situation. So, I think it’s easiest for us to look at the examples of the saints in Scripture. Yet I think they all had one thing in common: apart from fearing God, their fear of whatever it was in the world came to an end.

For Abraham, that end was the fear of not being able to have a child in old age, for God had already proven He could do that for Abraham and Sarah. For Moses, his trust in God looked like the end to fearing the anger of Pharaoh [Hebrews 11:27]. For David, his trust in God looked like the end to fearing evil nations. For many women, according to Hebrews 11 [v. 35], their trust in God looked like the end to the fear of death as they received back their dead by resurrection even in spite of being tortured! Some of them even refused to be released “so that they might rise again to a better life!” Others were mocked, flogged, chained in prison, stoned, sawn in two, and suffered poverty as nomads [vv. 36-38]!

Yet they did not fear any of these things! Rather, they trusted God because of their promised resurrection in Christ. Because of Jesus’ resurrection and who their God is, nothing in this world could terrify them. This trust in God exemplified in the saints is difficult to define, but we see what it looks like.

The Third “Now What”

Perhaps Peter can help us with this. The third “now what” is, “Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” This trust in God is an inexpressible joy, he says—a joy that cannot be described or satisfyingly expressed. This joy rejoices in songs of praise during the pressures of our crucibles, even in the quarantines of our own homes. This trust does not fear the virus or death. Rather, that fear comes to an end and instead our faith leads us to rejoice in the salvation Christ has won for us that first Easter morning, which lasts into the last time of Jesus’ revelation when He comes in glory.

Perhaps this inexpressible joy is the blessing Jesus spoke about to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” [John 20:29]. For only a people with genuine faith can rejoice in the Lord and His salvation in spite of their pressuring crucibles. Let us, therefore, be encouraged with these words from our Lord from Revelation in the last time, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” [Revelation 21:3-4].

Amen.

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