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1 Peter 2:24
The theme of most graduation addresses seems to be, “good job. You made it. You have graduated. Now go and do great things.” Everyone is on an emotional high. It’s a great day, a day of celebration. Everyone is ready to go on to the next level and do great things. But the emotional high of graduation is often followed by an emotional low because going on and doing great things isn’t as easy as the speaker made it sound. In fact, unless we have a proper understanding of human nature and the proper motivation we will become very discouraged. We will find that we either can’t do anything great, or, if we do, it will seem meaningless.
Elisabeth, the verse you have chose provides us with a proper understanding of human nature, and it also provides us with the proper motivation for doing everything in life.
Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, quotes from that great chapter of Isaiah, chapter 53. This word of God reminds us that we were sick and needed healing, that we had a debt of sin with God that we could never repay.
The Bible makes it clear to us that this is true of everyone. Every single person ever born into this world is born with a fatal disease, a disease inherited from Adam and Eve. It’s a disease that renders us unable to go and do anything good, at least not in God’s eyes. By nature, all we can do is sin and pile up a huge debt with God, a debt that no one could ever repay. It’s a disease that makes our bodies subject to sickness and eventually makes them wear out so that we face physical death. But the worst part of this disease is that it contaminates our soul so that we can’t live in God’s presence. He should send us off into eternal quarantine with the Devil and his evil angels.
There is only one cure for this terrible disease of inherited sinfulness. That cure is the wounds of Jesus. By his wounds you have been healed. Isaiah tells us how it works. He tells us that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions. We sinned but Jesus was punished. Think of his wounds. Think of what the whip did to his back. Think of the nail marks in his hands and feet and the spear wound in his side. He received those wounds because he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.
That really sounds unfair, doesn’t it? If your classmate did something bad enough in class to get punished, maybe to lose a recess, would you volunteer to give up your recess so that they could go out and play? If your brother or sister did something to deserve a spanking, would you go to your mom or dad and say spank me instead? But that’s what Jesus did for you and for me. We sin. We deserve to have God wound us and to put us in the eternal time out of Hell. But Jesus volunteered to take our punishment for us. He was wounded in our place. He suffered Hell in our place. And because he did, we are healed. The disease of sin can’t keep us out of heaven.
When a secular speaker says, “now go and do something great,” he’s forgetting a very important truth of Scripture. We are born sinful. We can’t do anything great on our own. As Jesus says, without me you can do nothing. And the Bible also says, without faith it is impossible to please God, and if what you are doing isn’t pleasing to God, then no matter what it is, it isn’t great. It is only as we are connected to Jesus, the true vine, that we can produce good fruit, fruit that will last.
I’ve got a few quiz questions for our graduates tonight. If they don’t know the answer, maybe others can help them. What is the topic of the 2nd article? (Redemption) From what did Jesus redeem us? (sin, death, Devil) Now the harder one, but if you paid attention to Elisabeth’s verse, you will get the answer. FOR what did Jesus redeem us? (Serve/live for him now and forever) As Luther put it, so that we would be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
That’s the part we often forget. Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, he was wounded for our transgressions, SO THAT. There’s the reason, the FOR of redemption. He redeemed us not so that we would be free to keep on sinning. No. He redeemed us so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.
Our motivation for going and doing something great isn’t what those in the world think. They think it means getting noticed, becoming famous, or powerful. They think it means becoming rich. No, our motivation for doing something great is the great thing that Jesus has done for us. He healed from the disease of sin. He payed our debt to God in full. Because of what he has done for us we want to die to sin, to do our best to keep from doing things we know are sinful; and we want to do our best to do those things that we know are pleasing to God. How do you know what is sinful and what is pleasing to God? Read his word. Review the 10 Commandments every day.
Here’s the really neat thing. Do you know what is great in God’s eyes? It’s not becoming rich and famous. It’s not a big thing in the eyes of the world. It’s doing what you are asked to do every day with a heart that is filled with joy and thankfulness that Jesus bore your sins and healed you by his wounds. It’s living for righteousness. It’s serving God and your neighbor in love in everything you do every day. That may not get noticed by most people, in fact it may bring you trouble as it did Jesus. But it is what you are motivated to do because of what Jesus has done for you.
You have graduated. Now go and do great things, the things God considers great. Read and study his word every day and be reminded of the great things God has done for you in Jesus. Give thanks to him and serve him and your neighbor in love as you look forward to the time you when you will be able to serve him in everlasting righteousness in heaven.
I have another little quiz for our graduates. You see, we studied the Old Testament in Bible History this year. Just last week we were studying the time of Jeremiah. So, graduates, help us out. What was going on in Israel during the time of Jeremiah the prophet? (Nebuchadnezzar came and took captives, and eventually destroyed the temple and the city, just as Jeremiah had foretold.)
It wasn’t a pleasant time in Israel. They had suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. They had lost everything. Their city was destroyed. Their homes were destroyed. Even the temple of God was destroyed. Many were taken captive and were living in a foreign land. Those who were left behind were destitute, struggling just to survive from one day to the next. Everyone knew someone who had either died in battle, or as a result of hunger or disease. None of us here tonight can imagine what it must have been like. We have nice houses. We have a nice church building. We are free, not captives. We have plenty of food of all kinds stored up in freezers and cupboards. We don’t know what it’s like to suffer defeat at the hands of an enemy and lose everything. We don’t know what it’s like to have to struggle to find enough food just for today.
We can’t completely identify with the people living in Israel at the time of Jeremiah, but we all do have troubled times in our lives. There have been times when we did have to struggle. There have been times when we have known what it means to lose a loved one. So, think of your most troubled time. Now think about how you would react in that troubled time if God came to you and said, I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. How would you respond in that situation?
Your first thought might be, “What? If you have plans to prosper me and to give me hope, this is a fine way show it, Lord! Letting me lose everything I’ve worked for doesn’t give me hope. Letting me be taken as a captive to a foreign land doesn’t look like a plan to make me prosper. What you are saying is pretty hard to believe, so maybe I’ll believe it when I see it.”
You might have had such thoughts when you were going through a difficult time and someone quoted you God’s promise to work in all things for your good. You might have been tempted to say, “How could this possibly be for my good? It’s pretty hard to believe that promise when everything seems hopeless.”
Thankfully, unlike the people living in Jeremiah’s day, we have the blessing of hindsight. We know the rest of the story. We know that God sent this trouble on Israel for the purpose of calling them to repentance because they had fallen away from him. We know that, in advance, through the prophet Jeremiah, he promised that their captivity in Babylon would last only 70 years. He promised that when the 70 years were up he would bring them back to Israel and his temple would be rebuilt. This was especially important because in order for the Messiah to come the temple had to be there. We know that God kept his promise. After 70 years in captivity Cyrus decreed that anyone who wanted to return to Jerusalem could do so. He even pledged money from his own treasury to help with the building of the temple in Jerusalem. When people heard the decree and saw the temple being rebuilt they must have thought, “wow! God really did have plans to prosper us.” Now we can have hope. Now that the temple is being rebuilt we can look forward to the coming of the Messiah. Now we can see that, despite the trouble we brought on ourselves, God still loves us and wants us to live with him forever. He keeps his promises no matter what.”
As you move on from grade school to high school, and from high school to whatever is next, you are going to have good days and bad days. It is especially on those bad days, on those days when you are tempted to think that your life is a mess, you did poorly on a test, your boyfriend dumped you, your friends made fun of you and the sky if falling; on days like those, remember what God says through Jeremiah. Whatever kind of day it is, good or bad, God’s promise is always the same. He says to you, I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
If he sees that we are beginning to take him and his promises for granted, if he sees that we are heading down a road that might lead us away from him, the good plans he has for us might be to discipline us. His discipline is always loving and always intended for our good. His plans are always to give us hope and a future. He always does everything he does with this goal in mind, that we remain in the faith and end up living with him in heaven forever. If we ever doubt that this is the case all we have to do is look at Jesus. In Jesus he proved that his plans for us are to give us hope and a future. In Jesus he carried out his plan of salvation. In Jesus he shows us that our sins are forgiven and that there is a resurrection of the dead. Only in Jesus do we have hope, the sure hope of heaven. Only in Jesus do we have a real future, the future of living with him in glory for all eternity.
In the midst of a very troubled time in Israel God promised that he had good plans for his people. He kept his promise. Whether we are living in good times or bad, God’s promise to us is that he has good plans for us. Because of Jesus we know what those plans are, to take us to live with him in glory forever. Trust his promises.