Good News For Exiles

30-April-17

I Peter 1:3-5

May grace and peace be yours in abundance! Last week we began our sermon time, and ended it, for that matter, with a wonderful greeting for our fellow exiles and refugees on this planet. This week we begin with a wonderful greeting for God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” I believe that greetings for God, especially one that is like this, are essential to our spiritual well-being. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a praiseful greeting, and too often we come into God’s presence with anything but praise in our hearts. Usually we come into God’s presence with our wants and needs and desires, and sometimes our pain and agony, but rarely do we come with our praise. And if we consider the situation of Peter’s readers, being the exiles and refugees that they were, we might imagine that they too, would first approach God with their wants and needs and desires, rather than with praise.

And so Peter opens up our passage this morning with an introductory praise toward God to remind all of us, that despite our current situations, that God is always praise-worthy. And in this case, God is praise-worthy, because by his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope.

When the early Christians departed Jerusalem for those strange sounding provinces that we mentioned last Sunday, they left everything that was meaningful behind, because they were running away to preserve their lives. They became exiles and refugees. As they ran away, they left behind them the old and the familiar and the cherished, but also the very dangerous. And the departure must have been bittersweet. They understood that they were losing home and possessions, but they also realized that they were gaining the hope of a new life. But that future, that hope of a new beginning, was just as uncertain as tomorrow is for us. And the sooner we realize that our own tomorrows are uncertain, the more faithful we can become today.

And so for the exiles and refugees to whom Peter writes, the hope of a new life and a new beginning in these strange-sounding provinces, was a very good thing. They were safe, at least for now. And they were safe because of the great mercy of God. And many of Peter’s readers, I am sure, recognized that.

When we begin a new adventure, whatever it may be, whether it is dispensing with a bad habit, or taking on a new job, or starting a commitment to reading our Bibles more often, that new adventure always comes about by the great mercy of God. And because God’s mercy is involved, that gives us the hope of a new beginning.

But the new birth and the living hope of which Peter speaks in this passage goes far beyond the beginning of a new adventure, however exciting or frighteningly uncertain it may be. And a new beginning can indeed be frighteningly uncertain, as Peter’s readers have already discovered. This new birth and living hope surpasses everything that life on this planet has to offer us. The good news, though, is that this living hope sustains us even when this life succeeds in taking things from us. And it becomes the strength we need to endure all of the trials, temptations and tragedies that seem to assail us on a daily basis.

This new birth and living hope comes to us by the mercy of God, and it is the direct result of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Without Christ’s resurrection, there would be no mercy, no new birth and no living hope. There would only be wrath, death, and a hopeless eternity. When Jesus rose from the dead, death died a horrible death and was defeated forever. Death no longer has any reign or power over us.

And that is, because we have been adopted into God’s family. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because of the new birth, into eternal life, we have been made into a glorious part of God’s family. We have become the children of God. Which brings us back to the blessing with which I began this sermon. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We don’t often think of Jesus having a God, do we? We’re much more comfortable with him being God, not having a God. But Jesus made it very clear throughout his earthly ministry that he did in fact have a God, and that he was God’s Son. And in the fullness of his humanity, Jesus set the pattern for our own lives by praying to his God and Father on a regular basis. His most agonizing cry as a human being was “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And when Jesus rose from the dead, he rose to new life in the absolute fullness of everything that a human being was ever intended to become. He had flesh and bones that could be seen and felt, a voice that could be heard, and, this is important to me, a digestive system that could process food. But in addition to all of that, he exhibited traits that only an eternal being, free of the ravages of this world, could exhibit. His resurrection body is the same body that we can joyfully anticipate having ourselves one day, because by the new birth we have become God’s children. And God’s children have the same living hope of eternity that Jesus had when he walked this earth. If we want evidence of the living hope that is ours, we need only examine Jesus, who is pleased to call us his brothers and sisters. We could very legitimately co-opt the blessing of verse three to say, “Blessed be our God and our Father.” We do it every Sunday when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

And because we are God’s children, and brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are entitled to an inheritance. I’ve always wanted an inheritance, but there’s not one person in my family who can give me one. At least not one that involves money. And money is a funny thing. like everything else on this earth, it tends to be pretty slippery stuff. Sometimes it lasts, sometimes it doesn’t. As most of you know, I’ve got an old car. But that’s just about what it is; an old car. It doesn’t have a whole lot of value, basically because it’s the wrong kind of old car to have value. And I’ll never be able to keep it in the ultimate sense of the word, because there’s always something new that goes wrong with this old car. And that’s because it is steadily and progressively returning to the earth out of which it was created. I can slow the process down, but I will never defeat it. No matter what I do, it will continue to deteriorate. It is a perishable thing. It is continuously becoming defiled, and it is certainly fading in spite of a new paint job.

Not so with the inheritance that we will receive from God our Father. The inheritance that God has set aside for us is unlike anything that we will encounter on this earth. It is imperishable. It is undefiled. It is unfading. And this must have been extraordinarily good news to Peter’s readers. In becoming exiles and refugees, they had left everything behind; things that had value to them, both sentimental and otherwise. They were starting out fresh with not many things of this world to tie them down. Did they miss their homes and possessions? I’m sure they did. Did they learn to live without them? I think they had no choice. Circumstances dictated it. And so maybe, just maybe an inheritance that was imperishable, undefiled,and unfading, had a little more meaning for them than it might for us. I know that I, personally, can live quite comfortably surrounded by stuff that is perishing, defiled, and fading, and kept not in heaven, but in my garage. I know that I need to learn to be a better exile and a better refugee than I am, because my true home is not at 691 Wallston Road, it is in heaven. Perhaps the same is true of the rest of us. We need to learn to be better refugees.

A final word to all refugees and exiles who’ve experienced the new birth and who have a living hope. For now, we are safe. We are

being protected by the power of God. Glorious promises aside, Peter’s readers had to survive in this dangerous world, and so do we. And God tenderly cares for his children until that day when we receive our inheritance. Sometimes, when we’re waist deep in the trials, temptations and tragedies of life, it is hard even to imagine that God is protecting us. But we made it here today to worship, didn’t we? That’s protection, that’s the power of God at work in our lives. And Peter’s readers managed to persevere too; so much, that what ever befell them, through faith, they proclaimed the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever they found themselves. And that’s part of the reason that we managed to make it here today. Christians throughout the centuries, living even as exiles and refugees, have kept proclaiming the good news of the new birth and the living hope, wherever it is that they have happened to be living. And we must learn to do the same, regardless of where we are living and regardless our own circumstances. Let us also look forward with joyful anticipation to our promised inheritance and the fullness of our salvation which is already ready to be revealed in the last time. And let us always proclaim with bold voices. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For it is through our Lord’s resurrection and by our faith in Jesus that we can also say blessed be our God and our Father.

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