“Knowing why I get up in the Morning
1 Peter 1:3-5
Dr. Jerry Nelson
Most of us remember enough of our English history classes to recall the name, King Henry VIII, of 450 years ago. A bit doggerel sums up the six marriages of the king:
“King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded: One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded.”
This was the scoundrel responsible for the inauspicious beginning of the Protestant Anglican Church in England.
Who you may not know is Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer was the first Protestant Archbishop of that Anglican Church. After King Henry’s death, his Catholic daughter, by his first wife, became the Queen of England. She was known as “Bloody Mary” because of her persecution of the Protestants. Cranmer, the leading Protestant, was sentenced to be burned at the stake. In fear, he signed a statement recanting his faith and embracing Catholicism again. In great ceremony, he was brought to Oxford where he was to publicly declare his reconversion to Catholicism. But when he stood, instead of renouncing his faith, he denounced the Catholic doctrines again. He was taken out and burned at the stake. Eyewitnesses said then when the flames reached him, he first of all put his right hand into the fire saying “this unworthy right hand” – the hand with which he had first signed a recanting, a renouncing of his faith. Then as the flames consumed him he was heard to say repeatedly, as the first martyr Stephen had said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
What would make a person willing to die for what they believe? Couldn’t Cranmer have signed with his other fingers crossed behind his back – like we used to do in grade school? “Didn’t mean it; had my fingers crossed!” Why would he be willing to face such a death? Apparently he had such strong convictions of what was true that he was willing even to die for them.
Christians are not the only ones willing to do that. Buddhist Monks did it during the Vietnam War. Muslim Jihadists are doing it today. I suppose some are mentally deranged, but others believe so strongly in the future they envision that they are willing to give up even their lives. Just as importantly, they live by that vision of the future.
Peter’s first readers were Christians living as minorities in hostile cultures. I suspect that every day they lived with temptation to abandon their faith and succumb to the majority values and lifestyles. Relatively few were they actually called out to renounce their faith like Cranmer of England. But in a hundred little ways each day they were tempted from within themselves and from others around them to compromise – until like “death by a thousand cuts” they had effectively abandoned the faith.
But Peter wants them to withstand the pressure to compromise. To have that steadfastness he gives them and us a vision of the future. I think Peter’s rationale is something like this: You can put up with almost anything in the present, if you are confident of the ultimate outcome.
Nearly as important as “What is worth dying for?” is the question, “What is worth living for? What picture of the future do we have that is worth investing our lives? Another way of speaking of Peter’s rationale is to say, “You will invest everything to gain the future you most prize.”
What about you? What’s your picture of the future? What are you giving your life for and what would you be willing to die for? Hear what God says it is.
1 Peter 1:3-5 “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, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or 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.”
When you became a Christian everything changed. Oh, you may not have felt anything and you might not even have been aware of most of what happened – but everything changed. Peter here calls it “new birth.” Jesus called it being “born again.”
Surely you recall that our first “birth” put us in a very bad situation. We inherited a sinful nature and the judgment of death. Romans 5:12 “…Sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…” If sin and death were diseases, we’d correctly say we got them from our parents – and these are unfortunately, our parents’ most enduring legacy to us. The Bible says that by our first birth, our future is everlasting misery and undying death. And even if we wanted to escape that future, we are stuck with it.
But, the Bible says, by the mercy of God, we are given a new birth. And our new Father, the holy everlasting Father, gives us a different future when he gives us new life. We read in Romans 8:17 “Now if we are children (of the Father), then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
Theologians call this new birth “regeneration” from the Latin, the begetting of life again. Regeneration, then, is “An inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit (Jn.3:5-8) Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 924 It is not the same as the reformation of a person. A person may be disciplined enough to change his/her habits but they still have the same nature.
Michael Bremmer who wrote, “The change produced by regeneration is in the very root of our being; it is a radical change, a change that affects the whole person–the intellect, the will, and the emotions. It is a change from enmity to love. It is the giving of a new heart and the removing of a heart of stone. It is such a deep-rooted change that when the gift of faith is given, we willingly receive and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Consequently, the change wrought in regeneration is not a superficial or temporary change, but is a work which ensures that the one whom God regenerates does repent, believes, and whose faith endures to the end. http://www.mbrem.com/salvation/regene.htm
The beauty of it is that our past actions and attitudes and even our present actions and attitudes do not merit this gift or lose it. No matter how good or how bad we have been and are, when God gives new life it is “new” and it is “life” and it is ours!
Peter goes on to write that our new birth results in a living hope. But before looking at this living hope, Peter tells us where we got this living hope and our new birth. He says they are based on the mercy of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The motivation behind God giving us new birth is not obligation but pure mercy – God chose us simply because he chose to choose, based only on the pleasure of his good will.
But even though he chose us in mercy he still had to deal with our sinfulness; and he did. 2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that Jesus him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s what the incarnation (Christmas) is all about – God became also a man. And as also a man he lived a perfect human life and then gave his life not for his sins but ours.
How do we know he accomplished what he intended? He proved it by his resurrection. That’s why Peter writes that this new birth and living hope have been brought about “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
As to our new birth God says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 “If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins. As to our living hope God also says in the same verse, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…” But Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20) and thus your new birth is secured and your living hope is warranted. The new birth came because of the mercy of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But I want to emphasize the results of the new birth that Peter describes. The results are two: 1. A living hope and 2. An inheritance that can never fail.
First of all, we have been reborn into a living hope. Peter calls it a “living” hope; one that is alive and full of promise. He calls it a “hope.” In the Bible, “hope” is not wishful thinking but a conviction based on reality; it is a confident expectation. Most people’s hopes die at their death. And they know it. It is amazing to me that more people don’t exhibit the despair in which they actually live. Some of the ancient Greeks wrote that though the sun rises and sets continuously, once our brief light sets there is only one unending night for us. (Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 85) What do our contemporary philosophies offer? The same eternal nothingness, or cosmic oneness – why not despair? Dr. Arman Nicholi Jr , Harvard professor of psychiatry in his book Finding God at Harvard, asks, “How do we explain the explosive increase in depression and hopelessness within our society…? He went on to write, “Many young people today feel that their cultures fail to provide answers to questions of purpose and meaning and destiny. They feel that we fail to provide any reason for hope. The consequence is that we are now in a cultural crisis and living in what is being called “The Age of Despair.” We hear of our “spiritual vacuum” and our “crisis of meaning.” (In Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians, Zondervan 1996 p112-113)
But WE have been given a “living hope.” One author says it well, “This hope is not a desperate holding-on to a faded dream, (not) a dead hope, but a living one, founded on reality, for it is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 52) My future, my hope, is anchored in the person of Jesus, whom I know rose from the dead and is coming again. That changes my outlook on life. Another man said it this way: This hope is “a fixed hope, a clear vision of what God will do for us in the future.” (Scott McKnight, I Peter, 71)
Not only have we have been reborn into a living hope but also (and here most to the point of the passage): 1 Peter 1:4-5 We’ve been given new birth “into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or 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.” We think of an inheritance as the money, property or other that we receive when our parent dies and passes it onto us.
And so what is the inheritance for us who have been reborn? 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven…and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive (on earth) will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Titus 2:13 “…We wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Our inheritance is Jesus!
1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Revelation 21:3-4 “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Our inheritance is Jesus and the life that will be ours in his presence for eternity.
Earl Palmer wrote, “A personal relationship with Jesus Christ means that our existence, and the universe itself rests, not on impersonal laws or on inexorable principles but on a person. The gospel does not say merely that in the final analysis the universe is friendly toward us; it says that the God of the universe loves us… We trust in the One who upholds us even when we are too worried or depressed or excited to trust him. The ultimate foundation of our existence (and our future) is personal.” (Earl Palmer, Integrity in a World of Pretense, 132)
And how certain can we be that our inheritance won’t disappear? How many earthly inheritances have been dissolved in short order by war, fire, theft, or profligacy? How many saw their life savings reduced to half or less in the dot-com bust of a very few years ago or the great recession of 2008-9. The text says that God keeps it in heaven for us, far beyond the reach of the circumstances of this world. (Jobes, 87) And God won’t squander it or change his mind. Jesus said in John 14:1-3 “Do not let your hearts be troubled… I am going (to my Father’s house) to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
But all of that raises a good question: “Maybe the inheritance is secure but what about me?” It may be true that there is a heaven and eternal life to come but how do I know that I won’t “blow it” and lose it. What if my circumstances or my own sinfulness disqualify me? But God says not only is the inheritance kept secure in heaven for us but we, the heirs, also are kept secure on earth for it. (Robert Leighton,1 Peter, 38) We “who through faith are shielded by God’s power.” To be “shielded” is to be protected, to be kept under guard – God is protecting US until that day. Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I often hear people say in fearful response, “What if my faith fails; what if I quit believing?” It is true that we are not saved apart from faith and it also true that we do not remain saved apart from faith. But thank God, He is the one who gives the faith. Listen to Jesus in one of Peter’s crises of faith: Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. Jesus’ prayers are answered and the Son of God intercedes for you as we are taught in Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25. And the Spirit of God intercedes for you as we are taught in Romans 8:26. Many years ago Robert Leighton said it so well: “The weakest persons who are within a strong place… are in safety; thus the weakest believer is safe…” (Leighton, 40) So I believe that in our text, Peter in essence is saying, “I want you to live each day with a profound awareness that Jesus is coming again and when he does God’s perfect plan will be completed, and you are part of that plan.” No more death and decay. No more powerful sin and guilt. No more temptation. No more grief and pain.
Some might say that sounds like “’pie in the sky bye and bye’” – a fanciful dream that won’t ever be true and certainly doesn’t help now.” It would be wishful thinking except for two things: One, that future is true – guaranteed to us by the resurrection of Jesus. And two, it does make a difference now – we can actually engage the world because we know what the future is.
Mankind has at least three options:
One, people can whistle past the graveyard to the tune of “peace, peace” when there is no peace.
Or, two, they can live in quiet despair.
Or, three, they can believe God!
You will recognize these words from Scripture:
Why should I take up my cross and follow Jesus? (Lk 9:23)
Why should I endure hardships like a good soldier? (2 Ti 2:3)
Why should I give up everything to follow Christ? (Lk 14:33)
Why should I offer my body as a living sacrifice to God? (Rom 12:1)
Why should I sacrifice to give generously to the poor? (Lk 12:32)
Why should I give up my leisure time to be in church with God’s people? (Heb 10:25)
Why should I seek first the kingdom of God? (Mt 6:33)
Because “In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or 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.
By what vision of the future do you live your life? Do you plan no further than the next party or holiday or vacation? Do you plan no further than a career move, a new house or an early retirement? Or do you live your life around the future that God says is ours?
You can put up with anything in the present, if you are confident of the ultimate outcome in the future. And you will invest everything to gain the future you envision and prize most.
What future do you prize? More importantly, what future can you count on? Abraham was told by God to go to a distant land, which God would give to him and his descendants. Abraham went, he lived there but the land was still not his. He was again promised that his descendants would inherit the land but Abraham was childless. God’s promised him a son and Abraham laughed. But he obeyed! Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son and he obeyed, believing that God would still somehow fulfill the promise. But Abraham died not seeing the promised fulfilled. But he died believing. Why?
Hebrews 11:8-10 “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Abraham saw the future and he lived by it.
A couple of years ago I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The year I graduated from high school, Nelson Mandela was put in prison in South Africa because of his fight against racial discrimination. He stayed in prison for 28 years! By the time he was released, I had completed my education, married and had three children, purchased homes, witnessed the Vietnam war, the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. Life went on while Mandela endured the isolation and brutality of prison.
For 28 years he waited, saw visitors ever so seldom, and learned that his home was taken, his wife imprisoned and his children virtually orphaned. He suffered deeply. Occasionally he was offered freedom if he would abandon his quest for freedom for the black people of South Africa.
He went on to write; “Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty.” (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 390, 444, 416.
Maybe the martyred missionary Jim Elliot spoke even more to the point: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Elliot was speaking of the one cause, one future, that is more necessary and more worthy. The Apostle Paul said it this way: Philippians 3:8,13-14 “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
And later in what could be a summary of the intent of 1 Peter 1:3-5, Paul would write: 2 Timothy 1:12 “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” What are you confident of? What future do you see that’s worth dying for? What future do you know that is worth living for?