05.04.14 At the Heart of It 1 Peter 1:17-23 Sermon Summary
How often has God’s Word “cut you to the heart”? How would you know, and what would you do?
- Peter’s instruction on how to respond to God’s Word
- The heart of the matter: new life in Christ
- A personal testimony from Psalm 116
- Why worship together is necessary for the new life in Christ
- Questions for discussion and reflection
The heart is a frequent metaphor in the Bible. It breaks, burns, hardens, loves, and metamorphoses from stone to flesh. The Word of God can also cut to the heart, which is what happened upon Peter’s preaching in Acts 2. When this happened, the people didn’t know what to do, so Peter had to tell them: “Repent, be baptized in Jesus’ name for God’s forgiveness, and receive the Holy Spirit.”
“Repent” isn’t a popular word in preaching these days because it is so often accompanied by a large dose of self-righteousness. But the concept is actually pretty easy. Repentance is simply choosing to live in a new way. In Christian theology, repentance is choosing to live according to the love of God.
“Baptism” is the way we mark that choice. The baptism liturgy says we “join Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.” Christ lived according to the love of God, and when we repent—choose—to do so also, baptism marks this choice.
Baptism is also the sacrament of “forgiveness of sins” because we are baptized into Jesus’ death. His death was the result of sin, but his death was also the death of sin. Paul taught that when we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into his death, and so we too are dead to sin (see Romans 6-8). Sin no longer has ultimate power over us. To borrow language from above, in Christ we have a new heart and a new direction for life.
Finally Peter tells us to “receive the Holy Spirit.” The vacuum left by sin’s death is filled by the Holy Spirit’s life. Paul says since we are no longer slaves to sin, we are led by the Spirit. Since we have died with Christ in baptism, we are also raised with Christ into newness of life. This life is governed by the Holy Spirit, which we receive when God’s Word cuts us to the heart.
Being “cut to the heart,” in other words, gets us to the heart of the matter. It is new life in Jesus Christ. It is a life of “love of God and love of neighbor” (the Greatest Commandment according to Jesus), and a life of “service in love” (the New Commandment given by Jesus at the Last Supper). Or in the words of 1 Peter, “Since your faith and hope are set on God, love one another from the heart, for you have been born anew.” In John 3, Jesus describes this as being “born of the Spirit” or being “born from above.” This is the heart of the matter; Jesus gives us new life.
First Peter tells us that this heart of the matter has been destined “from the foundation of the world” but only “revealed at the end of the ages” in Christ. Christianity sees the death-resurrection, old life-new life plot line throughout the Bible. This is why, for example, 1 Peter refers to “the precious blood of Jesus, a lamb without defect or blemish.” It is an allusion to the Passover Lamb, a sacrament of God’s providence, protection, and deliverance.
This plot line consists of “standing back up” (the literal definition of “resurrection” in the Greek), of second chances, and ultimately of hope. It is the plot line of unjust suffering redeemed, of injustices made right, of light appearing in darkness, of life arising out of death.
The author of Psalm 116 offers a personal testimony. He testifies of a time when, “The snares of death encompassed me and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: ‘O LORD, I pray, save my life!’”
Eventually, the psalmist does experience God’s deliverance, so he asks, “What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?” Psalm 116 offers three answers.
First, he “lifts the cup of salvation and offers a thanksgiving sacrifice.” Thanksgiving (“Eucharist” in the Greek) is the response we have when we remember God’s gifts. This is what we do at the Communion Table each week. We thank God that we were created out of nothing, that God recreated us when we made ourselves nothing, that when we were lost, God came to find us, that in the valley of the shadow of death, the Shepherd comes with light and life. We remember these things, we give thanks, we do “eucharist,” we lift the cup of salvation.
Second, Psalm 116 instructs us to “call upon the name of the LORD.” Having just remembered God’s faithfulness in the past, we have hope for the future and the present. Here we think of those things which we will include in our thanksgiving someday. We ask for God’s help in our own lives, in the lives of others, and for the world. When our words are not enough, we borrow words from scripture, song, and the prayers of others. If those words still fail, God has provided Christ himself to intercede for us through the Spirit with utterances that are beyond words.
The last thing Psalm 116 tells us is to fulfill our vows. In terms of Christianity, we return to repentance and baptism. In the baptism liturgy we renounce evil in the world, entrust our lives to Jesus Christ, and promise to live as Christ’s disciples. We do this, “in the presence of God’s people,” highlighting the importance of corporate worship.
Peter’s sermon cut to the heart of the matter. Today, it’s not just sermons, but our whole worship together that creates the place where God’s Word cuts to the heart. This is the great insight of the passage describing the disciples’ journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back. On our journey, God’s Word comes to us through Christ, through scripture interpreted around his death and resurrection, and through the breaking of bread and the lifting of cup. It is in our corporate worship, characterized by these activities, that God’s Word comes to us, cuts us to the heart, and leads us to the heart of the matter, which is to live and to love out of the resurrected life of Christ.
Questions for discussion and reflection
- Have you ever had a “cut to the heart” encounter with the Word of God in worship? How would you describe what happened? What was your response?
- Baptism and the forgiveness of sins are once in a lifetime events (since they are derivatives of the one lifetime of Jesus). But repentance and receiving the Holy Spirit are lifelong activities. How does your attendance and activity in corporate worship demonstrate these realities?
- What would you add to the statement that the heart of the matter is to live and to love out of the resurrected life of Christ?
- What are some of the things for which you “offer a thanksgiving sacrifice”? What are some things you pray that someday you will offer thanks? How are you fulfilling your baptismal vows today?
- As you think about the importance of corporate worship, how might you prepare yourself to get the most from it? What suggestions can you make to your church to help worship fulfill it’s purpose of proclaiming God’s Word?