The First Letter of Peter: A Living Hope
1 Peter 1:1-9
With contributions by Rev. David O. Bales
Who is Peter?
A devout Jew, though not a highly educated one. That’s why he was a fisherman with his brother, Andrew, and partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
A family man who owned a house in Capernaum along with his mother-in-law. The house was large enough to accommodate Jesus and a great many followers.
A former disciple of John the Baptist and an apostle of Jesus Christ when he received his calling by our Lord at the Sea of Galilee
Probably between 30-40 years old when Jesus calls him to follow him
Formerly Simon (“hearer), but who’s name was changed to Peter, which means “a rock or stone.” He was also called by Cephas, the Syriac name for “rock.”
An outspoken spokesman for the band of brothers—often inserting his opinion or correcting his fellow apostles.
Considered a place of prominence among the apostles, along with James and John (c.f., Mt. of Transfiguration)
A man entrusted with the responsibility of establishing the Church of Jesus Christ—“Upon this Rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
A man of great passion for Jesus which clouded his ability to hear and grasp all that Jesus was about—rejecting Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, death, and resurrection.
A man whose intentions were noble, but whose actions could not always fulfill what his mouth spoke. “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
Of course, Peter denied his association with Jesus three times before the cock crowed.
Peter was the first of the apostles to enter the empty tomb of Jesus.
Peter was reinstated by Jesus after his resurrection. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”
And it was Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, that stood up and delivered on of the most effective sermons ever recorded, and 3,000 souls were added to the kingdom!
Peter and John healed a blind beggar and were temporarily imprisoned by the Sanhedrin for it.
Peter and John placed their hands on Jerusalem believers and they received the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s ministry was largely to the Jewish community, but he did minister to a Roman centurion named Cornelius and his household.
Later Peter was imprisoned by King Herod after the king pleased the Jews by killing James, the brother of Jesus. An angel of the Lord met Peter in prison and freed him of his chains.
Peter took a leadership role in the Council at Jerusalem regarding what was necessary for a Gentile to become a Christian.
Peter was a zealous follower of Jesus Christ, an encourager of the local church, and a martyr who-like James, Paul, and 10 of the twelve apostles—paid the ultimate price for his faith in Jesus.
Some time ago, a new Christian took the time to read the entire New Testament and made this observation: “Amazing things were going on back then. People converted not just their faith but their lives and values. They were healed, dropped prejudices, and crossed ethnic boundaries. People were beaten, tried, and killed for their faith.” Then she looked at the American church today and saw little similarity between the early Christian church she read about in the NT and ours. She concluded that it’s safer for church members NOT to read the New Testament. She was so disturbed by the vast differences that she said that our current church looks like an extinct volcano!
Something mighty had happened in the NT church: world shaking and world shaping. The American church today, by contrast, seemed a gigantic, cold, empty monument to the past. Now that may seem like an extreme statement, but it does beg the question: “Why would anyone die for American mainline Christianity?” Would you die for Jesus and the faith you grew up with here in Byhalia or where ever you’re from? I’m sure some of us would, but if it came right down to it, would you? really? I fear that too few of us have the certainty that the future belongs to God, no matter whether we are dead or alive.
During the time of the general circulation letters written by Peter to the churches in Asia minor (modern day Turkey), Christians were under great persecution by Roman authorities. Emperor Nero, for instance, blamed a fire that destroyed much of Rome—a fire he likely set—on the Christians to inflict punishment on them. Romans viewed Christians as antisocial, as atheists (because they didn’t worship the gods), as cannibals (because they claims to “eat the body of Jesus” and “drink the blood of Jesus”), and incestuous (because they used statements like “l love you brother”). Nero burned Christians alive as torches to light his gardens at night. He fed them to wild animals for public entertainment. It is widely believed that it was Nero who executed Peter on a cross upside down , because Peter claimed he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his king, Jesus. Other emperors, like Flavian, Domitian, and Trajan, continued the persecution and martyrdom of thousands of Christians.
Yet through all this hardship, the New Testament Christians were on fire with expectation for what God would do tomorrow. They looked at the future as God’s future, a future in which Jesus would return. They looked to the future with hope. I think this is, in some part, due to the letters of Peter and others who offered encouragement during times of hardship and uncertainty.
Over the coming weeks, we are going to look at some of the words of encouragement and exhortation found in the two letters of Peter. This morning, let’s look at the opening statements of Peter’s first letter. [READ 1 PETER 1:1-9]
In 1 Peter, we hear of the “living hope” the early Christians had — a hope that was alive, even when fellow Christians were killed. The early Christians believed that their hope came along with the new life Christ granted them. A living hope. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope.”
Here’s a good definition of hope I heard from author, Pete Greig: “A confident expectation rooted in the promises of God.” A living hope is a hope to live on. Norman Cousins was a diplomat under three presidential administrations, an editor of Saturday Review of Literature, and described as a global peacemaker — having been granted the United Nations Peace Medal. He thought a lot about hope during more than one serious illness. He said, “If you have hope, you make plans.” Hope points people toward what life can be, despite the uncertainties, disabilities, or suffering of the present. Hope propels people forward in life, even if they must advance on crutches, or on a walker, or in a wheelchair.
All kinds of things in this world smash our hope, don’t they? We see it around us all the time. A young couple gets the word that their unborn child will likely not survive birth and doesn’t. A 16-year-old is tragically killed in a car wreck. A husband holds the hand of his wife after hearing the news that she has stage 4 ovarian cancer. A single mother of three loses her job and her apartment because she can’t pay the rent. A village in Sudan is ravaged by Islamic militants who kill all the men, violate the women, and take the children to train as soldiers. Suffering, uncertainty, persecution, and death. They are real events of our lives.
Christian hope knows the pain and suffering, the tragedy and injustice in the world, but Christian hope keeps us going on anyway. Christian Hope leaps forward in risk, strains toward tomorrow despite the chance of failure.
But Christian hope isn’t like the kind of Pollyanna secular hope that tightens our upper lip, grins, and says, “Problems? We ain’t got no problems here.” Neither is Christian hope automatic. It’s tough to hope, especially when facing tragedy, suffering, or death. New Testament hope doesn’t deny death, but it doesn’t stop at death, either. Peter writes about our “new birth into a living hope” coming about “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
In the New Testament, there’s no question that Jesus’ resurrection is the absolute center of our faith. Jesus’ birth receives only four chapters of attention in two gospels, while the story of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection fills a third of each of all four gospels. Compared to the rest of the NT, the birth narrative is scarcely mentioned, but Peter, Paul and all the other writers can’t stop talking about the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. Our Savior is alive and because He lives, we can face tomorrow!
Ours is now a living hope, because God has taken up our lost cause and made it his very own. In The Fall, the first Adam brought the curse to all creation. Humanity, God’s pinnacle of creation, lost our place of fellowship with God. The bible says we were enemies of God. But God, who is so merciful, desiring the relationship with us that was once ours in Eden, sent his only Son to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus, the second Adam, reversed the curse through his saving work on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. And the earth and all its inhabitants are moving toward the re-creation of the Paradise lost. Paul calls it birth pangs while we eagerly await the return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day.
Jesus is leading us in hope, leading us all the way to a new heaven and a new earth. The early Christians knew this and that’s why our text today begins by blessing and praising God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Blessing and praising God sets hope to music. Hope is something that gets into our bones and moves us joyfully in God’s praise and obedience to God’s Word. That’s why we gather in this reunion of the rescued every week to celebrate the hope we have in Jesus!
But because we’ve been waiting nearly 2,000 years for his return, it’s easy to lose sight of this living hope that Peter writes about. We’ve gotten complacent…comfortable… calloused in our worship and even cowardly in our approach to sharing the Gospel. “Live and let live.” “My faith is private and I don’t have to share it with anyone.” “Truth is whatever I want it to be.” Let me ask you: do you think those kind of statements would have been welcomed in a church meeting in 64 A.D. Galatia or Cappadocia? I doubt it.
In times of change and uncertainty, people seek security. Some people who crave certainty leap for a faith that gives them all the answers. They will try to convince themselves with positive self-talk: “Everything’s going to be all right,” meaning that everything in their world is going to turn out okay. But that’s not always true, is it?
Others turn away from an uncertain future toward the past with rantings of nostalgia: “Weren’t things better in the good old days?” Well, yes, if you liked carrying water a mile and spending all of Monday bent over a tub with a washboard. Nostalgia isn’t just wishing for the good old days, but it’s also transferring the false sense of a secure childhood into the present. Nostalgia is clinging to a distorted idea of how we think life was.
That’s not the hope of the “REAL” good old days. The living hope those New Testament Christians had was growing and changing, which means THEY were growing and changing. Jesus’ resurrection changed them and they, in turn, changed the world. Are you open to God changing you— changing your mind, changing your values, changing your behavior, changing your hope so that you can help change the world with Jesus Christ?
Christian hope isn’t about keeping the world the way it is or the way we thought it was or should have been, but making it better. Jesus does it by making US better. Living Hope is active. It makes plans. Christian Hope buys green bananas!
Peter today tells us what the New Testament thought was important: By God’s “great mercy God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
An honest assessment of this world and even the lives within this community would reveal that things aren’t so good. This world is not such a beautiful or hopeful place. But the New Testament proclaims the eternal good news that God came to meet us where we are through his Son Jesus Christ. God is presently teaching us, guiding us, helping us through his Word and his Holy Spirit. And our God awaits us in a glorious future when Jesus Christ returns for his Bride, the Church!
[PRAYZNMOR] We face at least one choice in every season of our lives and in the life of the church. Will we let God’s Holy Spirit increase our hope or will we turn a deaf ear to the message of hope found throughout scripture? Will we keep our eyes in the rear-view mirror, straining toward a past distorted by nostalgia? Or will we fix our eyes ahead on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, straining toward the future in God’s living hope?
And how do we do that? Peter exhorts us later in chapter 1 when he says this: Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Did you catch that? BECAUSE you have this living hope given to us in the salvation you have through Christ, BE HOLY…set apart for God’s use. We do this with sober thinking, obedience to God’s Word and, as we will see, by loving one another deeply. A living hope is a hope to live on. Let’s live in the confident expectation that God is with us. Let’s take risks for God. Let’s join God in his work around us. Let’s be courageous in sharing the hope we have in Christ Jesus!