Communion Sunday

…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. —1 Peter 1:18-19

Peter wrote this about thirty years after Christ. Some of us remember thirty years ago, 1980, as if it were yesterday. In that same span of time during the first century, the early Christians had already settled the question in their world. The pagan temples would become Christian churches. The flag of Christ’s kingdom would fly from the palace of the Caesars. The young Christians proved that the gospel is unstoppable.

But not because Christianity was greeted with open arms. People sneered at the gospel as a novel invention: “If you Christians have the absolute truth, why didn’t anybody see it before? You came up with it thirty years ago?” The gospel was foolishness to the intellectuals: “You Christians are saying that a criminal on a cross, the lowest of the low – you’re telling us that he is the secret to life?” The gospel offended the moralists: “You Christians are saying that a rejected rabbi is greater than Moses?” The Christians had to live down rumors that they worshiped in orgies. They had to live down the stigma of no longer attending the gladiatorial games, no longer joining in the pagan temple rites which were so much a part of their culture. The Christians seemed so different from everybody else that they were called a third race, alongside the Romans and the Jews. But this young movement grew and grew. Why? Because it was different. Not uppity. Not superior. Not aloof. But nobody was looking at the Christians and thinking, “Oh yeah, what they believe – that’s what I believe too.” Becoming a Christian meant leaving the old life behind with no regrets and entering into a newness of life the ancient world couldn’t access through their religions or their orgies.

God is retelling that story today. God is reviving the power of the gospel today, as more and more people believe the good news. God is doing that here in the south. God is doing it in Nashville. It’s not because of us. We need it as much as anyone else does. So, what is it that gives ordinary people like us prophetic impact in our time, like those early Christians so long ago?

…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. —1 Peter 1:18-19

Let’s think it through, step by step. “Knowing . . . .” Peter is signaling that what follows is not a minor point of opinion. What follows is a clear conviction. Peter doesn’t argue for it; he assumes it. It isn’t one denomination’s “take” on Christianity. It’s common ground among all true Christians. It’s the greatest thing we know and the only thing that changes us. What is that?

“Knowing that you were ransomed . . . .” It could also be translated “redeemed” or “rescued” or “set free.” We didn’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We couldn’t. We were too deeply embedded in our culture. We were captive to, enthralled by, our culture. We couldn’t even see outside it. Culture is not what we see; culture is what we see with. And how can we see ourselves and our surroundings in a new way without the help of God? Peter calls it a ransom, a rescue, a liberation from beyond this world. Only God could do it. And he did. Something has happened to us that came from outside ourselves, outside our culture and all its wisdom and therapies and strategies. And the whole point of the word “ransomed” is that it wasn’t easy even for God to do this. He had to pay a price.

“Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers . . . .” Peter is talking about a way of life that has time on its side, widely accepted values, priorities that go unquestioned by most people. Peter is saying, “Jesus did not save you from just a problem over here and a mistaken idea over there. He saved you from a whole way of life that is passing away for a whole new life that will still matter a billion years from today. He doesn’t enhance your old way of life; he replaces your old way of life with something better.” Bible Belt religion cannot save us from the futile ways we have inherited. Bible Belt religion is a part of that futility. It is a moralistic glaze poured over that futility, adding a flavor of authority. But it only condemns us and makes us feel more guilty and more anxious and more hidden under an appearance of okayness. Our well-established, long-standing religious tradition cannot release us into a life completely new. We need a fresh touch from God.

“Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold . . . .” See the word “perishable”? What is that word helping us to see? That everything man-made, however valuable, has an expiration date on it. When we shop for groceries, we pay attention to the expiration dates. We don’t buy things that are about to go stale. But here’s what our culture will never tell us: Nothing man-made lasts. It doesn’t matter how much we pay for it. It doesn’t matter how brightly it glitters. Everything man-made will let us down.

Our culture has a lot of good in it. We should be thankful. But underneath everything good, there is a weakness. What is our culture? It is our heroic, brilliant, impressive attempt to prove that we matter. That is what we have built our culture for – to prove ourselves, to justify our existence, to save us from the nothingness we feel within. There’s an invisible banner draped across our world of human genius: “How to be happy and significant.” But is it working?

Earlier this year the Journal of Social Sciences published a study that found that “the amount of time spent being happy has dropped to an all-time low of 13 nonconsecutive seconds per day. ‘According to our data, the average American experiences a 0.8-second window of happiness upon awakening, before remembering that they are conscious beings in a relentlessly bleak and numbing world,’ said Dr. Derek Moore, lead author of the paper. ‘Other periods of happiness include 1.9 seconds after a good meal, 0.6 seconds upon receiving a paycheck,’ and so forth. Researchers also recorded the smallest period of contentment yet, a 3.7-millisecond interval preceding the realization that the happiness one was experiencing could not possibly last.” How they quantified those spikes of happiness seems dubious to me. But is our city overflowing with a satisfaction, a settledness, a peace that nothing in this whole world can destroy? That’s what God gives. And it cost him the death of his Son.

The gospel addresses us at the level of our deepest yearnings. God has so much more for us than we can get out of the games our culture teaches us to play. Seeing that and reaching out by faith for what only God can give – that is Christian conversion. Conversion is not adding Jesus to our lifestyle; conversion is giving up our lifestyle to gain Christ. But that’s not us paying some heroic price. We don’t sacrifice a thing. Jesus is the one who paid the price for us.

“Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” God did not buy you cheap. If there had been an easier way to set you free from the blindness of your culture, God would have found it. There was only one way – a sacrifice on a cross, a perfect Lamb slaughtered for you. The word “precious” here in verse 19 is not a sentimental word. It’s “precious” as in “precious metals.” You see Peter’s comparison with silver and gold. If you’re a Christian, God is giving you the best salvation he can afford.

What is the dying love of Christ worth? One, the dying love of Christ frees us from the law. The law of God and the law of our culture both demand that we perform: “Do this, and live. Make an impression, and then you will matter. Succeed, or else.” But Christ died for failures. So we failures don’t fear the law any more. Its accusations all went onto Christ at the cross. He absorbed them into himself and gave us acceptance. If you are in Christ, God is pleased with you right now, as you are, because of Christ.

Two, the dying love of Christ brings us near to God. Jesus atoned for us at the cross. The Bible says, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Think about that word “atone” – at + one. Jesus makes us at one with God. So many times we’ve tried to do the right thing, hoping, “Maybe now God will pay attention to me.” It has never brought us freedom of heart. But Jesus, by his death, brought us in. Would you like to be near to God? Stop trying to make an impression, look to Jesus on his cross and say to him, “You have removed the barrier of my sin.”

Three, the dying love of Jesus cleanses us. The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). All our culture at its best, all our achievements, cannot make the past go away. And as long as our sins are there, lodged so firmly in our conscience and so glaring in the sight of God, we cannot have joy beyond fleeting moments of escapism. We must become clean again. Only God can say to us, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). And he does. No matter what the sin is, God through Christ makes us clean in his sight. And if in his sight, then in our own sight too. The Bible describes believers like this: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). Jesus washes sinners clean again, beautiful again, never again to be dirty in his sight.

Can all this be yours today? Can you leave church today with an unaccused life before God, the nearness of God, being made clean from the past? Yes. Look by faith to Jesus, the Lamb slain for you. Say to him, “I am the sinful one. You are the forgiving one. I turn from my futility, and I turn to your love. I receive you now with the empty hands of faith.” Will you receive Christ right now?