Last Sunday evening here Martin Morrison – South African that he is – couldn’t resist mentioning how much he’d enjoyed watching the drubbing that South Africa had just given England in the Rugby. A newspaper reported it in these words:
42-6, up in bright lights, no mistaking its baleful message. Five years to the day since that night of World Cup pomp and circumstance in Sydney, England wore the air of sporting vagabonds, scuffling about on the grand thoroughfares of world rugby, ragged, destitute and devoid of hope.
The trouble is, if you really are devoid of hope it’s very difficult to carry on at all. So the headline read:
'South Africa expose England's shortcomings, but we need hope and patience.'
And so we do. But what we really need is not the kind of hope that’s uncertain of the future but wants to look on the bright side, full of wishful thinking without foundation. So for instance, one man summed up his wartime childhood experience thus:
'We lived on hope and promises and when they failed to materialise we found something else to believe in.' [Harry Bibring]
No, what we really need is the kind of hope that knows for certain and with good reason that the best is yet to come. And if we’ve put our trust in Christ, that’s exactly what we have. If you’re not yet a Christian, then I don’t honestly know how you can have such hope, especially in the face of death. But my prayer is that this evening you’ll be able to see why it is that Christians do know that the best is yet to come. And please be aware that this is a hope in which you can share.
So, to the First Letter of the Apostle Peter, on p1217. This is a letter saturated with certain hope. For hundreds of years Christians have found encouragement in these words. 300 years ago someone wrote that 1 Peter is …
'a brief, and yet very clear summary both of the consolations and instructions needful for the encouragement and direction of a Christian in his journey to heaven, elevating his thoughts and desires to that happiness, and strengthening him against all opposition in the way.' [Archbishop Robert Leighton]
That’s wonderfully put: here is encouragement and direction – lifting our eyes to heaven where we’re headed, and giving us power to keep going. And this passage we’re looking at – verses 3-12 of chapter 1 – is solid encouragement. Direction comes with verse 13:
'therefore [with all this encouragement in mind] prepare your minds for action'
– and so on. The instruction comes there – and we need it! – but first come the ‘consolations’. This is pure good news.
Not surprising then that the dominant note is praise and joy. The passage begins (v3):
'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!'
If we’re Christians and we’ve really begun to understand what our merciful God has given us, then like Peter our hearts will be full of praise. The stronger our grasp of the gospel, the deeper our praise. And I don’t mean by that how loud we sing or how wide our smile. I mean the deeper is our appreciation of God and our readiness to express that appreciation to anyone who’ll listen.
And what has God given us? Verse 3 again:
'In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…'
Peter says God has given us new life – we have been born again. He’s given us a new and living hope. And he’s given us a new Lord – our risen Saviour Jesus. God’s word is full of hope by the bucketload, because it reminds us of the gospel.
We were like scrapped old ships – holed and rudderless and sunk. But Christ has salvaged us; renovated us; now he’s at the helm and our sails are filled with the wind of his Spirit. Or to put it another way: we had nothing in the world, but he adopted us into his royal family.
And what comes of being his children? Peter spells out three things a Christian has that give us hope. I’ll try and summarise them in my headings. First, we have an inheritance that can never be lost; secondly, we have a faith that can never be discredited; and thirdly, we have a salvation that can never be bettered.
First, A CHRISTIAN HAS AN INHERITANCE THAT CAN NEVER BE LOST
This is verses 4-5:
'[God has given us new birth] into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil of fade – kept in heaven for you, 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.'
What is our inheritance? It is to Christians what the promised land was to the Israelites. Moses said to them (this is Deuteronomy 12.9-10):
'… you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety.'
The land was to be their home. Where they belonged. A place of rest and victory and peace and security. Our inheritance as Christians is the same, only so much more than that earthly promised land. Our promised land is our place with Christ in the new heaven and the new earth that Christ will bring in when he returns. Like those Israelites on the edge of Canaan with Moses – we have not got there yet. We are on the way. But our promised land already belongs to us in Christ.
I’ll never forget when my father gave my mother a special birthday present – though it was a long time ago, when I was a young boy. She unwrapped a little package and in it were just some keys. At first she was a bit bemused and a bit crestfallen. (My father isn’t renowned in the family for his present-buying skills and she probably feared the worst.) But then the light began to dawn – and she rushed outside and there on the driveway was the car that came with the keys. By faith in Christ Christians have been given the keys of their inheritance – but have not yet taken possession of it. It is ours now, but we won’t enter it fully until Christ returns and recreates this decaying universe. We possess it but we haven’t yet taken possession of it.
But we need not be afraid that we will lose it in the meantime. Our inheritance (v4)…
'… can never perish, spoil or fade.'
First, it can never perish. It can never decay and will never be destroyed - unlike all other earthly possessions. Do you remember what Jesus said?
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6.19-21). Unlike our cars or our cash, our inheritance in Christ can never perish.
Secondly, the Christian’s inheritance can never spoil. That is, it can never be defiled. It can never be polluted by sin. Isn’t that a wonderful prospect?! The very best things about our lives now are always stained with our sin and the sin of others. But not then. There will be nothing unworthy of God’s full approval.
And thirdly, our inheritance can never fade. It will never wither, or grow dim, or lose its beauty and glory. That car my mother was given has long since disappeared into the breaker’s yard, never to be seen again. But the new gleam of heaven will only get brighter. And our awe and wonder and excitement at it all will never wane as we grow accustomed to it. The glory of the new heaven and the new earth can only grow and grow.
Now there are two ways of losing an earthly inheritance. The first thing that can happen is that the inheritance itself can be eroded or destroyed. I know a bit about that. All through my growing years I had a great expectation of an increasingly valuable share in the family business. But recession and the vagaries of the building industry put paid to that. Now I have a file full of share certificates that I only keep for old times’ sake because they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on.
After that experience I decided I’d invest in a rock solid sector – banking. I am the proud owner of some shares in – you guessed it – Northern Rock. So I’m adding that certificate to my collection of worthless bits of paper. An earthly inheritance is a fragile thing! Don’t be fooled into thinking that there’s any sure hope to be found there.
The other way of losing an earthly inheritance is when you lose your title to it. The land or whatever is still there – but you no longer have any claim on it. One way that can happen is by dying, of course. Remember the Rich Fool in Jesus’ parable who, full of self-satisfaction, stored up his wealth and promptly died? But there are other ways to lose your claim on an inheritance.
Did you hear about the April Fool that a wife played on her husband a while back? She videoed the National Lottery programme. Then the next week she bought a lottery ticket, filled in last week’s winning numbers, and gave it to her husband. Then at the time of the next week’s programme she sat him down in front of the TV and, without him realising, played last week’s video. He thought he was watching a live announcement of the winning numbers. He ticked them off. He thought he’d won. She let him believe it for 15 minutes. And then she told him he was an April Fool. He was quoted as saying:
'It was not very funny at the time.'
A believer’s inheritance can never be lost. It will not be destroyed. And we will never lose our title to it. God guards our inheritance for us – so it will never be destroyed. Verse 4: it is…
… "kept in heaven for you."
And God guards us for our inheritance – so we will never lose it. Verse 5: through faith we are…
… shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
What that means is that God is preserving believers from falling out of his kingdom – and he is also protecting believers against attack. We are safe. Our inheritance is secure. We have an inheritance that can never be lost. That’s the first thing Christians have.
Secondly, A CHRISTIAN HAS A FAITH THAT CAN NEVER BE DISCREDITED
Look first at verses 6-7:
'In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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 honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.'
Peter makes it clear that the normal Christian life is one of continuing joy with more or less frequent grief as a result of hard times of one sort or another. Suffering is par for the course in Christian living. Do not expect to escape it.
Now maybe you feel that the New Testament goes on about suffering too much - not to mention preachers. Why can’t we be more positive – emphasise the joy more? Well, surely it’s because it’s the suffering that’s up ahead that we need to be warned about. It’s the suffering that we need to prepare for. Radio announcers break into the schedules with gale warnings. They don’t break in with warnings of impending sunshine. But if a weather forecaster fails to warn of an oncoming hurricane, then he’s scorned and derided.
I once heard an American astronaut talking on the radio about her journeys into space in the Shuttle. She said that one of the most extraordinary sights was looking down on the ocean and seeing from 200 miles up an immense hurricane whirling around. And she could look down through the eye of the storm to the blue water below. In the same kind of way Peter has God’s perspective, looking down on Christian living. And he’s issuing a storm warning for us all. Some of us escape the worst of it. Others find themselves right in the hurricane’s path. But everyone feels the force of the wind at one time or another. Maybe you’re in it now. Maybe this current global financial cyclone has knocked you sideways. Maybe this coming year you’ll enter a storm in ways you can’t foresee.
Hearing the apostle Peter’s general storm warning prepares us for the future. And he knows what he’s talking about. It’s as if he’s writing with an astronaut’s perspective – but from the very eye of the hurricane. Before too long, he is to be executed for his faith. Crucified upside down, as tradition has it. We should steel ourselves for hard times.
But Peter also gives the greatest possible hope to those who are in the thick of the storm: God has a purpose in taking us through those hard times. His purpose is to refine our faith.
The faith in Christ that God has given us is our greatest treasure. It’s far more valuable than winning the National Lottery or any other earthly possession. God-given faith in Christ is indestructible. Like gold being refined, the more fire it goes through, the more pure it becomes. God’s great purpose in his dealings with us this side of heaven is not to keep us happy or to make us comfortable. It’s to strengthen our faith. Because that is what matters above all.
Then in verses 8-9 the nature of this faith is described, in case we should misunderstand. Take a look at those verses:
'Though you have not seen him [that’s Jesus], 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, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.'
Faith is not something in us. It is looking to Jesus. He is faith’s unseen object. And faith in Christ engages every part of our being. Faith engages the mind as we believe in Christ. It engages the will as we love Christ. It engages the heart and emotions as we’re filled with an…
… inexpressible and glorious joy.
And all this while we continue the journey towards our goal: the salvation of our souls – that moment when we’ll come into our inheritance. Then we’ll no longer live by faith but by sight. We’ll see Jesus face to face. Then, our faith will be vindicated once for all. For now, we have the assurance that our faith will never be discredited. God will see to that.
So, what’s the basis of our certain hope? First, we have an inheritance that can never be lost. Secondly, we have a faith that can never be discredited. Then my final point:
Thirdly, A CHRISTIAN HAS A SALVATION THAT CAN NEVER BE BETTERED
This is in verses 10-12. Let me read those verses to you now.
'Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and the circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 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.'
The salvation that we have in Christ is the climax of all history and the pinnacle of all experience in heaven and earth.
The prophets longed to see what we see. The Spirit of Christ was in them, and the Spirit predicted the suffering and the glories to come. And the Spirit gave the prophets pointers to who the Messiah was, and to when he would come, and to the salvation that he would bring – but they didn’t see it. “The time is not now,” they were told. “It’s in the future. It’s beyond you.” And Peter says an astonishing thing that should colour the whole way we read the Old Testament. The ministry of the prophets was primarily for the sake of us who have heard the good news of Jesus – that we might understand what has happened and what will happen. Peter says (verse 12):
'they were not serving themselves but you…'
Not only have we had the privilege of knowing what they never knew. But their ministry was to serve us. That’s how great our salvation is!
And what’s more, even angels themselves, as it were, peer down from heaven longing for a glimpse of what’s happening in our lives – longing to see what God’s doing in us, and what he’s made us a part of. The end of verse 12:
'Even angels long to look into these things.'
The progress of the gospel among us and among all our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world is at the top of all the news bulletins in heaven. That’s how great our salvation is! It can never be bettered.
We’ve been given the key to glories beyond anything the prophets knew. And beyond everything the angels know.
To finish, let me tell you about a man I once met. He was living on the South Coast, and none of you know him. He became a Christian about half a century ago, as did his then fiancée. Soon after the birth of their first child, his wife fell ill with an incurable degenerative disease. She suffered for 38 years. In the last two years of her life there was a period when her husband was bedridden, and she nursed him even though she herself was dying. When he recovered, he nursed her until she died – some years ago now. He told me he couldn’t help getting rather emotional as he talked about it. But the great thing had been that his wife’s faith had been tremendously strengthened through these terrible trials. He said to me:
The Scriptures were so encouraging. Especially 1 Peter. That meant so much to me. It was so helpful – and gave me such strength.
When I met him about two years after his wife died, he was still grieving. But he was full of hope. He was rejoicing in the beginnings of faith in his children, and he was praying that their faith would be strengthened in turn. No doubt the angels were watching, and were filled with awe at God’s amazing grace.
As we head into the future, we know that the best is yet to come. We have a sure and certain hope. So let’s join with Peter in saying: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because, however severe the storm may get now, we have an inheritance that can never be lost, a faith that can never be discredited, and a salvation that can never be bettered.