Friday, 25 April 2014

Hope, power, love and joy

1 Peter 1:3-9


Wordle: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Peter writes: ‘Praise 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’.

He praises God for what God has done. God has taken people who were spiritually dead and has made us spiritually alive.

And he goes on in this glorious passage to speak of how, because of this new birth, Christians are new people. We were dead, but now we are alive.

1. We have a new hope. 
‘He has given us new birth into a living hope .. into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.’ (v4)

We cannot separate this hope from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is the ground of our hope: because God raised Jesus from the dead, we know that he can raise our bodies.
It is the foretaste, the preview, the model of our resurrection. The bible speaks of the resurrected Jesus as a first fruit of the general resurrection of all believers.

So John writes, ‘When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’. (1 John 3:2)

When we were spiritually dead, our hope was for this world. We hoped that we would make it, be spotted, become a celebrity, that we would receive a massive inheritance or win the lottery. Or if we gave up those dreams, we hoped that we would be able to gain promotion, get a bigger salary, have children, find love, buy a larger house, enjoy a prosperous retirement.

But, says Peter, now that we have been born again we begin to glimpse the real inheritance that we have. It is not here – it is there. It is not now – it is then.

Imagine the most astonishingly beautiful jewel. It is priceless. It is also exactly right for you – the right shape, the right colours, the right texture. And it being kept in heaven for you; it is your inheritance.

Imagine your own body – now not frail or aching – but beautiful and powerful and glorious. Every bit working not as it did when you were 35, not as it does if you are 35, but as it should do, or should have done when you were 35!

Imagine that you are walking through a jaw-droppingly stunning landscape, with mountains and rivers, fields, gardens and palaces; and the one you are with says, ‘I made it. This is all mine. But all that is mine is now yours’.

Imagine the most incredible feast where there is music and dancing (and yes, even I can dance!) and colour and laughter and every guest is a celebrity. You want to talk to them, only to discover that they are really keen to talk to you;

And now imagine that you look at the one who is walking beside you: and you see someone whose face shines with radiant glory, who holds together gentleness and power, authority and tenderness. And this person looks at you, sees right into you and through you; this person knows you and loves you.

Imagine that – and now listen to this, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human mind can begin to imagine what God has prepared for those who love him’.

2. We have a new power: 
‘We are shielded by God’s power’ (v5).

When we were spiritually dead, we looked for power in the things of this world. It is all the ‘w’s: weapons, wealth, wisdom or even human will power. I watched the film the Green Lantern. It is the sort of film I love. I live a sad life! It was about these Green aliens who protect the universe from cosmic bad guys, and the source of their power is the will power of all created beings.

But when we become spiritually alive we begin to realise that our power is as nothing compared to the power of the one who created life, and who brought Jesus Christ back from the dead. It is like an 8 year old challenging Vladimir Klitchscko to an arm wrestling match.

And we begin to realise that it is this power which is guarding us.

It won’t stop us going through trials or troubles. Peter is very clear about that. Many of the first believers ‘had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.’ He writes, ‘These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise to God’ (vv6-7).

And we will all go through trials: the trials that come from being part of a fallen human race, of loneliness, anxiety, fear, physical suffering, of growing older and having what we love stripped away from us, of death. But also the trials that come to us because we stand for Jesus Christ – of being honest, of giving up our rights, of suffering for doing good in silence, of speaking at the right time of the hope that we have.

Peter knew only too well of those trials.

When he was younger, he had been challenged. A serving girl asked him if he was a follower of Jesus. If he said ‘Yes’, he would have been mocked, maybe worse. So he said ‘No’. Not just once, but three times. He had been tested, and because he had tried to rely on his own wisdom, on his own will-power, he had been found wanting.

He was heart-broken. But Jesus met him and forgave him.

When he was older, he was invited to a meal by some non-Jewish members of a congregation. He should have gone. But he bottled out. He was more afraid of what the Jewish members of the congregation would say about him, than he was about doing what was right. He had been tested, and he had been found wanting.

I suspect he was heart-broken again. And I suspect that again Jesus met him and forgave him.

But according to tradition, as an old man, he stood in front of the imperial court in Rome. He was ordered to deny that Jesus was the Christ, to deny that Jesus had risen from the dead. But this time it was different. Over the years he had learned to rely on the power of God. So now he did not deny Jesus, even though it meant that they would take him and crucify him.

The power of God is the power that gets us through the trials of life and upholds us so that we remain faithful to him. This is the power which picks us up when we have fallen and puts us again on our feet; this is the power which enables the parent to go on worshipping and serving God even after their child has been taken from them; this is the power which enables a man or woman to forgive, to forgive, to forgive and to go on forgiving; this is the power which enables someone to stand firm for what is right in the face of appalling intimidation;

3. We have a new love 
‘Though you have not seen him you love him’ (v8)

We seek what we love. Spiritually dead people love the things of this world, and so they seek the things of this world: money, status, sex, security, adventure, the satisfaction of physical desires.

But when God makes us alive, he gives us a new heart and he gives us a new love.

We begin to see who the Lord Jesus is and what he has done for us. And we begin to love him. We long to get to know him better, to hear him and we long to see him. We seek him.

In the early C13th, a man called Richard was Bishop of Chichester. He wrote a prayer. It goes as follows:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

4. We have a new joy
‘In this you greatly rejoice’ (v6) and a bit later on, ‘and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’

When we were spiritually dead we rejoiced in the things of this world. When things went well, when we succeeded, we rejoiced. When we suffered, all joy went.

The joy that Peter is writing of here is a joy which sticks with us even when we go through trials. We realise that there is a purpose in our trials.

There are two reasons that we go through trials, says Peter.

The first is so that our faith may be shown to be genuine. If I trust God when things are going well, but ditch him when things get difficult, then it is not real faith. Faith holds onto Jesus when the sun is shining and when the sun is not shining. Real faith is when we walk through the night, and nobody seems to be there, and we cry out – ‘I cannot see you; I cannot feel you. But I know that you are here. And I will go on living for you; I’ll go on trusting in you. I hold on to that hope you have given me.’

The second is so that there will be praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. It is that moment when suddenly the darkness lifts and we see that he is there, that he has been there. And we rejoice with an inexpressible joy.

I hope that you have had glimpses of that joy here and now. One of the puritan divines described it as walking through life together with Jesus, like a child with their father. Sometimes he holds our hand. Sometimes we hear him clearly. At other times we are so wrapped up in ourselves it seems as if he is not there. But then there are those moments when he picks us up, hugs us, tells us he loves us, and then puts us down again.

But even if you have not had glimpses of that joy here and now, please don’t despair or think that you do not belong to him. Because one day you will see him, and you will know him, and you will be filled with an inexpressible joy.

Has God made you spiritually alive? Have you been born again? 

It means that we need to look into ourselves. A man called Calvin wrote, about 500 years ago, that all true knowledge begins with knowledge of God and knowledge of self.

So as you look into yourself,

  • Is there any flicker of hope when you hear about the resurrection of Jesus? 
  • Is there any recognition of your dependence on the power of God, that power which brought Jesus back from the dead, which can hold us even when we fall, and which gives us joy even in the middle of suffering? 
  • Is there any spark of love for this Jesus, who loves you, who died for you and who rose again for you? Do you desire to hear him, see him and to know him better?
  • Is there any sense of the joy of the presence of Jesus, even in our suffering 

Because if there is, then you are spiritually alive and you need to live as someone who is alive.

Maybe today you have begun to realise that you are spiritually dead. You are living for this world and the things of this world, but you are also aware that there is something more. You know that you do want to become spiritually alive. Maybe you’ve tried already to make yourself come alive. You’ve tried to be good, to be religious. Maybe you’ve even prayed ‘the prayer’. But nothing has worked.

Could I suggest a different approach? Recognise that you are spiritually dead. Recognise that dead people cannot make themselves alive. You can’t give yourself a heart transplant; you can’t put the spiritual de-fibrillater on yourself.

BUT GOD CAN. 

So could I suggest that you stop trying to make yourself alive and simply ask God to make you spiritually alive, to work his miracle in you, and to put his Spirit in you.

And if you are spiritually alive, praise God for that. But please live as someone who is spiritually alive.

Don’t put your hope in the things of this world, but in that. For the sake of that world, stuff this world.
Don’t rely on the power of this world, and please do not put your trust in your own wisdom or strength or capacity to work hard or will power, and instead rely on his power.

Your final fulfilment will come from nothing or nobody here, but on that day when we see Jesus face to face.  And then there will be joy and glory and honour and praise.

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