Living Hope audio (4MB)
I was watching the replay of the Wimbledon final last Monday morning at the gym. Andy Roddick had fought back to be 2 all at the end of the fourth set. At that stage he must have felt like he had a real hope of changing history. Maybe this was the year that Roger Federer could be beaten and he’d be the one to do it. At least that was what he hoped. Sadly, at the end of another 30 games of tennis his hopes were dashed - and you could read it on his face. Hopes shattered. There he was holding the runner-up plate as though it were not worth having.
Hope’s an interesting word isn’t it? We use it in all sorts of situations. I hope my team will win this week; I hope I get a car park when I get to church/the shops; I hope the lights are all green or I’m going to be late. We even use the phrase: ‘hope against hope’. Which usually means it’s a hopeless situation.
Millions of Australians bought tickets in Powerball last week hoping to win $90 million dollars but of course there were only two winning tickets. For all the rest it was a lost hope.
So the question today is where does your hope lie?
Here in our passage today we find the phrase ‘Living hope’. That’s different from what I’ve just mentioned isn’t it? Is that the sort of hope you have? Do you understand what it means? Well, let’s look at the passage and see if we can find out.
First, let’s think about the people this letter is addressed to. He describes them as exiles. They’re the exiles of the Dispersion. That is, these are the churches of what is now modern day Turkey. Do you remember how in Acts 8 a great persecution arose in Jerusalem against Christians and most of them had to flee. In Acts 11:19 we read that those who were scattered travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. Eventually these largely Jewish Churches that sprang up in this part of the world became known as the Dispersion.
And as we read through the letter we realise that these churches were about to experience another outbreak of persecution, both from the government and from their neighbours. So they were in danger of losing hope, of wondering whether it was worth persevering in their faith; whether the suffering they were about to experience was worth it.
So Peter writes to encourage and reassure them. And he begins by reminding them of who they are.
1. Who they are.
He says they’ve been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood. Here’s his first piece of encouragement to persevere. Remember that God has chosen you! You’re not just a random accident of the universe, far less a random mistake as some people think of themselves. No, God has chosen you, set you apart for himself. That’s what it means to be sanctified. He’s given you his Holy Spirit to make that real, to make you fit for his kingdom. Notice how that happens, by the way. Do you see the twofold action. The Holy Spirit helps us to be obedient, but he also allows us to be sprinkled with the blood of Christ. That is, to receive the cleansing from sin that Jesus’ death on the cross makes possible.
How does this happen?
V3: God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There’s a new aspect to their lives that can only be described as new birth. The old has gone. Now we have a whole new existence, a remade life, born again in the image of God as we were always meant to be.
Where they’re going
And this new birth means that we have a new future. Instead of being doomed to die and that’s the end, now they have a living hope that comes about through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ has passed through death to life, so we know that we too will rise again. And if that’s the case, if we’re now able, through the Holy Spirit, to rise to new life then we have something great to look forward to: what Peter describes as an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
You often hear of people who have died and left their children a great fortune. And most people look at the children and think how fortunate they are. But here we read of something that’s far greater than any earthly inheritance. The Packers and the Murdochs and the Rockefellers may inherit obscene amounts of money but in the end they too will die. Even if they manage to keep growing their wealth, in the end they all die as poor as the day they came into this world, because once you’re dead you don’t own anything. But for us, our inheritance will never wear out, will never fade away, will never end, because it’s kept in heaven for us.
That’s why Peter calls it a living hope. This is a hope that will never die, that will never fade away, that will never let us down.
Protected by the power of God
But what about now? How is this a living hope if we still live in a world where our opponents can hurt us, attack us, do us harm? Again, the issue isn’t how we’re faring in this world. Peter has a much longer term view than that. He says you’re being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation that’s ready to be revealed in the last day. Our salvation is sure because God keeps our faith secure. Do you see that? It’s the power of God that protects us through faith. Do you sometimes feel like you don’t have enough faith to persevere in the Christian life, to remain faithful? That’s no doubt how these early Christians were feeling. But here God assures us that his power will keep our faith strong until that last day when our salvation is revealed.
So our struggles point us beyond the present to the last day when they’ll finally be over.
But notice that there’s actually a positive aspect to our struggles now. Through God’s power our struggles also keep us strong by training us. Even those times when we experience opposition, he says, it’s God proving the genuineness of your faith.
One of the things I learnt when I first started going to the gym was that if I wanted to get stronger I had to push myself to lift heavier and heavier weights. When I used to play squash I found that if I played someone who was a better player than I was, I’d improve. It’s obvious isn’t it? It’s when we struggle against forces stronger than ourselves that we ourselves get stronger. Some of the strongest people you’ll meet are those who have struggled against adversity in their lives. So our struggles in this world help us to strengthen our faith - with God’s help of course.
And the result of that is that when we feel our faith being strengthened, as we realise that we’re persevering, - that’s what he means by proving the genuineness of your faith, - then our hearts are led to praise God.
And fourthly our perseverance in the end will lead to us sharing in Christ’s glory in the Father’s presence
How are we to persevere?
So how are we going to persevere in the face of suffering if that’s our lot? I guess you know the expression: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Is that how we’ll persevere? By gritting our teeth and trying harder? Keeping a stiff upper lip?
That’s how some people try to do it. But I’m afraid it won’t work. Eventually you’ll come to the point when you’ll find it all too hard; when you’ll start to question whether you’re cut out for this sort of life; or whether God is still relevant to life in the 21st century. That’s when we need to remember that Christ has died for us. He’s already made us new. God has already given us new life in Christ. And he’s promised us eternal life with Christ in heaven.
And we also need to think about the new relationship we have with Jesus Christ. He says, “You love Christ even though you haven’t seen him”. It’s true isn’t it? None of us have seen Christ and yet we find that we love him. Again that’s the work of his Holy Spirit within us. And that love we have for Christ means that we’ll persevere rather than letting him down.
We also believe in him despite not having seen him. We rejoice in him with an indescribable and glorious joy. Is that true for you? Do you rejoice that you know Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do you rejoice that he’s brought you back to God, has removed every taint of sin, has made you righteous in God’s eyes? There’s a lot there to by joyful about isn’t there?
And if that’s not enough look at the next thing he says. You’re receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. This is happening already. Already we perceive within ourselves the changes that are being brought about by God’s Spirit dwelling within us. Yes, we still have a long way to go, some of us more than others, perhaps, but all of us are being changed; our attitudes are shifting; our desire to obey God is increasing; our commitment to God’s work is growing. And that’s something, again, to rejoice over, to encourage us, to give us confidence that God is keeping his promise to save us in the end.
What is that drives you? What is it that motivates you to keep going as a Christian? Is it a fear of failure, of being found out? That’s what motivates some Christians. They try so hard to live up to God’s standards because they think if they fail they might miss out. But that’s not what we read here is it? You’ve been chosen and destined by God to be obedient to Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood. God has chosen you not the other way around. God is protecting you so you’ll receive the salvation he’s prepared for you. We run a race, but it’s not a race where there’s only one winner. This isn’t a Powerball draw we’re talking about. No, this is a race where everyone who finishes gets the prize; and it’s a race where the judge is on the sidelines urging us on and giving us the strength to keep going.
Perhaps you’re motivated by the thought of rejoining a loved one. Well that’s an admirable aim, but it’s not nearly as great an aim as wanting to be united with Christ. You see, that thing about loving Christ even though we’ve never seen him has a reverse side to it doesn’t it? Part of the reason for persevering is so that we will see him on the last day, face to face!
As Christians we can lay claim to the one hope that will never let us down. It’s a living hope, made sure by the risen Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection is the sign that we too will be raised to new life. His Holy Spirit given to us is the guarantee that God’s life is flowing through us and will keep us safe until the end. That’s the hope that we’ve been given. I pray that as you go away from this service today your hearts and minds will be strengthened to persevere, to remain strong in your faith in Jesus Christ and confident of the great inheritance that’s waiting for you in heaven.