April 19, 2020
Steven Lee | 1 Peter 1:1-5
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to 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.—1 Peter 1:1–5
Trials have a way of revealing our hopes. What do we trust in when things get rough? I remember after the birth of our third child, my wife experienced some serious complications. As a half-dozen nurses and doctors rushed in to attend to her, I began to understand the severity of what was taking place. They gave her papers to sign to authorize various life-saving measures. In that moment, the worst case scenarios began to run through my mind. I imagined Adoniram Judson, first protestant missionary sent to Burma, who wandered the streets begging nursing women to nurse his infant after the death of his wife Ann shortly after childbirth. I wondered if my faith would remain intact if my wife died.
Trials bring forced clarity to our lives, revealing the source of our hope when all else fails. We see this more clearly in the midst of our world today. With a global pandemic, many have felt powerless and hopeless. But even without a global pandemic, our world is filled with trials, pressures, and hostilities that require a sure and steadfast hope.
This leads us to the message of 1 Peter: Christians have a heavenly hope in a hostile world. Let me set a bit of the context of the book of 1 Peter from 1:1–2.
These opening two verses really could merit a sermon itself, but let me just point to a three themes that will be revisited in coming weeks.
This is written by the Apostle Peter in his unique office as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” during the rule of the emperor Nero before persecution had escalated significantly. This was written to the Christians in the provinces of Rome in Asia Minor, which would be modern day Turkey. The believers that Peter is writing to are experiencing persecution, trials, suffering, and widespread hostility from the culture around them.
Second, we see a theme of “elect exiles.” These are God’s people—predominately Gentiles—who are scattered throughout Asia Minor living among people who are hostile to their faith. The world finds their beliefs and practices strange. Though they are elect—called and chosen by God—they are also exiles, strangers living in a land that is not their ultimate home. Their God-ordained identity is that of spiritual exiles, strangers and aliens in their current culture, ultimately living as citizens of heaven. We see a theme of homesickness running through 1 Peter where God’s people long for their true and ultimate home.
Third, the main character at work in election and salvation is the Triune God—the Father, Son, and Spirit. Verse 2 tells us how the Triune God is powerfully at work in saving his people:
Peter’s point in the introduction is not merely to say who he is and who he is writing to, but to inform his readers of their identity (i.e., elect exiles) and of God’s sovereign work of divine election. It’s important to note that there is nothing more comforting in trials than to know you have been chosen by God according to his sovereign power and wisdom precisely for that moment.
That’s the context of 1 Peter. In subsequent weeks we’ll come back to those themes in 1 Peter 1:1–2, but this morning I want to look in greater detail at verses 3–5.
The main point in 1:3–5 is that because believers have an imperishable hope grounded in the miracle of the new birth, they can withstand trials with worship. Peter’s solution for trials and suffering is hope-filled worship grounded in God’s glorious work in salvation.
My aim is to remind us of the miracle of the new birth that gives us an imperishable hope that can withstand any trials that we’re experiencing or that may come.
My plan this morning is to look at our passage 1 Peter 1:3–5 and answer these two questions:
In verse 3, we see that God “has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). This emphasizes God’s sovereignty and initiative. We didn’t do anything to cause our physical births, and we contribute nothing to our spiritual rebirths. God alone saves and gives life.
This is precisely Jesus’ point in John 3 when he’s speaking with Nicodemus. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This was crazy talk to Nicodemus. How can a full-grown man enter into his mother’s womb and be born again? This doesn’t compute for Nicodemus. Nicodemus is talking about physical birth, and Jesus is speaking about spiritual birth—being born of water and the Spirit, without which he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:5–8
Spiritual rebirth is like wind blowing. We can’t control it, we can’t manufacture it, and we can’t stop it. It happens when God makes it happen. God sovereignly caused you to be born again to a living hope.
I had the privilege of being present for the birth of all five of my children. While I would like to think I “helped” in their births, the reality is that my presence was appreciated but unnecessary. My children had no part in their own birth as well. My wife labored and gave birth. In the same way, God brings his children to experience new life through his prerogative and through his alone. We do not contribute, assist in, or cause our new birth. God does.
It is a miracle when God breathes new life into the dead by removing a heart of stone and putting in a heart of flesh. The reality of our new birth as followers of Jesus ought to cause us to marvel at God’s glorious power and work on our behalf.
Believers are born again to three things in our passage, all with the same preposition:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.—1 Peter 1:3
Peter is contrasting a living hope with an empty or vain hope. It is genuine and vital. It is a hope that is sure and guaranteed because it is based upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Believers have a living hope because Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed!
Hope is an interesting word. It can be used to convey our uncertainty and the precariousness of a situation, or it can convey our confidence and surety of something coming to pass. My kids can say, “I hope to get dessert tonight.” They have a 50–50 chance if we flip a coin. Their hope is uncertain. On the other hand, we can say “I have hope that I will someday be in heaven.” That is a hope that is confident and sure because it rests on God’s election and foreknowledge, Jesus’ forgiveness and imputed righteousness, and the Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification (1:2). Peter tells us we have a living, confident, and sure hope grounded in the Resurrection.
… To an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.—1 Peter 1:4
Believers receive an indestructible inheritance. In the OT the inheritance is the land that God promised the twelve tribes of Israel after the Exodus (e.g., Numbers 32:19; Deuteronomy 2:12, 12:9, 25:19, 26:1; Joshua 11:23). Peter picks up on this language but rather than a physical inheritance, they are strangers and exiles homesick for a heavenly country: heaven. It speaks of this in Hebrews 11 when describing the faith of those who have gone before (called the Hall of Faith):
[They] all died in faith … having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. … They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.—Hebrews 11:13–16
This inheritance awaits God’s people in heaven. This again taps into our innate understanding that we are not primarily citizens of this country. Our allegiances are not mainly to an earthly kingdom. We labor not mainly to advance the agenda of a singular nation state. Instead, believers live as exiles here on earth longing for a heavenly kingdom.
This inheritance is indestructible. Specifically, Peter uses three adjectives—imperishable, undefiled, and unfading—to convey that reality. What’s the significance of these three adjectives?
This inheritance will not spoil. It doesn’t have a shelf life. It won’t go stale, doesn’t mold, never expires, and doesn’t turn sour. Our lives are like grass that withers and fades. Our time on earth will run out. But our salvation will not perish. This is illustrated by how quickly milk spoils. I read that dairy farms that supply American’s milk are dumping millions of gallons of it down the drain. There’s little demand for some of it since school cafeterias and restaurants are closed. The cows keep producing and they need to be milked; but if you don’t use it, you lose it. But not so with our heavenly inheritance.
Not only is it imperishable, but it is undefiled. It won’t get stained, contaminated, infected, or ruined. This is the same word used to denote Jesus’ sinlessness in Hebrews 7:26, where it says we have a high priest who is “unstained” by sin.
It doesn’t lose its luster and beauty, doesn’t diminish in value. Our inheritance is immune to inflation, changes in the stock market, or currency manipulation. It does not wear out, grow obsolete, or disappoint. Can you imagine something that is as good or better 10 years later? I remember as a kid playing video games such as Super Mario Brothers or Street Fighter II. These were amazing video games at the time. So about a year ago, while visiting family, my brother and I played an emulator where we could go back and play all these old games. After about five minutes it was clear that these games had not aged well. The graphics were terrible, the game play simplistic, and the overall experience lacking. They were not what they once were. Not so with our inheritance awaiting us in heaven. In fact, our hope of resurrection and indestructible inheritance gets better and more meaningful every day.
… Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.—1 Peter 1:5
In verse 5 we’re told that this inheritance is a future salvation that will be revealed in the last time. Very often the NT can speak of salvation in a present sense, “You have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), but it can also speak of it in a future sense. Peter is doing the latter. The reason believers can be confident of this future salvation is because they are being guarded by God’s power through faith. So God not only keeps and protects our future inheritance, he keeps and protects us by faith so that we do not fall away.
God powerfully protects his children—even in the midst of pain, trials, and challenges to their faith—by sustaining their faith as true heirs. God keeps those who are his. The fact that you and I wake up each morning—still breathing, still trusting in God, not making a shipwreck of our faith—is God’s grace at work in our lives. In the midst of whatever you’re facing, God’s power guards you by faith until final salvation.
So why can we have an imperishable hope?
So if this is what God has done, why did he do it and how do we respond?
Peter’s antidote to hopelessness is to fight the fight of faith with worship grounded in the new birth. Because we have an imperishable hope grounded in the miracle of the new birth, we can praise God. Hope-filled worship ought to characterize God’s people when they examine God’s work against the backdrop of dire, hostile, or discouraging circumstances.
The point of all that God has done is to awaken in us fresh praise, worship, and joy. Verse three begins with the words, “Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” All of God’s works in salvation and redemption history are to call us to fresh praise and worship.
We respond in praise because God has done all this according to his great mercy (1 Peter 1:3). God saves his people not because of their likeability, hard work, how deserving they may be, nor based on any characteristic or traits we bring. God saves according to his great mercy.
Lamentations 3:22–24 tells us of God’s character:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
God’s mercies never end, and they are new every morning. The fact that we are alive, watching, listening, is God’s mercy poured out on you.
There is a danger for all Christians to grow calloused and inoculated to the wonders and glories of the gospel. We might know the lyrics to praise songs, but do we have the heart that can truly sing them? We might have Scriptures memorized, but do we have the affections that accompany them? How do we cultivate praise, worship, and joy in God? Ponder afresh the heights of God’s love against the backdrop of the severity of our sin. Consider the steadfastness of God’s mercy and grace, and how unworthy we are to receive it.
Don’t study God like a chef, but like a brain surgeon. What do I mean by that? Don’t study God’s word and works such that we become bored with it. Perhaps like a chef who has cooked his signature dish thousands of times and tasted thousands of iterations—so he cares not for that dish. Instead, be like a brain surgeon who opens up a skull, operates, and is continually amazed by how the brain works. The surgeon understands in part but is continually amazed at all that he can’t fully grasp. Be like those who ponder God’s work and words with renewed awe and amazement. So that we can exclaim, “I know how God saves, but why would God save me?”
My challenge is for us to cultivate a heart that is happy in God. George Muller writes …
I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished ... I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it.
Make it your first and primary business to lead yourself to cultivate a heart of praise that is informed by God’s gracious and glorious work of regeneration. Don’t lose your awe over that miracle. Don’t inoculate yourself from being amazed by simple truths.
In Hunger for God, John Piper writes the following on satisfaction …
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long as the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.
Oh how many of our souls are so stuffed with social media, YouTube, and Netflix that there is little room left?
Not only do we fight the fight of faith with worship, but it will end someday. There will come a day where we sing and will feel no inkling of self-consciousness, we’ll only be enraptured with the glory and majesty of God. We won’t critique the musicians, we won’t parse out how we’re feeling; our minds won’t wander to our concerns because we will see Jesus face to face. No longer will life be marked by “sorrowful yet always rejoicing,” no longer will we see through a mirror dimly, no longer will we only know in part, but we will experience the full, unmitigated power of God’s love and affection for us. Oh, I can’t wait for that day.
Main Point: Because believers have an imperishable hope grounded in the miracle of the new birth, they can withstand trials with worship.
Praise God for all that he has accomplished for his people according to his great mercy in 1 Peter 1:1–5. Confess any sins of callousness, indifference, anxiety, apathy, or “awelessness” in response to God’s great work of salvation. Thank God for his work of salvation, causing us to be born again, and guarding us through faith—especially in trials. Ask God to help us to rejoice and stand firm in him as we experience trials, suffering, persecution, or hostilities as elect exiles here on earth.