A Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3-9)

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There is a park across the street behind our church property with a playground in it. As our children have grown up over the years, we have spent a lot of time at that playground. It has been amazing to watch our children move from the playground’s simpler elements to attempting the more difficult parts until they were able to confidently play on all of the equipment.

Every time our children would attempt a new part of the playground we could see that it was a kind of trial for them. They weren’t sure about whether or not they could get through the obstacle to the other side. So my wife and I would walk with them through it. As adults, we are too large for the play equipment so we would stand outside it with our hands reaching inside, either holding our children’s hands to keep them steady or with our hands in a position to catch them if they lost their balance or fell. Trusting that their parents were with them and ready to catch them gave our children the confidence they needed to put one foot in front of the other and work their way through the obstacles to arrive at the destination they were hoping to reach.

We all face trials in our lives. From one perspective, some might seem less threatening or easier to find our way through, but when we are confronted with these trials, like our children on the play equipment, they can all appear daunting, threatening or scary. These trials might be caused by the restrictions in place because of COVID-19. They might be ongoing concerns like problems with our physical or mental health, relationship breakdowns, addictions, loneliness, or whole range of other things. Whatever the trials might be that we’re facing, when they are in front of us or we are in the middle of them, they can cause a lot of fear, anxiety or dread as we wonder how we will ever get through them. In my experience, just about everyone faces a trial of one kind or another at some time in our lives. For each of us, these trials are real. For each of us, like my children on the playground, these trials or obstacles in life can be scary!

It’s our natural tendency to either think we have to get through these trials on our own, or to keep telling ourselves that we can overcome them. However, that isn’t always true. I have seen people get overwhelmed by particular trials in life because they took them on by themselves and then found that they were too big or too difficult for them. It is sort of like one of my children trying to get through a part of the playground on their own, and then realizing half-way through that they can’t do it. That is when we can realize that we need help. Hopefully that is also when we start looking for help.

When Peter wrote to Christians who were suffering serious trials for their faith in 1 Peter 1:3-9, he encouraged them that they didn’t have to try to get through on their own. A big part of having faith as Christians is trusting that whatever trials we might be facing or going through, Jesus can and will help us. As the Son of God who entered the world as a flesh and blood person, Jesus knows the trials and challenges we face in life because he has been there before us. In his suffering and death, Jesus went through more than I can ever imagine, even experiencing total abandonment by his heavenly Father. However, Jesus continued to trust his Father’s promises to get him through and the Father kept his promise to his Son by raising him to new life on the morning of the resurrection. What that means is that now our crucified, risen and ascended Jesus stands outside our trials, sort of like my wife and I stand outside the play equipment, but is still able to reach in to hold us as we go through our trials.

The faith the Holy Spirit gives us is that Jesus is with us in our trials, but he also stands outside our trials, so he can hold us in his nail-scarred hands, keep us safe, and carry us through our trials until we can stand securely again. In 1 Peter 1:7 we read that our faith is being tested and purified through our trials as we learn to rely on Jesus, to trust in him, and as God grows us in the confidence that Jesus is with us and he will get us through our trials in his resurrection power.

This faith gives us hope. No matter what trials we may be facing or enduring, we can find hope in the faith that Jesus has endured his own trials in his suffering and death, and that he came through them in his resurrection. In the same way, we can live in the hope that he can and will do the same for us. Peter describes this as a ‘living hope’ (v3 NIV) because the one in whom we hope is alive! This hope gives us life! We can hope in Jesus because he endured his own trials in his suffering and death. We can hope in Jesus because he is risen from the grave and holds us in his nail-scarred hands. Because Jesus is alive, his Spirit will keep this hope alive in us so we can find life in the middle of our trials through faith in his resurrection for us.

Whatever trials we might be facing or going through, we don’t have to do it alone or in our own strength. My children wanted to show that they could do each part of the playground on our own because we like to think we can do anything. That’s part of our human nature. All the while, though, my wife and I would be ready with arms outstretched and hands wide open, ready to catch them if they fell or steady them if they lost their balance. All we asked was that they trusted us.

I think God wants the same. We don’t have to do life on our own. As we trust in Jesus, who stands outside our trials and reaches in to hold us in his nail-scarred hands, we will find everything we need to put one foot in front of the other, take one day at a time, until Jesus brings us through our trials to safety. This faith gives us a living hope, as we trust in our risen Saviour and hope in him who was dead but is now alive again. This faith will give us hope that makes us really alive!

More to think about:

  • What trials are you facing in your life right now?
  • When you face trials of any sort, do you tend to want to get through them on your own? Or do you look for help? Why do you think you do that?
  • Do you think of faith more as agreeing with the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection or trusting in the crucified and risen Jesus to get you through your trials? How might each of these look in a person’s life who is going through trials?
  • How important do you think it is to have a ‘living hope’ right now? How do you think faith in Jesus might be able to give you that ‘living hope’?
  • God gives us hope when we exercise basic spiritual disciplines like listening to his Word and praying to him. If you don’t already, how might you start doing those this week?
  • Do you look to Jesus for help as your last resort or first option? What difference might it make to your life if you went to Jesus as your first option?

A New Year’s Resolution (1 Peter 1:22-25)

 

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As we begin a new calendar year, many people will be making New Year’s resolutions. These are things they want to change about themselves or their behaviours in the next twelve months. Some can be realistic, while other New Year’s resolutions can seem utterly impossible.

I find it fascination to see how long New Year’s resolutions will last. While we can make these resolutions with the best of intentions, we can easily fall back into the same habits and patterns of behaviour. Nothing really changes. If we are to fulfil whatever New Year’s resolution we might make, we need sustained, intentional focus on what we want to change.

As we read 1 Peter 1:22-25, the New Testament reading for New Year’s Eve, we hear the Apostle Peter encouraging God’s people and followers of Jesus to ‘love each other deeply from the heart’ (v22 NLT). Anyone who is familiar with the teachings of Jesus will know that Peter is relaying Jesus’ message that the greatest command is to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength and to love others like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). The new command Jesus gave his followers was like it: to love one another like he loves us (John 13:34; 15:12,17). Peter passes on this same message by encouraging his readers to grow in their love for each other beyond shallow expressions of love into deep, heart-felt, sincere love.

I talk a lot about practicing Christ-like love because I believe that learning to love like Jesus is at the heart of his call to follow him as his disciples. Too often our attempts to love are tainted with a degree of self-interest. We tend to consider how things will benefit us, what will we get out of them, or what they will cost us. Instead of a worldly kind of love which prioritizes what we get or how we feel, the love of Christ which Peter is talking about focusses on the other. Its orientation is towards others and what we can give to them, not ourselves and what we get from them. This kind of love is willing to do what is in the best interests of the other, no matter what it might cost us. It is willing to sacrifice everything for the other so they can know what Christ-like love is all about.

This is the love that God extends to us in Jesus. God’s love is seen in the gift of his Son to us at Christmas, which we continue to celebrate as we end one calendar year and start another. We see God’s love in the way Jesus welcomed the outsiders, healed the sick, restored broken people and forgave sinners. Ultimately, we encounter the perfect and infinite love of God in the death of Jesus. Jesus points us towards this love when he says, ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13 NLT). The Apostle John says the same thing when he writes, ‘We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us’ (1 John 3:16). Jesus then shows us that the love God has for us is stronger than death as he is raised to new life in his resurrection. The love God has for us in Jesus is so different from worldly versions of love. It is deep and strong and it lasts for ever.

Can you imagine how life might be different this year if we resolved to listen to what Peter is saying to us, and to ‘love one another deeply, from the heart’ (v22 NLT)? Instead of thinking about what we want for ourselves, or what suits us, how might our lives be different if we resolved together to prioritise others, no matter what the cost? How might our congregation operate differently if we thought more about what we could give to each other rather than what we can get from each other, if the needs of others outweighed our own, if we looked more towards what would help others encounter Jesus’ love in us rather than what is convenient or comfortable for us?

If we were to resolve to do this, we could only keep this resolution by relying on God’s grace for everything we need. Attempts to keep New Year’s resolutions often fail because it’s easy to revert back to what is comfortable, convenient or familiar. To be able to keep our resolution to ‘love one another deeply, from the heart’ would mean that we will need to rely totally on God doing this in us through his Holy Spirit. Any attempts to love others in a Christ-like way will fail when we rely on ourselves. When we are connected with God’s grace and love to us in Jesus, we will grow in his love which gives us the capacity and ability to love others in the same way. It will continue to grow in us as God plants, nourishes and feeds his word of grace and love in us through the Scriptures. As we remain in Christ and as Jesus remains in us, then God’s love will grow in us to produce the fruit he is looking for (John 15:1-17). Any resolution to love others in a Christ-like way will come from God’s love for us in Jesus, will grow from his sacrificial love for us, and will be sustained by that same love.

Can you imagine how this year might look differently if our one resolution was to ‘love each other deeply, from the heart’? How might that look? What changes might that bring about? In the busyness of congregational life, what might need to change and what changes might it bring if this was our one resolution?

There will be countless opportunities this year for us to ‘love one another deeply, from the heart.’ I hope and pray that as we enter 2019 that God’s Holy Spirit will be at work in us and among us, growing our faith in the deep and enduring love of God for us in Jesus, and he will graciously give us everything we need to love one another deeply, from the heart.