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Good morning, once again. What a joy as always to worship with the saints of God at this beloved church. I invite you this morning to turn in your copy of the Scriptures to 1 Peter and to chapter 1. As you’re doing that, I feel, allow me a moment of personal privilege. Most of you have been following in the news the fires in California, and there’s two big fires burning; one in southern California, one in northern California. And especially the one in northern California, the city of Paradise, that’s known as the Camp Fire. There is a PCA church in Paradise, California. This church was a part of the presbytery that I was a member of before I moved here, for many years. That church has, it’s called Ridge Presbyterian Church. They’re in the process of, of planting a daughter church down the slope, down in the, in the, what’s called the valley, that part of California, in the city of Chico. And so really there’s two churches, one in Paradise, one in Chico, although they are together one church. All told they have about 150 or so members, maybe 200. And with the fire that came through there, every single member of that congregation lost their home in that fire, including the two pastors. Not one member of that congregation did not lose their home. It’s, it’s almost breathtaking. I certainly, I have a personal connection to the brothers and sisters there, but we have a personal connection. In our Presbyterian church we cherish our connectionalism. And this is a sister church of ours and it would do them well to know that a church of, of the stature of Christ Covenant and the PCA, might remember to pray for a little church in Paradise, California. It’s, I’m told it’s the single largest PCA loss of any, any single event, hurricanes and earthquakes and other natural disasters, I’m told that this is the most devastating to a single congregation, 100% of that church including their pastors have lost their homes. I wanted you to remember that and to pray for them as the Lord brings that church and that presbytery to your attention.
This morning then we’ll be in 1 Peter in chapter 1. We’ll be considering the first nine verses of that text, of that chapter. Begin by reading: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles in the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctifying of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
It is altogether fitting for us to consider a text like this today. We have been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving these past couple of weeks and now we turn our attention towards the Advent season and we, we are compelled by the story of Advent to think deeply on eternal things. And so it’s fitting for us to, to look into the matters that Peter would have for us today. You’d be hard-pressed to find a book of the Bible that so immediately jumps deeply into the savory mysteries of eternity. But that’s what Peter does. He gives a very short and, and, and brief greeting as the title of the book suggests it’s written by the Apostle Peter himself, one to whom Jesus Christ entrusted the earliest leader, leadership of the church. You are Peter, on this rock I will build my church. This is this Peter. So that when Peter speaks he doesn’t offer his own opinions. He doesn’t speak merely out of a place of experience, though there’s nothing wrong with any of those things. There’s nothing wrong with, with giving your opinion on important matters or speaking out of your experience. Those things are all good and fine and have their place. But when we glance into the chambers of God’s own counsel, we need authority. We need a man who speaks with authority and with passion. Certainly Peter was a man of his own set of experiences.
In the prayer room, some of the elders and some of the pastors and I were, were talking and somebody asked “what are you preaching on” and I told them 1 Peter and he said “I love Peter because he’s a mess.” Everything was jumbled up in Peter’s mind, and that is, that is certainly true to a certain extent and he certainly does write from a place of experience. He knew what it was to walk and to stumble. He knew what it was to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. He knew what it was to be viewed as one who is, who is unnecessarily eager. He knew what it was to be wrong. Yet God called him, and equipped him, and prepared him to take the earliest leadership of the infant church. So that when Peter here speaks, he speaks as one with authority. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect exiles.
Some of your Bibles might, might say “strangers” or “pilgrims.” That’s who Peter is writing to, to, to the elect exiles, the elect strangers, pilgrims, not native to a place, but living there anywhere. It’s meant to give us a feel for what is normal, how Peter envisions the normal Christian experience. A pilgrim mentality, this whole idea that this is not your home, that if you are a believer you are moving from this place to the next, from, from, from this world, what C.S. Lewis would call the Shadowlands, to the real world of heaven.
And then Peter, he goes out of his way to identify them as these elect exiles, strangers, pilgrims, foreigners in this strange land. You see how this seemingly innocuous greeting is laced with, for lack of a better term, theological drama. It’s meant to draw us heavenward, to usher us into a better and richer and fuller understanding of our purpose in life, to give to us a fuller sight of God.
What I’ve been praying for for you this week is that through the words that I would communicate to you that are drawn from 1 Peter 1 that we as a congregation would leave this place with a fuller sight of God.
Three things, then, lay hold of us, the first of which comes from verses 3 and 4. And what is forever true about the Gospel. I want you to have a fuller sight of God. How is that a man or a woman’s life is changed more in a God-ward direction. Your life is changed in a God-ward direction when you obtain a fuller sight of God. And how is that you get a fuller sight of God? You remember what is forever true of the Gospel.
“Blessed be the God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
Most of your Bibles, like, like my English Standard Version have an exclamation point in there. Do you see that exclamation point? It’s actually not there in the original. In fact, in the original, everything from verses 3 through 12 is one long, grammatically incorrect run-on sentence.
It’s, it’s not unlike Ephesians chapter 1. If you were to flip over there, you would see also, starting in verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” all the way down through “He has a plan of fullness of time, to unite us in the things, things in heaven, things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His good pleasure.” All of that, all in Ephesians 1, same thing: One long run-on sentence.
Everything you learned in ninth grade grammar class, throw it all out. Because Peter here, it says though like Paul he’s, he’s caught up in, in the majesty of eternal things, he simply can’t stop. He’s, he’s staccato version of, of blessing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ according to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again to a living hope. Peter is, is unloading a freight train of eternal mystery. He won’t even stop to catch his breath. Most certainly the sense of it all is captured in those opening words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The idea of blessing God. We get our word “eulogy” from this idea, this word of blessing God. It’s attached to the idea of, of praise-worthiness. Worthy are you to be praised. Worthy are you to be worshiped and adored.
You might recall, in fact, turn in your Bibles to the very end, of Revelation, chapters 4 and 5. Here’s the scene in Revelation 4 and 5, verse 9 of chapter 4: And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before Him who was seated on the throne, and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things and by Your will they existed and by Your will they were created. Worthy are you.'”
That’s the scene in heaven. What is the activity? What is the chief and primary activity of all eternity, it is, it is blessing God, worthy are you. Or the next chapter, verse 5, also at verse 9: “They sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe, tongue, people, nation. You’ve made them a kingdom and a priest to our God, they shall reign on the earth.'” Forever worthy are you God, they sang a new song, “worthy are you God, blessed are you God.” That’s the norm. Worship always attends the presence of God. What the church triumphant is doing in glory. What the church triumphant is doing in glory is to be the spiritual posture of every believer on earth, saying “worthy are you, O Lord, to receive honor, power, glory, and might.”
This, this Peter compelling us to a life that is shaped by blessing God. And this idea, Peter compelling us towards this does not come out of nowhere. This is not just, just Peter thinking about random things and putting them together. There is a telos, there is a goal, there is a point, there is a foundation from which every believer is to give praise and blessing to God, because according to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again.
Jesus Christ is always the acting agent in our salvation, causing us to be born again.
What, what hope might I have as a preacher? If you’re a missionary, what hope do you possibly have as a missionary, when you take the Gospel to the nations? Or when, when we stand behind this pulpit and we preach? What hope do I possibly have that my words, or that the words of the missionary, are going to have any effect whatsoever on the world? There’s nothing I can say. I am, I’m not eloquent. There’s nothing that the most eloquent man or woman could possibly say that could have any effect or change on anyone. What, what is the confidence that the preacher possesses? What is the, the confidence that the missionary possesses? It is this: That according to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again. Jesus Christ is always the acting agent in our salvation, causing us to be born again.
Nobody has caused themselves to be born. What did, what did you do to cause yourself to be born? The answer for that is the same answer to the question what’d you do to cause yourself to be born again? Answer: Nothing. But rather when God speaks, things come alive.
Genesis chapter 1 sets the paradigm. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without from and void, darkness over the face of the deep. The spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters and God said, God spoke ‘let there be light’ and there was light. And God said ‘let there be an expanse in the midst of the water and it separated the waters from land, waters’ then God said ‘let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place’ and it was so. And God said ‘let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens’ and it was so. And God said ‘let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures’ and it was so. And God said ‘let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind’ and it was so. Then God said ‘let us make man in our image’ and male and female He made them, and it was so.”
God spoke, and you passed from death to life. The very same power, the very same word, the very same speaker, the very same power, that caused all things to come to be, has caused you to come from death to life through the ordinary proclamation of the Gospel. Not one in this room would enter into the holiness of God’s presence. He who dwells in unapproachable light had God not breathed new life into you according to the riches of His mercy.
What is forever true of the Gospel is this: The kindness of His mercy has overflowed to the vilest of sinners.
And here’s the thing: It happened in a moment. It happened in a moment. A moment never to be repeated again.
On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord, and for that reason every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday. Every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday. Every Sunday we remember, we celebrate, we, we breathe the air of the promise of God’s resurrection, of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But that resurrection wasn’t just that day broadly; there was a moment in time, a very specific moment in time, when there was a resurrection that bought for us a living hope. It happened at a moment when no man was looking, His merciful grace abounding to the chief of sinners at a moment when no man was looking.
I sometimes wonder at the tenor of heaven that day, when in a tomb a lifeless body began to breathe. We talk about the resurrection and we think about Jesus coming out of that grave. That’s what I do, I think of the resurrection and I think of Jesus coming out of that grave and it’s a breathtaking moment, so to speak, but there was a moment before that, when everything changed. A lifeless body began to breathe and I wonder did God summon the angels? We read a few minutes ago of Revelation 4 and 5 and there is, there is this scene, this myriad upon myriad, thousands upon thousands, this untold number of saints in glory bowing down before the Lord. They are shouting from their place to the glorious throne of God, and I wonder if God hushed the heavenly choir. There’s a scene where the angels that attend the throne of God, so holy is He that they cover their faces with their wings, I wonder did He tell them uncover yourselves? Did He summon the angels for that moment? Did all heaven hush? And as it were, the Father say “watch this.”
You see, it’s a breathtaking moment, and then all of a sudden this lifeless body according to the command of God breathes, huuuuhhh, we are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of a savior. Heaven would shout the praises of God and I believe all hell trembled.
According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again. To a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. A living hope. Because the Hope-giver lives.
So you have a living hope. You know what’s true of all living things? All living things grow. You’ve been given a living hope, a hope that grows, a hope that moves. What is forever true about the Gospel is that you are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of a once dead savior. No wonder that Peter begins his sermon “blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This hope, this living hope, is causing you to move towards an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. In the strongest way possible, Peter lays before the believer what the Gospel has purchased for him or for her, an inheritance that can never fade, can never spoil, can never perish, and can never retreat.
So what do you do with that? Some of us will say “okay, that’s what’s true forever of the Gospel. How does that help me gain a fuller sight of God?” Well, the answer to that comes in the next portion, the next couple of verses, because Peter labors out of his way, not only to introduce to us what is forever true of the Gospel, he introduces to us what is true right now of every believer.
Verse 5: “Who by God’s power…” Who’s the who? You’re the who. “Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” By God’s power, you “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
There it is again, the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ at His revelation. What is true of every believer right now, Peter says what is true of you is you are being guarded, you are being guarded for your inheritance, an inheritance that is purchased for you and being kept for you. You are being guarded for your inheritance.
This imperishable future inheritance, the future glory of every believer, the future glory of the church, you are being guarded for that right now. Not only is your salvation entirely of God, but your perseverance is entirely of God. Not only is your salvation entirely of God, but your perseverance is entirely of God. Do I believe in the perseverance of the saints? Yes. Why? Because God is preserving me. Should you believe in the perseverance of the saints? Yes. Why? Because God is preserving you. Everything about your salvation from beginning to end, everything about your life in Christ… It all centers on God. Which means we can confidently stake our eternity on the resurrected savior.
“Ah,” we say, “if that’s the case, then where does faith fit into this whole thing? What about faith? If God is the One who is doing the preserving and God is the One who is moving me from death to life, if you’re saying that, that God the Father through Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is always the acting agent in both my salvation and my final perseverance, then what about faith?”
Somebody has said, insightfully, that there is no final salvation apart from continued faith. There is no final salvation apart from continued faith. Do you see how, how, how Peter simultaneously encourages us and draws us heavenward and reminds us of things that are true of us and the very same time, at the very same time convicts us to have faith, press on in the faith.
Some of you may very well be allowing your faith to fade. There is a very ill-conceived, a very sick idea, that exists in American culture and maybe other cultures, that when we go off to college, now is the time to really live. Some of you may be off to college, and perhaps you’re home from college this, this week and you’re very intentionally allowing your faith to simply die off and to be on the shelf to pull out when necessary, maybe Thanksgiving and Easter and maybe when your parents ask about it.
There is no final salvation apart from continued faith. You are being kept for an inheritance that is being kept for you, but this, this guarding ministry that you are being kept for is never to be conceived of a salvation without faith. Though perseverance is indeed the work of God, He always operates through faith.
So Peter compels us to ask the question: Do I have genuine faith in Christ? Or do I not?
Let me say a word to some of us who are regular, faithful attenders and perhaps members of a church: Peter compels us to ask the question do I have a genuine faith in Christ, or do I crave the benefits of eternity without the Christ of eternity? That’s possible to do, you know. It’s possible to crave, pursue, the benefits of eternity without hungering after the Christ of eternity.
I remember listening to a preacher say it this provocative way, that’s asking this important question. He, he very provocatively said it like this: If Christ is not in heaven, then I don’t want to be in heaven either.
It compels us to ask the question, am I hungering after Christ Himself or only after His benefits? Is Christ that important to you? Are you willing to stake your entire eternity on Jesus Christ and on Christ alone? Do I have a genuine faith in Christ, or do I crave all the trappings of, of religion, all the trappings of Christianity? Do I even crave some of the benefits of eternity without Christ Himself? That’s what Peter is driving towards by introducing to us this idea of suffering and even testing of one’s faith.
Nothing, you can take it from me, nothing will test your faith, the genuineness of your faith, like unexpected affliction. I, I have been there. Some of you have also been there. Some of you have been further into it than I have. Some of you never have. Take my word for it – nothing will test the genuine… There are two things that will test the genuineness of your faith: Affliction on the one hand, and the mundane on the other. These two things will test the genuineness of your faith. Affliction and suffering and trials and the regular, ordinary, mundane living of your life. Those two things will test the genuineness of your faith.
And here Peter focuses on the first one of those – affliction, suffering, and trials. If your faith, if it is a living hope, will be found, Peter says, shockingly more precious than gold refined by fire, to the praise and exultation of the refining fire Himself.
What is your treasure? What is that you pursue? What are you after? Maybe for your it’s not money, maybe it’s something else. Peter here says money, gold refined by fire. What about your reputation? What about fame? What about your good name? Is that more precious to you? What Peter is saying, Jesus Christ must be more precious to you than, than even your greatest desire as though it were refined. Because Jesus has that much of a claim on your life and on mine. That’s what is true of every believer right now – you are being kept for an inheritance that is being kept for you and you are being refined as though by fire for the hands of the refining One belong to He who has passed through the heavens for you.
And then finally then what is yet to come. What is forever true of the Gospel, what is true of every believer right now, and then finally what is yet to come.
You have no doubt heard of biblical idea of this motif of something that we call the “already” and the “not yet.” Things that are already true but not yet in their fullness, for instance, you’re already saved and you’re being saved, but you are not yet perfected. Already and not yet. This can be a helpful way of thinking about some of the connections between promise and fulfillment. There’s a little bit of that lurking beneath the surface of verses 8 and 9. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that his inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Peter is a good pastor. He challenges them, he, he doesn’t let them grow sleepy in their faith. He shakes them. He doesn’t let them take for granted the great riches of the Gospel. But he also won’t let them lose sight of the big picture, the outcome of their faith, the salvation of their souls.
Undoubtedly, my favorite book, at least the top two or three books that I own, is The Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve not read it in a couple of years, but for many years I’d made it my goal to read lengthy portions, if not the whole thing, every year, so full of illustrations and, and word pictures. And there’s a scene early on when Christian, that’s the pilgrim of Pilgrim’s Progress, the whole story, this allegory tells the story of a believer going from the moment of his conversion on towards a march in heaven and early on he’s looking for the way and he asks this man who’s going to help him, “how do I get there?” and the man points in this direction and he says “do you see that yonder wicket gate? That’s your goal, that’s where you’re going. Do you see that?” And in a moment of, of honesty and of clarity, Christian says “no, I don’t see it.” And the evang.. The pastor that’s helping him says “well, go, go that way. You will see it. That’s your goal. And when you see it, don’t lose sight of it.” And the rest of the story tells of his, his meandering journey on his way to the Celestial City, as it is called.
Here, Peter in the same fashion, does not want his people to lose sight of the, of the great goal of their faith, which is the salvation of their souls. You do not see Him now, I get that, Peter says, I understand that. You don’t see Him now, but you love Him. You don’t see him now, but you believe in Him now. And so rejoice with joy, the kind of joy and gladness that is inexpressible and filled with glory. It’s almost as though Peter gets lost for words here. Peter, what, what kind of joy? What is the character of this joy that you’re talking about? He says it’s inexpressible. That’s the kind of gladness that attends every believer. If there was ever a frowning people, may it never be those who have been plucked from the fire. You have been given a living hope, born again to a living hope, sustained by Christ through the operation of faith, which is itself a gift of God. And you therefore have an inexpressible joy and filled with glory as one who is entirely clothed with the righteousness and perfection of Christ.
Baked into these closing words is the promise of perseverance, and hope, and glory, and joy. Peter, their pastor, he knows them. He knows they’ve been dispersed to all these different places and they are living their regular, boring, mundane lives. And yet they are grieved by various trials. And in the same breath, Peter could talk about the various trials and a joy that is inexpressible. That is divine. That can only come from a living God.
There may be many among us for whom the thought of going on one more day is simply too much, and you want to know how to have a well-grounded and deeply-rooted faith that lasts, and here it is. You take your focus off of your current, present things and you learn by diligence and duty to re-center them again on Christ and all His riches, this boundless supply of mercy, the inexpressible glory and joy that is yet to be seen.
Do you know the name Thomas Brooks? Some of you might know the name Thomas Brooks. He’s a Puritan of inestimable esteem. In 1665 he was the new pastor of a church in London when the Great Plague killed untold numbers of both church and society. It reminded me of a friend of mine that was pastoring a church down in the Mississippi Gulf Coast and his very first week he reported for duty on a Monday or so and before the first Lord’s Day, Hurricane Katrina came and blew it all out. Welcome to the ministry. Thomas Brooks, new pastor, church in London in 1665, that’s the year of the Great Plague, and untold members of both church and society were stricken. Many pastors left, but Thomas Brooks stayed. And the next year was 1666, time to rebuild, right? The Great Fire of London once again afflicted the great city and Thomas Brooks’ church was the first to burn. Ten years later he lost his license to preach. In that same year, 1676, he lost his wife. You can do the math on that… Ten years – he lost his congregation to plague, his church to fire, his pulpit to politics, and his beloved wife. And after all that, this is Thomas Brooks: “The secret language of the soul is this: Lord, here I am, do with me what thou pleasest. Write upon me as thou pleasest. I give up myself to be at thy disposal. Lord, lay what burden thou wilt upon me. Only let thine everlasting arms be underneath me.”
What is forever true of the Gospel, what is true right now of every believer, what is yet to be true of the church, centers on these words: There is joy inexpressible, filled with glory, for the outcome of your faith is the salvation of your souls, because the everlasting arms of your savior are forever beneath you.
I want you to leave this sanctuary with a fuller sight of God. I want you to leave with a sense of the inexpressible joy that attends the salvation of your souls. I want you to think about this. I want you to go to bed tonight, I want you to pray about this, I want you to think deeply on the trajectory of your life, and I want Christ to reign most gloriously therein.
Our Father, we are profoundly grateful. We thank You that you have given to us, if only ever so briefly this morning, a reminder of the truths of the Gospel. I thank you that you have given to us a living hope. I thank you that this living hope occurred in a moment’s notice, a moment in time when a lifeless body breathed again, securing the way, opening the way for all of your people to enter into the joy of our salvation. This is our living hope, and how we pray, O God, that You would fill us, Your people, with the inexpressible joy and gladness that attends the gift of Your mercy. We look to you now to bless our congregation. Give us more of Christ that we might have a fuller sight of God. We ask these things for Jesus’ sake and in His name alone. Amen.