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Jesus, Our Living Hope

November 15, 2020 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Stand Alone

Passage: 1 Peter 1:1–1:8

It is important that we address current issues and realities from the pulpit, with a balance to not be obsessed with the current trends, as we noted recently how quickly our cultural conversations can come and go like a whim.

          However, you probably remember that just a few weeks ago we had a presidential election.  I’m not really going to address the election, however.  Rather, I want to talk this morning about biblical hope. 

          I’m not very old, but we are witnessing a fervor attached to our political process in ways that have probably never occurred in our nation.  And even more sadly, I’m seeing the Church get wrapped up in this, and even play a very central role in this political process.

          I want to make it abundantly clear from this pulpit this morning, and if you are not in agreement with my words, knowing my own weakness and frailty in understanding, I invite you to please show me my error.  But if there is hope for a vibrant American Church, if there is hope for actual renewal in the historic, orthodox and biblical vision for our ancient faith, the need is a radical pulling away of our faith from political candidates and parties and issues, and the pulling away of our hopes in the system.  We need to learn to participate, as the call to love our neighbors inevitably leads us to consider the impact of our vote on our neighbors, but we need to do so in a manner that is secondary to our call before Christ.

          We need to rebuild and almost reconstruct pieces of what we can call a Christian worldview and some theological foundations, as there have been some very foundational pieces that have been missing ever since the days of Jerry Falwell and the “moral majority” movement, when a generation began rejecting their parents way of life and, embracing the sexual revolution of the 60s, leading to the first fears in our nation that Christianity might become a minority faith in our nation.  Then certain Christian leaders and political leaders had the idea of combining Christian ideals with political candidates, and a rallying call was made for the “moral majority” to back a candidate in order that Christianity may still retain its influence in our nation.  Ronald Reagan was the candidate.

          Ever since, much of the Church has been living in this upside down world of thinking that Christianity and the hope of our nation is now dependent on the right issues to be implemented from the top down, and has become wrapped up in desiring offices of power to construct what is best and ideal for America.  And now here we are, all of these decades later, many Christians fighting for an office of power, the most powerful offices in the land and even world, trying to convince ourselves that Jesus, in his weakness, his poverty, his lower social class, and his humiliation, asked us to bring a nation into his likeness by wielding the most power possible. 

If you recall from our Philippian sermon series, the Bible shows Jesus giving up his power for the service of others.  We also see Jesus saying in Matthew, 20:25-28, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Rulers come to be served.  Jesus came to serve, and even give his life for others.  This describes Jesus’ kingship, quite different from any other rulers or presidents in this world.

Christianity is the Good News of Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection.  It is the message that Jesus has brought into this world a reordering of humanity by him absorbing the justice and judgment due against all the wickedness and sin in this world, and even our own, on our behalf, and through his resurrection renewing humanity by inviting them to a new life now through faith and allegiance to a new King. He's a King who wears a crown of thorns, and not of gold, a King who submitted himself to humiliation and in innocence suffered for us, even for his enemies, extending an offer of mercy, grace and forgiveness to those who radically did not deserve it. 

As we will see today, the message of the resurrection is more than a message – it is our Living Hope.  The Church is supernaturally equipped with an ability to live the Resurrection Life – a life of love, generosity, meekness, humility, and upside down living as we share the Good News of Jesus.  We don’t wield swords against our enemies, but towels to wash their feet, as even Jesus on the night he was betrayed, washed the feet of Judas, his betrayer.  We’re going to look at the immense POWER of this kind of distinctly Christian life this morning, and I am going to call us to action, as our nation does not need more political fervor and activism.  No.  Our nation needs to see a Church living out the hope of the Resurrection life, and we’re going to see what that means this morning

          Let’s look at Scripture, and lets look at six verses in total, and I want to, in an unfinished manner, right now remind this Church of where our true hope lies.  We will be in 1 Peter this morning, and see what he has to say, as I pray that at the end of our time today, that the first and necessary step of your hopes for our nation will begin their slow descent from a political candidate, from a political party and political issues, and primarily on our Living Hope, Jesus Christ, and by extension – you, if you are in Him this morning – you, who are filled with his Spirit, who he has tasked with being his hands and feet in this world.  Let’s begin:

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

 

VERSE 3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus!  It is according to his great mercy that he has caused us to be BORN again, a new birth, regeneration – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

          To invoke a blessing on God is to praise him, to worship him, to recognize that he is worthy of blessing.  Not only is he God our Father, but he is the Father of our Lord Jesus. 

          And here is where we venture into very Christian territory, heavenly territory – the reality of mercy.  God is a God of mercy, full of seeming paradoxes that say the all-powerful, all-sovereign Lord of the Universe, is merciful.  To give mercy can show as a sign of weakness.  It is to give undeserved love towards others.  It is to give something that no one earned, to even give up rights and privileges in love for the sake of others.  I again remind you of the kind of crown our King was given, one that caused agony and pain as the thorns dug into his skin – what mercy, as his suffering was for you and me.

          When we hear stories of mercy, we are amazed.  Just in September in Manhattan, James Muholon, a man who sold bouquets of flowers and balloons for a living, was waiting for a train in the subways beneath the city.  He slips, and falls directly on the tracks.  On the way down, he hits his head and is knocked unconscious, laying on the tracks.  Ten seconds away, a subway train was approaching at regular speed.

          Roberto Ritcher, a subway worker, along with another anonymous hero, without thinking twice, leapt unto the subway, pulling up the unconscious man, only making it up seconds before a train came roaring down to a stop.  These two men were not thinking of themselves. Within instinct, they jumped to save someone else’s life at the potential expense of their own.  Everyone survived, and is OK.

          We hear of these stories, and they often go unnoticed in our news media.  But this is what mercy looks like.  It reminds us of the mercy of God, which in similar but much more glorious fashion, didn’t just risk His life for others – but indeed gave His life for others.

          But our hope is not in a dead man.  Rather, it is a living hope because Jesus did not remain dead.  We often talk about the death of Christ being merciful, but we do not often talk of the resurrection as being due to the mercy of God.

          This is where our hope lies - in the resurrected Christ.  He is our Hope.  Our hope is indeed a person.  And because it is a person, it is a living hope.  A living and breathing hope with skin and bones, enthroned in the heavenly places, and enthroned in the hearts of his people.

          Christianity claims death as an enemy.  It claims that all the divisions, sin, strife, and disorder in our world, all the wars and conflict and lying and stealing and hatred is related to death and things of death, and does not lead to human flourishing, but rather human destruction.

          The resurrection of Christ serves as the seeds of the reversal of these things that will finally spring up to fulfillment when he returns.  This is Christian Hope.  We hope in the mercy of this eternal future.  We hope in this ultimate reversal, where all of these things are thrown forever into the lake of fire.  Yes, the resurrection of Christ, witnessed by hundreds of people, is indeed an act of mercy by God! 

Peter continues on,

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

          This future inheritance is wrapped up in heaven, kept by God.  It is imperishable, and cannot be defiled or will not fade away.  There is a future permanence to this, and its future permanence is being sustained right now in heaven, waiting to be unleashed and untied to this world when Christ returns.

          Now, however, says the apostle Peter, that you right now are being guarded by faith for this future salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In other words, God is actively guarding you right now, he is actively guarding you and your faith.  Faith is more than just believing in God, but it refers also to our committed allegiance to God, the working out of our faith – our obedience and willingness to take on the resurrected life today.  There is a strange and interesting cooperation of God working within our faith today, that as we labor to cling to Christ as our only hope, that God is helping us to do so.  This reminds us of this mercy of God yet again, as our faith we have is not fully ours, and does not ultimately find its origin in us, but rather in God who has gifted it to us, and sustains it within us.

_______

          Now Peter is writing to a church that was under pressure, under persecution because of their professed faith in Christ.  And this is where it is very important that we listen.  Here it is very important that you and I grasp this living hope in the resurrected Jesus, and look to our lives today and how this living hope is played out when we are under pressure.

          They were under pressure because in the Roman way of life, the pagan Roman gods and their worship systems, which often included the Emperor himself, was intricately woven into most areas of society where, in order for you to work or get a job, you needed to worship whatever gods your guild worshipped, to invoke their blessing on their work. Often in some of the Roman cities especially, to offer worship to the gods or even to Caesar himself would have been required in the marketplace to buy or sell.

          Now, what happens when a group of people start claiming that those gods are actually no gods at all, but rather a man rose from the dead, and has proclaimed that new life and salvation is available in him?  Suddenly, the Roman way of life was being disrupted.  Christians were first called atheists by the Romans, and whenever Paul showed up preaching this message, cities often rejected him, because if you were to shake up the Roman way of life, the Roman machine would feel threatened – and you don’t want to invoke the wrath of Rome.

          The church Peter was writing to was knee deep in this, and they were under pressure.  Now, what does Peter do?  Does he pray that the persecution will stop?  No, because there is an assumption given in Scripture that says the ways of Christ in this world will often be so upside down from worldly institutions that some form of persecution may just be expected.   “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Says the apostle Paul.  After all, we do worship a guy who was brutally murdered.  Should we expect our lives to be carefree?

Let’s look at Peter’s words, and how he shepherds the church through these trials:

[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.

          Such trials plunge our faith into the furnace, and prove as a test to see what is born from the fire.  Will our faith be proved genuine?  What a hard test persecution is!  But Peter says we are to actually REJOICE!  Because such trials do indeed grow and sharpen our faith, and ensure that in the end, we may be found still praising and rejoicing in Christ, in his glory and honor, on the day of his return.

          I want to intentionally return to our introduction, and ensure that we have everything rightly ordered.  I think so much of the chuch for far too long have expected far too much from the political process, and we have expected far too much from our participation in American democracy.  Since day one, in fact, I think we began in error.  With Cotton Mather and his “City on a Hill” and “Nation of God” language – the puritans who escaped persecution from England and Europe – what would happen to these people who showed up to this new nation who did not identify as Christians?  What happened when rumors circulated that witches were alive and well in Salem, Massachusetts?  They put them on trial and executed them for their sorcery – showing that so quickly they actually fell into the very sin that they tried to escape – the authoritarian version of Christianity, that says we must enforce our Christian values from highest authority available to those beneath the system.  This indeed is not the way of Christ, and is not the cup he drank.  He was not one who asked to be served, but came to serve.

          Those in worldly authority must snuff out their enemies.  Those who serve find their enemies as opportunities to love, just as Christ did, when he was silent before those who spit in his face.  As Peter called for his church to rejoice when they were under pressure, knowing that it would only lead to a deeper and more golden faith, the apostle Paul had this to say to another church in Rome who were also under pressure: Romans 12:17-21

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave iti to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

          Our living hope is proof that God will come to empty this world out of all wickedness.  But Church, that is not your job.  It is ours to live peaceably with all – to repay no one evil for evil, but carefully and thoughtfully live honorable lives.  If there is evil and injustice in this world, we counter it not by an equal injustice, but we break that Newtonian Law, and we overcome evil with its opposite: by doing good in Christ.  If someone takes a swing at you, you take a punch, lean down, and wash their feet. 

          When I was younger, I suffered from road rage.  I mean I really would get mad in traffic.  My lid would often flip when someone would pull out in front of me, or when someone would do something stupid.

          Well one day, the roles were reversed in Jersey: I did something stupid, and pulled out in front of someone.  Then this guy flipped out.  And I mean he flipped out.  He was driving inches from my bumper, blaring his horn and swerving around, showing me all sorts of nice sign language as I looked in my rear view mirror.  His reaction was far and beyond necessary, reminding me of my younger self.  And of course I started getting mad.  But, blame it on God’s Spirit and not my own, I prayed.  I needed to calm down, even if this guy was not.

          So when I pulled into my destination, sure enough he followed me.  And when I stopped, he pulled his car next to mine, rolled his window down and went off, yelling.  I calmly walked up as he was yelling, and then he was ready to get out swing at me, opening his door – and I said very calmly, “Hello, my name is Daniel, it’s nice to meet you.  What’s your name?”

I remember a look of angry confusion that actually hit his face, and he quit opening his door and paused.  I continued,

“I want to say I’m sorry for what I did, and I’m sorry I’ve upset you so much.  Can you forgive me?”

          He dropped another nice remark to me with more sign language and sped off.  This is a silly example, and I don’t like sharing examples from my successes, as my road rage and failures outnumbered on a much grander scale my successes that I just shared, but we are to be a known as people of peace, choosing not to rage with the world, but to do all we can to speak truth while living in peace with all.

          There are many people, on both the left and the right, who are radically emotionally caught up in this whole election season.  Sadly, too many of them are Christians.  Our living hope is not who is in the White House, or what political party is in charge.  If you cannot talk about this election without getting angry, sad, hopeless, or overly excited and full of just giddy joy – why?  If you find yourself having a hard time talking to certain friends or family members because they voted for someone different than you – why?  If you think the hope for our nation rises or falls on our electoral process, you’ve been played like a flute by the billboards that said “VOTE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT.”  Your neighbor’s life depends on what they will do with Jesus, and how they respond to him.  I long for the day when the American Church is known by our love for God and for one another, and not by whom we voted for. 

Peter closes this section with these precious words, that are actually aimed at us as well:

. [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. 

          These Christians, like us, never saw Jesus.  Yet they believed in him.  They rejoiced in him with joy so grand and so high that there was no ability to even express their joy – and their joy was filled with glory.

          Such joy sustains them to obtain the very outcome of their faith: their salvation of their souls.  We must know that our understanding of the word “soul” usually means our disembodied existence.

          But its much more than that.  It’s your whole person.  It is all of you.  Your whole self Jesus is interested in.  Not some of you, but your salvation is the salvation of all of you – heart, mind, soul and body.  Just as Christ was resurrected from the dead, you also will be resurrected from the dead.  Your body will be renewed like his, and saved like his.  Your whole person.

          Peter’s words this morning dethrone all of our false hopes, and can have the ability of unplugging our hopes and dreams from power structures to achieve what we believe needs to be achieved in this world, and follows the way of Christ – a life full of action, of loving our neighbor, of extending mercy and grace rather than seeking more power and more authority.   He doesn’t call us to rebel against authority and seek an equal and opposite power to battle the other.  Our life is to be laid down for others as we reasonably participate with wisdom in our political process, while moreso embracing this in-between age before his second Advent as an age to live in an alternate Kingdom within other kingdoms, devoting our whole selves to Christ. For our nation needs nothing more than a flourishing Church in Christ, people who are radically loving God and loving our neighbors, sharing the Gospel in word and deed, praying for a fresh filling of the Spirit to empower our actions and words.

          I want to end with a story from one of my favorite novels of all time, from the infamous Charles Dickens.  The novel is called Tale of Two Cities.  It is a historical fiction, taking place during the French Revolution.

          This revolution was a chaotic revolt against the elite class, a movement to overthrow the monarchy.  The favored instrument to remove the elite class was the guillotine – many thousands losing their head in the streets when news came that someone belonged to the noble class. 

You see, the setting of this book – the French Revolution – shows the swirling chaos of the French nation.  Dickens was being careful to give hope, as he wrote this story some decades after the French Revolution when the nation of France had yet to truly settle from the chaos.  France still was stumbling to find any sort of coherent foundation, and Dickens provides a beautiful story to give hope – the hope of Christ, in fact, to a nation that desperately needed it.

          The story centers around a man named Sydney Carton, a border-line alcoholic and attorney who eventually falls in love with the fiancée of a man named Charles Darnay, who, as we learn in the book, these two men are dopplegangers and physically looked just like one another. 

          At the end of the story, Darnay, engaged to the woman Sydney Carton loves, has been thrown in jail due to accusations of noble ancestry.  He is lined up for the guillotine.

          At night, Carton pays a visit to Darnay who is in jail.  He drugs him, busts into jail, switches clothing, and smuggles Darnay away.  No one really notices, since both men look alike.

          You see, Carton was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for a woman he loved, as he knew that her happiness was not found in him – but in the man she loved, Charles Darnay.

          A woman who was also in jail learns of what took place.  Being with Carton, the man who just substituted himself in place of Darnay, she finds great courage to face the impending guillotine.  The morning of their death, they physically embrace, and she goes ahead of him to the guillotine with a deeper confidence for seeing Carton’s coming sacrifice.

          As Carton walks upon the platform before the madness of the crowd, the blade raised high, prepared for his death, with all the political chaos and national upheaval of the French Revolution, Dickens perfectly and masterfully sets up the novel to tell and show the world of the only hope available to a distraught nation – in a story where chaos swirls, a man is giving his life for another.  Such love surfaces a beauty – and a hope – that one grander, more masterful story can provide hope for the French Nation.

          As Carton walks the platform, a Bible verse comes to his mind:

“I am the Resurrection and the Life, says the Lord: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”  As Dickens says, he walked on the platform with a peace, and with the look of a prophet, to die in place of someone else.

          The message is the same for our nation today.  The American Church right now is provided with a Living Hope in such a time as this.  May our hope in Christ be proved distinct, as we rejoice in him, and may our love like Carton’s surface once again the beautiful Good News of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection to a hurting nation that so desperately needs it – and may we live it out.  Let’s pray. 


         

         

         

More in Stand Alone

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Parable of the Sower

October 4, 2020

God's Plan of Redemption

September 13, 2020

Installation of Pastor Daniel Nelms