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1 Peter 1:3-9
Dear Friends in Christ,
You’ve seen it, maybe on “The Price Is Right”, or another game show, or on a commercial for the “Publishers Clearing House” sweepstakes. The person learns that they have won—a new car, or thousands of dollars—they jump up and down almost uncontrollably, they shout and scream for joy. If you are watching you might think to yourself, “must be nice”, or “they sure look happy.” But their attitude probably changes in a hurry when the IRS agent lets them know how much of their winnings will be taken out in taxes. The joy that earthly, perishable, things bring quickly fades away like the flowers of the field.
Peter reminds us this morning that we have all kinds of better reasons to jump and shout for joy than someone winning a new car or lots of money. The things that we have from God in Jesus cause us to greatly rejoice and to have joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.
The first reason Peter gives us to greatly rejoice is that God has given us new birth.
Remember Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus? He told Nicodemus you must be born again. He told him that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again. The reason this second birth, this birth that comes from above, is necessary is that flesh gives birth to flesh. People are born into this world in the image of sinful Adam. We are born physically alive but spiritually dead. We are born dead in trespasses and sins. The truth about God seems like foolishness and God seems to be our enemy. If all we have is our first birth, our physical birth, we would not have the desire or the power to believe in Jesus and we would end up being condemned. If we are going to be saved, we need a new birth, a second birth, a birth that comes from above. And Peter says Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us a new birth, the new birth we need.
How do you know that you have been born again? Jesus told Nicodemus that this rebirth comes through water and the spirit, through baptism. Paul tells us that faith, the result of being born again, or born from above, comes from hearing the message. And he tells us that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. You have been baptized. You are hearing the message, the good news about Jesus right now. You confess that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. This is not possible unless God has given you new birth. Rejoice!
Because God has given you new birth and worked faith in your heart you now have a living hope. What we hope for is salvation, eternal life, living with God in a state for perfection for all eternity.
We heard Paul remind us on Easter that if Jesus had not risen from the dead our hope would be worthless, a dead hope. Then Jesus would have been just another prophet. Following his teachings about love might have improved our life on earth but that’s it. If our hope in Christ applies only to this life, we are the most pitiful people of all. If what Jesus taught only helps us in this life there are a lot of other teachings that, humanly speaking, would make this life a lot more fun. But Jesus did rise from the dead. Over 500 different people saw him in his resurrected body before he ascended to heaven. God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because he lives our hope of rising from the dead and living with Jesus forever also lives. Rejoice, you have a living hope!
Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be leaving them, but there was a good reason. He was going to prepare a place for them. Paul reminds us that, in Jesus, we are God’s children, and if we are his children then we are in line to inherit something. We are heirs with Christ of eternal life.
Peter describes this inheritance as one that can never perish, spoil or fade. It’s not like inheriting a farm, or a house, or millions of dollars. Those earthly things don’t last. If there is unfavorable weather or poor management, a farm can be lost. A house can be destroyed by a tornado or be lost in a fire. Millions of dollars can be stolen or lost by bad investments or foolish spending. But the inheritance that is ours in Jesus is not subject to any natural disaster. It is unable to be spoiled by foolish or sinful choices. Unlike gold, it never loses its shine. It’s kept safe for us in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. As Jesus says, it is this inheritance that is to be our real treasure, for where our real treasure is, there our hearts will be also. We are to set our hearts on things above, things that last forever, and always consider them to be more important than anything on earth.
In his mercy God has given you new birth. He has made you his child and an heir with Jesus of eternal life. You have an inheritance that is worth more than all the riches of earth, an inheritance that is undying, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Rejoice!
Sometimes it’s hard to rejoice. It’s hard to rejoice because as long as we live in the world we are under attack. Peter reminds us that the devil is alive and well and prowls like a roaring lion just looking for an opportunity to devour us. Paul reminds us that our struggle each day is not just against flesh and blood, not just against our own sinful nature and the temptations of the world around us, but against powerful spirit beings that we can’t see. How can we rejoice when we are daily under attack and when we know that we don’t have the power within ourselves to win the battle?
Peter reminds us that we are shielded by God’s power. He has not left us as orphans. He has promised to be with us to the end of the age. If we think that we can stand against Satan and the temptations of the world around us by our own power, we will fall. But God has provided us with armor to wear. Realize that you cannot stand by your own power. Put on the full armor of God. Make use of every resource he has given you. Make sure you have the sword of the spirit with you everywhere you go. And that doesn’t mean that you just carry a Bible with you. It means that because you read and study it every day you know what it says so that when Satan says, did God really say?, you can answer, “yes, God did say, now get behind me Satan.”
You have powerful enemies that are constantly trying to lead you away from God and destroy you. But God has not left you to fend for yourself. He is with you. You are never alone. He has given you his armor to wear. You are shielded by God’s power. Rejoice!
Sometimes it’s hard to rejoice because we often face grief in all kinds of trials. There are the normal things that every human faces– pain, sickness, disease– family, friends or co-workers who say or do hurtful things. In addition to these things, if we are letting our light shine and living our faith, there will be persecution. The world will hate us, Jesus says. It may be a small thing such as a look of disgust, or a comment that lets us know that they think we are foolish for believing what we do. Or it may be something bigger, a form of discrimination that keeps us from advancing in our field of work, or getting a good grade, or having to fight a requirement to pay for things that are contrary to our faith and conscience. We are tempted to think, if we are supposed to be shielded by God’s power, then why doesn’t it seem that God is shielding us?
Peter answers that important question for us. First, he reminds us that whatever we suffer here on this earth is really only for a little while. It’s a drop in a bucket compared to the trouble-free life that is ours for all eternity in Jesus. Whatever he allows to come into our lives is for our good.
Peter says, now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various kinds of trials so that the proven character of your faith—which is more valuable than gold, which passes away even though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
The grief and troubles God lets us experience here on earth serve a greater purpose. God uses them to refine our faith. He uses the fire of trials and troubles to burn off impurities, to strengthen our faith, to help us be more focused on him and his word. As he tested Abraham, so he tests us for our good. He assures us that when Jesus comes again in glory and we get to see him face to face we will understand how he used all things that happened in our lives for our good and we will have even more reasons to give him praise, glory and honor. We can rejoice even in the midst of grief and trials because we know that God is using them for our good.
Thomas refused to believe unless he saw Jesus and could touch his wounds. Jesus mercifully granted his wish. But he made it clear that he would not show himself to everyone. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Peter reflects those words of Jesus when he writes, though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not see him now, yet by believing in him, you are filled with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, because you are receiving (even now!) the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
People get all excited when they win a prize on a game show or in a sweepstakes. They jump up and down and shout for joy; but whatever they win will perish, spoil and fade. We have better reasons, real reasons to jump and shout for joy, even in the midst of a pandemic. In Jesus, God has given us new birth into a living hope, an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. He shields by his power andmakes everything that happens to us serve our eternal good. In Jesus we have eternal salvation. Those are real reasons to rejoice!