Fast forward to Monday night. It's raining outside. It's been a long day. And you're glad it's nearly over. As you crash out on the couch your mind takes you back through your day: the difficulties at work; the problems at home; the issues with your health; the challenges that go with following Jesus in a world that does not. You can feel your heart slowly sagging under the trials you're fighting on all fronts. Where do you find joy on a Monday night like that?
The readers of Peter's letter were believers in Northern Turkey that knew the weight of trials. They knew the trials of every day life, and they knew the trials that went with following Jesus in a world that did not. It was probably not a state sponsored persecution but a social rejection they experienced. And so Peter writes to remind them that a glorious inheritance awaits believers, as well as trials that are a path to that glory. Because of this, Peter says it's possible to rejoice even in trials. Peter's remedy for hearts weighed down with difficulty was to praise God. Peter shows us three reasons to praise God. The first reason is Joy in future inheritance (v3-5). Come with me to verse 3:
"3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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 praise God! Why? First of all God gives his people mercy. He doesn't give us what we deserve. His mercy is expressed in the new birth and living hope he gives his people. New birth is new spiritual life, and living hope means a certain hope. How does God give his people new life and a certain hope? It's through the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus secures us new life. Jesus has paid for sin on the cross, and now raised to life, he is able to give us new life. The resurrection secures our resurrection too. God raised Jesus to life, and one day he will raise our bodies to life too.
On Durham Road there's a new development called Park View. You can drop into see the show flat. The show flat helps you see what life would be like there. The show flat is proof that the builders can build you a flat like that too. Jesus is the believers' show flat. His resurrection points to our future resurrection. What God did for Jesus, he can do for you too. But it keeps getting better, because Peter says in verse 4 God has given us a future that cannot be taken away:
[We have] "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you."
In our first reading in Deuteronomy 12:9, Moses refers to the Promised Land as the inheritance God was giving Israel. It is described not only as a place of inheritance, but a place of rest and safety. But the Promised Land was taken away from Israel by God. The Promise Land was spoiled by Israel's sin. The Promised Land was parched with judgment. The Promised Land is contrasted with our heavenly inheritance that will not perish, spoil or fade. Why? Because the believer's inheritance is kept in heaven. Our inheritance is not simply a new earth, but salvation itself. Jesus is the believers' great prize.
How do we know we'll inherit? Look at verse 5:
"5 [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."
Just like Israel were protected on their travels through the desert by God, we too are shielded by God's power until Jesus returns. Shielded here means to be kept safe, to be carefully watched. God is in the business of keeping us safe! He is carefully watching out for us! How does he do that? It's through believers' faith in him. Faith, that is trust in God, is his way of keeping us safe. It's his gift. Why does he do it this way? As Edmund Clowney says, "Because faith is not our achievement, but trust in God's achievement." Wonderfully, God protects us through his power. God guards us as we trust in his achievement in Christ.
Think of it a bit like this. Imagine you had a millionaire aunt who has given you an inheritance. But you must wait five years until you can claim it. Now imagine you have a wicked stepbrother who wants to assassinate you before those five years are up. Peter says not only is God the rich aunt who has provided the inheritance; God also acts as our personal bodyguard to protect and shield his people until they finally possess it. And because he is God, we can totally sure than nothing and no one will get past him. We are safe! Assurance isn't found looking inwards to how we feel, but in looking to God who promises and protects.
When you think, "How on earth will I keep going?" stop looking inwards, and start looking to God who promises to protect you.
Does this mean followers of Jesus will be protected from life's troubles? Both Peter and our own experiences tell us otherwise. Yet even these trials are part of God's plan to bring us into his inheritance. This gives us another reason to praise God, another source of God given joy. This leads to my second point: Joy in spite of present suffering (v6-9).
Let's look at verse 6:
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
Because of their future inheritance, followers of Jesus can rejoice in spite of trials. It's the summer term now and school pupils and teachers are able to rejoice the summer holidays are getting closer. Hearts are lifted by thought of the future! In a similar way, followers of Jesus know each day salvation is getting closer. The hope of the future seeps into the present. Yet even trials form part of God's plan to bring us home to our inheritance.
Just as muscles are built by time in the gym, so faith is built by having to trust God in times of challenge. That's what Peter says in verse 7:
" 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
Trials come to prove and refine faith. The term "genuineness" is related to the testing of metal. Peter uses the picture of a goldsmith putting gold into the fire to burn out the impurities and produce something more precious. Most of us would be interested in a goldsmith who could make a ring more precious. God is in the business of making our faith more precious, more refined, more pure.
So if you're following Jesus you can have joy even when you face trials. We can rejoice because through trials God builds our trust in him. That's the same faith he uses to shield us until Jesus returns. Let me show you an example of what Peter's writing about. Let me read you the testimony of a Russ and Sue. Sue had an incurable lung disease and had to have a lung transplant. After three failed attempts one pair of lungs finally matched her body. But after four months the disease came back again. This is what Russ writes following Sue's operation:
"We've come to accept that we will not have the life of stability and comfort we had hoped. We've come to realise that we should not have been striving for stability and comfort but for total dependence on God from whom we draw strength. This requires a daily effort to give it all up to him. Our real comfort is the promise that "in heaven our joy will be made greater as a result of the depth of our distress." We may be crippled still, but empowered by our renewed faith. God has helped us to persevere and that gives us hope and strength to carry on."
Russ and Sue's story shows how trials burn away our self-dependence and drive us in faith to Jesus. And one day when Jesus is revealed we will share in his glory.
Do you see how different the Bible's view of suffering is to the worlds? Yes, Christians still grieve loss and suffering like everyone else. But if your trust is in Jesus, trials will ultimately refine your trust in him, and the worst trial, death, will only bring you into his presence.
But if your trust is not in Jesus, then trials can only ever take away the meaning of your life. If your life is built on family, possessions, career, health – as good as those things are – suffering will only rob your meaning from you.
Trials reveal where we place our joy. If you fail an exam and you're devastated for months it might reveal your joy is in your exam results. If you experience the loss of a relationship and you're devastated for a long time, it might reveal your ultimate joy is was tied to that person. But if, as hard times come, our hope grows in our future inheritance then it shows our ultimate hope is rooted in Jesus. Peter says Christians can have joy now in knowing Jesus, both now and in the future. Let's look at verses 8-9:
"8 Though you have not seen him, 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, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
Here's a lovely description of what it is to follow Jesus. Even though you have not seen Jesus, you love him and you believe in him to rescue you.
Knowing Jesus as your personal saviour leads to "inexpressible and glorious joy." If you're trusting in Jesus today you know him personally. Through speaking to him in prayer and through listening to his word you have a personal relationship with him right now! These verses are also a wonderful reminder that Jesus' kingdom is now but not yet.
Peter says as we believe in Jesus we are receiving the goal of our faith. The goal is to receive our full inheritance when Jesus returns. We know Jesus now by his Spirit, yet Jesus is still to come so the end goal of our faith is still future.
Let me give you an example. Many of you will remember Dick Dellows who went to be with the Lord two year ago. He was the oldest member of the church by a long way. I remember visiting him in his last weeks, and him saying something along the lines of, "I'm looking forward to being with Jesus in heaven. I'm ready!" Dick knew Jesus already. He'd spent a lifetime walking with Jesus. That's why he looked forward to being with Jesus. Even though his health was giving way, he had a living hope. Yet, Dick knew that only his passing or Jesus' return would bring him into the presence of the one he'd trusted and loved for over 60 years. Jesus' kingdom is now but not yet.
So followers of Jesus can have joy in spite of present trials. Trials strengthen faith in Jesus now, and one day trials will give way to the full blessings of salvation, being in Jesus' presence. This is the salvation that prophets promised in the Old Testament. And this leads to the third source of God given joy believers can experience: Joy in past promises fulfilled (10-12). In these verses we see the Old Testament prophets searched for the time the Messiah, God's rescuer king, would come. Let's look at verses 10-11:
"10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow."
The Holy Spirit revealed to the prophets that the Messiah would first suffer then enter glory. Isaiah's suffering servant would first go to the cross before he would enter the eternal glory promised to King David's son.
It's worth noticing here that the Messiah Jesus goes before his people. His path was suffering now, glory later. Jesus experienced the greatest suffering ever so we wouldn't have to face God's justice. He lost all his glory at the cross so we could enjoy his glory. Now we too, like Jesus who went before us, can know our trials will one day give way to glory.
Jesus is the Messiah the prophets promised. Peter says the prophets were serving not themselves but the church. The Messiah they promised is the same one preached to the church in the gospel. Look at verse 12:
12 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 events the prophets searched for had come to pass in Peter's time. The suffering of Jesus, his resurrection and ascension meant now was the time of salvation. The promises of the Spirit inspired prophets had now been fulfilled and were being declared by the Spirit inspired apostles. It's as if Peter is saying the prophets would have loved to have been in your shoes. They searched for clues about the Messiah, but this great salvation has been declared in all its glory to you! Even more than that, angels look into these things! Peter says to the church: "You are truly privileged!"
The Sagrada Familia is a cathedral is Barcelona. The building started in 1883, and it was designed by Anton Gaudi. When Gaudi died in 1926 the building was far from complete. Today, it is nearing completion. I visited it a few years ago and went up the tower. It's truly a great view. Now, Gaudi and his draftsmen would have loved to have seen that view; the view of the building he promised many years ago. In the same way the prophets would have loved to have been in our shoes, to see God's promises fulfilled in Christ. The church has a truly wonderful view of God's salvation plan. All God has promised over centuries has now by God's grace landed in our laps!
The angels too long to look into God's unfolding salvation plan. God's people might not look that impressive, but the angels recognise the church is of great significance. Peter is saying to his original recipients, you may feel like you're struggling, you may feel like the world pities you. But the reality is you've received all God's blessing in Christ. You are part of the church, God's means of growing his kingdom throughout the world. Do you see your privilege? Can you appreciate your view?
So let's return to Monday night. When you're aware of all the trials you're facing. When you're beginning to feel your heart sagging under the weight of pressures of life. Peter reminds such followers of Jesus that a glorious inheritance awaits us, as well as the trials that are our path to glory. Peter's remedy for a sagging heart is praise. To find your joy in God. So let's praise God for joy in future inheritance, joy in spite of present trials and joy in past promises fulfilled.