“The Heart of Hope Sustains”
I Peter 1:3-21
December 27, 2009
Holding on to hope sustains you.
I. A living hope (1 Peter 1:3-5)
II. A joyous hope (1 Peter 1:5-9)
III. A long-anticipated hope (1 Peter 1:10-12)
IV. A constraining hope (1 Peter 1:13-17)
V. A well-founded hope (1 Peter 1:18-21)
Let’s talk about two scenarios. Imagine yourself as someone for whom life is great, always. You grow up in a good home, have a wonderful marriage, good job, great kids who marry other great kids, all your investments always profit, you never have a bad hair day, and you always hit the green light. But, you have no clue what happens at the end of life. Maybe you just cease to exist, maybe something worse. The question is, would you be justified in being a hopeful person? Could you have any meaningful hope? I don’t think so.
Now take the other scenario: you have a very difficult life. One or more of all those things I mentioned goes tragically wrong. You lose a loved one, your relationships are very difficult; you are unemployed, more than once, and there are times your family doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from. But, unlike the other scenario, you have total conviction that because of what God has done through Jesus you will spend eternity in wonderful fellowship with God and others. So are you justified in being a hopeful person, when thing have gone wrong? Do you have a meaningful hope?
I’ve known people at both extremes, and I think the first are self-deceived: their lives really aren’t as good as they say; there is an undercurrent of no-hope. The second kind are rarely as despairing as you’d expect because there is this underpinning of hope. But you and I are in-between those extremes. Not everything has gone right, but certainly not everything has gone wrong – except, as I’m sure my kids would say, I never get the green lights. In this middle ground there is hope, this undergirding of hope that helps.
But it’s not constant, not as sure, not as independent of circumstances as we’d like. Sometimes I’m hopeless, for no real good reason. I suspect you’ve been there as well, and you know what it feels like. Even if everything is going right, it all feels like it’s going wrong. And even though you know God has saved you, given you in Jeremiah’s words, ‘a future and a hope’, you still don’t quite believe, at the level of heart and mind, that your hope is sure.
This week, for our last advent message, I want to look at a not particularly Christmassy passage. In fact, 1st Peter 1 is more of an Easter passage. But it has connections to Christmas, and I like it because it teaches how valuable it is to hold on to hope in our lives, how holding on to hope sustains us, while at the same time it lays a foundation for the sure hope to which we cling.
I. A living hope (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Let’s begin with verses 3-5: 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, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter starts with a common phrase from the Old Testament vocabulary of praise: ‘blessed be the Lord’, or ‘blessed be the name of the Lord’. It recognizes and commends God for his perfections and calls others to do the same. God is to be blessed because, in his great mercy, he has given us new birth. This Greek word ‘mercy’ is often used to translate the Hebrew word ‘chesed.’
God’s loving kindness, his unconditional love has given us new birth. What a tremendous truth: sinners can be born again, given a second chance, a new life, a clean slate. I’ve said before you can almost summarize my theology as: ‘God gave Bob a second chance.’ Because of his mercy we’ve been born again into ‘a living hope’. It’s living hope because it’s active in your life.
Even better, it’s a living hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead: he is our living hope. Christmas is important as the incarnation of that hope. But Easter seals the deal: the incarnate God is victorious, living, triumphant over sin and death. Without these truths we have only false hope, or often no hope, no meaning to life. In Christ’s empty tomb we see our hoped-for future, ‘an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ He promises eternity in his presence, his well done for faithful service, no more tears or mourning or crying or pain. He promises freedom from the temptations and trials of this life, holiness and righteousness in us and around us forever.
And this inheritance is sure, it is certain, it can never perish, spoil or fade. All earthly possessions will eventually be destroyed or decayed or lose their appeal: the hope we have through the resurrection of Christ never will. We have a living hope today because God’s promises for our tomorrows cannot and will not be broken. These imperishable things give us our hope.
Furthermore, Peter says that just as this inheritance is being kept safe for us, so we are being kept safe for it: through faith we are ‘shielded by God’s power’. The word ‘shielded’ is military: we are guarded, carefully watched, ‘kept from attack.’ God shields us by strengthening our faith. This faith itself is a gift of God, and as God strengthens us in it, he guards us from the enemy’s taunts and attacks that by which he tries above all to make us hopeless.
So the first aspect of hope we see is that it is a living hope because the Incarnate Christ who died for our sins did not remain dead, but was raised from death to give us life. He is our living hope, and because he lives our hope is alive.
II. A joyous hope (1 Peter 1:5-9)
This hope not only a living and active hope, but it is also a joyous hope even in suffering. Verses 6 to 9: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though 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, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
I’m using the word hope today, but hope and faith, while not identical, are tightly related, and the emphasis is on faith. God gives faith, strengthens and shields us by faith, refines our faith. In this, Peter says we ‘greatly rejoice’. This is a deep inward joy, rejoicing in God or what he has done. Mary says in the Magnificat: ‘my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit greatly rejoices in God my Savior.’ This deep joy is ours, Peter says, ‘though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.’
Joy is often God’s balm for our grief; not just the grief of losing loved ones, difficult thought that is, but in all kinds of trials: financial, relational, and medical. We’ve seen all those this year; there are still those among us facing ‘one more major surgery.’ Can you still rejoice greatly in your hope? The ever-new joys of the incarnation, the resurrection, salvation, or our inheritance comfort us. They bring us hope in the midst of suffering.
Peter explains that the trials also refine our faith. Verse 7: These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The words ‘proved genuine’ imply that faith is tested, as precious metal is tested, refined in a furnace. The result is purified and genuine faith. Even gold perishes – in a fire hot enough it burns. But faith that is refined endures for eternity, bringing Jesus glory and honor.
Peter has talked about hope despite suffering, he’s talked about faith that is tried and tested in suffering, and in verse 8 he adds love – which Paul says is the greatest of these three abiding virtues: “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.”
The redeemed love Jesus. Doesn’t this make sense? After all, he loved you so much he came to the world for you; he died for you; he rose for you. Doesn’t it make sense that you’d love him in return for this love lavished on you? It’s true that you don’t see him. Since his ascension believers have walked by faith, not sight. Jesus commended this faith to Thomas “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And Paul tells us in Romans that hope that is seen is no longer hope. The fact that we live by faith and are sustained by hope is the reason we can love him even though we do not see him with our eyes.
“Though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” The word translated inexpressible occurs only here in the New Testament and describes a joy so deep as to be beyond the power of words. Wayne Grudem writes ‘the sense could be given more fully by paraphrasing ‘joy that has been infused with heavenly glory. . . joy that results from being in the presence of God himself: the joy of heaven before heaven, experienced now in fellowship with Christ.” We have a joyous hope. As we hold on to hope, our joy in Jesus sustains us. What we’re going through may be depressing, even tragic. But Peter says that a living hope, a tested faith, a love for Jesus can bring us joy even in suffering.
III. A long-anticipated hope (1 Peter 1:10-12)
And the hope we have was long anticipated. This is the closest link to Christmas in today’s text. Verses 10-12: Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
The prophets wanted to know when and where the promises God was making through them would be fulfilled. As they prophesied they were apparently examining carefully their own prophecies and the previous Scriptures to see Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s redemption, to discern when he would come.
So someone like Isaiah, was inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to write “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But having written this he himself would have been wondering ‘when will this happen?’ and ‘who will this child be?’
In the same way when Isaiah wrote ‘he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed,” he could see that that truth applied to a person, but who? Who would this suffering servant be? Would he be the same person as virgin’s child of Isaiah 7 or the everlasting ruler of Isaiah 9?
So the prophets who predicted these things, whether Isaiah or Micah or Malachi, searched the Scriptures and inquired of God as to when this person would come. God didn’t give them a date or a time, but it was revealed to them that these prophecies were not for immediate fulfillment. They were for a later time, for the time of Peter’s readers, for our time. They are the good news we have heard, the Gospel of his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection and his reign. Even the angels, Peter tells us, are fascinated and awed by God’s wonderful salvation plan, which they themselves view with wonder.
But there is a moment when those who searched and those who saw overlapped. Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.” Like the prophets, Simeon sought for the time, and to him the Holy Spirit said ‘you’ll see.” So when he sees Jesus he says: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you prepared in the sight of all people.”
IV. A constraining hope (1 Peter 1:13-17)
What do we hold on to? A living hope, a joyous hope despite suffering, a long anticipated hope fulfilled at Christmas and Easter. Christmas celebrates the fulfillment of this hope, the coming of the one who would die and rise again to give us hope and confidence in his promises. But this is also a hope that helps us to walk in obedience and holiness. Verses 13-17 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." 17Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
‘Therefore,’ as a result of all these thing God has done for us through Jesus, we have a living hope. But hope does more than just make us feel good. Because of our redemption in Jesus, our behavior can also be changed. Therefore ‘prepare your minds for action.’ It’s actually a participle, ‘having girded up the loins of your mind’. Peter uses the image of someone getting ready to run. It was hard to run in long robes, so the custom was to tuck them into your belt. Do that to your mind - make it ready for action.
Next, be self controlled. Again this is a participle ‘having prepared your minds for action and being completely sober’ or self-controlled. The word can mean not being drunk, but it also addresses the mental state: it means you’re thinking clearly, carefully, not clouded by Satan’s diversions.
But this is only preparation for the main command: set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ. This is so cool. Set your hope on what? On grace, not on anything else. Put your hope not in yourself, not in your abilities, not in other people, but fully on the grace of God, especially the grace he continues to pour out on you, and which you will experience fully when Jesus returns. We are saved by grace, redeemed by grace, sanctified by grace. In the end we’ll be glorified by the same grace.
Only those who cling to God’s grace can change their behavior. Verse 14 “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Peter addresses God’s children, called to obey our father. Where we once had no desire to obey, we are now motivated by gratitude and love for the one who has saved us and who strengthens us by his grace.
Fully hoping in his grace we are not to conform to the evil desires we had in our ignorance. The word conform is the one used in Romans 12:2, ‘do not be conformed to this world’ or as Phillips paraphrases it ‘do not let the world press you into its mold.’ Don’t allow yourself to be pushed back to those evil desires you used to have when you lived in ignorance. We mostly still have the same evil desires; we may still have the habit of conforming to them, but Peter expects us to recognize and deal with them.
Verse 15: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." This is the positive: don’t follow sinful desires, do pursue holiness. Notice that our holiness is grounded in the holiness of God, his entire separation from sin; his moral excellence and purity. God is totally good, entirely without evil, and only that which is pure and undefiled by sin can remain in his presence. This is why we fully hope in God’s grace, because only God’s grace in Jesus can make us holy.
Yet even after we are declared holy, we embark on a process of becoming what we are: we grow toward holiness of life. J. I. Packer says that holiness for the believer is living a life of service to God and becoming like the God one serves. It means taking God’s moral law as our rule and God’s resurrected son as our model. Holiness is not just a list of don’ts, sins we avoid. It is what we substitute for sin: godliness in our words; Christ-likeness in our actions; in our service, and in our relationships.
Peter gives further motivation in verse 17: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” We live as if we are on assignment in a foreign country, ambassadors on duty, reporting to a father who impartially judges our work. So we need to fear. The fear of the Lord is only partially reverence or awe for God: it is also dread of his disapproval. Paul teaches that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” He adds that since we know what it is to fear the Lord we will do what he calls us to do.
But the background running through even the fear of the Lord is the hope we have in God, the hope we have in God’s grace. That hope constrains us and compels us to flee evil and to pursue righteousness. That hope strengthens us to become like the Savior who humbled himself to become a man, lived a life of perfect sinlessness, and gave himself away for the love of others. Hope constrains us to follow his path: It’s the path of hope; he is our hope. And hope compels us to avoid every other hopeless path.
V. A well-founded hope (1 Peter 1:18-21)
Finally, this hope isn’t just wishful thinking; it is well grounded: For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Hope isn’t just a feeling, though it’s one of the ways God gives us joy. Hope isn’t just anticipation, though it always looks forward. Hope, as we said, is a living, active expression of confidence in God; confidence well grounded in the majesty, beauty, and effectiveness of our redemption. “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
Your hope is not based in any merit of your own, but in the price God paid for you. He redeemed, he bought back, he ransomed, he purchased our freedom by paying a price. ‘Redeemed’ was originally used of buying back a prisoner of war. Like you: a prisoner of sin whose captivity was the empty way of life, handed down to you from your forefathers – and while that emptiness is principally sinfulness, which separates us from God, it is also hopelessness.
But even though the life you lived was worthless, God bought you at great price. He paid with the precious blood of a lamb, Christ. To buy his children back from captivity, from sin, required not gold or silver, but sacrifice. God had set up the sacrificial system to teach that where there is sin, there is death: if not the death of the sinner, then death of a substitute. In Jesus, God provided a substitute, a sacrifice lamb to die in the place of sinners, This Lamb, Jesus, was pure, without blemish or defect as was required of Old Testament sacrifices. Jesus was pure and sinless, a worthy sacrifice for the sins of men.
Verse 20: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” This sacrificial death, this unlimited expression of love, was in the eternal plan of God. From before creation, God had planned to pay this unthinkable price to buy you back from sin. The Christian message is that God loved you so much that he sent his Son at Christmas to die for you at Easter. The historical testimony, the biblical testimony, the spiritual testimony and the testimony of our hearts conspire to tell us that the price was paid, that the Lamb was slain for us. This is the foundation of all our hope and of every hope.
Verse 21: “Through Jesus Christ you believe in God who raised him from the dead and glorified him and so your faith and hope are in God.” That’s the fourth time ‘hope’ has been used, second time it’s been tied to faith. Believing - trusting - putting your faith and hope in God; that’s the key to salvation.
But because of the resurrection, this is not blind faith. Peter says “you believe in God who raised him from the dead.” The resurrection stands as the eternal sign of the victory of God’s saving love! In the resurrection an unbelievable promise becomes wondrously believable; an unthinkable sacrifice becomes an unparalleled victory; undeniable guilt becomes an overwhelming forgiveness and an unending captivity becomes a glorious redemption. No wonder we have hope. And if we hold on to that living hope it will sustain us – in suffering and trials, in the battle for holiness. Hope sustains.