Hope that Lives (Easter 2020)
Passage: 1 Peter 1:3–1:5
Hope that Lives
It’s safe to say that this is an Easter Sunday unlike any we have ever experienced. I told Laura I believe this is the first Easter Sunday in my life that I haven’t been together with a church family. It is disappointing that Resurrection Sunday falls during this pandemic.
In fact, I read a number of news stories this week, all expressing that common sentiment – how unfortunate it is that Easter Sunday 2020 falls where it does. And we feel that this morning, don’t we? We’d rather be together! But church services have been cancelled, Easter celebrations have been postponed, while families and neighbors cannot gather together for what is surely one of the high points of the spring – Easter Sunday. It’s disappointing – it’s unfortunate, as a number of stories expressed this week.
And yet, there is something missing in that common sentiment. There is a sense in which this is not unfortunate at all. You could say that Resurrection Sunday 2020 falls at precisely the best and most needed time. Instead of calling it unfortunate, brothers and sisters, we should call this providential. Let me explain what I mean.
What we celebrate this morning is the Resurrection of the Son of God – how early in the morning, on the third day, Jesus’ stone-cold heart suddenly began beating again. The blood rushed through his once-lifeless veins, breath filled his lungs that were deathly still one moment before, and in an instant, the Son of God took back up his life and walked out of the grave, crushing death under every step.
And at that death-destroying moment some two thousand years ago – when Jesus Christ walked out of the tomb – at that moment, the making of all things new began. The mending of all brokenness broke free from sin’s deadly grip. The restoration of God’s good creation dawned in this fallen world. Remember, that’s what Jesus’ resurrection signals. His resurrection is the first ray of the New Creation’s sun, breaking in to the night of sin’s darkness. Death will not win. Sin will be defeated. Satan will be vanquished. And for all eternity, God will look upon his people and his new creation, and God will say, “Behold, it is very good.” All of that, brothers and sisters, is what we’re celebrating today. The Son of God is not dead. He is risen; he is risen indeed.
And in that sense, Easter Sunday 2020 falls right where it ought to be. Of all the things we could hear this morning, this truth – the Truth – dispels our fear, strengthens our faith, and renews our hope. This Truth – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – conquers everything, including pandemics. Are we sad that we cannot be together face to face? Absolutely, and we pray for a quick end to this ordeal. But even so, how kind of God, in the midst of a crisis, to bring us to this day, where we celebrate the truth that cannot be quarantined – the truth of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
And so to that end, brothers and sisters, I have a very simple aim this morning. I want to spend our time today reflecting on hope we have because of Christ’s resurrection. And in the NT, there is perhaps no better place to see this hope than our passage – 1 Peter 1. 1 Peter, you may remember, was written to suffering Christians. They were being persecuted, and their lives faced an uncertain future, at least from the world’s perspective. But into that hardship and uncertainty, the apostle Peter pens this letter. He writes to encourage these believers with the gospel, and to strengthen them for endurance. But most significantly, Peter writes to remind them of the hope they have in Jesus Christ. For the church, there is a hope that outlasts any suffering. There is a hope that endures any hardship. Of course, sometimes it is hard to see that hope in the midst of the crisis, but that’s why God has given us this letter. That’s why the Holy Spirit prompted Peter to write as he did. This book is a divinely appointed reminder of the church’s hope, a hope that can endure any trouble.
And the passage I want us to look at today puts this hope immediately into view. The opening verses of Peter’s letter highlight God’s action to give his people a hope and a future. In fact, Peter frames the entire letter in light of what God has done for his church. You can see this straightaway in the passage, and we should note this before we go any further.
Just to frame the rest of the sermon, look again at v3, and notice how Peter begins with what God has done for his church. V3, Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again.” That is one of the clearest statements in Scripture on God’s action to save his people. As the church, our hope rests in the reality that God moved toward us, that he initiated new life in us, that he – not us – is the source of our salvation. What Peter describes here is the work of regeneration – where God, by his mercy and grace, gives new life to those who are dead in their sins. This is the new birth that Jesus speaks about in John 3, and the apostle Peter here tells us that this new birth is entirely and absolutely God’s work. According to his mercy, God has caused us to be born again.
But here’s the key for understanding Peter’s aim in writing. Peter begins with God in order to remind us where our hope is found – not in ourselves or in our circumstances, but in the God who has taken action for us. Follow Peter’s thinking. Since God is the one who gave us life, our hope is that God will now sustain our life. Since God took the initiative to save us, then God will finish that initiative and save us to the uttermost. Do you see the pastoral purpose behind Peter’s theology? V3 begins as it does because our hope begins with the God who is merciful and mighty to save.
And that framework of God’s action brings us to our focus this morning. Here’s where I’d like us to camp out. Peter tells us that God has caused us to be born again, v3, but Peter then goes on to describe what this new birth results in for the Christian. More specifically, Peter says the new birth brings three distinct encouragements to the church, and these encouragements are intended to strengthen us for whatever we face today. There’s one from each verse in the passage – 3, 4, 5 – so on this Resurrection Sunday, let’s consider these encouragements together.
The Church Lives Today in Resurrection Hope
The first encouragement is in v3 – the Church Lives Today in Resurrection Hope. We’ve just noted how God, in his mercy, has caused his people to be born again. But you’ll note that Peter then immediately tells us what this new life provides to the Christian. Look at the next phrase, v3 – God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” I know it is only one word, but that description of hope as living makes all the difference in the world. Hope is only good if it is fulfilled. A hope that goes unmet often produces greater disappointment. I’m sure many of us have experienced something like that – where something we hoped for goes unfulfilled, and in the end, we have this sense of disappointment that causes our hope to fade. It may have been something silly, or it may have been something significant. But the point remains that hope can sometimes be in vain. Sometimes, hope comes up empty in the end.
But here in v3, that is precisely what Peter says will not happen to the church of Jesus Christ. The hope we have received is a living hope. The idea here is something that is genuine and true. Rather than having an empty or vain hope, the believer has received from God a hope is vibrant, sure, and alive. This hope cannot fail – that is Peter’s point. The Christian’s hope cannot be stolen away. It’s not a false hope that will only disappoint you in the end. When God caused us to be born again, he brought us into a living, breathing hope.
Now, at the most foundational level, our living hope is that good news that God has made us alive! I don’t want us to miss this fact. The church’s living hope is – most fundamentally – our new life with God. Think about it for a moment, and recall the incredible mercy that God has shown us as believers. Before God gave us new life, we were without hope in the world. We were lost, dead in our sins, and hopeless on our own. We could not give ourselves new life, and tragically, we didn’t even know we needed new life.
But God, being rich in mercy, gave us new life, which means the living hope Peter describes here is most fundamentally our new life with God. Brothers and sisters, this is a hope that no one and nothing can ever take away from you. Nothing can ever undo God’s salvation of your soul. No one can ever un-justify you in God’s sight. No pandemic can steal away this hope – you and I, brother and sister, live today with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the most important sense, that is our living hope – that we know and are known by the God who gave us life.
But even as I say that, you might be asking yourself how that can be true. Look, the reality is that there are hardships and trials in this life that inflict harm on us. Suffering is real, and at times, really painful. To put it very bluntly, the coronavirus kills both Christians and non-Christians. If that is the reality of life in this world, then how can we ever possibly believe we have a living hope? What makes us sure that this hope we have is truly genuine, certain, and living?
Look again at the text, and notice where Peter anchors our living hope. This is the reason our hope is living in the first place. Notice what he writes – God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope” how? “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection is our hope. And because Jesus lives, our hope is living. Actually, we should say it this way. Because Jesus lives, we live, and in that life Jesus shares with us, we have hope that lives. Our living hope is ultimately resurrection hope.
And that is our assurance, brothers and sisters. As surely as Jesus lives, so also will we live with him and through him, both now and for eternity. Since nothing can put Jesus back in the grave, there is nothing that can stop God from finishing his saving work in our lives. We have a living hope because we have a Living Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, think about the difference this makes as we walk through life in this fallen world. We have a living hope because we have a Living Savior. Think about the different this makes. You might think that this means our lives will henceforth be nothing but successful and safe. Since Jesus conquered death, no harm or disaster will overtake us! There are some folks out there who say that – that Jesus’ resurrection promises Christians an unbroken life of success, health, and ease.
But here’s the problem with that line of thinking. Not only does it ignore the reality of life in this world, it also minimizes the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Listen, Jesus’ resurrection does not promise us an unbroken life of success and ease. No, our hope is much more powerful than that. Jesus’ resurrection promises us that a life of hardship and difficulty will not break us in the end. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that a life of suffering, which will surely come, will not rob us of our hope.
The power of the resurrection is not the promise of only good days. The power of the resurrection is that it gives hope for the bad, awful days – the days of failure, loss, pain, and pandemic – the days where suffering piles on top of suffering, and it seems our hearts will utterly crumble under the hardship. The resurrection gives hope on those days, brothers and sisters. That’s the difference a living hope makes. It’s not the hope we will avoid hardship and heartache. It’s the hope that will endure the hardship and heartache when they come.
I know there are some in our church today who are hurting and enduring some level of hardship. I know there are some who are afraid of what the future holds. Jobs are at risk, people are concerned about the health of their loved ones, and just overall – there is a feeling of unease, like the floor underneath our feet is moving. I know that’s the reality facing us.
And brothers and sisters, God’s answer to these days is not the glib response of a slogan or cliché. No, God’s answer is the resurrection of the Son of God. Since Jesus lives, we will live with him. Since Jesus lives, our hope is living and will endure whatever hardship we face. It’s greater even than the promise of ease and comfort. What God has given us is a living hope – a resurrection hope, and in that hope, the church lives, even when the times are difficult.
The Church Rests Today in an Unshakeable Future
As we continue on to v4, we find that our resurrection hope also tells us something the future. This is Peter’s second encouragement for the church, from 4 – the Church Rests Today in an Unshakeable Future. In v4, Peter shifts from describing the church’s hope to speaking of the church’s inheritance. What is the result of God causing his people to be born again? The result is that we have an inheritance from the heavenly Father. When the Father gave us life and adopted us as his children, we became his heirs with Christ. We now stand to receive an inheritance from God himself.
Now, that thought alone is astounding, but Peter doesn’t stop there. He presses deeper with a stunning description of what this inheritance is like. Peter wrote thousands of years ago, but he understood what life is like in this world. He understood what so many people have experienced – that an earthly inheritance is a fragile thing. An inheritance can be lost, and its value can crash. We only have to look at events in our country over the last several weeks to recognize the instability of an earthly inheritance. Eight of the ten largest stock market drops in history have happened since February 24 of this year. That is staggering. What’s more, the four largest percentage drops occurred in the span of a single week – March 9 through 16, this year. I’m not a finance guy, but when I see those deeply red numbers, I think in human faces. That’s someone’s inheritance, isn’t it? That’s someone’s retirement, or someone’s college tuition. All of that to say, we’ve seen first hand how fragile an earthly inheritance can be. In a blink, it’s gone.
But listen again to how Peter describes our inheritance as believers. It’s anything but fragile. V4 – God has caused us to be born again “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” Do you hear the security in those words? Imperishable – it cannot be corrupted. Undefiled – it is pure, pristine, perfect. And unfading – it doesn’t depreciate; it cannot lose its value. Brothers and sisters, that is the nature of our inheritance from God. It is perfectly secure, and its value is eternally fixed. To use the language of our lifetime, our inheritance is immune from any stock market crash. In fact, there is no stock exchange in the kingdom of God! There is only a perfect inheritance from an almighty Father who provides for children from the overflow of his own riches.
That’s actually a good way to think about it. An inheritance comes from a father to his children, and since our Father is the Lord of heaven who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, our inheritance is rich beyond measure and impervious to corruption. To corrupt our inheritance, you would have to corrupt our Father, and that can never happen. Imperishable, undefiled, and unfading – that is the inheritance the Father gives to his children.
But still, Peter is not finished. He adds one more description to our inheritance, and after this point, there can be no doubt. Notice the last line of v4 – Where is our inheritance now? It is “kept in heaven for you.” I cannot think of a more comforting thought for Christians sojourning through this fallen world. Nothing can steal our inheritance, for it is kept safe in heaven itself. In fact, to steal our inheritance, you would have to catch our Father napping or outwit his protection, and you would sooner keep the sun from rising than fool our heavenly Father. No enemy and no circumstance will ever snatch our inheritance from us. It is kept by God himself, awaiting the final day when we enter into the Father’s presence.
And this means, brothers and sisters, that we can live today with a sense of freedom and confidence. We don’t have to chase what this world offers, and we don’t have to fret when things crumble. No, we’ve received our inheritance by grace, that inheritance is secure, and therefore, we will surely receive it from the Father on the last day. Listen, I don’t mean this to sound simplistic, but this truth – the truth of our heavenly inheritance – this truth frees us from worry and anxiety. It encourages contentment. It sustains faithfulness when the fruit is slow in coming. Because the inheritance is secure, I am free to simply and radically spend my life loving God and loving my neighbor as myself. What a gift, brothers and sisters, and it is a gift we have received from the Father!
Be encouraged, church. What God has given you in Christ is secure to the end, and on that glorious last day, God will bring you into that inheritance for all eternity. That’s our second encouragement – the Church Rests Today in an Unshakeable Future.
The Church Trusts Today in Her Ready Redeemer
And so, we come to v5 and a final encouragement for this Resurrection Sunday – the Church Trusts Today in Her Ready Redeemer. Peter has just described how the believer’s inheritance is guarded in heaven, but now Peter goes on to describe how the believer himself is also being protected. Notice v5 – you, Peter says, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” You could say that Christians are beneficiaries of a two-fold protection. Our inheritance is protected in heaven by the power of God, and we are protected for that inheritance by that same divine power. God is keeping our inheritance, and God is keeping us.
But notice the practical difference this makes in our daily lives. Look again at v5, and ask yourself, “How is God’s protection worked out in our my life? How does it happen?” It happens through faith, Peter says. Do you see it? Believers are being guarded by God’s power through faith.
Faith in Christ is the means through which God’s protective power guards the Christian for the final day. There is a mysterious and glorious cooperation here between the believer and the power of God. Think about how it works. God grants us faith, he sustains that faith with his Word, and then through that faith, God supplies the power that protects us and keeps us for the final day. Faith in Christ is the very power of God, keeping watch over his people.
Brothers and sisters, this is why week after week, the elders stand behind this pulpit and urge to continue trusting in Christ. This is why we make the call to faith a regular feature of our preaching. It’s because we believe, from God’s Word, that faith in Christ is the way God keeps us for the end.
You know, I’ve heard it said before that calling people week after week to trust in Christ is not a very effective way to preach. It just gets redundant, people say. And while I agree that we need to explain what trusting in Christ looks like in different situations, to call such preaching redundant tragically misses this truth in Scripture. Calling believers to continued faith in Christ is actually connecting them with the very power of God that will guard them until the end. Continued faith in Christ is the most necessary step we can take in any situation. We continuing believing because we trust that God’s power is at work in the very faith we express. That is how we should think of each day in the Christian life. God is guarding me today for the final day, and he is guarding me through faith in Jesus Christ.
And to encourage your faith, brothers and sisters, I want you to notice the character of God on display here in v5. Look again at v5, and notice how Peter describes our salvation as ready to be revealed in the last time. Now, in the context, this salvation is the same as the inheritance in 4. Peter is talking about our final salvation, the glory we will receive on the last day that will result in our eternal life with God. That’s the salvation ready to be revealed.
But here’s the question – Ready to be revealed by whom? By God, of course. And God is ready, Peter says, to bring that final salvation to pass. We’re not trusting in a God who may or may not come through in the end. We’re not banking our hope on a God who keeps the final outcome in doubt, just to make sure we stay our toes. No, we trust a God who is ready to reveal our final salvation with Christ. He is willing, and he is able to bring about what he has promised.
And so, brothers and sisters, we trust him, and we do so with great confidence. God has given us new life. He has given us resurrection hope and an unshakeable future. But most incredible of all, God has given us himself. In Jesus Christ, we see the clearest evidence of God’s readiness to redeem. And through Christ’s death and resurrection, we know that nothing can derail our Ready Redeemer. Having crushed death, God will not fail to keep us for a final salvation ready to be revealed in the last day.
As we close, what is the fruit of these encouragements from 1 Peter 1? What is the takeaway of our resurrection hope, our unshakeable future, and our sure salvation? What is the fruit? It’s found in the very first line of v3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The fruit of these encouragements is praise to God. That is the fitting and joyful response of Resurrection Sunday. The good news of the empty tomb fills our heart with hope, and that hope overflows in mouths that are quick to praise and worship God.
Let’s end on that note, brothers and sisters. Let’s end with our praise-worthy God. These are strange and trying days, to the say the least. This is an Easter unlike any other we have experienced. And yet, the good news of Sunday morning remains the same. The tomb is empty. He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed. Let’s go about our day with hearts that are hopeful and with lips that are quick to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Praise God.