Now if you would please take a copy of God’s holy Word from the pew racks in front of you and turn with me in them to 1 Peter chapter 1; 1 Peter chapter 1. We are going to read verses 3 to 9. You’ll find that on page 1014 in our church Bibles. Before we do that, would you bow your heads with me as we pray together? Let’s pray!
Almighty God, our Father, we pray that according to Your great mercy You would send the Holy Spirit to take the living Word spread before us to be read and preached and generate in our hearts new life and a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, for Your praise and glory. Amen.
1 Peter chapter 1 at verse 3. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Amen, and we give praise to God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.
How can you find joy when sorrow grips your heart? How do you rejoice when life is relentless in throwing grief-inducing trials your way? If you’ll look for a moment at our passage in 1 Peter chapter 1, you will see that that is precisely what Peter says the Christians of Asia Minor were doing in verse 6. Do you see that in verse 6? “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various kinds of trials.” That is a fascinating statement, isn’t it? “You rejoice right now, as I write, right now in your hearts there’s joy.” And then he says, simultaneous with that joy, “now, if necessary, you have been grieved by various kinds of trials.” There’s joy and grief. Joy in the midst of grief. Joy in the context of grief. It’s not a flash in the pan kind of joy, fleeting and momentary, either, is it? Look at verse 8. Here’s the joy Peter’s speaking about in their hearts; it’s joy inexpressible and full of glory. And the grief they’re enduring, it’s not the daily drudgery of the 9 to 5 that Peter has in mind. He’s talking about “suffering,” life is hard! He compares it in verse 7 to a fiery furnace in which gold is refined. This is sore and piercing! There are tears. They are grieving. And in the midst of the grief they rejoice.
Jesus’ Resurrection Brings Hope
Now how do you explain that? Joy inexpressible, so great, language fails to articulate it; full of glory in the midst of piercing, furnace-hot grief. How do you explain that? Maybe a more urgent question would be, “Where do I get that kind of joy for myself? Where do I get my hands on joy that is not shattered by sorrow and grief and trials when they come as they always seem to do?” A large part of Peter’s answer has to do with the reason we are here today. It has to do with “Easter Sunday.” It has to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Let me show you what I mean!
A Living Hope
If you would please look with me at verses 3 to 5; Peter describes his readers, do you see, as having a “living hope.” They have a living hope, verse 3, a living hope. The artesian spring that supplies joy constantly to their hearts, bubbling to the surface even when they’re engulfed in terrible suffering, is this living hope. Now, a word about hope in the New Testament! Hope is not a mere aspiration in the New Testament Scriptures. That’s how we tend to use the word “hope” isn’t it? “I hope it doesn’t rain on vacation, but I’m not sure. I have no confidence but I hope.” It’s merely aspirational; it’s a wish. There’s no certainty! That’s not at all what the New Testament has in mind when it speaks about Christian hope.
Picture for a moment living with significant hardship. You are scraping by, but just barely. Week after week you are trying hard to find ways to make ends meet. It’s a constant struggle! And then one day a lawyer comes to see you. Now that’s not usually good news, is it? Sorry lawyers, but it’s true! It’s not usually good news but today’s different. Instead of bad news, the lawyer tells you that you are about to inherit, you are the beneficiary of a great inheritance. There will be some months between now and your receiving that inheritance when life will go on much as it has done. You lead the life you’ve always led. But now you know for sure there’s an inheritance coming. Your perspective is entirely changed. Your daily struggles are somehow easier to bear. The weariness you labor under is lighter because you know everything is about to change. You’re going to inherit!
That is precisely what Peter says the Christian’s position really is. Look at verse 4; Here’s the Christian’s hope! It is an inheritance “imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you.” There’s a great inheritance nothing can touch, nothing can spoil, nothing can remove, and it’s yours, believer in Jesus. That is the living hope! It is an artesian spring, constantly supplying joy here and now even though “for a little while, if necessary, you are grieved by various kinds of trials.” It keeps supplying joy inexpressible and full of glory because we know though our circumstances may be hard and sore right now, everything is going to change one day soon when the glorious inheritance at last is ours. So we have a living hope.
The Foundations of Our Living Hope
And in verse 3, Peter explains the foundations of that living hope and that’s really where I want to camp out for the remainder of our time together. Let’s look at verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” So here’s the foundation of the living hope that generates and supplies joy that is not touched by trials and sufferings, joy that can exist in a heart that grieves. Three parts to that foundation. Do you see them in verse 3? First, the living hope is the possession of those who are born again. We are “born again to a living hope,” Peter says. Then secondly, we are born again to a living hope “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And then the third part of the foundation of our living hope is the mercy of God the Father that stands at the base of it all as the cause of everything else - of the resurrection, of our new birth, of our living hope, and of joy inexpressible full of glory. It is all the gift of the Father’s great mercy.
- Born Again To a Living Hope
Let’s think about the first of those together, step one if you like. We have a living hope when we are born again. It’s when this joy begins to bubble to the surface in our hearts when we’re born again. We are “born again to a living hope,” verse 3. Christianity is not, first of all, an ethical system, a set of rules or an abstract morality. It’s not first a philosophy, metaphysics and worldview. It’s not first a religious code, ritual behaviors by which the faithful may express their devotion. To be sure, Christianity has an ethic and a metaphysics and a worldview and a body of doctrine and practice that allows us to express our devotional lives. That’s not what Christianity is in its essence, however. Every other religion in the world can be described as ethics plus philosophy plus religious ritual, but Christianity has this vital difference - the essential direction of movement, if I can put it that way, in ethics and in philosophy and in ritual, everywhere else is from human beings toward God. In the Christian Gospel, however, the fundamental movement is not first from us toward God, but first from God toward us. Every other religion can be explained naturalistically, examined on the basis merely of sociology and anthropology and shown to reflect the human quest for the divine, an attempt somehow to move from where we are to communion, to encounter, to persuade somehow the deity to have respect to us. But Christianity defies naturalistic explanations because while it too, has an ethic and a worldview and an approach to worship, they function only as a response to the prior work of God in our hearts by His grace. They are not efforts of ours to ascend to God by right thinking or right doing. They express, rather, our grateful response that He has condescended and stooped down to us in our helplessness and in our sin, and done something supernatural in our hearts. The New Testament calls it the new birth.
What is This New Birth?
Most famously you will remember Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 at verse 7, “You must be born again.” God, by the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit, must break into your life and renovate you and make you new. At the end of 1 Peter chapter 1, if you’ll look down to verse 23, Peter speaks again about the new birth, this time to tell us how it happens in our hearts, the means that God uses to effect new birth. He says, “You have been born again not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” The living hope springs up in our hearts when we are given new life through the living word. Maybe you have heard the Gospel story a thousand times, a thousand times a thousand times. Maybe you have listened to preaching! Maybe it’s been your experience as often as not on a Sunday morning when the preacher gets cranked up with the same old same old you tune out and doze off. Maybe you can answer the catechism questions with precision and accuracy! Maybe you assent intellectually to the contours of the Christian creeds! You believe them to be fact somehow. But so what, right? Every other time it has been ordinary and old hat; if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. It is dull and you tune it out. It just washes over you. “Yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s the same old story.” But not today! Today the same old story somehow, for some reason, grips your heart and you are suddenly and irrevocably changed, changed forever as God’s Word is read and preached, Christ placarded before your eyes as crucified and risen.
It’s not always perceptible, of course. We don’t always see it. It’s not always dramatic. It’s what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, if you remember, the work of the Spirit is like the wind. You do not know where it comes from or where it goes, but we see its power; we see its effects. It’s mysterious. And yet when God works by His Spirit to give new birth to our hearts, it is thorough-going and life-changing and mighty. Sometimes we don’t know always “when” it has happened, but “that” it has happened is undeniable. I once heard, I recently actually, heard the story of a young man who joined a new church. This young man was terribly confident in his own opinions and not slow at all to express them, and so after a few months at the church he came to his pastor and said, “Minister, I’ve been coming to this church for months now and at first, to be honest with you, the hymns really didn’t do much for me. The people were a little distant and cold. The preaching, I’ve got to tell you, it never spoke to my heart. It seemed so irrelevant; it didn’t deal with my issues. But now that I’ve been here for a few months, you all have really changed! I can’t quite put my finger on it, you know. The singing is so much better, the hymns are really meaningful to me, and the preaching is speaking to my heart. You must be so glad I’ve joined this church!” Of course the hymns haven’t changed, the preaching hasn’t changed, the people haven’t changed; the young man has changed. It’s like he’s seeing and hearing everything for the first time. The lights have been turned on! God, by His Spirit, has taken His Word, the Word he’d heard so many times before, and brought life in the place of death. He has been born again!
Have you Been Born Again?
So let me ask you, as simply and plainly and directly as I can, “Have you been born again? Have you been born again? Has God, by the Holy Spirit, mysteriously, supernaturally, maybe quietly, and yet really has He invaded your heart and made you a new creature?” Nothing else matters compared with your answer to that question, “Have you been born again?” There is no living hope unless the living Word makes your dead heart to live. There’s no artesian spring bubbling up with enduring joy even in the midst of grief for you. No inheritance imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you without the new birth. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, so now He says to you, “Today, you must be born again!” Have you been born again?
- Born Again Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ From the Dead
Then secondly, notice the living hope that supplies enduring joy comes to those who have been born again “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” At the heart of Christianity is the fact of the resurrection, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb on the third day. As the creed reminds us, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell, and on the third day He rose again from the dead.” He did not swoon on the cross to be revived in the cool of the tomb later. When the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, they punctured His heart; blood and water flow. He was dead. He was not replaced by some substitute, Joseph of Arimathea perhaps, who was crucified instead of Him. Roman soldiers are a practiced execution squad at a crucifixion site and are not nearly so easily duped. The disciples didn’t steal the body. Who endures what they endured for the sake of a lie and a fabrication - the loss of all their worldly goods, the loss of reputation, suffering persecution, martyrdom. No, Jesus Christ is alive. Today as we sit here, on the throne of the universe, at the right hand of God the Father Almighty is the glorified human body of Jesus Christ, united to deity in the person of the eternal Son. The body into which the spear was thrust and the nails were driven was given resurrection life by the power of God.
And Peter here tells us one of the reasons that matters so very much, it is, he says, the cause of our new birth. We are born again “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” That’s what the new birth is, you know. It’s a kind of resurrection. It’s the flooding into our old spiritually dead existence the life of Christ Himself. “If anyone is in Christ,” 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ he is” - what? “He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” Ephesians 2:4, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ; by grace you have been saved, and raised us up with him.” That’s why Easter matters so terribly much. Because Jesus lives, God gives new life to dead sinners. We are born again “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” God has made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him. There is a union that God creates between a dead sinner and the living Savior so that life flows from the resurrected Jesus to the Christian, causing a spiritual resurrection in our hearts. We come to life. The life of the vine, as Jesus’ famous metaphor in John 15 puts it, flows into all the branches that are connected to Him so that His life gives life to us.
That’s why being born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives us a living hope, gives us the spiritual security that can’t be destroyed, because it is rooted not in us. It doesn’t come from us; it does not originate in us. It is rooted in the risen Christ who now reigns in glory. Our new life, our Christianity, is not our decision. It’s not the result of aligning ourselves with a set of doctrines or lifestyle choices. It’s not the fruit of a prayer that we prayed one day. Neither does it rest on the strength or depth of our faith. It rests on union with Jesus who lives. Hebrews 7:16 speaks of the resurrected Christ as having an “indestructible life.” And if we are in Him, our lives are indestructible too. We have an inheritance “imperishable, unfading, undefiled, kept in heaven for you.” It is untouchable. You are utterly secure because “you died,” as Paul puts it in Colossians 3:3, and “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” You are safe because you are one with the risen Christ who reigns. It doesn’t rest on you, your strength, your wisdom, your goodness. It rests on Him who lives forever in the power of an indestructible life. Because the tomb is empty, you live; you are a new creature, believer in Jesus. Because the tomb is empty, you will never die, believer in Jesus. Because the tomb is empty, you have a living hope, an inheritance that will be yours one day. Because the tomb is empty, you can rejoice with joy unspeakable, full of glory, even in the midst of grief-inducing trials of various kinds. Because Jesus lives, dear Christian, you are safe. You are safe.
The new birth, the resurrection of Christ, and then finally and underpinning it all, giving rise ultimately to the living hope that fuels our joy, is the mercy of God the Father. Verse 3 one more time, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” You don’t put yourself into union with Christ. You can’t generate new birth for yourself. We are, Ephesians 2:1, “dead in trespasses and sins.” We are all flat-line by nature. There is no heartbeat spiritually speaking. If today you don’t know the risen Christ for yourself, the bad news is you cannot do anything to change your own condition. You are powerless. You must be born again. You must. No hope without it; no living hope. But you can’t affect the new birth in your own heart. You must have what you cannot produce. So what must you do? You must call out for mercy. You must call out for mercy. That’s the root of everything else - the reason for the resurrection, the cause of the new birth, the basis of living hope - the mercy of God. He abounds in mercy, ready to give it to all who ask Him. “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection.” “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ.” It was mercy that sent Jesus, you know; the mercy of God for you. It was mercy that nailed Him to the tree and mercy that poured out heaven’s fury on our guilt resting upon His shoulders there. It was mercy that rolled the stone away and gave new life to our Savior’s body. And it is mercy that presides on the throne of glory so that dead sinners who flee to Him for mercy meet a ready answer and receive the mercy they need.
Some of you are ready, probably, to do a thousand things - to say a prayer, to sign a card, to go to church more, to amend your lifestyle, do better, try harder. You didn’t realize that resurrection life was on offer to you on the basis of sheer mercy alone. Do you see what that means? It is free. It is a gift, a gift. Not quid pro quo, not wages in return for something you have done; it is a gift. It’s mercy. It’s what’s on offer to you this Easter Sunday. That’s why Jesus rose. There is a gift of new life offered on the basis of sheer, undeserved mercy. Would you come today, this morning, now, and bow before the Father and cry out for mercy? It’s available to you in the risen Christ and mercy is what you will receive, and new birth, and a living hope, and indestructible joy.
Would you pray with me please?
Almighty God, we praise You that Jesus is alive and we ask You that His life might flow to us and that even now, listening to His voice, new life the dead might receive. Take away hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Perform the new birth miracle among us today. Help us as we cry out to You for mercy to rest upon Christ and receive the mercy You offer that there may be in all our hearts living hope and joy untouched by our griefs, to the praise and glory of Your great name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
©2016 First Presbyterian Church.
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