“So Great a Salvation”
1 Peter 1:3-12
August 12, 2012
Does the greatness of salvation lead you to hope, joy, and awe?
I. Our great salvation inspires hope. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
II. Our great salvation inspires joy. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
III. Our great salvation inspires peace. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Just before Ruth’s wedding I downloaded, free from Noisetrade, Indelible Grace’s live Hymn Sing in Nashville album. Indelible Grace puts new music to old hymn texts, many of them no longer sung at all. I have found these texts profoundly moving, extremely helpful in getting my eyes on God and Jesus to allow the wonder of salvation to speak into my circumstances.
Two of the hymns are by Anne Steele, who lived in England from 1716-1778. Her father, a timber merchant, was a Baptist preacher for 60 years. Her mother died when she was 3. She had malaria as a child, and at 19 severely injured her hip. When she was 21 her fiancé drowned, and after that she never married, but assisted her father her whole life. For the last 9 years, she was unable to leave bed. In spite of all this, her disposition was described as “cheerful and helpful” and her life as one of “unaffected humility, warm benevolence, sincere friendship, and genuine devotion.”
From early life she loved poetry, and three volumes of her poems were published. She also wrote about 180 hymns. She was the first woman writer whose hymns were largely used in hymn-books. In 1808, an Episcopal church in Boston published its hymnal, and out of 152 hymns, 59 were by a Baptist, Anne Steele! Despite her trials, her hymns overflow with hope, with a joy that transcends circumstances, and above all with awe at her salvation.
One of the hymns on the Indelible Grace album illustrates this well.
Thou lovely source of true delight, whom I unseen adore
Unveil Thy beauties to my sight, that I might love Thee more,
Oh that I might love Thee more.
Thy glory o’er creation shines, but in Thy sacred Word
I read in fairer, brighter lines, my bleeding, dying Lord,
See my bleeding, dying Lord
’Tis here, whene’er my comforts droop, and sin and sorrow rise
Thy love with cheering beams of hope, my fainting heart supplies,
My fainting heart’s supplied
This is the message of 1st Peter 1:3-12, that the greatness of our salvation leads to hope and joy and awe. Is that true for you? Does the greatness of salvation make a difference in the slog of everyday life? Does the greatness of salvation help you resist temptation, have peace in sorrow and joy in trial. Peter is convinced that this focus should make a huge difference. So am I.
I. Our great salvation inspires hope. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Let's begin with verses 3-5, which remind us that the greatness of our salvation leads to great 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, 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.
Peter’s immediate impulse is not to talk about salvation, but to praise God for it. He says "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" He knows that ultimately God the Father, through Jesus Christ, is responsible for the rescue we celebrate. Then he says "According to his great mercy he has given us new birth." Salvation comes to us from God because of his mercy, because of his compassion on lost people who could not save themselves.
This mercy has caused us to be born again. Just as there is no one alive today who was not born, there is no one saved today who was not born again through the mercy and the grace of God. Notice the echo of John 3, where Jesus tells Nicodemus ‘you must be born again.’ Peter often reflects the thinking and teaching of Jesus. And all this comes through the resurrection of Christ, the glorious victory that we celebrated in our worship. It is through his defeat of sin and death that we receive forgiveness and new life and eternal life.
Salvation is new birth into that life, which makes more striking Peter’s assertion in verse 5 that salvation is a future event, ready to be revealed in the last time. Paul agrees: he says in Romans 13:11 that our salvation is nearer now than it was when we first believed. By the way, just as Peter structured verse 2 to show past, present and future aspects of God’s work in us, so he structures this section to show the future, present and past greatness of our salvation.
Salvation is future because we do not yet know it fully. Now we know salvation partially, as newborn children. But in the last day we will have full mature possession of its blessings. It is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for us. Again, Peter echoes Jesus, who told us to lay up our treasure in heaven, where it can never perish or spoil or fade.
But what is this heavenly inheritance? It’s too rich to describe briefly, but let me remind you of some of the things we saw when we studied Revelation: we receive: a great banquet celebration; new and eternal bodies; a new heaven and a new earth; no more death or mourning or crying or pain. But most of all we experience the direct presence of God: “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” How does it feel to have all that good stuff waiting? Peter says it should give birth to a living hope, an eager expectation of the life to come.
And this future hope has tremendous present consequences. Doctors tell us that patients with hope are far more likely to recover than those who despair. I remember an old story about a public school tutor. One day she was asked work on adverbs and nouns with a little boy in the hospital. When she reached the hospital and approached his room, she realized the boy was in ICU, with a flailed chest and many injuries. But she stayed to help anyway.
When she went back days later some of the staff came running up, and she thought they were going to tell her he had died. Instead, they said he was doing much better since her visit, he’d really begun to turn around. When asked what made the difference, he said "I knew they wouldn't send anyone to teach me adverbs and nouns if I was going to die, so I must be going to live"
I read a similar story this week about a thirty year old British man named Matthew Taylor who had moved to Bali to teach English. Over a year ago he was in a motorcycle accident that left him in a deep coma. While in Bali he had fallen in love, and his fiancé had come back to Britain and sat by his beside for months. But then her visa expired and she had to go back. Earlier this summer Matthew’s mom, sensing some change, held the phone up to Matthew’s ear as his fiancé testified of her love and prayers for him - and Matthew began to weep. Since then he has made solid progress - he’s sitting and standing and trying to talk. Why - because hope is powerful.
II. Our great salvation inspires joy. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
And Peter says that through the resurrection of Christ we have hope that one day our salvation will be eternally completed. Even now the present greatness of salvation inspires joy. Verses 6-9: 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-maybe proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 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,9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Peter's letter is focused on those going through trials. And we still go through many of these same trials. He talks about motives that are misunderstood, attitudes that are misrepresented, about marital conflict, conflicts at work, struggles with sin, struggles with greed, struggles with anxiety. And he says here, in verse 7, that you go through these trials so that your faith may be proved genuine. He uses the neat Greek word also used in Romans 12:2 and means essentially "tested and approved" as if your faith has been given the UL seal of approval. The trials of life confirm our faith and trust in God.
Peter says our faith is more precious than gold. Gold, even after it has been refined and purified by fire, still ultimately perishes. But faith endures. And faith that has been tested is precious, not only objectively, but to us. Knowing that you trust God is a wonderful thing. Peter makes this faith simple when he says that “though you have not seen Jesus you love him and though you do not see him now, you believe in him.” You can love someone you’ve never seen. As Anne Steele says “Thou lovely source of true delight, whom I, unseen, adore.” Jesus, even though I don’t see you, I love you.”
Jesus can and should be more real and reliable to us though unseen as anything seen in this world. One metaphor I use with children to describe this faith is the idea of throwing ourselves into Jesus’ arms. When I presented the gospel to kids in Slovakia, I had them act out this faith - throw yourself in Peter’s arms - he’ll catch you! I think that image communicated to some of them.
What is the result of faith? Objectively Peter says we are obtaining the outcome of our faith the salvation of our souls. Notice that he makes it present tense: it culminates in the future, but it is a present reality, so that we can confidently say “I am being saved.” That's the objective reality, but the heart response is joy. In this - salvation - you greatly rejoice. Though you do not see him now, you rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.
This is what Anne Steele calls ‘true delight:’ not mere happiness or laughter, but deep joy, underlying joy that defies outward circumstances. Even if we didn't know this joy from Christian experience, Peter teaches it: he says that we rejoice even though we have been grieved by various trials. Peter knew, the hymn-writers knew that life was not easy, that grief would come, but still they taught that in the midst of trial, joy can be experienced by the believer who focuses not on the seen or circumstantial, but on the unseen and eternal.
Do you experience this inexpressible joy? Or is it crushed under the grief of daily trials? Is it snuffed out by the pain of broken relationships? Is it lost in the rush, the busyness? Is it choked by anxiety? Is it deadened by sin? Would you like some help in finding this joy? Here is a simple formula that Richard Baxter, one of the great practical Puritan writers, would have endorsed: First - contemplate your salvation. Second - convince your soul.
First, contemplate your salvation. Contemplate your Savior, your God, your new birth, your inheritance. That is what these old hymn writers excelled at. And that is essentially what we are doing as we study this Scripture passage: we are contemplating together the greatness of our salvation. But, Baxter says, to do this contemplation in your own private life, and one of the by-products will be joy.
“Christians who are much in secret prayer and contemplation are men of greatest life and joy; because they have all things more directly from God himself. Not that we should cast off public hearing of the Word or studying the Word together, nor neglect any ordinance of God; but to live above them, while we use them, is the way of a Christian. There is joy in these remote receivings; but the fullness of joy is in God's immediate presence.”
So one source of joy is to contemplate the greatness of your savior and your salvation. But if that doesn't work, if these eternal realities remain cold dry facts, that do not elicit a heart response then the Puritans had a second step: convince your soul. Literally, what this means, is that you should talk to yourself. Tell your soul the greatness of the eternal realities you have studied. This is a spiritual discipline which is much missing in our day. Let me give you an example of Richard Baxter convincing his soul: “Awake then, Oh my drowsy soul! To sleep under the light of grace is unreasonable, much more so in the approach of the light of glory. Come forth, my dull, congealed spirit; thy Lord bids thee 'rejoice, and again rejoice.”
III. Our great salvation inspires peace. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Contemplate your salvation and convince your soul: there is joy in the salvation you are receiving and in the Savior who gives it, joy even in the midst of trials. Foundational to this joy and hope is a sense of awe in looking at what Christ has done. 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, things into which angels long to look.
Even angels long to look into these things. Imagine, if you will, a timeline, extending thousands of years in each direction. On the left side of the time line stand the great prophets and leaders of the Old Testament: Moses - Elijah - Isaiah - Jeremiah - David - Solomon - Daniel. And each of them is gazing forward - their brows wrinkled in concentration looking ahead, at something yet to come. On the right side of the time line are the great leaders of the Christian Church: Calvin - Luther - Augustine - even Paul, and Peter himself. They standing in wonder, or kneel in worship, looking back, looking at the events of the past. Overhead are angels - Gabriel, Michael, and all the hosts of heaven. Gazing intently and studying deeply those past events. And in the center, ablaze with glory is the sinless life of Christ, his sacrifice on the cross and the glory of his resurrection victory.
This feeling of awe at salvation is well conveyed by Peter in these verses. He talks especially about the awe of the Prophets, looking forward to salvation, and he says that they searched and inquired carefully concerning this salvation - an active seeking, not just a passive interest. They naturally wanted to find out when, and under what circumstances the Messiah would appear. Or if you take the Greek phrase another way, they wanted to find out when the Messiah would come, and who he would be. They looked not only at their culture, and the events of their times, but they also searched the Scriptures, to see how the prophecies they had been given fit in with God's overall plan.
The focus of Old Testament prophecy, the focus of Old Testament prophets, was the coming Messiah - The Christ, who would come to save people from sin and to establish God’s rule and reign. The number of explicit prophecies about the Messiah is huge Peter himself, later in this letter, uses the prophecies of Isaiah to help his readers understand Jesus as the suffering servant. But Isaiah and the other prophets, and the kings and saints of old were not privileged to see the Messiah themselves. The Holy Spirit revealed to them that he would come at a later time and to a later generation.
You, Peter says, are that later generation: the things these prophets spoke about, and looked for, those same things have now happened, and they have been announced to you by those who preach the Gospel. For Peter's readers, and for us, we are no longer talking about a promise but about its fulfillment, the appearing of the Gospel in human history. Even more than the prophets, we have reason to be awestruck, because we have seen and heard that God has sent the Messiah to save us. Jesus Christ is the good news: in his life, death, and resurrection he provides the sure foundation for our lives. He died for our sins, as a substitute, so that we can come to God as sinners, and throw ourselves on his mercy, and find new birth, eternal inheritance, living hope.
And perhaps most amazing of all, this new birth is by faith. When we think of the awe-inspiring nature of this Gospel, we can't help but think of the fact that this is salvation by faith, not works. For a Jew living under the 700 commandments which the scribes had found in the Old Testament this was truly a liberation: I am saved by trusting God, not by earning his favor. His favor has already been won by Jesus Christ. For a Gentile, trying in vain to please his mean and petty gods, trying to appease their anger by sacrifices and offerings, this was truly awe-inspiring: That it is by God's grace that we are saved - through faith. That the offering and the sacrifice required by God have already been made by Jesus Christ. It is this awesome truth that turned the world upside-down in the centuries following the resurrection.
The awe-inspiring wonder of this Gospel which has been announced to us and which we announce, is that God freely saves undeserving sinners. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in his great mercy, has given us new birth.” We gaze with awe at this great salvation, which God has worked for us through Jesus Christ. Peter says that even the angels long with a strong desire to watch these events of salvation. I suspect the angels are amazed at the mercy of a God who saves people by faith alone not requiring any merit on their part but through pure grace and mercy.
Do you share their awe? Do you share with John Newton the feeling of "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." Or the awe of the Welsh Revival hymn that we’ll sing in a moment “Here is love, vast as the ocean, Lovingkindness as the flood, When the Prince of Life, our Ransom, Shed for us His precious blood. Who His love will not remember? Who can cease to sing His praise? He can never be forgotten, throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.” “On the mount of crucifixion, Fountains opened deep and wide; Through the floodgates of God’s mercy Flowed a vast and gracious tide. Grace and love, like mighty rivers, Poured incessant from above, Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice Kissed a guilty world in love.” But it’s not these hymns that should inspire us - it’s the greatness of our salvation that inspires these hymns, and should inspires in us awe and joy and hope.
We’ve been looking at pictures of gold today, because Peter says that faith is more than gold, though it is tested by fire, because the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls. And that salvation, as we’ve seen, inspires hope, and joy and awe. And those things are the true gold, the true riches that God promises. God doesn’t promise prosperity, despite the claims of some preachers. He doesn’t promise ease in the Christian life, but trials and even suffering. But he does give hope, and he gives joy, and he gives awe. These are the true riches of God, the inheritance that we can begin to receive now.
As our Puritan friends used to say, these are the things that make your soul fat. Hope is a richness, a rich texture to life you can’t find anyplace else. Hope sustains in trial, lifts the weight of tedium and busyness. Joy is unspeakable wealth. The testimony of the many who are rich yet miserable is that they would trade it all for one day of true joy. And awe? To be in awe is to stare at the riches of God. The crown jewels of England, displayed in all their glitter are nothing compared to the display of God's love in salvation.
Believers, brothers and sisters I can't encourage you enough to take hold of salvation, to seek and receive these true riches These are the things that God longs to provide for you Unsearchable awe; Unspeakable joy; Living hope.