Happy New Year! As a church, we are working to memorize two verses during the month of January because they are so life-giving. Here they are and then a word about them: 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 (1 Peter 1:3,4)
There is an incredible context to those words, which in my estimation, is what makes them so alive. This is an elderly man writing now and what consumes him is mercy. I wonder why? The Gospel of Mark gives us a window into Peter’s soul. What’s fascinating about the Gospel is that history suggests Peter to be Mark’s source given Mark was not an apostle. And this personal glimpse is not air-brushed for us. Peter was a confident young man, whose passion at times exceeded his wisdom. He was intent on doing it right (Lord, I will be there; all others may fail you, but not me), not afraid to speak up. And then in the middle of his confidence, he endured a Humpty-Dumpty type implosion. But Jesus met him there. It was necessary, this implosion, lest he believe in his own ability. It is equally necessary for all of us. We don’t do this faith thing in our own strength. We do it instead out of brokenness, out of our recognized weakness that allows God’s strength to flow from us.
I have a definition for maturity that grows out of this truth. It is this: maturity is a greater awareness of my sinfulness that leads to an even deeper appreciation for God’s mercy and grace.
So, Peter failed. And Jesus met him there, by the seaside, at a charcoal fire. Memories, perhaps? I wrote about this some time back but the very place where Peter failed--denying the Lord by a charcoal fire-- is the very place Jesus meets him now. There, next to the fire, Peter is reinstated. There, Peter learns something that will carry him for the rest of his life: mercy! And when he has a chance to pen a letter now probably 30 years removed from that event with Jesus, what dominates his thinking is the “do-over” God mercifully offered him: In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope!
A new year affords us a new beginning. A new day, new week, new job offers us a fresh beginning. God’s great mercy and abundant grace allows for us to start over and over and over again. That is not a luxury afforded us very often, if ever in this life. But it is offered to us in our faith and we are grateful. Care to join us in memorizing these two verses?
There is another thing to note from the Apostle’s words here at the beginning of his epistle. Let me get at it by asking you two questions that have the same answer. Do yo know the central theme of every sermon recorded in the book of Acts? Second question: What was one of the qualifying characteristics for someone to become an apostle? After Judas killed himself, the disciples gathered in order to choose a replacement. Acts 1 tells the story and here is what Peter says: So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection. The qualifying characteristic of an apostle was that he could give witness to the resurrection. He had seen Jesus after the crucifixion. Paul would later write to the church at Corinth, 1:9) Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord? Likewise, each recorded sermon in Acts centered on Jesus’ resurrection as central to the Gospel message.
In our faith and our worship, we most often focus our attention on Jesus’ crucifixion. The cross, we suggest, is the center of the Gospel. That is true, but it is incomplete. The ancients seldom separated the crucifixion from the resurrection. Neither did the writers of Scripture. As the apostle Paul rightly points out, the crucifixion without the resurrection is meaningless (1 Cor 15). Peter says as much in these words we are committing to memory. Our “do-overs” that spring from a living hope have their roots in the resurrection. As we well know, the resurrection was so important that the early church changed their day of worship from the last day to the first, the day Jesus rose from the grave, so we proclaim every Sunday morning, “Happy Resurrection Day!”
Here is why the resurrection is so important. First, it created for us a positional shift. We moved from being self-consumed beings going nowhere to selfless people with a future. We were determined to be righteous now not because of anything we did or do, but because God made it so in Christ. It requires faith to believe that. Romans 3 tells us as much. We have a righteousness that comes from being in Christ. We are now in right relationship with God, which is what righteousness rightly defined means. This is part of what it means to be “in Christ”, namely, that we are, in the eyes of God, okay. Not only okay but included. We are in! Our spot on the roster is secure. Nothing I do changes that. Whew! We can relax. But once on the team, we do want to get better. We want to learn obedient love and because we are in Christ that type of love is now in our new hearts. Paul loved this central idea of being “in Christ.” I suspect he loved it because he himself had moved from being a misguided antagonist of God to a person who wanted nothing more than to bring glory to the God he once persecuted.
There are some interesting words that Paul says in Romans 7 that might apply here. Talking about the struggle with sin, he writes, Now, if I do what I don’t want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. If one reads those words without an understanding of Paul’s theology of sin or reads them too quickly without thought, they could almost sound like an excuse. “It’s not me. I am not responsible. It is that sin thing in me.” That of course, is not what he is saying. What he is implying is this: sin is no longer at the control center of my heart. Present, yes. A pest, yes. But not central. I am now in Christ and because I am, there is something new, different, radically so, at the controls of my life. I am no longer simply “in me” (i.e. caught up only in bondage to myself), to play on Paul’s words, but rather “in Christ.” What else does it mean to be in Christ?
Two quick thoughts that deserve more time than I will give them. First, to be in Christ means, according to Philippians 2, that we can live self-emptying lives like Jesus. Rather than grasping here, we can let go. We can let go of our money and time; we can let go of needing to be heard or seen; we can live with being obscure or second. We can let go of the need to be right, to promote ourselves. Remember, we have already been seen and included. We already have a secured future that is better than anything this life has to offer. By faith we believe this to be true and need reminded by Sunday mornings and friends in the faith.
Lastly, to be in Christ—are you ready for this one?—means that we can and will suffer. Those who truly grasped the essence of faith (disciples and saints of old) valued suffering because they knew it would make them like Christ. They also knew that it would someday be rewarded, just as Jesus was rewarded for his suffering (see Phil 2). Interestingly enough, Hebrews tells us that Jesus was perfected by suffering, learning to obey. That seems odd to say about Jesus. But here is my take on it: something about suffering brings to the surface what is most true of people who are in Christ. They learn obedient love while the residual effects of sin/self get weakened more and more. Jesus of course, was not prone to disobedience in any form. But the suffering brought to the surface his heart of obedience toward his good Father. And he was rewarded. So will we. We don’t earn our salvation but there are many passages that suggest a day of reward will be forthcoming and we are being tested now to see whether we will be able to rule in the new kingdom.
All this and more are grounded in the resurrection. So join us in learning Peter’s great words that introduce a letter to believers everywhere then and now: 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.
Grace upon grace to you,