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Easter 4, “Live as Aliens and Strangers”

Pastor Gary Wong, April 25, 2021

1 Peter 2:11-20

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and temporary residents in the world, to abstain from the desires of the sinful flesh, which war against your soul. 12 Live an honorable life among the Gentiles so that even though they slander you as evildoers, when they observe your noble deeds, they may glorify God on the day he visits us. 13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the king as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those who have been sent by him to punish those who do what is wrong and to praise those who do what is right. 15 For this is God’s will: that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Do this as free people, and do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but use it as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. 18 Slaves, submit to your masters with total respect, not only to those who are good and kind but also to those who are harsh. 19 For this is favorable: if a person endures sorrows while suffering unjustly because he is conscious of God. 20 For what credit is it to you if you receive a beating for sinning and patiently endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is favorable with 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 was born. My dad was born in China. But his parents knew that he would have the opportunity for a better life in America. So, 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, corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day; and he enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey and mashed potatoes (although he insisted on having rice along with the stuffing and sweet potatoes). 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 empowers us to glorify God in all that we do. So, let’s strive to live God pleasing lives on earth in view of our glorious future in heaven.

In his first letter to the Christians living in what is now modern-day Turkey, Peter gives us several practical suggestions as to how we can 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. 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 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 that 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 our relationship with others, and most importantly, our Savior. Peter puts it very bluntly: our sinful desires are “warring against our souls.” The number one enemy who is leading the charge is the devil. What’s more, it is clear that Satan won’t be satisfied until he has dragged us down to the depths of hell.

So, how can we follow Peter’s encouragement to abstain from sinful desires? Some have tried by fleeing from this world. They try to isolate themselves by being hermits or living in monasteries. Yet, those who try to live that kind of life 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’ll never have 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 the 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 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 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 and then gave up his life 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. 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. Even with advances in medicine, our years on earth have perhaps only been extended another decade and, at most, a handful of years beyond the century mark. Eventually, we 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, 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 do not consider their current residence to be 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. Now, 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 don’t want to do anything that will hurt ourselves or others or hurt our relationship with our Savior. We certainly don’t 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, 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). So, 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 is not 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 think that we are better or smarter than the person who has authority over us. For instance, Peter urges us to “submit to every authority instituted among men” which includes kings and governors. Now, America does not have a king; but we have a president, governors, legislators, judges, police officers, and a plethora of government officials to whom Peter says we must 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. At best, we only grudgingly obey them.

Peter dismisses that attitude as contrary to God’s will, pointing out that God is the one who sends these 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). Now, some might say that neither Peter nor Paul had to deal with the kind of leadership we currently have. 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 Nero’s God-given authority, and eventually lost their lives. More than Peter or Paul, we have the best example of submitting to the governing authorities in our Savior. Jesus was accused of leading a revolt against the emperor and telling the people not to pay their taxes. Yet Jesus 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?

Submission is one of the greatest of 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). Now, 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.

Friends, life on this earth can be tough. If you’re feeling beat up and worn out, it’s because we are in a fight for our lives. The devil, the world and our sinful natures are warring against our souls. While it isn’t 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 future glory in the next life. Let’s 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 murmur not; Heav’n is my home.

What e’er my earthly lot; 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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