A LIVING HOPE: IN TROUBLING TIMES

Author, Ann Kiemel, in her book, ‘It’s Incredible,’ tells the story of Mary, a fictitious name to protect her identity regarding the power of forgiveness in a person’s life. “Mary understands when people ask her about forgiveness. She first married when she was seventeen years old. It seemed so perfect, so right…but while she was pregnant with their first child, she discovered that her husband was having affairs with other women.

One day, before the baby was born, her husband was on a new motorcycle when a car hit him…and his leg had to be amputated. He was bitter. When the baby came, he threatened to kill the child when she cried, and threatened to kill Mary. Eventually, she had to flee with the baby for safety. She began working in a restaurant within walking distance to her new apartment. It was there that she met a police officer who was friendly…and they found themselves strongly attracted to each other, even though he was married and had two young daughters. The relationship turned into a devastating one. So, Mary moved again to get away, but he kept finding her.

Before long she was pregnant with his child and not wanting to destroy his marriage moved to a small duplex. The neighbors on the other side of the duplex were working on the fence so Mary went out to get acquainted. In the course of the conversation, the neighbors mentioned that they had to go get ready for their church’s softball game. Mary asked which church and if she could go with them on a Sunday. The couple was shocked that someone would initiate the invitation to their church but were delighted and so Mary started attending the small church.

The people in the church loved Mary and began to nurture her, as she came to faith in Christ and helped her understand that God was a forgiving God.  She gave birth to a boy and named him after his father…whom she still loved. Mary still hadn’t completed high school, worked hard but ended up on welfare. And then out of nowhere the father of the little boy found her after fifteen months. Lonely and vulnerable, after a one-night tryst found herself pregnant again. She now felt deep shame and guilt. Taunted by the fact that she claimed to be a Christian, it seemed she only moved from one problem to the next. How could she face her church family after all the love they had shown to her? How was she going to support another child? In a state of despair, she went to the bathroom and started taking every pill she could find when suddenly it seemed that the whole room was filled with the presence of God. She remembered the words to the song she had recently learned in church…Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now, I am found. Was blind, but now I see. There in that bathroom, Jesus made himself real to Mary. There in her sin and failure, Jesus loved her and forgave her and gave her the courage to start again. A loving church family still cared and forgave and stood by her. She eventually married a believer who loved her despite her past. Together they have built a Christ-centered home. It does seem incredible but that is how deep and how high and how wide is God’s love. Scars remain, as we reap what we sow but sins are forgiven.”[i]

Simon Peter understood the grace of God because of how powerfully he himself had experienced it. Peter could easily recall his bravado, the night in which Jesus was betrayed and his own denial and absolute failure. Years later, Peter is far wiser, and humbler and can encourage and strengthen those who are walking in life’s most challenging moments. How do we handle the challenges and consequences of our own sinful choices? How do we handle those things that happen in our life that we have no control over? Disease or tragic accidents that leave us forever changed? How do we handle life’s disappointments, injustices, and persecutions? What is our response to false accusations that cost you a job? Or worse the loss of a significant relationship? For many in this hour, the issue is that anxiety rests just below the surface. We are living in a restricted time, with minimal human contact and support. How can we rediscover joy in life’s most painful moments? Peter is writing to address the ‘fiery trials’ that believers are addressing in order to encourage, strengthen, comfort, and instruct fellow believers walking through challenging moments in their lives. Here in the introduction to Peter’s first letter we find Peter leaving us with two amazing realities that empower us in life’s most challenging moments.

THE FIRST AMAZING REALITY THAT EMPOWERS US IS OUR LIVING HOPE

Often people embrace hopes that are false and fleeting, but here we see a hope that sustains through the most challenging times that humans can experience, even helping us deal with every kind of loss. Peter is writing to believers that are dispersed throughout the ancient area called Asia Minor.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, [these are all provinces in ancient Asia Minor or present-day Turkey] who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.[ii]

There are several statements in 1 Peter 1:1-9 that we need to unpack.

A. The first is that we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.

New Testament scholar, Howard Marshall explains,

This does not mean that God chose them because he knew in advance that they would respond to his call, but simply that God took the initiative and chose them before they had done anything to deserve it. Whether this also means that God determined how they would respond is a moot point on which theologians disagree.[iii]

This came about through the work of God, the Holy Spirit who brought about the transforming power into the lives of believers. It is by God’s grace, His unmerited or unearned favor that the Holy Spirit takes us out of the kingdom of darkness and places us into the kingdom of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives making us what we were incapable of making ourselves – God’s holy people. “…through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2). The apostle Paul states it this way in his letter to the Colossians:

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[iv]

What are we hearing? This is God’s work in us delivering us from evil and the kingdom of darkness. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he reminds us all that this is the work of God, not something we do to merit God’s favor.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.[v]

Jesus had told his disciples that he had chosen them to go and be fruitful. In other words, God saves us with a purpose in mind. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last… (John 15:16).” Our salvation came as a result of a Divine summons which we have answered. Often from the human vantage point it may seem like a sheer accident, but God in His wisdom orchestrated the events to bring us to Himself. Peter addressed these believers as ‘exiles,’ or as some translations state, ‘as foreigners. This is idea that believers are not citizens of this world.

Peter…uses their disorienting experience to instruct and encourage them with his insight that all Christians are, in a real sense, foreigners to their place of residence, regardless of where they are living, whenever Christian values and customs conflict with those of the dominant society. …Nevertheless, Peter does not call them to withdraw from society but will instead present Christian engagement with society in the mode that might be expected of foreigners who wish to maintain their identity of origin. That is, foreigners dwell respectfully in their host nation but participate in the culture only to the extent that its values and customs coincide with their own that they wish to preserve.[vi]       

The real purpose of our lives is that we are being ‘sanctified,’ which means that we are set apart for God’s purposes. I read many years ago something that Max Lucado wrote that has helped me keep the right perspective on what true success is: “Success can only be measured to the degree that we have been obedient to God’s will for our lives.”[vii] In other words, you and I need to do what the Scriptures teach. What a totally different drumbeat to be marching to. It is not what we achieved, accomplished, or accumulated, but rather how have we have fulfilled God’s purposes for our lives. What an encouragement to know that what God is evaluating in our lives is our faithfulness to His will. Are we being ‘obedient to Jesus Christ’? Yet now we move to the attitude that we need to have regardless of our outward circumstances.

B. We rejoice in ‘the gift of the new birth into a living hope.’

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3).”

We have something to sing about, rejoice about, dance about, tell about! When we are shown mercy, we are not getting what we deserve. What we deserve is punishment, but what we receive is forgiveness. We are given a new opportunity, a new beginning. A start over, with a fresh slate. How many people, if they could just do it over again, would do it differently? This is what this is about. This is what the new birth is about. We take on a new identity, a new life, a clean slate, with a clean heart. It is a living hope and it is based on a historical reality. The nature of hope is something future. We are looking forward but it is based on something that is anchored in the past. It is anchored on what Jesus Christ did for us: his sacrificial and substitutionary death for us and then the reality of his resurrection from the dead, conquering our greatest enemy. That’s why the apostle Paul can make this statement about a new beginning for each of us. 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

What is even greater is that we get a new heart with a new nature operating within us to help us overcome our old nature. God actually changes our nature, by giving us His nature. That is what the bible calls regeneration. Our sinful nature is being overshadowed by God’s nature living within us. That is what the apostle Peter meant when he wrote in his second letter:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.[viii]

He then goes on to describe this as a living hope. There is nothing more devastating than living without hope. That is the condition of a person without God. The apostle Paul describes it this way to believers in his letter to the church at Ephesus:

remember that at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.[ix]

C. We gain an everlasting inheritance which has been reserved for us.

Peter describes this amazing inheritance that God gives to each of us who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:4).”

What God has for us can never be taken away from us. It is an incorruptible inheritance. It is an eternal inheritance. No matter how difficult it is here on earth, or how many people we lose, we can be assured that what we are seeing is only temporary. That which is unseen is eternal. What God has for us is eternal in nature. Peter is telling us that we are resting this hope on a factual past historical event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   

THE SECOND AMAZING REALITY THAT EMPOWERS US IS A FAITH THAT SHIELDS US

In this world there is such a battle over our souls. We have an adversary who endeavors to destroy us, to rob us, to defeat us (cf. John 10:10). What protects us from this spiritual onslaught? How can we be assured that we will inherit all that God promises for us? Faith is what brings us ultimate victory.

for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.[x]

Here in our text we see that this faith is in God’s power. This is not faith in our faith, but faith in God’s power. “who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).”

It is not much use, however, to carefully preserve an inheritance if the heir is not going to live to receive it. So, in view of the tribulations that they are facing, Peter reassures his readers that they are being kept safely by God. …God will protect them by his power from the hostile attacks of evil. At the same time their faith is shielding them. This comment shows that God’s power does not work automatically, regardless of the attitude of the Christian. It is as Christians trust in God that they experience his power to protect them.[xi]         

Peter now moves to show that this faith that shields helps us in the middle of all the attacks of the enemy. Here we see that interplay between trusting God and God watching over us and protecting us from evil. The apostle Paul talks about faith as a ‘shield that extinguishes all the fiery darts of the enemy in Ephesians 6:16. Faith then helps us deal with life’s problems and challenges. Faith is that continuing confidence and trust in God. Donner Atwood shares the story of in the bombing of London during W. W. II:

A father and son were running away from a building that had been struck by a bomb. Seeking immediate protection the father jumped into a nearby hole and held up his arms for his son to follow him. Terrified but hearing his father’s voice to jump, the little boy replied, ‘I can’t see you.’        

The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, ‘But I can see you. Jump!’ The little boy jumped because he trusted his father. The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known.[xii]    

Peter now moves us to the reason that we can rejoice despite the trials that we experience in this life. “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:6).” Though Peter is talking about rejoicing regarding our future inheritance, it is possible to even rejoice in trials. This sounds like James who tells us to ‘consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds’ (cf. James 1:2). How can we face trials with joy? Why should joy be our attitude in trials? Trials are vehicles that take us from a state of immaturity to maturity if we allow them to. There is a purpose for our trials as James tells us.

because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.[xiii]

Trials reveal the true nature of our faith. How we respond in life’s most challenging moments indicate if we are people living with God’s Spirit and power within our lives. Is the life of Jesus forming and growing within us? Are we feeding our inner man or are we being crushed by life’s challenges? I believe Covid is one of the contexts that God is allowing to reveal to us the nature of our faith. How we respond is revealing to us what we are putting our faith in. Are we walking in obedience to God’s word? Do we have a quiet assurance that God is in control of a world that seems out of control?

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.[xiv]

19 century British pastor, F.B. Meyer’s shared these liberating thoughts:

There is nothing harder to bear than the apparent aimlessness of sorrow…With Christians there is no fear of this. It is intended to reveal the secrets of our hearts; to humble us and prove us; to winnow us as corn is shaken in a sieve; to detach us from the earthly and visible; to create in us an eager desire for the realities which can alone quench our cravings and endure forever. We must not look on trial as punishment for the past, because all penalty has been borne for us by our Redeemer. But each trial point to the future, and is intended to make us partakers of his holiness, and to work in us the peaceable fruit of righteousness. The very fact of the trial proves that there is something in us very precious to our Lord; else He would not spend so much pains and time on us. We do not prune brambles, or cast stones into the crucible…And Christ would not test us if He did not see the precious ore of faith mingled in the rocky matrix of our nature; and it is to bring this out into purity and beauty that He forces us through the fiery ordeal.[xv]

How can we endure these things? Because we are looking to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. We are responding to his amazing love for us by trusting him and loving him.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.[xvi]

David Helm so admirably relates:

Inexpressible joy is said to be the handmaiden to the suffering Christian. Interestingly, when Peter closed his thoughts on Heaven in verse 5 he wrote, ‘in this you rejoice’ (v.6). But here when he finishes his thoughts on suffering, he says that our rejoicing is largely ‘inexpressible.’ In other words, think about Heaven and you have something to say. But while you endure various trials, know that the joy they produce in you will be a quiet sort, a nonverbal kind, an inexpressible…joy.’ The strange truth of the gospel is this: salvations’ future inheritance is gained during this season of present sufferings.[xvii]

Jesus said it in John 16:33 that in this world we would have trouble, but he also promised us a peace that would sustain us in those time.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.[xviii]

We also will overcome because of our confidence and faith in Christ. Too often we limit our understanding of God’s grace to our conversion experience, but as Peter is explaining here; we need God’s grace to strengthen and sustain us through all of life’s journey, including the difficult, trying times of life. Even though we are suffering grief in all kinds of trials, we have a living hope. God is using this time to refine us as His people. We do have an inexpressible and glorious joy as we are awaiting the end result of our faith, or the purpose of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls.

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[i] Ann Kiemel, It’s Incredible, 63-64.

[ii] 1 Peter 1:1-2, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[iii] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 31.

[iv] Colossians 1:13-14.

[v] Ephesians 2:8-10.

[vi] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 61-62.

[vii] Max Lucado, Applause of Heaven and Earth, Leadership Journal, Summer 1992, Vol. XIII, Number 3, 15.

[viii] 2 Peter 1:3-4.

[ix] Ephesians 2:12-13.

[x] 1 John 5:4-5.

[xi] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 38.

[xii] Donner Atwood, Faith, Leadership Journal.

[xiii] James 1:3-4.

[xiv] 1 Peter 1:7.

[xv] F. B. Meyer, Tried By Fire: Exposition of the First Epistle of Peter, (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 30.

[xvi] 1 Peter 1:8-9.

[xvii] David Helm, 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 44.

[xviii] John 16:33.

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