1 PETER #11: DELICIOUS WORDS

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God’s Word is life to us. Without it, we die spiritually. Though it takes time and energy, when we regularly read the Bible and ask God to speak to us through it, it becomes delicious spiritual food to us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 11

1 PETER #11: 1 PETER 2:1-3

Last time, Peter laid the foundations for authentic Christian community: Truth, and Love. Every Christian is called to be involved in the lives of at least a few other believers in authentic love and the truth of God’s word. He continues the same theme in these verses. (Remember, chapter and verse markings are only there to help us navigate around the Bible. They are not part of the Word of God, but were added almost a thousand years later). Peter begins by describing some of the implications of truth and love. If we are to be in Christian community, we can’t have malice toward one another. We cannot deceive one another, or regularly practice hypocrisy, or envy, or slander. These things destroy both Truth and Love, and they make real Christian community impossible.

All of that is a great example of how our beliefs are connected to our behavior. This isn’t a list of dos and don’ts; it’s not another set of laws to follow. But as sure as night follows day, you cannot Love other Christians in Truth if you are nasty or mean toward them, or deceive them, or live as a hypocrite, or envy, or slander them. Our behavior naturally lines up with what we really believe, and what we really think is important. Our behavior does not save us, but our behavior does tell us how much our faith is having an impact on our lives. If we cannot see any impact at all of faith on our behavior, then we need to revisit faith first. Trying to change our behavior without changing our beliefs, or what is important to us, is doomed to failure.

Peter revisits the truth aspect in verses 2-3: He tells us to crave God’s word like newborn infants crave their mother’s milk. By the way, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews, also talk about “spiritual milk.” But both of them describe it as only for spiritual babies, and they rebuke various people for still needing milk when they should be eating solid food. (1 Corinthians 3:2, and Hebrews 5:12-13). Don’t let this confuse you – there is not some universal spiritual meaning for the word milk. Even within the Bible, writers do use the same words in different ways, sometimes, and they use the same words to create different word-pictures. Paul and Hebrews are using the picture of babies and milk to make points about spiritual immaturity. However, right here in our passage, Peter is using it in a different way – to show that we are in desperate need of God’s Word, and we should crave it, and that we need it in order to grow.

This is a powerful picture. In the first place, in those days, there was no such thing as infant formula. A baby needed mother’s milk, plain and simple. Without it, the baby would die. Milk was life to the baby. So, God’s Word is life to us. Without it, we die in our sins. Paul explains it like this:

13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”
14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “LORD, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

(Romans 10:13-17, NLT)

We have to have the Word in order to have faith. And Peter adds that we need it “so that by it you may grow up into your salvation.” Many other verses also explain that even after we initially have come to Jesus, we need the Word to develop and sustain our faith.

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

4 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:14-17, HCSB)

12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.

(Hebrews 4:12-13, CSB)

We are only one quarter of the way through Peter’s letter, and we can see that God’s Word – that is the Bible – is a major theme. That’s because it is a major theme to Christianity as a whole. Without God’s word, we have no truth, no reality. With God’s word, when we trust it, we have salvation, and instruction about how to know God better, and how to live as we were intended to live. If you are struggling in your Faith, or struggling to live as a Christian, the very first question I have is this: what role does God’s Word play in your life? Do you read it regularly? Do you ask God for help in understanding when you read it? Do you seek to live by it? Are your values and priorities formed by what you read in the Bible, or by other things? In short: Do you regularly feed your soul on God’s Word?

If you are serious about God’s Word, but you don’t really know how to read it properly, or understand it, PLEASE reach out to me! We can have an email conversation, if that would help you. Or, if you are interested, I have written a book to help regular people understand the Bible, called: Who Cares About the Bible? It doesn’t cost that much, but, in case anyone thinks I’m pushing this in order to make $1.75 (the amount I get, if you buy a copy), I will give you a free copy, if you ask for it. It is also available in ebook form. If you want a free copy, contact me. Or, you can buy it from amazon.com.

Peter adds another thought about God’s word. He says: if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:3, ESV) This a theme that recurs throughout the Bible – that as we engage in faith, and particularly as we receive the Word of God, it brings a sweetness and joy to our souls:

8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

(Psalms 34:8, ESV)

When Ezekiel was called by God to become a prophet, God gave him a special vision involving His Word:

1 He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find here. Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. 3 “Son of man,” he said to me, “feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving you.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.

(Ezekiel 3:1-3, CSB)

The scroll, is of course, a pictorial representation of God’s Word. When he ingested God’s word, when he took it into his soul, it tasted sweet to Ezekiel. Jeremiah had a similar experience:

16 Your words were found, and I ate them.
Your words became a delight to me
and the joy of my heart,
for I bear your name,
LORD God of Armies.

(Jeremiah 15:16, CSB)

The writer of Psalm 119 felt exactly the same way:

102 I have not turned from Your judgments,
for You Yourself have instructed me.
103 How sweet Your word is to my taste —
sweeter than honey in my mouth.

(Psalms 119:102-103, HCSB)

Let me put this all together by telling you what happened this very morning. I was doing my normal Bible reading – in which I read through a book of the Bible, a little bit each day. Currently, the book I’m reading is Proverbs. I prayed briefly before I started – something like: “Lord, I need to hear from you right now. What do you want to say to me?”

Then, I started reading from where I left off yesterday. Here’s what I read:

11 I am teaching you the way of wisdom;
I am guiding you on straight paths.
12 When you walk, your steps will not be hindered;
when you run, you will not stumble.
13 Hold on to instruction; don’t let go.
Guard it, for it is your life.

Proverbs 4:11-13

This verse tells me about wisdom. I know the historical context, and I know the context of the verses, because I read the previous chapter yesterday. I know that in general, these verses are telling God’s people to pursue the wisdom that comes from God, which, actually, goes along well with this sermon I am working on. That’s all very great. But this morning, God made this word living and active to me. As I read this with a heart of faith, a heart that said, “I want to hear from God,” these words became God’s word to me, today. It was as if the words in Proverbs were addressed right to me. It felt like God was saying:

“Tom, I am pleased with you. I am here. I am teaching you. I am guiding you. Your spiritual steps will not be hindered, your way is clear. I am bringing you deeper into my Life, my ways. You are on the right path, I have given you wisdom, and will give you more. Don’t be worried – continue on this path. I am pleased with you.”

It’s hard to describe exactly what it means to me, but the main point is this: I felt like God spoke to me directly and personally. He imparted his favor and love to me through the words of the Bible. It was food and drink for my soul; it was sustaining substance for my spiritual life.

I have actually read those verses in Proverbs many times. Certainly, I’ve read the entire book of Proverbs at least four times, or more. But today, verses that I have read before became living and active. The Holy Spirit applied them to me, personally in a fresh way. What I heard this morning was not the universal meaning of those verses for all people and all time. What I heard was God’s Living Word to me, for today.

I have experienced this sweetness, this “taste of God,” many times in my life through studying the Bible. Lest you think that means you need to become a Bible scholar to achieve it, let me say that I experienced it first when I was only a teenager, as I tried, for the first time, to seriously engage with what I read in the Bible. I continued to experience it as a college student. In other words before I could have been called a “Bible scholar” in any meaningful sense, God used His Word to let me “taste and see” that He is good. Even today, what I received from God was not about intellectual understanding, but about receiving His Living Word in faith.

So, if you are a teenager, with no college education, God can still give you tastes of His goodness if you engage with the Bible. If you are an adult with no college education, the same thing applies.

It isn’t about us knowing a lot, but rather, it happens when we genuinely want to know God better, and we seek that knowledge through His Word, and through the community of believers. It happens when we read the Bible with faith that God is indeed imparting His life to us through it.

I invite you, too, to immerse yourself in God’s Word so that you can taste and see that He is good!

1 PETER #10: THE TWO ESSENTIALS OF THE CHURCH – LOVE AND TRUTH.

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The two foundations of Christian community are truth and love. Truth without love does not reflect God’s nature, and often turns people off. Love without truth ends up not being real. It provides affirmation without actually being loving. In Christ, we find the perfect balance of both truth and love.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 10

1 Peter #10. 1 Peter 1:22-25

These verses provide us with the two essential foundations of what it means to live in community with other Christians. Often, we don’t realize that being part of a church is, according to the Bible, the same thing as being in community with other Christians. I don’t mean we have to live in the same neighborhood, or start a commune. But properly speaking, churches are gatherings of Christians who are committed to one another in Love and in Truth. These are the two things Peter addresses here.

He starts with love. In the first place, there is a group of people that we should differentiate from all others: those who have been purified by obedience to the truth. It means those who have accepted the truth about God and Jesus Christ in faith, and who submit to that truth in the way we live our lives. In short, love begins in the family of God: our first call, after we have begun to love God, is love our fellow Christians.

I know that some of you will get hung up on the way Peter words things here. The ESV reads: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” That makes it sound like we are the ones who have purified ourselves, and we’ve done it by obeying. First, the Greek word “obedience” carries a different set of ideas with it than our English term. One way to describe it might be: “listening attentively, with the intent to act on what is heard.” It is also very much related to submission, or compliance. So the idea is, we have heard the truth, and our intention is to act in accordance with what we have heard. We submit to the truth we have heard.

Second, we need to remember to interpret individual verses according to the whole teaching of the Bible. Therefore, we should not take it to mean that we have somehow made ourselves holy, or acceptable to God, by what we have done. We know from other, more clear verses, that this cannot be the case. It is God who justifies us, calls us, and purifies us. Any attempt to make ourselves holy is doomed to failure (See Galatians 2:16 & 3:10; Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 5:1-8 & 8:33-34 if you are not sure about this). For Peter’s point here, I’ll give you “Tom’s Explanatory Translation”:

Since you all have aligned yourselves with the reality (about God and Jesus Christ), submitting to that reality has purified you. You have brothers and sisters who have also been purified in this way, therefore, you must love one another like a good family; in fact, love one another sacrificially, with unwavering commitment.

I’ve said it before, and I will continue to repeat it: after loving God, our next priority as Christians is to love each other. Too many Christians seem to forget that the command of God is, in the first place, specifically about loving other Christians. It is not that we should ignore or hate people who aren’t believers, but rather, that we cannot effectively love those who aren’t Christians if we have not learned to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Love is a unique thing in that you actually develop more when you give it away. In other words, it is not like there is a finite amount of love, and if you love your fellow Christians, there won’t be enough for the world. No, our love for the world (people who don’t know Jesus) is supposed to overflow from our love for one another. In fact, this is a reflection of the love of God Himself. God, who is one being, exists in three Persons. The Father loves the Son and Spirit, and the Son loves the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son. All of the love that God has for the world – that amazing love we talk about all the time – is merely the overflow, the excess, you might say, that comes out of the love between the Persons of God. So, in the same way, we are to love our fellow Christians first, and when we truly do that, it will overflow into love for the world. Contrary to some thinking, loving the world before loving other Christians does not convince the world. Jesus himself made this very clear:

34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

(John 13:34-35, God’s Word version)

The thing that convinces the world is not that we are trying to love them. No, it is our love for each other that says volumes to non-Christians. The nature of our love for each other makes us open to, and eager to find, new people with which to fellowship. But after loving God, our love must begin within His family. John reminded Christians of this in his first letter:

9 The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

(1 John 2:9-11, HCSB)

Now, this last passage is worded very strongly, but we should remember a couple things. First, love is not a feeling – it is a commitment to value another. We can commit to value someone else even when we don’t really feel like it. Secondly, I believe that John’s words above are intended as a diagnosis, more than a prescription. What I mean is, if we are truly trusting Jesus and loving God, it will result in love for other believers. If, on the other hand, we have contempt for our fellow Christians, that is a symptom that helps us diagnose a problem. If we don’t love our fellow Christians, the likely explanation is that we have not actually received the grace of Jesus Christ. The answer is not to try harder, or pretend to be loving. Instead, we need to examine our relationship with God himself.

I want to say this, also. When we make love into something too general, or we turn it into a kind of nice idea, it loses the force of real love. I am not asking you to love a bunch of Christians you have never met. Love the ones you know. Concentrate on loving the Christians with whom you have regular fellowship – for instance, those in your house church, or small group.

If you happen to be in a large church, you probably need to begin by finding a smaller group of Christians with whom you connect regularly. The kind of love that Peter is talking about involves actual, close, human contact. It involves taking care of one another when there are physical needs.

It also means being genuine with one another. When Peter writes about sincere love, the actual word used refers to masks worn by actors. We are supposed to take off our “masks” when we are with our Christian community. We need to be real with one another. Because of that loving each other will sometimes involve the messiness of dealing with each other’s foibles and weaknesses – and our own. This love is not supposed to be theoretical – it is practical. It is “doing life together.”

Let’s look now at the second essential part of Christian community: Truth. In the first place, it is only when we align ourselves with truth that we are able to love. We became part of God’s family through hearing the truth, and submitting to what we have heard, with the intention of living accordingly. Without truth, love is fake. Without THE Truth, our relationships with each other are not based on a solid foundation.

Peter explains that our love is based on the fact that we are born again through the truth of God’s living Word. Here again, by the way, is an affirmation that we do not some how impart holiness into ourselves – we are brought to spiritual life (born again) by God’s action, not our own. We also have Peter explaining the eternal nature of God’s living Word.

Many Christians call the Bible “God’s Word.” I am among them. I have shared before how it is unique among the world’s religious books, and, in fact, unique among all the books in the world. Of course the Bible is really like a whole shelf of books. It has been repeatedly verified in its historical details, to the point where it is the most reliable ancient document in existence for every period that it covers. On the other hand, no archaeological discovery has ever contradicted a historical detail in the Bible. In fact, my wife Kari (not knowing I was taking this particular tack for this sermon) just emailed me an article about how Biblical texts are actually helping scientists learn more about the earth’s magnetic field. In the article, I found this quote:

This isn’t the first time the Bible’s accuracy has been vindicated, of course. The Old Testament predicted the existence of ancient groups like the Hittites long before anyone discovered evidence of their culture. Its description of the assassination of the same Assyrian king Sennacherib matches the one his son, Esarhaddon, provides in his records. At the ruins of Jericho, many archeologists believe there is evidence of a sudden structural collapse, which would align with how the book of Joshua describes the city’s destruction.

Of course, many mysteries remain about how the many pieces of the archeological record fit with the Biblical one. But in the words of archeologist and Jewish scholar Nelson Gluek, “[It] may be clearly stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a single Biblical reference.” Yet, “scores of archeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”

(https://www.christianpost.com/voices/the-bibles-accuracy-vindicated-again.html, accessed 1/18/22)

The scholar quoted above, Nelson Gluek, is certainly neither the first, nor the last, to make that observation. The whole article above is worth a read, but please finish this message first! 😊

About two years ago, I was reading some of the writings of the early church “fathers.” These were the next few generations of leaders after the apostles. I was struck by something when I read the writing of Clement of Rome. Clement is actually mentioned in the Bible, in Philippians 4:3. He was known to be one of the companions and co-workers of the apostle Paul. He was perhaps the first, and eldest, of the “early fathers.” Not long after Paul’s death, he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth. Much of the letter is very good, and encouraging. But at one point, Clement takes several paragraphs to describe the legend of the phoenix – a bird, he reports, that lives for five hundred years. When it dies (goes the story) a new bird grows in its place from a worm that feeds on the decayed remains of the old. The new bird carries the bones of its parent, says Clement, to a city in Egypt.

Now, while he is merely using it as an illustration, it is clear that Clement believes the legend to be true – in fact, he uses it as in illustration of the resurrection! Obviously, it is not true. If Clement’s letter had become part of the Bible, I would have to admit that, at least in that respect, the Bible was not reliable, and in fact, I think it would have caused some people to question the historical truth of the resurrection.

Think about the situation. Luke was a companion of the apostle Paul, a well known and respected leader throughout the early Christian church, almost of the same generation as the apostles. Luke’s writing became a part of scripture. Mark (John-Mark) was also a companion of Paul, younger, and his gospel was also included in the Bible. Clement was a companion of Paul, a well known leader in the church. And yet, Clement’s letter was never, at any time in history, considered part of the Bible, the Word of God. Why not? Externally, he seems just as qualified as Luke or Mark. My take is that God intervened to prevent something that was patently untrue from being part of his Bible.

Now, you might say that was just a lucky exclusion. But if Clement believed that legend, it is quite possible that others of the first generation of Christians believed such things. It may even be that the apostle Paul himself believed it. Even so, that legend never made it into the Bible. There may have been other false things, like the legend of the phoenix, but different, that the first Christians believed. Perhaps even the apostles believed them. Yet God somehow prevented any of that sort of thing from becoming part of scripture. In fact, when you think about it, it is remarkable that a document written two thousand years ago is absolutely free from those types of false myths and legends. Luck doesn’t seem adequate to explain it.

If you go back to Old Testament times, it is certain that almost everyone believed that the earth was flat. There are Psalms that use imagery that suggests a flat earth. But those Psalms are not teaching that the world is flat – they are merely using poetic images to describe the greatness of God’s creation in terms that everyone in those days would understand. The verses themselves are not about the shape of the world, but God’s greatness. So, in fact, there is no direct teaching in the bible that tells us the earth is flat. That alone is remarkable, unless we believe that God had a hand in the Bible.

By the way, if you are thinking that people went back later on and changed what the Bible said, you can forget it. I know some people think that, but it is the stuff of pure fantasy. Believing that is like believing… well, like believing the earth is flat. We simply know too much about how the Bible was formed, and when. If you want more information about how the Bible came to be, and why we can trust it, please pick up a copy of my book, Who Cares About the Bible, on Amazon.

Let’s get practical about God’s Word for a moment. Sometimes, submitting to the truth of the Bible means we must affirm certain truths that will make us unpopular. Now, I don’t mean we need to go out of our way to “drop truth bombs” on everyone. If someone has a large nose, you don’t have to go out of your way to point that out, even if it is true. However, there are some aspects of obedience to the truth that we must affirm; and some of them are difficult, and might make others angry at us.

For instance, the Bible is very clear that it is not acceptable for someone who has trusted Jesus to continue to live in a long-term pattern of sinful behavior. I’m not talking here about someone who struggles with the same sin, over and over. That person is struggling against sin, which shows that their faith is alive and active. They are continually repenting, and seeking God’s forgiveness. But I’m talking about someone who has said, “I don’t accept what the Bible says about how I want to live. I’m going to do my own thing, and I believe I am a good Christian anyway.” The person who lives like that for a long time is endangering their faith, and it is our responsibility, as fellow believers, to encourage them to stop.

1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

(Galatians 6:1-3, NLT)

We are not too important to ignore the word of God! We all must submit to it, and sometimes, the most loving thing means sharing a hard truth with a  fellow Christian. A Psalmist shares the perspective of a wise Christian, when it comes to being told the truth about sin:

4 Don’t let me drift toward evil// or take part in acts of wickedness.//Don’t let me share in the delicacies//of those who do wrong.//5 Let the godly strike me!//It will be a kindness!
If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it.

(Psalms 141:4-5, NLT)

The writer of this psalm is pointing out that if others correct him, and prevent him from drifting further into sin, it is actually a kindness. Telling the truth in that way is an act of love. He prays for the wisdom to remember that. James, brother of Jesus, agrees:

19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

(James 5:19-20, NLT)

Some people who call themselves Christians have begun to actively deny parts of the Bible. It is not loving to tell them that they are right, when in fact, they are not.

Imagine you go to a doctor because you have a strange lump. The doctor knows you, and he knows that if he says you have cancer and need treatment, it will upset you. You might even lash out in anger at him. So, instead, he tells you what you most want to hear: “It’s nothing to worry about.”

But many months later, more symptoms appear. You go to another doctor, and she says: “I’m so sorry, but you have cancer. If we had caught it sooner, it would not have been a problem, but now, it is too late for any treatment to be effective. You need to get your affairs in order, because you don’t have much time left.”

Which doctor is more loving – the one who was truthful, saying things that are hard to hear, or the one that lied to you so that you wouldn’t feel bad? Obviously, we believe the truthful doctor was more loving. In fact, the untruthful doctor would have, for all intents and purposes, destroyed your life by failing to tell the truth.

There are Christians who seem delighted to tell people that they are sinners, and they might burn in hell. Frankly, I’m not sure that all such people are real Christians. For instance, the infamous Westboro Baptist Church is not actually a Christian church, but a cult that denies many of the teachings of Jesus. But there are others, within real churches, who are sinning by delighting in bringing bad news.

Even so, real Christians are called to be ready, at times, to warn people who call themselves Christians about what could happen to them if they continue to ignore God. People who don’t claim to be believers are in an entirely different kind of category, and I don’t have space to deal with that here. However, if someone claims to be following Jesus, but is actually ignoring Him, that person is in a unique kind of spiritual danger. They might think they are healthy, while all the while spiritual cancer is eating away at them, untreated. The most loving thing for a fellow Christian to do, is to tell the truth about what the Bible says.

Truth (especially the truth of the Bible) and Love are the essential foundations for any Christian community, any church. When we have only “love,” without truth, we find that while we might be accepting, we aren’t necessarily loving. All we have is meaningless affirmation and emotion, that often does not help, and sometimes even hurts, one another. If we have “truth” without love, we can become hard and cold, and we stop reflecting the loving heart of God, and we drive people away from Jesus unnecessarily.

When we have both truth and love, they balance one another, and they lead us to maturity.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

(Ephesians 4:14-16, NLT)

1 PETER #9: THE HERO OF MY LIFE’S STORY

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Jesus was foreknown from before the foundation of the world. That means that God knew ahead of time all of the pain and suffering that would occur after he created the world, but he did it anyway. He did it for love. The fact that Jesus was planned from the beginning also means that He is the Hero in the story of my life. My life is here to show the glory of Jesus to the world. This is true of all of us who have trusted him.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 9

1 Peter #9.  1 Peter 1:17-21

Last time in our 1 Peter series, we talked about what it means to live in the fear of the Lord. Among other things, it means we do not need to fear anything else at all. Next, Peter reminds us that our salvation does not come from perishable things, like silver or gold, but rather from the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

This is one of those places that we might miss if we read too quickly. I think most of us do not think of silver or gold as perishable. To get literal about it, there are Roman gold coins from the time Peter wrote still in existence. That doesn’t seem very “perishable” to me. In fact, to get even more technical and literal, even though it is rare to find a two-thousand-year-old gold coin, the actual gold that was used in Roman coins is still almost certainly in circulation today, one way or another. What I mean is, over the centuries, people who had gold coins, or acquired them in some way, melted them down for other purposes. Nobody just throws gold away, and two-thousand year old gold is just as valuable as gold that was mined yesterday. The same goes for silver. Even though, unlike gold, silver tarnishes, it does not lose its value, and it does not cease to be silver, no matter how much time passes.

It is almost certain that Peter knows all this. In those days, people used coins made of actual precious metals (and some less precious, like copper). They were quite familiar with the properties of those metals. Peter certainly knows that fire does not destroy gold, but only refines it (1:7). So, why does he call gold and silver “perishable?”

In the first place, he knows that most people would think like me, and say, “wait a minute. Gold doesn’t really perish.” He’s getting our attention, and saying in comparison to the preciousness of Jesus Christ, yes, it is perishable.

Second, he knows that, no matter how long they may actually last on earth, the value of gold and silver to human beings does not last. To be very direct about it: the moment I die, gold becomes completely worthless to me. I might spend my life amassing millions. When I die, it will mean nothing to me. Most of us spend our lives desiring, and often pursuing, more money. When it comes to the end, however,  the amount of money you have is meaningless. It can’t help you when you stand before the throne of God. The moment you die, it is absolutely worthless.

Third, the value of gold and silver is relative, not fixed. There is nothing absolute, or permanent about its value. A  huge, untapped gold mine might be discovered, and then suddenly gold could become as common as rocks, making it worthless. Or humanity might decide for some reason that they don’t care so much about gold anymore – after all, other metals are much more useful for making things. Gold is only worth something because people have decided it is. They could just as easily decide they don’t care about it anymore. This is even more true of paper and “electronic” money. Inflation is the process by which money becomes less valuable. It happens all the time, and, in fact, is happening in 2022, when I am writing this. You can’t trust money to remain valuable.

Finally, in comparison to the preciousness of Jesus Christ, gold and silver are like moldy bread. That is the message of these verses: that Jesus Christ is infinitely valuable, and through faith, we have a part in that infinite value. What we have in Jesus is the most precious thing in the universe, and it will remain the most precious thing in the universe for all time. Remember, we have a hope that can never perish, spoil, or fade.

Just a quick note about the first part of verse 18. Peter mentions that his readers were ransomed from the futile ways handed down from their forefathers. This statement makes it almost certain that at least some of the readers were Gentiles. Neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any New Testament writer, considers the heritage of the Jews to be “futile ways.” They all agree that the Jews did not recognize Jesus, who was the point of it all, but they are clear that the Old Testament scriptures point to Jesus, and that, taking into account that it is about Jesus, the Old Testament is a reliable guide to faith and life. Peter would never call the Old Testament, nor Jewish traditions, futile. He might have argued that people used those things in futile ways, but the things themselves have value.

Peter continues:

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:20-21

Here is a stunning truth, tossed out rather casually by Peter: Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. This sounds very theological, and so we often get a kind of glazed look in our eyes and move on. But it says something incredible about God.

Before He even began to create the cosmos, God knew that the humans he was going to create would turn against him, and reject Him. Before he spun the first light out of nothingness, he knew that we humans would create a massive mess of things, and bring death, and evil, and cruelty and horror into existence. Before anything at all existed (except for Him) he knew that he would enter a world of suffering; he knew that he himself would suffer a torturous death, and even go to a hell that had not yet been spawned, in order to save the creatures he was going to make. He knew it all long before it even began, before he put creation into motion.

And he created us anyway.

Knowing the horror that we would unleash by rebelling against him, God created a plan to neutralize our rebellion. He planned out ahead of time how he would defeat evil. That’s what Peter means when he says that Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. When Adam and Eve fell, and sinned, in the Garden of Eden, God was not taken by surprise. His plan was already in place.

Now, why would God do this?

We Christians believe that God is one being, but that he is a Three-Person Being. The three Persons of God love one another with an eternal, infinite love. In fact, of all the worlds’ religions and philosophies, Christianity alone can legitimately show that love is at the core of God’s nature, and therefore, love is the foundation of the universe.

Because there is no limit to God’s love, he chose to make creatures who could share in his love. Now, love must always involve a choice. Imagine you could create a person who would love you unconditionally, no matter what. If you slapped this person in the face, he would adore you. If you mistreated him, ignored him or threw him out, he would still adore you. There would be no choice.  He would have to love you, because you created him without any say in the matter. Now, for the first few days, it might be kind of fun to have someone like that. But after awhile you would realize that this person actually has no will of his own. He doesn’t love you for your own sake. He doesn’t appreciate your good qualities, or forgive your foibles. This person simply does what he is programmed to do. In fact, after a while we would realize that if there is no choice in the matter, then it is not actually love. Real love involves a choice.

Now, if God is ultimate goodness and love, the choice against God has to be a choice for evil. So, as soon as God created angels and humans who were capable of love, he also created the possibility that evil would come into being. And, of course, it did.

To put it simply: He planned from the beginning that he would make creatures who are capable of true love. Therefore, he had to take into account from the beginning that there would also be evil. Therefore, he also planned from the beginning that he would send Jesus Christ into the world in order to defeat evil without destroying love. And he did it all for us, so that we could love each other, and especially so we could love him.

There is another important implication of the fact that Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. It means that Jesus is the hero of the story. First, he is the hero of the grand salvation story found in the Bible. Second, Jesus is the hero in the story of my life, and the story of your life.

I don’t naturally think that way. I tend to think that the story of my life is about me. This leads me to act as if life is all about what I want, and what I need. Even if I devote myself to unselfish things, like my family, and the ministry of the gospel, I still look at it as if life is all about me. However, this way of thinking – that life is all about me – does not typically make me happy. It leaves me trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do. It leaves me trying to solve problems on my own. Even if I let Jesus enter the story of my life, if my life is still all about my own aims and goals, then it is up to me, ultimately, to figure things out. Jesus might help me (in this way of thinking), but the final responsibility for everything is still mine.

But Jesus was planned before the world began. Every person’s story is actually the story of what Jesus will do in and through their life. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the world-famous Sherlock Holmes novels. He made a very interesting choice in telling the stories. The action is narrated by a man called John Watson. We are told the story from the point of view of Watson’s life. To illustrate what I mean, it reads like: “I met Holmes at our club, and then I told him about the empty room,” and so on. You might say, it is the story of Watson’s life. However, the story is not about Watson. The hero of the story, and really, the main character, is not Watson, but Sherlock Holmes. Watson’s life, and his story, were designed by Conan-Doyle to show the greatness of another character: Sherlock Holmes. If we were to put it in theological terms, we might say that Watson’s life becomes a platform to give glory to Holmes.

In the same way, our own lives are meant to be a platform to show the greatness of Jesus Christ. The story is not about us. Yes, we see it from our own perspective, just as Watson sees things from his own perspective. But the real story of our lives is not about us; the real story is about the Hero, the One who was known from before the foundation of the world: Jesus Christ.

When I realize that my life is not telling my story, but rather, telling the story of Jesus, a lot of pressure is taken off me. I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to save the day, or move things forward. Jesus is the main character of my life’s story. Jesus is the hero. I’m a sidekick. We sidekicks are still important. Without Watson, the story of Sherlock Holmes would not have been told. In a similar way, God wants to tell a story about Jesus through my life. There is a story through my life that will bring glory to Jesus in a way that is different from the story told through someone else’s life. But I am not the point. I’m along for the ride, along to admire and trust the Hero, who was foreknown from before the foundation of the world.

Now, this sounds very wonderful and lofty, but what does it really mean: “Jesus is the hero of the story of my life?” Let’s get real. I was thinking about this just a few minutes ago, while my pain was starting to get worse. Some nights, when that happens, I’m looking at hours and hours of pure misery. I prayed without much hope, “OK, Jesus, since we’re talking about this, I need a hero to save me from the pain in this moment.”

I’m telling the truth when I say that within a few minutes, the pain stopped getting worse, and even backed off a little bit. But let’s keep it real. I have often prayed for relief, and received none. What then? What happens when the hero doesn’t save you?”

Here’s the truth: He has already saved us. Yes, I live a difficult life. But the end of the story was written before the beginning of time, space and matter. Jesus always planned to go through hell so that I only have to go through earth. I won’t be thrilled if my suffering lasts a few more decades, but a few decades is nothing compared to the eternal joy that awaits me, because the Hero has already won the final battle. For followers of Jesus, every defeat in this life is temporary – even death! Every moment of suffering will be overwhelmed by joy piled upon joy. The Bible fully acknowledges the reality of suffering in this mortal life. But the end of the story makes everything else more than worth it:

6 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. 18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.

(Romans 8:16-19, NLT)

So, recognizing that Jesus was foreknown from before the foundation of the earth, we can live a life of hope:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

CHRISTMAS 2021: THE WILD GOD

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Christmas 2021

Christmas Eve 2021. John 1:1-14

(if you are not listening, please read John 1:1-14 before the rest of the sermon. Use a standard translation, rather than “The Message”)

We have certain traditions, expectations and feelings about Christmas. As Christians, we know the picture that is supposed to be central: it’s a sweet scene. A young father and mother, a little baby, bathed in light and surrounded by gentle animals, and angels, and men who emit the strong fragrance of sheep.

The verses I’m using this time from the gospel of John are not traditional Christmas verses, but they are a true and legitimate description of the Christmas story. You see, sometimes, this peaceful, idyllic manger scene doesn’t seem to have much to do with what is actually going on with us. For instance, this has been a hard year for me. My chronic pain has only gotten worse. I’ve experienced deep, soul-crushing depression. The kind of year I’ve had is the kind of thing that can make you wonder if God really does love you, after all. I mean, I would never put anyone I loved through what God has allowed me to experience. Shoot, I wouldn’t even do these things to a stranger I cared nothing about. And I can easily think of about ten people I know personally who, I think, have it worse than me. If I applied myself, I’m sure I could think of many more. In other words, it’s been tough for a lot of people. It’s not hard to start wondering what God is up to. It’s not hard to picture the Christmas manger scene, and think, “So?”

But when I read the scripture, I see a God who is wild. He isn’t predictable, and he can’t be controlled. He does things we don’t expect. These verses in John tell the stunning story of the God who created the world entering his creation. We have rebelled, but he invaded this rebel planet. Only…he invades as a baby. That’s a little crazy. It seems that he’s been doing wild things like this from the very beginning. He separates a seventeen-year old rising-star from his family, and then lets him live first as a slave, and then as a prisoner, for years. Just when it seems like finally, God is going to rescue him, he lets him sit in prison for another few years. That’s the story of Joseph, at the end of Genesis, by the way.

Or, four hundred years later, after all kinds of trouble and hassle for everyone on all sides, God brings his chosen people out of Egypt. But, with the army of the Egyptians hard on their heels, he leads his people up to a dead end at the shore of the sea. That’s the story of the first part of Exodus.

Here’s another one: God chooses a sturdy teenage shepherd lad to be the next king of his people. The young man has a heart of gold, and a heart for God, and he is brave, strong, and a natural leader. So, of course, what happens next is that after a few victories, poor young David spends almost a decade running from his own people, hiding in caves, even living with his enemies for a while. That’s the story of King David, in case you didn’t pick that up.

He made the prophet Ezekiel sleep on only one side for six months (if you’ve ever had a shoulder issue, you’ll feel that one). He made Isaiah walk around naked in the middle of the city for a few days (first recorded nudist in history – but he didn’t’ want to be). Also during Isaiah’s life, we have Hezekiah, one of the best, most God-fearing Kings to live since the aforementioned David. Though he did everything he was supposed to, Hezekiah found himself surrounded by the most powerful and brutal army that the world had ever known at that point: the Assyrians, led by Emperor Sennacherib.

As long as we’re working our way through Biblical history, we might as well mention the people of God who were brought back to Jerusalem after a dark period of defeat and exile. They were led by people like Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel. At that point in history, it seemed like things were finally about to get back on track for the people of God. But then they were surrounded by powerful warlords who threatened them on all sides.

When we start to look at things in this light, it looks like God is kind of hard on those who are truly doing their best to follow him. We wouldn’t treat our faithful friends this way. When we find ourselves in hard times, at least we’re in good company with the saints of the Bible, but still, it’s a little rough to be doing our best to follow God and end up working on sermons at one AM because that’s the first time you’ve felt OK in forty-eight hours.

But now the meaning of that stable scene becomes relevant. God’s entry into a human body means that He himself has suffered, just as we do. He does not ask anything of us that He himself won’t do. And even more, because of what he did for us while in that human body, he is with us. In all our trials, he is with us. That’s one of the names for Jesus: Immanuel, which means “God is with us.”

I have an uncle who was an officer in Vietnam. Early on, he ordered one of his men to do something, and, to his horror, he saw the man killed, trying to carry out the order. He cared deeply for his men, and faced with the realities of war, he decided to make it his practice to never ask his men to do something that he himself wasn’t willing to do. He backed up that principle with action, and was wounded three times, most likely doing things he could have asked his men to do.

I think, in that respect, my uncle was reflecting the character of the God who made him. God does indeed allow his people to walk into some dark places and deep holes. But God never sends us where he himself will not go, and, in fact, he goes with us.

Two thousand years ago, he proved it beyond any doubt. God did not create some system for human beings to reconnect with him and then leave us to work it out. He did not create the system and explain it. He did not even simply send a messenger to explain things. He himself came to be with us, and He himself became the way. The way is not a system, it is a person. God himself took on human flesh, and faced what we humans face.

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

(Hebrews 2:14-18, NLT)

So, he came into the world, and experienced the same sufferings and trials that he sometimes allows us to face. He isn’t up there, all remote and mighty. No. He never asks us to do remotely as much as he himself has done. He didn’t enter the world to give us warm feelings in the early winter. No. He came to suffer with us, and then to suffer for us, so that he could give us his presence always.

Now, we might be tempted to say, “Ah, but he was still God, at the same time. So it was still easier for him.” But actually, that was something Jesus had to deal with that we did not. He had the constant temptation to use his God-nature, though he did not do it. To put this in simple terms, the “deal” about Jesus becoming human was that, for the entire time he lived on earth, he limited himself to his human nature, and did not use his divine power. The miracles he did were not from his own divine nature – he relied on God the Father to do those miracles through him, just the way we have to pray and ask God to work through us. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, that was the very first thing the devil tempted him with. The devil said: “You’re God the Son. If you are hungry, just turn these rocks into bread. You know you have the power.” But Jesus’ response to that was that part of his mission was to live in dependence on God, just as all other humans must do (Matthew 4:1-4). So, he didn’t use his divine power. He limited himself to the same limitations we have.

I want you to think about this for a moment. The God who created the universe knows what it is like to wear a dirty diaper. He knows what it feels like to get a splinter, and a stubbed toe. He lived under a brutal and oppressive government. He saw violence and atrocity, and later experienced it firsthand. He lived in crushing poverty, and experienced grief, suffering and sorrow. He knows how it feels to be rejected. He went ahead of us through death, and he went to hell so that no one who entrusts themselves to him would have to. That alone is infinitely more than he asks of anyone else.

By the way, in case it slipped your mind, I didn’t really finish any of the pieces of Bible history I shared. Joseph did indeed suffer a lot of injustice. But as it ended up, God used his suffering to make him the second-most powerful person in the world at the time. As I’m sure you remember, the people of Israel at the edge of the sea were delivered by the parting of the waters, which closed again, and drowned their enemies behind them. David did indeed become King: the greatest King Israel ever had in its long history. Poor Ezekiel became one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, as did Isaiah. King Hezekiah and his people were saved from the brutal Assyrians without losing a single casualty of their own. The people who came to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem were protected, and they successfully rebuilt both the city and the temple. Their descendants live in Israel today, while their enemies’ descendants are forever lost to history.

It’s Christmas. We want to be left with warm fuzzy feelings that are in accordance with the lights, the food, the music and presents. That’s fine. We can get back to that happy, peaceful place in a moment. But let’s remember that Christmas – the birth of Jesus – is really just the beginning. If we compare it to war, Christmas was D-Day, the invasion. It had to happen. Without it, no victory could have been possible. But it was the important beginning of a new phase of the war, not the conclusion. It was the beginning of God’s proof that no matter what he asks of us, he himself has done more. It is proof that no matter how we feel, the truth is this:

31 What, then, are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? 33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. 34 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. 35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. [This is how God’s people might have felt in some of those situations I mentioned. Sometimes it is how we feel, too. But read on!]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:31-39, CSB)

We can count on this because Jesus Christ himself has faced all of those things, and emerged victorious. We can count on it because the Word became flesh, became the little baby in the barn with the family, and animals and smelly men. That scene is relevant to us, because it proves how much God loves us.

So, tonight, we celebrate and remember: The remarkable, if humble, birth of the child is the powerful invasion of God into our rebel planet. God has not abandoned us. It is OK if you feel like he has sometimes, but don’t let those feelings define your reality. Instead, let the actions of God himself define your reality: he has already done more for you than he would ever ask you to go through. His love for you is beyond question. The little baby in the barn proves it.

Merry Christmas!

1 PETER #8: THE REWARDS OF OUTRAGEOUS GRACE. 1 Peter 1;17.

This verse draws our attention to two important things: the Fear of the Lord, and his promise to reward us in addition to an eternal life filled with the joy of God. When we learn to fear the Lord, we learn also to trust Him. And when we have the true fear of the Lord, there is nothing else in all the universe that we ever need fear again.

As to the second thing: we will be rewarded for living out our faith the way God designed us to, and empowers us to, through the Holy Spirit. This is on top of the free grace-gift of eternal life lived in the joy of God. It’s far too much. We don’t deserve it. That’s exactly the point.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 8

1 PETER #8. 1 PETER 1:17

Last time, we looked at the motivation for living holy lives: the Love of the Father for us, and the Hope that he has given us through Jesus Christ. When we are deeply connected to those two things, the Holy Spirit will enable us to live lives that are different from those around us. Now, Peter reminds us to take this very seriously: “Since we are those beloved children of the Father, let us remember that the Father also judges our works with perfect judgment. Therefore, let us live out our time in this mortal life with a healthy awe of God.”

Depending on the Bible translation you use, this little section might confuse people into thinking that our salvation is dependent upon how we behave. Just before this, remember, Peter was telling us to be holy, because the Father in heaven is holy. Now he’s talking about recognizing that the Father judges everyone according to each one’s works (I think “works” is the better translation of the Greek word here). It’s starting to sound like being a Christian is all about how well you perform at living an outwardly good life.

Before we go too far with that, we need to keep reading: Peter says, immediately afterwards, that we were saved by the precious blood of Christ, who was made manifest for us, so that our faith and hope are in God. So, when we read that the Father judges each one’s works, it cannot mean that this is the basis of our salvation. The basis of our salvation, our hope, are clearly in Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice on our behalf. Our faith and hope are in God, not in our own efforts. Peter has already said much the same thing, in several different ways, in verses 1-16. Of course the rest of the New Testament also says the same thing, many times over in many different ways.

But what does it mean, then, that the Father judges each one impartially according to their works? Why does Peter even say that, if we are saved by the work of Jesus Christ, not our own? This is another thing that the rest of the New Testament makes very clear: in addition to giving us salvation by the grace of God (not by works) God also wants to bless us by giving us the opportunity to have even greater rewards in the New Creation. In other words, we are saved purely by God’s grace, not by anything we ourselves do, or could earn. AND… God also created us to do good works – things which he particularly prepared in advance for each of us to do:

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

(Ephesians 2:10, CSB)

Those good works cannot earn us salvation, but God lays them out for us, and as we “walk in them” (that is, as we live a life of Hope in Christ, and do the things God leads us to do) God grants us special rewards, in the New Heavens and New Earth. He judges how we have lived our lives in accordance with this plan, and than grants us extra rewards based upon that. Some people want to claim that we get those rewards in this life (not in our eternal lives) but that is not at all the way it is taught by Jesus and His apostles.

Many Christians, especially from Western culture, instinctively cringe at the idea of rewards in the New Creation. But we need to evaluate the source of that cringing: is it really Biblical? I think people from other cultures have less of a problem with this than Americans, and European-originated cultures. Many of us Westerners are deeply egalitarian – which means we have a problem saying one person deserves honor above any other person. We think that if God gives rewards in heaven, it will mean some sort of inequality. Some people will have more, others will have less, and we believe that such an arrangement must be intrinsically unfair, and will cause the New Creation to be less than perfect. But a lot of other people in the world have no real problem with the idea of a heaven where people are given extra rewards for their works. They would say it would be unfair if those who worked harder and better than others to follow Jesus received no extra reward at all. I have to say, the cultures who take that view are probably closer to the kind of culture that existed during the New Testament period.

We need to face the fact that the Bible does indeed paint a picture of people being rewarded in the New Creation, including some people receiving greater honor than others. In the Parable of the Talents, at the end, the servant who did the most was given the most, and honored most, as a reward. The next servant was also rewarded and honored, but not as much as the first. It does not look like an equal-outcome, egalitarian kind of system (Luke 19:12-27; and Matthew 25:14-30).

In fact, we find all over the New Testament, the idea that even after we have salvation, we should be encouraged to work for the rewards of those who follow God faithfully and well. One of the classic passages for this is found in 1 Corinthians:

5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.
10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

(1 Corinthians 3:5-15, NLT, bold formatting added for emphasis)

All of this is only echoing what Jesus himself taught. Time and time again, Jesus talked about being rewarded by the Father. I’ve already mentioned his Parable of the Talents. Since we know that salvation is a free gift of grace, and we cannot earn it, these rewards must be something additional that we receive in the New Creation. Here is just another one of many examples of Jesus, talking about rewards:

1 “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

(Matthew 6:1-6, NLT, italic formatting added for emphasis)

There are many more verses and teachings like these. In parables, in direct statements by Jesus, and in the letters of His apostles, the New Testament consistently teaches us that, in addition to salvation, we will be rewarded for walking in the good works that God designed for us. Just in case you need them, here are two more examples:

Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.

(Ephesians 6:7-8, NLT, formatting added for emphasis)

3 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.

(Colossians 3:23-24, NLT)

Now, there is another piece, implied by Peter, and also by the passage I gave you above, from 1 Corinthians. Peter says, because God judges our works impartially, we should live out our time in exile in a certain way. By “time in exile,” Peter means to remind us that this world is not our home; we belong with God in Heaven. When I say “heaven,” I mean, of course, our eternal future in the New Creation which involves perfect, eternal physical bodies, living in a perfect physical universe. We were created for Heaven, not this fallen, temporary earth. So, to put it clearly, by “time in exile,” he means, “this mortal life.”

Peter tells us that we should live that time in fear (that is really the best translation of the Greek). On the face of it, that seems a bit strange, considering how many times in the Bible the Lord tells us: “Do not Fear!” But Peter is talking about one specific, certain kind of fear: the fear of the Lord. Our modern culture does not do well with understanding what the Bible means by “fear of the Lord.” I like to think of it as a healthy perspective on God’s power, or a kind of awe of God that motivates us. One popular way of putting it comes from author C.S. Lewis. “God is not safe, but he’s good.”

The fear of the Lord is a recognition that we don’t control Him, and he can do absolutely whatever he wants. There is a wildness and power in him; he can create, or destroy, entire galaxies in an instant, if he wants to. But pay attention: this means we should recognize that God is more powerful, and more to be feared, than anything else we might fear: loss of loved ones, poverty, wealth, injustice, conflict, loneliness, suffering of all kinds, or even death. The only thing we ever need fear is God. I’ll repeat the thought a different way: When we live in fear of the Lord, we find that there is nothing else in all the universe that we need fear.

But now comes the wonderful part. Unlike the other things we might be tempted to fear, we have a firm basis to trust that God’s intentions toward us are good and loving. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know for sure that God loves us, and that we can trust him. We can trust a God who has died for us, who has literally walked through hell for us. So our fear of the Lord is not terror – it is a fear that allows us to entrust ourselves, body, soul and spirit, to God, especially in times when we don’t understand.

In the Corinthian verses above, Paul says that if we don’t build well on the foundation of Jesus, we will still be saved, but it will be a harrowing experience. Jesus, in his parables, tells of people who acted as if their deeds were of no concern to God. Those folks did not have ideal experiences, come time for the Father’s judgement.

So, in addition to the blessing of rewards in heaven, there is a kind of warning: “Take this seriously.” We don’t belong in this mortal life – we are citizens of Heaven. We really ought to live like it. This isn’t a demand for perfection, but it is supposed to help us realize that we really should be different people than those who have no hope. God is not some old guy up there who is kind of out of it, and doesn’t know what is going on. Our deeds are of concern for God – in fact, he made us specifically to do certain things and live in certain ways. We really should be living for those things, and for the joy that is coming to us, not for the transient pleasures and shallow satisfactions of our mortal lives. It’s not a threat, but it is a warning: This is serious. Don’t blow it off. There is great reward waiting for those who do live their lives as strangers in this world, followers of Jesus Christ.

Let me briefly address the idea that rewards will somehow cause trouble in the New Creation, and somehow make it less than perfect. We have to remember, that when we are rewarded, we will be free from sin, and we will trust God perfectly. So, if God chooses to give someone a reward, there will not be any part of us thinking, “I’m not sure that’s fair.” No, we will be rejoicing at how God’s reward for an individual blesses that person, and enhances the glory of God. We will not experience jealousy. There will be no injustice in the way that God gives his rewards: that’s part of what Peter means when he says that the Father judges impartially. In the joy and perfection of the New Creation, no one will feel slighted, or forgotten. We will be able to agree wholeheartedly that what God does is perfect and right, including the giving of rewards to those who followed him in this mortal life. When he gives a reward, we will all gasp in awe at the justice, mercy and grace of God, who would not only give us eternal life in the joy of his loving presence, but even pour more joy into us through the struggles and work we have had on this earth. As each reward is given, we will shout “That’s perfect! That’s exactly what it should be!” We will not feel a lack within ourselves, nor envy of others. Trust me, no one is going to be unhappy about the way these rewards are given, or feel that something is unfair, when we stand before the Father.

Some people have another objection: “If I am motivated to be a good Christian by the thought of extra rewards in heaven, isn’t that somehow wrong? Isn’t that self-serving?”

Remember, we begin with salvation. We begin with the knowledge that we deserve worse than nothing: we deserve death and hell and eternal suffering. Then we come to the knowledge of God’s incredible love and grace to us. We are humbled and grateful, and filled with joy and hope. We serve God willingly, connected to the love and hope we have in Him. Finally, the rewards are merely icing on the cake. In other words, we shouldn’t see them as entitlement, but as grace piled upon already giant heaps of grace. They show us that God sees what we do in secret. He knows the silent struggle we have with sin at times, He sees us making the hard choices that no one else sees. He sees the business person not taking unfair advantage of a situation to get a promotion. He sees the young mother working hard to raise her kids as followers of Jesus, when no one is watching. He sees the persecuted Christian losing his livelihood because he won’t deny Jesus. God’s rewards are a way of saying: “It’s not in vain. I see what’s going on with you. I know it’s harder for you to do certain things. Your faith and perseverance will not be overlooked, and they will not be forgotten.”

I think sometimes we need to know that God does indeed take note of the things that no one else does. I don’t think it’s wrong to be sustained, in part, by the knowledge that God perceives everything in your life, and even within your heart and soul, and he will make it up to you for every difficult decision, every struggle, every moment we live for him rather than for ourselves. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting motivation from that. Clearly, neither did Jesus, who encouraged us to remember that our Father in heaven, who sees what we do in secret, will reward us for it (see verses above).

What I am trying to say, politely, is that if you have a problem with rewards in heaven, you have a problem with Jesus. I’ve given you some of the verses. You can look up others. Comment, or contact me, if you want to. Wrestle with this if you need to, but this is in fact, a solid, ordinary part of the teaching of Jesus: we will be rewarded for living out our faith the way God designed us to. This is on top of the free grace-gift of eternal life lived in the joy of God. It’s far too much. We don’t deserve it. That’s exactly the point.

Yes, we need to learn to fear the Lord, so that we can be free from every other fear. We can also trust that his intentions are good for us, and that means that it is a good thing to live this temporary life with a heart that seeks not only eternal life, but also to hear the Father say: “Well done! Your life and your choices did not go overlooked. Enjoy even more of my joy!”

Let the Lord speak to you about all of this right now.

1 PETER #6: FIXING HOPE

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We were made for place we have not yet been. We need to learn to use our minds to fix our hope fully on the grace that is to come. Every good thing we hope for on earth is just a blurry reflection of the glorious hope that is to come.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 6

I apologize for any typos, etc. I am getting this out at the last second for our churches to use, and I did not have time to edit properly.

1 Peter #6. 1 Peter 1:13.

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We will focus on just one verse this time, because it holds the key to a number of the verses that follow. Peter is going to exhort us to “be holy,” but we have to understand that being holy can only occur when we set our hopes fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The old bible-study expression still holds true: “Find out what the “therefore” is there for. In other words, to understand the next section, we need to realize that Peter is connecting it to everything that has gone before, which we will now summarize:

We Christians are strangers and aliens in this world, but we have the superb hope of a future that can never perish, spoil, or fade. That hope sustains us, even in difficult times, and we know that while the difficult times are hard, they are temporary; but our hope is eternal – when we enter it, our joy will have no limit. All of this has been delivered to us by the remarkable writings that we call the Bible, which continually reveals to us the solid core of hope, which is Jesus Christ.

Therefore – because of all that –

preparing your minds for action…

Let’s start with “preparing your minds for action.” Peter is saying: “Get ready to move. Get ready to think clearly and well. Get ready to act according your faith.” Part of idea from the Greek is also to secure anything that might get in the way. Don’t leave any loose ends. It was actually a common phrase from the ancient world, almost a slang expression about tucking your robes up into your belt so you could be ready for running, or other vigorous physical activity. Picture an action movie when the heroes finally understand what’s going on, and they commit to doing what it takes to deal with their enemies and win. Ready to roll! Shake off the dust. Roll up your sleeves. Lock and load. Let’s do this!

Peter applies this specifically to our minds, or, to our thinking. There are people who believe that to be a Christian means you have to give up thinking. The truth is, the Christian faith teaches us that our minds were created by a rational, intelligent God, and that he has given us intelligence as a gift to be used. In other words, there is a fruitful purpose in using our minds. Our faith also teaches us that God created the universe with purpose and design, and that design can be discovered and studied. In other words, it is possible and useful to study the world around us and learn what we can. Studying the world will also tell us things about God, in indirect ways. It was these two important aspects of the Christian view of the world that led to the development of modern universities, and particularly, what we call “science.”

There were centers for learning in the ancient Greek world, the Islamic world, as well as in the Buddhist, Hindu and Confucianist (Chinese) cultures. Certainly those cultures have contributed to the accumulated knowledge of the human race. However it was only in Christian culture that modern methods of study, including modern science, developed. That was because a biblical view of the world and of the human mind, and of thinking, led us to believe that we could, and should, explore our world in an orderly and methodical way. There would be no science without Christianity. That is not an opinion, it is simply a historical fact. There was no modern science anywhere else in the world, until the cultures founded by Christianity developed it and exported it. So, it is entirely appropriate to see Peter’s words here as an encouragement for Christians to be thinking people. We aren’t anti-science. And science is not anti-God. Though many atheists refuse to admit it, science depends on Christian presuppositions in order to function. Meanwhile, we Christians are supposed to use the minds that God has given us.

Now, I don’t want to misrepresent what Peter is saying. Though he is saying that Christians should use their minds in general, he also intends that we use our minds particularly to strengthen the faith of our hearts. He tells us:

and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

What does it means to be “sober minded?” Well, sober is the opposite of drunk, right? It has other connotations as well, like calm, thoughtful, and serious. In other words, we should engage in our hope with clear eyes, and clear thoughts, taking it seriously, not frivolously. Faith is a big deal. So, we should remain in control of our hopes, keeping them fixed on Jesus. We should use our minds to direct our hopes to Him.

What does that actually look like? Suppose you are single, and you really want to get married. And you think, “If I’m honest, one of my biggest hopes is to get married someday. I think I might hope for that even more than I hope for Jesus.”

First, it is good to be honest with yourself about things like that. That’s part of what it means to be sober-minded. You are thinking seriously and clearly about your deepest hopes.

But what of that fact that you hope for marriage more than you hope for the return of Jesus? Consider this possibility: What you really desire so much in marriage is exactly what you will get when Jesus returns. In other words, your hope for marriage is a kind of muddled echo of your hope for Jesus. In marriage, you want to be fully known, and loved, even as you are fully known. You want the joy of intimacy. You want the security of knowing there is a special someone, someone you is yours and someone to whom you belong fully. You want someone who always has your back, who will stand with you when the chips are down and the house is burning. Someone with whom you will share joy, fun intimacy and life.

You might not believe it, but I think that is a pretty good description of what we will have with Jesus when he returns. We don’t always realize that those sorts of desires are actually desires for Jesus. We think what we want is marriage. But our desire for marriage is actually looking beyond marriage to the relationship we were created to have with God.

I think this could be true of many other things that we deeply desire: beauty, intimacy, adventure, peace, security, rest, excitement, and even achievement. I think we desire such things because they are shadows or reflections of what a sin-free relationship with God is really like.

It’s like teenagers who want a car. The truth is, what they want is not mainly a vehicle to help them travel quickly from one place to the next. What they really want is freedom, and adventure, and independence, and to be cool, and have status, and the opportunities that come from being your own master. But try to convince a teenager that what they really want is all that other stuff, and they’ll probably say: “Nah. I just want a car.” But they don’t. They want what a car represents.

I think even adults make similar mistakes. We think we know what we want: financial security. A beautiful relationship with another person. An endless vacation. Freedom from fear and worry. Physical health. None of those things are necessarily bad, though we can pursue them in sinful ways if we aren’t careful. But none of them will truly satisfy us unless we have them in and through Jesus Christ. If we have them apart from Christ, they will always eventually end. If we have them apart from Christ, we will find a way to ruin them somehow.

Some desires, of course, are sinful, and we need to learn to recognize and reject those. But I think many of our desires are simply misplaced. We don’t realize that our desires represent a deeper reality: we were made for intimacy with God in a perfect creation, with things to do that we were created to partake in. That’s what we truly desire, even though we have a hard time realizing it.

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes it is hard to tell, with some Christians, how their hopes are any different from those of the secular people around them. They want the big house, the nice cars, the successful careers, and children they can brag about. They want leisure time and money for travel and fun. They live for the same sorts things everyone else lives for. Sure, they’re happy that the New Creation is waiting for them, but their focus is on the things of this life. They’ll think about their eternal future later, after they have gotten all they can from this present life.

There is fine line here, which why Peter tells us to use our minds well. It isn’t wrong to want your children to do well. It isn’t wrong to have leisure or fun in this life. But I believe what Peter wants us to think carefully about, is where we put our biggest hopes. If I hope more for a new house than for my eternal home, something is not right. If I am seeking intimacy with another human being more than with Jesus, I need to recognize it as an issue. Author John Eldredge puts it like this:

If I told you that your income would triple next year, and that European vacation you wanted is just around the corner, you’d be excited, hopeful. The future would look promising. It seems possible, desirable. But our ideas of heaven, while possible, aren’t all that desirable. Whatever it is we think is coming in the next season of our existence, we don’t think it is worth getting all that excited about. We make a nothing of eternity by enlarging the significance of this life and by diminishing the reality of what the next life is all about.

(John Eldredge, Desire)

C.S. Lewis wrote about this same thing. He says that we set our sights too low, going for the things we know. We are as foolish as children playing in the mud:

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Scripture tells us that what is coming is far better than anything to be had on earth. The things we desire are mere poor shadows of the reality that will be ours when Jesus returns and ushers in the New Creation. It’s as if someone is offering us a gourmet meal, and we say: “No thanks, I just want McDonald’s quarter-pounder.”

Now, some of the problem is that we know what a quarter-pounder tastes like, but we have not yet tasted the gourmet meal. Peter is telling us that we should train our minds to desire the gourmet meal. There are tiny tastes of it available even now. The ache you feel after a beautiful piece of music. The excitement and satisfaction after reading a great book, or seeing an amazing movie. The inexplicable joy that hits at unpredictable moments.

So we must learn to fix our hope fully on all that we have in God, through Jesus Christ. God is eternal, and infinite. There is literally no end to the wonderful things we can have in Him and through Him. We are actually incapable of imagining anything better than what we could have when Jesus Christ returns. We need to train our minds to recognize and remember this.

When we set our hope fully on the grace that will be our when Jesus is fully revealed, it can create a longing. I believe an authentic life of following Jesus will always involve deep longing, because we were made for more than this life. Sometimes we can’t even put a name to what we want, because God’s resources for us are infinite – there might not even be words yet invented to describe what God has in store for us. But if you find yourself somehow wanting “more,” you are on the right track. Just remember to discipline your mind to recognize that the “more” we want can only be found in Jesus. We should also remember that although God offers us much in this present life, all of his promises will only truly be fulfilled when we stand face to face with him in our new bodies, inhabiting the New Creation.

When we train our minds and discipline our hope in this way, it leads to a different way of living. We will talk about that next time. But it is vital to understand that this different way of living – which Peter calls “being holy” is a result of setting our hope fully on the grace that will be ours when Jesus fully comes into His own.

We can’t really train our minds to do this without the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. So let’s ask the Lord to help us keep our hopes fixed fully on Him.

THANKSGIVING NEVER GETS OLD (Thanksgiving Weekend, 2021)

We need to accept that God is truly good, he truly loves us, and he really does have our eternal best interests in mind. Giving thanks to God accomplishes that in a powerful way. Thanksgiving moves the promises of God from our heads into our hearts. (A reprise of a sermon from a few years ago)

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Thanksgiving 2021

GIVING THANKS – 2021

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  (Col 4:2, HCSB)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:4-8 HSCB)

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7 NIV)

Literally hundreds of times, the Bible exhorts Christians to be thankful. As we look at the small sample of such verses above, it is clear that Christians are supposed to be people who live with an attitude of continual thankfulness toward God. I want to talk about why it is so important, what it means be give thanks continually, and how to implement it.

WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT

The older I get, the more I am inclined to believe that thankfulness is a key part in receiving the grace and love and joy that are offered to us through Jesus Christ. When we thank God, we are, in a way, reaching out and receiving what we thank him for. We are agreeing with what the Bible says about his graciousness and love toward us; we affirming something true about the nature of God. We are saying, “Yes, I have received your love and grace,” and as we declare that to be true, it somehow becomes more real to us.

In order to find Joy in God, we need to see Him as an ally, not an adversary. If we see him as something or someone that stands in our way, we cannot receive grace from him.

We need to accept that God is truly good, he truly loves us, and he really does have our eternal best interests in mind. Giving thanks to God accomplishes that in a powerful way.

When we thank him, we acknowledge that He knows more than we do about what is best for us. Thanksgiving opens the door to trusting God, even when we don’t understand. When we thank him, we begin to pay attention to the multitude of good things he has already given. When we thank him, our soul slowly begins to align with God’s purposes and plans.

Thanksgiving moves the promises of God from our heads into our hearts.

 WHAT IT MEANS TO GIVE THANKS

Many people feel that it is hard to be thankful unless you have a lot to be thankful for. I believe that is a very misleading idea. The American holiday and tradition of Thanksgiving originates from Christian spiritual roots. In addition, that tradition was born in the middle of deep hardship.

The “original thanksgiving” took place in the New England settlement of Pilgrims during the sixteen-hundreds. It is true that at the time they celebrated, they had a good harvest. But they had just gone through an incredibly difficult year in which large numbers of the Pilgrims had perished from disease and malnutrition. From a simple cataloging of bad events versus good, they had much more to be upset about than to be thankful for. Yet they held a three day feast, thanking God for his blessings.

The first national day of thanksgiving was proclaimed by the brand-new American government in 1777. It is true, at the time many people were elated by the American victory over the British at Saratoga. But also at the time of the proclamation, the British still occupied the capital city of the new country (which was Philadelphia at that point) and also held New York City and several significant southern cities. The war was far from over, and times were still quite desperate, and yet they called for a national day of prayer, thankfulness, and repentance toward God.

Considering this history, perhaps it is appropriate that Thanksgiving became an official national holiday during the middle of the Civil War. Once again, the war was far from over, and many desperate times and terrible battles were both behind and ahead. Yet President Lincoln wrote of the many blessings that persisted in spite of war, and said:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

It isn’t my intention to give a history lesson. But I want to point out explicitly that the early Americans seemed eager and able to thank God, even in the middle of significant hardship. In fact, the American Thanksgiving tradition arose more from hardship and war than from peace and prosperity. Even more, I want to point out that this idea of thanking God at all times, even in difficult circumstances, is a biblical practice. Job chapter one records a series of calamities that befall Job, a righteous man. At the end of it all, this is what he did:

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;

may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Psalm 69 was written by someone who felt he was “poor and in pain.” His appropriate response was to thank the Lord:

But as for me — poor and in pain — let Your salvation protect me, God. I will praise God’s name with song and exalt Him with thanksgiving.  (Ps 69:29-30, HCSB)

Paul says, “Good, bad, normal, it doesn’t matter. Give thanks all the time.”

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  (Col 4:2, HCSB)

When we give thanks in all things – especially in hard things – the love of God begins to take root deeply in our hearts.

Thankfulness also leads to peace and contentment. Philippians 4:5-7 teaches that thankful prayer is an antidote to worry:

Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Phil 4:5-7, HCSB)

Yes, it is good and proper to ask God for what we need, and to share our burdens with him. It is also important to thank him as we offer up those prayers. Through turning our burdens over with thankfulness, we experience the peace of God, which is beyond understanding. The fact that it is beyond understanding means that sometimes we will experience peace when our circumstances suggest that we shouldn’t be able to do so. It is thankfulness, at least in part, which leads to this sort of peace in all circumstances.

Many of you know of my own struggle with chronic pain. I hate the pain. I hate what it is doing to my body. But I have learned to be truly, genuinely thankful to God in the midst of it – not ignoring it. I feel closer to God today than ever before.

So giving thanks does not mean that everything is just the way we want it. Giving thanks is an expression of trust in a God who is beyond human understanding.

HOW TO LIVE A LIFE OF THANKFULNESS

I want to hasten to say that I am no expert on thankfulness. Many of you are probably better at it than I. What follows are merely suggestions from one who is still learning to live in thankfulness. I have found that thankfulness (and the benefits of peace, grace and faith which come with it) can be encouraged by some self-discipline. Sometimes, it is helpful to just make myself start thanking God. I don’t like mornings, and I’m not usually very happy until after mid-morning. But, stepping into the shower grumpy and irritated, I can begin by thanking the Lord for running hot water, and then soap, and then a towel. I can thank him that I have my own bathroom. That reminds me that I have my own house to live in, and it is plenty for my whole family. I can go on, and thank the Lord for warm, clean socks, and the existence of coffee, and then for my wife and children. You see how it goes: once we get started, there are an endless stream of things to thank the Lord for. I think one thing that is Biblically appropriate is to frequently thank Jesus for his sacrifice for us, and for his promise of eternal life to us.

When you read the Bible, or a devotional, stop and thank the Lord for what you are reading. Pay attention to anything that jumps out at you, and thank him. Even if the Bible passage is describing something difficult, you could pray something like: “Lord thank you that you are with me in all the difficulties and hardships that I face. Thank you that this passage shows me that it is normal for us to face hard times, even when we follow you.”

Thank the Lord today, and this week, and every day. Let him encourage thankfulness in your heart!

 

1 PETER #5: THE KEY TO THE BIBLE: JESUS CHRIST

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To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 5

1 Peter #5. 1 Peter 1:10-12

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:10-12

Our next section might feel like just a little transition between main points, and in some ways, it is. Even so, I believe the Holy Spirit can use these verses to strengthen our faith. Peter has been talking about the wonderful promises that are ours in salvation, promises that are so glorious and wonderful that even suffering on earth is nothing in comparison to what is coming to those who receive that salvation. Peter now briefly mentions something of the history of those promises. In short, Peter is telling his readers something about the Bible. We can learn several important things here.

First, remember that at that point in time, the only Bible that they had was the part that we Christians call the Old Testament. Peter was a Jew, and in the Jewish thinking of those days, there were two main parts to the Bible/Old Testament: “the Law,” which was the first five books, written by Moses; and “the Prophets,” which is, essentially, everything else. It also helps to know that though the first five books are indeed called “the Law,” Moses himself (who wrote those books), was also considered to be a prophet. So when Peter talks about “the prophets,” he doesn’t just mean Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and so on. He means every single book of the Old Testament.

Peter tells us something very important about the Old Testament: it is ultimately all about Jesus Christ. Peter makes it clear that the prophets themselves did not entirely understand this – they wondered about what God was inspiring them to write – as he says in verse 10, they questioned what it was all about. Even so, Peter says it was the Spirit of Christ in them who inspired them to write, and what he inspired them to write was ultimately all about Christ, and the suffering, grace and glory of the salvation that he won for us, even though the writers did not understand that at the time.

Elsewhere, the New Testament affirms this. After his resurrection, Jesus walked with his disciples one time, but prevented them from recognizing him, initially. He gave them the same lesson about the Old Testament scriptures:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, italic formatting added for emphasis)

Notice here, again, the idea that “the prophets,” begins with Moses, and includes all of the rest of the scriptures. So, even the Old Testament scriptures are about Jesus. Jesus made this same point about the bible, more than once. Talking to the Pharisees who rejected him, he said:

The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.  (John 5:37-39, HCSB)

The Old Testament speaks about Jesus in some more or less direct ways. What I mean is, there are texts that were understood to be predictions about the coming Messiah for centuries before Jesus was born. When he was born into humanity, through Mary, his life fulfilled those prophetic utterances. We know that the last Old Testament book to be written was finished about 450 years before Jesus was born. The Greek translation of the Old Testament appeared 250 years before the time of Jesus.

Let me give you a  brief, faith-building taste of those fulfilled prophecies. According to various places in the Old Testament, the Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of King David, and born in Bethlehem. But though he was to be born in Bethlehem, he was also supposed to be from the region of Galilee – which is far north of Bethlehem. Yet also, he was supposed to have come from Egypt. In addition, noblemen from the East were supposed to bring him gifts.

Jesus, of course, was born in Bethlehem. Some time later, the Magi from the East came, bringing gifts. Within two years, his parents fled with him to Egypt. Before he was twelve, they returned from Egypt and moved permanently to Nazareth, which is in Galilee. Jesus himself, if he was merely human, had no control over fulfilling these prophecies – no baby gets to choose the place of its birth, or where it is raised. Those are either gigantic lucky coincidences, or they are fulfilled prophecies.

Just a few more. The Old Testament predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin, that he be innocent, yet suffer for the sins of the guilty, that people would gamble for his clothing. It says he would be pierced in his side with a weapon. Again, Jesus had no way of arranging these things, if he was merely human. All of the evidence shows us that the New Testament developed so rapidly, that it isn’t possible to imagine that centuries later the church made up stories about someone who wasn’t real, and made him to fit the prophecies. That idea is based upon the fiction novel, The DaVinci Code, and it is indeed fiction. Also, Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies in ways that Jews at the time had not expected.

There are over three-hundred Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus (and in no one else). If you want a simple, easy taste, read Isaiah chapter 53, and ask yourself what it says about Jesus. Then recognize that it was written about seven hundred years before Jesus was born.

In 1963, Mathematician Peter Stoner published a book called Science Speaks. He used the science of probability to calculate how likely it was that one person would fulfil just eight of the three hundred prophecies about the Messiah. Remember, all eight (to say nothing of all 300) have to be fulfilled in the same person. His calculations were reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation, and found to be correct mathematically. He found that the chance that one person would fulfill just those eight particular prophecies about the messiah was 1 in 1017. That’s 1, followed by 17 zeros. As an illustration, if you had that many silver dollars, you could cover an area the size of Texas (that’s larger than either France, or Spain) two feet thick with silver dollars. Paint one more silver dollar red, drop it in and mix it with all the rest, and have a blind man randomly travel to somewhere in Texas, and plunge his hand into the silver dollars and pick one. The likelihood that he comes out with the one red silver dollar is the same as the likelihood that Jesus was not predicted by those eight Old Testament prophecies. When you throw in the other 292 prophecies, there is virtually no chance that Jesus fulfilled them by accident. What a treasure we have, to know that God planned it all!

Even when we aren’t talking about predictions of the Messiah, the Old Testament reveals Jesus to us, and helps us understand what it means to live as his follower. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to talk about this same way of seeing the Old Testament:

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

I think the words of Jesus that we read earlier can be understood this way, also. When we realize this, we find that Peter and the others have given us the key to getting the most from the Old Testament. Yes, there are complex historical and cultural situations in it. Yes, we should seek to understand culture, and context and history. But the bottom line is, it is all about Jesus, and all we really need, when we read the Old Testament, is to let it teach us something about Jesus, or about what it means to follow him. So, when your read your Bible, ask these sorts of questions:

  • What does this passage show me about Jesus?
  • Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like?
  • Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)?

In addition to directly revealing Jesus to us, the Bible explains things about God, human nature, and what life is like, and could be like, for people who follow Jesus. So we should also ask some questions like this:

  • What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character?
  • What does it show me about sin?
  • What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace?
  • What does it say about human beings?
  • What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others?

If you want to get more out of your Bible, I know of no better way than to ask questions like these, and, actually any other type of significant question that occurs to you. If we don’t ask questions, we don’t learn much. If you know of anyone who really knows not only a lot about what the Bible says, but also a lot about what it means, and how to apply it, that kind of wisdom almost certainly came about from asking questions, including hard questions, about various parts of the Bible.

As a practical exercise, let’s use this wonderful gift that Peter has given us to tackle a difficult text in the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy chapter 20. We’re doing this just as an example of what it means to recognize that the prophets of old were actually writing about Jesus. Moses was speaking to the people of Israel about wars. He instructed them that when they fought with people who were not in their homeland, they were to first try peace, and then ask for a surrender, and then, if battle was necessary, they were to show mercy once they had conquered the enemy city. Next, he talks about the wars they must fight with people occupying the promised land:

15 “But these instructions apply only to distant towns, not to the towns of the nations in the land you will enter. 16 In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. 17 You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 20:15-18, NLT

This sounds horrible and brutal, right? There certainly are issues here to think about with regard to the history of Israel. However, for Christians, we know that this passage is not about fighting Hittites, Amorites and all the other “– ites.” We know that this passage is about Jesus. It tells us something about Him, or about how we should or shouldn’t behave as we follow him. It might tell us about sin, or salvation or human relationship. So, let’s ask our questions:

Where is Jesus? I don’t know about you, but the only place I see Him directly is in the name “the Lord.” So it seems to be Jesus who is talking to us through this passage. He is giving instructions, teaching us.

Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like? Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)? Easy. No, and no. Maybe another time I’ll come back to this text, and see something about these questions, that I hadn’t seen before, but not this time.

What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character? Ahh. Here we go. It shows me that God’s holiness is very serious. It is a deadly serious thing to contradict his holiness, which is what sin does. His holiness is extreme, and calls for an extreme response to avoid unholiness.

What does it show me about sin? Sin is deadly serious. It requires death. Idolatry (having something in your life that is more important or valuable to you than God) is the problem in the text. We Christians still sometimes make things more important than God, so it is speaking to that tendency. This passage shows me that it is so important to have Jesus first, that I need to eliminate anything that might get in the way.

What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace? If God’s holiness is so serious, and idolatry is so bad, that in those days it required the death of every living thing, then I am in serious trouble. I am lost without God’s grace. I need a savior to save me from my sin, my laziness and my tendency to value things more than God. Oh! Now we see Jesus. I need a savior. I need Jesus!

What does it say about human beings? Human beings cannot do what is necessary to be holy. Again, we need a savior!

What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others? I think we can use this question to put it all together. Whatever the text may have been about in the past, today, it is about Jesus, and what it means to follow him. So first, it leads me to repent of my own sin, my own tendency to let other things become more important in my life than God. Idolatry is nothing to mess around with. It leads me to my desperate need for Jesus to save me, to provide forgiveness, mercy and grace.

It also shows me something else. The people of Israel were supposed to take radically extreme action to avoid idolatry and sin. Their relationship with God was so important that they literally had to kill anything that might lead them astray. Today, because the text is about Jesus, we know it is not about hurting other people. But we should make implacable, unrelenting war on anything in our lives that tends to lead us astray from Jesus. I should show my own sin no mercy. I should be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Jesus is first in my life, now and always. If something threatens that, I need to eliminate it. Again, I am talking not about other people, but my own attitudes and actions. It is true, there may be a time when I need to back off from a relationship with a person that is damaging my faith in Jesus, but we do that sort of thing in accordance with the rest of the bible, which tells us it must be done graciously and with patience and love for the other person.

Now that we see this about Jesus and following him, we can find many other verses that teach this very thing:

29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30, NLT)
37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39, NLT)
4 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14, NLT)

So this little transitional verse in 1 Peter helps us understand the entire Bible!

A final thing. Peter mentions that people came and preached to his readers, and that their preaching was inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. No preacher is equal to the Bible. All of us make mistakes, whereas God provided the Bible as a foundation for all time, so that no generation can be led astray if they know the scriptures. But Peter shows us that the Holy Spirit also uses preachers who deliver the Biblical message to specific people, at specific places and times. The work of a preacher is not to add to the Bible, but to help us unwrap God’s Word to us in a way that helps us see how it is relevant to our lives here and now.

Peter’s main point is that God has gone out of his way to make sure that we heard His Word. We can count on it. We should delight in it, and learn from it.

Imagine the song “Silent Night.” Like many Christmas songs, it has been arranged in many different ways, and played by many different groups and performing artists. Think of it being played instrumentally, by an orchestra. You’ve probably heard it that way. Now, imagine how it sounds sung by a full choir, with no instruments at all. It’s the same song. The same music is being conveyed, and yet, it sounds very different. Now, hear a twangy, country-western singer singing Silent Night, maybe featuring a pedal-steel. Next, try to imagine someone singing it as a kind of operatic solo. Picture it done to swing-rhythm. Now imagine it as “muzak” or “elevator music,” played at the mall. Think of a rendition of the song by a 1940’s “big band.” Hear it done by Reggae artists.

All of these are the same song, conveying the same “musical message.” And yet each style and performance conveys that same “musical message” in a very different way. We can appreciate some of those ways better than others, but it all goes back to the same composer, the same basic set of notes, the same lyrics.

This is kind of how the Bible is. Sometimes, God conveyed his message about Jesus through the life of an old man, or a young princess. Sometimes, he sent it through laws that helped people at that time understand him better. At other times, God’s message came through prophets, or teachers, or letter writers, kings, or musicians. Sometimes, it is hard to recognize as the same message, because three-thousand year-old laws require more work to understand than clearly written letters from more than a thousand years later. But the messages about God, human beings and relationships are consistent throughout the Bible. As with Silent Night, though the “performances” are widely varied, the basic underlying message is the same. Different musicians may play the music, different instruments may create it, but at the same time, the music is, and always was, the product of the original composer.

Take joy and delight in reading the Bible and finding Jesus everywhere!

1 Peter #3: A BETTER HOPE

When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. There is nothing on earth that we cannot lose. But we cannot lose our eternal inheritance in Jesus Christ.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 3

1 Peter #3. 1 Peter 1:3-5.

Peter gives us a great example when he begins by praising God. Our salvation is a gift that we can often take for granted. But Peter reminds us that God’s grace to us is not automatic. God did not have to treat us with mercy and grace. What he has done for us is astounding, even more so because not a person in the world has ever deserved any of it. All of what comes to us is according to God’s mercy. It is not by justice, not by us earning it, not by us paying for it, not by another human getting it for us. God’s mercy alone gives us the incredible gift of salvation. Mercy is never deserved. We don’t deserve anything from God other than death and hell. But in spite of what we deserve, he forgives us, and instead showers his gifts on us.

It may be puzzling to some that he blesses “The God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this is phrase that packs a lot of punch in just a few words. Remember, Peter has already mentioned the Trinity: The Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, the Son. Here in one short sentence, we have the Trinity once again. Peter is obviously blessing God the Father,  who chose us to be in Jesus, and knew ahead of time what would take place. He also blesses “our Lord Jesus.” To call Jesus “Lord” is to call him God. In the Old Testament times, the ancient name for God was “Yahweh.” But instead of saying “Yahweh,” the Jews said “the Lord.” So calling Jesus “Lord” is like calling him “Yahweh.” Finally, Jesus is not only Lord, he is also “Christ.” Christ means “anointed one,” or, to put it more clearly, “one especially filled with the Holy Spirit.” So we have here Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this one short phrase.

In God’s mercy, he has caused us to be born again. In Greek it says literally: “according to his great mercy, he has regenerated us.” (Regenerated is often translated “given us new birth” or something similar). To generate something is to cause it to be. So, God caused us to be physically, but he has also regenerated us – caused to be all over again, in a new way.

Think abut a computer game. In a computer game, you are alive outside the game. You enter the world of the game through your game character, sometimes called your “avatar.” When your character/avatar dies in the game, it regenerates and comes back into the game at the last point in which you were saved. This gives us a helpful way to think about spiritual regeneration.

In some ways, game regeneration is almost the opposite real spiritual regeneration. Imagine that we are players who have existed only inside the game. We aren’t outside the world, sitting at a console, playing a game. Instead, we have only ever been inside the game. The game is our whole world. We have no perspective outside of it.

Now, when God regenerates us, it is like he gives us a life outside of the game. Instead of a player who is alive in the real world, stepping into the world of the game, and being regenerated inside the game, we begin inside the game, and God now regenerates us out into the real world. We are still in the game, but now we are also outside, sitting at a gaming console. We are no longer confined to the game. If we die in the game, we still have our life outside of it.

Our regeneration takes place in the real, eternal world, not the temporary world of the game, which is the only world we have known up until now. Now, our life inside the game – what we have always called “real life” – is not our only life, and it is not our most true life. Before, when we died, we died. But now, when we die, our “avatar” – that is, our body of flesh – is dead. We don’t get a do-over. But since we now have life outside the game, when we die here, it’s like shutting down the game, and participating in real life. What happens “in the game” is important, because here, in this life, God uses us to show his glory. But what happens outside the game is ultimately more important, because that is where our real life is waiting for us.

Obviously this regeneration is not (yet) a physical one. However, it will eventually result in a new physical body

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, NLT)

In the meantime, however, we have already been born again, in spirit. The Greek verb for “regenerated,” is in a special type of past tense form. This shows us that this has already happened. Being born again is not something that will happen to us in the future. It is not something that is still in process. It has already taken place. In addition, while it is a done deal, our regeneration has ongoing consequences.

There are many types of things that happened in the past, which, however, have ongoing consequences. Picture a wedding that took place ten years ago. The wedding is in the past. It happened; it’s a done deal. But the fact that the wedding happened in the past has a profound and ongoing effect today upon the two people who got married. Once you have a wedding, you are fully married. Yet, as you grow with your spouse, that marriage changes and deepens and affects you more deeply. It affects every day of your life, though some days the effect seems greater, and other days, less.

So it is with being born again. Because God regenerated us once, in the past, we are still  regenerated (born again) today. The fact of our being born again continues to play out in our lives. We are growing more and more fully into everything that it means to regenerated. Some days we see the effect more clearly, other days we question how much being born again has changed our life in the body. But it would be a mistake to think that we are only partially born again. Just as you can’t be “partially married,” so you can’t be partially born again.

Some days you may feel like you are doing well in your marriage. Other days you may feel like a lousy husband, or neglectful wife. Your feelings about how things are going do not change the fact that you are married. You can be a better or worse husband or wife, but you can’t get divorced without knowing it. So too, your feelings about how well you are manifesting the new life of Jesus do not determine whether or not you are born again. You might be a better or worse Christian on any given day, but you are born again because of God’s merciful choice, not your own performance. You aren’t more born again when you feel holy, and you aren’t less born again when you feel like a sinner.

Again, it may help to keep in mind that this regeneration takes place in our Spirit. Our bodies have not been born again, that’s obvious. But the rebirth of our spirit can now influence our soul, and then our mind, and then affect how we live in these mortal bodies into the Lord gives us new bodies that are also regenerated.

This becomes clear as Peter goes on. Our rebirth is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is connected to the eternal life-force of Jesus, a life that has proven itself to be indestructible (Hebrews 7:16). Because we have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus, because we are born in again in the eternal spirit, we have a new kind of inheritance. This our life “outside the game,” a life which has already begun, but one which we cannot fully enter until we are done with the game.

Inheritance is a good way to picture all of the wonderful things we have through Jesus Christ. An inheritance is something that belongs to you. It is yours. And yet, you cannot fully receive all of your inheritance until there is a death. So it is with us. Our inheritance in Jesus belongs to us. It is certainly and assuredly ours. But we cannot step into the fullness of that inheritance until a death happens. In our case, it is two deaths: first, the death of Jesus Christ obtained the inheritance for us, and second, we wait for the death of our flesh, which is corrupted by sin, and keeps us from fully experiencing all that Jesus has given us.

Peter tells us that our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Imperishable means that it cannot be destroyed, it cannot decay or degrade. This isn’t  a stock portfolio that might lose some of its value. It is not  a warehouse full of goods that could burn or be destroyed in a flood. Even cash can lose some of its value through inflation. However, this inheritance will be there for us, guaranteed. There is nothing to be had on earth that we could not possibly lose at some point. In fact, age and death determine that we will lose all earthly things. But we cannot lose this gift, this inheritance held for us by God. It is the only thing we cannot lose.

Second, it  is undefiled. That is, it can’t be spoiled or corrupted. Sometimes, we are capable of spoiling a good thing for ourselves. At other times, someone else might ruin a perfect moment for us. However it occurs, something that once seemed so beautiful and perfect can often become crass, crude, or even just ordinary and no longer interesting or exciting. This will not happen to our inheritance in Jesus. It cannot happen. That is one reason we need new bodies before we can enter the New Creation. We need to be incorruptible, because the New Creation will not be corrupted. Jesus has already made us incorruptible in our regenerated spirits. He will make us that way in soul and body as well. Another aspect of incorruptible is this: There is nothing on earth that we can desire fully, heart and soul, without somehow making it into an idol, and therefore spoiling it. We might love our children so much that it consumes us, and in loving them more than God, we corrupt the beauty of parental love. We may desire marriage so much that it becomes more important than God, and thus we corrupt something that might otherwise be good. But in the New Creation, we can embrace our desires with no reservation. Nothing will spoil it. We can desire our incorruptible inheritance with our whole hearts. It won’t be spoiled, or made into an idol.

Finally, our inheritance will never fade away. We can’t use it so much that it wears out, because it will never wear out. It’s not like a favorite piece of clothing that slowly fades over time as you wash it, or that stops feeling new by the fourth time you wear it. The joy of newness that we will experience on the first day in the New Creation will never wear out. Every day will feel like the first day. Every time we see some beautiful scenery in the New Creation, it will be as delightful as it was the very first time. Every conversation we have with an old friend will feel like the first time we talked that way. Nothing will ever feel “old.” Nothing will ever lessen in delight, or lose its luster, even if we indulge that exact delight every day for a thousand years. It doesn’t become worn out with use or repetition.

This amazing inheritance, says Peter, is kept in heaven for us. The word “kept” indicates a kind of watchfulness, a guarding. It’s in the bank. Nothing will happen to it. It’s safe for us.

We too are being guarded, by God’s power, through faith. The word “guarded” or “protected” (verse 5) here is the word for military garrison. It is as if God has deployed a cohort of warriors to surround you and protect you. It would be appropriate here to think about both God’s power in general, and also his power in deploying angels to protect us.

The phrase “through faith” shows us our own one small part in all of this: we must trust the words of scripture. This is what God says. It is ours as we trust it to be true. We take hold of it through trust. Thanksgiving, of course, is a terrific way to make it tangible to our own souls and minds. Finally, this inheritance, as we know, will be full revealed and fully ours when we die. Our present mortal bodies are perishable. They do decay, they are corrupt, and every joy, every beauty that we can experience in these bodies ultimately fades and comes to nothing. That is why we cannot receive the inheritance until the last times, the moment when God lets the old creation self-destruct, and brings in the New Creation, and gives us new, incorruptible bodies which will have the capacity to receive and enjoy our amazing inheritance.

This is our hope. I love that Peter begins the letter with this. He is writing to people who are experiencing many trials and struggles – the very next verse explains that. When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. So, knowing that his readers are faced with deep struggles and bitter disappointment, Peter reminds them of a hope that will never disappoint, never let them down.

Too often, I look for hope in this life. I’m reminded of a quote by the late Christian teacher, Larry Crabb:

“I’m troubled by how unquestioningly we live out our determination to make this life work. All our hopes for happiness are bound up in it. It’s as if we believe this is the only world we ever plan to inhabit.”

Larry Crabb

 But everything I could hope for in this life will let me down at some point. Peter reminds me that one of the first tasks of faith is to set my hope upon the inheritance that cannot be destroyed, that never spoils, never loses its newness and wonderfulness, an inheritance that is kept specifically for me, even as I am guarded by faith.

What about you?

1 Peter #1: A LETTER FOR HARD TIMES

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This time we look at the history and setting surrounding the New Testament book of 1 Peter.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 1

1 Peter #1. Introduction

We are starting a new series, today, on the first letter of Peter. I am not utterly against doing topical sermon series’, but I’d like to encourage you to think a little differently about that. As we look at First Peter, the text will introduce a number of different topics. When we do things like that, then I am not deciding which topics to preach about. Instead, the text of the Bible tells us which topics to consider. So, this is a topical series, in a sense. It is just that the bible itself will determine the topics.

Peter wrote only two letters that have survived. We will be looking at the first of these. I’ll take this opportunity to give a reminder about how the New Testament came to be. In addition to the New Testament, we have some of the writings of Christians who lived immediately after the time of the apostles, as well as writings of later Christians, down through the centuries. All of the books of the New Testament are mentioned, referenced and/or quoted from the time of the very earliest writings of Christians. So, for example, the first generation of Christians after the apostles mention 1 Peter, and quote from it. Of course, later generations do as well.

About two hundred and fifty years after the time of the apostles, when Christianity became legal in the Roman empire, a large body of leaders, representing most Christians in the world at that time, gathered together. Among other things, they compared notes about which writings were clearly from the apostles (or others who knew Jesus, like Luke and Mark). To be included in the “canon” (later called the Bible) a document had to have evidence that it was considered genuine since that first generation of Christians, as evidenced by early Christian writings. In addition, it had to be recognized by virtually all Christians in the world at that time as having been used by churches for the previous two-hundred and fifty years. So, if a book was only used, for example, in Alexandria, Egypt, but nowhere else in the world, it would not have been considered a true part of the New Testament. Or, if one group claimed a book was written by an apostle, but no other Christian traditions had a record of it, it was not included.

It is quite clear that very early on, all Christians were aware of 1 Peter, and considered it to be genuine, and were using it to encourage one another in following Jesus. In other words, it is a genuine part of the New Testament, as are all of the books in our modern Bibles.

As is true of many of the books of the New Testament, we have a very good idea of exactly when and where Peter wrote this letter. At the end of the letter, at 5:13, Peter writes:

13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. (1 Peter 5:13, ESV)

“Babylon,” is almost certainly a code-name for Rome. Well before the birth of Jesus, the literal Babylon in Mesopotamia was in ruins. The majority of those living within its ancient walls were goats and their herders. There is no evidence that Peter or Mark ever went there, and there would be no reason for them to do so, seeing as there were almost no people remaining there. However, in the Roman Empire, persecution was beginning to become more and more of a reality, as the words of this letter will show us. Probably less than a year after Peter wrote, the Emperor Nero instigated a vicious persecution against Christians in Rome, in which Peter himself was killed. I’m sure Peter could tell that things were getting more and more dangerous. If his letter was intercepted by the government, it would have been disastrous if he explicitly mentioned a Christian church in Rome. So, Peter uses the word “Babylon,” which Christians would have understood to mean “a great city that is opposed to the people of God;” or, in other words: Rome. “She, who is likewise chosen” means, of course, the church. So, to make it plain, Peter means: “The church in Rome sends you greetings.” In keeping with the dangerous times, he mentions only two personal names, Mark, and Silvanus. To name others would be too risky.

Mark is also known as John-Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, and sometime companion of Paul. Most scholars believe that he spent several years also with the apostle Peter. He wrote the gospel of Mark.

Mark would have been quite young when Jesus was crucified – possibly a teenager – but he was probably one of those in the larger group of Jesus’ followers; some people think he was the young man who ran away naked at the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52).  In any case, one of the house churches in Jerusalem met at his mother’s home (Acts 12:12), and he would have known Peter for most of his life. Much of Mark’s gospel is likely based upon the stories and teachings of Jesus that Mark learned from Peter.

I mention Mark, because his presence with Peter in Rome helps us set the date for 1 Peter. Mark was in Rome with Paul when Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. If Peter had been there then, Paul surely would have mentioned it. So Peter cannot have been in Rome, nor written his letter before Paul wrote those letters, which would have been AD 62 at the latest. I would guess that Paul left Rome in 62, traveled in Asia minor, and then returned to Rome, probably at about the same time Peter arrived there, either late AD 63 or early in 64. After a brief reunion, Paul traveled on to Spain, while Peter stayed in Rome, along with Mark and Silvanus (also called Silas). Peter wrote his first letter after Paul left, or he, for his part, surely would have mentioned Paul’s presence with him. A few months later, Peter wrote his second letter.

In any case, we know that in July of 64, the city of Rome burned, and the emperor Nero used that as an excuse to start a horrifying persecution of Christians. He blamed Christians for the fire, and it is possible that he executed some Christians by burning them alive in his palace gardens as human torches. Whether or not that last is true, he most certainly sought to kill Christians and destroy the church. At some point during Nero’s persecution, Peter was found and executed. Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down, though I have my doubts about how that actually works. There is no doubt, however, that Peter perished in Nero’s persecution. Many people think that Paul returned to Rome during this time, and was also killed by Nero.

Peter addresses his letter to Christians in a number of different Roman provinces (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia). All of these are found in modern-day Turkey, and cover the northern three-quarters of that country. Some commentators think that Peter was writing mainly to Jewish Christians, but the text of the letter makes it clear that he was writing to both Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians. In fact, it is likely that the Gentile believers outnumbered the Jewish believers in those areas.

The Christians in those areas were living in uncertain times. Christianity was already getting noticed by the Roman authorities, and the emperor Nero was increasingly unfriendly to it. The rest of the empire took their cue from the emperor. Although the recipients of the letter were probably not persecuted as brutally as the church in Rome (until about thirty years later), it was clear that Christians were not welcome in the general culture of the world at the time. In addition, Peter was writing to people who were experiencing struggles and difficulties of all different types, including things that didn’t have much to do with persecution. In short, 1 Peter is a book written to Christians who were facing hard times. As such, I think its message is very encouraging to us today.

For the rest of this sermon I want you to read the entire book of 1 Peter in one sitting. It isn’t long. Or listen to it, as I read it on the recording above, here at clearbible.blog. I think it is often helpful to start a book by reading the whole thing at once, so we can see how one part flows into another. Without further ado, let’s do it.