1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
God’s grace be to you. And may God’s peace settle in your hearts as we meditate on our great God who has saved us through His Son. Amen.
The New Testament book called “First Peter”, is a letter that was written by the apostle Peter. It was addressed to the Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. These were Roman provinces located in Asia Minor, south of the Black Sea and North of the Mediterranean Sea near Cypress.
First of all Peter praises God. But not just any God. Peter praises the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. He says “our Lord Jesus Christ” because he’s writing to fellow followers of Jesus.
Once he’s identified the Father as the one who he’s praising currently, then Peter hits on the first big reason he has for praising God: because of His “great mercy”.
Mercy plays a huge role in this section of the Bible, and in the life of every Christian. So, what does mercy really mean? When we look at the way the Greek word, “ele-os” is used, we see that “mercy” means something like “pity in action”. When you see the pitiful and hopeless condition of someone and step in to help them out – that’s mercy. Like grace, mercy is not something earned, but something freely given without obligation.
Peter describes God’s mercy as being “great” or “abundant”. Huge mercy is what we’re talking about here. In the darkness of eternity, before God spoke and created the universe, God knew what would happen to His perfect creation. He saw that His perfect angel Satan would fall away. He saw that Adam and Eve would sin. He saw that death would permeate the creation and bring pain and decay to everything. God saw that the human race would be set on the slippery slope toward the eternal fires of hell. And He knew that once infected with sin, humans would never be able to rid themselves of it alone. Every son and daughter of Adam and Eve were born infected. Sinful. Unfit for heaven in every way. And there was no way for them to do anything about it. Their doom was sealed.
But God saw it all. He saw the eternity of suffering that mankind had coming, and God decided – “I will have mercy on them.” It was human fault that brought sin into the world, but it would be God that would provide the escape route to heaven.
Jesus was promised to Adam and Eve. Jesus was predicted by the prophets over the millennia between Adam and Mary. And then Jesus was born. Human. God. The God-Man.
Then Jesus lived. Like no human had. Perfectly.
Then Jesus died. Like God had never. Truly.
But before His death, the Son of God did something. He absorbed all the punishment that had been meant for sinful mankind. Like a sponge, Jesus soaked it all into His soul on the cross. And then, with everything suffered, He died in victory. He had taken our punishment away and made it possible for us to stand in God’s presence in life and after death – cleansed. Forgiven. Redeemed.
In the tomb His dead body law for three days, to fulfill the ancient prophecy, and then He was raised from the dead – once and for good. Now Jesus cannot die anymore. Now Jesus lives. And soon, He will return.
Okay, now I’m going to get to the mercy part. In His mercy, God the Father had His Son do all this. And furthermore, God the Father had His Holy Spirit convince these Christians that Peter was writing to that it was all true. And by their faith in Jesus their sin-Savior, they were reborn.
You see the significance? These people, like us, were born dead in sin. But through faith in Christ, they were joined with Him on the cross, in the Tomb, and in His resurrection from the dead.
The other day I signed up for a “Blockbuster Rewards Card” For twenty bucks I got a free movie, and was enrolled in a program so I could get more free movies. If we rent a certain number of movies in a month we get extra free rentals.
Anyway, I got a couple little keychain scanner cards and a toke for my first free movie with the sign-up packet. And when I got home I gave one to my wife. I had put her name on the account also. So, she gets the benefits too.
When the Holy Spirit convinced us that Christ really is our Savior, that’s what happened to us. We were given access into Christ’s account status. We didn’t pay the price, but we have access to complete forgiveness. We didn’t go to the cross, but faith gets us all the benefits as if we actually suffered our debt of hell. We didn’t lay in the tomb, but again because Jesus did, we were there.
And when Jesus was raised to life, we were given new life also. In fact, we were given REBIRTH. We were born into this world dead in sin, now, through faith in Christ Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, we have been reborn, alive, into God’s family.
When you’re part of God’s family, what belongs to the Father is going to be yours someday. Peter tells his fellow Christians that they have been born into an inheritance. Really, what he means is that through faith in Jesus Christ, they have become ENTITLED to the inheritance that is waiting in heaven.
I like this part. Peter doesn’t even try to describe exactly WHAT is all waiting in heaven for all followers of Christ. Peter just describes what that inheritance is like.
Peter says that the when we get to heaven we’ll have something that can never perish. It’s imperishable. It can’t rot from the inside out because there is no sin in heaven.
Also, in heaven, we’ll have something that can’t get dirty. The New King James translation is a little better here. It says “undefiled”. We won’t be able to mess it up. Heaven isn’t a second chance to get things right. Heaven is perfect, sinless bliss, forever. We won’t be able to screw it up when we get there.
One more thing. Peter says our inheritance in heaven won’t fade. It’s not going to get boring. It’s not going to get old. It’s not going to end. It’ll be like the brightest, most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen, but it won’t end. And the clouds won’t soften it’s beauty.
Until we reach heaven, we are promised something else. In verse five Peter says that through faith Christians are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is to be revealed in the last time. Until Christ returns, God’s power shields us.
When we think of God shielding us, we might think of Him protecting us with His angels, from physical harm. Turning the car that was going to hit us, away in the last second. Actually causing our body to eradicate the cancer that it couldn’t even see months before.
But Peter says that THROUGH FAITH we are shielded by God’s power. THROUGH FAITH.
In the Old Testament book of Job, the Devil appeared before God. God said, “Look at my good servant Job. Have you considered him?” Satan told God that Job was only faithful because God blessed him so much. So, God let Satan take away Job’s wealth, his children, his health. And though Job felt cheated and questioned God, his faith remained. God was still standing by Job shielding him. Even though he had lost everything by human standards, Job testified:
“25 I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27 NIV).
We might imagine God the Father standing next to us at all times with a big shield. And every time Satan throws something our way to pierce our faith in Jesus and kill it, God blocks the spear.
Paul once wrote,
“…take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 NIV).
Until your dying day, or Jesus descends down through the sky, may the shield of faith in Christ protect you.
There is sobering thought here. Remember the angels of God? In the beginning they were created perfect, but with free will also. They had the choice to leave God, and some did. When they left, they were gone for good. There is no Savior for the fallen angels.
We’re like the fallen angels in this way: we Christians have the FREE WILL to leave God whenever we want. We can walk away from the protecting shield of faith in Christ. And that’s why Satan tempts us away with all kinds of distracting things. He says, “Don’t worry about church. You know everything that that guy’s gonna say anyway. Why read the Bible? You know the Good News. It’s like a bike, once you learn you never forget.”
But faith isn’t a bicycle. It’s a shield. And when we aren’t walking in step with God, we are walking away from the shield.
How many steps can we take into pornography before we’ve fully stepped away from Christ? How far can we walk apart from other Christians before we find ourselves far from Christ? I don’t know. I don’t want to find out. I don’t want you to ever find out either. Or your family. Or your friends in Christ.
Stay behind the shield of faith by continual communication with God in prayers and reading His Word. By coming to the Lord’s Supper and bringing your children to baptism. Studying the word in Bible Class and here together. Stay behind God’s shield, faith in God’s Son, till that Son takes you in His arms for good.
It’s not hard to see why Peter says we’ve been born into a living hope. Jesus is our LIVING hope because He is alive forever now that He has risen. Jesus is our HOPE because we can’t see Him now. But we can believe in Him and love Him. And we do, for through Him we have received the Father’s mercy.
In verse six, Peter says that all this good news makes the Christians in Asia minor greatly rejoice! But at the same time, they are probably experiencing grief and trials. Peter knew this was the destiny of all followers of Christ because Jesus had told them so. Satan would not leave Jesus’ preachers alone, not the apostle preachers, not the layman and laywoman who brought Jesus to their neighbors. No way was Satan going to let them be.
But Peter says that’s okay. Through God’s shield Satan could only hurt their bodies, feelings, and minds - not their souls. And the trials that they were facing served two purposes.
Number one – trials in life separate genuine faith from false faith.
When the Roman soldier says, “Worship this image of the emperor, or you will be burned to death,” genuine faith is revealed. When the rampaging student points a gun at your face and asks, “Do you believe in God?” genuine faith is revealed. Or think of Job. His children were all in one house celebrating when a Satan sent wind knocked the supports away and the roof caved in, killing them all. Job mourned. But He did not curse God. His faith remained, and was shown to be true.
The second reason for trials in the Christian life is so that in heaven we may receive praise, glory and honor in God’s presence.
Jesus once said,
“31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:31-40 NIV).
With every Christian we recognize that even the good we do is brought about by God’s power. As it says in Philippians:
“…it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV).
But the Christian will still receive the credit in the end. God’s mercy will give it to us.
The verses of our reading talk once more about our living HOPE. It is hope because Jesus is unseen.
“8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV).
I was visiting my brother Andy once in Watertown, SD. He serves as a pastor there, and on one day of the week he goes to a nursing home and preaches to a room of folks that wheel themselves down from their rooms, most of them in wheelchairs.
There was one particular gentleman there that I can’t forget. His face has faded from my memory, but I remember the sound of his voice. He didn’t articulate well, but the feeling expressed in his moaning was pure. Genuine. Heartwarming to the core. You see, he didn’t talk, but throughout the sermon, whenever Andy spoke the Good News of Jesus, that man would put into voice what his heart felt. Inexpressible and glorious joy. He was receiving the goal of his faith. He was in Jesus’ hand, and Jesus had even sent this preacher to remind him of that fact. His soul was secure. His salvation was certain.
We have not seen Jesus, but we love Him. And we believe in Him.
Let us pray.
Jesus fill us up with inexpressible and glorious joy. You have given us NEW BIRTH into the Father’s family. We are your siblings. Heaven is our inheritance. And we can’t break it when we get there. Help us to stay close to You. Keep us diligent, communicating with You every step of the way, staying behind the shield of faith in You. Make our trials beneficial to us, and help us to understand them. Give us opportunities to serve you by serving others and give us a heart of exuberant love to serve with exstatic joy.
Some would say we’re fools Jesus, to pray to one we have never seen. But then again, some would say You were a fool to die for those who hated You. We’ll be fools for you. In You we now live. All glory be to You, the Father and the every patient Spirit.
And the peace of God which is far beyond our understanding will keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.