19 April 2020
1 Peter 1:1-9
This is a passage that absolutely gushes with joy and excitement and enthusiasm. It is all over the place with bubbly gratitude to God for what is going on in our lives right now, and for what lies ahead of us in the eternal realms. These are the words of someone who has found faith in the resurrected Lord, and who wants to celebrate that faith with all of the gusto that can possibly be humanly mustered.
Blessed be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Exclamation point! Blessed be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! This is not something that we can just mumble out, in a droning, monotone voice, as if it had no real meaning at all. This is something that we really must shout out loud! It is kind of like those psalms that cry out, “Shout aloud to the Lord, the God of our salvation,” and while you’re doing all of that, bring out all of the really loud noise makers that you can find: drums and trumpets, and horns and cymbals! Have a celebration!
So, in light of the mess that is going on all around us, what in the world is there to celebrate? We are celebrating today, the great, great mercy of God. OK, that’s nice, “mercy” is a Bible word, we don’t use it very much in every day life, what is it? Simply put, mercy is that which keeps us from getting that which we deserve. I should probably say that again: mercy is that which keeps us from getting that which we deserve. And that, makes mercy a glorious cause for celebration! God’s mercy is why we weren’t dead when we got up this morning. God’s mercy is why we are able to listen to or watch this video, or even shut it off! God’s mercy is why Jesus died for our sins, instead of us having to take the hit. And that is a very good thing, because we are all sinners. We are all deserving of death, every one of us. We do bad things. We treat others poorly. We are unforgiving and unloving, and unholy. We fail to recognize that God’s Spirit and God’s image resides in our fellow human creatures. We spitefully use the ones we love, and for all of this despicable behavior, we deserve death. We’ve earned it. And because we have earned death, and because we have deserved death, God has given us mercy instead. God is not out to get us, God is not out to destroy us, God is instead, intending to love us and to care for us and to keep us from the clutches of eternal death. God wants us to live eternally.
And so God has found a way to extend mercy to all of us, and he’s done it through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As he died, Jesus took on the righteous punishment for all of the sins that we’ve committed, or intend to commit. Past, present and future is all taken care of. God has permanently deleted every blot of shame, remorse, self-loathing and guilt from our lives. When we welcome the work of Jesus Christ into our lives, we have nothing to fear. Nothing at all. We do not even fear death, because we know that we will live forever. That’s what mercy and grace is all about. That all comes from our Lord’s death. But then, of course, there’s resurrection! From resurrection, we get new birth, new life, a living hope and an inheritance that lasts for an eternity. Where once death and total loss was our only option, we now have abundant life, and ultimately, eternal life. This is all because Jesus suffered and died in our place. And because Jesus rose from the dead, death no longer has any authority or power over us. We have an inheritance waiting in heaven for us that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Nothing can mess it up, not even us. Our inheritance is completely secure, totally unaffected by any of the powers of evil. That is cause for no small amount of loud rejoicing and exuberant celebration.
Just the same, though, while we wait for all of this abundant mercy to reach it’s complete fulfillment, life can still deal out to us plenty of opportunities for discouragement and despair. That’s what life does. This is not a perfect world. It is a broken world, a damaged world, and it all began with father Adam and mother Eve, but all of us have certainly kept up the tradition that they established for us. We contribute to the brokenness of this world every day. The only thing in this world that is not broken is our salvation. Our salvation is perfect; completely undefiled by the brokenness around us. And so, from time to time, we will be victims; victims of others, victims of ourselves, victims of circumstance, and certainly the victims of the principalities and powers of evil. And being a victim is painful. It hurts. There is no other way around it.
But listen to verse six: “in this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials.” Now I don’t really intend to disagree with the Apostle Peter, but for those of us who have had to suffer various trials, they have never seemed to be “for only a little while.” Instead, they seem to go on and on. They seem to last forever! Time seems to stand still, nothing good seems to be happening, no progress appears to be evident. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it seems, at best, to be merely a dimly burning wick that is in danger of being quenched at any moment.
And here’s the truth. From what we know of the Apostle Peter’s life, his various trials were in no way shorter than our own, and the trials that his readers endured, were as troubling to them as our own are to us. So, what is Peter talking about? He’s trying to get us to understand the difference between the daily perspectives in which we live, and the eternal perspective in which we hope. And that takes some work, especially when we are smack-dab in the middle of a dreadfully long crisis. But those words of hope are there for our instruction, and our eventual acceptance. Learning and understanding perspective is a very difficult thing indeed.
Peter says that suffering various trials has the advantage of proving the genuineness of our faith. And it proves it mostly to us. God needs no convincing when it comes to the genuineness of our faith, God understands our hearts completely. We are the ones who doubt, we are the ones who need to be reminded that our faith is growing and maturing, to the point where our faith is far more precious than gold. Gold is good; but it is dreadfully temporary. There is nothing eternal about it, literally or figuratively. When we suffer various trials, our faith emerges stronger than gold, far more beautiful than gold, and unlike gold, completely imperishable. Even in the midst of trials, we can watch faith prevail in our lives.
Finally, verses eight and nine remind us of something about the awesome wonder of our faith. Listen to these words. “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Sounds a lot like something that Jesus said to us last week, doesn’t it? Many of us are already growing weary of the changes that have been thrust upon us, by this disease that ravages our world. Some of us are hurting, and some of us are even suffering. That puts us solidly in the footprints of all of the saints who’ve come before us. Saints who believed with all of their hearts, in the midst of their distress, that they were receiving the outcome of their faith which was the salvation of their souls. And in that they rejoiced. God’s gifts to us today are joy, and hope and salvation. Nothing has changed. Let us seek to rejoice that salvation, and let us do it with great hope in our hearts.