Text: 2 Peter 1:2-11
Tonight, we enter once again the season of Lent. By now, we have celebrated our Lord’s incarnation and birth. We have witnessed the glory of His transfiguration. We await yet the celebration of His victory over death and the grave at Easter. But, as we learn from the Transfiguration, before we can celebrate our Lord’s victory over death and the devil, we must first witness His cross. Just so, in our lives here, before we receive our Lord’s forgiveness, we must first be called to repentance. Before we can be comforted by the Gospel, we must first be convicted by the Law. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent afford us another opportunity to reflect on our lives, especially our failures in regard to God’s holy Law, and begin again the cycle of repentance and faith.
This is what St. Peter encouraged in our Epistle reading. He wrote, “As His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” St. Peter encouraged his hearers that God has, indeed, given us all good things. By His grace, through faith in His Son, He has given us the free and full forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He has brought us out of the corruption of this sinful world. Being God’s children now, we are called to live the life of faith. As God has granted us all good things through the knowledge of His Son, St. Peter encourages us to supplement this faith with virtue so that we may not be found to be unfruitful stewards of God’s grace.
Tonight, we are in the same chapter of St. Peter’s second letter as we were back on the Transfiguration – although our present text actually comes before that one. We might remember that St. Peter wrote to a group of fellow Christians who were undergoing stress. They were undergoing pressure from the world to conform to its immoral way of life. They were also under attack from within. Some in the congregation were asserting that Peter and the other Apostles were liars and that Christ wouldn’t return. St. Peter responded with Apostolic authority that they had not made the Good News up, for they were with Christ on the holy mountain. They were eyewitnesses of His glory and have now made known these things to the world. As such, St. Peter’s hearers could be assured that their sins were, indeed, freely and fully forgiven. Their entrance into eternal life had been secured.
We, too, continue to live under the same pressures that Peter’s original hearers endured. The Church at large continues to bear the scorn of the world, and we in the Missouri Synod are under ever-increasing pressure to fall in line with our sinful society. Unfortunately, even within the Church – as in St. Peter’s time – there is the temptation to set aside or look at in a different light the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Like the saints of old, the pressures set us on edge.
As St. Peter wrote to them, he writes to us: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” Despite the pressure we feel, we have this confidence and promise: God has indeed rescued us from this sinful world. By the knowledge of His Son and through the washing of Holy Baptism, He has given us the forgiveness of our sins and entrance into eternal life. As St. John said, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.”
St. Peter wrote that God has brought us out of the corruption of this world through the knowledge and faith of His Son. He has brought us into His marvelous light and caused us to be no longer children of wrath, but His very own dear children. As God’s beloved children, He also leads us by His Holy Spirit to do His will. His will this: that we love and serve Him and our neighbor. St. Peter said it like this: As God has brought us out of the corruption of this world and given us all good things in His Son, “[So] make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
These things – virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and love – are not things God requires of us in addition to faith, but they are the good fruits the Holy Spirit produces in us through faith. The Spirit causes us by faith to bear good fruit: to love our neighbor with a genuine and pure love, to be steadfast under trial, to love God’s Word and to study it, to exercise self-control in the face of temptation. None of these things are what the world teaches or desires of us. But God, by His Holy Spirit, brings us to be and live as His children. St. Peter says, “If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is, when God’s will is carried out in our lives, when we live in love to our God and each other, our conscience is comforted and we are assured of the faith that dwells within our hearts.
My friends, St. Peter encourages us to practice and exercise our faith, “to confirm [our] calling and election,” by seeking an increase of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. But, when we examine our hearts, we find nothing good in them. It is the truth that, because of our sinful nature, we are more apt to deny our calling by our actions than to confirm it. We are more ready feed grudges than forgive, more ready to sleep than be awake and sing God’s praises; we are more ready to be content with what we’ve learned than to study more deeply the living and active Word. We more easily give in to temptation than resist it. And sometimes, because of our deep sinfulness, we don’t even feel bad.
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’“ We are gathered this evening to mark the beginning of our Lord’s Lent. We have received the sign of the cross on our foreheads. It is in ash, because we are but ash. The Lord formed our first father from the dust, and because of our sin, to dust we shall return. This dust is in the shape of cross, for by the cross our Lord has redeemed us from sin and death and brought to us eternal life. We have been made God’s children, and we have failed to live up to our calling. Therefore, we return again this evening to repent. We repent of our failures to love God and our neighbors. We repent of our great and vast iniquity. And we know that, as far as the east is from the west, so far has our God removed our sins from us. May He grant unto us an increase of faith, hope, and love in this season, and, by His Spirit, an increase of the fruits of faith in our lives. Amen.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Pet. 1:3, 5.
 2 Pet. 1:3-4.
 1 Jn. 3:2
 2 Pet. 1:5-7.
 2 Pet. 1:8.
 2 Pet. 1:10.
 Joel 2:12.
 Ps. 103:12.