I don’t read the newspaper I talk to it. I’m an avid reader of the newspaper, but I can’t just sit and read....I mumble and complain. I say things like “I can’t believe they said that” or “What were they thinking...”, or “How could the Dodgers lose to...”. I’m amazed and incredulous at some of the things I read. Some are more important in the overall scheme of things than others but...you get the drift. I’m probably like you. I get angry at times, frustrated, and sometimes a feeling of hopelessness can start to creep in if I’m not careful. My heart is not responding in faith to the circumstances around me. I’ve come to the conclusion that my heart needs help. Does your heart need help? Is there hope for our hapless hearts? Well, that’s part of the reason Peter wrote the book of First Peter.
Matthew records Jesus talking in Matt. 24:10-13; “Jesus taught his disciples about the end of the age saying, “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Sometimes it can feel like the cost of discipleship is going too high. Jesus is saying that some who were ‘professing’ to be Christians will be led astray, and disobedience will increase and as a result their love will grow cold. It’s just too much. Their hearts need help or they will not endure to the end, and their true colors will be revealed. Into this kind of a context Peter is writing to Christians whose faith is being tested. Who are experiencing all kinds of challenges. Peter is aware that in the midst of these things we can tend to lose heart and he wants to help us understand we have a new life and this new life is beyond this world and different than this world. He wants us to take heart!
Peter starts this by telling us we have been “...born again into a living hope.” To be a Christian one must be born again. It’s a metaphor of what happens to our spirits when the Holy Spirit regenerates us. Sometimes this experience can be dramatic like the Apostle Paul’s. Sometimes it may be very subtle like traveling on a train through Europe at night. At some point you crossed over into a different country but you don’t know exactly when. The result though is the same. You are aware you are a sinner and even more aware that God has given you grace through the finished work of Christ on your behalf. The result is you go from hopelessness to hope. Peter understood this completely. He was hopeless after Christ’s death. He had betrayed the Lord and everything he had thought would happen did not. He was dismayed and distressed. Hopeless. Then the resurrection happened. Everything changed. The Spirit came and lived in his heart and he experienced the resurrection life. He was now filled with hope, and he wants us to be filled with hope. We are “hope-based” creatures. What we hope for sets the course for our lives. We are always living in the present out of some sense of the future. We cannot live well today if we have no hope that today has meaning for the future. If we are convinced that our jobs are going nowhere, work becomes tedious and hard. If we become convinced that are marriage will never improve, every little difference and struggle becomes too much to bear. If we think our struggling teenager will never change we give up investing in them. But when there is hope for change... when there is a good purpose and a good future ahead, then the hardships of today are bearable. The resurrection guarantees hope for change.
Now Peter wants us to focus this resurrection hope on another reality that should help us in our hope. This new life was made for trials. A trial is a trial no matter how small or large. At least it feels like one to you!. Peter is being general here. No matter what the trial or injustice, our new life was designed this way. We should not be surprised. Later Peter says “don’t think it strange” that a “fiery” trial has come upon you. It’s a part of our life. Take heart, its an important part of your new life, because God is purifying you. That’s what he does. Christians in trial experience sorrow, distress, and agony. We are not immune to these negative emotions and it is not a lack of faith to experience them. Jesus experience them. It’s normal. But Peter calls us to rejoice, even though for “a little while” we are tested like this. Our faith is being purified. Trials only purify faith. Trials cannot harm faith like fire cannot harm gold, so....take heart!
Finally, Peter tells us to take heart because we are greatly privileged. We have the privilege of being given such a glorious gospel. You could start to lose heart if you focus on the economy or the cost of living in LA or the crime or the downward slide of morality in our culture. Or you could focus on the gospel and our opportunity to demonstrate it to a lost and dying world. This glorious gospel, Peter says, is something the prophets knew only in part and longed to understand in full. Even angels long to “long to look” into these things but will never grasp it like you and I. Their experience of those who rebelled against God was that they were forever cast out of God’s presence. Now to observe sinners reconciled to God through the gospel is beyond them. They would long to understand this.
This is the gospel! Powerful. Purifying. Awesome. A unique privilege to those of us living in this gospel age to be able to understand and live out. What is capturing our hearts the most? The difficulties of this life or the hope filled future of serving our glorious God and his glorious gospel? Are you looking to the future or stuck in the past? Take heart! You have been born again to a glorious hope, and a glorious future!