1st Peter 2. 19-25
Before anything else, we must see Jesus as a gift!
For the last three Wednesday, we’ve been carrying out – I guess you could call it – an experiment. Instead of doing the evening study the way we’ve always done it. In person. Face-to-face. Elbow-to-elbow. We’ve livestreamed it, right here on Facebook! Just me, a whiteboard, and a cup of coffee. Well, Sherice and Jonathan have been there, too! And to say the least, it’s been challenging! Until now, I never realized how personal teaching was. How important body language and facial expressions are. Instead, just a phone perched on top of a tripod. But we’ve been at it for almost a month, now.
Slow and steady, we’ve been working our way through one of Luther’s early writings. A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels. It’s a short piece and serves as a preface to a collection of sermons the good doctor wrote while at the Wartburg … after his Here-I-Stand moment in Wörms. But it’s, also, a good preface for the entire reformation that followed. A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels. If you’re interested in taking a look, it’s posted in three parts – so far – on our congregation’s Facebook page.
Anyway, this past Wednesday, the focus was on paragraphs six and seven. In them, Luther cites one verse in today’s passage from 1st Peter. 1st Peter, chapter 2, verse 21. “… Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example ….” “… Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example ….” But instead of encouraging us to follow that example like we look for … instead of urging us to try harder to do better like we expect … Luther cautions us. He warns us. “This,” Luther writes, “this is the smallest part of the gospel, on the basis of which it cannot yet even be called gospel …. In short, [understanding Christ as simply an example] does not make Christians but only hypocrites.” Understanding Christ just as an example doesn’t make Christians; it makes only hypocrites! Like I said, last week, Luther never pulls punches. Jesus – as an example – doesn’t make Christians! Jesus – as an example – makes only hypocrites! Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.
That’s why Luther was declared a heretic. That’s the reason he was thrown out of the church. That’s the why he was condemned as an enemy of the state. And that’s why he spent a year exiled at the Wartburg. He taught and preached and believed that god loves us. Period. End of sentence. God loves us, simply, because god loves us. That’s the kind of god we have! The kind of god that has us! When “Peter” says, “… Christ left us an example, so we should follow,” Luther says, “No! No, he didn’t!” Christ suffered to save us! Christ suffered to redeemed us! Christ suffered so we might be delivered! Christ suffered so we might be born again! So that we might rise to a new life! “The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own.” Not example, but gift! Unearned! Undeserved!
You’ve heard the sermons. Seen the bracelets. Embossed with those four letters … WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? It’s funny. Ironic, actually. If we could do that … If we could do what Jesus would, we’d never have needed him! If we could, really, truly, do what he did, Jesus would never have needed to come, in the first place! You see, Jesus isn’t an example. Jesus is a savior! A gift! Given out of the goodness of god’s own heart! And unfortunately, only a people who need saved, only a people who can’t save themselves, need a savior. That’s why we start worship with confession and forgiveness. It’s not because we’ve done anything particularly sinful since the last time we were together. It’s not because we feel guilty about anything that might have happened, last night. And frankly, it’s not because we need forgiven. We confess in order to be reminded that we don’t and we won’t and we can’t! No matter how hard we try! No matter how badly we want to! We confess to be reminded we need a saving. “We confess that we are captive – that we are in bondage – to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
That’s why Jesus! That’s why the suffering! That’s why the cr4oss! Not to provide us with an example! Not to push us, to prod us! But to set us free! Set us free from sin! Set us free from death! Set us free from the devil! Set us free from everyone and everything that holds us back and holds us down! Maybe, more importantly, set us free, even, from ourselves! And understanding Christ as an example doesn’t do that! Understanding Christ as an example can’t do that! It doesn’t make us Christians; it only makes us hypocrites. Believers full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing … signifying absolutely nothing … No. Before you take Christ as an example, the scales have to fall from your eyes and you must see him for the gift he is!
It’s not the example; it’s the love! It’s always the love! That’s why Christ came! To love us, as the song goes, that we might lovely be! To love us, that we loving become! And it’s all god’s doing! Start to finish! Beginning to end! The gospel is more than just another fable. Like the tortoise and the hare! Like the lion and the mouse! There’s more than a moral to apply to our life. More than a principle, a truth, for us to put into practice. Gospel is promise! And gospel is proclamation! Promise and proclamation that sets us free! “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you!” In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to give you life!
Christ suffered, leaving us nothing more than an example? Christ suffered, leaving us nothing more than footsteps? My friends, know this … Christ suffered and left us more – much more – than that!