My text today comes from 1 Peter chapter one. I begin at the first verse: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.”
This Wednesday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day. It’s also Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the season of Lent. I’ll return to Lent later in this message. But for now, I want to focus on Valentine’s Day – a day during which lovers give to each other romantic cards, flowers, candy, and other special gifts that signal their love and affection for one another.
Many of us remember – some fondly, others, not-so-fondly – when we were in grade school during the Valentine’s season. You might have given – or better yet – received little pink, red, and blue heart-shaped candies on which were printed words such as, “Be My Valentine” or just the word, ‘Love.”
But, of course, it could be that some of us might never have received heart-shaped candies. I still remember the times I didn’t receive anything from any of the girls in my class. And some of us might have even gotten stomach aches the day before school, or the day OF Valentine’s Day, because you knew no one wanted us to be their valentine.
And very sadly, for some people things didn’t change much as they got older. Valentine’s Day remained a lonely time of the year, and John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s lyrics made for a somber reminder of that loneliness:
“Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been.
Lives in a dream. Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for? // All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong? // Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear. No one comes near. Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there. What does he care?// All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong?”
How many Eleanor Rigbys and Father McKenzies are out there in the dining room? How many of them are even here in this sanctuary? How many still dread Valentine’s Day – remembering lovers now dead, and wondering if anyone cares for them now, today?
Of course, as children we didn’t know – and as adults, we too often tend to forget – that we actually DO have a real and very present Lover, One who sits as close to us as our breath. A Lover who not only sees our tears but also feels our heartbreak.
These are not over-used platitudes I am sharing with you know. These are words of sober truth – and I am here to remind all of us that a long time ago, God sent to each of us His very personal Valentine message. He had it written on a piece of scrap wood and nailed it above the head of His Son. It read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” A better translation would be this: “See How Much I Love You.”
Valentine’s Day. I hope to be able during this message to remind all of us that, ‘Yes,’ Someone does care for you and me – passionately, zealously cares for you and me. Someone who has CHOSEN you and me to be His Valentine; That our Great Lover has not forgotten nor forsaken us.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus stayed on that cross when He could have simply turned His eyes toward the Father, and 12 legions of angels would have swooped to His rescue? (See Matthew 26:53)
Perhaps – and this is simply my unprovable speculation – perhaps while our Savior was hanging on that cross, the Father showed His Son in a moment of time not the future kingdoms of the world that Satan showed Him during that wilderness trial (see Luke 4:5), but the Father showed Him YOUR face. And MY face. And the faces of every man and woman, boy and girl yet be born – each of whom would be doomed to an eternal lake of fire if Jesus had called for those 12 legions of angels.
Yes, perhaps Jesus stayed on that cross because in that moment of time He saw your face and mine – and the faces of everyone else who, as yet unborn, would desperately need His self-sacrificial love. Perhaps He stayed because He saw you, and He hoped – to use a human term – He hoped you would be His valentine.
I’ll say that again, God hoped you and I would say ‘Yes’ to His Valentine invitation. Of course, He knew from before creation who would say ‘yes’ to Him and who would say ‘no.’ That’s all according to His infinite and infallible foreknowledge. But His foreknowledge does not invalidate His offer to all humanity to His Forever Valentine.
But let’s now move on, because along with the theme of God's offer to be His Valentine, February 14 this year also brings with it another celebration – Ash Wednesday.
As many of you know, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent which last forty days and culminates on Resurrection Sunday. Traditionally, Lent is a time in the Church calendar during which many Christians take opportunity to reflect more particularly on questions such as “Who am I? Why am I here on planet earth? Why did Jesus die for me? How can I grow in my love and devotion to my Savior?”
Ash Wednesday is marked by the receiving of ashes on the forehead. The one placing those ashes pronounces something along the lines of, “You are dust, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the gospel.”
“You are dust.” Those words do something to our pride, don’t they? They are intended to. After all, if we dig up any ancient grave in any ancient cemetery anywhere on earth, we know what we’ll find. Time will have disintegrated the bones and flesh until nothing but dust remains of the person.
Dust . . . which is exactly what God said to Adam after sin entered the world: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Ramses II is a perfect illustration. The Pharaoh was one of ancient Egypt’s greatest rulers, reigning over an area from present-day Iraq to the Sudan. During his 67-year regime, Egypt enjoyed unsurpassed military might and economic power. Today, the ruins of his extensive building programs are scattered across Egypt – silent testimony to his one-time greatness. An article in a May 1995 Time-Life magazine stated the Pharaoh “could have filled an ancient edition of the Guinness Book of Records all by himself.”
But time has a way of leveling any of the world’s "greats." When archaeologists unearthed Ramses and sent his mummified body to the Cairo Museum, a befuddled customs inspector, not sure what to label the shriveled object, taxed the body of Ramses the Great as – imported dried fish.
“For you are dust,” God said. “And to dust you shall return.”
Which circles back to my message about Valentine’s Day – because while everyone’s BODY will eventually disintegrate, everyone’s SOUL will live forever. But where the soul lives forever is determined by what that person, in whom the soul resides, does with the message of the gospel.
It was Daniel – among many other Old and New Testament writers – it was Daniel who warns humanity: (Daniel 12:2) “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
And the Lord Jesus showed to John to inescapable destiny of those who reject the gospel: (Revelation 21:8) “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
The question, then, ought to be asked – WHY would anyone reject God's offer to be His Valentine? Why would anyone reject the gospel, knowing that they are no more than dust walking?
Actually, the answer is quite simple and straightforward. Those who reject God and His gospel are walking – present tense – in darkness. And because they walk in darkness, as the Lord Jesus said, they do not know where they go. (See John 12:35)
That is why it is impossible for a nonbeliever to become a believer, because dead people do now know they are walking in darkness. Remember, all humanity is spiritually dead in their sins. Hear what St Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience . . . and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Paul picks up that theme once again in his second letter to the Corinthians: (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
And so, those who walk in darkness can NEVER see the light of the glorious gospel unless God Himself opens their eyes to Jesus, – who is “the Light of the world.” (John 8:12)
Which brings us back again to Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday: It is God's love for us, and OUR love and concern for others that leads us to remind them – with great gentleness and humility – that they are nothing more than dust walking – But that there is a better way to live: By becoming Christ’s Valentine.
What was it Fanny Crosby pleaded? “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save . . . Back to the narrow way patiently win them; Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died. Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”
Let’s look again at our text from 1 Peter as he wrote to those “who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father . . .”
Remember: God has chosen YOU. And me. Why? Not only for salvation – as rich and wonderful and glorious as that is. But He has chosen also to participate with Him in bringing men and women, boys and girls into His kingdom. Peter tells us that in the next chapter of his first epistle that God also chose so that “[we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9b)
Into His marvelous light. Paul reminds us also in Colossians 1:13-14 “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Think of it. The rejected ones become God’s beloved Valentine. Dust is turned into priceless treasure. And all because we each said to God: “Here am I. Send me.” All because we were not content to sit in the pews and be fed the word of God without also getting up and being “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal” to those in the dining room and beyond – ‘Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Listen, one does not need to be a preacher or missionary or Bible teacher to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called each of US out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We’ve got to get that false notion out of our heads. When Jesus gave His disciples the so-called ‘Great Commission’ at the end of Matthew’s gospel, to bring the gospel to all creation, that command applies to everyone, regardless of our age, our gender, our health, or education, or backgrounds – or of anything else.
Remember, it was Peter THE FISHERMAN – that’s an important point – it was Peter the uneducated fisherman who stood before the crowds in Jerusalem, and quoted from the Hebrew prophet Joel: (Acts 2:17-21)
“And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; Even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.”
Take note, please – God said He would pour His Spirit even upon the LAITY. That means God will use YOU and me to bring others to Himself when we simply tell them the truth about Jesus and what He has done in our life.
I am running out of time, so let me briefly answer an unasked question – HOW can we proclaim the gospel to others? I’m glad to answer that question:
First: Know what the Bible says about faith, forgiveness, righteousness, salvation, redemption, and eternal life. Here is 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
In the same letter, Paul continued: (3:16-17) “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Second point: Live a holy life. I don’t need to tell you what that looks like. You’ve read the Bible often enough, and you have heard enough sermons over the years describing what a holy and godly life looks like. And MOST important, the Holy Spirit is pretty quick to let us know when we are about to do something or say something we ought not to do or say. And He is just as quick to let us know when we have sinned in word, thought, or action.
Third point: Do not be conformed to this present world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds through Scripture (See Romans 12:1-2).
In other words, let’s stop playing with the world, doing things that they do, laughing at what they laugh at, being sucked into philosophies that defy Christ and His commandments. If you watch the cable news you should know you are hearing all the time the philosophies of the world, whether it be issues of morality – sexual or otherwise – and you are hearing heretical religious ideas about religious pluralism which insists all faiths lead to God.
Such anti-Christ and satanic philosophies have no place in the heart and mind and soul of the Christian. Indeed, how can we hope to proclaim the excellencies of God to others, when we ourselves are living hypocritical lives and by being held captive by godless philosophies?
Finally, stand up for Jesus. I know I’ve said it before, but here it is again as a reminder: When you’re eating in the dining room, take a moment to SILENTLY pray over your food before you even pick up your fork. You don’t need to make a big show of it. Just bow your head and close your eyes. And if someone asks you a question while you’re praying, simply lift your head, SMILE, and say something along the lines “Just a moment. I’m thanking God for this food.”
Simple. Authentic. Honest. Direct.
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, a day that should have a double meaning for the Christian: God is in love with you, dust though you are. He wrote His Valentine’s note on the scrap wood nailed above Jesus’ head on that cross. And if we receive and continue to receive His offer to be forever His Valentine, He will turn our walking dust into His most precious possession.
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gifts!