A sermon about 1 Peter 1:3-5. What to say, when somebody has troubles? Do you say nothing? Or do you speak? Speak words of hope? Peter will show us what he says to people in difficult situations.
Sunday June 25, 2017
Psalm 46: 1,4
Psalm 34: 3,8 (after Ten Commandments)
Psalm 16:1,3,5 (after Scripture reading)
Hymn 22:2,3 (after sermon)
1 Peter 1:1-12
Text 1 Peter 1:3-5
Sermon 1 Peter 1:3-5
by Rev. C. Koster
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ
What would you say to someone who finds himself in a troublesome situation? Somebody who is in dire straits and has a burden to bear? That question might have intrigued Peter when he was preparing to write his letter to the congregations in Asia Minor. This first letter of Peter is a circular letter to several congregations in what today to us is known as Turkey.
The letter was to be read in a congregation and subsequently passed on to another one. Various congregations with all kinds of different people and circumstances. But in one thing those churches were alike. That was the fact that they were experiencing a hard time. All those small congregations, all those churchmembers had their sorrows.
So what was it that made life so hard on them? Well, the choice of faith for Jesus Christ had turned their lives upside down. In fact many of them were despised by their fellow citizens. The choice of faith for Jesus Christ did actually mean a breach with their relatives, a breach with groups or associations with which they were connected. Moreover Christians refused to honour the gods, the idols, that were supposed to bring peace and safety to the city or the country. That’s why Christians were often regarded as some kind of traitors to their own country. You can imagine that this must have been really hard on them.
And what do you write such a congregation? What do you tell them in order to encourage them?
Guided by the Holy Spirit Peter can encourage and teach the congregation with his letter. And he is doing just that, starting with a song of praise for the LORD. He gives praise to His God in heaven. He gives praise to God’s great mercy. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Today we shall listen to the contents of that praise.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s children have hope for salvation
1. the living hope
2. the everlasting and imperishable heritage
3. God’s guarding
So Peter starts by praising God’s great mercy. And what causes Peter to praise the Lord? What’s his reason? Peter mentions the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that’s his reason! That is the big, wonderful fact to Peter, that is what has changed everything. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus has such a great salvatory power. To Peter that fact is more than enough reason to praise his heavenly Father.
What strikes us as particular is that Peter starts his letter in a very personal way. He uses the word ‘us’ in the third verse, verse 3. So he includes himself. Peter, the apostle, a fisherman, had got a calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
He himself was born again to a living hope, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is very much visible and manifest in his own personal history, when we look at the period after Christ had died. For what had happened, congregation? Did this Peter and did the disciples still have any hope, when Jesus Christ had died? Did they still have good courage after Jesus Christ had been judged? After He had been beaten and was crucified on the cross?
The disciples themselves were depressed. They had lost all courage. Jesus Christ had died. And with Christ’s death the disciples’ hope had died too, all their hope was gone. Death was apparently the final end of the story. Jesus Christ had been an inspiring teacher, a special man. But at the same time He now appeared to be a common and mortal man, no more than that. Jesus Christ’s death meant the end of the story, so it seemed. They were not far from becoming a bunch of extinguished disciples with no courage left.
But then it happened. Jesus Christ manifested Himself to them. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. Jesus Christ had gained victory over death. And He appeared to His disciples. He proved Himself as their living Lord and Saviour.
Slowly they were turned around. Identical with the power with which Jesus Jesus Christ had been raised, Jesus Christ now opens their hearts and minds. So that they are no longer unbelievers, but are becoming believers. They are going to believe in the resurrected Lord.
By Jesus Christ’s resurrection they didn’t remain extinguished disciples, but they could become powerful witnesses.
That’s the way in which Peter talks about the hope that is in him. The resurrection is the heart, the centre of everything. In the same way he talks about the Lord God in verse 3. The God in whom he used to believe and whom he knew. Israel’s God! That’s the God and Father of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ, He is the eternal and natural Son of God. That is exactly what the resurrection has made clear.
This God and Father of Jesus Christ showed His mercy to Peter. This Peter, who had denied his own Saviour. He was allowed to receive and experience God’s mercy. And once again he was accepted in the service of God and Jesus Christ.
And from those depths, that need, from that wrestling this Peter is now speaking. As an apostle, as a missionary of Jesus Christ. And he praises the Lord. Yes, he encourages the congregation to praise God’s mercy. Especially to these congregations, which have such a hard time, Peter speaks freely: praise the Lord.
Why is Peter doing that? Wouldn’t that estrange him from the congregation members there in Asia Minor? Wouldn’t they think that Peter takes their sorrows too lightly?
No, for in this letter Peter talks about how he himself had experienced God’s mercy. But what is so beautiful here is that God’s mercy is not for Peter alone. Peter is not a unique case, someone who for special reasons was allowed to receive God’s mercy. No, the Lord God is just as merciful to all those people, all those Christians, living there in Asia Minor. Didn’t God call all those people to the gospel?! Didn’t God regenerate all of them?! Didn’t God bring them to obedience to the gospel?!
That is really such a big wonder! That people who were Jews or pagans, had been won from their places for Jesus Christ. That they could receive redemption and remission. They were connected to the world around them by so many ties. They had relatives and friends and were members of clubs and associations. They were tied to their own society with all its idols. But God had severed them, had pulled them away from it and convinced them that Christ is worth far more. This belonging to Jesus Christ is a large privilege, which is to be prefered to relatives, friends and society.
They were elected to be pilgrims, that’s what Peter tells them in the first verse. Pilgrims, because they did no longer fit in the world in which they live, because their real home is with God and Jesus Christ. Elected, chosen pilgrims. They were in a difficult situation, but how grateful they could be that God had given them that position, for it meant their salvation.
That’s why all those Christians over there in Asia Minor could repeat it after Peter: Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for He has regenerated us. For that is what had happened to them: they had been born again. God had made them His children.
It’s such a splendid word that Peter uses here: regeneration. It means that God is engaged in people. God approaches them with His creating power. People, who didn’t believe, didn’t know nor serve God, are touched by Him. God changes them and gives them new, spiritual life, so that they will believe. God turns sinful people into children of Israel.
When you read on you’ll see that Peter shows how that had happened, that regeneration. How God touches people. Peter says that God has regenerated them through the preaching of the Word. God touches people with His Word. He convinces them with the power of His Holy Spirit by which they come to faith and conversion.
God Himself brought them to that living hope about which Peter is talking. And in that way they believe in God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. It’s indeed such a beautiful start of Peter’s letter. Of course people there and then in Turkey did have a terribly hard time.
But Peter teaches them to focus on God’s mercy, by which those Christians will be raised above their troubles. And that they may actually see God’s mercy, which will cause reasons to praise and glorify God every single day. Also for these elected pilgrims of the dispersion.
And we may ask ourselves the question: what does it mean exactly, this hope? Peter tells us about the living hope. But what are the contents of that living hope?
Peter continues to speak about the inheritance. That is the second part of the sermon.
From the hope we may already have today, Peter is going to focus on the future. On the contents of the hope. What exactly is our hope? Well, we hope for the inheritance, Peter says in verse 4. An inheritance. That word explains itself. An inheritance is not earned, you receive it. Because of Christ’s death the inheritance is ours. It is given, by grace.
And to understand this word ‘inheritance’ well, we must go back to the OT. For in the OT the people of Israel got an inheritance as well. In the OT we hear about the heritage of the fathers. What was the inheritance? That was the country of Canaan. It was given to them in hereditary possession.
That Israel could receive Canaan, was the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. God had promised Abraham: I’ll give you this country, you and your offspring in hereditary possession. So the country became the property of the Israelites. By grace it was given to them, because they were Abraham’s posterity.
But that hereditary possession appeared to be very vulnerable. First of all it was hard to take the country of Canaan. Before they could possess the country, they had to wander the desert for forty years. Next they had to conquer the country, but they didn’t succeed, because they hadn’t driven away all the peoples who were living in it. It was a country abundant with milk and honey. But the crops could fail and there could be drought and poverty. Moreover there were always foreign enemies, who invaded and plundered the country. The people of Israel were even deported. The heritage was a vulnerable possession in the OT.
That OT promise had an earthly character. And that promise actually pointed to something else, something richer. It pointed to the fulfilment by Jesus Christ. And that’s what Peter discusses now, in 1 Peter 1:4. The inheritance which is NOT vulnerable. But which is incorruptible and undefiled and doesn’t fade away. It is reserved in heaven for them. No one and nothing can touch it. Death, nor time, nor sin can ruïn or destroy it.
It is there, in heaven, Peter says, where Christ is. We must look at Him. Our heritage is with Him. Eternal glory, His people permitted to be with God. We don’t have an earthly Kingdom and we don’t live for our money and stuff. Our inheritance is in heaven. It is heavenly, yes Godly. More beautiful than we can ever imagine.
And let us consider well what Peter says: it is for you. God has made it ready explicitly in heaven for you. You may receive it. All together and each of you personally. It’s a gift of God to which we are entitled through grace. Believers may receive that heritage in time to come. But they can be sure of receiving it. God saves it for you. What a comfort that we may know that!
And so we see immediately that Peter calls on the congregation to believe. In their troubles of everyday life, whatever they are, they have to believe they have a heavenly heritage, because they can’t see it now. Only if you believe, you can be part of it. Only if you believe, you can have a living hope. Only if you believe, you can take your strength from it.
We have to walk and live by faith. Think of Peter. Of that particular history, that Peter could walk on water. He could only do that through faith, if only he kept looking at Jesus Christ. As soon as he started to doubt, he sank into the water. In the same way it is a lesson for us today: we have to walk through faith on our way to the coming glory. That is why Peter’s words, yes this preaching of today, is a call for faith. Not to let go of the Word, but to really accept it with true faith. And to say Amen to it with your whole heart. That you know and see: my inheritance is in heaven. That’s where my risen Saviour is. And it is ready for me, so I can receive it in due time.
And maybe you experience that it is difficult to keep your faith. Or you may have doubts about God’s promises. But even then you may hold on to Peter’s words: God’s mercy is great. You may pray whether God will convince you with His Word. Whether He will confirm faith in your heart and strengthen it. And you may know that God does this through His Word. By the preaching of it, by opening, reading and studying the Bible. That is how He wants to convince you and win your hearts. So that you may stand and be part of that multitude of people who say with Peter: Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In verse 5 Peter shows us another side of that great mercy of our Lord God. That is the third and last part of the sermon. For Peter shows that God not only saves that inheritance for us in heaven. God does even more.
However when we people don’t stick to our faith, but should become apostates, deserters, then the heritage is passing us as yet. Therefore it is such a wonder that God not only reserves this heritage, but that He also cares for us here on earth. We are kept by His power, says Peter.
God’s children have a living hope. In due time they’ll receive a heavenly inheritance. And on their way to it they are kept and guarded. The believers get a guard, so they will be safe. The believers will be guarded by nothing less but God’s own power. God really is a fortress and a high tower for those who seek refuge with God. God is all around them as a wall.
In Asia Minor you had fortresses and strongholds as safeguards against enemies. Christians then and we today know what is meant. The children of the congregation have probably seen it too. Such a stronghold or fortress with a moat, a ditch, around it. In former days there were no planes or anything like that, so you were really safe in such a stronghold. You felt safeguarded there. Well, Peter says that God is such a safe stronghold with strong walls. Who believes in de Lord God may know: I am safeguarded. I am safe. God takes care of me, He fights for me. The devil can fight me and lead me into temptation, but God will help me.
How does God do that in your daily life today? Peter says: the Lord does it through faith for salvation. Faith itself, which God gives His children, will remain. That is incorruptible. That is what Peter says in verse 23 of this first chapter. Born again of incorruptible seed, through the Word of God, which lives and abides forever. He who knows and believes today that he is God’s child, may also believe: God will safeguard me, He will keep me and protect me. A safe and protected journey. So we may finally receive salvation. The redemption of our sins through the blood of Christ. That is the heritage about which verse 4 spreaks: salvation, redemption and to be with God forever.
The risen Lord Jesus Christ has earned all this by sacrificing His precious blood. We expect that risen Saviour on the clouds of heaven. When He returns we may receive perfect salvation. Then believing will turn into seeing. And then we may receive at once the glory, which God has already prepared for us.
How great is God’s mercy, brothers and sisters!? Jesus Christ has risen. That gives hope. Yes, Jesus Christ gives us concrete, living hope, so we may and can say: glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In due time this hope will be fulfilled to the glorification that no eye has seen today. So that we may say forever: praise to the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for their great mercifulness. Amen.
Translation by R. Sollie-Sleijster