Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 19, 2020
1 Peter 1:3-9 Commentary
When my wife and I drew up our first will after our oldest son was born, we didn’t have many material assets. So our will mostly addressed who would care for our children if we predeceased them.
We later revised our will to include instructions about who will inherit what when we die. Yet, candidly, there’s still not much to inherit. We don’t own a home. No one will become independently wealthy if they cash in our life insurance policies.
In fact, a financial planner told my wife and me that we really needed to “put the pedal to the metal” in order to provide for our long-term financial security. As a result, we have made and continue to make some investments.
But financial investments are always risky. Some that have the highest potential for earnings also carry the highest risk for loss. Relatively low-risk investments may not yield especially high dividends.
So wise investors always ask themselves if they can afford to lose some if not all of what they invest. In other words, we ask ourselves just how secure we need our investments to be. However, security seems to be in fairly short supply right now. Stock values have plummeted. Material inheritances have shrunk.
Peter writes his first letter to a group of “investors.” He even uses investment imagery such as “inheritance” and “gold.” Ironically, however, the investors who initially heard Peter’s letter had minimal material security. They were among the poorest people in their world.
So how can Peter can call his materially impoverished hearers to sing our Epistolary Lesson’s hymn of praise: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” After all, the circumstances of some readers don’t seem conducive to such praise. What’s more, Peter’s adopted brothers and sisters in Christ know how quickly some reasons we have for praising God can disappear.
In God’s great mercy, the apostle writes in verse 3, God has mercifully 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. God has, in other words, promised God’s adopted sons and daughters a completely secure and reliable inheritance.
At the heart of this are two phrases, “new birth” and “living hope,” as well as one word, “inheritance.” However, the perhaps key word is “inheritance.” Peter says our “new birth” is, after all, into a “living hope” that is the “inheritance” about which he writes near the end of verse 3.
The subsequent “kept in heaven for you” suggests God’s adopted children will inherit what verse 9 calls “the salvation of” our “souls.” Quite simply, Christians’ inheritance is God’s gift of peace that we have through God’s rescue of us from our natural enmity with God.
So God has “left” to God’s adopted sons and daughters the forgiveness of our sins. However, God’s dearly loved people have also “inherited” a restored relationship with our neighbors and God’s creation. Our “inheritance” is salvation that we’ll receive most fully in life in God’s glorious presence in the new creation.
Of course, that inheritance may look to us like Christmas gifts of clothing looked to my young cousin John. When he opened a present like socks or a shirt, he’d simply toss them over his shoulder and move on to more fun gifts.
We’re naturally more interested in material gifts than spiritual ones. But we know that no material inheritance will ever outlast us. You can’t take material things with you. By contrast, Jesus’ followers don’t just enjoy peace with God, each other and the creation now. We’ll also never “spend it all.”
God’s dearly beloved people have inherited all that life because on the first Easter God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Because Jesus physically walked out of his tomb, God graciously includes all who receive God’s grace with their faith in Jesus Christ in God’s “will.”
Yet two things may make God’s people question the security of our inheritance that is our salvation. The first is the ferocity of some suffering. The apostle alludes to it in verse 6 when he talks about having to “suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” He also mentions being “refined by fire.”
It’s the kind of trials Indian Christians, for example, are enduring as they deal with what International Christian Concern calls a “spike in persecution.” It’s the kind of fire Kenyan Christians are walking through as religious extremists extensively and repeatedly persecute them.
But it isn’t just overseas Christians who suffer grief in all kinds of trials. While the suffering COVID-19 imposes certainly isn’t unique to Christians, the pandemic and all of the uncertainty that clings to it are affecting Jesus’ followers.
Think too of what family crises, health scares and financial woes can do to people. Consider the siege laid on some of us by mental illness, loneliness, fear and worry. Or think about the extra abuse and neglect some are suffering right now because they’re afraid to leave toxic relationships and can’t leave their homes.
Among the first results of that suffering may be the question, “Am I still one of God’s beloved sons or daughters? Or has God ‘kicked me out of’ God’s family?” In other words, “Is my heavenly inheritance that is my salvation still intact?”
Crusty old Larry embodied a second challenge to the perceived reliability of our heavenly inheritance. He’d spent most of his life alienating the people who loved him. But Larry was dying and it clearly scared him to death.
So his wife called me to their home to try to comfort him. Silent signs of the carnage Larry had caused were strewn around him. Virtually all that was left of him was a crusty shell. “I keep telling him God saved him when he was baptized,” Larry’s wife told me. “But it just doesn’t make any difference.”
Today I’d offer Larry a chance to confess his sins. Then, however, as a student pastor, I talked to Larry about God’s grace alone by which we’re saved. Yet all this man who knew he’d caused so much harm could do was sit there, his hands trembling and his chin quavering.
God saves God’s adopted sons and daughters by God’s grace that we can only receive with our faith. Yet we also know, as Peter says in verse 2, we’ve been saved “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” Since Christians sometimes struggle to love God more than anything and our neighbors as much as ourselves, we sometimes wonder if that disqualifies us from the “salvation of” our “souls.” Has God snatched it away from us and given it to more deserving Christians?”
On this first strange Sunday after a most strange Easter, can suffering Christians be sure we’ll receive our inheritance from God? Can God’s adopted children stride into the current uncertainties knowing nothing can happen to our heavenly inheritance?
In verse 4 Peter’s resounding answer is “Yes!!” Our inheritance is “kept in heaven for” us. Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters don’t keep our salvation by being faithful, kind or obedient. Nor do we automatically squander it by failing to be Christlike.
No, the inheritance that is our salvation is “kept” for us by the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. That God is so faithful that God won’t ever let God’s adopted children’s inheritance fade, wither or sink underwater. Nothing in all of creation can change, waste or destroy our salvation.
I knew someone whose dying parents worried she’d squander her inheritance. So their will stipulated she receive only a tiny part of it each month. From the grave her parents kept her inheritance not only for, but also from her.
While even God’s children are quite capable of squandering material inheritances, we simply can’t squander our heavenly inheritance. It isn’t ours, after all, to either keep or spend. God keeps God’s adopted sons and daughters’ inheritance for but not from us.
Yet most of us know people who at one time loved God but now don’t love the Lord anymore. Reformed Christians deduce that the Scriptures teach that we can’t squander our heavenly inheritance. However, all of Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters can trust that those who faithfully receive God’s grace have a heavenly inheritance that awaits us.
Yet we also admit that there’s more mystery in the loss of Christian faith than we could solve in a world of lifetimes.
So God’s adopted children leave the eternal fate of those who’ve turned their backs on the Lord in the nail-scarred hands of Christ our loving benefactor.
Because Christians have the guarantee of the inheritance that is our salvation, we can rejoice, even if we suffer what Peter calls in verse 6 “grief in all kinds of trials.” However, we never mistake such rejoicing for being happy.
Trial’s grief doesn’t make healthy people happy. Yet we can find contentment and peace in their face anyway, because we know they’re part of what it means to share Christ’s suffering.
Christians who suffer, especially for Jesus’ sake, experience a taste of what Jesus suffered for our sakes. We even learn to see it as a confirmation of the inheritance that is our salvation.
But such peace and contentment makes Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters “oddballs.” It makes us what Peter calls in verse 1 “strangers in the world.” In fact, throughout his first letter he suggests that our inheritance in some ways alienates us from some of those who don’t share it. The new perspective it gives us on both ourselves and our world makes us not better, but slightly different from the dominant culture.
On its website, the United States Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation calls itself “an independent agency created by the Congress to maintain stability and public confidence in the nation’s financial system by insuring deposits …” The FDIC does that by, among other things, examining and supervising American financial institutions. Its website even boasts, “Since 1933, no depositor has lost a penny of FDIC-insured funds.” So material inheritances that come out of insured financial institutions are at least reasonably secure.
But, of course, the same can’t be said for other material investments. It’s not just that recent events have battered worldwide financial markets. It’s also that, as experts repeatedly remind us, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” So financial advisers encourage investors to make good investing decisions based not on recent “scorecards,” but on sound strategies.
Compare that to God’s beloved children’s heavenly inheritance. God’s past performance is one guarantee of God’s future “results.” God graciously insures our heavenly inheritance.
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