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Easter 4, “Live as Aliens and Strangers”

Pastor Gary Wong May 3, 2020

1 Peter 2:11-20

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. 18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

My dad was an alien. No, he wasn’t a monster from outer space! My dad was an alien in that he lived his life in a country different from the one in which he had been born. My dad was born in China. But his parents knew that he would have the opportunity for a better life in America. So, at the age of thirteen, my dad boarded a ship and left behind everything that he knew and began a new life in a place that was unfamiliar and strange. My dad was up to the challenge. He learned the language, laws and culture of his adopted country. He embraced America’s values and traditions. He had hamburgers and potato salad on July Fourth; he ate corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day; he enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving feast of roast turkey and mashed potatoes (although he insisted on having rice along with the stuffing and yams). One of his proudest moments was when his status changed from being a resident alien to a naturalized citizen. In today’s lesson, St. Peter shares divinely inspired wisdom as to how we are to live our lives. Peter encourages us to live as aliens and strangers. The gospel motivates and empowers us to glorify God in this life. We strive to live God - pleasing lives here on earth in view of our glorious future in heaven.

Peter gives us several practical suggestions as to how we can carry out his encouragement to live God-pleasing lives. First, Peter urges us to “abstain from sinful desires” (v.11). Now, that seems pretty obvious; but how easy is it to do? While we may be fooled into thinking “Piece of cake; I can do that” Peter says, “Think again.” The Greek helps us understand how hard it is to avoid sin. The word used for abstain has the meaning of “constantly holding oneself back from something.” In other words, abstaining from sinful desires is like trying to keep two powerful magnets apart or avoiding being sucked up by a turbocharged vacuum cleaner. In other words, we have to use every ounce of our strength and willpower to keep ourselves out of the clutches of sin.

It’s a constant battle because temptations to sin are everywhere. We are bombarded with ads that say, “Buy it. Eat it. Drive it. Play with it. You deserve it.” Internet sites entice us to look at things we know are wrong. Society says, “It’s your body and your life; nobody can tell you what to do. You’re not hurting anyone. Besides, everyone else is doing it.” Yet, the more time we spend gratifying our sinful desires, the more we hurt ourselves, our relationship with others, and most importantly, our relationship with God. Peter puts it very bluntly: our sinful desires are “warring against our souls.” The Number One enemy who is leading the charge against us is the devil. What’s more, it is clear that Satan won’t be satisfied until he has dragged all of us down into the depths of hell.

So, how can we follow Peter’s encouragement to keep away from sinful desires? Some have tried by fleeing from this world. They try to isolate themselves, living as hermits or hiding behind the walls of a monastery or nunnery. Yet, those who try to live that kind of life soon find out that they cannot run from the sinful desires that come from their own hearts. It’s like living in Minnesota thinking that we can avoid snow in the winter or mosquitoes in the summer. Since we have no choice other than to live in this world, our challenge is to keep this sinful world from corrupting us. Peter describes a way that we can do that. His encouragement starts with an attitude adjustment. The Apostle encourages us to live as “aliens and strangers” in this world.

In this same letter, Peter declares that we are “a chosen people belonging to God …who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt. 2:9). He reminds us that while we had been born spiritually blind, enemies of God, and dead in our trespasses and sins, God brought about a miraculous transformation. He chose us, lost and condemned creatures, to be his own. We didn’t earn or deserve this change in status. God simply did it because of his love. He made us members of his family through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus redeemed us from sin, death and the devil by becoming one of us. Jesus willingly left his home to live in our world and to wage war against the devil. He faced countless temptations yet resisted every single one of them. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place and then gave up his life on the cross to pay for our sins. He redeemed us, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood.

As a result, we no longer belong to the devil. We belong to the Lord. Because of our baptisms, our citizenship is now in heaven. Peter’s encouragement to live as aliens and strangers is a call for us to take the long view. In other words, the time that we spend on this earth is limited. Moses tells us that the length of our days is seventy years or eighty, if God gives us the strength. But even with advances in medicine, people are living into their nineties, or, at most, a handful of years beyond the century mark. Eventually, all of us will die and depart this earth. Therefore, we, as the writer to the Hebrews says, should consider ourselves as pilgrims on a journey. Like Abraham, who left his homeland in search of the Promised Land, we are looking forward to and “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16).

Peter urges us to live as resident aliens who live and work in their adopted country but know that their current residence isn’t their permanent home. As aliens and strangers, we don’t want to tightly hold on to life in this world because we are just passing through it. Peter urges us to look beyond this life and look forward to our glorious future in heaven. Taking the long view changes the way we go about making our journey through this world. Jesus, Peter, and the rest of Scripture warn us that our journey is not an easy one. It is full of potholes and pitfalls, slippery slopes, detours and dead ends. We do not want to go down a path that will hurt our souls, our neighbors, or our relationship with our Savior. We do not want to do anything that might cause us to lose our heavenly inheritance or prevent others from knowing their Savior and becoming heirs of eternal life.

Yet, even as we look forward to future glory in heaven, how can we glorify God with our lives here on earth? Peter says, “Live such good lives among [unbelievers] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves to every authority” (vv.12-13). How do we live good lives? What does that look like? Peter sums it up in one word: submit. Like abstaining from sinful desires, submitting to someone else isn’t easy to do. It goes against the grain of our sinful natures. By nature, we don’t like someone telling us what to do, especially if we consider that we are better or smarter than the person who has authority over us. Yet, Peter urges us to “submit to every authority instituted among men” including “kings and governors.” Now, America doesn’t have a king; but we do have a president, governors, mayors, judges and a plethora of government officials to whom Peter says we are to submit. But as we see some of these leaders involved in scandals or making decisions with which we do not agree, we are tempted to disrespect and dishonor them. Sadly, at times, we only grudgingly obey them.

Peter dismisses that attitude as contrary to God’s will, pointing out that God is the one who gives us our leaders “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (v.14). St. Paul reiterates that principle in his letters to the Romans when he declares, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Rom. 13:1). Some might say that neither Peter nor Paul had to deal with the incompetent leadership we have today. History tells us a different story. Both of these apostles were under the authority of Nero, one of the most despicable despots the world has ever known. Yet, they submitted to the emperor’s God-given authority. Eventually, they died at Nero’s hand. Even more than Peter or Paul, we have the best example of submitting to the governing authorities: we have Jesus. Jesus had been accused of leading a revolt against the emperor and telling the people not to pay their taxes. Yet, Jesus, pointing to a coin that had the emperor’s image, told his followers to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Mt. 21:21). Since Jesus himself submitted to the authorities, how can we not follow his example?

You know, submission is one of the greatest Christian virtues. As we put down our sinful pride and humbly submit to the authorities whom God has placed over us, we glorify God. Another thing that often happens is that people notice, especially non-Christians. They may wonder why we aren’t joining in running down politicians. They notice when we show support for leaders, take the time to be informed about the issues and candidates and then vote. They see and appreciate our efforts as we get involved in our community. As we submit to the authorities in a God-pleasing way, we attract people to our Savior and we glorify God. Peter points out another way that we can attract people to Jesus. He says, “Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect” (v.18). Peter was speaking at a time when slaves and masters were facts of life. Today, we would apply Peter’s words to how a worker deals with his boss. Peter is saying that we are to submit to our bosses, even those who act like dictators. Anyone can work for a kind boss; Christians will cheerfully work for a mean one. (As an aside, Christian workers today are not slaves. If we can’t find a way to work under our boss, we can quit. But if we choose to work at that job, God’s Word tells us that we are to show honor and respect to our employer.)

Friends, life on this earth can be tough. If you are feeling beaten up and worn out, you are not alone. We are in a fight for our lives. The devil, the world and our sinful natures are warring against our souls. While it is not easy to abstain from sinful desires and submit to those who are in authority over us, Peter urges us to live godly lives for the Lord’s sake. Motivated and empowered by the gospel, we glorify God in this life even as we look forward to a glorious future guaranteed to us through faith in Christ. Let us live as aliens and strangers until the day the Lord takes us to everlasting glory in heaven. Amen.

“I’m But a Stranger Here” (CW 417)

Text: Thomas R. Taylor, 1807-35

I’m but a stranger here; Heav’n is my home.

Earth is a desert drear; Heav’n is my home.

Danger and sorrow stand Round me on ev’ry hand.

Heav’n is my fatherland; Heav’n is my home.

What though the tempest rage, Heav’n is my home.

Short is my pilgrimage; Heav’n is my home.

And time’s wild wintry blast Soon shall be over past;

I shall reach home at last; Heav’n is my home.

There at my Savior’s side-- Heav’n is my home.

I shall be glorified; Heav’n is my home.

There are the good and blest, Those I love most and best,

And there I, too shall rest; Heav’n is my home.

Therefore I murur not; Heav’n is my home.

Whate’er my earthly lot, Heav’n is my home. Heav’n is my home.

And I shall surely stand There at my Lord’s right hand.

Heav’n is my fatherland; Heav’n is my home.

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