The Whole Package

The Whole Package

Greetings and peace to you this night, in the name of
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: How wonderful it
is to be gathered together here in the Lord’s house this night, once again
celebrating in prayer and praise the blessed assurance that our Lord and Savior
has indeed passed from death into life. Jesus’ resurrection—following His
crucifixion, death, burial, and descent into hell—is a key element in our
Christian faith.

It’s so important that it has been placed in our
creeds, those essential, fundamental “I believe” statements of Christian truth.
We clearly and publicly confess these “credos” in order to eliminate any
ambiguity about what we believe. We did this just a short time ago in renewing
our baptismal vows.

John and Alexis, as they are confirmed this night and
brought into the fellowship of our congregation and those who share our beliefs,
join us in confessing this same faith, including our confidence in Jesus rising
from the dead.

I must admit to you tonight that it feels a little bit
unusual to be preaching a sermon to you before the Gospel lesson has been read.
I guess most of us are more used to the sermon following the reading of all the
lessons. But you know what? That’s quite all right, for several reasons. For
one thing, that Gospel lesson from St. Mark’s account a little bit later on
isn’t going to be any less meaningful or truthful just because it won’t be
followed by a sermon.

For another thing, as we all know, the proclamation of
the Gospel in our wonderful worship liturgies is never restricted to the Gospel
lesson and sermon alone is it?

Rather, from Invocation to Benediction, from the first
whisper of the prelude to the lingering echoes of the final hymn, the living
Word of God hovers in the air and pierces through the hard shell of our apathy
and skepticism to shake the very foundations of who we are. Where God’s Word
is, there God is, drawing us to Him, showing us His promises again and again,
sharing His gifts now and forever.

And, another reason it’s OK that we haven’t read the
Gospel lesson yet is… well, it’s kind of a selfish reason: I just happen to
think the reading from 1st Peter 3 that we just heard is pretty
cool. I also have to admit, however, that it took a few times reading through
it before I arrived at that conclusion. You see, even though I know full well
that it’s God’s inspired, inerrant Word, and there’s loads of wonderful content
in this reading, it seemed that the Holy Spirit had Peter bouncing off the
walls a bit, jumping from thought to thought, and topic to topic.

But the more you read this passage, the more you begin
to see the elegance and harmony and—yes, perfection—that is God’s Word. Far
from being random snippets that Peter jotted down as they popped into his head,
one after the other, there’s a beauty and flow to the text that becomes clearer
and clearer the more we contemplate it.

Initially, we hear Peter providing encouragement and
support to Christian believers as they face worldly trials and difficulties,
including, in this particular case, persecution for proclaiming the truth about
Christ. “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be God’s
will, than for doing evil,”
Peter writes.

Suffering that is the will of God? Being on the
receiving end of trouble, even when you’re doing good? That hardly seems fair
and just, does it? It isn’t something we find desirable and attractive. Yet
that is the experience of the Christian in this world, isn’t it?

We are fortunate to live in a society that largely
still allows us to practice our Christian faith—the only real good we can do,
if you think about it. For the most part, this happens without much
interference. Our nation may not be quite as hospitable to the free exercise
of religion as it once was, but we certainly don’t face the strength of
opposition and even severe persecution that other Christians have had to suffer
in other times (and in other places, even in our age).

But Peter helps us focus our attention on suffering of
a far more significant sort: The suffering of Christ Himself. Not the just
suffering that might come our way as consequences of being evil and
doing evil in our lives. Not the unjust suffering that we may
experience as victims of either intentional or random evil directed toward us
by the devil and the fallen world, sometimes even when we are doing God’s

No, Peter says, “Christ also suffered once for
sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.”
His suffering was not a
deserved consequence of His own actions. Nor was it a random victimization.
Jesus’ suffering was an intentional, purposeful suffering—a substitution of Him
for you.

And to what purpose? “That he might bring us to
Peter writes. Not a pointless suffering, not a suffering intended
to draw attention and pity upon Himself. It’s not even a suffering intended to
make others feel guilty about having caused it—although this contrition (and the
repentance it brings) is essential in our being drawn back to God by the Holy
Spirit. In the final analysis, the suffering and death of Jesus in that mortal
flesh which the immortal Son has taken upon Himself is what restored you to a
clean slate with God. Your criminal record was wiped off the books. Your soul
was pardoned in His execution.

But Peter doesn’t leave Jesus in the tomb, because God
didn’t leave Jesus there. The work of redemption was completed, the work of
salvation still to do. Jesus was truly dead in the flesh, having suffered an
unjust death for unrighteous sinners like us. Jesus had paid for your sins, so
that you didn’t have to. God took the punishment which you deserved and heaped
it on Jesus.

That alone was an infinitely loving, merciful act.
You were back on even, level ground with God. What a relief, to not have to eternally
suffer the punishment for all the wrongs you’ve accumulated in your life! That
wasn’t enough for God, though. He wants more of you. He doesn’t just want you
to be forgiven; He wants you to be His. He wants you with Him, forever.

And so, Jesus was brought back to life; made alive in
the spirit. That’s a hugely important event—any time a dead person comes back
to life, it goes against humanity’s understanding of mortality. It may appear
that Peter shortchanges this event, going off on a tangent, first bringing up
Jesus’ proclamation to disobedient, imprisoned spirits and then injecting a
discussion of God’s patience and acts of preserving human lives in the days of

But these are not random, idle thoughts at all.
Jesus’ having gone to the spirits in prison was nothing less than His declaration
to the spirit world what He had already spoken in the physical world: “It
is finished.”
It’s over, Satan. You have not won. You have no hold
on me in death, for I am no longer dead, but alive. What’s more, you have no
claim on those upon whom I bestow the faith to believe in my death and
resurrection, for I have paid their ransom. I release them not only from their
slavery to sin, but also from their bondage to death.

This is Jesus’ victory tour; it ought to lift our
hearts and make the words, “He descended into hell,” not a timid,
fearful, whispered statement, but a bold and joyous declaration that we are
free and are the Lord’s. The gates of hell which will not prevail against
Christ’s Church have already been knocked aside and shattered.

Likewise, the mention of Noah is not mere
happenstance, a nice way for Peter to connect early Christians to their Jewish
roots. Rather, he points out that Noah and his family were—like us—intentionally
chosen by the Lord to receive deliverance. At the command of God, water
cleansed God’s creation of unrepentant evil, and rescued the trusting from
death. As we heard tonight in the blessing of the font, Peter informs us that
the Flood was a type of baptism—a miraculous physical action that foreshadowed
the greater spiritual action yet to come.

Baptism, as Pastor Nuckols reminded us yesterday and
Peter describes here, is not a removal of our outward grime, but a cleansing of
the inner self. We often describe it as a drowning of our sinful nature, the
“Old Adam” as the catechism describes it.

But don’t stop there. Baptism is a means Christ has
given us to be connected to Him, in death and in life—dying to sin, and arising
anew. Buried with Him in death, of course, as Paul described it in our Romans
6 reading earlier. But also raising us up, floating us above the settling
sludge of our sins, sustaining us on the pure waters of God’s Word. Cleansed
by Christ’s appeal to God for our good conscience, we await our own
resurrections to the clouds of heaven. Upon them, our Lord and Savior will one
day return from His throne of power at the right hand of the Father.

The resurrection of our Lord is proof that our loving
heavenly Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son to atone for the sins of
the whole world, yours and mine included. What a joy to know that we need not
worry whether we’ve done enough to be saved, or whether Jesus did enough to
save us.

The resurrection of Jesus provides us with complete
confidence that He did everything—all that was necessary—to
redeem our bodies and souls. That He might bring us to God.

Welcome back, dear Jesus, our victorious Lord and

Welcome home, dear Christian, precious child of God.