Friday, April 28, 2017

living hope

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What does it mean to live as God's people in light of the resurrection? What does it look like to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? How will the things we have confessed with our lips on Easter Sunday begin to show forth in our lives?

These are the kinds of questions we will be considering and contemplating this Easter Season in our series on 1st Peter - The Pilgrim's Promise. Notice I said promise and not progress. The Pilgrim's Progress is the classic tale written by John Bunyan in the 1600's about the journey of the Christian through trial and trouble to the Celestial City. It's an allegory - a great piece of literature - one of the first novels written in the English language. But this series on 1st Peter isn't about progress - it's about a promise. That's why we are calling it the Pilgrim's Promise.

The Apostle Peter is going to be our tour guide as we take a look at his first epistle - better known as 1st Peter. Peter is the perfect person to learn from about the Christian life and what it means to be Jesus' disciple because he was so imperfect in so many ways. Peter is an expert on the sinful human condition as well as being an expert on the grace and mercy of Jesus His Lord and Savior. I can see him saying along with Martin Luther and John Newton - "I am a great sinner - but Jesus is a great Savior."

Peter was one of the first of the disciples to be chosen by Jesus, along with his brother Andrew. "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men". Peter was one of the three in Jesus' inner circle - Peter James and John. He had a front row seat to all the big events found in the Gospels. He was there for the teaching, the healings, the miracles. He walked on water for Pete's sake! He was there on Palm Sunday - there at the temple - there in the Garden - there at the trial - until his denial of course. He was there at the tomb and in the upper room. Peter was a witness of the resurrection.

Many believe that Peter was the inspiration behind the Gospel of Mark. He also wrote 2 epistles - 1st and 2nd Peter.

Peter was there at the Mt. of Olives, 40 days after the resurrection, as Jesus was preparing to ascend into heaven to return to the Father, when some of the disciples ask - "Now are you going to set up your kingdom Lord?" Instead Jesus basically tells them - No, you guys can take it from here. I will always be with you. But now, it's your turn.

As the Apostles began their mission and ministry, they endured hardship and persecution as they went out into the world to spread the Gospel of Christ.

All of the apostles would go on to die a martyr's death - except of course for John - who Jesus said would live a long life and die a natural death. Peter was martyred in Rome - he was crucified upside down because he didn't think he was worthy to die in the same manner as His Savior and Lord.

So after the resurrection, after Jesus restored Peter back to the fold after his betrayal, Peter went on to be a powerful proclaimer of the Gospel message, and would remain faithful to Christ to the end.

Peter writes his epistle to Christians in the early church who are undergoing trial, trouble, and tribulation - suffering, persecution, and pain. It is a letter of comfort, hope, and encouragement in the midst of sorrow, grief, and despair. As much as the early Christians needed to hear this kind of message, we need to hear it today as well.

We in America have not had to endure the kind of persecution that the early Christians did, or the kind of persecution that Christians in the Middle East undergo, but if you are a Christian you will have some kind of hardship or trial.

Peter writes in chapter 1 verse 6 - "Now for a little while you have been grieved by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold and tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor on the day of Jesus Christ."

Trials come in all shapes and sizes. My trials won't be like your trials and your trials won't be like mine. They're like blue jeans - mine won't fit you, and yours won't fit me. So what kind of trials are you going through? Physical - emotional - spiritual - psychological ? The important thing is to admit that we all have them. Let's just be honest about it. All too often we try to hide our troubles and act like we got it all together. I got news for you. Nobody's got it all together.

Everyone struggles - everyone has trials - everyone has issues - everyone is dealing with something. I have a book on my shelf by John Ortberg entitled - "Everyone's Normal Until You Get to Know Them". It's true. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. So be kind to them. Try to empathize and be an encouragement to them. And be honest with your own trials too - so someone can come along side you and help you in your time of need. The church is intended to be a hospital for the sick, not a country club for the healthy.

Many people even in the church seek out a theology of glory in this life rather than a theology of the cross. The problem with seeking out the glory story, where you have to be perfect and live in victory all the time, is that when you fail or fall short, it means either God doesn't love you anymore and He's punishing you, or you're just not good enough to be a Christian. And that can easily lead to a crisis of conscience - to depression and to despair.

Our comfort and hope is not in our own perfection or performance. Neither do our problems negate God's promises. Remember Paul's words from Romans 8 - "Nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God that in Jesus Christ our Lord."

The theology of the cross means that Jesus is with us in the midst of our trials and tribulations, our sufferings and sorrows. It means that through our baptism and our faith in Him, because of His death and resurrection for us, we have died with Him and we will also rise with Him. His death is our death - His resurrection means our resurrection.

The Crucified, Risen, and Living Lord Jesus Christ is greater than all your trials, troubles, suffering, and pain. Your problems don't negate the promises of God. The power of Jesus resurrection is greater than all of these things - His power is like dynamite - stronger than even death itself. You've heard of the immoveable object vs. unstoppable force debate? Well that has at last been solved. Jesus resurrection is the unstoppable force that has blown the immoveable object of death to smithereens.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." 1 Peter 1:3


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