A Living Hope

By Pastor Reed Bernick

1 Peter 1:3-9
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.

What is a “living hope?” Certainly it’s “living” because it’s given to us through Jesus’ conquering of death on the cross. It’s not a hope that’s secured by sacrifice alone, but by the victory of God’s life over the grave. It’s also “living” because of the way it gives us a new beginning as new creatures through new birth. In Jesus, we’re made alive – and we live under the promise that God has changed our destinies too, such that our eventual death won’t have the final say. Whereas we were once dead and lived under the power of death, we are now alive by virtue of our affiliation with Jesus. Like the birth of a royal heir, our entrance into God’s family carries with it the unshakable promise of an inheritance.

But this hope that we’ve been given mercifully (Peter’s quick to point out) is also “living” because, as he says, it “can never perish, spoil, or fade.” It would be susceptible to those corruptions if it was achieved through our strength – or if it depended upon our circumstances – or if it wasn’t yet fully accomplished somehow – but none of that is true. Living hope is inextinguishable hope – everlasting hope. And because it is, it requires that we renounce our own expectations – our own appraisal of the times – and trust that what God has secured is more dependable than our assessments.

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
The “lived experience” of hope doesn’t always feel as if we’re being “shielded by God’s power.” No, what we feel is vulnerable and sometimes even preyed upon. But Peter assures us that we are even so. We’re preserved until our hope is brought to fruition “in the last time.” And that ‘fullness’ may be accomplished already, but it isn’t yet applied in every trial we face. So actually, these assurances aren’t meant to describe how hard times feel at all, but rather to name what’s true – often times despite our experiences.

He takes that insight a step further when he says that “we greatly rejoice.” Sometimes, Peter, sure - but not always! Sometimes we mourn. Sometimes we’re confused or angry. Sometimes we’re numb. So why does he tell us that we rejoice? I think the force of the phrase is something like the encouragement we give our own souls in worship as we sing things like “Bless the Lord, O My Soul.” Rejoice – we do that – Peter says. We do it – we are people who do this – because we know what’s coming, and we know that reality isn’t manifested in our struggles but in “God’s power.”

We should also take heart that Peter uses that phrase: “all kinds of trials.” He knows that not all the suffering of the Christian life is persecution. We suspect that those he’s writing to are being tortured and killed for their beliefs – but notice that he doesn’t limit the consolation of this “living hope” in any specific way. It abounds even for us – in suffering that is natural, unnatural,
mundane, spiritual, extraordinary, and everything in between. Jesus is not only near to the martyr – he’s near to us all.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Why do trials happen? Why is there suffering at all? That’s a big question – THE question – but Peter just slips in a simple, sober answer. He isn’t burdened by theodicy. He doesn’t try to explain how some good, all-powerful God can preside over a world where bad things happen – in part because there’s something hidden behind that question which wonders whether God is good or not. And that violates Peter’s most ardent conviction: the reality of God’s presence for us despite our experiences. He’s told us that in several different ways: it’s our perspective that’s speculation – only Jesus can be trusted.

No. Peter’s concern is more like what good can happen through these trials? And his answer is that our faith, tested in these ways, will one day result in “praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  There may still be lingering questions. Why does faith have to be tested in order to do this? How can God justify and make right all the suffering we see in the world? Won’t there still be suffering left to clean up when all is said and done? How will he explain himself and how will all be made right and new? Someday we may have answers to those questions – but for now, it is enough that our faith, through which we’ve laid hold of “living hope,” is more precious than gold. It’s genuine – veritable, true. And so, it is reliable and capable of sustaining us in these hard days.




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