Monday, April 05, 2010

Praise God for the Risen Jesus! (1 Peter 1:3-5)

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When the Patriarch Jacob met the Pharaoh of Egypt in Genesis 47, the Bible tells us that Pharaoh asked him, “How many years have you lived?” Jacob responded “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life.” Most of us will not live to the ripe old age of 130, but all of us can look over the landscape of our lives and say that our years have been few and difficult. Each of us experiences hardship on a daily basis. We are not unique. Since the fall of humanity into sin, every person who has ever lived in this world has been affected by suffering and sorrow in countless ways. Peter’s original readers could relate. They had very likely been uprooted from Rome and deported under the Emperor Claudius, sent off to live in the newly established Roman colonies in Asia Minor. Why? We don’t know for certain, but we have reason to believe that they were singled out because they were Christians. And they were scattered across this enormous new territory where they came into contact with people who had lived there for a long time and were not too pleased about being under Roman control or having to deal with these new residents. These Christians were treated harshly by their new neighbors in a number of ways. Peter describes how they underwent “various trials,” “evil,” “harm,” a “fiery ordeal,” being slandered, reviled, and socially ostracized because of their faith in Christ. Not all suffering that we have endured is a direct result of our faith in Christ, but live long enough and you will experience some of it. Some of you have already experienced it to a great degree. Your decision to follow Christ may have cost you relationships, privileges, or possessions. So, what does the Word of God have to say to people who are living in hardship and difficulty, much of which may be directly related to our faith in Jesus?

Peter writes, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He calls them to worship the sovereign God of the universe in spite of their difficult circumstances. Instead of looking at the hardships around them, Peter directs their focus upward to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and says, “Blessed be Him!” In other words, “Praise Him!” Our worship of God is always rooted in the objective realities of who He is and what He has done. Peter uses very precise theological language in the opening verses of this letter to identify the one true God in His Trinitarian Nature, referring in v2 to God the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ. Here in v3, he refers to Him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, further establishing his conviction in the sovereignty of God and the deity of Christ. He is supremely and uniquely worthy of our praise and worship because who He is in and of Himself. But then notice that Peter also points to a particular act of God as a foundational basis for this worship: The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is that miraculous and historical event that we celebrate today.

God has done many things in the history of the world, and the Lord Jesus did many things recorded in the Gospels, and many more that are not. John said that if we recorded everything He said and did, the whole world wouldn’t contain the books. But the resurrection is the event that Peter points these struggling readers to. It is this singular event that he uses as a basis of his call to worship. Praise God, he says, on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And in the words that fill this passage, Peter tells us why the resurrection of Christ is so foundational to our worship as we live out our lives, few and difficult though our days may be.

I. Because of the Resurrection, we can be born again (v3)
I’m not much of a handy man. When something has to be assembled, my tendency is to tear into it and start trying to put it together without looking at the directions. Invariably I reach a point where I realize I am stuck and pull out the instructions to see where I went wrong. Often it was with step one. So I have to take it all apart and start over. Don’t you wish life was like that? Wouldn’t it be great if you could go back and start over, knowing what you know now? See, by the time we come to understand what God expects of us in this life, we are already guilty of violating His holy standards. In fact, we were born guilty because we inherited a sin nature from Adam. So we are sinners by nature and by choice, from the worst of us to the best of us. We deserve to be eternally separated from God because of our sins. But praise the Lord, God has not given us what we deserve. He has shown us “great mercy.” When the Bible speaks of mercy, it means that God is withholding from us some penalty or consequence that we deserve. In His great mercy, Peter says, He has “caused us to be born again.” And this new birth is a direct result of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

You remember when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus in John 3. This man was a religious leader among the Jewish people. As far as human standards go, he was a good man. But his goodness was not good enough to please God. Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And Nicodemus asked Jesus a very natural question in response: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?” And Jesus spoke to him about a different kind of birth – not the natural birth by which we are brought into the world, but a spiritual birth that comes to us from above. This new, spiritual birth is accomplished through Jesus Christ. Because God loved the world, He came into the world in the person of Christ to die for sins. He died the death we deserve because of our sins. But because of His divine power, He conquered sin and death by rising from the dead. Therefore, He is able to impart new life to all who come to Him by faith. He is able to “cause us to be born again.”

The solution to our spiritual predicament is not to try harder or do better, but to have a brand new start given to us by God Himself in the new birth. We need a new nature to replace the sinful nature we are born with. Thus Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again if he would enter the Kingdom of God.” We are born again with a new nature, and are made to be part of a new family. In this new family, God is our Father, and fellow believers in Jesus are our brothers and sisters. And the bond of this family is not just for this life, but for eternity. Because Jesus has conquered death and given us new life, our life with Him in this new family will be everlasting as well.
In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” What he means there is that if Christ is not risen from the dead, then He has not defeated sin or its penalty for us, and thus there is still a price to pay for sin that we must pay ourselves. That price will be eternal separation from God in suffering and perishing in that horrific place the Bible calls hell. But if Christ has been raised, as we preach and believe, then He has made a sufficient sacrifice for our sins so that we can be born again by faith in Him. All the sins of our past are removed. Our nature is transformed by His indwelling presence within us, and eternal life will be ours to enjoy forever with Him and our new family in Christ.
Peter is writing these words to people who have made that commitment to believe in Christ alone to save them from their sins. They have been born again. And as a result of their commitment to Christ, many of them have suffered great loss in their lives. They may have been cut off from family, they may have lost friends, they may be undergoing persecution from others, but Peter calls them to worship God, because Christ is risen, and as a result of His resurrection we have been born again into a new life and given a new family with a new Father in Heaven, and new brothers and sisters in the Church of Jesus Christ. And this is true for all of us as well. Christ is risen, and therefore we can be born again and have new life, abundant life, and eternal life in Him. Praise God for the Risen Christ who makes it possible for us to be born again.
II. Because of the Resurrection, we have a living hope (v3)
To most of us, the word “hope” conjures up the idea of something we are less than certain of. “Will the pastor be finished with his sermon by 12:00?” “I hope so.” I hope so too, but I am pretty sure I won’t. The way we use the word “hope” in our ordinary conversation is a way of expressing what we wish to be true in the future. But that is not the way the word is used by New Testament writers. In the New Testament hope looks toward the future, but it does so with certainty and confidence. To have hope is the opposite of facing the future with fear. As one New Testament scholar said, “To have hope is a sign that things are well with us.” A Christian’s hope is more than wishful thinking, it is a confident expectation of what will be. The logic of the passage is this: the resurrection makes the new birth possible, and the new birth brings hope, and this hope is living.
What is a “living hope”? To understand that, we would have to understand its opposite–dead hope. Hope that is grounded in futile things is dead. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul refers to those who do not understand the resurrection as those who “have no hope.” Their hope is dead. Many whom we know today have no hope – the only hope they know is a dead hope because it is not based on anything of real substance or value. The existentialists and materialists of our modern world look for satisfaction in this life only, and wrestle with the seemingly undeniable reality that it will not be attained here. Therefore, their only hope is to endure the hardships of this life until death comes, and at that point, they believe they will simply cease to exist. Death to them is just nothingness, a state of nonexistence, like a candle that has been extinguished. This view was common in the ancient world as well. But this is not how the Christian looks toward the future. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” We are hoping for something better beyond death. Our hope is a living hope because we understand that life goes on beyond death. Death is not the end for anyone, regardless of their spiritual condition. Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment. And in that judgment, some will enter eternal life and the glory of heaven, while others will perish eternally in hell. The difference is Jesus Christ. Those who have been born again by faith in him have a living hope of life beyond death. Jesus said in John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”

Peter would have his Christian friends know that life in this world may be hard. People may mistreat us for no other reason than for our faith in Him. For 2,000 years, many Christians have even been put to death for their faith, and this continues in much of the world today. But Peter reminds these believers that we have a living hope. Because Jesus has conquered death, we will have victory over death as well in Him. What can this world do to you that Christ cannot overcome? The worst of it is death, but we have a living hope that enables us to wait with confident expectation for a better life than this beyond the grave. Living hope means that no matter what the future holds, the believer in Christ does not have to face the future with fear. We have faith in the promises of God and await the fulfillment of those promises with assurance that His word will be found to be true.

How are we to endure the difficulties of life in this world? By considering the risen Lord Jesus Christ and worshiping God. He has enabled us to be born again and given us a living hope.

III. Because of the Resurrection, we have a glorious inheritance (vv4-5)

In the Old Testament, the Promised Land of Canaan was often spoken of as Israel’s inheritance. The various portions of the land which were allotted to each tribe were referred to as that tribe’s inheritance. For them, the idea of an inheritance in the land was of the utmost importance. Much of Israel’s ancient laws about land and family had to do with this reality. Ultimately, that land was lost for centuries to invading powers.

It is helpful to remember the likely scenario of Peter’s readers as we come to this discussion about inheritance. While we do not know for certain, the most likely background scenario of these Christians is that which I stated before—that they had been uprooted from Rome and scattered across Asia Minor by the Emperor Claudius. This is important to keep in mind, because in the ancient world, one’s inheritance often consisted primarily of land. This is still true in much of the world today. When a parent dies, the property is passed down to the heirs. But in the case of these Christians, they have been deported from their earthly homeland, and at this point, any claim to that inheritance is questionable at best, and completely forfeited at worst. If their future hope is dependent on what they might receive in this world, then they are relatively hopeless.

Many Christians today can identify with this. I dare suggest that here in our midst are some whose grandparents and parents cut them off when they decided to follow Jesus. Maybe some were disowned, struck from the inheritance, and severed from the ties of family and home. When viewed through the lens of life in this world only, that is a very insecure and hopeless position to find oneself in. And most of us can only imagine the intensity of the temptation that must be faced as one wrestles with these realities, understanding that all those things may be restored if only one would abandon following Jesus. Peter’s friends understood that. Had they renounced their faith in Christ, they may have been able to return to Rome, be reunited with their families, and have once again the security of their future inheritance of land and possessions and wealth.

But Peter tells them here that there is a better inheritance awaiting them. No matter what your faith in Christ may cause you to lose in this world will be more than compensated in the life to come. Because of the resurrection of Christ, we have been born again to a living hope, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away. Nothing we stand to gain in this world can be described in those terms. Something that is imperishable means that it will not be corrupted or destroyed. Undefiled means that it is not polluted or stained by sin. Things that will not fade away are those which will never lose their splendor. Everything in this world is perishable, defiled by sin, and posses only a fading beauty. There is nothing you can possess here and now that can’t be broken, stolen, or spoiled. But the things we stand to inherit in the life to come are not subject to any of that. That is why Jesus admonished us in the Sermon on the Mount to “not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt 6:19-20)

What will that inheritance consist of? Well, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that God has prepared for those who love Him things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard; things which have not entered the heart of man.” What we know is that it will be an inheritance of pure, imperishable, and eternal glory, consisting primarily of life in the very presence of this risen Lord Jesus and all the blood-bought benefits that come through faith in Him.

Israel longed for the homeland that God had promised them; but they couldn’t keep it. Because of their own sin, and because of repeated invasions from foreign powers, they lost that inheritance. But this inheritance that is promised to believers in Jesus is eternally secure. Peter said that it is reserved in heaven for us. This glorious eternal treasure has been stored up for us and is being guarded by the Christ who conquered death and lives forever more. It will never be taken away from those to whom it has been promised.

But what of us? What if somehow we become disqualified from receiving this inheritance before we obtain it? Not possible! Not only is the inheritance being reserved for us, but we are also being protected for it. In v5, Peter says that this inheritance is reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith. We are not maintaining ourselves in this relationship with Christ, but are being preserved in it by the power of God Himself, by the power of the Risen Lord Jesus who saved us and who is alive to keep us in the grip of this saving grace. Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. He is forever standing before the Father on our behalf, pleading the blood that He shed on our behalf, and nothing we do and nothing that can be done to us by others can ever take us out of His grace. In John 10:28-29, Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”

How may we know if we are guarded in this relationship with Him? If we have put our faith in Christ to save us, then it is certain. We are “protected by the power of God through faith.” It has been well said that, “Our faith lays hold on God’s power, and His power strengthens our faith, and in this manner we are preserved.” If our faith should grow weak as we walk with Jesus, God’s power works on our behalf to strengthen us so that no one who has truly been born again will ever fall away. They have been redeemed into a salvation, the fullness of which will only be fully and finally revealed in the last time, at the final judgment. On that day, we will see the risen Jesus face to face and know that our living hope has become fully realized. On that day, all that was ever lost in this life will fade from view as we behold the glorious inheritance God has reserved for those who are born again by faith in Christ.

Yes, life in this world is hard. Our days are few and difficult as Jacob said. And for the believer in Christ, there are often hardships that we must face for no other reason than that we have put our faith in Him. There will be sacrifice, there will be suffering to greater or lesser degrees, there will be costly decisions made with severe consequence. But the Word of God says to us today what it said to those to whom Peter wrote this letter. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because Christ has been resurrected from the dead! And because of this we can be born again to a living hope and an imperishable, undefiled, incorruptible inheritance that is guarded for us in heaven, while we are all the while being guarded for it by the power of God through our faith in Christ.

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