Many families have Easter traditions. Perhaps you have a family dinner or Easter Egg hunt. I hope worship is a regular Easter tradition in your family. I remember as a kid looking for Easter baskets that were generally hidden somewhere in the house. These are fun times and such traditions build cherished memories in our hearts.
The danger of our Easter traditions is that sometimes the traditions overshadow the real message of Easter. We start to think that Easter is about eggs, rabbits, candy, and family gatherings, rather than a celebration of one of the most significant events in human history: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
This morning I take you to the words of Peter. Peter was a bold and impulsive follower of Christ. He denied the Lord three times when Jesus was arrested, but later was an eyewitness to the resurrected Lord and was restored to fellowship by Jesus. He became one of the most fervent heralds of the resurrection of Jesus. Peter writes his letters as a changed man. In this text from 1 Peter 1:3-9 talks about our Living Hope. In the Greek this is all one sentence (it has been broken up for ease of understanding in translations)! Peter is excited as he writes.
THE BASIS OF OUR HOPE
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. (1 Peter 1:3)
The first thing we see is the basis of our living hope. Notice several things. First, Our Living Hope is a gift from God. Peter says it was “in his great mercy” that we have new birth. Understand the significance of this. Peter doesn’t say,
It was due to our goodness
our religious actions
or our superior knowledge
We are given new life in Christ due to HIS mercy. If you were driving a little faster than the signs say you should drive (though I know none of you would do that) and a policeman pulled you over, justice would demand that you be given a speeding ticket. Injustice (the opposite of justice) would be if you were driving the speed limit, and were pulled over and given a ticket. Mercy is being let off with a warning. Mercy is being spared the justice we deserve.
There is a story about a Pastor who was a single parent with two children. The two kids were sitting in the front of the church while the Pastor led worship. The kids started to act up so the Pastor called them to come up on the platform (dum-de-dum-dum). The kids came up and dad took them back behind the front of the sanctuary. Everyone assumed that he was taking them back there to spank them or to discipline them in some sort. What he did, was take them back to a plate of cookies someone had brought as a gift. He gave them each a cookie and then brought them back out to the sanctuary. The Pastor explained that he had just illustrated the concept of mercy.
That’s what salvation is: God’s mercy to sinful people. We deserve God’s wrath. No matter who you are, you have offended and disregarded God in the way you live your life.
Do you remember the book Lord of the Flies? It’s a story about shipwrecked boys who create their own society (kind of like the TV show LOST) and end up brutalizing each other. They came to accept brutality as normal because they were cut off from civilization. They gradually forgot what is right. What they were doing appeared normal and right because the standard had been forgotten. The same thing has happened to us. People are cut off from God and have lost a sense of how abhorrent sin really is. We live in a sinful world, so even our sin sometimes seems virtuous.
You (and I) deserve to spend eternity apart from God. We have drifted far from God’s standard of holiness. Instead of casting us aside (as we deserve), God in His great mercy, offers us new life through Jesus Christ.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Do you know what this means? It means you can be a child of God
Even though you have committed a crime
Even though you haven’t been a very nice person
Even though you don’t know a lot about God
Even though you have failed again and again
Even though your relationship has fallen apart
Even though you wouldn’t want anyone to know the sordid secrets of your life
We become a child of God not because of our performance, but because of his mercy and grace.
Our Living Hope involves a radical transformation. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope.” The idea of new birth suggests a new beginning, a fresh start, a radical transformation. I suspect we cannot plumb the full depths of that phrase. However, what we do know is this: it at least means that a true and lasting change takes place in the life of the one who is a child of God.
It’s easy to forget this fact. It is easy to think that we become a child of God because we say a certain prayer, or get baptized, or even have an emotional experience. None of those things are true. It is easy to think of eternal life as just something that happens when we die. In truth, it is something that happens the moment we truly turn to Jesus as our Savior and allow God’s Spirit to live inside of us.
American Idol is a TV phenomena. You don’t become the next “American Idol” because you go to a tryout. You don’t win the competition because of your good intentions or your strong desire to win. Those things are needed, but there are lots of people who do both those things who don’t get past the first interview. You win the competition, because of your talent. It is because of what is IN you.
In the same way, asking Christ to be your Savior and following God’s command to be baptized and to be a part of a church are necessary ingredients to discipleship. However, they are not an end in themselves. You can do those things and not enter into God’s kingdom. The true believer is the one who has been transformed by God’s mercy. They are people who have been “made new”. They have experienced a radical transformation of their heart.
Our Living Hope is anchored to the Resurrection of Jesus. Peter says we are born into a “living hope”. This is not wishful thinking (like, “I hope I win the lottery”); The word “hope” denotes a “sure confidence”. The symbol for hope is an anchor, not pixie dust! Our hope is like an anchor that holds us steady in the storm.
The resurrection is the key to this hope. Without the resurrection of Jesus, he would be nothing more than a man who taught powerful truth. We would not know whether He was God or just a man who thought He was God. Steve Brown writes,
Peter says, in essence, “Look, your hope is alive because Jesus is alive. He rose from the dead. I was there. I saw the empty tomb, the risen Lord, I know. I touched Him, I ate with Him, and I walked with Him at that breakfast by the Sea of Galilee.” It’s true. The soft sound of sandaled feet is as real today as it was in the first century. [Brown, JUMPING HURDLES p. 37]
The resurrection means that Jesus was who He said he was. His offer of eternal life is more than those infomercials that peddle home remedies or tell you how to get rich in three easy steps: they sound good, but do not accomplish what they promise. The resurrection shows that our sin CAN be forgiven. We CAN have new life. There IS life beyond the grave. There IS a God who knows we are here and cares about our lives.
One commentator wrote,
The resurrection of Christ offers not only hope in the next life: it offers hope in this life. Pain, fear, frustration, uncertainty, loneliness, and discouragement are all real and debilitating physical and emotional experiences. The reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, through which we have present and eternal hope, is equally real but in no way debilitating. Because of the resurrection we are not helpless, for we have a risen Priest; we are not hopeless for we hear the risen Prophet; and we are not worthless, for we serve the risen King.
THE NATURE OF OUR LIVING HOPE
Peter wants us to understand what a great blessing we have because of the mercy of God which is activated through the resurrection.
into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 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. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. [vv.4-6]
Peter tells us that this new life that is ours through the resurrection is not just a negative benefit (being forgiven of our sin) it is a positive: we are given an inheritance from God.
When we think of an inheritance we think about a gift from a family member or friend that may be property, money, or various items of value. In each case it is a treasure that we did not earn. Peter tells us that when we put our trust in the resurrected Jesus we are transformed and given an inheritance that is superior to anything we could receive in this world. We are given an inheritance from God!
It Is Imperishable Peter says this inheritance from God (which involves what is given us in this life and in the life to come) is not like the treasures of the world. In the world, our possessions lose their value, they rust, they break, and they go bad. The cars need to be replaced, the home needs to be repaired, and the trinkets will tarnish. Many people sell their souls to get these kinds of treasures. Jesus said,
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [Matthew 6:19-21]
The inheritance that is ours in Christ is an inheritance that will never lose it’s value, will never seem insignificant, and will never be overshadowed by something “new and better”. It is undefiled which means it has no dark side. It is pure, beautiful, and will never ever diminish in its beauty.
This treasure is new life. It is life beyond he grave. It is life now as a child of God. It is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working in you and through you. It is all the riches of Heaven made available to you.
It is kept Peter tells us that this inheritance is kept in Heaven for you. It is safe, it is secure. You may remember the commercial for Allstate Insurance. There are two big hands with a little house in them. The tagline is: “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” Peter wants us to know that we are in good hands with God.
We are told that our inheritance is guarded by God. It is shielded by God’s power. The word translated “shielded” is actually a military term. It means that God stands sentinel over us all our days. Our inheritance is sure. It will not diminish, it will not be stolen, it will not be given away, it cannot be taken from us.
It leads to joy Peter said,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (v.6)
Peter doesn’t say life won’t be difficult. He says we will have tough times. In fact he goes on to say that the trials of our lives are the very things that build character and strength in us. The strongest believers are those who have learned to trust Him even in the storms.
In this context though, don’t miss the words, “in this you greatly rejoice”. As believers, we have every reason to be joyful; no matter what the world throws at us.
- We know we are loved
- We know we are forgiven
- We know we are on God’s side
- We know that every circumstance is working for our good
- We know that we will live even though we die
- We know that we will spend eternity in Heaven
- We know that Heaven will be more incredible than anything our mind can imagine
- We know that we have God’s Spirit inside of us guiding us and empowering us
- We know that we will see those believers who have died, again
The resurrection of Jesus Christ transforms the drudgery of purposeless living into life where moments matter for eternity. The resurrection gives us a reason to get back up when we fall, to give thanks when life is painful, to keep going when we are tired, and to rejoice in the Lord always.
There are two remaining questions. First, Do you have this living hope? Have you put your trust and faith in Christ? Have you admitted your rebellion and sin and thrown yourself at the mercy of the Savior?
I’m glad you are here today. I appreciate those who are regular members of the Union Church. However, attending church, learning information and trying to do good is not enough. We need God’s mercy to save us and to change our hearts.
If this has never happened in your life you can begin this process with a prayer as simple as: Lord, I know that I am lost without your mercy. I put my faith and confidence in the Jesus who rose from the dead.” Throw yourself on the mercy of the Judge! Take hold of the promise found in Jesus Christ. Allow God’s grace to make you a new person.
And there is a second question, “Are you living in light of this hope?” Do you rejoice at your inheritance? Do you find yourself filled with gratitude to our great God?
In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. . . . Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
Easter calls us to evaluate our focus. Is your focus on this world or is it on the next? Are you swallowed up by life’s problems or are you rejoicing in God’s solution to those problems in Christ? Are you working for the earthly inheritance which will perish and fade or are you seeking the eternal inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade? Are you living your life trusting in your power, or His? Is your life kind of “blah” or is it filled with the joy of the Lord? Are you overwhelmed by the pressures of life or are you resting in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus?
Easter calls us to lift our focus. It challenges us to remember the living hope that is the anchor for our lives. It is the hope that gives us strength, confidence, and which takes away our fear. Please, don’t miss the real message of Easter.
Thank you for making worship at the Union Church a part of your Easter tradition. I hope you have been reminded that we celebrate Easter not because of our traditions but because this event in history has changed the world. It has changed us. And it has changed us forever.