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Author:Rev. Arthur Van Delden
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mundijong
 Mundijong, Western Australia
 
 
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Rockingham
 Rockingham, Australia
  www.users.bigpond.net.au/avdelden/Sermons.htm
 
Title:Bless God who has begotten us to a living hope through the resurrection of Christ
Text:1 Peter 1:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested
 
Added:2004-03-08
Updated:2007-08-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:1-13

AM
Ps. 9:1,4,5
Hy. 7:1.9
Hy. 28:1,2
Hy. 53:1,2
Ps. 33:3,6

PM
Ps. 124:1,2
Ps. 124:3
Hy. 28:1,2
Hy. 53:1,2
Ps. 33:3,6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Arthur Van Delden, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Imagine that you are going to write a distant friend a letter. You've just heard that your friend is experiencing some kind of difficulty in life that causes suffering and pain. You place yourself behind the table with a sheet of writing paper before you, and pen in hand. And the first words come quite easily. "Dear Friend." But then the tip of the pen goes to your mouth and your eyes turn towards the ceiling as if you search for that opening line. Sometimes that opening line is the hardest line of the whole letter. That opening line is important, because it sets the tone for the letter. You could open the letter with a line expressing your sympathy for her sufferings. You might write: "Dear Friend. I heard via your mother that you were experiencing some trouble, which causes you great pain. I'm very sorry to hear about it." With this kind of introduction, you would put yourself beside your friend. You show empathy.

But that's not Peter's opening line in his letter to Christians suffering persecution. Rather than empathise with them in their suffering, he calls them to praise God for life and hope that God has given them. Rather than dwell on the negative, he accentuates the positive.

This morning I preach to you the Word of God with this theme:

BLESS GOD WHO HAS BEGOTTEN US TO A LIVING
HOPE THROUGH THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

We will see:
1) Our present blessing: we are born again
2) Our future blessing: we have a living hope

OUR PRESENT BLESSING: WE ARE BORN AGAIN

One of the main themes running through this letter is the theme of suffering. The Christians to whom Peter was writing were being persecuted. They did not belong to this world. They were so different. They were misfits. They would not live the corrupt lifestyle that the ungodly lived, the life that they once lived themselves.

Like Christ before them, the Christians shone as lights in their dark world, exposing the shameful conduct of the ungodly. And just as the world hated the light that Christ radiated, so the world hated the light that shone from the Christians. The ungodly wanted that light turned off, for they loved the darkness that hid their sins. So they began to put pressure onto Christians. Either they conform to the pattern of this world and do as the world did, or face the wrath of the world.

The Christians remained steadfast in their devotion to Christ. But that made life very difficult for them. The ungodly made it very clear to the Christians that they didn't belong in this world. And they tried their best to get rid of them. Some of them were driven from their homes, and had to wander about in the hills. Some of them had lost their possessions, and were destitute. Some of them were beaten, and some killed. In very graphic terms the ungodly told them that they didn't belong.

But Peter doesn't empathise with them. He doesn't stand beside them and shed a tear with them. Peter calls the persecuted Christians to praise the Lord, to acclaim how good and gracious God is. He writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Rather than sympathise with them in their sufferings, he calls them to rejoice with him in their blessings. The people are saying, "Oh, how terribly are we treated by men," but Peter says, "Praise God for how wonderfully you are treated by Him."

Peter knew that there was the danger that these Christians might act like "fair weather Christians". Christ spoke about these fair weather Christians in Matthew 13, in the parable about the seeds. You probably remember that parable. A sower went out to sow his field with wheat. Some of the seed fell upon shallow ground. There was a little soil on top, but not far below was solid rock that prevented the seedlings from establishing deep roots. Everything was fine as long as the weather was mild, and there was enough rain to keep the shallow soil moist. But as soon as the hot sun beat down upon them, they withered and died.

Such are "fair weather Christians." They are happy to embrace the Christian faith as long as everything is well. But as soon as they experience tribulation or persecution they forsake the faith.

Fair weather Christians suffer from tunnel vision. They look at only one small aspect of life, and fail to see the bigger picture. Their eyes are focused on the physical or material dimension of life. They only see what is happening to their bodies, or to their earthly possessions. They fail to see what great spiritual blessings they have received from God.

Peter doesn't want the Christians in Asia to be fair weather Christians who suffer from tunnel vision. Otherwise they might abandon their faith because they suffer persecution. So he directs their attention away from their sufferings, and he directs them to the blessings that they have received.

He points them to the fact that God has begotten them again. They have been born anew, reborn. What a wonderful blessing this is. And what a wonderful change their rebirth had upon their lives! They were formerly pagan in their lifestyle. In chapter 1:18, Peter wrote that they were redeemed from their aimless conduct inherited from their fathers. In chapter 43, we learn that they once walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. They had lived a corrupt life. They were dead in trespasses and sins, in which they once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. They were sons of disobedience. They once conducted themselves in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the rest of mankind.

Yes, once they were dead physically alive, but spiritually dead! What a horrible creature they had been a vile and perverted monster! The justice and holiness of God demanded that such a vile creature be cast out of the presence of God, to be eternally destroyed.

But God, in His great mercy, chose not to destroy them. God decided instead to impute their sins to Jesus Christ, who as their Substitute made complete atonement for their sins. God, in His great mercy, decided to deliver them from death and give them life not just physical life, but spiritual life. God decided to recreate them in His image to enlighten their dark minds with the light of the truth to replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh to set free their wills that were enslaved to evil, so that they might again choose what is good and noble.

Now it is precisely this blessing that causes them to suffer. The fact that they are born again makes them radically different from the rest of mankind around them. They have come to know the truth and to speak it. And that truth exposes the lie that rules this world. But the world hates the truth and doesn't want to hear it. These born again Christians know and pursue what is good and noble in the sight of God. But their goodness exposes the evil of the world, and the world doesn't want to see it. Do you see, beloved, that it is precisely God's grace towards them that causes them great suffering?

As long as these Christians are in this world, the powers of sin and evil will continue to make life difficult for them. The powers of darkness want to reclaim these Christians. The world wants them to conform to their way of life, and to do the things they used to do. The world makes life very difficult for the Christians. The world causes the Christians a lot of suffering and pain.

But Peter says to them. "Don't complain about the pain. Rather, praise God that He has made you alive! Praise God that he didn't leave you in your spiritual death. Otherwise you would have had been eternally rejected by God. Otherwise you would have had to suffer the eternal destruction of hell. No, don't complain about your sufferings. For these sufferings are the result of the new life that God has given. Rather than complain about the sufferings, thank God for giving you new life. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has begotten you again!

If this was all that Peter had written, the Christians might have responded, "But is it so much better to be made alive when the life we live involves so much suffering? Wouldn't it be better to die?" But Peter anticipated this kind of retort. So he added something to what he had written. He not only spoke about the new life they enjoyed in the present. He also told them about the living hope to which they were reborn. This brings us to our second point.

OUR FUTURE BLESSING: WE HAVE A LIVING HOPE

We said earlier that "fair weather Christians" suffer from tunnel vision. That is, they can only see a small part of a big picture. But that's not all that fair weather Christians suffer from. They also suffer from a very shallow faith. Their faith is rooted only in the present. Their faith is short-sighted. Their spiritual vision is focused entirely on the here and now. They look for immediate rewards. They do not take into account what great things the future holds for them.

So Peter spoke to them of their hope. Now hope plays an important role in Peter's letter. It is repeated four times in this letter, making hope the second great theme of this epistle.

Hope! What is this? Hope is the confident expectation of good in the future. When Peter speaks about hope, he acknowledges that the Christians had not yet entered the fullness of their salvation. Hope only exists in an imperfect world. Hope only exists where something good is lacking, or where there is uncertainty that the good one currently enjoys will be lasting. Hope is the confident expectation of everlasting good.

Now the Christians in Asia have been born again to a living hope. Do you know what that means to be born to something, beloved? Maybe an example would assist us. Job said, "A man is born to trouble" (Job 5:7). That means that a man can expect trouble in life. That is his lot. Because he inherits the guilt and pollution of sin, he can expect to inherit the curse of sin, which Job calls trouble. To be born to something basically means that we inherit something. We could say that a child who is born to a wealthy man is born into money. By way of his birth, he becomes an heir to great wealth.

Now Peter says that the Christians in Asia have been begotten again to a living hope. They have becomes heirs of hope of a living hope. That is an unusual description of hope, and there are different explanations as to what it means. Some think that the word "living" describes what that hope is. They understand it to mean that we have the hope of life. And in a way they are correct. But there is more to it.

The word "living" is also applied to faith. Scripture knows of a living faith and a dead faith. A living faith is one that bears much good fruit, while dead faith is a faith that produces no fruit. Peter seems to use it in the same way. I think Peter is contrasting the hope of Christians to the hope that the ungodly have. For the ungodly hope just as much as we do. But their hope is a dead hope. Their hope will never blossom. Their hope will never be realised. But the hope of the Christians is a living hope, a vibrant hope, a hope that will flourish and blossom and produce fruit.

What is the content of this hope? Peter tells us in a round-about way. He told the Christians that they had been reborn to a living hope. The hope that they have is the direct result of being born again. I believe Peter makes reference to being born again for a special reason. He seems to have in mind the words of our Lord Jesus Christ to Nicodemus. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). The living hope to which they have been reborn is nothing less than the kingdom of God.

This fits the context so well. In the previous verse Peter told the Christians in Asia that they were pilgrims in the Dispersion. They were resident aliens in this world. They don�t belong to this world. They were unwanted misfits. But Peter says to them, "You have been born again to a living hope." You have been born again, and that makes you an heir of the kingdom of God that glorious kingdom of God that defies description. No eye has seen the likes of it, nor has any ear heard an adequate description of it. Neither is the heart of man able to conceive of its glory.

Can you see how the opening verses of Peter's letter all fit together as a warm encouragement to the saints in persecution? "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to Christians in Asia who are resident aliens living temporarily on this earth, though they don't belong to it and are unwelcome misfits. Grace to you and peace. Join me in praising God, because although you were dead in sins and subject to eternal death, God caused you to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, thereby making you heirs of a hope that will thrive and blossom, making you heirs of the glorious kingdom of God."

Of this hope they can be certain. For Jesus Christ rose from the dead. When He arose, He had ascended to the throne of His Father, to the very heart of God's kingdom, to enjoy there a glorious new life.

The ascension of Christ was proof that one day they too would be raised to a new life of glory and honour. For just as they shared in the death and burial of Christ, so they shared in the resurrection of Christ. They enjoyed the first fruit of Christ's resurrection, which was their spiritual resurrection. But they still awaited the second fruit, being raised from this life to a glorious new life in the kingdom of God.

The Christians were suffering. Perhaps they would have to die for their faith. But even death could not rob them of their inheritance. They have a living hope. And here we come to see another aspect of what that word 'living' means. They have been reborn through the resurrection of Christ to a hope that cannot die.

Do these words of Peter offer us any comfort and encouragement in our lives? After all, we do not face persecutions as the Christians in Asia did in that time.

Beloved, I would remind you of what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12 He spoke about all the sufferings and persecution which he had to endure though his life. Then he said, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." I would also remind you of the words of our Lord in John 15:19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."

The more that we dare to be different from the world the more that we reflect the glory of God's holiness in our living and in our speaking, the more the world will regard us as unwanted misfits the more they will hate us and put on the pressure for us to conform to their way of living.

But we need never fear any suffering that comes from living a holy life, nor complain about it. We need never mourn the fact that we don't belong to this world, or the troubles that the world inflicts. We may rejoice in the fact that in a world of the spiritually dead, we have been made spiritually alive. And through our rebirth, we have been made heirs of the glorious new life in the kingdom of God. AMEN




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Arthur Van Delden, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Arthur Van Delden

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