Intro to Series
Did you know that in the church calendar, Easter lasts for 50 days? Christmas lasts just 12 days. Advent lasts anywhere between 22-28 days. Lent lasts 40 days. But Easter—the season dedicated to celebrating hope and grace in light of Christ’s resurrection—is the longest holy season of the year.
And as things would have it, this year the Lectionary prescribes reading the letter of 1Peter during the Easter season.
1Peter is an interesting book. While it is has traditionally been identified with the apostle Peter, this letter addresses themes and situations that grew in urgency around the end of the first century AD. Specifically, this letter is addressed to Christians who are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ—those whose religious convictions have led to very real social, economic, and perhaps even physical suffering. They are being punished by a culture prejudiced against the Way of Jesus.
In the face of such difficulties—standing before such tremendous obstacles—these Christians are finding their faith tested in ways they could never have imagined. The simple act of following Jesus is costing them in ways we could never imagine.
This letter, then, meets them where they are. It acknowledges the suffering they are experiencing—the hard times they face. Yet it aims to reorient the reader toward joy and hope.
While the trials most of us face pale in comparison to those of this letter’s original readers, the wisdom that is offered is just as valuable to us today, as we too struggle to find hope in hard times.
That will be our theme for the rest of this resurrection season: Finding Hope in Hard Times. In the coming weeks we will reflect on
the hope of salvation (and how we are saved from ourselves)
the hope of meaning (and how we are saved from senselessness)
the hope of being chosen (and how we are saved from chance)
the hope of grace (and how we are saved from defending God)
and the hope of a savior (and how we are saved from saving ourselves)
But first, we begin where the author of 1Peter begins: by identifying the Anchor of Hope. Let us read.
11 Reasons for Praising God
(adapted from New Bible Commentary, s.v. 1Peter 1:3-9)
This treatise on finding hope in hard times begins by identifying the anchor of our hope: the one true God. And then, in the next few verses, it offers us eleven reasons for praising God…… Eleven realities that are indisputable…… Eleven facts that are not conditional upon circumstances. Within these eleven points, we discover how the inalterable reality of God and God’s work gives hope in the midst of trouble.
[And yes, that means this sermon is going to have eleven points. I may have to skip the poem at the end.]
1. Our reading begins: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Peter 1:3) The first reason to praise God is that God is father to Jesus Christ. Jesus himself talks about the closeness between he and the Father, even saying “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus is our example, redeemer, friend……without a God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” we wouldn’t have a Jesus either. So no matter what’s going on in our lives or world, there is something—someONE—to anchor our hopes to.
2. The reading continues: “In his great mercy” (v.3). This is the second point. It is mercy that motivates God—not condemnation, not anger, not jealousy, not pride. Contrary to the faulty images of God that so many of us hold, this verse is quite clear that God’s motivation in engaging us is driven by mercy. Jesus wants us to know this about God—he goes to great lengths to show it to us. And twice he even quotes Hosea 6:6, insisting that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13; 12:7). That our God is a God motivated by mercy is another reason to put our hope in God in all circumstances.
3. “In his great mercy, he has given us new birth” (v.3). this “new birth” is the third point. The new birth……the new beginning……the transformed existence that is given to us is a product of God’s great mercy. It’s that mystery that Nicodemus wrestled with in John 3. It’s that transformational reality proclaimed in Galatians 2 as Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ—I am no longer alive—but Christ is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son” (Gal 2:20 VOICE). Because of God, there can always be a new beginning, a new day, a new chance.
4. Point four. The author says that this new birth is “into a living hope” (v.3). In other words, the result of that new birth is a life of hope. This hope is qualified with the next two points, as its means and its object are made explicit. Yet it is also remarkable simply to recognize that on account of the inalterable reality of who God is and what God is doing, our lives can be filled with hope.
5. So what is the means of this hope? That’s the fifth point here. It comes about “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (v.3). Christ has been raised from the dead. We celebrate that most fully on Easter, yet this reality undergirds the hope that draws us every week. Without the resurrection, we would have no hope, as Paul points out in 1Thess 4:13. Without the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus’ death would have been “the most tragic waste in all of history” (Gal 2:21 VOICE). As we read in 1Cor 15, “If what we have hoped for in Christ doesn’t take us beyond this life, then we are world-class fools, deserving everyone’s pity. But Christ was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death… Through Christ all of us can live again” (vv. 19-20, 22 VOICE).
6. This brings us to the sixth point. If the means of our hope is the resurrection of Jesus, the object—the reason—for our hope is surely the inheritance that awaits us as children and heirs of God (v.4). One of the ways we have understood the work of Jesus on the cross is to say he swapped places with us. Later in 1Peter 2 we’re told that Jesus “took on our sins in His body when he died on the cross so that we, being dead to sin, can live for righteousness” (v.24 VOICE). But if we swapped places, it also means that Jesus places us in his own position in God’s eyes, as God’s beloved children and heirs. Once again, as followers of Jesus, this is an inalterable reality in our lives—no matter how the storms of life may bluster and blow.
7. This inheritance, v.4 of 1Peter 1 continues, “can never perish, spoil or fade.” This is the seventh point. No matter what hostile elements may menace…… No matter the pollution that threatens to defile…… No matter our own fears of fading zeal or faith wasting away…… Our inheritance remains secure; it “can never perish, spoil, or fade.”
8. And why is this? That’s the eighth point. It remains secure because it’s keeping is not left with us: Peter tells us that it “is kept in heaven for you” (v.4). This is Peter’s way of saying what Paul means, when he says that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). In the Roman world, if you were a Roman citizen, there would be a record of your citizenship kept in Rome. No matter what happened in the world, that citizenship would be secure. But of course, just because you were a Roman citizen didn’t mean you were supposed to end up in Rome when you retired; quite the opposite: your job was to bring Roman culture wherever you were.
(cf. N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p.293)
9. That brings us to point #9: We “are shielded by God’s power” (v.5). This word “shielded” might better be translated “guarded.” It literally means “garrisoned.” And the point here is that we are “garrisoned” by the power of God so that we will be able to inherit. Nothing can threaten that. As an analogy, there are quite a few times the apostle Paul relies on his Roman citizenship to get him out of sticky situations. It provides him with certain protections not available to the average Joe. God is so intent on ensuring we inherit the promise that God uses God’s power to shield us and protect us—not preventing any harm from coming our way, but guaranteeing we do not face it alone and that God will see us through. Another reason to trust God as the anchor of hope.
10. Number ten. Peter tells us in v.5 that it is “through faith” that we are “shielded by God’s power.” Faith, then, is the means by which we are guarded by God. It is how we hold onto God’s promises. Our salvation does not depend on our actions, our morality, our righteousness, our knowledge, or our purity. It depends only on faith. It is only “through faith” that we begin the lifelong process of turning toward God. It is only “through faith” that we can submit to God and become like our savior Jesus. It is only “through faith” that we find salvation.
11. That’s the last point. Salvation. Peter says that we are guarded—”garrisoned”—”until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (v.5). Salvation—whether we do a good job explaining it or not—has past, present, and future components. Here in 1Peter 1, “salvation is described with reference to the past (Christians have been given new birth by God’s mercy), to the present (Christians are being shielded by God’s power), and to the future (at the last time will come the final deliverance from evil)” (IVP-NB Commentary, s.v. 1Peter 1:3-5). We can confidently anchor our hope in God because with God there is salvation. As the apostle Peter proclaims in a sermon early in Acts, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NIV11)
Peter, of course, in the remaining verses of our reading, goes straight into acknowledging the troubles his hearers are facing. He speaks of “suffering” and “grief,” of “trials” and the crucible of persecution. But he does it all with the foundation of knowing God as the anchor of hope.
As we’ll see in the coming weeks, Peter never dismisses suffering. He never demeans it by suggesting it is any less devastating than it is. He also, I believe, never glorifies it. Peter isn’t interested in creating martyrs—the people he is writing to are already being martyred.
Instead, he wants to help them come to terms with the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.
He wants them to know that God is with them.
He wants them to know that as followers of Jesus, they will survive this, even if they die in the process.
He wants them to know that—even in the face of tremendous adversity—it is possible to have hope and joy in your life. All it takes is anchoring your hope to the one and only God, who loves you and wants to see you through.