S.A.L.T. 7 September 2003 : 1 Peter 1:1-12
Preached by Shaun Morris
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These 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. 8 Though 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, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Why does God allow suffering? And specifically God's people, Christians, why does God sometimes allow bad things to happen to us and to our families?
Many of us have been there, haven't we, where we have been in the depths of despair and anguish and pain.
Somebody we love dies, and we are just wracked with grief.
We suffer a serious illness, or worse, something happens to one of our children or grandchildren.
We are bullied at home, or at work or in our neighbourhood, maybe even in our church; and we just want to go and hide in the corner.
We're trapped in a job we hate, or in a marriage we hate; perhaps we just hate ourselves.
We can all come up with countless situations that we've either experience ourselves or we see other people experiencing ? illness, bereavement, financial problems, work problems, family problems?but the question nagging at the back of our minds remains the same. Why does God allow this? Why does he allow it to happen to us, his people? Why doesn't he take away the pain? Why does God allow his people to suffer?
You're looking over the next few weeks at the book of 1 Peter. This is a letter written by Jesus' apostle, Simon Peter. He wrote it about 30 years after Jesus died, to Christians who were scattered around the area that is modern day Turkey. And one of the striking things about this short letter is that, again and again, Peter refers to the fact that these Christians were experiencing pain and suffering.
So what does Peter say to them? Does he give any clue as to why God allows pain, and how we can react to it?
So, lets turn to 1 Peter 1
Peter's approach is firstly to remind these Christians of the past, then he looks to the future to see what is going to happen, and in that light he's looking to make sense of the present.
So with Peter we're going to remind ourselves of the past, we're going to anticipate the future, and we're going to see how that helps us in our understanding and our living for the real anguish and problems of today.
The Past ? what has happened.
Peter starts off, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 3 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,
What has God done for us? These 3 verses are overflowing, aren't they, with what God has done.
Verse 1, we're God's elect, chosen according to his foreknowledge. That means that before the beginning of time, God was thinking about you, and he chose you. That is a mind-blowing concept isn't it. Verse 3, in his great mercy he's given you a new birth ? all of your sin and filth and impurity has been erased ? you're a brand new creation.
It is completely undeserved. How do I know that? Because I look at my own life since I became a Christian, and I see myself letting God down again and again and again. I see myself degenerating back into my old self ? and doing again the things that caused Christ Jesus to be crucified. (And that, of course, is why Sunday by Sunday confession is a key element of our time together. Our lives demonstrate the fact that we are unworthy of his calling.)
In every area of life we are chosen because we are good enough. The TV schedules are crammed with phone-in votes. Pop Idol ? how do you win ? by being the best singer, the prettiest girl, the best looking guy. Big Brother ? you win by being the most popular. We go for a job ? we are chosen because we are the best.
But God throws the rule book out of the window ? and chooses to love us? simply because !
There's a marvellous passage in Deuteronomy 7 where Moses explains to the people why God has chosen them. He asks, " Was it because you were the biggest and best nation that God chose you?" And the answer was no, they were the tiniest. God chose to love them?because God chose to love them.
Verse 3 ? God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We sometimes use the word 'hope' in a vague wishful thinking sort of way. But that is not the way the New Testament writers use the word. They are talking about something certain that we are looking forward to.
How can I be certain that my sin and my guilt really has been dealt with by Christ on the cross? Verse 3, because God has raised Christ from the dead. If Jesus' death had not been an acceptable payment for my sin that he bore, then he would still be condemned - his resurrection demonstrates that God's righteous demands had been satisfied.
How do I know that that death will have no hold on me? Because I am bound to Christ, and he has risen from death.
There is no doubt here, Peter is clear that the hope we have is certain because of what Christ has done.
So Peter reminds these Christians of the past, what God in his amazing goodness has done for his people.
But secondly he causes them to anticipate the future.
3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
From beginning to end the bible points us to heaven. That is the goal of our faith. What is heaven, what is the essence of heaven? What is the key promise that God has consistently made to his people from Genesis to revelation?
Lets have a very quick skim.
Genesis 17:7 God makes this promise to Abraham
7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
Exodus 6:7 God's promise to Moses
7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God
Throughout the bible we see this promise ? now jump to the very end, Rev 21. This is the vision that the Lord Jesus gave to the apostle John concerning what heaven is going to be like:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Put very simply, heaven is where I shall finally see God face to face. He himself will be there ? he will be my God, and we shall be his people.
Back to 1 Peter. Verse 4, this is an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. Why does Peter stress that? ? To contrast heaven with everything else around us ? that does perish, spoil or fade.
It's a sobering thought that everything else around us that we love and we spend time and money on is decaying ? in the sense that there will come a time when it will no longer exist.
Will I be standing here in 100 years time? Of course not, because my body is decaying, I'm getting older, I'm wearing out.
My brother and his family came on holiday with us this year, and we were lying on the beach and this stunning girl walks past. My sister in law said, "did you see that girl's figure?" To which (rather dangerously, I thought) my brother replies, "yes but she'll look like you one day, dear!"
Our bodies are decaying.
Will my children be here in 100 years time?
Will the firm I work for be her in a100 years time?
Its even doubtful if my house will be standing in 100 years time.
Everything in our world is transient ? but Peter stresses the fact that we have as an inheritance the one thing that is absolutely certain and permanent. How excellent is that?
But it gets better, verse 4, --kept in heaven for you
The day we went on holiday somebody gave my young daughter some holiday spending money. Immediately she handed it to me and said, "Will you keep it for me daddy?"
Why did she do that? So she wouldn't lose it. So that when the time came, it would be there for her.
God is keeping my inheritance safe ? in other words he is preventing me from losing it. Because if getting to heaven was up to me, I know I'd blow it. Getting right with God in the first place was the work of God totally. Getting me safely to heaven is also the work of God.
But what has this got to do with the pain that we can experience today? Peter has drawn our attention to the past ? what God has done in Christ Jesus to save us. He's told us what we are looking forward to, but now he speaks of the present.
Verse 6, In this [marvellous work, this wonderful heaven,] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These 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
The one thing that we need in order to get our inheritance is faith. You can see the word tucked in verse 5 as well ? by faith God shields us.
Just recall some of the key verses of the gospel
Jn 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:
Salvation is a gift that isn't forced on us. If we don't want to believe in Jesus, if we don't want to rely upon his death on the cross, if we don't want to trust him to live by, then we don't have to.
I have faith in my car and so I rely on it. Faith in God is simply relying on him.
How important is faith? Well, its crucial isn't it. If nothing is more valuable than heaven, and faith allows me into heaven, then no surprises that Peter says (verse 7) that faith is of greater worth than gold.
Why does God allow us, verse 6, to suffer grief in all kinds of trials?
So that my faith, which is far more valuable than anything else on earth, may be refined, may be proved genuine.
The bottom line is this: what do I strive for to make me secure? Is it money? Is it success? Is it human relationships? Or is it the Father? Where does my confidence really lie? And I know this is so hard, but when we are really going through it we discover the answer to that question.
The recipients of this letter were suffering, and Peter says to them verse 8, Though 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, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Why did they love Jesus? Because they were relying on him to meet their needs amidst their trials. And the more he proved himself a trustworthy and reliable friend and master, the more they loved him. The more they believed in him. Their faith was being refined. They had an inexpressible joy ? inexpressible because it was joy in the midst of pain. And they were receiving the goal of their faith ? salvation in eternity.
Many of us will testify to the fact that when the bottom falls out of our world, when it falls completely apart, the Lord has been there for us. Some years ago my marriage collapsed in the most devastating way imaginable. I had been a Christian for 15 years ? but in those months of darkness God was gracious to me in the most incredible manner. I encountered him in a way that I never had before in all those years of my Christian life. I relied upon him ? because I had nobody else to rely upon. And it transformed my Christian life.
And many other Christians I know have similar stories ? that amidst pain and despair ? God proved himself to be indeed a faithful and loving Father.
From cover to cover the message of the bible is that God is passionate about you. He loves you beyond comprehension. I have some close friends I'd do almost anything for, but probably I wouldn't die for them, and certainly I wouldn't sacrifice my children's lives for them.
But God has done that for you ? he's suffered and died for you - because he has a place in eternity for you.
And if you are going through the mill at the moment, or if you find things getting tough in the future, the reason is that God loves you, and he wants to prove himself to you of being utterly faithful and dependable. So that you love him more, and spend eternity with him.