“If you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this third Sunday of Easter comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of Peter’s first letter. Dear friends in Christ: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! Easter changes everything. Christ is risen, and death is destroyed. Christ is risen, and the angels sing. Christ is risen, and the demons fall. Christ is risen, and your life will never be the same. Christ is risen, and you now call on God as ‘Father.’ Christ is risen, and you have a new citizenship. Your old citizenship is no longer any good; God has replaced it with a new one. Your pledge of allegiance is now the Lord’s Prayer, where you boldly call upon God as your Father. And if you call upon God as Father, Peter says, “conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile.” You haven’t switched clubs, you haven’t changed school districts, you haven’t even exchanged the passport of one country for that of another. This is much more serious than that. You have been joined to the God of the universe, and He doesn’t tolerate dual citizenships. You are His, you belong to Him, so “conduct yourself with fear.” If you dare to call upon your Father in prayer, remember who you are, remember whose you are, and remember where your citizenship lies.
What is a citizen? A citizen pledges allegiance to a nation, promising to obey its rulers and support its causes. A citizen also often has a way of life that conforms in many ways to the culture of that country. Your citizenship used to reside on this earth, it was bound to this mortal dust. You were a slave to sin, an earthbound creature, doomed to death. Your citizenship, your allegiance, was to the powers of this world, to the devil and his countless allies. You pledged allegiance to Satan’s dominion, you obeyed His rules and supported his causes. You had a way of life that conformed to the culture of sin; you lived a self-centered life, loving only yourself and seeking your own way. You were a citizen of this earth, through and through, a miserable slave to sin.
But Easter changes everything. You are now free in Christ, released from your slavery. Saint Peter writes, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” You were a slave to sin and death, under Satan’s dominion. But Christ ransomed you, He paid the price to purchase you with the shedding of His own blood, and now you belong to Him. You have a new citizenship, the citizenship of heaven. Nothing that your earthly citizenship gave you could ever pay the price of freedom; no amount of gold or silver can release from sin and death. A price was required that no citizen of earth could pay, and so Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth, took on our human flesh, and paid it Himself. This was God’s plan for you all along. “[Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.”
It was God’s plan from eternity to make you a citizen of heaven, to take you from the citizenship of the earth, a citizenship that enslaved and delivered only death, to a citizenship that frees you and gives you life everlasting. Jesus paid the price to win that citizenship upon the cross; He made you a citizen of heaven in your Baptism. “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” Your first birth was perishable, it made you a citizen of this earth. The womb of your mother, like every other womb in history, could only bring forth perishable seed, children doomed to die. Your citizenship in Satan’s kingdom was bestowed the moment you were conceived by a sinful father and sinful mother.
Your second birth, on the other hand, is imperishable, it makes you a citizen of heaven. The womb of the font, the washing of the water with the Word, can only bring forth the imperishable, children who will live for eternity. At the font, you were given the birth that wipes out all that your natural birth gave you; in Baptism, Satan’s chains are loosed, your sins are forgiven, and you are given possession of life eternal. Through Baptism, Easter and all of its great gifts are brought near to you, they are applied directly to you as the water flows over your brow. A new citizenship is bestowed upon you, a citizenship that endures, because it is given through imperishable seed. Through Jesus, you are now “believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Your faith and hope are in the God who raised Jesus from the dead; when Jesus walked out of the empty tomb, God declared to the entire world that the ransom was sufficient for the sin of the world, that death truly is defeated.
The resurrection declares that your citizenship is now in heaven; you are no longer a citizen of this earth, for there are no dual citizenships, you are either a citizen of one or a citizen of the other. So do not live as if you remain a citizen of this earth. You have been delivered from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, do not live in them any longer. Do not pretend that you remain a citizen of this world; you are not, you have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you have been given a new citizenship. The ways of this earth are futile; they deliver only death. Self-centeredness, self-gratification; those have been the customs of the citizens of earth since the Fall into sin, and they have delivered countless millions into bondage. You have cast off those chains; why should you, as a citizen of heaven, seek to satisfy your own desires and make your own rules? You are no longer Satan’s slave, you belong to Christ, you have been freed from those practices, from the constant need to satisfy your unquenchable sinful nature.
The citizenship of this earth fades away, it will not endure. Nothing that it offers will endure, its glories help no one beyond the grave. I love sports probably more than the average person, but are sports more important than Sunday morning worship, than devotion and Bible study, than prayer? Will it matter in eternity how good I am at shooting free-throws, or if I know all the stats, I’ve watched every game, but know little of Christ, if I have neglected my neighbor? No. And we can list off many other perishable idols and ask the same kinds of questions: money, success, beauty, popularity, etc. Do not live as if the perishable things are the most important, do not live as if they will endure; they won’t, only your heavenly citizenship, the gifts given by Christ, endure.
That citizenship is eternal, kept in heaven safe for you by Christ Himself. Live as one who has a citizenship that endures, live as a citizen of heaven. This doesn’t mean that you ignore the things of this earth; far from it. Saint Peter tells us, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Citizens of heaven follow the practices and customs of heaven, which are characterized by one word: love. This love is sincere; the citizens of this earth serve others in order to get something for themselves, so that what appears to be selfless is actually selfish. Citizens of heaven serve others in sincerity, without any thought of gain. This love is self-sacrificial, following the pattern of Christ. The citizens of heaven freely give of themselves, putting the needs of others ahead of their own, for they have already been given everything.
You have been purified, cleansed, baptized by Christ Jesus to love one another sincerely. Your hearts have been made pure in the sight of God through that washing, and thus you are called to a life of love. Love your neighbor sincerely, showing to them the love that was first shown to you. Love your neighbor sacrificially, giving of yourself for their good. You may be called upon to give up your money, your comfort, or even your life to serve others. Love may call on you to take a stand for the most vulnerable, putting your reputation or your body on the line to protect others. Love may mean speaking the Law to someone living as a citizen of this earth, calling them away from their sin to repentance and faith. Love expresses itself differently for each neighbor, but love always calls on you to give up something of yourself for the good of another.
Such sacrifice doesn’t trouble the citizen of heaven, because everything on this earth is fleeting and perishable; no amount of self-sacrifice and love will ever diminish the inheritance given through Christ. Saint Peter quotes from Isaiah chapter forty: “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.” This world will not remain; everything it offers is temporary and fleeting. What remains is God’s Word. God’s Word remains, it endures even when you do not. When you fail to live as a citizen of heaven and instead appear to all the world as one of theirs, a citizen of this earth, the Word of the Lord remains forever, and His blood-bought forgiveness is more certain than your sin. Repent today and every day of living as a citizen of earth; return to the font, renewing your citizenship, and you will be cleansed by Christ’s ever-abundant forgiveness.
The Word of the Lord remains forever. This world pretends that it remains, but Isaiah teaches us that everything of this earth will fade away; it is perishable, but what Christ gives is imperishable. His promise is the one thing that endures in this world of sin. Peter says, “This Word is the good news that was preached to you.” All the glories of this world are as grass next to the glories of Christ. Easter changes everything. Because of Easter, you will be imperishable at the moment of the last trumpet, your citizenship will be in the new heavens and the new earth, and that citizenship in that blessed country will never end. Your new birth by imperishable seed will come to its fulfillment with an imperishable body, yours for eternity, for you have been born of the water and the Word, and the Word of the Lord endures forever. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.