"No Fear" was once a popular slogan with young people. Everything from T-shirts to tank tops was emblazoned with the slogan "NO FEAR." This is the point of our text. The verse right before our text says, "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." "No Fear," is what I want for you girls. Some conservative churches send their youth into the world always afraid. Afraid they won't be faithful enough; afraid they won't confess their faith; afraid of condoning errors; afraid of everything in the world as if the Scriptures did not say, "Greater is Jesus in you than the devil in the world." Brittney and Suzanne I don't want you to go out of confirmation afraid; I want you to go with No Fear.
At the first reading of our text, you think it's obvious how "No Fear" can be your slogan. Because you will conduct yourselves as Christians in the world. Isn't this what Peter says: Verse 14 says, "Don't fear their fear; don't be frightened," and verse 15 chimes in, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord." Yes, girls this is what you ought to do. Your heart is to belong to Christ. He is to be first place in your life. Family, education, boyfriends, friends are all to be behind Christ.
Notice that Peter pointedly says, "Set apart Christ as Lord." Peter's world was no different than ours. His too was filled with gods. It was polite and acceptable to speak of believing in God, of God almighty. All religions, all religious people could agree that one ought to believe in God. But that was not enough for Christians then or now. They must set apart Christ as Lord. They must state that all other gods apart from Christ are helpless, useless idols. Yes, girls a bold, fearless life will be yours if you can just do this.
But there's more. St. Peter goes on to outline another part of the fearless existence: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Both of you are bright. Both of you have memorized the catechism and 149 points of doctrine. If I say, "Why do we call the Bible the 'Holy Scripture'?" You will snap back, "Holy Spirit, inspired, words." If I ask, "What great and precious things are given in Baptism?" You will say, "Forgiveness, deliverance, salvation."
You're going out from confirmation prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you about your Christian hope. So why should you be afraid? O sure you might have to give an answer to someone who will think your faith in Jesus is a cute Sunday School tale. Sure, your faith in a God who became flesh and blood, died helplessly on the cross, and rose on the third day, isn't all that mighty and powerful or mystical and wonderful. But I'm sure there will never come a time in your life when you will hesitate, or chose not to answer, or answer so as not to offend anyone, so why should you be afraid?
There is no reason Suzanne and Brittney for you to leave confirmation afraid. You're ready to face the suffering that's bound to come your way for doing good, as St. Peter says in our text, aren't you? The rest of I Peter repeats this thought: "It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering." "If you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable." "Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering." Many people think 1 Peter is a sermon preached to confirmands just like you two. Suffering has always awaited those who profess Jesus in a fallen world, so you two have nothing to fear if you go out of here ready to suffer. And I'm sure you're ready. Right now I'm sure you suffer joyfully when your brother or sister is really at fault, but you get blamed. Right now I know you bear it with a simile when a teacher or a parent is unfair, so why should you be afraid you won't be able to suffer for doing good?
There's a problem, isn't there girls? It's a Law/Gospel problem. The Law tells us what God wants us to do, and promises if we do these things, then we don't have to be afraid. It's the "if" that kills you. Time was when the confirmation verses given to kids all came from Law passages. They admonished the young people what they were to do or not do. It was hoped that later on in life these passages would get them back on track if they happened to go astray. Girls do you see the errors in that sort of thinking? 1) The Law is written in our hearts; the Gospel isn't. The Gospel is what we constantly need to be reminded of. 2) The Law only tells us what God wants us to do; it doesn't give us the power to do it. 3) The Law's chief function is to show us our sins; therefore it always accuses sinners.
I want you to go out from confirmation with "No Fear." However, not being afraid cannot be based on what you do or don't do. As sinners, if left to yourselves, you'll always mess things up and have reason to be afraid. Being fearless can only be based on what Christ did and does for you in this world. That's why your confirmation verses are taken not from the first part of this text which is Law, but the second part which is Gospel. Your's Brittney is, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." Your's Suzanne is equally Gospel filled, "Baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God." These passages assure you that you don't have to leave confirmation or live in the world afraid.
As you grow, particularly as you grow in the grace and knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, your sense of sin is going to grow too. It will become more and more apparent just how much of a sinner you really are. What you need to know is that God is NOT surprised by it. God has always known what big sinners we are. He sent His righteous Son into the world to die for unrighteous sinners, not for people who aren't that bad. Paul says in Romans that Christ Jesus came to die for the ungodly not the godly, for those who were His enemies not friends.
The devil will use your real and imagined sins to make you afraid. He'll shoot the fiery darts of doubt, of sin, of judgement to make you afraid of God. "How can God love a sinner like you?" "How can you pray to God, go to Communion, go to Church after what you've done?" "God is going to judge you for what you've done." The devil will use his darts to turn you from God. He will make God seem angry, judgmental, out to get you. Use this verse Brittney and Suzanne to quench his fiery darts. It says, "Christ died for sins once for all." Whatever sin the devil is waving under your nose, pressing into your heart, or blushing your face with, know that Christ Jesus died for it long ago. The suffering, death, and blood of Christ was sufficient to pay for sins. You don't need to add your sorrow, your shame, your fear to what Christ did.
Christ went to the cross bearing the sins of the world, bearing your sins, to bring you to God, says Peter. St. Paul says through Christ we have access to the grace of God. Think of Jesus like an access code, a pin number. Jesus opens God's doors to sinners, to the unrighteousness; Jesus brings sinners to God though they feel far away from God or fearful of God. Don't try to gain access to God's grace my making excuses or trying harder. The gates of heaven, the gates of God's grace open to sinners only in the name of Jesus. You girls know that Name, use it. When you are afraid know that Jesus will never turn you away. He went to the cross, so He wouldn't have to.
Your sinfulness is what causes you to be afraid to run to God. Jesus took care of your sinfulness: bearing it, paying for it. Yet, you remain a fallen sinner. Daily you still sin much. This will go on till the Lord calls you home. Satan can slither inside your head and use that fact to torment you. He can give you an evil conscience, one that perpetually feels bad for everything, and what Satan says in your conscience will ring true with you. You are a sinner; you are guilty; you don't always do what you're suppose to. An evil conscience is absolutely the worst thing to have. There is no way not to always feel afraid when your conscience is evil.
What's the answer? Pointing out that Christ died for sins and sinners will not be enough because Satan will say, "How do you know He died for you?" The answer at such times will be in your Bible verse Suzanne. The answer will be your Baptism. "Baptism now saves you...the pledge of a good conscience toward God." In your Baptisms, you girls have the answer of a good conscience toward God. Regardless of how you feel, regardless of what fear and filth Satan can dredge up in your conscience, your Baptism speaks louder and more certain. It says, "For Jesus' sake, there are no sins here, no guilt here, no shame here. All of that has been swept away in the flood of her Baptism."
You go out of Confirmation with "No Fear." What about your sins? Christ died for them. What about your conscience that is always bothering you? Your Baptism cleans and silences it. But what about the world? Lots of scary things are going on in the world now. Who knows what's going to happen? It seems like evil and wickedness are triumphing on many fronts. St. Peter addresses this too by basically summarizing what we say in the Apostles' Creed. He says Christ suffered and was slain for all. He was made alive, descended into hell announcing His victory, and rose again. He ascended into heaven and sits now on the right hand of God with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.
"Angels, authorities, and powers" are different ranks of angels. Colossians 2 mentions them too saying, "Christ disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross." Luther puts it this way, Christ went to hell "as a victorious hero, and He tore down its gates and charged into the midst of the devils, throwing one through the window and another out the door." The devils thought they had defeated Him, but Christ shows that He won. They are now under His feet.
Brittney and Suzanne in heaven, far above all that is depressing, despairing and frightening in this world is where Jesus' death has won a place for you and your Baptism has given you a place. Right there next to Jesus with sin, death, and all the devils of the world under your feet, there is a place for you. Girls, there will be hard things in life for you. There will be difficult times, fearful times. But you don't have to live in such times. You can live where Jesus does.
I admit; on earth many things are frightening, but sitting beside Jesus who reigns and rules over all things can anything be frightening? The Book of Revelation shows us 4 living beings around His throne, and it tells us they cry day and night, "Holy, Holy, Holy." Nothing disturbs their worship. Nothings disturbs their peace. They don't cease chanting when war breaks out, when disease strikes, when devils rage, or even death comes. In your Baptism by the merits of Christ, you can live where they live. Ah, but you think I'm wanting you to escape reality. Not so Suzanne and Brittney; I want you to embrace reality. What goes on where Jesus is that is reality. Jesus is more real than your sins, your death, your devils, and certainly more real than your fears. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter VI (5-5-02), I Peter 3:15-22