As we continue in our expositional series through the Books of the Bible, we come to the First Peter. Many times in the Epistles, the authors will tell their audience why they are writing the letter. When Peter begins, however, he doesn’t explain why he’s writing to the Saints scattered around Asia Minor. As the letter develops, though, it becomes much clearer that the Epistle was written to encourage believers in their faith and to persevere in it. I pray that you may find that encouragement, as well, today.
More than a mere nice encouragement, though, Peter is giving the encouragement to readers who are facing real trials and real persecution – including death – and he is giving them words that are supposed to give them hope and strength and the ability to stand firm in the midst of persecution. The word hope occurs five times in First Peter and occurs in the passage we just read from 1 Peter Chapter 3.
It is interesting, as you read through this book, that the need for this hope is set against the suffering that Christians not only experience but are bound to experience in this life. Christians endure suffering in a world that is not their own. They are strangers in the world and, because of this, they are rejected by it. They are scorned by the world and experience suffering because they bear Christ’s name.
From the first to the last portions of the letter, Peter instructs believers to be holy and to avoid evil He wants believers to understand that there is something more to suffering than merely putting up with it but, more importantly, he wants to remind people that suffering is an expected part of the Christian life. In business, it is illegal to perform what is called “bait and switch”, that is to say that you cannot lure people to your business promising them a car for $10,000 and then, when they’re ready to by, you reveal that the price is really $20,000. It’s illegal and we know why because it is dishonest. But the promise of the Christian life is that we will suffer. It’s not a matter of if we will suffer but whether we are prepared for it. One thing is for sure and that is that we should not be surprised by suffering. Also, if there was no hope beyond it then suffering would just be pointless.
Hope is what makes suffering worthwhile. The Apostle Paul compares the suffering in the creation to the pains of a woman in labor. Look, ladies, the only reason that labor is exciting is that there’s a baby at the end of it. Imagine if you just experienced the incredible pain of labor constantly and you had no expectation that it would never end and that there would be no joy, no baby, at the end of it. Probably the saddest stories I’ve heard are of women that go through labor to give birth to stillborn children. All that pain and, at the end, only grief.
So the question for you, Christian, is this: what hope is it that you are supposed to be ready to give a defense of? After all, the apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has given us each a command and it is this: “…always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence….” Well, I’m asking you Christian: what is your hope?
This is a really serious question because, when sorrow comes, when persecution comes and when suffering more painful than child labor comes along, what hope are you clinging to that will sustain you? It is very sad to me, indeed, but it does not surprise me to hear more and more of people whose faith is shipwrecked because of the death of a child or a loved one or some other horror that awaits in this wicked world. I’m saddened but the reason I’m not surprised is how weak and pitiful the message of hope that I hear out of the mouths of Christians these days. Beloved, our hope is powerful but you have to have that hope in your bloodstream or the house of your belief is built on sand. The waves of sorrow in this life will crash against that house and wash it all away. I truly believe that when great persecution begins against the Christian Church in the United States that many people’s houses will crumble because they do not hear enough of the glorious hope that has to be the bedrock of their souls to withstand the suffering that the world will bring. In fact, the very way many of us have been trained to express our hope to others shows how poor our hope really is. I believe our hope can be much stronger and that is the goal of this passage.
What do I mean? Have you ever heard somebody witness Christ this way: Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Have you ever been taught that a personal testimony is supposed to be something like: I used to beat up my wife and my kids but then I accepted Jesus into my heart and now I don’t do that anymore.
Is our hope really about how much our lives have been improved since Jesus came into our hearts? Is it really? I know you might want to say it is but please stop and think about it for a second. What happens when the storm of sin and misery comes and our life falls apart around us? Then how are we supposed to “testify” of the wonderful things that God has done? What if our hope is nothing more than how good our life is going and our joy and hope is that things will be just like today but only better? Americans are particularly prone to this because we have such happy lives with very little poverty and want. It’s easy to mistake our material happiness with real hope.
Also, let me ask you another question: just because Jesus makes you happy, what difference does that make to me? I have Muslim friends that tell me how fulfilled their life is since they began reading Muhammad. I have Mormon friends that are convinced that their heart is most happy because they prayed a prayer in the Book of Mormon and received a burning in the bosom. Buddhists will “testify” of the inner peace that comes from within when you meditate on the sound of “one hand clapping”.
So the question for the “shopper” of meaning in life is: which one should I choose for happiness and hope? After all, aren’t we told that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere? Aren’t we told that we have to have faith in something?
Beloved, our hope is not that we have hope. Our hope is not that we have faith. Our hope is not that we once we were sad but now we’re glad. Our hope is much more meaningful. The hope that we’re commanded to share points to something beyond ourselves. Our hope makes a claim on men’s lives that they have to pay attention to. If Christianity is just something that made my life nice then that’s good for Rich Leino but what difference does that make to Steve Jones? Works for Rich, he might say. But, what if our hope was not in ourselves but was fixed upon something else?
But wait, Rich, this is what we’ve grown up with. You can’t be serious. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love stories of men who were heroin addicts and they prayed to God for deliverance and, Presto!, they never craved the drug again? What about the alcoholic that prayed to God and, Glory!, they instantly hated alcohol and never craved a drink again in their lives? We love those stories. We want to parade them out as our Gospel “superstars”. Look how powerful the Gospel is because they’re happy now and delivered from sin and misery!
What about those stories, though? What about the thousands of others that have prayed to God for instant delivery from addiction after becoming a Christian and the delivery isn’t instant? What about the man that struggles with the same sin regularly and cannot conquer it and cries out to God that he doesn’t want to sin that way anymore? I thought the Gospel was supposed to be about how happy I am so why isn’t this working for me?! Why do I still struggle with my sin? But the majority of Christians have left such men in their misery and passed them by and run to these “superstars” and say: “This is the Gospel. Happiness. Health. Victory.”
But, oh, what about the poor sinner? Nobody goes to the Scriptures any more and hears Paul crying out in agony:
18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Paul had a Gospel answer to that question. Paul had a hope that didn’t point to himself. Paul didn’t answer that question by thinking of Peter or Elijah or some other hero who lived a good life and got good things that came. Paul, one of the greatest evangelists that ever lived, knew that his hope was fixed on something more firm. Remember, beloved, that Paul prayed three times to be delivered from an affliction of the flesh and the answer from the Lord was “my grace is sufficient for you.” Do we have a hope that can trust in that answer?
Years ago there was a prominent man that was brought to all the typical large Evangelical meetings. His testimony was all about how perfect his life was now. He had once been a practicing homosexual. He was miserable in that life but, one day, he “found Christ” and prayed that he would be delivered from his sin. Now he was a happy man with a beautiful wife and children. As usual, he was brought around like a display of what Christianity offers.
The only problem is that men make for bad objects of faith. Because they’re not God, they end up disappointing those that place their trust in their lives. The man ended up falling greatly, left his wife, and went back into his homosexual lifestyle. The Evangelical community didn’t have much use for him then. Their object of hope had failed so they had to find another superstar to place on a pedestal.
Why is it we need to hear from sports figures or from the Power Team how happy Christ makes them? Maybe, just maybe, some of that will rub off on us and we can be super-successful too. Maybe our hope is that we’ll get everything good in life.
But, beloved, this is not the hope that Peter is talking about. Life is not going to give you everything you want and when you go placing your hope in how you or others have been changed then you will always be disappointed and you will never have any real testimony to share.
Well, I’m tired of talking about what our hope isn’t and you’re probably tired of hearing it so let’s just get to it. This, and this alone, is our hope. This is what can stand the trial. This is what another man cannot ignore when you share. This is what should make you be able to withstand the shame and persecution of the world. This is what should set you apart and make you blameless before the world for your conduct:
1 Peter 1: 3-12 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things into which angels long to look.
I don’t mean to sound like a grade school teacher when I remind you of this but our hope is Christ. Our hope is Christ. Our hope is Christ. Our hope is not how we feel about what Christ has done. Our hope is what Christ has done. Our hope is in a God that saw us in our great need, our death in sin and misery, our hatred of Him. He saw us in our despair and sent His Son into the world.
Beloved, the prophets of old used to pore over the Word of God longing, longing, longing to understand the mystery that was going to be revealed. What is this Messiah being spoken of? Who is this? The Rabbis were absolutely baffled. This Messiah is sometimes referred to as a man and sometimes referred to as God. Oh, how they longed to see what has been revealed in Christ Jesus.
Glory! It has burst upon the scenes of human history. There is no mystery remaining. There is no more wondering about what Messiah would do. There is no more anticipation of the saving work of a gracious God. All has been fully revealed in the person and work of Christ Jesus.
Our hope is that a real man named Jesus Christ came as the Son of God come down from heaven – God and man. Fully God so that He could obey the demands of the Law that no man could obey and so God obeyed it for us. And He came as fully man so He could represent us as our Priest who took the wrath of God upon Himself.
You see, beloved, our feelings can change. Our circumstances can become painful. We can be experiencing human suffering on a level that would make the birth of a child seem easy by comparison. But Christ’s work has been accomplished. It is fact. He died a death on a Cross to put away the curse of sin and death for everyone who believes. By placing my faith in Him, I am united to Him in His death and resurrection and I know that my victory over the grave is assured.
And so I have hope. I have hope when things are going well around me. But when suffering has come, I’ve had the Cross of Christ to look to for hope. When Anna was born, she had suffered multiple strokes and was severely anemic. I watched as my helpless little child gasped for every breath. Life has a way of coming into laser sharp focus when you think you’re about to lose a child just moments after the unspeakable joy of their birth. But I knew then how Job could say: though He slay me will I trust in Him! I had faith in a God that, through the tears of horror, I knew was my great Savior and would trust Him no matter the outcome. Glory be to God that Anna is well but that result was not certain from the beginning and we have no guarantees in this life that more profound suffering might await. Are we firm in our hope to withstand it when it comes?
We also have the Cross of Christ to look to in order that we may be empowered to obey our Savior out of gratitude. That Cross ought to transform our lives in a way that makes us different from the world. We can put up with the shame for Christ’s sake and live a life that honors the Savior who purchased us.
And so, because of that life, someone is bound to ask you or me, what is it that makes your life different?
Please, please after all of this, I hope that your answer isn’t merely that Jesus makes you happy and He can make somebody else happy too. I pray that you will learn to testify of what Christ has done to save sinners. I pray that you will testify of His life, of His work, and of His sacrifice for sin. Don’t have them look to your life, but at the life of Christ. Then turn to the man who is asking and tell him of his need for a Savior that takes away sins and testify of Christ as the only remedy for their sin. That is a hope that can never fade away or tarnish. That is a hope that demands a response from everyone. That is a hope that can sustain. Our hope is either in Christ or it is worth nothing at all.