Sermons

Praise God for a Living Hope

August 18, 2013 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

Passage: 1 Peter 1:3–1:5

Praise God for a Living Hope

If you have been watching the news this week, you’ve likely heard about the turmoil in Egypt. Rival political factions are warring over control of the Egyptian government. There are daily protests, buildings are being burned, and the future is generally uncertain. The unrest has turned quite bloody this week in particular, as hundreds of people have been killed in the streets. Lost in all the chaos is the fact that Christians and churches are being targeted for violence. With the government focused on the unrest in the streets, angry mobs have free reign to burn churches and attack Christians. Just this week, numerous churches were destroyed. Some of those churches housed ancient manuscripts of the Bible, important documents now turned to ash. Our brothers and sisters in these situations are facing a level of suffering and persecution that we probably cannot relate to as Christians in America.

So, what would you say to those believers in Egypt? If you had the opportunity to speak with them, what would you say? Or, if you could write a letter that you knew would be read by most of the churches in Egypt, what would you write? Clearly, you would want to give them comfort, but how would you go about it? 

Those are only hypothetical questions; I doubt any of us will have the opportunity to pen such a letter. But the question is not that hypothetical when you consider that everyday, we interact with believers who are suffering. Everyday we have the opportunity to minister to someone who is enduring difficulty. It could be a friend whose health is failing. It could be a brother whose job is on the line. It could be a fellow student who is facing ridicule for her faith. Those kind of situations make our hypothetical question from earlier much more realistic. So, what do you say to the sufferer? What do you say to the Christian whose pilgrimage through this life is exceedingly difficult?

To bring it even closer to home, what if you are the one who is enduring the suffering? What if you are the one who is facing persecution for your Christian faith? Sure, maybe your house is not being burned down, but there are other ways to be persecuted. So, what if it’s not someone else, but you? What do you say to yourself in those moments? Where do you begin?

In many ways, 1 Peter is a historical example of what one mature believer said to other believers who were suffering. This letter tells us what Peter would have said if he had the chance to write a letter to a group of struggling Christians. We don’t have to guess what to say because in 1 Peter, we see what has been said. The Christians who received this letter were suffering. They were enduring persecution, and that persecution was likely to continue, maybe even get worse. Their lives as Christian pilgrims in this world were difficult. And Peter writes to address that difficulty. He writes to help them navigate the sometimes difficult road of life in a fallen, hostile world.

This morning, we enter the body of Peter’s letter. We see where he starts in his attempt to minister to these suffering Christians. And to many people, Peter surprisingly starts with worship. He doesn’t begin with advice or counsel. He doesn’t begin with commands on how to make it through difficulty. He begins with praise, and that praise then gives way to unshakeable hope. In studying 1 Peter 1:3-5 this morning, we see how one mature, inspired Christian used worship to produce hope for those who endure difficulty.

 

The God who Grants New Life

As I said just a moment ago, Peter begins the body of his letter with worship. That’s the first point we need to see this morning – Peter praises the God who grants new life. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” This is the main idea of the entire paragraph. Everything in vv3-12 is related to this main idea – God is to be praised! 

As will be the case throughout the letter, Peter’s language here picks up on the OT, but with an important difference. In the OT, the people of Israel offered blessings to God as the way to express God’s worth. Peter continues that practice when he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” But his praise is offered from a different perspective. The OT Israelites offered praise to God in anticipation of his great salvation. Peter offers praise to God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, Peter’s praise is given not in light of the promises, but in light of the fulfillment. The OT Israelites offered praise for what was to come. Peter offers praise for what has come – the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the One whose life, death, and resurrection fulfilled every promise God ever gave to his people. So, Peter says not just praise God, but praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

It is not insignificant that Peter’s letter opens like this. This opening phrase is much more than Peter’s way of saying, “I hope this letter finds you doing well.” This statement of praise reminds us that worship is the very goal of our salvation. Why has God revealed himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Why did he send his Son to accomplish so great a salvation? So that we might see his grace and mercy and power and justice and goodness, and then offer him our lives as praise and worship. God’s people have been redeemed so that they might see God for what he is truly worth. We’re saved for worship, for praise, for declaring God’s greatness.

And since worship is the goal, that means everything else in the Christian life flows from the wellspring of praise. From praise flows perseverance and faith and obedience and hope and everything else. So before Peter does anything else, he offers praise. Before he addresses suffering or persecution, before he offers any commands for the Christian life, he offers praise. Praise is the wellspring of the Christian life. 

Peter knows that his readers need help as they face suffering, but he also knows that one of the insidious effects of suffering is that it can mute praise. We begin to question God rather than praise him. And in those moments, that’s when we start to derail. That’s when faith, hope, and perseverance begin to slip away. Not necessarily because we’ve given up, but because we’re disconnected from the wellspring of the Christian life – praise to God for salvation through Christ. Let this be a reminder to us – daily, we should set ours heart on the gospel of Jesus Christ because that praise is the wellspring of the Christian.

As he continues, Peter praises God as the One who grants new life. This is the primary reason for praise. Why is God to be praised? Because he has granted us new life. This is the new birth or what theologians have called regeneration. It is what Jesus talked about in John 3 with Nicodemus, when he told Nicodemus, “You must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God.” That’s what Peter is talking about here when says God has caused us to be born again; he’s talking about the new birth. 

Note that Peter says this new birth, this regeneration is entirely God’s doing. We did not cause ourselves to be born again; rather, God has caused us to be born again. Think of the analogy with physical birth. Birth is something that happens to you, not something you cause for yourself. No one in this room thought to himself, “You know what, I’m going to conceive myself and cause myself to be born.” Birth happens to us, not something we cause for ourselves. In the same way, our spiritual new birth is something that happens to us. To put it very plainly, the new birth is the work of God. Later in chapter 1, Peter will talk more about how this new birth happens, but at this point, it is enough for us to see that this new birth is entirely the work of God.

Now, for some people, this is hard to grasp. Why must the new birth be the work of God? Isn’t being born again something that we decide for ourselves? I decide to believe in Christ, and then I am born again. Isn’t that how it works? Let’s slow down here and think through this idea of new birth. To say that we were born again implies that before the new birth, we were not alive. We were dead, in need of new life. We know from the rest of the Bible that this death was due to sin. Every person who has ever lived began his or her physical life dead in sin. We were physically alive, but spiritually dead.

Here’s the question, then – what hope does a dead person have to make himself alive again? No hope! There must be someone outside of him, someone who has the power of life, come in and make him alive once more. This is why the new birth must be the work of God, because if it were not the work of God, then it would never happen. Only God, who is the source of life, can bring new life to dead sinners. 

And this is why Peter says that the new birth was “according to God’s great mercy.” Why did God grant his people the new birth? Not according to our works or ability, but according to his great mercy! We did not deserve the new birth; we deserved to remain dead in our sin. We deserved judgment! But in his mercy, God the Father has granted us new life. He has invaded our once dead hearts with his Word and his Spirit, and he has made us alive again with Christ. No longer is our identity tied to sin and death. Now we have a new identity and new life in Christ. When we realize how hopeless we were before the new birth, then we are better positioned to praise God for his mercy and grace. So, from the very outset of his letter, Peter’s focus is on praising God as the One who grants new life, not according to our works but according to his great mercy in Christ.

So, having offered praise to God, Peter now discusses the results of this new birth. What comes with this new life? What results from the new birth? Peter describes three realities here. Let’s look at each one.

 

Living Hope through a Living Savior

First reality of the new birth – Living hope through a living Savior. Before the new birth, we were hopeless because the only future open to us was one of death and judgment. But in the new birth, we have received a living hope. What is this living hope? It is the hope of future life with God through Christ. It is the hope of resurrection, the hope of salvation. And how is this hope possible? Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because Christ has conquered the grave for us, we now have hope for life beyond death as well. His resurrection is the guarantee and down payment of our resurrection. Because he lives, we will live.

And that is what makes this a living hope, rather than a vain hope. In the face of uncertainty and suffering, how can we be sure that our hope of resurrection is true? How can we know that our hope for salvation is not in vain? Because Christ is risen from the dead. Remember, these believers were facing suffering and persecution. Their lives were difficult and would become more difficult in the days ahead. What did they need to persevere in the face of such suffering? Hope, but not just hope. They need living hope, the confidence that their future was not in question, that their hope was not in vain. 

And through resurrection of Christ, these believers have that living hope. Because Christ lives and because they now live in him, they can face suffering and persecution. They do not have to despair or fear. Their future is life and salvation, not judgment and separation. How do they know this? Because Christ, the great Shepherd of the Sheep, is risen from the dead, and his resurrection is the hope of their resurrection. So, that’s the first reality of the new birth – a living hope through a living Savior.

 

An Inheritance Kept for Us

Second reality of the new birth – an inheritance kept for us. Peter now describes the result of our new birth as an inheritance. In speaking of an inheritance, Peter again recalls the OT, where the nation of Israel was promised an inheritance in the Promised Land. Peter picks up that language and describes believers as having an inheritance as well. But the inheritance no longer refers to a physical land, but to an end-time salvation. Our inheritance is a future dwelling with God in the new heavens and new earth. So, just as with the living hope, this inheritance concerns our future salvation and life with God himself.

Peter describes this inheritance with three words – imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Again, there is a contrast with the OT idea of inheritance. The physical land in the OT could be taken away, it could be defiled, and it could lose its luster. Our inheritance as believers is not like that. It is certain and secure. It cannot be touch by anything on earth. Nothing can defile it, corrupt it, or taint it! In that sense, believers should understand that our inheritance is the great fulfillment of all God’s promises. Our inheritance in Christ is the fulfillment to which all the other lesser inheritances pointed. In Christ, we have been given something much greater than physical land on this earth; we have been given future life with God in the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. And nothing can touch that inheritance.

As if this description was not enough, Peter goes on to describe our perfect inheritance as “kept in heaven for you.” Where is this inheritance? Not on earth, where thieves can break in and steal, and rust can destroy. It is in heaven, kept secure for God’s people. The idea here is that God is preserving our future inheritance until the time is right for that inheritance to be given.

Think about the comfort and hope this would bring to suffering Christians. Imagine losing your home or your livelihood. Imagine facing the lose of health, or even the lose of life. Some of you may not have to imagine such a fate because you’re facing it right now! Those kinds of suffering can lead to significant moments of doubt. We can begin to think, “If people and circumstances can so drastically affect my present life, might they also affect my future life? If I can be harmed here and now, what about then, in the future? If everything I have now can be taken or burned or trashed, what about my inheritance with God?” Peter’s description of our inheritance answers those questions with comfort and confidence. Nothing in this world can call into question the most important reality in our lives – that we have a perfect inheritance with God through the Risen Christ. Nothing can defile, derail, or destroy our inheritance of salvation.

Think about the freedom this inheritance brings as well. If our inheritance is secure, then that frees us from worry and fear over what the future might bring. We don’t have to worry; we don’t have to be afraid. We know that our future salvation is secure. And that gives us freedom to live for God’s glory in the here and now. When the suffering comes, when the persecution comes, it cannot touch our inheritance. So, we are free to be faithful, even in the midst of difficulty. We are free to gladly suffer the loss of all things now, because we know that our future inheritance is secure. We are free to pursue holiness now, even when it results in hostility, because nothing can shake our inheritance. We are free to live for God’s glory now, because the world cannot do anything to corrupt our inheritance. You see the sense of freedom this brings? When we live for the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, we are free from worry, fear, and anxiety in the here and now.

 

A People Kept for God’s Inheritance

Third reality of the new birth – a people kept for that inheritance. Not only is the inheritance kept for us, but we are kept for the inheritance! Our unfading inheritance will be ours because God’s power is at work to keep us secure until the day when that salvation is revealed. As Ed Clowney says in his book on 1 Peter, “It would be small comfort to know that nothing could destroy our heavenly inheritance if we could lose it at last. The wonder of our hope is that the same power of God that keeps our inheritance also keeps us.”

Peter says in v5 that believers are kept for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. What Peter has in mind here is the ultimate, end-time salvation of God’s people. He has in mind the final day, when God’s people are delivered from God’s judgment and brought safely into the new heavens and new earth. Believers are saved in the present in that we have been declared right with God. On the basis of Jesus’ righteousness, we enjoy a reconciled relationship with God the Father right now. But in another sense, our final salvation is in the future, awaiting the last day. That final salvation is yet to come, and Peter anticipates that final salvation here.

So, how are believers kept secure for this final salvation? Peter says “by God’s power.” The power that keeps the inheritance also keeps us. The idea is that of a night watchman, who vigilantly watches for any threat to the city. God’s power in our lives is like that. It is the means by which we are kept secure for final salvation. We don’t keep ourselves; we are kept by God. And this makes complete sense in the context of the passage. We began this life as a Christian by God’s power. He has caused us to be born again. And now we see that we finish this life as a Christian by God’s power. He keeps us secure to the end. If any believer makes it to the final day still trusting in Christ, it is only by the power of God. We are saved by grace, and we are kept for final salvation by grace. There is not one aspect of our lives as believers that owes to our ability or strength. All of the Christian life, from the new birth to the final day, is a testimony to the power and grace of God.

Next question, though – how exactly does God’s power work to keep us secure? We know its God’s power, but how does it all work out in the real world? Peter says ‘by God’s power we are being guarded through faith.’ So, where do we see God’s power working in our lives? We see it in faith. As we believe God’s word and trust in Christ, God’s power works to guard and protect us. His power is given agency through faith. It is by keeping us in the act of believing that God’s power protects us until the final day. As I trust in Christ, God’s power is at work to keep me secure for the final day. And what is God’s power working in my life to do? Keep me trusting in Christ.

This is why throughout the NT, believers are encouraged and exhorted to continue trusting in Christ. The NT is replete with references to the need for continued belief. Why? Because perseverance in faith is the way in which God’s power works to protect his people. How will we make it to the end? Through God’s power at work in our lives through faith. Therefore, the NT says, continue trusting in Christ. 

In light of that, I urge us here at Midtown Baptist to continue trusting in Christ. Continue to look away from yourself and look to God’s grace in Christ. Continue to believe that all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Jesus. Continue to trust that Christ is a sure and ready Savior to all who trust in him. Continue to believe that Jesus’ resurrection ensures your resurrection. Continue to rest each day in the reality that your salvation owes entirely to God’s grace. And, continue to remember that God is the One at work to keep you trusting in Christ. He will keep you in the faith, because it is his power that guards all who have been born again. You are not kept secure by your ability to believe. You are kept secure by God’s power at work in your life through faith. Therefore, friends, continue trusting in Christ.

As we come to a close, we are now better equipped to understand why Peter begins his letter with praise to God. It is because everything in our lives as believers owes to God’s mercy and grace given to us in Christ. God has given us the new birth because of his great mercy. We have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have an unfading inheritance because it is kept secure by God in heaven. And we have ourselves are destined for final salvation because God’s power is at work to keep us safe all the way to the end. God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s power – the Christian life is all of grace. There is no other response than to praise him. Indeed, that is the reason why God has shown us such mercy and grace in the first place, so that we might praise and worship and enjoy him forever.

But we are also better equipped now to see how at the outset of this letter, Peter gives his readers an unshakeable sense of hope. We may suffer the loss of many things in this life. We may lose our homes, our health, our possessions, maybe even our lives. We may face ridicule and difficulty. Our pilgrimage to the heavenly city may be marked with years of tears and unfulfilled longings. Every earthly thing we hold dear may be shaken, shattered, and taken from us. 

But Peter’s message at the outset of his letter is that we do have a hope that cannot be shaken. We do have an inheritance that cannot be touched. We do have a salvation that will surely be revealed. We may be pilgrims now, but we know for certain where this road ends. And so, we have hope. We are not crushed, even when the weight of suffering is oppressive. We do not despair, even when our circumstances appear to be hopeless. Instead, we continue to walk by faith, trusting that the God who caused us to be born again will one day deliver us safely to his heavenly city. And therefore, we can join our voices with Peter and say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope.”

More in 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers

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Stand Firm in God's Grace

February 23, 2014

Humble and Vigilant

February 16, 2014

Shepherding the Flock of God
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