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Sermon April 30, 2017

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1300

April 30, 2017 1 Peter 1:13-25

Dr. Ed Pettus Isaiah 40:1-8

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

 

“Comfort My People”

 

 

God’s people have been exiled many times. On a large scale we consider Israel as a nation in the story of exile in the Old Testament. Israel was exiled as a price for their rebellion against God and their amnesia about God and His Word. In the New Testament, the exile is caused because of persecution, not punishment, but because those persecuting Christians hated Jesus. Peter writes his letters to a people in exile telling them how to live in exile.

Exile is normally defined as a people driven out of their country and homeland. We see it as a physical displacement. But exile can also be mental or emotional or spiritual. In that sense some have argued that the church in America has been in exile for some time. We have been displaced in ways that have confused us and caused us to struggle with our identity. Where do we fit in a changing culture? How do we live in what is a growing hostile environment?

Other times our exile is spiritual. We are in a dark place or a difficult time. We don’t know what to pray. We have no joy or comfort. Or something has disrupted our emotional state and we feel no love or hope. Exile can even be a physical injury that throws off our normal life. Exile can be experienced in many ways.

Today’s message is one of hope and comfort. God promises comfort, but let us be careful about our expectations of comfort. God promises comfort, but God does not promise comforts, as in comfort and conveniences like Americans want. God does not promise that we will always have comfortable homes and plenty of food and luxuries of the affluent life. But God promises comfort in our suffering, in our pain, in our exile, in our faith journey’s up and downs. It is God’s will that we be comforted. We are comforted so that we might comfort others.

 

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

 

Today we will look to how God comforts us beginning with the story of exile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Comfort for Exiles (Israel – Isaiah)

 

The opening word in Isaiah 40 is a command to comfort my people. How is that comfort to come? It is through the word. Verse 3 begins, “Speak tenderly...” Speak. Speak a word. “Cry to her...” Cry is a term that emphasizes the word expressed as an emotional plea. Cry out! Speak it loudly. Give it the emphasis it deserves. Verse 3, “A voice cries...” Verse 5, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken. Again in verse 6, a cry. The cry is first about preparing the way of the Lord so that His glory may be revealed. The second word is about the Word itself.

All flesh is grass, grass withers, people are grass. We will pass from this earth just as grass and flowers, but what remains forever is the word of the Lord. Everything is temporary except for God’s speech, God’s word, God’s law. When we look for things to comfort us, we look for things on which we can depend. In the end, the only thing that is dependable forever are the great and wonderful promises of God. God loves you. God will be with you. God delivers you. God redeems and saves and blesses and gives gifts and in all that and more, we have this comfort.

 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

 

God’s word is our comfort. I would imagine that all our words of love and hope, words of righteousness and grace, all the words that come from God’s love and hope that we utter to comfort one another are all capable of comforting. It is not just the words of the Bible, but the words of the Bible that have developed in us deep love and faith. God’s word creates in believers the gift of comfort.

On the flip side of this is the understanding that all the words of the world will fade like grass. Imagine how quickly the news stories fade from our memory – what was the lead story last Monday Night? What was the lead story a month ago, year, last night? Yes, we do remember major stories like 9/11, but these events and words are nothing for our comfort or salvation. Comfort is only found in the story of God’s salvation. We train ourselves to remember the stories of God for in them we do indeed find our comfort.

 

  • Comfort for Exiles (Christians – 1 Peter)

 

Let’s move from the Old Testament to the New. 1 Peter is a letter addressed to the diaspora, the dispersion. One translation called them aliens. These are Christians scattered across the Middle East due to the persecution for their faith. Peter is instructing these Christians on how to behave while in exile. Prepare your minds, be sober-minded, hope in grace, don’t fall back into non-believer ways, to name a few. Verse 17, conduct yourselves with fear (awe) throughout the time of your exile, with the knowledge that you were ransomed through the blood of Christ. That is, live remembering the gospel message, the word of good news and truth while in exile.

Verse 23 clears it up nicely – all is “through the living and abiding word of God.” Then Peter quotes Isaiah 40, All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” Then Peter adds, And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” Our ultimate comfort is in the gospel of Christ. This was the comfort that Peter offered to the exiles of the first century, the good news that was preached to them.

 

 

  • Comfort in the Word that Remains

 

    • Where Exiles find Comfort and Relief

God sends comfort by sending his word! He sent his word to Israel and sent his word to the Christians in the first century and today he sends his word to us in our time. In one sense we are always in exile because we are not home this side of heaven. Paul tells us that we are citizens of heaven and we know the Bible speaks of our time on this earth is just a breath. We are dust and to dust we shall return. While on this earth we are all exiles. We find our comfort in this life in God’s holy word. For centuries God’s people have been searching the scriptures to find comfort. We all have our favorites.

Psalm 23 has always been used in times of need to remind us that God leads us like a shepherd to restore our souls.

John 3:16 reminds us that God loves us.

John 14 shares the comfort of knowing that Jesus goes to prepare a place for us in heaven and that while we are on this earth he has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter.

You have your favorites and some may even have a list of passages to deal with various needs in life.

God’s word will always be the source for comforting exiles. It will always be. It will always be because it is the only word that remains forever.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Life in the Living Word (1 Peter 1:22-25)

 

22Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

 

Israel sought how to live in exile as did the early Christians. We have been searching as well, how we should live in our context and especially in recent decades when our national identity as a Christian nation has been under threat. Let’s look at four considerations for life in exile and how we may find comfort. Look with me in 1 Peter 1 beginning at verse 22.

 

 

 

 

    • Purity

The first is purity. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth… Our purity of soul is found in obedience to the word, the truth. This is the word that brings us comfort because we can know that God has purified us.

 

    • Love

The second is love. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart. Purity leads us to love, sincere, genuine love expressed among Christian brothers and sisters.

 

    • Born Again

Third is being born again. “...since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;” Notice again that the word of God is our comfort here because being born again is through the living and abiding word of God. Comfort is in salvation, redemption, and the grace of God .

 

    • Good News

The last word is the Good News. Verse 25 - And this word is the good news that was preached to you. Peter ends with the comfort we have, the gospel. The news that gives us comfort is complete in the gospel of Jesus Christ. God loves us. God saves us. God empowers us. God is with us. There is so much more in the gospel, in fact, everything that the Bible has to comfort us is summed up in the gospel.

 

Keep the word close. Pain and suffering and exile will find a way into our lives. Our comfort is in keeping the Word of God close to our hearts. With it comes the peace and the comfort that extends beyond our understanding. Amen.