October 25, 2015
1 Peter 1:1-16
In the cartoon strip Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin and his classmate Susie are comparing grades.
“What grade did you get?” asks Calvin.
“I got an A,” brags Calvin’s classmate Susie.
“Really? Boy, I’d hate to be you. I got a C,” Calvin replies.
“Why on earth would you rather get a C than an A?” Susie asks with surprise.
And Calvin says, “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.” (Calvin & Hobbes Cartoon, December 13, 1988).
Compare this philosophy to that of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who gained fame as the commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf War.
In an interview with “INC. Magazine,” the general revealed his leadership principles, one of which was to set high standards because people won’t generally perform above your expectations, so it’s important to expect a lot.
Parents who expect a lot will get more from their children than parents who expect a little.
How about at work? Employers who expect a lot will get more than employers who expect a little.
And schoolteachers who expect a lot will get more than teachers who expect a little. If you reflect on your favorite teacher, you are likely to think about a teacher that expected more from you than others and got more from you. Today you are better for it.
Coaches who expect a lot will get more from their teams than those who have few expectations. The best coaches are excellent motivators. They expect great things from average players. Jesus expected great things from an average group of men and women who followed him as disciples.
Should it be surprising that we worship a God who has high expectations of us? God does, you know. But what kind of expectations do you have of yourself?
In one of Aesop’s fables, the fox find some grapes extended just beyond his reach. He jumps and jumps until he decides that the grapes are not worth the effort. As he leaves he comments, “They were probably sour anyway.”
The fox was only after what was easy to attain.
In writing to various churches in Asia Minor, Peter quoted Leviticus 11:44, where God says, “Be holy for I am holy.”
Our efforts to attain holiness are sometimes akin to the efforts and attitude of that fox. We make a few half-hearted efforts at trying to measure up to God’s standards. Then we decide that they are too high. They are out of reach.
We become like Calvin: Life is a lot easier if we just keep our standards low. “Besides,” we think, “holy living must not be all that great since there are not very many interested in it.”
That God is holy, few of us would dispute. This is a theological building block of our faith and is stated with clarity in 1 Samuel 2:2: “There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none besides thee: neither is there any rock like our God.”
The Old Testament clearly and emphatically teaches that God is “holy.” Isaiah said that the angels in the heavenly entourage are “holy” but not as holy as God. They bow down to God and cry out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” Isa. 6:3.
Not only are God and his angels holy, but God made us to be holy, too.
However, none of us really want to be called holy. Most of us are uncomfortable with that word. Wearing that word for most of us would be like wearing a misspelled tattoo.
I tried reading a man’s name once that was tattooed on his arm and he embarrassingly told me that it was misspelled. I hope he got his money back.
If any one were to call us “holy,” we would be just as embarrassed, because most of us realize that we don’t belong in that category. Yet Peter tells us that we are supposed to be holy.
Let’s examine the word “holy” a little more closely.
To be holy simply means “to be set apart.” God made us holy by making us in His image. God set us apart from all of his other creations when He breathed into us His Spirit. He set us apart to be in relationship with Him, to worship Him, and to obey Him.
God set the expectations for us very high. We were commanded to obey God fully and completely, but Adam and Eve decided that holy living wasn’t what they desired. Instead of listening and obeying God, they gave in to their temptations and made their own choices. They rebelled against God and were cast from the beautiful garden He made for them.
That was just the beginning of the unraveling of the relationship God had established with humankind.
Have you ever had a loose string in a fabric hanging and instead of cutting it off you decided to pull it? What happened after you pulled the string? You set into motion the unraveling of key portions of your garment until you were at a point of no return.
That was the result of Adam and Eve’s sin. It was the unraveling of a holy relationship with God.
As we read the pages that follow in the Book of Genesis, we read about the murder of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain, the sons of Adam and Eve.
God had high expectations for them. God said to Cain: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:7
Cain didn’t rule over his anger. The unraveling of God’s highest creation continued and then the Genesis writer tells us that God destroyed the earth with a Great Flood because He saw how great the “wickedness of the human race had become on the earth.” Only Noah found favor in the eyes of God (Genesis 6:5-8).
Wow! One holy man.
When the sun came out and the waters receded, God still had high expectations for Noah and his family. God still expected holiness.
The few people left continued to disappoint God.
Noah got drunk and shamed himself as he lay naked before his family.
It was as if Noah came down with the Calvin syndrome: “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.”
He’d been in an ark with a bunch of stinking animals for 40 days and God expected him to restart the human race and do it right this time. Instead of feeling up to the task, Noah got drunk.
When I read the rest of the Old Testament, I’d have to say that it didn’t get a lot better. Even the ones we typically talk about as being good had major flaws.
Abram, the one we call Abraham, took his half-sister as his wife and on two occasions denied she was his wife, claiming her as his sister, which she really was, I suppose, in essence giving her up for the king to do with as he pleased because Abraham thought that would save his life.
Later, neither he, nor Sarah had faith that God would give them a child so Abraham fathered a child through his maidservant Hagar. That created the Arab race.
Despite Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith, God demonstrated his faithfulness and allowed a child to be born in their later years, exceeding all their expectations, and Isaac was born.
Isaac and Rebekah continued a dysfunctional family system. Favoritism destroyed the family until it caused their twin sons Esau and Jacob to be separated as adults, lest Esau kill his brother over Jacob’s cunning ability to steal his birthright and his inheritance.
Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, had relations with a prostitute who turned out to be his daughter-in-law. When he found out who she really was, he tried to have her killed until he discovered she was pregnant with his child.
Look, folks, you don’t have to watch T.V. soap operas; just read the Bible.
As it turned out, Tamar set Judah up because he had refused to allow her to marry his older son, which by law he was supposed to do.
You see, her husband had died and by law she was supposed to be allowed to marry her husband’s brother. It was the way of making sure she was properly cared for. Her act of prostitution was an act of desperation and survival.
Of course, most of us are familiar with David, the King of Israel, who for all his good traits and great achievements will also be remembered for taking advantage of Bathsheba, an act which also resulted in a pregnancy. To cover up his sin he had her husband sent to the front lines of battle, where he was killed.
Not only are these examples of people who disappointed God, but they are also people Matthew records in the first fourteen generations of Jesus’ family tree, as traced through Joseph.
Make no mistake, each of these people understood that God was a God whose standards were high, who expected more from them than they gave.
When I was a boy and I had to read all those “begats” from the King James Version, you know, “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren,” I would think, “This is so boring. Why is this even in the Bible?”
While these ancient Hebrews might not be our blood kin, these people are our spiritual ancestors. We come from a long line of spiritually deficient reprobates.
These people were not holy, yet they are recorded in the family tree of Jesus, the Holy One. How can that be?
God’s standards have never changed from Genesis to Matthew to Revelation to now.
They have always been high, but our response has always been lacking.
You would expect that given the track record of His people, God would have lowered his expectations of us. He would have said, “Maybe you just ought to strive for a C. That way I wouldn’t be disappointed as much.”
Why is it that God has set the bar so high? Because God hates what is destructive to the people he loves. Sin wounds. Sin separates. Sin cripples. Sin shames. Sin takes away our dignity. Sin leaves us without friends. Sin makes us lonely. Sin suffocates. Sin empties us of self-esteem. Sin hates. Sin lies. Sin persecutes. Sin traumatizes. Sin alienates. Sin devastates. Sin is addicting. Sin is pleasurable for a short time and then it traps, it binds, it chains, it imprisons you. Sin empties life of good things. Sin saddens, depresses, victimizes, and empties one of hope. Sin kills.
Why would God want us to settle for any of this? Why would you want to worship a God who would want us to settle for any of this? This is why God has high expectations.
Here’s the problem. We are like the fox. Most of us have determined that holiness is an impossibility. We jumped a while and then we gave up.
What I’m about to say next might surprise you.
That’s exactly what God wants you to do – give up. Step one to becoming holy is to realize that we cannot achieve holiness.
Oh, yes. God has had a few stellar disciples along the way. But listen to what Isaiah the prophet said about them: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
You know, there are some things in this world you cannot do for yourself. You cannot blow in your own ear. You cannot touch your right elbow with your right hand. You cannot operate on your own heart. You cannot probate your own will. You cannot bury yourself after you are dead. And you cannot make yourself holy.
We cannot achieve holiness, yet Peter says we are supposed to be holy like God, so how is that going to happen?
That job, says Peter, is the “sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.”
Just as God made us holy at creation by setting us aside from the animals, he makes us holy again by setting us aside through the sanctifying work of the Spirit when we come by faith and profess Christ as Lord of our lives.
So Peter writes:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you,
5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
When we give up and surrender to the Lord, the Spirit does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He makes us holy.
God’s expectations for you are high. But don’t misunderstand. You cannot reach holiness on your own efforts. Give up.
Allow the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus into your life. Allow the Spirit of God to work His forgiving acts within you so you can be used in wonderful ways to bless others because you have been set apart.
Reflect now on what Christ has done for you, what you cannot do for yourself, as you come to The Lord’s Table. Come as one who is a sanctifying work of the Spirit, a holy work in progress, by the grace and love of God.