Facing the future - 1 Peter 1:1-12
One of the films that was watched by millions over the Christmas break was The Lost World, not the Steven Spielberg version, but the version written originally by Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. It tells the story of a group of archaeologists and dinosaur experts who travel to South America in search of a fabled plateau, almost inaccessible to man but which is home to dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. No-one believes this plateau exists, but the team find it and then have all sorts of adventures there. But one thing strikes you very clearly as you watch this group come to terms with this Lost World. It is very clear that this world which is home to Tyrannosaurus Rex and other man eating monsters is not their world. The team belongs to a different world where there are no dinosaurs and other such prehistoric dangers. The team are very much strangers in a strange land, foreigners in a different country.
Now when we come to the first letter of Peter we find that Peter talks of Christians in verse 1 as being strangers in the world. He is saying that Christians are not residents of this world, but are actually citizens of a different country. And in fact that sums up much of what Peter is saying in this letter. He is writing, you'll notice in verse 1, to a group of Christians scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These were Roman provincial areas in what we now know as Turkey. But as to this world, that is all that Peter says. Rather the most important thing about these Christians is what comes next in verse 2: "We have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood." These Christians, like all Christians, are incredibly privileged. They have been chosen by God the Father, they are being changed to become more like him by the Spirit and their lives have a wonderful purpose in obeying their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. All three members of the Trinity are involved in our salvation. That is why Christians are to be strangers in the world. Because we are citizens of another world, God's world, heading for heaven as chosen and forgiven people.
But these Christians were living in difficult times. Peter was writing from Rome, what he calls Babylon in chapter 5, in times when the Roman empire was starting actively to persecute Christians. It would not be long before the emperor Nero would use Christians as human torches in his gardens and Peter himself would be crucified upside down on the main road out of Rome. These were tough times. These Christians were going through trials and persecutions. Some were troubled at work, others were having difficulties in the home with unbelieving spouses, some were wondering how they should deal with the authorities. And Peter writes to tell them that they are citizens of another country, heaven, and that they must act in a godly way to all that this world throws at them. He writes both to encourage them that they are God's people and also to challenge them to live accordingly in this difficult alien world in which we live.
Now we may think to ourselves, well we are not living in such times. What does this letter have to say to us. Well as we look through this letter this term, we'll find ourselves receiving both encouragement and challenge. Many of us will need encouraging. Whilst we in Britain are not persecuted in the way these Christians were, though in Turkey nothing has changed in 2000 years, yet some of us do struggle as Christians at work; some of us do faces difficulties with unbelieving spouses or relatives; and each one of us could find ourselves in a situation in the not too distant future where the authorities frown upon public, uncompromising gospel preaching and teaching. These are live issues for us. And we need to hear Peter's encouragement to us as God's people to press on and remember all God's blessing to us. But on the flip side, each of us will need also to hear Peter's challenge to us to live as strangers in the world, resident aliens, people of a different country. It is very easy in this day and age to be comfortable in the world in which we life and to resent that fact that as Christians we are to be strangers in the world. We will need to hear again Peter's challenge to live different lives, to have different ethical and moral standards and to be willing to pay for it. So 1 Peter will have much to teach us.
But this morning, Peter begins with encouragement. He begins by reminding his hard pressed readers that there is great blessing in being a Christian. It's worth suffering for and even dying for. And I want to pick out from Peter's first twelve verses, three encouragements for us:
1) The Christian's Hope (Vv 3-5)
2) The Christian's Refinement (Vv 6-9)
3) The Christian's Foundation (Vv 10-12)
1) The Christian's Hope (Vv 3-5)
So first, then, we see the Christian's hope. And we see this in verses 3-5. And Peter begins with praise: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus ChristWhy? "In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hopeGod is to be praised because he has given us new birth. We have been born again from sinful rebels to renewed people. And that is all through God's mercy. It is nothing we can earn or achieve on our own merit. We are new people through God's mercy. But what does this mean? Well Peter tells us that we have a living hope, by which he means a true, lively and growing hope, a hope of life itself, an eager expectation of something which is going to happen. And that something is an assurance of life lived with God in heaven.
But surely, people say, that is just pie in the sky when you die. Bertrand Russell once said that "Christian optimism about the future is built on the ground the fairy stories are pleasant." No-one can be sure what happens after death can they? Surely it's just a load of silly minded optimism. Well you can be sure if someone goes through death and then comes back to tell us about it. And that someone is Jesus Christ. And I'm not talking about near death experiences. I'm talking about a real death for three days and a real physical resurrection. When Jesus died he also rose again, so defeating death and offering those who trust in him the possibility of life beyond the grave. So Peter says that the living hope Christians have is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Such a hope is guaranteed through the resurrection. That is why we can be so confident. Because our hope is based on something that actually happened in history, in time and space. Christian hope is rooted to an historical event, the resurrection of Jesus. So because he rose again, Christians like us will rise again too.
For many years people thought that there was no land to the west of Portugal and there was a big sign in the port of Lisbon which read "Ne plus ultra" "Nothing more beyond here." That was until Columbus in 1492 set off to discover America. And when he came back successfully , the sign was then changed to "plus ultra", "there is more beyond." Well someone has gone beyond the grave and come back. Don't be in any doubt. Jesus' resurrection shows that there is more beyond and that our hope is not in vain. That's how certain Christian hope is.
And if we need any more convincing then Peter continues in verse 4. He says that our hope will not be destroyed. We have "an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for youLiterally Peter writes that this inheritance is imperishable, un-spoilable, or unfading. This is not the sort of hope that will rot away with time. It is not like three week old milk which goes off. It is not like stocks and shares which depreciate in value when there is a stock market crash. And it is not like a piece of fine jewellery which begins to loose it's beauty and shine as the years go by. No our inheritance in heaven is certain.
And to cap it all, just in case someone says: "Well I know the inheritance is sure, but what about me?", Peter says in verse 5 that we, as well as the inheritance, are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time." We ourselves as Christians are kept by faith in the God who sustains. We can have confidence that he will keep us and our inheritance safe. That's the Christian's hope. It is a certain reality that will happen which Jesus returns and it based on the historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now why would Peter begin his letter this way? Why of all things begin with our hope of heaven? Well surely because in our world which is slowly decaying and falling apart, as society itself seems to crumble around us, what is the one thing that will keep us on the right track as Christians. Surely it is our hope of heaven? Surely a reminder that the Christian hope is a certain firm, hope is just what we need at this time? It's that which will keep us going and pressing on, knowing that this world is not the end. The best is yet to come. As CS Lewis used to say this world is Shadowlands, reality is in heaven with God forever. And it means that we as Christians can face death with certainty, knowing that we are going home. John Rogers was a Protestant martyr who died at the stake in 1555, during Queen Mary's persecutions of Protestant Christians. And the French ambassador who was present at his death said this about John Rogers: "He walked to his death like a man walking to his wedding." That is Christian hope. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because of the Christian's hope. And that's the first thing Peter reminds us of.
2) The Christian's Refinement (Vv 6-9)
But then secondly, the next encouragement Peter gives his readers is the Christian's refinement in verses 6-9. Yes we do have a great hope, but the present reality is often hard and painful. What encouragement is there in that? Peter tells us in these verses. And it is that through our difficulties our faith is being refined so that it may be seen to be genuine, like a precious gem being refined in a fire. See what Peter says in verse 6: "In this, that is our hope for the future, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials." Notice here, before we move on, that Peter assumes that these trials only happen for a short time, a little while. Peter has his eyes on eternity, and in eternity the trials we go through will be for a very small time compared to the eternity we will spend with God in heaven. Again, it is vital we have an eternal perspective on life; for then we can see things from God's perspective.
He goes on in verse 7: "These trials have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed." Peter is saying that our faith is tested in the trials and difficulties we face in life and so it is proved genuine. Whenever we go through difficulties, whether it be persecution for being a Christian, or some other difficulty, perhaps a family illness, a bereavement, a personal trouble of some sort, it is an opportunity for being refined. It may not seem good at the time, but we learn from these verses that God is at work through these difficulties shaping us to be more like himself. Our faith is refined and tested so that it is seen to be genuine. We find that we fling ourselves on God in tough times and trust him, even when there seem to be no answers and very little encouragement. Like precious metals that need to be fired to be cleared of all impurities, so we need to be tested so that the impurities of self confidence and pride be burnt off, and we rely solely on the God who made us and loves us.
Now we need to be careful here. We are certainly not encouraged in the Bible to think that God is punishing us or is angry for a particular sin that we have committed when difficult times comes upon us. Often, we simply don't know why, or it may simply be because we live in a fallen world. Like Job, we are not often given the answer as to why we are suffering. But we do have the assurance that nothing in God's world is meaningless. Even our trials he can use for his purposes to make us more like himself. And that is a great encouragement!
And what is the result? Peter tells us in verse 9. It is a greater and more joyful love for our Saviour. As we are changed to be more like him, so we love him with an inexpressible joy, as we realise we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls. That is the mark of the mature Christian. Someone who can trust God despite the very toughest of times, despite that fact that we might be at the end of our tether. Yet deep down we hang on and trust that God will keep us and bring us through. In such people God is refining faith. Very often the most godly people I have met are those who have suffered the most. I think of friend of mine whose life has been one of immense pain, and yet she is one of the most beautiful Christian women I know. Through the toughest fiery ordeals, she has held onto God and he has held onto her. And her faith refined through trials will bring praise to God on the last day. How do you view difficulties? Peter encourages us to see them as refining times, not pleasant at the time, but wonderful growth opportunities. If you are in difficulty at this time, then keep trusting, and be encouraged that God is refining you through the difficulties to become more like himself. Even in the present pain, God is at work refining the Christian.
One of the most moving books I have read in recent years is the book Killing Fields, Living Fields. It tells the story of the Cambodian church which underwent terrible persecution during Pol Pot's communist dictatorship. And yet in those terrible times, God was making men and women into wonderful soldiers of Christ. Even in the difficulties God was at work. Listen to this passage from the book about four men in prison (p112- Killing Fields, Living Fields)Even in our trials God can be at work. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because of the Christian's refinement.
3) The Christian's Foundation (Vv 10-12)
So we've see the Christian's hope and the Christian's refinement, and lastly we come the Christian's foundation. And the Christian's foundation is God's word the Bible which Peter talks about in these final verses. Verse 10: "Concerning this salvation", in other words the salvation that is the goal of faith in verse 9, "the prophets searched intently and with the greatest care". Now what were they looking for? Well, verse 11, "they were trying to find out the times and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ", in other words the Holy Spirit, "was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." So Peter is saying that the prophets tried to work out when the things they prophesied would come to fulfilment. They realised that what they were prophesying was not for them. What were they prophesying? They were prophesying about the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. Peter will quote one of those passages in chapter 2 from Isaiah 53. Now this is very significant. Because Peter is saying that the OT is actually looking forward to Christ. And who was it written for? Well they are mentioned four times in these three verses: "You." Especially verse 12: "It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven." So says Peter, all that was written in the OT concerning this salvation through Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, has been fulfilled in you. It was all planned for you! We Christians this side of the cross receive the blessings that the prophets looked forward to. We are incredibly blessed! It's no wonder even angels long to look into these things. The things they long to look into is God's amazing plan of salvation. They can't experience it because they don't need saving. They simply long to ponder more deeply the outworking of God's plan in people like you and me.
And it is those scriptures, our OT and the fulfilment in the NT that are the Christian's foundation. We have the resources we need to keep us going to heaven. We have a book written personally for us by the creator of the universe. I remember when I was a child my Mum and Dad gave me for my birthday a book which had my name at the front and then all the way through. It was the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and all the way through the book my name was printed and I was in the story. I can still remember the thrill of thinking: "This book has been written for me! It's about me." That is what the Bible is. It's a book written by God for us about our salvation through Jesus which we don't deserve. It's as if our names were in the front: "Dear Nathan, this is for you. This is how I planned and brought about your salvation. Read it, and treasure it in your heart, and obey it with love from God, your heavenly Father". That's the Christian's foundation. We are immensely privileged. We're the ones for whom the gospel has been planned. And we are it's recipients. And the Bible tells us the whole story about Jesus. And it's this book that will help us to keep on the right track as strangers in the world. So read it, ponder it, apply it, do it. Praise be to the God and Saviour of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? For the Christian's foundation.
Well if we needed encouraging this morning, then we could not have done better than to turn to 1 Peter 1 and to find these three wonderful blessings the Christian has. Yes we are strangers in the world, and yet we are God's people heading for heaven. We have see the Christian's hope which reminds us there is much more to come. We've seen the Christian's refinement which reminds us that God works in us through our trials. And we've seen the Christian's foundation which is God's word about Jesus which helps us on towards heaven. Praise be to God for his wonderful blessings to us.
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