Midweek Lent 1
1 Peter 1:15–17
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
Our Father in heaven is calling us home. But what does that mean for our life as we make our journey toward eternity? The obvious answer is that God is calling us to repentance. That’s the obvious answer, and it’s true. But sometimes we have too small view of what repentance is. That is, there is a tendency to view repentance as something we do in penitential seasons. But doing this kind of repentance is not what the Father calls us to. As Luther stated in the first of his 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt 4:17), he willed that the entire life believers to be one of repentance” (Luther’s Works, Vol 31, 25). Or as Peter says, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet 1:15–17).
For as wonderful as life in this world can sometimes be, we’re still sojourners here, in exile from our true home. And when in exile, there are dangers and deceptions all around. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). And one temptation is simply going through the motions of doing repentance outwardly without a real change of heart. Our Lord warns of this when He said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is for from me” (Matt 15:8; Is 29:13). For our holy Father in heaven is calling us to Him in true holiness.
“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Holiness describes the inmost nature of God, His transcendent perfection. “Holy, holy, holy,” sang the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly throne room even as we sing it in every Lord’s day in the Sanctus as the holy God appears to us in His body and blood. But how often is it the case that we let those words roll of our tongues without considering that the holy God is present among us in the flesh? How often is it the case that we forget what the song of the holy angels in God’s heavenly throne room produced in Isaiah who beheld it? He fell to his knees and said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Is 6:5). It produced fear. For God’s holiness, His transcendent being is so great that it produces an emotional reaction that should seize our whole being. And that reaction to God’s incomprehensible being is fear, fear caused by the holiness of God because we are not holy. As the Small Catechism teaches us in the close of the Commandments, “What does God say about all these commandments? He says, ‘I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me . . .’ What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them” (Small Catechism, 14).
We learned not just to fear. We learned to fear and love and trust in God. For “He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.” So there is more to this fear. It is not just slavish fear. It is more than cowering fear. This fear of God is also an awe, what we call reverence, because the Holy One comes to us and teaches us to call upon Him as Father. Our text states, “If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” This fear is not just that we will come before God at our last breath.
And as true as that is, it is not the fear of punishment, which we indeed deserve, that fills us with reverence. It is rather that this holy God, our Father in heaven, is not against us, but for us. Our Father is calling us home. We are making our journey to Him, even as He is already coming to greet us, like the father of the prodigal son running out to him while he was still far off. He comes to us while we are still on the way, coming to us in His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, to lead us home. And the fear of God that fixes our eyes on Jesus, leads us to love and trust in God as our Father, who declares us to be holy for the sake of His Son’s death and resurrection. You are holy because God in Christ has shared His holiness with you, by His Word and His Sacraments.
“Be holy, even as I am holy.” To be holy is to belong to God, who calls us holy for His Son’s sake. It is to have your heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh by the creator of all things. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:19). Though your sins are like scarlet, He has made you whiter than snow (Is 1:18; Ps 51:7). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for our sins to reconcile us to the Father (Rom 5:6–10). Despite the darkness of your hearts, God has given you a clean and pure heart. To have a pure heart is to have “one that is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its own ideas with the Word of God.” This alone is pure before God. It is purity itself, which purifies everything that it touches, for God’s Word conveys the Holy Spirit and gives life (John 6:63).
“Be holy, even as I am holy.” More than a command, but now also a promise from our heavenly Father who cannot lie. His Word brings about what it says. We are holy because He has declared us to be holy. For He shares His holiness with us. And it consists in this, that Jesus, the Holy One of God, was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification (Rom 4:24–25). And God our Father in heaven declares us holy on account of this. He is making us holy through the proclamation of His holy Word and the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s holy body and blood. You are holy because you are in Christ by the declaration of God the Father. Therefore, we live as those who have been hallowed by the blood of Jesus, and are holy in all our conduct. For God is calling us home to live with Him in everlasting innocence, righteousness, and holiness. Amen.