Sermon preached at Our Savior Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 1, 2011 for the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Sermon text: 1 Peter 1:3-9. This sermon was the first in an Easter sermon series on the book of 1 Peter called, “Easter Brings Our Hope to Life.”
There’s no funeral. No gravestone. The heart is still beating. The lungs are still breathing. Every physical indication shows signs of life. The body still goes through the motions. But still, there’s been a death. It was the death of hope.
In some ways, the death of hope is sadder than an actual death. When someone physically dies and are buried, at least we can say that there pain in this world is over. But when someone’s hope has died, the pain goes on. The death of hope is a death-sentence to someone who is still alive.
Let me explain what I mean by hope. I don’t mean, “I hope we have nice weather for our picnic today.” I don’t mean, “I hope pastor preaches a short sermon today.” Those are things that might or might not happen, and when we say we “hope” for them, it really means we want them to happen. No, when I say “hope” I mean that expectation we have that God is going to take care of us. It’s not shaky hope or a maybe hope. It’s a sure hope. It’s a hope where we know our God loves us and he’s never going to let us go.
This kind of hope can die. Life gets hard. Troubles weigh us down. Tragedies, injuries, fights, the strains of life, the difficulties of work, the breakdown of our relationships — it can all chip away at the hope in our heart. Sometimes that hope can die gradually. It can squeak away on life-support for years before it goes. Sometimes it’s one heavy blow that kills our hope all at once. A death, an accident, something happens that just doesn’t seem fair. And the hope dies.
That’s one of the reasons I love Easter so much. Easter is about life. Jesus is life. He died, but he is alive forever! The grave couldn’t hold him. Easter is about our life. Because Jesus lives, we will live. By faith in him we will live because he earned it for us, not because we could ever earn anything good from God on our own.
But besides Jesus’ resurrection to life on that first Easter, besides our resurrection to life on the last day, Easter is also about the resurrection of our hope. Yes, Easter brings our hope to life. On Easter it hits us again how great God’s love is for us. On Easter we are knocked over by the fact that nothing could stop our God from rescuing us, not the death of his Son, not his grave, not ours, not anything we face now. Easter brings our hope to life!
We’re going to be focusing on that throughout the rest of this Easter season as we look through the book of 1 Peter. In this letter of Peter, we really see how Jesus’ life gives us hope, a sure hope, a living hope. And while we celebrate that hope and rejoice in it, we also recognize that we live in a sinful world and that the devil wants to take that hope away from us. One of the ways he tries to do that the most is with doubt. Today, we’ll see how Easter brings our hope to life, which means the death of doubt.
This letter of 1 Peter that we’re going to be looking at for a few weeks really starts out on a high note. It doesn’t slowly build up to the good news about Jesus. It starts right in at the high point. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:3-5)
That’s just one sentence, which just shows you how excited Peter was to write this good news. Let’s look at what he said a bit more closely. He says we should praise God because of what he’s done for us. He’s given us new birth into a living hope. That’s that hope I was talking about before, that hope that trusts God will take care of us no matter what. God has made that hope alive again for us. How did he do that? By Jesus’ rising from the dead. That makes us sure that God loves us and that we have everything we need.
It also tells us, Peter writes, that we have an inheritance. Usually you get an inheritance when someone dies, right? Well, Jesus didn’t just die; he also rose. And that gives us an inheritance. Normal inheritances can get used up. If you inherit money, you can spend it all. If you inherit a house, it could burn down. But Jesus didn’t die and rise to give us an inheritance like that. No, his inheritance can never perish, spoil, or fade. Because it’s eternal! It’s heaven. It’s the eternal joy of being with God forever in life with no problems or troubles. He even mentions that by faith, God is going to shield us during this life until Jesus returns to bring us to the next life. So we have the great inheritance coming in heaven, and God will shield and protect us until we get there.
Now, that’s the first thought here in 1 Peter that could even be considered slightly negative. God shielding us certainly implies that there’s going to be some dangerous stuff that we’re going to need shielding from! And, oh, is that ever true. There’s trouble out there.
Peter’s first audience knew that. Peter was writing this letter to people who were struggling. They were being persecuted for what they believed. They were suffering. Jesus had risen from the dead. He’d ascended. The Christian church had started and grown. And instead of living happily ever after, instead of having everything work out for them always, these Christians suffered and struggled.
And it made them wonder. Had they jumped on the wrong ship by becoming a Christian? Was trusting Jesus and following him really worth it? Were they even believing the right things? After all, they were hurting and suffering so much that they started wondering if what they were believing and trusting was just plain wrong. Their hope, if it wasn’t dead, it had been mortally wounded.
Now, nearly 2,000 years later, we’re not so different than those early Christians. No, maybe people aren’t trying to kill us because we’re Christians. But, we do live in a hostile environment for Christians in some ways. In our society, when you believe that the Bible is literally true from beginning to end, you get ridiculed a bit. Miracles, rising from the dead, there’s plenty of people who say these things could never happen, and if you think they do happen, well, then maybe you’re not too bright.
But even more like those early Christians that Peter wrote to, we’re suffering. We suffer with different things, but we still suffer. This world is hard. There’s trouble around us. We struggle. We know and we’re told every day that the economy isn’t great. There seems to be less money around, and the money we have seems to buy less. It’s a stress that weighs on us. Or maybe it’s the stress of the love of this world going cold. People seem to care less about anything but themselves. Relationships come crashing down at the slightest breeze, it seems like. And it’s hard.
And I’m not even scratching the surface of what your trouble might be. It might be a death close to you. It might be your job or school problems. It might be troubles with your family or friends. Whatever it is, we’re all feeling these difficulties. These struggles are real. And when they get to us, when they weigh us down, it can cause real problems. It can kill our hope.
You’ve probably heard of the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” It’s a phrase that means you can take a lot, but eventually, you can’t take anymore. And you fall. That can happen to your faith, to your hope. How far away are you from that straw that broke the camel’s back? What will it take to send your faith and hope crashing down? Or maybe it’s happened already.
Do you see the danger in our world? These troubles can knock our faith right out. They lead to doubts. Do we really believe the right thing? Does God really love us? Is being a Christian really worth it? These doubts can kill our hope. And when we don’t trust that God can save us, when we don’t trust that God loves us, then we’ve lost our saving faith. Then we’re lost.
But God does something amazing and unexpected. He uses even our trials and troubles for our good. Yes! So much so, in fact, that Peter mentions that our troubles actually bring about a good result in our lives. Imagine that! Think of whatever hurts you and weighs you down the most in your life. Think of it. Whatever it is, God is going to use it as a good thing.
Listen to Peter. In this [Jesus’ salvation] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Your faith has a greater worth than gold. That makes sense, but think of what happens to gold. When they find gold, it’s not 100% pure. It’s got bits and pieces of other rocks in it, and dirt, and who knows what else. So it gets refined. They heat the gold with fire so that it gets so hot that it melts. Then when it’s melted, they can separate the gold from all the impurities. Then when the heat goes away it becomes solid again, except now the gold is pure.
That’s what happens to our faith. We have faith, we believe in Jesus. That’s good, but our faith isn’t pure. We have doubts. We have troubles. We have fears. But God actually uses our troubles to refine our faith. Those troubles drive us to him. They drive us to his Word. When you are struggling, do you want to know for sure how to bring something good out of it? Use your struggle to go to God’s Word. In your struggle run to the Lord’s Supper. In your struggle look again to the cross where Jesus died and the tomb from which he rose.
And you know what? Your faith will get stronger! In Christ, in his Word, in the message of his resurrection, your doubts will die and your hope will be raised to life! When things are going great for us, we don’t always appreciate Jesus’ love. But when we struggle, then we run to him. Then we see how much we need him. Then we rejoice in all he gives us.
That’s why we can rejoice in this life. Not because our problems are gone, but because God uses them to bring us closer to him. We can give thanks that our troubles aren’t there to give us doubts about God, they are meant to kill those doubts by his Word. The death of doubt means the life of hope. Jesus and his resurrection give us hope. Real hope. Living hope.
We get this all in Christ alone. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9) Your salvation, the joy of Easter, is not just something you will experience in heaven. You have that joy now. Because you are sure that Christ has rescued you by his resurrection. Because you know that death is not the end. Because you have a sure, certain, living hope in his love. So rejoice in the death of doubt. Give thanks that Easter brings your hope to life.