Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Living Hope in a Living Lord

1 Peter 1:3-9 The picture  we have of Peter during Jesus’ passion is that of a man who has failed greatly—not because he was being tortured for his faith—not because he was facing imminent death—but simply out of cowardliness.  And not only did he deny the Lord, he called down the curses of God Almighty upon himself to back up his denial.
And yet the Lord loved him.  Despite his denials—despite his cowardliness—despite his weakness-- the Lord loved him.  After his resurrection, Jesus specifically sought out Peter to forgive him and restore him and to give him an opportunity to re-commit himself to following the Lord. 
That’s the whole point of Jesus’ resurrection:  forgiveness and new beginnings for us-- despite our fears and failures. 
In the Book of Acts we see the difference the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes in the lives of his people:  Peter and the other apostles boldly preaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to…the religious leaders who put Jesus to death—the leaders of their own people of whom they were so afraid. 
And those who denied the Lord—who hid in fear when he was on trial—who abandoned him in his deepest need—rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for a living Lord who had given them: a new life and a home in heaven -and was working through hardships to being them there.  Peter writes of this living hope in a living Lord:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy
            Can you just imagine what the word “mercy” meant to Peter and the other disciples--to know that because of Jesus’ mercy, their life with God did not come to an end because they failed so completely?  Can you imagine how profoundly grateful they were to their heavenly Father for sending his Son Jesus Christ to make forgiveness and new life a reality for them despite their sins?
Each of us knows what it means to stumble in our walk of faith.  Each of us knows how often our lives in the words we say, the things we do, and the thoughts we have are outright denials of the Lord-- no less than Peter’s denial. 
That is why we join our voices with his words of praise for God’s great mercy in the gift of his own Son—because we also know what Peter knew:  that through faith in the resurrected Christ we have a living hope in a living Lord who has raised us up to new life in Christ.  Peter writes about that new life that is ours through Christ’s resurrection:
God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
Peter calls our new life in Christ “being born again to a living hope” and there is no better way to describe the change in his life in the light of the resurrection than being “born again”.  Very simply, a new life had come for him.  He was a different person than he was before because Jesus rose from the dead. 
The resurrection of Jesus Christ still has the power to change lives from spiritual death to spiritual life. 
When the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is preached, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to raise us from the death of unbelief-- to the life of faith. 
In Holy Baptism, it is not the water that causes new life to be raised in the hearts of those born dead in sin, but it is the powerful promise of God’s Word in that water that causes us to be born again—the promise that we have died with Christ in his death on the cross and been raised with Christ in his resurrection from the dead.
It is the resurrected Christ who is present at our altar offering forgiveness and new life in his own body and blood crucified and raised.
Christ’s death and resurrection--preached and given in the sacraments-- takes children of Adam, born to die, and causes them to be born again as children of God and gives them a living hope in a living Lord with a precious inheritance of eternal life--an inheritance that is:  imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 
            It took Peter and the other disciples a while to get this heavenly inheritance straight in their minds.  For much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, what he taught the disciples about life with God “went in one ear and out the other”. 
Their minds were fixed on Roman enemies and national pride and a physical homeland.  But AT the death of Jesus on the cross they saw these earthly dreams and misplaced hopes come to an end. 
It was only AFTER Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples began to see the truth about what he had been teaching all along:  that this world is not all there is and we ought not live as if it is—that God’s kingdom is not of this world but resides in human hearts through faith—that God has something infinitely better for us than simply satisfying our fleshly desires here on earth—an eternal home in heaven.  This is a living hope.
Like the disciples, we bear the weight of our sinful flesh that simply wants to live life with all our wants and needs met.  We value success and happiness above everything else.  We are not nearly as concerned with spiritual things as we ought to be-- but we certainly want God to give us material blessings in abundance.
But a life focused on upon the things of this world is a life of futility—a life without meaning and purpose—a life that death will always destroy. 
God wants more than that for us—he created us for an eternal life—and he redeemed us by the death and resurrection of his own Son so that we could live that life in heaven with him.  That is the living hope of the Christian and that is the purpose of God’s redeeming work for us.
Moment by moment-- he is working in our lives to bring us to our heavenly home.  Peter tells us that we have a living hope in a living Lord who is present and powerful even in the trials of life—that we:
by God’s power are being guarded  through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.   
            During the last days of Jesus’ life, the disciples lost faith in the power of God to protect them.  In our Gospel lesson today we see them cowering in fear behind locked doors. 
But after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, there was no doubt in their minds that the God who had the power to raise his own Son from the dead-- also had the power to guard and protect them and bring them safely to their heavenly home.  From then on…
They faced their enemies unafraid.  They were beaten to within an inch of their lives and thrown out of town and went right back into the same town still preaching Jesus.  They were shipwrecked and jailed and exiled and finally faced a martyr’s death. 
Did those hardships mean that God’s power to guard and protect them had failed?  Absolutely not!  In fact, the miraculous power of the resurrection was that their faith remained intact no matter what kinds of trials they faced! 
Every time they came through some kind of difficulty with their faith in Jesus still strong, God’s almighty power—the same power that raised his Son from the dead—was validated and vindicated again and again in their lives.
The same is true for us.  God’s power is not necessarily shown in keeping us from times of trial—though he can certainly do that!  But God’s power is shown in that he keeps us strong in our faith through times of trial so that we emerge with an even stronger faith than what we started with!  That is what is really important-- for it is only through faith in Jesus that are born again and have the hope of entering eternal life. 
When we finally come to the same place in life as Peter did-- in realizing that our faith in Jesus Christ is the most precious gift that God has given us-- there is no comfort that we would not forgo and no hardship that we would not endure to keep our faith. 
The trials in our lives are not the failures of God to keep us safe—but a necessary part of God’s work in helping us to keep the only thing of eternal value that we have—and that is our faith in Jesus.  Peter writes about the meaning and purpose of trials in the believers’ life from his own first-hand experience:
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. 
Trials are necessary to the Christian life if we are to mature in our faith and obedience to the Lord because they test and refine our faith.
It was only when Peter was tested in the courtyard of the high priest that he could really see the truth about himself—that his own strength was absolutely insufficient to remain steadfast—that he needed to repent of his trust in himself and put his trust in the strength of God alone. 
Trials show us where we are weak so that we can turn to the Lord for strength and ask the Holy Spirit for help in those areas of our faith and life.
Trials refine our faith just like fire refines gold—getting rid of doubts and removing worries as we discover that God will protect and provide for us again and again. 
It is only when we begin to see our faith as something infinitely more precious than gold that we can begin to THANK God for the refining fires of hardships and REJOICE in the trials of life because we know that through them God is shaping us and molding us for a glorious eternity with him. 
That was the living hope of these Christians to whom Peter wrote even though they had never seen the resurrected Lord—folks just like us.  Peter writes:
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.
When the living Lord appeared to his disciples he spoke this blessing to Thomas and the other disciples who doubted:  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  We see the power of that blessing in the believers in Peter’s congregation and down through salvation history to our own day and the believers sitting in these pews who have never seen Jesus and yet believe in him and love him.
Faith in Jesus did not end with those who personally saw Jesus alive-- but spread to all who believed the Good News of the resurrection proclaimed by the apostolic witnesses—first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee and Judea, and then throughout the world down to this place and time. 

Our living Lord continues to give a living hope to all who believe in him—promising new life, an eternal inheritance in heaven, and his powerful presence in our lives even in times of trial.  Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment