In England in 1938 no one wanted to face the reality that Germany was about to go to war. Many historians criticize British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who tried to “appease” the Germans, and failed to lead England to get re-armed to fight — but the truth is, the British people themselves were in no mood to fight. They had lost almost a million young men only 20 years before, in the first World War, and they did not want to think about another war. They just wanted to get away from it. They wanted to be entertained. So they flocked to the movies. And there were some great movies to see: the Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, and Walt Disney’s Snow White all came out that year. They lost themselves in those movies, and in the new songs like “Roll Out The Barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun,” that were all the rage in the late 1930’s. (Manchester, p. 308)
But their escapism into entertainment didn’t save them. If they didn’t want to think about war, Hitler did. Judgment Day was coming, in the form of Panzer tanks and Stuka dive bombers and Blitzkreig, Hitler’s “lightning war.” England had made a huge mistake. They were caught unprepared, and only survived World War II with the help of the United States. It ended up costing them their Kingdom – Britain was never again the same world power they once were. Their negligence came within a hair’s breadth of costing them their country, and it cost many of them their lives.
Why do I tell this story? Because many of us today are on the verge of a very similar thing. The Bible tells us that God’s judgment is coming — it’s time to be serious about living for Him. But all that many of us want to focus on is Thanksgiving Break, or Christmas, or the next vacation, or the next big game. Our country as a whole, and many of us personally, are doing just what England did in that fateful 1938: trying to “escape” into parties and games and entertainment, while God’s judgment is waiting right at the door.
That’s why I’ve entitled this message: “The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make This Christmas.” I actually thought about leaving I Peter this morning, to do something more “Christmas-y” — and I may indeed preach some Christmas messages in December — but I believe after reading God’s word here, that we actually need the message of this text today. England in 1938 didn’t need more entertainment. They needed the message of Winston Churchill, who tried his best to wake them up to the danger, and warn them that Hitler was at the door. Most people just ignored him as an old crank. But Churchill was right, and England should have listened to him. In the same way, maybe this message isn’t what we “want” to hear today — maybe it’s not what I “want” to preach. But this is God’s word. And it is as true for us today as it was in the days of Peter. And we’d best listen to it, and not make “The Biggest Mistakes we can make this Christmas.”
Now, the first verses of this passage deal with themes that we have already explored in I Peter several times already, so we are not going to spend a lot more time on them:
— He says in :12 that suffering is inevitable: he says don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you (persecution and suffering) as though some strange thing were happening to you. He says we should EXPECT suffering in this world as Christians. He’s taught about suffering repeatedly in I Peter.
— He then says in :13-14 that if you suffer for CHRIST, then you are blessed. BUT, he goes on to say in :15-16, don’t suffer for your own sin and foolishness: “make sure none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer,” etc. If you are punished for your own sin or wrongdoing or foolishness, there is no reward with God for that. We talked about that when we were in Chapter 2.
It’s good to be reminded of these things, but because we have spent some time with them already, we won’t dwell a long time on these ideas today.
But then in :17 he brings up something that should sober each one of us, and send chills down our spines. He says:
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God, and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will be the outcome of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”
Here we see a couple of things we need to keep in the forefront of our minds, as we come into this Christmas season:
I. The Biggest Mistake You Can Make As A Christian This Christmas Season Is To Live Like You Aren’t Accountable To God.
The Bible says as Christians, we need to live like people who know that judgment is coming; and that we are accountable to God for everything we think, say, and do. Verse 17 says “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” He says we need to live — even in this Christmas season — like people who know that we serve a God who sifts and sorts and purifies us. The “judgment” that we will face as believers is not a judgment of condemnation — Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” IF you really know the Lord, you are saved and secure. Nothing can change that. BUT Peter says here that God will allow judgments to come here on earth to PURIFY His people, and cause us to forsake our sins, and get serious about Him.
Peter knew His Old Testament, and he knew that in Ezekiel 9, God commanded a judgment to come upon the land — but He commanded for it to begin in HIS TEMPLE, with HIS PEOPLE — Judgment would begin with HIS PEOPLE FIRST!
Peter also knew that the Old Testament closes with the Book of Malachi, which prophesies the coming of the Lord. People may have thought, “Oh, the Lord is coming; that’s good!” But Malachi says in :2 “But who may abide the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire.” (You should hear that put to music in Handel’s “Messiah;” it is one of my very favorite songs!) You might THINK that if a “Day of the Lord” was coming that it would be good; but Malachi says He is coming to judge and to purify His people. Peter says Judgment will begin with the household of God; with HIS people. With US. We need to realize that we are accountable to Him.
Years ago, the United States House of Representatives used to meet in Statuary Hall, in the U.S. capital, instead of where they do now. In Statuary Hall, there was a sculpture which Carlo Franzoni created in 1810, depicting Clio, the Muse of History, riding the winged Car of History, keeping notes in her book. Historian David McCullough writes that Clio was there to remind our representatives “that their words and actions would face the judgment of history …”. (Brave Companions, McCullough, p. 232)
Well, there is no real Clio, “goddess of history,” but we do know that there IS a real God, who is indeed watching over us, and who is indeed recording everything that we think, say, and do, and we are accountable to Him. And He is not content for us to remain as we are. As we said a few weeks ago: Jesus takes us as we are — but He does not LEAVE us as we are. His purpose is to purify us as His people, to cleanse sinful habits out of our lives; to make us more like Him, and to prepare us to be with Him in heaven forever.
One of the worst mistakes we can make as Christians is to ignore this, and think that we are just here to live like the rest of the world, and just “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” That’s not God’s purpose for us. He will allow, and even cause, trials and judgments to come into our lives to cleanse and purify us as His people. And we are foolish if we just keep living our lives as if we are not accountable to Him.
The tendency for many of us is to think all is well: the economy is booming; the Stock Market is at a record high; our country isn’t involved in any “big” wars; it’s the Christmas holiday season, and it’s time to “eat, drink, and be merry” and forget about eternity and everything else.
Now I do believe that we can and should celebrate Christmas, and other holidays. There are numerous examples in scripture of God’s people celebrating with great feasts and presents before the Lord. That is a good thing! But just like I Thessalonians says as God’s people “we do not GRIEVE like those who have no hope,” neither we CELEBRATE like those who have no hope:
— Every day we enjoy in December, we’ll remember that we are one day closer to enjoying the day of eternity with God in glory.
— At every party and get together, we should think of those around us who are lost, and who need our witness.
— With every dollar we spend — and it’s great to spend money on gifts and celebrations— but we also balance that, by giving MORE to kingdom causes which will last for eternity than we do on things that will perish with the season.
Judgment and eternity should affect the way we spend our money this Christmas season. God will hold us accountable for how we have used the money He has entrusted to us to advance His kingdom. That ought to really sober some of us. God has blessed us so much — but what are we giving back? Are we even returning to Him the 10% minimum He asks as a tithe? And with all He has blessed us with, as the richest people on earth, are we giving above and beyond that 10% to the building that will house our Kingdom work here in Angleton, to the poor, and to our world wide mission work?
We need to evaluate our spending and our giving in light of eternity. Some of us might tend to look at the Lottie Moon Offering goal and say “Man I just don’t know if I can give $77 to support a missionary for half a day.” But at the same time, many will think nothing about turning around and spending $77 on a Christmas tree that in 3 weeks will burn up in a flash and be gone forever!
And that’s just an example. We need to live our whole lives this Christmas season, in the light of judgment; in the light of eternity. It should affect the way we spend, the way we give, the way we talk, the way we pray, the way we party, the way we spend our time, the way we treat people — the way we do everything we do. The true God is history is watching over us, and He is recording everything we do. And we are accountable to Him for it.
The worst thing you can do this Christmas season, Christian person, is to just run through this season without giving thought to God and eternity. Because even in this Christmas season — and especially in this Christmas season — you are accountable to Him. He says “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.”
II. The Biggest Mistake You Can Make As An Individual Is To Not Respond To The Gospel This Christmas Season.
These verses are also a word of warning for those who have NOT yet committed their lives to the Lord. Verse 17 says “It is time for judgment to BEGIN with the household of God; but if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do NOT obey the gospel of God?”
He’s saying as Christians, we need to be serious and sober about things this Christmas season — because of eternity and the coming judgment. But how much MORE true is this for those who do NOT yet know the Lord; who have NOT yet committed their life to Him, because they will soon be facing the judgment of God for eternity.
We have all sinned against God, and deserve His judgment. But God has provided a means of salvation for us, through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. He paid for our sins, so that if we will repent of our sins, He will forgive us and we can escape God’s judgment. But these verses remind us, if we do not accept God’s offer of salvation in Jesus, we will indeed be judged, and will face the wrath of God for our sins.
Peter says in :18 “it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved.” What does that mean? Someone might say, “I thought salvation was easy; that it’s not based on our works; it’s based on what Jesus did for us on the cross.” That is true. But if you think about it, it really IS with difficulty that even the righteous person is saved, in several ways:
— First “it is with “difficulty that the righteous is saved” because salvation was very costly and difficult for GOD. It’s free for us — Romans 6:23 says it is “the gift of God” — it’s a free gift for anyone who will receive it! But for GOD it was costly. It cost Him sending His Only Begotten Son.
— Jesus’ mother Mary will tell you that it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved. To give salvation to us, meant that Mary had to watch her first-born Son die on the cross — can you imagine how horrific that must have been? Remember in Luke 2 that Simon prophesied to Mary that her Son would be “a light to the nations” — but he also said to her that “a sword will pierce even your own soul.” A sword DID pierce her very SOUL that day, as she watched the Son she’d nourished and cherished from birth, whom she’d followed with such dedicated love — as she watched Him bleed to death on the cross in agony that day. Yes, Mary would have told you that “it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved.”
— Our salvation was costly for Jesus, who bore the wrath of God in His body on the cross. He literally sweat drops as of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he approached that fateful hour of the cross, because He knew what it was going to entail. And then He suffered, “bearing our sins in His body on the cross,” crying “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus would tell you: it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved.
— AND salvation is with difficulty for those who are saved, because we must humble themselves in order to receive that salvation. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 19:23-24 “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter to Kingdom of God.” Verse 25 says when His disciples heard this, “they were very astonished and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’” That’s when Jesus said in :26 “With men this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”
Jesus Himself said it is very hard to enter the kingdom of God – especially for a rich person. Why? Because you have to humble yourself to receive it. Salvation is a free gift — but to receive it you have to admit that you are a sinner; you have to deny your own righteousness and spiritual pride to take it; you have to HUMBLE yourself to receive it. Matthew 19 says when Jesus explained salvation to him, the Rich Young Ruler walked away sorrowful; he couldn’t take salvation under Jesus’ terms; it was too difficult. He was young, he was rich, he was proud. It was too difficult; and “he went away sorrowful.” Peter was standing right there when these things happened, and when Jesus said these things, so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he wrote here: “It is with difficulty that the righteous is saved.”
Maybe you are here today and you are wrestling with this, just like that rich young ruler did. Maybe you don’t like to hear that you are “sinner.” Maybe that is offensive to your pride. Maybe you don’t like to admit that you can’t save yourself; you are a “do-it-yourselfer”; you are a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” kind of guy; and you don’t like to admit that you need any help. Maybe it’s hard for you humble yourself and walk down that aisle, and you wonder what people will think? Or to get up in that baptistery and confess Jesus as your Savior like all those folks did last week. It’s humbling; it hurts your pride; it is “with difficulty” — just like Peter says. “It is with difficulty that the righteous is saved.”
— AND “it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved” because there is only ONE way of salvation. You don’t get to pick and choose how you are saved: God says there is only ONE way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. When Jesus sweat those drops of blood at Gethsemane, He asked God the Father if there was any other way, to let that cup pass from Him, and not let Him go through this. But God sent Jesus to the cross, because THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY. Had there been any other way, God would have answered Jesus’ prayer and just allowed people to come those other ways instead. But Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins there, because there WAS no other way. To say there is another way to heaven would be to deny everything Jesus struggled with and died for, because HE said there IS no other way. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” “It is with difficulty that the righteous is saved” — because there is only ONE way to be saved: and that is through what Jesus did on the cross.
The question for you today is, have you taken that “difficult” way God has provided for your salvation? Have you admitted your sin to God? Do you realize you can’t save yourself? Have you humbled yourself and followed Jesus, and confessed Him publicly in baptism? Or are you still holding back in your pride?
The biggest mistake you can possibly make this Christmas, is to get so distracted by the parties, and the food, and the lights, and the gifts — and miss what Christmas is really all about: that God came to this world in Jesus Christ, was born in Bethlehem, and grew up to die on the cross and pay for your sins, so that if you would repent of our sins, and follow Him, you could be saved. The devil will distract you with everything he can this December — to try to make sure you don’t do that one, most important thing.
A couple of Sundays ago I read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for about the 5th time. It is one of my very favorite books. Lewis masterfully wrote these “letters” from the perspective of a senior demon who was advising his mentor nephew demon on how to keep the humans he was in charge of, from coming to the Lord. It is extremely insightful about temptations and spiritual things. But one of my favorite scenes in the book is where Screwtape, the senior demon, is telling Wormwood, his nephew, about how a “subject” of his was once reading in the British Museum, and he said “a train of thought in his mind was going the wrong way” — in other words, towards God! So, he said he immediately got ahold of the part of him over which he had the most control, and suggested, Isn’t it time you had some lunch? And once he had him out the door, he got him caught up in all the “busy-ness” around him: a news boy shouting the midday paper, the #73 bus driving by — and suddenly all his thoughts of God were gone. And Screwtape said ominously: “He is now safely in ‘our father’s house’” — in hell.
Listen, The Screwtape Letters is a mythical story, but it conveys a very real truth. Don’t let that same thing happen to you this Christmas season. Don’t let the devil, or the demon he may have assigned to you, distract you with all the shopping, and all the food, and all the parties and all the gifts and all the “busy-ness” that accompanies Christmas these days — and keep you from doing the only thing that really matters in all of life: making sure that you are saved before the judgment of God comes.
His judgment is coming. Peter says very powerfully here: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” We know what that outcome will be: you will face the judgment of God for your sin, because you didn’t receive what Jesus did for you.
Augustine wrote: “Whoever rejects (God), in this world, as Father, will find Him, in the next (world), as Judge.” (Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, p. 223)
That’s why the Bible says “Behold, NOW is acceptable time; Behold NOW is the day of salvation.” (II Cor. 6:2) God says, if you are here today, and you hear this message, then it’s time to do it NOW: not next week; not once Christmas is over; not in the New Year. NOW. NOW IS THE TIME. God says: “For it is time for judgment to begin.” To put it off, and not accept right now the salvation God bought for you at such a cost, is THE single biggest mistake you can possibly make this Christmas.