We could make a long list of “it used to bes.” It used to be that business closed at noon on Good Friday so you could go to church or perhaps take the afternoon to contemplate our Lord’s death before a church service at night. It used to be that businesses didn’t open on Sunday in order to give employees some family time and, yes, let them attend church. It used to be that the pastor was once one of the most educated people in a community. He received some privileges among businesses, and even in the public school. To this day I am asked each year to help choose scholarship winners at Momence High School.
It used to be that everyone in town had a church. They actually went to that church. Children attended Sunday School. Oh, sure, some parents dropped off and picked up their children rather than attend a Bible Study, but at least the children were there. It used to be that you knew where your friends went to church because nearly all of them went to church.
When it comes to the Christian faith, there are a lot of “it used to bes.” Many of them are now history. So it goes. Yet the Christian faith remains in our country even among churches once large but now small. What we notice among the fewer numbers is the greater hostility toward Christians. Granted the hostility isn’t overt and doesn’t involve shedding blood. Still, the world reward God’s charity and a Christian’s love with ingratitude. Here’s one more: it used to be that unbelievers had a grasp on what a Christian believed. You can’t assume that anymore. Many people misunderstand what the Christian faith confesses. Even Christians misunderstand their own confession of faith.
What does Jesus have to say about it all? They will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. I have said these things to you that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. These things Jesus is talking about with His disciples are more than shops closing on Sunday and pastors being respected in the community. He’s talking about two things much worse: martyrdom and being kicked out of the synagogue.
For a Jew, being kicked out of a synagogue means you have all but lost your identity as one of God’s chosen people. Parents, as it were, have no son. Siblings have no brother or sister. You are an outcast, worse than a leper. All this will be done to you because you confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus also mentions dying for the faith. Those who kill you actually think they worship God when killing you.
Some perhaps lose family and friends when they practice the Christian faith, or perhaps even when they leave one particular fellowship and join another. We’re blessed in our country not to have to face being killed by fellow Christians and have it considered a form of worship. Yet these things do happen elsewhere in the world and elsewhere in history.
So much for us being mad about losing little privileges in our country. Yet we panic every time we see what we think is the fabric of our life being unraveled in front of us. We hit the panic button. We think the Gospel of free grace for Christ’s sake for sinners will make others want to go rob a bank or change their sex. So let’s double down on preaching good behavior. Pretty soon the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes “try harder, do better, don’t do this, better do that, or you aren’t a Christian.” The it is finished of Jesus on the cross becomes a “well, not really, until…” in our hands.
Jesus sets a roadblock on our march to the panic button. The roadblock is the coming of the Helper, Whom He sends to us from the Father, the Spirit of truth. The Helper bears witness about Jesus. His witness is true. What is the witness of the Spirit? The water and the blood flowing from the side of Jesus. The words from the mouth of Jesus in His teaching. Where Spirit, water, and blood are, there is Jesus, forgiving sin and giving life to the dead.
That’s what Saint Peter is writing about in today’s Epistle: be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Do. Not. Panic. Your suffering, though perhaps not what others are suffering for Christ elsewhere, is bound up with the suffering of Jesus for your sake. When our Lord suffered upon the cross, He begged His Father to forgive those who put Him there. They didn’t know what they were doing. The same remains true today. Many misunderstand what a Christian believe. It’s not hard to see why because our minds, mouths, and hearts aren’t always in sync. That’s hypocrisy, something well practiced by sinners redeemed in Christ.
Peter continues, above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Notice Peter says one another, not just Christians only or unbelievers only. Love one another. Love those who despise you. Love those you despise. Even if the time comes when you must speak words that you know will anger your neighbor, do so with humility and, above all, love. Yes, Jesus showed anger, but His anger was directed at all the right people: those who despised Him.
Do. Not. Panic. Jesus tells you that you will suffer much this side of Paradise. You are not alone, though. Many fellow Christians suffer with you. Jesus Himself first suffered for your sake. What is more, the Helper has come, the Holy Spirit, Who keeps you connected to Jesus in His Gifts of life and forgiveness given in this holy house. Among all the “used to bes” one thing hasn’t changed. Jesus says, yes, there will be trouble, but “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places” with the joy of freedom in the blood of Christ that cleanses you from all sin.