Hope and Joy in Trials – 1 Peter 1:6-9

1 Peter 1:6-9

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me (again) to 1 Peter 1. I had the opportunity to meet Dave Roever when I was in college. He came and addressed the Corps of Cadets at The Citadel. If you’ve never heard of David Roever let me just share a little bit of his story with you.

Dave grew up in a minister’s family in South Texas. At the height of the Vietnam War, he received his draft notice. Rather than serving in the infantry, Dave joined the U.S. Navy and served as a riverboat gunner in the elite Brown Water, Black Beret in Vietnam.

During a nighttime raid on an enemy stronghold, David experienced the greatest trial of his life. He and his men were pinned down by enemy machine-gun fire, when he pulled a white-phosphorus grenade from his belt and stood up to throw it. But as he pulled his arm back, a bullet hit the grenade and it exploded next to his ear.

Lying on his side on the bank of a muddy river, he watched part of his face float by. His entire face and shoulder alternately smoldered and caught on fire as the phosphorus that had embedded itself in his body came into contact with the air. David knew that he was going to die, yet miraculously he didn’t. He was pulled from the water by his fellow soldiers, flown directly to Saigon, and then taken to a waiting plane bound for Hawaii.

David’s problems were just beginning. When he first went into surgery – the first of what would become dozens of operations – the surgical team had a major problem during the operation. As they cut away tissue that had been burned or torn by the grenade, the phosphorus would hit the oxygen in the operating room and begin to ignite again! Several times the doctors and nurses ran out of the room, leaving him alone because they were afraid the oxygen used in surgery would explode! Incredibly, David survived the operation and was taken to a ward that held the most severe burn and injury cases from the war.

Lying on his bed, his head the size of a basketball, David knew he presented a grotesque picture. Although he had once been a handsome man, he knew he had nothing to offer his wife or anyone else. He felt more alone and more worthless than ever before. But David wasn’t alone. There was another man who had been wounded in Vietnam, and he, too, was a nightmarish sight. He had lost an arm and a leg, and his face was badly torn and scarred. As David was recovering from surgery, this man’s wife arrived from the States. When she walked into the room and took one look at her husband, she became nauseated. She took off her wedding ring, put it on the nightstand next to him, and said, “I’m so sorry, but there’s no way I could live with you looking like that.” And with that, she walked out the door. He could barely make any sounds through his torn throat and mouth, but the soldier wept and shook for hours. Two days later, he died

Three days later, David’s wife, Brenda, arrived. After watching what had happened with the other soldier, he had no idea what kind of reaction she would have toward him, and he dreaded her coming. Brenda, a strong Christian, took one look at Dave, came over, and kissed him on the only place on his face that wasn’t bandaged. In a gentle voice she said, “Honey, I love you. I’ll always love you. And I want you to know that whatever it takes, whatever the odds, we can make it together.” She hugged him where she could – to avoid disturbing his injuries – and stayed with him for the next several days.

Now, I want to tell you, that’s an incredible story and it’s an incredible testimony – out of the midst of hurt and pain you see hope and joy. That’s exactly what Peter is trying to convey (in 1 Peter 1) to those Christians that have been scattered all across Asia Minor. Remember now, he’s just shared with them this blessing and reminded them of God’s great mercy that redeemed them through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which has resulted in them becoming heirs to an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. So, take your Bibles now and follow along with me:

6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 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. 8 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, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

“Teach us, Lord, full obedience, holy reverence, true humility. Test our thoughts and our attitudes in the radiance of Your purity. Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see Your majestic love and authority. Words of pow’r that can never fail, let their truth prevail over unbelief” (Speak, O Lord by Keith & Kristyn Getty).

Peter is writing in about 66 A.D. and for the next 200 years the Church is going to enter into an incredible, unholy period of pure persecution. It’s just starting. The Christian’s of Peter’s time were just beginning to get a foretaste of what was coming. Do you see and hear an application for our day and time? Peter was trying to prepare them. It wasn’t going to get better. It was only going to get worse. And what Peter is trying to get them to understand is that you don’t have to lose your hope in the midst of your hurt. You don’t have to lose your joy in the midst of your pain. He didn’t want them to confuse the testing of their faith with the failure of their faith.

That’s what happens many times. We go through a test, we go through a trial, we experience a difficulty and what do we say, “Well, God, I’m just not sure that You love me. I’m not sure that my faith is real. Why is this happening to me, if You love me. Maybe I’m not saved.” All of this confusion just rises to the top when we go through trials, and Peter wants his audience to understand that you can maintain your hope in the midst of your hurt, that you can maintain your joy in the midst of your pain when you…

See Trials In Light Of Eternity

That’s the very first thing he says, “…though now for a little while…” Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Every now and then, we need to be reminded that this life only accounts for a very small sliver of our existence. We don’t tend to think about this, which is all the more reason why we need to be reminded and why Peter is reminding his listeners, but this life that we’re living right now is miniscule in comparison to eternity. Over and over again we’re told that this life is fleeting. It’s momentary. It’s vanishing.

James 4:14 says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Job, you gotta love the way Job puts it. He says, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not” (Job 14:1-2).

1 Chronicles 29:15 says, “Our days on the earth are like a shadow…”

The psalmist says, “Behold, You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before You. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath” (Psalm 39:5)!

Psalm 144:4 says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”

Do me a favor. Put your hand about 6-7 inches in front of your face and breath on it. Do it again. The authors of God’s Word testify again and again that that’s how long our earthly lives are. Listen, let me tell you something, everything that hurts, everything that damages, everything that wounds, if you die never trusting Jesus Christ, your absolutely worst day in this life will seem like paradise when you’re in hell. But, oh, there’s another side to that. Your absolutely worst day in this life, when you die in Christ, somewhere over on the other side you’ll say, “Hey, hey, hey, there was something that happened. It seems like a fog. It’s hazy. It’s blurry. I can’t make out the particulars. I really can’t grasp what it was, what happened, what was it that was so bad. Oh, I can’t remember it in light of glory!”

Peter says you can maintain your hope in the midst of hurt, you can maintain your joy in the midst of your pain when you see your trials in light of eternity. And secondly, you can maintain your hope in the midst of hurt and joy in the midst of pain when you…

See Trials In Light Of Necessity

This is hard to explain, but that little phrase, “…if necessary…” is not really saying what we think it’s saying. We read the word “if” and translate it “maybe/maybe not.” That’s not how that phrase works in the Greek. Some of you are saying, “Pastor, I don’t even have that phrase.” If that’s you, then you’re likely reading from the NIV, NLT, or the HCSB, and they’ve translated this in the fashion that the Greek actually intends. The phrase “if necessary” is actually in the Greek text, but what it means is not “maybe/maybe not.” What it means is this: “it’s necessary, it’s inevitable, there’s need of it, it’s right and proper.” What Peter is saying is this, it’s a fact of life, it’s reality, if you’re a Child of God, if you’ve been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, then you are going to suffer some type of persecution and trial.

You say, “Now, Pastor, I don’t like that.” Well, I don’t like it much either, but it’s a fact. Listen to what Paul writes to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:1, Paul says, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” It’s a fact. It’s a reality. It’s coming (if it hasn’t already shown up). Then, a little further down in that same chapter (v. 12) he says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

I know that some of you are facing religious persecution in your own families – family members that mock you and ridicule you because of your position on faith, or morality, or sexuality and gender, because of what you will/won’t do. Maybe you’ve experienced persecution and trials at work. You’ve been overlooked for a promotion because you choose integrity over cutting corners and closing your eyes to shady business. Sure, your sales could’ve been as great as the next guy if you chose to operate with questionable standards and fudging the numbers. That’s what Peter is saying. You’re going to suffer. Whatever you do, you hang on, through the suffering, with hope and see the necessity of it.

That’s what happens to a guy named Saul, in the New Testament book of Acts. You know the story. The Lord sends Saul off to a guy named Annanias, and God is saying to Annanias, “I want you to go down and help out this fella named Saul.” And Annanias is saying, “Lord, I’m not so sure You know what You’re doing. He’s kind of dangerous. He has all kinds of authority from the Chief Priests to bind up all who call on Your name.” And Acts 9:15 says, “But the Lord said to [Annanias], ‘Go, for [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

God doesn’t say to Annanias, “Go down there and show him the new Gulfstream airplane he’ll ride in, or the Bentley that he’ll drive, and the great big home that he’ll live in, and that he’ll never get a cold or COVID or pneumonia or anything else as long as he’s faithful to me.” No. God says go down there because I’ve got to tell him that it’s gonna get rough, and then it’s gonna get rougher. That’s reality. It’s necessary. God is working. God is doing something in us through these sufferings and difficulties and trials that couldn’t be accomplished any other way.

Our Men’s Bible study just finished a 2–3-month study of James. Listen to what he says in his introductory remarks, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Paul writes this in Romans 5, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

When we get over to 1 Peter 4:12-13 we’re going to hear Peter say, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

Peter says that we can maintain our hope in the midst of hurt, that we can maintain our joy in the midst of pain when we see our trials in light of their necessity to perfect our faith. Finally, we can maintain our hope in the midst of hurt and our joy in the midst of pain when we…

See Trials In Light Of Testimony

What do I mean by that? Well, when you come through a test, when you come through a trial, when you overcome difficulties in your life what do you have? You have a testimony. When you suffer trials, when you go through testing, when you endure persecution, Peter says all of that is like the refining process for gold and look at what comes out on the other end (of verse 7), it “result(s) in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Part of our problem – when we’re going through trials and persecution and difficulty – is that we don’t appreciate the fact that it gives us the opportunity to shine the spotlight on God. If we’d see the hardships of this life as an opportunity to lean into God, to say to others “I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but I’m trusting the Lord,” to remind folks of God’s goodness even in the midst of pain and suffering, even in the midst of death and disease, then it would result in Jesus being praised and glorified and honored.

This is the way that it is. Satan comes in before the throne of God and he says, “That girl, Abbie Barnette, she has cancer. Cancer cells are all loose in her body and she’ll never praise you.” And God Almighty, like He does in Job, says you just wait and see. Listen for her testimony in a few years.

“Oh, their child has died. They’ll curse You. They’ll turn from You. They’ll never praise You.” And God says, “Oh, hey, devil, have you met my servants down there, Nic and Claudia? Have you heard their testimony?”

In the weeks and months that followed David Roever’s incident, his wounds slowly but steadily healed. It took dozens of operations and months of agonizing recovery, but today, miraculously, David can see and hear. In sermon after sermon and speech after speech, David Roever will often say, “I am twice the person I was before I went to Vietnam. For one thing, God has used my suffering to help me feel other people’s pain and to have an incredible burden to reach people for Him. The Lord has let me have a worldwide, positive effect on people’s lives because of what I went through. I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve gone through for the benefits my trials have had in my life, on my family’s life and on countless teenagers and adults I’ve had the opportunity to influence over the years.

We can maintain our hope in the midst of hurt and our joy in the midst of pain when we see our trials in light of eternity, when we see our trials in light of their necessity, and when we see our trials in light of our testimony – that our lives and our faith may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

A Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:3-5

1 Peter 1:3-5

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to 1 Peter 1:3-5. You’ve become accustomed to hearing me say that, I’m sure. And while it’s what some might call “filler talk,” or just typical “introductory language,” I hope that you also hear something fundamental in it. That fundamental message is a weekly reminder that we have access to God’s written Word. We have access to the plan and purposes of God – to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the gospel – and I hope that you look forward to Sundays because you know that what we’re going to study together comes from this book (the Bible). Amen?

Several years ago, a 9-year-old girl by the name of Demi-Lee Brennan was just like any young girl her age: active, bright, happy. But she became a very sick little girl. Something happened to her liver. Doctors didn’t understand it. They weren’t sure, but they knew that if she was going to survive, then she’d need to have a liver transplant. So, they put her on the transplant list and found one. They scheduled her for surgery and everything went great. She did extremely well in recovery and after a few weeks in the hospital they sent her home with all of this anti-rejection medication – so that her body would accept the liver that was given to her.

Everything went well. Like many young children, her body responded favorably and she bounced back rather quickly from the surgery. But about 9 months into her recovery period she became extremely ill again. They rushed her back to the hospital. The doctors weren’t sure what was going on, so they ran scans and did blood work and all the rest, and what they determined was that her body was now fighting the anti-rejection medication.

Something had changed in her physiologically. What had changed was this – and doctors say that the only way to explain it is that this was a modern miracle – her blood type had changed from O (negative) to O (positive). They’d never seen that before. They said that the chances of that happening was 1 in 6 billion. In other words, that doesn’t happen. But it did for Demi-Lee Brennan. She’s in her mid-20’s now and doing well.

I tell you that in order to tell you this; that’s what Peter describes for us in today’s passage. If you have trusted Jesus Christ for your salvation… If you’ve recognized that you’re a sinner and that there’s no way possible to make yourself right with God apart from the completed work of Jesus Christ… If you’ve confessed your sin and turned to Jesus in faith, then you’ve been born again to a living hope. Something as dramatic as a blood change in the life of Demi-Lee Brennan has happened to you, but in a spiritual sense. The moment that the Holy Spirit drew you to a place of surrender before the Lord Jesus Christ, His blood changed everything about you.

That’s what we’re going to discover today. Hopefully, you’ve found your spot. If not, you can follow along on the screens.

3 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, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

“Father, we thank You that we can study Your Word in these moments. And I pray that in Your great goodness, You will take my words and speak through them, take our minds and help us to think clearly through them, take our hearts and open them to receive Your truth. For Christ’s sake, amen.”

Last week, we noted that Peter is writing to believers that have been scattered among the Roman Empire: places like Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. And he refers to the believers as aliens, as strangers, as exiles – people that don’t belong in this world. Many of you said that you sympathized with me last week when I said that I felt more and more like an alien and stranger in my very own country. In the words of one young girl to her dog, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” That’s what Peter says when he begins this letter of encouragement.

The Church has been dispersed and scattered, likely due to the persecution that’s beginning to build in Rome over their faith and the fact that they won’t bow their knees in worship to the Caesars. And besides feeling alienated and exiled, or rather because of their alienation and exile some of the believers are beginning to question their faith. They’re suffering. They’re anxious. They’re full of care and worry, and they’re beginning to ask this question: “Well, maybe I’m not really saved. You suppose that I’ve lost my salvation? Do you suppose that I’m not really saved? That I didn’t do it right? Was there some formula that I was supposed follow?”

Peter knew that people often questioned their faith during times of persecution and suffering. You say, “Well, pastor, how do you know that Peter knew that?” Well, if you remember, during Jesus’ trial and the building pressures surrounding His crucifixion, Peter was questioned. Peter knew what peer pressure felt like. In fact, Peter knew what it was like to fail Christ and feel as though you’ve lost your salvation. All of us, at some point in our lives, have doubted or questioned our own salvation. Now, the degree of doubt and question might have been different, but there’s not a person here this morning that hasn’t (at some time) wondered and questioned and, in some sense, doubted their own salvation.

Peter writes to them and says, “I want you to understand this: because of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ you have salvation that will be eternally secured.” That’s what Peter is saying in verses 3-5 and I want to show you that this morning. Just like last week, the three things that we’re going to consider are found directly in the text. And the first is that we have:

A Living Hope Because Of God’s Gift

I have eternal security… I have a living hope because of God’s gift (v. 3). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again…”

Now let’s just pause for a moment on that phrase, “According to His great mercy…” The word “mercy” describes pity and compassion towards the miserable. It describes the gracious activity of someone toward an undeserving party.

We’re all familiar with those who get prizes for running the fastest, or jumping the highest, or scoring the most points, or making the most sales, or whatever it may be. If you do this, then you get that. You perform and you receive the reward. Almost all of our western American society and capitalism is based upon this principle. But Peter isn’t speaking in these terms. No, he says it’s because of God’s mercy that we discover this. And the word “mercy” assumes only two things: 1.) it assumes need on the part of the recipient, and 2.) adequate provision on the part of the donor.

Those of you that have been here for a while know that we just concluded updates to our church directory. And as my family was having their photo taken, I said to Brent, “I would very much like for this picture to do me justice.” And though Brent would never say such a thing to his pastor, I’m sure he thought, “Lee, what you require is not justice, but mercy. After all, there’s only so much that you can do with a face like that. If your mother hadn’t lifted you out of the crib by your ears as much, then we could’ve done better.” No, we don’t require justice. We require mercy.

And yet it’s hard to go through an entire week and not hear someone in your family, or a work colleague, or a classmate at school say, “Oh, I don’t think it’s fair… I don’t think it’s right… I deserve better than this… I should have something more… This shouldn’t happen to me.” Listen to me folks, we need to understand this: it’s in God’s great mercy that He gives us anything at all. It’s by His mercy that we have breath in our lungs. It’s by His grace and His mercy that He allowed us to get dressed this morning. And it’s by His great mercy that He has given us new birth according to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I’m going to start “amening” myself in a minute. Peter writes this an encouragement. You ought to be happy about this. This ought to make some of you smile, this morning.

Now, the word that he uses for “born again” is the Greek word anagennaó. It’s a word that’s only used by Peter. Now some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but I thought that’s what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3?” Well, Jesus spoke about the “new birth,” that’s true, but Jesus says that we must be “born from above” (John 3:3). According to John’s gospel, Jesus never uses this word, or at least John doesn’t record it that way. Peter is the only New Testament writer to use the term anagennaó. He uses it here and then again in verse 23. And the point is clear. Only God can cause someone to be “born again.”

But we’re not simply “born again” to this plain old life, to this plain old existence, to live our lives over on rewind like some bad dream or Ground Hog Day movie scene. No, we’re born again to a “living hope.” This isn’t the kind of hope that most of us express, which is nothing more than an ambivalent wish. That’s what most of us mean. Let me give you an example.

Most of you know that I’m a huge Formula 1 fan and my favorite driver is an Englishman named Lewis Hamilton. Lewis is currently tied with Michael Schumacher in the greatest number of world championship titles (at 7). He lost last year’s title at the last race on the last lap to a technicality after a restart, but that’s beside the point. This year, due to some major engineering changes to the car, he’s doing poorly. They race today in Miami (first time ever). I hope Lewis wins, but in reality, he probably won’t. Do you hear that? That’s an ambivalent wish. It’s full of hesitancy. Full of doubt. Full of “I’m not really sure.” Full of “I’d like for that to happen.”

That’s not living hope. Living hope is certain! Living hope is sure! Living hope is final! Living hope has been sealed! This is a living hope that comes from Almighty God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and it’s a gift!

A Living Hope Because Of God’s Guarantee

The second thing is this: we have a living hope because of God’s guarantee. Look at verse 4. The gift of living hope leads “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Do you know what an inheritance is? An inheritance is what the dead leave to the living. Now, I know that sounds harsh, especially on Mother’s Day, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s just the truth.

There was a couple that lived in Alto, MI by the name of Willis and Arlene Hatch. They owned an 80-acre farm in this little farming community. They had no children, no relatives, but they were a part of this little community. They were part of Alto Methodist Church, down the street. Willis worked on the farm. Arlene taught school. They were just average, blue-collar farmers/teachers. They were both killed in a tragic automobile accident.

Not long after that, everybody in that little community of Alto – about 70-some-odd folks – got a letter from Willis and Arlene’s attorney that said they would all divide up over $3M dollars that has been left to you. People inherited anywhere from $5k to $125k. Some farmers were able to pay off their farm debts. Others were able to buy a new piece of farming equipment. Young people inherited enough that they were able to go a get a free college education.

Their pastor asked the question: Did we deserve this? No, but he said that Willis and Arlene were incredibly generous people and the people of Alto, MI were thankful for their generosity. Did anyone there earn that? No. Peter says that we obtained an inheritance not because we earned it or deserved it, but solely because God loves us. Folks, that’s good news.

And Peter uses three words to describe our inheritance. He says our inheritance is imperishable (that means it won’t perish). Everything in this world, everything in this universe, everything that’s ever existed has already sown into it the seeds of decay and deterioration and death. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. We joke and laugh around here, but if it wasn’t for doctor’s appointments, many of you wouldn’t have anything to do.

Secondly, he says that it’s undefiled (that means that sin has never touched it). You get a couple of us Citadel grads together and it won’t take about 2 minutes and we’ll be sharing stories – stories that Parker is taking in. Perhaps all this wisdom will pay off, one day. Listen, you learned to polish brass and shoes like an expert. Every day there were multiple inspections – checking out your appearance. It was very common to come in from morning class, run up to your room and change your shoes and belt and sometimes your cover (your hat) and make sure that you had the shiny stuff on. You wore your semi-perfect stuff to class, but when you came down for breakfast formation or lunch formation or dinner formation, then you made sure you had the best stuff on.

Now, you’ve spent countless hours shining and polishing the night before, or the day before, or even moments before formation. As you’re standing there in formation, one of the upperclassmen (usually a junior/senior private) would walk by on their way to formation and they’d lick their finger and run it across your belt, or they’d step on the toe of your shoe. In an instant that shiny brass would tarnish. In an instant that mirror shoe shine looked like you used a melted candy bar. In an instant, that which was undefiled was defiled.

What Peter is saying here is best captured in the words of the great theologian M.C. Hammer, “Can’t touch this!” You can’t touch my inheritance. Satan’s old, dirty, sinful hands can’t touch it. It’s undefiled. It’s as pure as Jesus.

Thirdly, he says it’s unfading. That’s a term that’s time related. Momma’s, many of you received flowers today. We saw that bouquet in the store window, or that potted flower at the local nursery and its beauty just said, “This is like momma.” So, we bought it for you. We meant well, but it’s gonna fade. Even if it’s a flower that can be planted. It’s gonna fade. You know what, even if we bought the most realistic silk arrangement; it’s gonna fade. But momma, if you’ve trusted Jesus, then you have an inheritance that will NEVER fade away.

And the funny thing about the way that Peter describes our inheritance is that he has to use the opposite term, the counter term, the inverse term because everything that we know is perishable and defiled and fading. He takes negative terms and just adds the “ah” prefix and says it’s not like the perishable, it’s not like the defiled, it’s not like the fading things of life, and it’s kept in heaven for you. It’s reserved.

Have you ever missed a flight at the airport? If you’ve flown more than once, then I’m sure you’ve missed a flight. And even if you’ve only flown once, then you might have missed that one too. Listen, one of the things about flying from Greenville Spartanburg that nobody likes is that you can’t get there from here. You can’t get there from here. It seems like every flight that leaves from GSP is going through Atlanta. Listen, when you die, you’re going through the Atlanta airport.

You’ve been there. You’re making that connecting flight. The plane has landed and it’s taxiing to the terminal. You’re checking your watch. You’re saying a prayer, “Lord, I normally wouldn’t ask for this, but you know I’m going to miss my connection. Would you mind giving that pilot a short bout of diarrhea? Nothing too serious, just long enough for me to connect.” (Come on, you know you have.) And as I’m describing this scenario you know where you get off one plane and connect with the other – they’re on opposite ends of the airport. They’re never side-by-side.

You finally get off the first plane and you grab one of those golf carts, and you use the underground railroad, and you run on those moving sidewalks. You’re shoving people out of the way. And if you’re from the south, then you do it while at the same time saying, “I’m so sorry, honey. Lord, bless you.” And you run up to the connecting terminal only to find the ticket agent has just closed the door. If you’re like me, then it’s time to pull out the “preacher card.”

“Ma’am, I’m a preacher. I’m scheduled to conduct a funeral in Denver, CO later today. This is the only flight that I can take to get in/out of Denver.”

And she looks at you and says, “I’m sorry. The plane is gone.”

The guy beside you says, “Ma’am, the plane isn’t gone. It’s sitting right there at the gate.”

“Sir, I’m sorry. It’s company policy. The plane is gone. It’s not there.” And she walks off.

She didn’t care. It didn’t matter to her. You know why? Because she didn’t buy the ticket. That’s all in the course of a day. I don’t know how many times she did that every day, but it didn’t matter to her. She didn’t pay the price. Listen, let me tell you something; it matters to God. You know why? Cause He paid the ticket for your salvation, and it cost Him the blood of His one and only Son. It matters to Him that your reservation is secure, and let me tell you folks, He will get you home!

Let me show you the last thing. We have a living hope because of God’s gift. We have a living hope because of God’s guarantee. Finally, we have…

A Living Hope Because Of God’s Guarding

Look at verse 5, “… who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” I’m just going down through the text. It’s right there. The omnipotent, all-powerful God is the One who protects you.

The Greek word that Peter uses there is phroureó. It means “to guard,” “to keep watch like a military sentinel,” or “to actively display whatever defensive and offensive means are necessary to guard.” It’s a close cousin to another Greek term that you might be more familiar with – the word phalanx. If you’re a history fan like me, then you know a phalanx is a mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears.

If you saw the movie Gladiator, there was this scene near the end just before the final fight between Maximus and Commodus. Maximus had already been stabbed by Commodus in the lower section of the arena, and Commodus is making this grand entrance to the arena using the elevator system. And as he comes up through the floor of the arena, all you see are the shields of the Praetorian Guard. They’re stacked so close and so tight and they’re shields are the only thing you see. That’s the image that Peter is painting here. And what he’s saying is this: Almighty God has surrounded your life with the shield and spear of His power, and nothing will get to you unless God has allowed it and permits it.

Brothers and sisters, your salvation is secure in Jesus Christ. Your eternity is safe, if you know Jesus. Do you know that living hope? You can, because of God’s gift, because of God’s guarantee, and because of God’s guarding.

Hope In Exile – 1 Peter 1:1-2

1 Peter 1: 1-2

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to 1 Peter.  If you’re wondering exactly whereabouts that is, it’s close to the back of the New Testament.  The easiest way to find it is to go to Revelation and then put it in reverse.  Back up through Jude, 1-2-3 John, and then you bump into Peter.

I don’t know how many of you remember the name Vanderlei de Lima.  Vanderlei grew up in Brazil.  His parents were farmers.  They barely made enough to buy beans and rice to feed the family.  At 8, Vanderlei had to go to work to help the family out.

Like any normal 8-year-old boy, what he wanted to do was play and he really liked to run.  Man, did he love to run.  Wherever he could run he would go.  He ran so well that the Brazilian Olympic Committee heard about him and put him on the 2004 National Olympic team to represent Brazil at the Olympics in Athens, Greece.  And there, Vanderlei ran in the marathon.  But he didn’t just run, he was 4 miles from the finish, and he was in first place.

In the midst of all of that, there was a deranged spectator, an Irish priest named Neil Horan, that came out of the crowd and grabbed Vanderlei and pushed him off the course and into the other spectators there on the side of the road.  You can go to YouTube this afternoon and look it up and watch a recording of it and listen to Bob Costas comment on it.  In fact, when I post today’s sermon on our website, I’ll put a link to the YouTube in my transcript.

He got up from that melee and started running again, but by this time he’s 20 seconds behind the lead.  And if you know anything about track and running and that kind of thing, these races are typically won in tenths of a second.  He’s 20 seconds behind.  You might as well quit.  This is over.  You’re done.  Well, not for Vanderlei.  He gets back into the race and picks up his rhythm, and when he comes into the coliseum there in Athens, he’s got his arms out like an airplane and he crosses the finish line and takes third.  He won the bronze medal.

Nobody remembers who won the gold or silver, but that image of Vanderlei with his arms outstretched like he’s flying is an iconic moment in sports.  He was shoved out of the race, but he gets up and gets back into the race and he medals.  Now, they go to interview him and this is what he said: “This is a unique moment.  Most athletes will never be here.  They’ll never do what I was able to do, which is win a medal in the Olympics.  I did it for my country.  I did it for my family.  I did it for myself.”

What an attitude.  And because of that, because of what happened to him, he didn’t whine and complain.  He didn’t play the part of the victim, “Oh, they should award me a gold.  Oh, I was cheated.  They should do this or that.”  He didn’t do that, and because he responded so well to the incident, he won the most coveted award among Olympic athletes and that’s the Pierre de Coubertin medal, also known as the Spirit of Sportsmanship.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a great story.  Lately, I’ve felt like somebody is trying to shove me out of the race.  I feel like Satan has been trying to shove the Church out of the race.  Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  Paul speaks about it in 1 Corinthians 9:24 when he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.”

That’s exactly what Peter is writing about when he opens his letter.  And today I want us to camp out in the first two verses and see the hope that we have in the midst of our exile.  When it seems like the world is trying to shove us out of the race where do we find the hope to continue?  That’s what I want us to see today.  So, join me in 1 Peter 1:1-2:

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

“Father, we’re glad to be able to have Your Word open before us.  It’s here in Your Word that we find all that we need for life and godliness.  It’s here that we discover how we may grow up in our salvation.  And we thank You for the privilege of studying it.  We ask that in Your great goodness You will help us to be uncluttered in our thinking, clear in our talking, sensitive and inquiring in our listening, and ready to be obedient to Your truth.  We turn to You, O God.  We need Your help in these matters, and we ask for it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

So, Peter is writing to the Church and they’ve been scattered among the Roman empire.  He calls them exiles.  The Greek work is parepidémos: para (alongside), epidémos (sojourner/foreigner).  The KJV translates it as “strangers.”  The NKJV calls it “pilgrims,” but my favorite translation is the NASB.  It translates it as “aliens.”  Folks, that’s how I felt last week.  I didn’t know what was happening.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around it, but there was a church in downtown Greenville that was going to host a drag show.  And then the next day I ran across an article about a public liberal arts college in Utah that’s planning on offering a class on hardcore porn.  That’s right.  Each class period will be 3-hours of watching porn and analyzing it and discussing it as an art form.  I finally felt like I was an alien in my very own country.  And not only an alien, but an exile.

Peter says, “You don’t belong here.  You’re here because you’ve been scattered here.”  The Greek word is diaspora (dispersion).  The Church has been dispersed and that’s who Peter is writing to.  He’s writing to people across a region that we know as Turkey.  It’s about the size of Texas and Louisiana smushed together.  Besides Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it’s the only letter written to folks over a vast area.  And it includes both Jews and Gentiles in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.  And that’s what I’m saying to you (Christian).  You don’t fit in this world.

Over the course of five chapters, Peter uses the word “suffering” 15 times and he uses eight different words to describe it.  This was a Church that was being persecuted and the persecution was going to get worse.  This was a Church that was living through difficulty and hardship, and yet they weren’t turning on each other.  They were looking to worship and focus on Jesus Christ and Peter writes and says, “Hope comes to the believer or to the Church who submits to Jesus Christ in the midst of suffering and does not surrender to their own personal preferences.”  That’s verses 1-2.  That’s my paraphrase of the message.

Part of my job, as your pastor, is to get you ready for what’s coming down the pike.  And in a crazy week in America, you have hope.  Now let me give you three reasons for hope, and all three reasons are right there in verse 2.  If you want to know where I’m getting my points, they’re right there in black and white.

We have hope because of a SOVEREIGN GOD

Our God is sovereign.  The current president, the former president, and the president of tomorrow are not.  Only our God is sovereign, and he offers us some explanation.  He’s already called them exiles.  He’s already noted the fact that they’ve been dispersed.  They’re foreigners.  They’re aliens.  But look at verse 1 again.  He writes, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect…”  Who would’ve ever thought that those who were aliens and exiles, and foreigners would be the chosen (eklektos).  You’re the chosen people of God.

Now that’s a word that usually starts fights in a church these days.  And it’s tragic that it does, because it’s a wonderful doctrine of the Christian faith.  And let me just put my cards on the table and say, “No, I don’t have all the answers to the questions surrounding election, or foreknowledge, or predestination.”  Martin Luther didn’t.  John Calvin didn’t.  Charles Spurgeon didn’t.  D.L. Moody didn’t.  And Billy Graham didn’t.  If those men (and others like them) didn’t have all the answers, then let me assure you, I don’t either.  Listen, Spurgeon described the sovereignty of God and the free will of man like two rails on a track, and they run off into the distance and you’ll never seem them cross and you’ll never fully understand them until you get into the presence of God.

Do I believe in election?  Absolutely!  Do I believe that man has a free will?  I believe that God is so sovereign that man’s free will doesn’t scare Him.  You ask, “Well, do we have a choice?”  Look at verse 2.  He talks about obedience to Jesus Christ.  When I look at salvation in the Bible, and I see it from God’s perspective – God saves.  He’s the only One that saves.  He’s the only One that can save.  But does man have a responsibility?  Verse 2 – we have to obey Jesus Christ.  Look at verse 22 (he writes), “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth…”  God saves.  Absolutely!  Does man have a responsibility?  He better respond or he’ll spend eternity in hell.

The tragedy of the doctrine of election (and I’ve been guilty of this) is that we tend to emphasize one side of the coin to the exclusion of the other.  And if election wasn’t bad enough, he comes in verse 2 and talks about the foreknowledge of God the Father.  Somewhere in eternity past God knew you.  He knew everything about you, and He knew every decision that you would make.  He didn’t save you because of His foreknowledge, rather it was in His foreknowledge that He saved you.

Did God know that you would make a profession to follow Jesus Christ?  Did God know that you would confess your sins and turn to Him in faith?  Yes!  Did His foreknowledge of that decision force you to do it?  No.  You say, “Pastor, I can’t get my head around that.”  It’s okay.  When we’re gathered around the throne of God, then it’ll all make perfect sense.  That’s part of the mystery of God.

Now, I tell you all of that because here’s the deal.  We miss the hope and joy that God intends for this doctrine because we fight over it.  The joy and hope is this:  It’s God’s salvation and it’s God’s security.  I’m saved.  I’m secure.  I die and go home to be with Jesus, and Peter uses this doctrine as encouragement.  God…chose…you!  Now just think about who you are.

Garrison Keillor was a radio personality, humorist, and voice actor.  It’s my understand that you’re not supposed to quote him because of his dubious reputation, but I’m going to quote him anyway.  He writes:

“The captains are down to their last grudging choices: a slow kid for catcher, someone to stick out in right field where nobody hits it.  They choose the last ones two at a time – ‘you and you’ – because it makes no difference.  And the remaining kids – the scrubs, the excess – they deal for us as handicaps.  ‘If I take him, then you gotta take him,’ they say.

Sometimes I go as high as sixth, usually lower.  But just once I’d like Darrel to pick me first and say, ‘Him!  I want him! The skinny kid with the glasses and the black shoes.  You, c’mon!’  But I’ve never been chosen with much enthusiasm.”

I want to tell you something.  I want you to think about this.  God, in eternity past, chose you.  The sovereign God of all that is . . . the One who sits in heaven and laughs when the nations plot (Psalm 2) . . . He chose you.

We have hope because of the SANCTIFICATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

It’s right there in verse 2.  In fact, he’s going to cover the Trinity right here and that’s what we’re considering as our hope.

Listen, the work of the Holy Spirit is so fantastic and so multi-dimensional that it’s hard to know where to start and where to end.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8).  And yet, it’s also the Holy Spirit that draws us to the Father (John 6:44).  He’s the One that illuminates the Word of God for you.  He’s the One that guided the authors of scripture to write what they wrote, and when you come to Jesus the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word and brings understanding.  The Holy Spirit seals believers for the day of salvation.  He’s the guarantee, the down payment of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13).  Am I saved?  Yes.  Will I remain saved?  Yes.  Why?  Because it’s not up to me to keep my salvation.  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.

Peter says another work of the Holy Spirit is sanctification.  Now, I don’t know about your life, but I know my life and that’s a whole lot of work that He has to do.  I’m dirty.  Really dirty.  Listen, if you knew some of the thoughts and attitudes and words and deeds that your pastor said and thought and did, you’d ask me to leave.  But here’s the deal: if I knew your thoughts, words, and deeds, I’d probably leave too.  But that’s part of the work of the Holy Spirit – to sanctify us.

Sanctification is what the priest would do.  In the Old Testament, the priest would clean a vessel and work on it so that it could be used in the temple.  That’s what the Holy Spirit is doing with us, right now.  He’s in the process of cleaning us.  He’s in the process of knocking off some of the rough edges.  He’s in the process of scrubbing us.  He’s in the process of remaking us.  He’s doing everything that will make us presentable to stand before the throne of a sovereign God.  We can’t do that.  We can’t clean ourselves enough.  There’s not enough Comet and Ajax in the world to do it, but the blood of Jesus Christ does.

Do you understand that when you get saved God doesn’t pat you on the back and say, “Hey, good luck.  Hope you get yourself cleaned up enough.  Hope you get straightened out.  Hope you can do something with that sailor’s mouth that you’ve got there, and when you do you come back to Me.”  God never saves us and shoves us out the door.  We have the paraklétos – the One who comes alongside.  I blow it in a day and the Holy Spirit is right there, “Yep, you blew it.  Let’s get that cleaned up.  I’m gonna help you clean it up.”  That gives me hope.

You mean to tell me that there’s hope that one day I’ll be able to put this sin down and walk away – Oh, the glory of it all!  Why?  Because I’m strong enough, able enough, smart enough?  No, but because the Holy Spirit is working on this old boy Lee who needs to get cleaned up and God didn’t leave it for me to do.

We have hope because of the SALVATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Sovereignty of the God the Father.  Sanctification of the Holy Spirit.  Finally, the salvation of Jesus Christ.  Look at what he says near the end of verse 2, “…for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood…”  What is it that actually cleanses you?  Not who cleanses you.  That’s the Holy Spirit.  But what cleanses you from your sin?  The blood of Christ Jesus.  That’s what Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

He talks about it in an interesting way.  He refers to it as a sprinkling of blood.  Now that has connections with Leviticus 14.  You can read about it later today, but here’s the deal.  You’re all familiar with leprosy, right.  It’s this disease that damages the nervous system of the body and you can’t feel pain.  Because you can’t feel pain you often injure yourself and don’t even realize it.  That injury gets infected and sometimes you actually lose body parts as a result.

In the Old Testament it’s one of those diseases that’s seen as being the ultimate judgment against someone, because despite their character and their devotion to God they were physically and literally seen as being unclean.  It had no cure in the Old Testament apart from a miracle of God.  But if you happened to miraculously get cured, then there was a way to be reunited with the faith community and you had to go show yourself to a priest.  These guys were experts at finding blemishes (kind of like a lot of us).  They would look.  They would observe.  They would study and if they found the person was healed, then this was the process.

They would take two doves; one would be sacrificed, and the blood of that dove would be put in a bowl with water, and they would take the other dove and dip it into that bloody water.  Then, as the leper stood there in front of the priest, the priest would take that dove and throw it up into the air, and as that dove would flap its wings to catch air and fly it would sprinkle blood all over that leper.  So, the leper looked at himself and he saw that the blood had cleansed him.  Do you understand that’s what the blood of Jesus Christ has done for us?  That we’ve been sprinkled with the blood of Christ and being sprinkled with the blood of the perfect Lamb of God our sins have been forgiven.  That is hope, right there.

In the midst of a country that seems to have lost its mind.  In the midst of a day where persecution is going to increase on the family of God and on those who profess Jesus Christ, there’s hope!

I’ll end with this, and then we’ll come to the Lord’s Table together.

Not many of you are familiar with the name Martin Rinckart.  He was a pastor in the 1600’s in Eilenburg, Germany.  There were four pastors in Eilenburg and a bishop.  As a result of the Protestant Reformation, Eilenburg had become a predominantly Lutheran town and in 1618 it was caught up in the midst of the Thirty Years War (as many as 8 million people died).  And if that wasn’t bad enough, in 1637 there was a recurrence of the plague in Eilenburg and the bishop left.  Three of the four pastors died and that left Martin to conduct the funeral services over some 40 to 50 persons a day, and in all over about 4,480.  In the midst of those funerals, he even buried his own wife, who died on May 8, 1637.  With the weight of all of that bearing down on him he wrote his most famous hymn.  It goes like this:


Now thank we all our God, With heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices;

Who, from our mothers’ arms, Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.


O may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us,

And keep us in His grace, And guide us when perplexed,

And free us from all ills In this world in the next.


All praise and thanks to God The Father now be given,

The Son, and Him who reigns With them in highest heaven,

The one eternal God, whom earth and heav’n adore;

For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Our God reigns!  He is Lord!  I have hope.  You have hope.  We are not discouraged.  (Invite deacons to begin coming forward.)

“God, I thank You that You’re sovereign.  I thank You that nothing and no one could ever storm the gates of heaven to remove our God.  There, You reside, in perfect majesty and splendor.  You watch us and walk with us and You tell us that we are Your own.  Lord, I pray now, as we come to Your table, that we might once again remember and reflect upon the blood that was shed for us, the price that was paid for us, the life that You lived in perfect obedience to purchase our salvation.  May our time of fellowship around Your table bring us a renewed sense of hope in Christ Jesus, for it’s in His name that we pray.  Amen.”

Fullness, Forgiveness & Freedom – Colossians 2:1-15

Colossians 2:1-15

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Colossians 2. We’re continuing with our third and final sermon in this little series that I’m calling Passages from Paul.

The week before Palm Sunday we looked at Paul’s famous line from Philippians 3:10 where he says that he “wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” Last week, on Easter, we looked at the six (6) gifts that are ours as a result of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection as outlined in 1 Corinthians 15. And today, I want us to be reminded of how important it is that those facts, those realities, those truths about the cross of Christ, His death, and His glorious resurrection remain firm in our hearts and minds.

So, hopefully you’ve located Colossians 2. Now, I know that the bulletin says we’re going to read verses 6-15, but we’re actually going to read verses 1-15. It’s never good to start reading a verse that begins with a “therefore,” because what you’re about to read is all based upon what came before. So, in order to give us a little more context, we’re going to back up just a little.

1 I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.

“Father, we’re about to study Your Word together. We pray that the Holy Spirit would be our teacher – that all of us, with eyes turned towards Christ and with hearts open to receive Your truth, may find in Your Word, today, ‘a lamp for our feet and a light for our path’ (Psalm 119:105). For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.”

Last week I received a message from my dear friend (and yours), Johnny Walker. A bit of a disclaimer; for those of you that don’t know, I’m referring to a real man and not the Scotch Whiskey. John usually sits up here to my left (your right) with his wife Patty. John sent me a message containing an excerpt from the book Night by Elie Wiesel, the Romanian-born American writer, professor, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, and hoped that I might be able to use it sometime in a sermon. I told John that I was familiar with the story and the book. Mid-week, I found myself reading another story in another book by Elie Wiesel titled Souls on Fire.

In Souls on Fire, he tells a remarkable tale of a man named Isaac, son of Yechel, who lived in Krakau. Seems that Isaac was a poor man whose family seldom ate their fill, and one night in a vivid dream, he saw the distant city of Prague. He saw a river flowing through the city, and under a particular bridge he saw a buried treasure. He woke up the next morning, but the dream was just as vivid. In fact, that
night and the next night – for two weeks – Isaac had the same dream.

Finally, he decided to walk all the way to Prague to see for himself if the dream might be real. After several days he arrived, and although he’d never been there, he recognized the bridge from his dreams. He went under the bridge and began searching for the treasure, when suddenly he was grabbed from the back of his neck by a soldier who dragged him away to prison.

The soldier sat him down and said, “All right, Jew, what were you doing under that bridge?” No knowing what else to say, Isaac decided to tell the truth, and told him about the dream. Immediately, the soldier burst into mocking laughter, “You stupid Jew, don’t you know that you can’t believe what you see in your dreams? Why, for the last two weeks I myself have had a dream every night that far away in the city of Krakau, in the house of some Jew by the name of Isaac, son of Yechel, there is a treasure buried beneath the sink in his house. Wouldn’t it be crazy for me to go all the way to Krakau in search for some guy that doesn’t exist? I could waste a lifetime looking for treasure that wasn’t there.”

With uproarious laughter, the soldier stood him up, opened the door, and gave him a good kick, and let him go. Naturally, Isaac walked back to his home in Krakau where he looked beneath the sink in his own kitchen, and found the treasure buried there.

A good story, indeed, but the truth applies to us as well. Our treasure is in Jesus Christ. He resides in us through the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to look anywhere else. Jesus is sufficient. We don’t need some additional spiritual experience or some new-found enlightened understanding. We don’t need any other treasure. It’s already ours.

So, how does Paul teach this and correct this? That’s what I want us to notice this morning, because there are many people (many so-called Christians) who are leaving the reservation when it comes to the gospel. What the Colossian Church was facing is exactly what the 21st century Church is facing, and I want you to be “rooted and built up in [Christ] and established in the faith” as Paul puts it in verse 6.

Loved ones, hear me this morning, every day I sound more and more like my parents and grandparents (like some of you) – lamenting the good ole days and seeing and hearing nothing but bad on the theological horizon. Pastors and believers of all walks of life are entertaining skepticism and questioning their faith in a process known as “deconstruction” to such degrees that they end up denying their faith and embracing atheism. Progressive Christianity is growing. Churches and denominations are leaving orthodoxy for heresy in the name of loving their neighbor and cultural accommodation.

Again, don’t misunderstand me; I’m not suggesting that we not love our neighbors. No, clearly the Bible instructs us to do this. The issue at stake is how are we to love our neighbor. When it comes to sin and salvation and sanctification – our daily walk and growth in the Lord – what’s the best way to love our neighbor? That’s the question. Not should we. Yes, we should. But how best do we do that, in light of what the Scriptures teach?

Listen to me; the Colossian threat isn’t limited to the pages of your Bibles and the 1st century. No, it’s real today, and like Paul, I want to encourage us and strengthen us in our faith. So, what do we do? Three things:

Avoid Captivity

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Unlike Isaac in Elie’s fictional story, make sure no one sneaks up behind you and grabs on around the shoulders and puts a bag over your head and runs off with you. Don’t let the hollow philosophy that’s marked by emptiness and deception trap you. “Well, pastor, that’s easy enough to say, but exactly how do I do that?” Notice the phrase at the end of verse 8, “… and not according to Christ.”

So, here’s what you do. You read your Bible. You study your Bible. You pray to the Lord. You attend corporate worship where you sing songs to God, where you offer praise to Jesus, where you hear a minister expound upon the Word of God, and you run all of that stuff through the filter of Jesus Christ. What do I mean by that? Well, I mentioned it last week. You make sure that the emphasis and the focus of your faith (and your faith community) is the person and work of Jesus. Is Jesus championed as fully God and fully man? Is His death on the cross seen as satisfying God’s wrath towards sin and the sinner? At the end of the day, are you placing your faith and trust in the completed work of Jesus upon the cross for your sins? Do you see Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as your only hope to be made right with God and to live with Him eternally?

Or are there significant points along the way where you’re encouraged to embrace behaviors and beliefs that run counter to the Bible? Is Jesus more man and less God? Is Jesus merely one among many ways to encounter God? Is sin something to be taken seriously? Is it something that we need to recognize and confess daily, because when we see ourselves next to the holiness of Almighty God, we join Isaiah in saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! Or do we not really concern ourselves with sin? Do the voices of influence in our lives say to us, “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1)? Is our faith community more interested in redefining sin, justifying sin, accommodating sin?

This is what I mean by running everything through the filter of Jesus Christ. Any teaching that doesn’t seek to exalt Christ as God is empty and worthless. See to it that no one takes you captive.

Affirm Christ’s Deity

Following right on the heels of guarding against deception and being taken captive by hollow reason, Paul stresses the importance of believing that Jesus was God. Some of you have asked me recently why it is that we’ve been reading the Apostle’s Creed as part of our weekly worship? It’s a fair question, and my response has essentially been a non-response: “Oh, we’ll read it from time-to-time but it won’t be a fixed and rigid part of our worship.” Part of my reason for including it is precisely to remind us of the truths about Christ that have helped to keep orthodox faith in place.

The battles that were fought in the early centuries were battles that were fought over one iota. Iota is the 9th letter in the Greek alphabet. It’s derived from the Hebrew and Phoenician yodh. We translate that Greek/Hebrew letter with the English letters ‘i’ and ‘j’. There’s an English idiom, a phrase of speech that goes like this: “That doesn’t bother me; not one iota” meaning “not the slightest bit.”

And one of the battles that raged in the 4th century after Christ was over this little Greek letter. There were two Greek words that were being used to describe Jesus in the church: homoousios and homoiousios. The words are spelled exactly the same except the Greek letter iota is placed in the middle of the second word: homoousios and homoiousios. That one little Greek letter made all the difference in the meaning.

See, homoousios (without the iota) means of the “same substance/essence.” But homoiousios (with the iota) means of a “similar substance/essence.” And the question before the church in 345 A.D. was: Which of these words correctly described Jesus and His relationship with God the Father? Is He of the “same substance/essence” of the Father, or a “similar substance/essence” of the Father? And you say, “Come on, is it really that big of a deal?” Well, let me ask you. Who do you want dying on the cross for your sins? Someone who’s exactly like God the Father, perfect and holy in every conceivable way, or someone who’s mostly like God? The Scripture is pretty clear that only a perfect Lamb would satisfy the Father’s demands for sin. Friends, our eternal destinies hang on these matters.

Acknowledge Jesus’ Victory

There’s no need to look anywhere else. “[Jesus] is the head of all rule and authority” (v. 10). You were circumcised. Your baptism speaks of this. He’s not speaking about Old Testament circumcision. He makes that clear in verse 11 – it’s a circumcision not made with human hands. He’s referring to the circumcision of the heart that only Jesus can do. He’s referring to putting off the old you and putting on the new you in Christ. When Paul talks about baptism in verse 12, he’s describing the way in which we identify with Jesus death, burial and resurrection. When we go into the waters of baptism, we’re saying something without saying something. You know what I mean? By our actions we’re saying that we’ve died with Christ – we’ve died to sin and self – that we’ve been buried with Christ and that we’re raised to new life in Christ.

And he concludes with this, and so will we. Paul says that Jesus forgave us of all our sins. Look with me, if you still have your Bibles open, at verse 13. Notice how Paul is writing in the second person plural (you) and changes to the third person plural (us), “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” It’s as if Paul couldn’t contain himself as he wrote. He just had to include himself in that great statement of forgiveness. It’s the great longing of people’s lives – to be forgiven. They may not be able to articulate it, but to somehow or another be free from guilt.

The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 that a “time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” People will do everything in their power to find someone who will tell them that things are not as they are, to justify themselves and their sin, all the while deep within their heart of hearts knowing that forgiveness only comes through Jesus Christ.

He forgave us all our sins, but He also “cancel[ed] the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” It’s a wonderful picture, isn’t it? All of us have had opportunities to help people out in times of significant hardship, whether that’s financially or physically or emotionally. Many times, you can physically see the burden being lifted off their shoulders, the stress, the anxiety, all of it going away. Now just alter the image slightly and see your mountain upon mountain, depth upon depth, record after record of sin being placed upon the shoulders of Christ and being nailed to the cross.

I was perusing some old music the other day, trying to get some things ready for the choir and thinking and praying about what’s next for us as we search for James’ replacement. And I ran across an old gospel hymn titled The Old Account Settled Long Ago, by author Frank M. Graham that was published over 100 years ago. Listen to the lyrics:

There was a time, I know / When in the book of heaven / An old account was standing / For sins yet unforgiven / My name was at the top / And many things below / I went unto the Keeper / And settled long ago.

(Refrain): Long ago / down on my knees / long ago / Yes, the old account was settled long ago / And the record’s clear today / For He washed my sins away / When the old account was settled long ago.

The old account was large / And growing every day / For I was always sinning / And never tried to pay / But when I looked ahead And saw such pain and woe / I said that I would settle / And settled long ago.

When at the judgment bar / I stand before my King / And He the book will open / He cannot find a thing / Then will my heart be glad / While tears of joy will flow / Because I had it settled / And settled long ago.

Finally, Paul says that “[Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him” (v. 15). The enemies of Jesus – both human enemies and spiritual enemies – saw the cross as the instrument of their victory, and yet God turned the cross into the chariot of His victory.

That’s what I believe. That’s all my hope of forgiveness. Every day, all day, for the rest of my life, that He forgave my sins, He canceled the written code, that He disarmed the powers that seek to ensnare us and bring us to nothing, and He triumphed over them in the cross.

“Gracious God, how we thank You that Paul was able to write with such power, with such strength, with such integrity, and clarity and purpose. It stirs us. It makes us want to read our Bibles more. To learn more about who Jesus is and the wonder of His dealings with us. May we, O Lord, live lives worthy of Him and consistent with His fullness, which has been given to us. Keep us satisfied with Christ when all the world around us is clamoring for more. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Easter Gifts – 1 Corinthians 15:12-28

1 Corinthians 15:12-28

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15. We’re in a little series that I’m calling Passages from Paul – just a few key verses from some of Paul’s epistles. Week before last we considered Philippians 3, where Paul says that he wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. This week, we’re going consider six (6) gifts of that resurrection.

All of us would probably agree that we associate presents with Christmas, rather than Easter. In fact, I was in a conversation with a small group of guys this week and one of the men asked the group: Why do you suppose Christians gets more excited about Christmas, and are more attentive to the Christmas season than they are to Easter? And, of course, one of the answers had to do with the commercialization and secularization of Christmas and the tradition of giving and receiving gifts.

And I think that’s partly true – the anticipation and excitement of giving and receiving gifts is partly, if not mostly, what drives our emotional connection with Christmas. But according to Paul, Easter and the resurrection give us six (6) gifts that should stir the same excitement and anticipation that we get at Christmas. So, perhaps I should’ve titled today’s sermon Easter Presents or Gifts at Easter. Either way, let’s give our attention to the reading of God’s Word (shall we):

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under His feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that He is excepted who put all things in subjection under Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all.

“Our Father and our God, as we take these precious moments to consider the truth of your Holy Word, we ask that what we know not, You teach us; that what we have not, You give to us; and that what we are not, You would make us. For your Son’s sake. Amen.”

Paul says there are six things that would be in shambles if Christ did not rise from the dead. Then verse 20 reverses the whole paragraph: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” So, let’s look at those six things.

Verse 14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain.” But since Christ has been raised, our preaching is not in vain.
Verse 14: “. . . and your faith is in vain.” But since Christ has been raised, our faith is not in vain.
Verse 15: If Christ has not been raised, “we are found to be misrepresenting God [literally: we are false witnesses], because we testified of God that He raised Christ.” But since Christ has been raised, the apostles are not false witnesses about the work of God.
Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But since Christ has been raised, we’re not still in our sins.
Verse 18: If Christ has not been raised, then “those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” But since Christ has been raised, the dead in Christ have not perished.
Verse 19: If Christ has not been raised, then “we are of all men most to be pitied.” But since Christ has been raised, we are not to be pitied.

Those are the six gifts. But the way that Paul expresses them, they appear in the negative. For example, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” That’s kind of negative. So, I’m going to switch the order around this time, because when the resurrection starts meeting our needs, there’s a kind of pattern that fits our experience.

First, from verse 17, instead of saying negatively that we are not still in our sins, we can say positively that because of the resurrection we are forgiven for our sins.

We Are Forgiven For Our Sins

I put this first as the basic need and longing of our hearts because if God holds our sins against us – and all of us have sinned! – then there’s no hope of anything else from God. The foundation for every other blessing from God is that God won’t hold our sins against us. Everything hangs on forgiveness.

But how’s the resurrection connected to our forgiveness? Isn’t it the death of Jesus that takes away our sin, because He bore our sins and took our judgment (1 Corinthians 15:3)? Yes. But the connection with the resurrection is very important. Romans 4:25 puts it like this. “He was handed over [to death] on account of our transgressions, and He was raised on account of our justification.”

This means that by Jesus’ death He paid the penalty for our sins and purchased our acquittal, our justification, our forgiveness. And since the achievement of the cross was so complete and the work of our justification so decisive, God raised Jesus from the dead to validate our forgiveness and to vindicate His Son’s righteousness and to celebrate the work of justification.

Everybody in this room this morning needs forgiveness, and deep inside, even when we don’t think about it, we long for it. We long to be accepted by God. We fear the alienation of our guilt. But Paul says, because Christ rose from the dead, we are no longer in our sins. This is the first and most basic longing of our hearts.

Second, from verse 14, instead of saying negatively that our faith is not in vain, we can say positively that because of the resurrection our faith is well-founded. Or, to put it more personally, because of the resurrection of Jesus there’s someone we can trust absolutely.

Our Faith Is Well-Founded

I believe that deep in the heart of every person is a longing for someone that you can count on through thick and thin. Someone who is absolutely trustworthy. Someone who, if you put your faith in Him, it won’t be in vain. He won’t let you down. He’ll always be there. We want it because we were made for it. God put man and woman in the garden of Eden to glorify God by trusting Him for everything they needed.

That need has never changed, in spite of sin. And now that we are no longer in our sins, this longing too is satisfied by the resurrection of Jesus. The death of Jesus proves His love for us, and the resurrection proves His power over every enemy of life. And so, there’s someone you can count on. Someone absolutely trustworthy. Someone who will never let you down. Jesus is alive to be trusted. Paul, in Galatians, writes, “The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Our faith is well-founded because of the resurrection.

Third, from verse 15, instead of saying negatively that the apostles are not false witnesses about the work of God, we can say positively that because of the resurrection the apostles preach what is true.

The Apostles Preach What Is True

Our young people are being taught (and many of us were taught) that there is no absolute truth. Absolute truth is something that’s true all the time and everywhere, whether people know it or like it. It’s a rare teenager today who has the guts and fortitude to say, for example, in a high school health class that premarital sex is wrong – wrong for everybody, not just those who think it’s wrong. Homosexual activity is wrong – wrong for everybody and not just those who think it’s wrong.

Without the conviction that there are some absolute truths for all times and peoples, then the only end will be anarchy where everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Therefore, the need for truth is a deep need of the human soul and human society. And Jesus came into the world and boldly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And then He rose from the dead to validate His claim.

The resurrection proved Jesus to be absolutely true. And if you attend a church that doesn’t preach Christ, a church that denies either His humanity or His deity, a church that is skeptical about the resurrection, then they aren’t preaching the truth. Find a church that makes much about Jesus; and not just the “love your neighbor” and “turn the other cheek” part of His teaching, but the “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and “‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers” parts too (Mark 12:31; Matthew 5:39; 4:17; 7:23). The resurrection proves what’s true.

Fourth and fifth, from verse 19, instead of saying negatively that we are not to be pitied, we can say positively that because of the resurrection we are to be envied.

We Are To Be Envied

Our preaching, our ministry, our obedience is not in vain – it’s full, meaningful, valid, valuable, significant. If Christ is not raised, then living for Him, doing what He says, following His will . . . it’s all a great delusion. We should be pitied like insane people who live by hallucinations. But since He has been raised, and since He is alive, and He does, indeed, reign as King forever, all our obedience, all our love, all our self-denial is not just not-to-be-pitied, but is positively enviable. In his second letter to the Corinthians Church, Paul writes, “This slight momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

There is – in every one of us – the longing that our lives be spent well, that our lives count for something, that they have significance, that they’re usefulness, that we don’t come to the end of our days and say, it was all in vain, it was all worthless, it was just empty and pointless, useless and insignificant and pitiable.

Paul knows this. That’s why he ends this whole chapter on the resurrection (v. 58) with the words: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Not in vain! That’s the longing of our lives. O Lord, let me not come to my grave and say, “I’ve wasted it!” It does not have to be that way. Christ is risen and everything done in His name, by His strength, and for His glory is not in vain. Our faith is enviable. It’s significant. It’s valuable. It’s eternal.

Finally, there is the longing that we shall live forever in joy. That we not come to an empty end after a full and valuable life. That we not become a zero, or worse, damned.

Those Who Have Fallen Asleep Are Alive

And so, Paul says in verse 18 that because Christ is raised from the dead, then those who have fallen asleep in Him – those who have died in faith – have not perished. Or positively, they’re alive. They live forevermore. They live the way Christ lives. They’ve entered into the joy of their Master.

Former pastor, author, theologian, and a Greenville, SC son John Piper was famous for saying that “God and His Son are most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” And to make that true, God raised Jesus from the dead to reign forevermore. And in raising Jesus from the dead:

  • God gave us forgiveness and glorified Jesus as the all-sufficient forgiver;
  • God gave us a Friend to count on and glorified Jesus as utterly reliable;
  • God gave us guidance and unchanging truth and glorified Jesus as the absolute foundation for truth and righteousness;
  • God gave us a life that is not pitiable but enviable,
  • God gave us a ministry that is not in vain but fruitful, and glorified Jesus as the source and goal of all life and ministry;
  • God gave us everlasting joy that will not be ended by death, and glorified Jesus as the author of life, the victor over death, and the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Therefore, I urge you with all my heart this morning to lift up your heart and say with the choirs on earth and in heaven: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain and hath redeemed us to God by His blood to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Amen” (Revelation 5:12, paraphrased).

“We bow down before you, our good God, asking that you will write your Word in our hearts, that we may find ourselves trusting in nothing and no one other than Your beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.”