Living Now with Eternity in Mind #14: Living the Christian Life is a Battle

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you. Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world. The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen.

Through Silvanus, a faithful brother (as I consider him), I have written to you briefly in order to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, as does Mark, my son. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

1 Peter 5:6—14

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” And that’s certainly true of the Christian life. Following Jesus can also be a battle. It is in fact a spiritual battle. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “spiritual warfare.” In other words, there are spiritual forces that are seeking either to keep people from finding faith in Christ or to keep believers in Christ from being effective. So, Peter concludes his letter by encouraging his readers to stand firm even with everything they’re facing. He reminds them both of what they’re up against and about how they can face it.

Peter tells the believers in Asia Minor: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him. And already we’re into something that we don’t always think about or consider.

The idea of the devil (diabolos) “refers to the embodiment of evil, a transcendent figure set in opposition to God, God’s purposes, and God’s people.” In the Bible he is called a liar and a murderer. He seeks to undermine God’s purposes in the world—and therefore in our lives.

Of course, the problem here is that when it comes to the devil our imaginations have been shaped not by Scripture but by popular culture. We have this image of a horned human-like creature with a pitchfork. This makes the idea of the devil—or Satan—seem like a silly one. And we as believers look silly as a result.

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, writes: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” Or as he says elsewhere: “You can give the Devil too much or too little attention.

Our Scriptures are not shy or hesitant in reminding us that in living the Christian life, we are dealing with not only with our own sinfulness and with external temptations but also a spiritual enemy—one unseen and often unnoticed and ignored.

Peter’s words here are very similar to some familiar words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

Living the Christian life is a battle with a spiritual enemy. It’s a spiritual battle. The first thing is simply to be aware that this is the case. Like Peter says, Be alert and of sober mind.

This doesn’t mean looking for demons around every corner. It means paying attention to your life, your temptations, to what draws you closer to God and what pulls you away from God—it means being aware that you do have an enemy who seeks to weaken and even destroy your trust in Christ.

Our enemy doesn’t only seek to lead us or tempt us to do wrong things—he wants to keep us from doing right and good things that help us grow in our faith.This is why we have to be intentional about our Christian life—about being on the offensive.

Have you ever thought of the Christian life as a spiritual battle? Why or why not?What tends to draw you away from God? What temptations do you normally face?Are you arming yourself by spending time in prayer, reading Scripture, in doing things which encourage you to trust in and to follow Christ?

Now, all throughout our passage from 1 Peter we see Peter using “family” language. He refers to the family of believers throughout the world. He refers to Silas as a faithful brother. He mentions my son Mark, who isn’t a biological son but a son in the faith. You get a real sense that Peter and those he was writing saw the church—the body of believers—as a spiritual family. It’s very relational, close, intimate language. This is not the kind of language you would use of people who only know about one another or are only acquainted with one another. This is significant because Peter’s readers were having such a difficult time and he’s telling them that they are not alone. Believers everywhere, he says, are facing similar circumstances. And you know what? That’s true of us too. Lots of churches are in the same boat we are. Lots of other Christians are in the same boat you are. You’re not alone.

So: Living the Christian life is a battle, but we’re not alone in the fight.

Often our default way of reading Scripture is individualistically. Our default way of seeing our lives as believers is individualistically. We don’t welcome anyone else into our prayer life, into our attempts to read, understand, and apply Scripture to our lives, into our relationship with God. This is all private stuff. Here’s the problem: this way of living the Christian life—to put it simply—makes us easy targets for our enemy.

If we want to resist our enemy, we can’t do this alone. Actually, I might go further and say, we’re not called to do this alone. But we have so privatized our faith at times that we see it almost as a sign of spiritual weakness to need other Christians!

Peter encourages his readers to keep standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. They weren’t alone. And neither are we. Neither are you.

Have you ever felt alone in your struggles as a Christian? Is there at least one person you can be open with about your struggles?How does knowing other believers face similar struggles encourage you?Is admitting our struggles a sign of weakness or strength? What are some ways we can find strength in community?

Notice Peter doesn’t tell us to fight the enemy, much less defeat the enemy, but to Resist him. We’re told to stand firm and to stand fast. In other words, don’t lose faith, don’t give up. Given the circumstances they were facing, these were words they needed to hear.

We need to look at what Peter tells us about God. He calls him the God of all grace. He tells them to Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. We need to ask God to make this reality—this truth—real to us. More and more real to us.

As this becomes more and more real to us, it will become easier to put ourselves under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. And this tells us something else vitally important. God’s hand is mighty. Remember, it’s God who can restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. In other words, he has the power to do so. So, trust in him. Call out to him. Lean on him. Fall into his powerful arms of grace. You will find yourself firmly and kindly embraced. Whatever temptation or spiritual battle you face, you have a loving all-powerful God—a heavenly Father—on your side. Which brings us to our most important point.

Remember, this is all about living now with eternity in mind. Peter says to us that the God of all grace has called you to his eternal glory in Christ. Look at what he has in mind for you. Isn’t that awesome? Doesn’t that encourage you? Isn’t this a source of strength and peace even if we find ourselves facing struggles?

I’ll put it this way: Living the Christian life is a battle that has already been won in Christ.

In other words, if you are in Christ, you already have victory. Not because of anything you have done, but because of what Christ has done. This is the grace he’s been talking about. This is what it means to stand firm in the true grace of God. It means to throw yourself wholly and completely on God’s mercy. Or as Peter himself puts it: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

What difference does our view of God make as we face spiritual battles? How does knowing our enemy has already been defeated in Christ help us? Do your spiritual struggles lead you to or away from Christ?

1 Peter has been all about living the Christian faith in a situation that was extremely difficult—in a culture and place that believes very differently and often puts believers in a very difficult position. The main themes have been suffering and hope. We will experience trials in this life. Jesus said so. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

This tells us that the Christian faith is honest about life and what we face. We might not always understand why we face the struggles we do but we do know one thing: Christ understands our suffering, has defeated our enemies, and will one day make our hope a reality.

The gospel tells us that we have a God and Savior who underwent suffering—whose life on this earth was the ultimate spiritual battle—and won a victory so you and I could also know victory. His victory is our victory. When you trust in Jesus—that he won this victory for us—it means that no battle, no amount of suffering, no struggle, and no enemy has any real power over you. Living the Christian life is a battle but when your hope is in Jesus Christ you never have to fear defeat. Ultimately, Peter seeks to point us to Christ. Indeed, at the center of this letter, and at the center of our faith, is the person of Jesus. Let me ask you: are you pursuing Jesus? Are you letting him into your life? Is he the center of your life?

Living Now with Eternity in Mind #12: Living for the Will of God

Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same understanding—because the one who suffers in the flesh is finished with sin—in order to live the remaining time in the flesh no longer for human desires, but for God’s will. For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the Gentiles choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you don’t join them in the same flood of wild living—and they slander you. They will give an account to the one who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was also preached to those who are now dead, so that, although they might be judged in the flesh according to human standards, they might live in the spirit according to God’s standards.

1 Peter 4:1—6

There is a story of a cathedral—possibly mythical—that has three gates. Over one gate there is an inscription in marble under a beautiful flower bouquet that says, “The things that please are temporary.” Over the second gate, there is a cross with this inscription: “The things that disturb us are temporary.” However, over the central gate, there is a big inscription saying, “Eternal are the important ones.” Living for the eternal, most important things is what we mean by living now with eternity in mind—and to live for the will of God. Today we’re thinking about living for the will of God. And when I say living for the will of God, I mean not only living in the way that God calls and invites me to live in the present, but living now with eternity in mind—living not only for the present but also in light of our eternal future.

1 Peter 4, again, says that Christians do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. He’s contrasting two ways of living. On the one hand, people can live . . . their earthly lives for evil human desires; on the other hand, people can live instead for the will of God. In verse 3 Peter says to his readers: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. That sounds as though their lives before Christ were far from exemplary—however, all of this would have been not only acceptable in their culture but even expected.

So, two things are going on here. One, Peter says they need to put sinful behaviour behind them. Coming to faith in Christ involves a radical change in how we live. Two, this means they will stand out like sore thumbs because this sinful behaviour often went hand in hand with public religious practices in their pagan culture.

Put simply: Living for the will of God means being done with sin. Not that we stop struggling with sin or even stop sinning altogether, but we do stop making it our way of life.

J. Kirk Johnston, in his book Why Christians Sin, writes: “Some have said that Christians who consciously sin have lost their focus on the future. These Christians have forgotten that God will reward in heaven only those who have lived faithfully for Him here on earth (1 Cor. 9:24). Christians who fail to keep eternity in mind often sin in the here and now.” And, actually, let me suggest that rather than see this as having to live according to a list of “don’t,” instead see living for the will of God as a way of flourishing according to God’s design, according to the purpose for which he made us.

Think of sin not only as avoiding something wrong that we want, but as something which actually does us and others great harm. Living for the will of God becomes about loving God, ourselves, and those around us.

What does it mean to be done with sin? How have you had to wrestle with “evil human desires” in your own life? Do Christians in our community face pressure to do things that are wrong in order to fit in? How does living for the will of God lead to human flourishing?

Daniel Webster once said, “My greatest thought is my accountability to God.” That’s quite a thought! I daresay not many think like this these days. There are lots of things to talk about when it comes to accountability. But I want us to focus on what we see in a verse like Romans 14:12, where it says that each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Even for those of us who are Christians, this is a sobering verse. Or it should be!

Look at what Peter says in verse 5 of our main passage: But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. Here he’s referring to pagans who malign and mistreat believers: They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But he says this to encourage believers to live for God’s will—so that they will be confident when God does come to judge the living and the dead. That, like Jesus, they will experience vindication.

Let’s put it this way: Living for the will of God means being accountable to God. So why is this important? Because living for the will of God means not only living for today. How we live now matters when it comes to our eternal future.

Listen to Hebrews 10:26—27: If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Like it or not, judgement is coming.

Richard J. Krejcir writes in an article: “The bottom line is: accountability is letting Christ drive! Accountability becomes the map to keep us moving on His road to His destination; if we throw away the map, then we go in the wrong direction; we will never get to the destination, and perhaps, even crash. It begins when we stop to ask for directions, His Directions!”

Now, Peter continues to say: For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. This sounds strange. What does he mean?

When he talks about the gospel having been preached to those who are now dead, he’s talking about believers who have already died. You see, many among the first generation of believers thought the return of Jesus was going to occur in their lifetime. So they were trying to understand what would happen to their fellow Christians who died before Jesus came back. And Peter’s saying that since they had received the gospel, though they have physically died, they will experience eternal life and resurrection.

Listen to Paul’s speech in Acts 17:31: For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. God judges the living and the dead through Jesus Christ. Our obedience is putting our faith in what Jesus has done in obedience to the Father. We’re accountable to God for our lives—and especially for how we have responded to the good news of Jesus. For indeed, trusting in and following Jesus is ultimately what it means to live for the will of God.

Do you consider yourself accountable to God for your life? What difference does that make in the present?Do you think of God as judge? How can we face such a judge?How do we practice accountability before God in the here and now? In what way does the coming judgment motivate us?

I haven’t watched The Simpsons since university, but I remember one episode where Homer puts something in the microwave and complains, “Ten seconds?!? Can’t anything go faster?” You’ve probably heard the phrase, “instant gratification.” This refers to a need to have our desires satisfied as quickly as possible. And we live in a world where people can have instant gratification in many ways.

But Christians are called to what we might call “deferred gratification.” It means realizing that much of what passes for pleasure and fulfillment in this world is only temporary. Our real joy—our greatest pleasure—is one we have to wait for patiently. Our sermon series is called “Living Now with Eternity in Mind.” So, while we live in the present, we don’t live only for the present. This means not giving into what might make us feel better now in order to receive even greater joy later. It also means putting up with situations and circumstances that are difficult. Christians need patience. And to be patient, we need hope.

So, living for the will of God requires hopeful patience. This was certainly true for Peter’s original readers. They would have to faithfully persevere in the present precisely because of their hope for the future in Christ. And we do the same.  Think about what Paul says in Romans 8:24—25: For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

And the hope is this: of a life that is not only free from suffering, but a life that completely satisfies our deepest, most fundamental longings because we will be in the presence of God in the new creation forever.

C.S. Lewis writes: “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” And we have this hope because of Jesus Christ, who, as we might remember from last week’s passage, was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 

What is something in this life for which you’ve had to wait patiently? How does our hope in Christ make it possible to persevere patiently in difficult times? Why is the Christian attitude of patient hope different from how others might think? Are there times when you can share your hope in Christ with other people?

So: Living for the will of God means being done with sin. There’s a change that happens when we follow Jesus. We don’t live like anyone else. Living for the will of God means being accountable to God. We belong to him. And we will be judged for how we have lived and responded to the good news. Living for the will of God requires hopeful patience. Jesus will return and make all things finally and fully new. In the meantime, we need grace to persevere in our faith. In the end, living for the will of God is only possible for us because of the power of God made available to us through the Holy Spirit. And in the end, we should live for the will of God not out of a sense of obligation but of love. By living for the will of God we worship the One who has redeemed us through Jesus.

Living Now with Eternity in Mind #11: Living to be with God

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not as the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

1 Peter 3:18—22

The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, composed in 1647, is this: “What is the chief end of man?” Do you know what the answer is? It says our “chief end,” our reason for existence, “is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”And for the Christians Peter was writing, having a heavenly, eternal perspective was all important if they were going to persevere as believers while going through persecution.

Beginning with today’s passage, we see more and more references to the future God has for his people, to what Peter calls eternal glory in Christ. He really wants them to understand what it means to live now with eternity in mind. And our passage this morning gets to the heart of what this means.

Our passage begins with this verse: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. So here we’re reminded of Jesus’ death and resurrection—and the significance of them both. And one of the reasons I love this verse is how Peter expresses the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection: to bring you to God. Do you hear that? To bring you to God. To bring us to God. To bring sinners—like you and me—to God. But what does this mean?

In other words, Jesus didn’t suffer, die, and rise again so we could go to heaven when we die in some vague, pie-in-the-sky sense. He did it all so we could once again be brought back into right relationship with God. That’s the point.

It was Pastor John Piper who said it best in his book God is the Gospel: “People who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there.” In other words, Jesus isn’t merely the means to eternal life; he is eternal life.

Put another way: the goal of the cross is not forgiveness; the goal of the cross is reconciliation, a restored relationship. Forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Because a restored relationship with God is our greatest need.

Living to be with God is only possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Here’s the thing, something that we can forget sometimes: being a Christian is not about being polite, good or nice. It’s not about following religious rules. It’s about being brought from death to life. Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. You see, I think it’s the case that often as people we don’t understand or sufficiently grasp a simple truth: it’s not about a few bad things we occasionally do. It’s about the fact that we are rebels. Apart from Christ, we are enemies of God. We don’t only commit sins; we are sinful through and through.

However—and this is a huge, life-changing, world-altering, ground-shaking however—it also tells us just how magnificent, just how awesome, just how deep and profound God’s love is for us. Because he didn’t leave us to ourselves. He didn’t abandon us. He acted to save. He sought us out.

You see, the cross and death of Jesus is not an accident of history. In John 10:17—18, Jesus says: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.

Let’s put it this way: the cross didn’t happen to Jesus; Jesus happened to the cross. No one took his life; he gave his life. And he did it so we could be brought to God. Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 2:4—5, 18: Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved . . . For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Think about that. Access to the Father. What do you think that means? Even after we’ve been forgiven, we have access. Even after we’ve put our trust in Jesus, we have access. So the whole reason Jesus did what he did was so that we could have access to the Father by one Spirit. Fellowship with God. Friendship with God. An intimate relationship with God. Because of Jesus, we have such access now.

Skye Jethani, in his book What’s Wrong with Religion? 9 Things No One Told You About Faith, writes: “Jesus removed our evil that keeps us from God by taking it upon himself on the cross. His death opened the way for us to be with God. For those who desire God more than anything, the cross is the best news imaginable. Through it we have been freely given what we never could have acquired on our own.” In other words, living to be with God is only possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Why are Jesus’ death and resurrection necessary?Why is reconciliation—a restored relationship—the goal of the cross? What might it look like to live to be with God? What does it mean to be with God even now?

The next few verses in our passage are some of the strangest, most difficult to understand in the NT. Scholars and preachers don’t all interpret what they mean the same way. Here they are again: After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. As to the identity of the imprisoned spirits and what exactly Jesus proclaimed to them, we can’t be entirely sure. But I will suggest a possibility. If these spirits are those of the people who died in the flood, then they died because of their sin, their unrighteousness, because they did not believe Noah and that God would judge them. And when Jesus went to these imprisoned spirits it was to declare his victory over sin and death.

The passage continues: In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. Not all were saved in Noah’s day.

Here’s the hard truth: Living to be with God is not something that every person wants. There are people who persistently refuse and resist the good news of God in Jesus, no matter how clearly and compellingly we present it.

There were disobedient people in Noah’s day and there are disobedient people in our day. John 3:19—20 says: People loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul talks about those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Of them he says, They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

When we read passages like this, we should do so with humility and much prayer. They should sober us. They should remind us that when we reject our very source of life—God himself—that there are consequences.

Some think God is unjust or unfair. But look at our passage: God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. It makes me wonder: if even one person in the days of Noah had repented, would they have been allowed on the ark? Whatever would have happened, the key for us is what it says about God: God waited patiently. It makes me think of Abraham’s question: Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

If living to be with God is not something that every person wants, God will respect and not override their freewill. Now, I know my saying this doesn’t answer all of our hard questions. But for now let’s ask: do we trust God to do what is right? Do we believe Scripture when it says God waited patiently? Because it says that elsewhere in the NT too. In 2 Peter 3:9 we read this: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. And here we see God’s heart.

And I think, like Jesus, we’re called to proclaim the good news to those who are still imprisoned in disobedience and sin. Not because we’re perfect. Not because we have it all together. Certainly not because we’re now completely free of sin ourselves. But because we’re beggars showing other beggars where to get the bread of life.

Why might someone resist the good news of Jesus? Is God being unjust or unfair to shut out the disobedient from his presence? Why or why not? How does God show his love to those who resist his offer of relationship? How can we show his love?

The last part of our passage says this of having a clear conscience before God: It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Think of the picture this paints. Jesus Christ, the one who came, suffered, died, and was raised is now at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. Though he suffered for being faithful to God’s calling in this life, he is now exalted, victorious, glorified, at God’s right hand forever.  This means that the difficulties of following Jesus in the here and now are not the end of the story. Living to be with God is our greatest need and our greatest hope.  Is Jesus where you get your hope for eternal life?How should that hope affect your life here and now?What are you doing to share that hope with others?

Living Now with Eternity in Mind#1: Living with Hope

This is the first of a series of sermons I preached a number of years ago on 1 Peter. Looking at my files, I realized that some are missing. It’s possible that some are missing because my laptop wasn’t working and in for repairs and therefore prepared my notes by hand. So I will post the ones I have that (I think) are worth sharing over the next several days. I hope that they bless and encourage you.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ:
To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of 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 is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that would come to you, searched and carefully investigated. They inquired into what time or what circumstances the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified in advance to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you. These things have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.

1 Peter 1:1-12

What is hope? To answer that question, let me ask another one: do you like getting something in the mail? Or have you ever opened your mailbox just hoping that maybe—just maybe—there’s something in it for you? Now, here’s the thing. This can happen in two ways. I can just go to my mailbox hoping that maybe there’s something there for me. Maybe somebody sent me a surprise. Usually I’m disappointed! But there’s another way this can happen. There’s that feeling I get when I’ve placed an order with Amazon and I’m waiting for it to arrive. So I know something’s coming. Usually books. Unless something goes wrong with the order or with Canada Post, I can be sure there is something on its way to my mailbox.  So what is hope? Is hope going to my mailbox and not knowing if something is there or not but wishing there will be? Or is hope like waiting for an Amazon order that is definitely on its way? We often use the word “hope” in the first sense. What might it mean to have hope in the second sense? What difference might that make?

You know, in our world, people need hope. Hope beyond their circumstances. Hope beyond our flawed and often disappointing political leaders. Hope beyond cancer and other sicknesses. We need hope. Jeff Goins writes: “As humans, we need hope. We can’t live without it. It is the lifeblood to our spiritual survival, and the only thing that pulls us out of the deep trenches of the pain and hurt of life.” And whether we realize it or not, we all put our hope in something. So it’s not a question of whether or not we have hope—but where does our hope come from? What is our hope in?

1 Peter tells us much about hope. Our passage begins with Peter telling his readers that God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He calls it a living hope. What does this mean? In the Ashbury Bible Commentary, it says: “Those who are reborn have a hope that animates their present lives . . . rebirth equips Christians with the ability to see all of life in the light of the glory to be revealed when Christ returns.” The hope we have should change the way we live—and really be a living hope.

What we hope for changes how we live. Our hope represents how our beliefs about our future impacts our present. When I was growing up my mother would sometimes enter these Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes contests. Other people play the lottery or gamble in other ways. Now, I realize that not everyone who plays these games puts all of their hope in winning, but what of those who do? How does that affect the way they live in the present?

In our passage, there are many things that show Peter was pointing his readers to the future: He mentions a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. The last time here means exactly that. He talks about the revelation of Jesus Christ. When Peter speaks of this, he means when Jesus is finally and fully revealed in all his glory at the last time. He tells them about the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. And, yes, we can be saved now. But we will receive the fullness of our salvation only at the last time. Even the OT prophets who prophesied about the Messiah did so with the future in mind and therefore in hope. He says about the prophets: It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you.

But as he talks about hope, he does so with confidence. This isn’t wishful thinking. And Peter wants believers in Asia Minor to have a confident hope because they were living in the Roman Empire in difficult circumstances. They couldn’t trust that their circumstances would necessarily get better. But they could trust that whatever their circumstances, God has something more in mind for their future.

Let’s put it this way: Living with hope means having confidence in our future. How many people experience hopelessness? How many people feel trapped in their present circumstances unable to see a way out? How many people really don’t think there is good in their future? They feel like having confidence that things could get better is impossible, maybe even laughable.

For Peter’s readers—and for us—to live now with eternity in mind means to believe that God will one day vindicate those who trust in him. Even though his readers were being ostracized in the present, it would not always be that way. Hope in our future gives us freedom in the present. To think about it in terms of identity, as we talked about last week, we’re invited and called to be hopeful people.

What is the difference between wishful thinking and hope? When we have confidence in our future, how does that help us live in the present?How would you describe your hope to someone else? Is yours a confident hope? Why or why not?

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul 
And sings the tune without the words 
And never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

Dickinson’s poem suggests to us that hope—genuine hope—isn’t conditioned by our circumstances but is real regardless of circumstances. It perches in the soul, sings the tune, and never stops at all. Hope is something we need in difficult circumstances that arise because of our commitment to Jesus. Peter’s readers were experiencing difficult circumstances. They were outcasts in their community. Suffering is a major theme of this letter.

And in our passage, Peter refers to this when he says in verses 6—7: In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

Peter’s readers—the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia—need hope because, as he says, they have been grieved by various trials. But he seeks to help to put their trials in context. He wants them to see their trials as evidence that God is up to something in their lives. This is a test of your faith, he says. It will result in praise, glory, and honor, he tells them. Because such trials can be discouraging, he wants to encourage them with words of hope. Peter was calling his readers to stick to their faith until the end.

You might have noticed that postage stamps keep getting more expensive. But at least they have one quality that most of us could stand to imitate: they stick to one thing until they get there. We call that perseverance. We’re called to do likewise: to stick to one thing until we get there! And it our confident hope in the future God has for us that makes this possible. When you have a confident hope that God has a good future in store for you, it becomes possible to persevere—to stick with it—until that future comes to pass.

Listen to what the apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3—5: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

To put it another way, suffering is the context for hope. Or in other words, living with hope enables us to persevere during suffering.Why is hope important to you? What helps us become more and more like postage stamps, to stick with it until we get there? How might having hope enable you to deal with times of suffering? What are some ways people around you need hope? Can you share your hope with them?

When I married my wife and we were about to move out of her parents’ house, her Dad told me, “When you married her, you married everything she owns.” And her parents more or less let us know that this would pretty much be all we get for an inheritance! And when my mother died, there was no inheritance waiting for me.

Our passage talks about an inheritance. Peter describes it this way: an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. It is this inheritance that we are invited to hope for, Peter says. And so, the natural question is this: what is this inheritance and how can we get it?

Peter tells us that God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And it’s being born again that secures our inheritance. And being born again is what happens when we come to faith in Jesus. And all of this—every little bit of it—is possible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Our hope is based on the actual, historical, and physical resurrection from the dead of the person of Jesus. His resurrection tells us that this life—one often filled with trials and difficulties and suffering—is not all there is. His resurrection tells us that God has a better story in mind for us. His resurrection is what gives us hope.

In his discussion about resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins . . . [and] If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. Our inheritance is resurrection like Jesus. Living with hope is only possible because of Jesus and his resurrection. Apart from Christ, we have no hope. Apart from Christ, all we have is wishful thinking. What does it mean that God has an inheritance in store for us? How do we receive this inheritance?Do you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Why is his resurrection so important?What are you hoping for? What gives you hope? Is your hope in Jesus and his resurrection?

Tempus Fugit

Man, oh man, I cannot believe my vacation—much less the summer—is over. Next week our daughter begins grade 4 and our twin sons start preschool. Just a week ago my wife and I celebrated our 11th anniversary. And if I really want to think of how far life has come and gone, I need only recall that I’ve been out of high school for 23 years. Finished my undergrad 18 years ago. Received my Master’s degree 15 years ago. I mean, c’mon, this year I turn 41. Forgive the cliché, but it’s true (cue impressive Latin phrase!): tempus fugit. Or as we usually say it, “Time flies.” And, believe me, it does so even when you’re not having fun.

If most of you are like me, then most days you live as though your death is an eternity away. Continuing with the “time” image, we act as though we have “all the time in the world.” Whether the thought of our own death bothers us or not, dwelling on what the final date inscribed on our tombstone will be is likely not a regular routine. Moments occasionally come along when I realize that there is still much of the young boy and college student in me. I think more years  still lie ahead of me than behind. But as my wife likes to remind me, I am now middle-aged! In the U2 song from their album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, “City of Blinding Lights,” Bono sings reflectively, “Time won’t leave me as I am/ Time won’t take the boy out of this man.” It’s funny how both things can be true, isn’t it?

Psalm 90 seems to have been written by someone perhaps reflecting on the realities of age and of mortality. Sounding a great deal like the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, the psalmist writes: “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” There is a definite realism and honesty in the biblical text about the temporal limitations we all face.

But we don’t like to face these limitations in our culture. Surely the big business of cosmetic surgery attests loudly to this. Other signs of our desire to avoid age and our own eventual demise abound. Think of the woman who says, “I turn 35 again this year.” Or the man who dyes his graying temples. Or parents who try to live vicariously through their children. In our society, youth is god-like, a sign of strength and success. And of course our culture is not alone in wanting to prolong life. Think of the legend of the Fountain of Youth, a spring that supposedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks or bathes in its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years. According to an apocryphal combination of New World and Eurasian elements, Juan Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513. Imagine the money people would pay if such a fountain were ever found. Walmart would set up shop by the fountain overnight. Apple would design an app to use it.

Obviously, searching for some legendary fountain is not the way of dealing with our finitude. Thankfully, God in his wisdom offers us truth about how to think about this reality. Aware of his own unavoidable death, the writer of Psalm 90 brings this awareness to God in prayer: “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” I see at least two things to note here. First, God needs to give us a better grasp of our own mortality. Teach us, the Psalmist asks. More than that, the psalmist asks because he wants to live wisely. Knowing, therefore, that we only have so much time is understood as a prompt to wiser living.

Think of people who make so-called “bucket-lists.” Often those who make such lists are people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness or who have in some other way been confronted by their own mortality. Having had the realization that they will really not live forever, such a list-maker thinks, “I better make a list of things that I want to do and should do before I die. This is my last chance.” Becoming more intimately aware that their days on this earth are numbered, such a person decides to use the time he or she has doing things they’ve put off. Being able to number our days rightly potentially rids each of us of the procrastinator within.

One other thing about what the psalmist is saying. He’s saying it all to God. This is prayer. Underlying his desire to have a more honest grasp of the length of his life is what the Bible calls a fear of the Lord. The Bible makes clear elsewhere that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). While meaning more, having a fear of the Lord at the very least means knowing that one’s life is ultimately in God’s hands. And not just this brief earthly sojourn. What happens to our life after we die is also in God’s hands. Wanting to live wisely, therefore, means wanting to live life—all of life, as much of it as we have—in relation to God. It means finding in God our very reason for living. “Lord,” the psalmist is saying, “help me to live for you in the time that you have given to me.”

Much of our culture tells us to do whatever we can to extend our stay on this blue-green planet in order to have more time to enjoy what we like, to do what we want to do, to live how we want to live. But the current of biblical wisdom runs in a considerably different direction. And Jesus, thankfully, describes it to us: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Being able to count our days wisely in order to live wisely means knowing that we can never save our lives—much less add days or weeks or years to our calendar. Tempus fugit. Since this is so, we should make the prayer of Psalm 90 our own before it’s too late.