The Greatest Gift
The Greatest Gift
1 Peter 1:3-12
Thesis: Salvation is the greatest gift of all
How many of you would say math is, or math was, your favorite subject in school? Anyone?
I enjoyed math all the way through grade school, middle school, and into high school until the numbers got invisible and math problems looked more like drawings. When I got to Algebra, solve for x, count me in – I loved it. Geometry and Algebra 2 – I started falling off the wagon, and by my junior year, I was taking woodworking classes instead.
Those of you who are teachers in the room or on the live feed – when you’re giving a test or homework to your students in math, to make sure they know how to solve the equation, what do you like to see on their homework or tests besides the correct answer? Show your work! Maybe they have the right answer, but you want to know how they came to that conclusion.
SHOW YOUR WORK
I think the same thing is important for us when it comes to our faith.
There are a lot of people who would say they believe in God, every kid who went to Sunday school knows the correct answer to all the questions is Jesus. But when it comes to explaining how we arrived at that conclusion, we wouldn’t necessarily be able to say. There are a lot of people who would say they believe that Jesus died on the cross for sinners, but couldn’t explain how the cross actually saves sinners.
As we started this series two weeks ago, we looked at the first two verses of 1 Peter, and we’re seeing that Christians are being dispersed across these 5 Roman provinces forcefully by the emperor of Rome in order to “Romanize” newly conquered territories. And they are chosen, because they don’t really fit the brand of Rome. But they knew that means they are being set up for hostility, hardship and persecution from the natives already living in the provinces. And while it’s not recorded in scripture, they were human just like we are, so I think it’s okay to assume that some of them were asking the question, “why is this happening to us?”
Obviously we’re not in that kind of situation, but wouldn’t you agree that most of the time, when you get a flat tire and miss the meeting, when you lose a shingle on the roof and water starts coming in, when you get sick and the doctors don’t know what to tell you, or your marriage is starting to disintegrate and you’re not sure how to get it back – you kind of feel like that little kid in the class, and you say – “I know the answer to these problems is Jesus, but I don’t really see how. I believe Jesus died for my sin, and that’s great, but I’m not sure how that helps all this other stuff.”
The people Peter is writing to have been taken from their homes, moved to an unfamiliar place, given a job they didn’t sign up for, and all of sudden, the postman shows up with a letter for them from the apostle Peter, they open it up and the first thing they read is “You aren’t only chosen by the emperor for this, GOD HAS CHOSEN YOU FOR THIS! Oh, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! This is fantastic!”
About 4 weeks ago, we were in the middle of a family reunion hosted at our house when the sewer line backed up. A visit from the plumber that evening told us the pipe to the septic system was broken and it was broken right underneath our stamped concrete patio, which would have to be cut up to fix the pipe. The first thoughts in my head were not, “Oh, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has chosen me for this kind of suffering!”
So how do we move from, “Why is this happening to me?”, to “Praise God!”? That seems to be what Peter’s goal is, and in these next several verses, Peter is going to show his work. He’s going to show us how he arrived at this conclusion, how he got to this answer. So lets trace his work to see if we can understand how he arrives at his answer:
Step one in his work is to review 1:1,2: Peter, an apostle of Christ: To those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Like we talked about two weeks ago, God has taken initiative in coming to you, he has done something about your sin through the blood of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is working in you to make you, as verse 22 says, obedient to the truth. Keep going.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of God’s great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
I mean we could spend the whole message on this one sentence, there’s so much in here. That’s often how these letters of the NT are. So let’s highlight a couple points, starting with the subject of this sentence – the new birth.
- If you think about “new birth” what do you think about? A baby! Of course. A baby is the picture of new life. This is a picture of Bennett Henry, the newest member of River City Church, born a week ago to Jonathan and Mary Schrock.
- At this stage of life, Bennet is unable to do anything for himself, unable to further his own cause – fully dependent on his parents for life.
- I mean 98% of you in the room understand how babies are made. Did Bennet have anything to do with himself being born? No! He contributed nothing to his physical birth, and neither do we contribute to our spiritual birth. It’s not because of our own great efforts, not because you prayed the right prayer, or sang the right songs… It’s because of God’s great mercy.
- Ephesians 2:4-7 – But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. YOU ARE SAVED BY GRACE!
So the foundation of our faith is the work of God.
Secondly, Bennett was born into an inheritance. As part of the Schrock family, his parents will pass on to him the things they’ve accumulated – their things, their money, their property, or whatever. You know how inheritance works. But where all of that falls short for Bennet is that Jonathan’s money is only good if the economy is good, and we’ve learned in the last couple months that the economy can be trashed in about 5 hours on a Tuesday.
When Jodi and I were in Africa about 13 years ago, we were told of a country whose leadership decided to change the currency. You had something like 30 days to exchange all of your money for the new money. The old would be worth nothing if you weren’t able to do that in time. Many poor people who lived far from the city weren’t able to afford a trip to town with the little they had, so even their meager stash was no good anymore.
So wealth is not a great place for him to put his hope in, because it can change overnight, it can be stolen, devalued, etc.
The stuff he’ll inherit isn’t a great place to put his hope, because every single thing we own will end up either burned or in a junkyard someday. That’s a sobering thought, I know. But everything you own, from your car to your house to the pens in your pen drawer are fading. It’s disintegrating. It’s breaking down.
- So in that sense, all of the inheritance Bennet could get, through the loss of his parents in the future, is a dead hope because it’s either fading or can be lost or can be taken from him.
- Look back at verse 3: Because of God’s great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope, and what makes it a “living” hope is that it is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
- So this hope is alive. Active, working.
- And, verse 4, we’ve been born Into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, not kept in a bank or lock box somewhere, but kept in heaven for you!
- So for each of us in the room and watching online who have been born again, made spiritually alive by God’s mercy, our confidence for the future is not on some dead hope that is invested in earthly things that can be taken from you, but our hope is living and active, and his name is JESUS CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD! Colossians 1:27 tells us it is Christ in you that is the hope of glory.
- Keeping this picture of new life now, just like Jonathan and Mary are committed to Bennett’s safety and wellbeing until he is old enough to take care of himself, God is so committed to you that he guards your new spiritual life with his power until you are fully and completely saved when Jesus returns.
- Look at verse 5: You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
- So you are being guarded by God’s power until Jesus returns, and the way God has chosen to guard your spiritual life is not through your performance, whether you prayed the right prayer, went to Bible camp, whether or not you’re a “good Christian.” It’s through faith! Believing! Trusting! It’s through faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from the dead that we are guarded and kept for salvation when Jesus returns.
- For you and me, that means we have to look at the scriptures with the eyes of faith, like verse 8 says, and say, I don’t know how it all works = I can’t see him but I love him; I can’t see him but I believe in him, and I’m fired up about it! I’m willing to obey no matter what!
So let’s summarize on the screen here, and back to the idea of Peter showing his work. How do you get from (why is this happening to me?) to (Praise God!)?
- Here’s Peter’s train of thought:
- God has acted to bring you to life (by the mercy of Jesus blood, not your performance)
- Given you a new birth and an active, living hope (because Jesus is active and living)
- You are being kept by God’s power for salvation (by believing in Jesus)
- Your inheritance is being kept in heaven for you (secured by Jesus)
- Your salvation is ready to go – Jesus is just waiting on the word from the Father on the right time to come back and deliver it (revelation of Jesus).
Anyone else encouraged by that!? You should be! Peter even begins verse 6 with, “you rejoice in this, even when trials of life come!!” So when trials come, and we have moments we think we’ve lost our faith, or health issues to the point where reading and comprehending are difficult or impossible, you can look at Peter’s work and see: God has acted without your help to secure your salvation!! You and I can be confident that no matter what comes our way, physical/mental illness, etc, God’s great mercy that gave you new birth in verse three, is the same great mercy that is guarding you to make sure you reach the salvation he has ready for you!
Some of you grew up like me, where you were always on edge about your salvation – never quite sure if you’d done the right things, or done enough to still be saved. Maybe God loved you enough to forgive you once, but like a sinful earthly dad, you better not mess up again or he’ll take away your salvation. And I believe this could be a weight off your shoulders this morning to look at this and see God isn’t like that.
Just let that settle in for a second. Just worship God for what that is! Let the Holy Spirit breathe peace and life into your soul. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll look at what it means to respond to this truth, but for right now, just soak it in.
Maybe what comes to mind, though, is the question from the beginning – but life is hard. The people Peter is writing to have been taken from their homes and persecuted. I mean it’s great that there’s a salvation waiting for me, but what about all the hard stuff I’m going through? Is that proof that I’ve done something wrong, and God is punishing me?
Peter continues in verse 6… You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith – more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
You rejoice in this gift of salvation, Peter says, and yes, for a short time, you’re going to suffer, but even those trials you face on a daily basis are purposeful interactions by a loving father. They are not simply interruptions to your plans for the day or the week or your life. Trials are real, and sometimes very painful, but the good news is they are not proof that your faith is inadequate or nonexistent or that your salvation is no longer intact.
In fact, quite the opposite. Peter uses the example of gold, the most precious metal known at the time, to say, “look, the heat of a smelters fire doesn’t make gold less valuable, but instead burns out any impurities that would make the gold less valuable. The fire actually improves the value of the gold to the point where you would praise the artisan for having such pure gold.”
That’s the picture you have here of why God allows trials in our lives! He’s using them to purify our faith, to make it richer, to make us grow into maturity, and most importantly, to make us like Jesus.
And Jesus was no stranger to suffering.
The prophet Isaiah 53:3-5 writes about the Messiah like this:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; he was despised and we didn’t value him. Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains… he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; the punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds.
And then toward the end of that chapter, he willingly submitted to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet he bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.
Fast forward to the New Testament, the apostle Paul picks up the thought in Philippians 2.
For this reason (because of Jesus’ obedience in suffering, even suffering that led to death) God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So to answer the question, “how does Jesus dying on the cross help the other stuff I’m going through?”, it is to show us that trials have a purpose, in that they test the character of our faith, AND trials aren’t the end of the story! It’s to show us that if the Son of God suffered, we can expect to have suffering. But the good news is if the Son of God suffered, then our suffering isn’t a sign that we don’t believe enough, or have enough faith, or that we’ve somehow lost our salvation.
In those trials, Jesus was obedient to the truth. He never wavered in his belief that through this suffering, God was saving sinners, and would keep his word to bring him back to life. And we’re being asked in our own trials to trust that God is working something out that is part of the larger story of grace, and that after we endure trials for a little while, whatever those trials may be, salvation is securely waiting on the other side.
Yes, family is a gift. Yes money is a gift, yes health is a gift, yes education etc are a gift, but when those things and everything else in this world fades away and loses its value, the most precious possession of all is a genuine Christian faith that has been purified through trials – because it results in praise and glory and honor when Jesus is revealed, AND we will move into the salvation that is waiting for us!
Peter writes in verse 10-12 that you have something the prophets of old and even the angels in God’s presence today don’t know anything about. You have something available to you today in the gospel of grace that is more marvelous than anything this world has to offer you.
As we close, maybe you’ve never received that grace. You’ve thought this whole time that your salvation was about saying the right prayer, doing the right things, giving God money once in a while – and today is the first’ you’ve heard that it’s all God, and you wonder what must I do to be born again!? And the answer is simply, believe.
- Believe you are a sinner. You have gone against God and his plan for his people
- Believe that Jesus was real, historical person who lived and died and rose to life again
- Believe that he did it for you. Scripture says all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. It’s a promise of God - so call out to him today.
Karen H Jobes I Peter (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids MI, 2005)