Living Hope, 1 Peter 1:3–9, Second Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2020
Over the next six weeks our second reading comes from the New Testament letter of 1st Peter. We know quite a bit about Peter. Peter was as a fisherman when Jesus called him as a disciple, along with his brother Andrew. Peter left his business, wife, and family in order to follow Jesus. The Gospels describe him asking many questions of Jesus, boldly confessing his faith that Jesus is the Christ, and even arguing with Jesus. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, along with James and John.
What can we learn from Peter’s letter an how can we apply it to our lives? Peter writes to Christians who struggle because they live in this crazy world but are really citizens of Heaven. He reminds us of our election in Christ and His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Apart from God’s grace in Christ, this sinful world has no hope in the midst of trials, persecution, and eternal death. God, through His Son, brings reconciliation and forgiveness of sin for all who believe by grace through faith that Christ is Savior. In Him we have grace, peace and a living hope.
For many people, Easter is as satisfying as a hollow chocolate bunny. It tastes good and is satisfying for a moment, but a lot of it just falls apart in the hands. It’s hollow; it’s not fulfilling. Best to be done with the day, and move on with life!
But I’m sure that you don’t face any struggles of this world. It’s probably just me who is sick and tired of hearing at the beginning of every newscast how many are suffering and dying from the corona virus. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that people just aren’t very optimistic these days. With a war going on over in Israel and Afghanistan, the unemployment, the upcoming disaster of recession, and the social tragedy of broken marriages, and on and on and on.
You can just hear and see an overall mood of doubt and pessimism in so many people’s voices and faces. Instead of being hopeful, America is full of people who flip each other off, cut each other off, and live with a scowl on their faces. It seems that any Easter hope of happiness and living hope has died. Why, because so many do not have eternity in their minds and hearts. And their hopes and dreams are of this life, and they are not of the eternal life to come.
Martin Luther went through a funk like that once. So you know what his wife did? She came down the stairs wearing all black and looking sorrowful. He asked her, “Who died?” She said, “God did.” Luther said, “Silly woman, God did not die.” Katie responded, “Oh, I thought by the way you were acting that He had.” She wanted to remind him that Jesus still lived. There was still hope. And that’s Peter’s point in today’s text as well.
Peter says that living hope is imperishable. We often put our hopes in things that disappoint us, and such hope is broken and shattered. Yet, Jesus gives an imperishable hope. His promise is never broken.
Living hope is undefiled. A defiled hope would be one which has been profoundly disappointed. A defiled hope would be in someone who really lets you down. But Jesus is the object of our hope, and that hope never spoils.
Living hope is unfading. Hope that does not see immediate fulfillment will fade. But people who have an eternal living hope regularly attest that it does not fade.
Peter himself may very well be in the story here. Peter was huddled in an upper room on that first Easter night, doors locked because he was afraid of the Jews. Yet in our Acts reading today we see this same Peter boldly confronting those same Jewish leaders and declaring that he is not going to shut up, he will proclaim this Christ.
What changed? Easter happened. Jesus breathed the Spirit of God on him and that made all the difference. Of course, Jesus also reinstated him, forgave him, and recommissioned him. But the point is that Jesus, the living resurrected Jesus, took a fearful fisherman and made him courageous and eloquent, able to speak of living hope.
The Sanhedrin literally tried to beat it out of him. And yet Peter’s hope is undefiled, not because Peter got it right. We know that Peter got it profoundly wrong many times, but Jesus restored him to that living hope. His hope is undefiled because Jesus died and rose again. And Peter’s hope is unfading. Peter is writing to people who are persecuted; it may even be likely that he writes because he is facing his own martyr’s death.
And Peter knows an inheritance is kept in heaven for himself, and his audience, far out of reach of the enemy. God holds it in His strong hands.
That is our Easter joy, born of the living hope we have in Christ Jesus, because He has died and risen from the grave. It is an incredibly wonderful thing, especially, as Peter notes, when it is seen amid trials. The earliest Christians often sang when they were thrown to the lions in Roman amphitheaters. The Romans marveled at their faith in action, and flocked to the Christian movement.
Actually, this Easter joy is the product of a couple of things. First of all it is born of faith. Though we do not see Him, we believe. This joy is not the faith, but it is the fruit of the faith. The person who feels this joy is reflecting a reality which God has declared. We have an inheritance in heaven, a treasure which cannot fade or be stolen from us. We are God’s children! He has declared us to be so, by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus who is our Lord.
The most important thing to be said about you, has already been said by God, and nothing anyone in the world can say will change that. You are a child of God, an heir of heaven. Your Jesus lives. You have eternal life. The world simply cannot change this reality, no matter what it throws at you. You have an unshakable confidence.
You have been given a new birth in Christ; God has caused a whole new life in His Son for you to live. The true Easter joy of this faith is a joy lived in a relationship with God in which He is the Father and you are His child. What marks the child of God where you are at? What marks the child of God in your home? What marks the child of God who worships together over the internet or by a letter received in the mail?
Easter makes a difference. The world may be pretty well done with its Easter. The bunnies are put away, the Easter candy is either sold or consumed, or on the discount rack. But as God’s people, you and I, are not done with Easter. We are never done with Easter because it continues to shape and change and make a difference in our lives.
Peter says we have a living hope, not some forlorn wish, but in the real sense of hope, an expectation that Jesus Who has risen from the dead, is right here, right now. And He will be there as well on the day of resurrection for me and you and all human beings.
Peter doesn’t say that Easter takes away the trials, but Easter has changed them. They are not the end but are an occasion for Jesus to do great, refining work in our lives.
That life is not the life that dies on the day the world sees us die. That life is eternal, and it is now. We do not start our eternal life sometime in the future, but it starts on the day we were baptized. Peter writes to his persecuted people to live that life, that life that is imperishable and unfading.
My dear friends in Christ, do not abandon yourselves to despair: We are Easter people and Alleluia Christ is Risen, He has risen indeed! is our song!
We can trust the promises that God has made to us. That is the difference Easter makes. We see it taking shape in the way we approach suffering, as Peter’s people were called to do. We see it in the way we approach death, but also at work or school, in relationships, and with our neighbors.
The living hope of the resurrection of Jesus is repentance to full forgiveness and life. That is our living hope. It is a living hope based on the living Lord. The Sadducees thought that the battle with Jesus was over, because they did not see Him after He died. Three days later, all they knew was an empty tomb. But they really did see Jesus, and it enraged them and frightened them at the same time; they saw Jesus in the disciples. They knew that these were unlearned men but remembered that they had been the followers of Jesus.
Those who followed Jesus were immovable and steadfast. The reason was they had seen their Lord alive, and Jesus was alive in them. They knew God had made Jesus Lord and Savior. There is no name that has higher honor; no other message that can be preached, no blood that has greater power than that which belongs to Jesus.
Peter was not just going through the motions. He took that love of Jesus out the door started doing it. It got him in trouble but he did it anyway. As John says in his first Epistle, when we love, we abide in God and He abides in us. That is good! Jesus lives, so we feed the hungry, we befriend the lonely, we love the sinner, we love one another.
You and I are born to a living hope. The resurrection of Christ is not just about Him, it is of course about us too. We are the adopted children of God, promised an astounding inheritance which the entire world shall see on that last day. But now, while we wait, we are given a great Easter joy, a living hope. For though we have not seen Him, we believe, we love Him.
This may present a contrast with what we experience here and now, but that means that the joy and hope we feel simply stands out the more. That is our best evangelistic tool, it is contagious.
It won’t always be easy! Far from it. Satan is going to hound us every step of the way. And that’s why Peter is writing to his dear Christians, his flock that has been driven out and scattered. He wants them to know: there is a greater reality than what is seen and felt. Yes, you are Christians living in an unchristian world, but you are also living in Christ and Christ in you. Therefore no matter what this world brings upon you, you have confidence and a living hope. You are children of God, holy and precious to Him. Amen.