Good Friday Sermon preached on 1 Peter 1:13-25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Online Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 04/10/2020.
There is something interesting about celebrating Good Friday as we are all sheltered in place. We are sheltered in place as a society to try to prevent death. But then we come on Good Friday to think about the cross of Christ, which inherently confronts us with death. It points us to the death of Jesus. It also inherently reminds us of our own mortality. Yet, that’s why we celebrate Christ’s death. Christ died, so that though we die, we may yet live evermore. Our passage from 1 Peter confronts us with both the reality of human frailty and the surpassing value of Christ’s death on the cross for us.
Let us begin our reflection tonight by acknowledging that this life is full of perishable things. And we are not talking “perishable” simply in the sense that something is able to perish, as in something that might perish. We are talking about things that inevitably perish. This life is full of things that at one point or another do perish. Chief among such perishable things is our human flesh. Verse 23 speaks of perishable seed. That’s what we’ve come from. When we were born from our mother’s womb, we were born with perishable seed. Verse 24 goes on to develop this thought. Quoting Isaiah 40:7, it says, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls.” Peter describes this human perishability with an analogy. The grasses of the field grow up. At the height of their glory, they bear beautiful flowers. But what happens to that beauty? It’s lost. The flower falls off and dies. The grass itself withers. In other words, the vegetation is temporary, and its glory is fleeting and fading. So too for us. Like the grass that withers, so the human flesh of man. It grows old, it wrinkles, it breaks down, and it dies. And the glory of man is like that beautiful flower. We can see that in our heights of physical prowess in our youth – it doesn’t last and our strength wanes until we die. And we can see that even in the fruits of our labors. The best human achievements, are temporary. You might amass a glorious empire here on earth, full of fame and riches. But it will one day all come to an instant end. Even if you leave it to your heirs to enjoy, for yourself it immediately comes to an end. The glory of each human being in this earth, like our lives, is temporary. While our society is taking so many efforts right now to preserve life, we soberly realize that at best we can only delay death.
The certainty that we will one day die is especially important in light of what verses 16-17 record. We see there a call to live holy lives like the LORD. We remember that from the very beginning of creation, God made man different than the rest of flesh. We are not amoral beasts that live off of natural instinct. No, we were created in God’s image with the requirement that we were to live holy, righteous lives. But mankind, long ago, fell from that state of holiness and original righteousness. That is what introduced human death into our existence. But that is also what should make us fear what is described in verse 17. There, Paul reminds us of the final day of judgment. This is what will follow our deaths. We will face our maker as the judge “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.” As, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” And the Bible mentions that every human save Jesus Christ is guilty of sin before the all-holy God and deserving his wrath and curse. Such wrath will involve an eternal damnation where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die. Verse 18 alludes to the fact that when you stand before the judgment seat of God, you won’t be able to pay him off with silver or gold. Those are just more perishable things of this world. The most glorious riches of this world can’t redeem you on that judgment day.
That leads us next to think of the precious blood of Jesus Christ which is able to redeem us and save us from that final day of judgment. Verse 19 uses that language. Interestingly, on the one hand, Jesus’ death itself is a reminder of the frailty and even perishability of human life. The Son of God could not have died on the cross if he hadn’t first taken on this perishable human flesh. In the body, Jesus was subject to all the normal frailties associated with our flesh. Surely, he got sick from time to time. Surely, he injured himself at points. The events leading up to the cross involved much physical suffering. Even on the cross, we see Jesus’ physical thirst. And ultimately, his physical life was brought to an end. He was dead, verse 21. All flesh is like grass – Jesus’ own body demonstrated that on the cross.
Think of that – the body of the only human who never sinned – that body in all its glory, died. Think of that in comparison to verse 19 which likens Jesus’ death on the cross as an offering of a lamb without spot or blemish. Interestingly, such a lamb with no spot or blemish is what we might call the most glorious kind of lamb. You have less glorious lambs that have their blemishes. But Jesus is like the most glorious of lambs. That’s the only kind you ought to sacrifice to God. But as with the grass in verse 24, even the glory of the flowers of the field fall. Jesus’ human body was the most glorious of all human bodies in that it was never mingled with sin. But even his glorious flesh suffered and died. Even his physical body showed itself just as perishable as the flesh of any fleshly being.
Yet, the text calls his blood precious. It says that by way of contrast with the perishable things of silver and gold. Since we know human blood is part of our physical bodies, clearly this doesn’t mean that somehow Jesus’ blood was not perishable like the rest of his body. Rather, the language of “preciousness” is putting a value on his blood being shed. Imagine a price tag for his blood – it might say “priceless”. While his blood was part of his human nature, its union with the divine nature as the incarnate God adds a worth to his life far beyond any mere man.
But more specifically, this precious value pertains to the atonement made as a sacrifice, according to verse 19. When it compares there Jesus’ precious blood to a lamb without blemish, it’s telling us in what sense it is precious. Lambs, like human flesh and blood, are also perishable things, so it’s not talking of fleshly value. Rather, the reference to such a lamb without blemish is invoking the concepts from the old covenant sacrificial system. It’s saying that Jesus’ shed his blood on the cross was somehow akin to those old covenant sacrifices. Those sacrifices were offered to atone for the sin of God’s people in order to redeem them. But as Hebrews 10:4 tells us, it is impossible for the blood of mere animals to truly take away human sins. Their blood just isn’t precious enough. But Jesus’s blood as the incarnate God-man is precious enough. And so, the value of his blood was sufficient to atone for the sin of God’s people. It was of sufficient worth to buy God’s people back from their sin and death. This is why verse 18 speaks of his blood ransoming or redeeming us from our old sinful ways. It’s the concept of a redemption price that purchases us out of some bondage. For us, God has purchased us out of bondage to sin and death with Christ’s precious blood. And so, going back again to the price tag idea on Jesus’ blood, we could think of it listing the price as “God’s elect”. That’s what this is talking about when it speaks of Jesus’ blood being so valuable. As the God-man his sacrifice was of such worth, that it was more than sufficient to redeem us from death and damnation and deliver us unto eternal life.
That leads us then to our third and final point for tonight to think of the imperishable hope that we have now come into because of the death of Jesus Christ. His death in the weakness of human flesh has secured for us an imperishable hope that though we die we yet will ultimately live forever in glorified bodies. We see this demonstrated chiefly in Jesus himself. Look again at verse 21. There we see that Christ did not remain dead. But God rose him up from the dead and gave him glory! We’ll talk more about that on Sunday. But for now, realize that he has taken on a resurrected body that is no longer subject to any perishability. That is in fact our hope as well. That’s how the letter of 1 Peter even starts out, that we have a living hope that is imperishable, 1:3-4. Christ’s death in the perishability of his flesh and subsequent resurrection to an imperishable glory, — that’s our future now too as Christians. But only as we receive in our hearts this glorious gospel word of salvation.
We see that requirement here for the word to take root within us in verse 23. There, it speaks of our new birth as Christians coming from the seed of God’s Word within us. It speaks of how it has begun in our very souls. It says this seed of God’s Word within us is not perishable, but imperishable. The passage ends explaining that this abiding word of God is what has been preached to us in the gospel. In other words, this gospel message of salvation by the blood of Jesus is taking root in people’s hearts as it’s proclaimed. It produces new birth and results in faith in Jesus Christ and ultimately our salvation.
See how this is then brought into the analogy with grass and flowers. While our current bodies are frail and fleeting like flowers and grass, verse 25 says exactly the opposite is true with the word of God in the gospel. The word endures forever. It does not fade or perish. It is incorruptible and remains forever. That enduring word is what has brought us a new enduring life!
What great joy! We who have trusted in the cross of Christ have been born again through the enduring word of God. That seed germinated within us by the preached gospel is one that is imperishable. It is working an imperishable hope within us. We now have this sure hope of everlasting life! Yes, in this life we will each one day have to experience the death of our current frail flesh. We might yet be able to delay our deaths for some time. Death in this life might be able to be delayed with things like social distancing and sheltering in place. There is nothing wrong with that per se, and in fact the sixth commandment would encourage us that seeking to preserver life is a good thing. But we are also reminded today, that despite all efforts, we will all die at some point. One way or another, death will find us. Our only solution, ultimately, is to shelter in Jesus.
And so, I preach to you again today the good news of the precious blood of Christ. It is sufficient to redeem you from sin and death and deliver you unto the glory prepared for you by the Father. Place your hope and build your life upon this precious savior. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.