The Hope of a Savior (Saved from Saving Ourselves)
Throughout this Easter season, we’ve been looking around 1Peter for hope in hard times. This morning, we finish this series, ending largely where we started: If we are to find hope amidst the storms of life, we will find it when we anchor our hope in God alone.
But before we get to “how letting God save us directs us to hope,” we have to attend to the issue of perspective. This (in fact) is where Peter begins our reading—with an attempt to reorient the perspective of the Christians receiving his letter. He starts out:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1Peter 4:12-13a).
Those receiving this letter have a perspective on hardship. We all have a perspective on hardship.
Maybe we decide hardship is the consequence of our own choices…
Maybe we decide hardship is God testing us…
Maybe we decide hardship is just an unfair game of chance, a roll of the dice that lands in favor of some and against others…
Whatever we come to believe, it is certain one cannot live long in this world without struggling with the age-old question of why bad things happen—and especially why they happen to good people.
Peter’s audience has some preconceived notions about hardship, too. And they think hardship shouldn’t be happening to them. They believe hardship is something that happens to other people……you know, people who aren’t like us?
There’s something about this that feels a bit like the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18, in the parable Jesus told there: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11 NRSV)
According to Peter’s audience—and many Christians believe the same today—bad things happen to bad people. If you’re living right, and if you’re following Jesus, then they believe bad things shouldn’t happen to you.
This connection between hardship and sin almost seems hardwired in our human brains. There is even support of it in various parts of the Bible—especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. And this is (probably) rightly so—this is what we might call the “normative pattern of life.” Most of the time for most people “you reap what you sow” (Gal 6:7; cf. Hos 8:7; 2Cor 2:6).
But words like “normal,” “most of the time,” and “most people” reveal that these patterns are not universally true for everyone, everywhere, and all the time.
Peter’s audience thinks they are living according to the “normative pattern of life.” They are following Jesus. They are practicing kindness. They are actively working to be part of the Body of Christ. They may even be sharing their experiences of God’s love and grace with others.
But if they’re doing everything right, why is everything going wrong?
Peter’s answer to this question is that their perspective is too short. They are focused on the here and now when they need to adopt a God’s eye view of their situation. What they are experiencing isn’t strange. It’s not unexpected in the least. Had he wanted to quote some Bible or Jesus here, Peter would have had ample fodder:
There’s the story of Job, who the story makes clear has done nothing to deserve the hardship that befalls him.
There’s Jesus’ teaching at the end of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mt 5:11 NRSV).
There’s the frequent comparison by Jesus between discipleship and carrying one’s cross (Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23).
There’s the inquiry about the man born blind, as Jesus demonstrates his disability is not due to anyone’s sin (John 9).
And there is (of course) Jesus’ own story, in which the NT makes it clear Jesus did not deserve to be killed (Lk 23:15-16; Acts 2:23; usw.)
Peter could have made direct reference to any of these things, but he doesn’t even mention the innocence of Jesus. Why? Because they know these things already. And because Peter realizes that appeals to logic and facts do not change hearts.
The only sure-fire way to change hearts is to expose them to our transforming God. That’s what Peter encourages them to do. Developing God-vision requires exposure to what God sees, and they can’t see what God sees unless they delve deeper into submission to Christ as Lord.
Now Peter does share what he believes they will discover. As I mentioned already, Peter thinks they are short-sighted, and that God’s view is much longer than is our own naturally. If they can capture a glimpse of the long-view of God, they will see how facing hardship the way Jesus does brings him glory because it demonstrates his love more completely—and concretely—to the world. Peter believes that if they can see the way God can redeem their suffering to advance God’s mission, they will face it with more determination, bravery, and faithfulness than they would by assuming themselves to be mere victims of chance.
But this is not where Peter stops. Nor—despite the time I have taken this morning—is the reorienting of perspective even his primary point here. The focus is really on what these Christians can do, and what they cannot.
There’s quite a long list of what they can do:
1. They can practice humility (5:6a—”Humble yourselves”)
2. They can submit to God’s desires (5:6b—”under the mighty hand of God”)
3. They can trust God to judge and/or vindicate them (5:6c—”so that at the proper time he may exalt you”)
4. They can trust a loving God with their concerns and fate (5:7—”casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”)
5. They can guard themselves against irrational thinking and practice self-control (5:8a—”Be sober-minded; be watchful”)
6. They can discipline and strengthen themselves in body, mind, and spirit (5:8b—”Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”)
7. They can resist temptation (5:9a—”Resist him”)
8. They can ground everything they believe and do in the solid rock of Jesus (5:9b—”firm in your faith”)
9. They can pursue unity and solidarity with Christians around the globe (5:9c—”knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world”)
They can do all these things—but you know what they can’t do? You know what we can’t do? We cannot save ourselves.
“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1Peter 5:10 ESV).
We cannot save ourselves:
No matter who we are, no matter what our lot in life;
No matter whether we have experienced the “normative pattern of life” or an incredibly abnormal one;
No matter the language we speak or the color of our skin;
No matter our occupation or our economics or our age;
No matter whether we wield the power and authority of kings or cleaners, of debutants or drivers;
We cannot save ourselves. We need a savior.
And hope of all hope, we have a savior.
The Story of Jesus
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born. He was just as human as you and I, yet somehow also fully God. As he came of age, he called disciples—traveling and teaching and performing the odd miracle.
His teaching centered on the Kingdom of God—an alternate vision of the world he expected his followers to live into.
Jesus paid little respect to the power players of his world—even the popular religious voices—and instead spent his time with what everyone thought were “the wrong kind of people.”
He taught us to “turn the other cheek” to the violence of our world, and then he demonstrated his own teaching by not fighting back as they sent him to the cross.
In his death, Jesus exposed both the violence that drives us and that there is an alternate way—a way of peace that destroys death and hate forever.
Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can have confidence that we too will experience resurrection and abundant life when Christ’s Kingdom is made complete. There will be a time of reckoning—of answering for sins and of wrongs set right.
If we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord, then God’s grace, mercy, and life is extended to us. With a God’s-eye view, we will faithfully endure whatever hardship comes our way because we know that through it all God remains with us—because we can be confident that God’s love abides with us—because Jesus assures us we have deliverance. In John 10:27-28, Jesus says:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, 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. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27–30 ESV)
Thank God, we don’t have to save ourselves.
Thank God, we have the hope of a savior.