Text: 1 Peter 1:1-12
‘My dearest sister, I offer you no consolation, for I know of none. There are things which each must bear as best he may with the strength that has been allotted to him.’ (Aldous Huxley, writing to his sister on the death of their mother.)
‘There is a darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment and then, nothing.’ (Bertrand Russell)
What a terrible thing it must be to face death without hope.
But it’s also a dreadful thing to face life without hope.
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step onto the moon’s surface, suffered from depression following his Apollo 11 moon mission…He described how he had spent most of his life competing for difficult goals. Now with his moon walk behind him, he suffered from ‘the melancholy of all things done.’
Dostoevski wrote: ‘”Totally without hope one cannot live.” To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.”‘
But what hope do we have as Christians? Certainly, there are fanatics around: self-styled experts in biblical prophecy, who spend their time constructing charts and timetables of future events. They have forgotten that Jesus himself said, Mt 24:36 “No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
But if the Christian hope is discredited by the fanatical, then it is also neglected by the respectable. Jesus may have promised, “I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20). But the Book of Common Prayer, just to be on the safe side, has a table for setting the dates of Easter until the year 8,500. As someone has pointed out, the Church of England can hardly be said to be sitting on the edge of its seat!
In contrast to this uncertainty and despair, fanaticism and neglect, we have these glowing words 1 Peter 1:3-5:-
‘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, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.’
Our subject, then, is ‘the Christian hope’. We will be learning from Peter how God has established this hope in the past, how he will fulfil it in the future, and how he sustains it in the present.
1. The hope established, vv2-3
Peter tells his readers, v2, that they have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. We don’t become Christians by human effort, but by divine choosing. I wonder what’s wrong with us that we so often see the biblical doctrine of election as a problem to be debated, whereas Peter (like Paul) views it as a blessing to be celebrated.
Then Peter tells them that this is through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Chosen by God the Father in eternity, they have been set apart by God the Holy Spirit in time. They have been called out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet 2:9).
This choosing and this setting apart is for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood. They have obeyed Christ as he has been presented to them in the gospel. They have been purified and made clean by his atoning death. They have gained ‘an int’rest in the Saviour’s blood’.
They have been given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, v3. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means not only that he lives, but that they live. The very power that raised Jesus from the dead has broken into their lives, and they have been born anew..
Chosen by the Father. Set apart by the Spirit. Sprinkled and made clean by the blood of Jesus. The entire Trinity has been at work in establishing their hope! No wonder Peter is lost in wonder, love and praise.
All of this has already happened. The hope has been established. But have we received it, applied it, appropriated it, to ourselves? Until we do so we are in no fit state to face the future. Don’t let another opportunity slip by to receive for yourself all that God has accomplished for you in Christ, and now offers to you freely by his Spirit.
2. The hope fulfilled, vv4-5
The Christian hope is referred to here as ‘an inheritance’, v4. This is an echo of God’s ancient covenant with Abraham. God had promised to Abraham and his descendents that they would receive as their inheritance the land of Canaan. The New Testament does not replace or annul this promise, but expands it immensely. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham himself looked forward to another country, a better country, a heavenly country. And we – Jewish believers and Gentile believers together – are inheritors of that same promise.
2 Peter 3 tells us that the whole of the present created order will go up in smoke, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth – the home of righteousness.
This is our inheritance. It can never perish, spoil, or fade. It is kept in heaven.
But not only is this inheritance kept for us, we are kept for it. Verse 5 – we are shielded (kept under guard) by God’s power through faith. No millionaire celebrity was ever protected by her bodyguards more faithfully, more powerfully, more effectively, against all danger than God’s children are protected for their inheritance. We are guarded for glory.
This salvation ready to be revealed. It’s already there, waiting. It is nearer now than when we first believed. The whole creation is straining on tiptoes for it to be revealed.
But we still haven’t said the most important thing about our hope. What will be revealed at the last day is not only a new heaven and a new earth, but – look forward to v7 – Jesus Christ himself. The revelation of Jesus Christ – he is the hope. Our hope is not just a place; it is a person. No wonder Peter has called it a living hope, v3.
Mr. Standfast, one of John Bunyan’s characters in Pilgrim’s Progress, looked forward to the life to come with these words: “I shall see the head that was crowned with thorns, and see the face that was spit upon for me. I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith, but I shall hereafter live by sight, and shall be with Him in whose company I delight myself.”
I would urge you: as you journey on, keep your destination in view. As you run the race, set your sights on the finishing line. And rejoice as your contemplate the fulfilment of the Christian hope. As Spurgeon said: “When you talk about heaven let your faces light up with a heavenly glory. Of course, when you talk about hell, your everyday faces will do.”
3. The hope sustained, vv6-9
Peter wrote this letter to groups of Christians who were scattered throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It is clear from reading the letter as a whole that they were facing all kinds of difficulties and challenges. They were already experiencing sporadic harassment and much more serious persecution under Nero was just around the corner. Their very lives would be in danger. Peter recognises in v6 that already they may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
Peter will have much to say in this letter about how to behave in such circumstances; how to walk the tightrope when you desire to be faithful to Christ and the gospel when those around you are hostile to them, and to you.
But, for the time being, Peter wants them to know that their hope has been established, and that their hope will be fulfilled. And with such a yesterday, and such a tomorrow, he wants them to be sure that God will not abandon them today.
How does their hope sustain them at the present time?
For one thing, their trials are temporary. Peter has assured them that their inheritance can never perish, fail or spoil. The sadnesses and difficulties of this present life are, on the other hand for a little while, v6. It was just so with Christ, v11: first the sufferings, then the glory.
For another thing, their trials are purposeful. They are not pointless or arbitrary. God permits various trials so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine, v4. The sufferings of God’s people are the crucible in which their faith is refined.
The great mining companies of South Africa have got gold mining down to an art. They can extract up to 90% of the gold from the ore. And they’re working on the remaining 10%. They call it, ‘rebellious gold’. Isn’t that a bit like you and me? God knows that we are prone to wander too far, give in too readily, become distracted too easily. We’re ‘rebellious gold’. And he is intent on refining our us, so that our faith may become stronger and purer.
Are you feeling that God has placed you in a situation where it’s a struggle to do what you know is pleasing to him, where it’s difficult to speak for Christ, where it would be much easier just to go with the flow of those around you?
‘Why should I start at the plough of my Lord, that maketh the deep furrows on my soul? I know he is no idle husbandman, he purposeth a crop.’ (Samuel Rutherford)
Be encouraged: God has a purpose.
And for yet another thing, the rewards begin even now, vv8f. ‘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 goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.‘
Peter, of course, had seen Christ. But we do not – yet. But we love him, and we believe in him, and our hearts overflow with joy that cannot be put into words.
‘Of this joy there is no account to be given, but that the Spirit worketh it when and how he will. He secretly infuseth and distils it into the soul, prevailing against all fears and sorrows, filling it with gladness, exultations; and sometimes with unspeakable raptures of mind.’ (Owen)
Let us, like Peter’s first readers, be encouraged to look back and see our hope established. Let us look forward, to the time when our hope will be fulfilled. And let us live today rejoicing in the assurance that God will never fail us nor forsake us.
And so let it be said of us, what was once said of a godly Christian, ‘Heaven was in him before he was in heaven.’
Note: in addition to consulting the usual commentaries in preparing this sermon (Grudem, Clowney, etc), I also listened to expositions and sermons from a variety of sources. One of the best is a sermon by David Turner, available from the All Souls web site. I have used one or two ideas from this sermon in my own.