Living for now with our Christian Hope
1 Peter 1 3-12, Eccles.3.1-11
A Sermon by Lay reader, Ian Lawrie
26 January 13
Defining time is an elusive thing. Stephen Hawkins in his book ‘A brief history of time’ tried to help us, but for many the introduction of Einstein’s theory and the variability of time with velocity only complicated matters. What is clear is that, in spite of what we are led to imagine in ‘Dr. Who’, we cannot go back in time and change past events. Nor can we, to a large extent, modify time –‘Time marches on’. Physically speaking we can only move forward in time and live with past events and experiences. However there is a dimension outside the physical which Stephen Hawkins describes. It is the spiritual dimension in which God intervenes to reverse the ravages of time in illness or sickness and which Jesus demonstrated on numerous occasions in healing the sick and raising the dead. Our Old Testament lesson from Ecclesiastes makes us only too conscious that it is God who is the master of time and there are some occasions over which we have no control and some when we can choose to act or not. When we have that freedom to choose we are not denied it. However, if God is the master of time, doing things in His timing rather than ours will obviously be far more effective. Putting it simply, sowing seeds in the summer or trying to pluck apples in the height of winter is not really a good idea. This clearly has a very practical significance in our Christian lives. Seeking God’s timing is of major importance as we seek to do his will in what we say, in what we do, and in what we pray for. Listening to and acting on that ‘still small voice’ which prompts us to act is an important part of growing in our Christian lives and in our obedience to God.
When Peter wrote to the Christians scattered about in Asia Minor, he wrote to a people who did not know from one day to the next whether they would be next in the persecution suffered by Christians under the rule of Nero. For a number of years the Romans had tolerated a degree of religious freedom for Jews and Christians but as numbers of Christians grew; as emperors increasingly proclaimed themselves as gods, and as problems arose, the authorities increasingly sought scapegoats; and who easier to pick on than the vulnerable Christians. The times were uncertain, life was in danger. So it is with these words in our New Testament lesson, that Peter points them to their living hope in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead; to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for them…
I wonder how you would describe the hope that is in you. Of course you might parry the question by asking whether I meant our individual hope as a Christian, or our collective hope as the body of Christ. Both are equally important. The Christian who can stand on his own unsupported by his brothers and sisters in Christ is most unusual. While the body of people who do not have Christ as the centre of their faith can hardly proclaim a Christian Hope. Now it may be that we have not explored or verbalised that hope which is in us. So for the next few minutes let us look at the way in which Peter, in our New Testament lesson helps our understanding.
First of all let us look at this word ‘hope’. It has become rather a weak word. ‘I hope it’s not going to rain’. ‘I hope you will be all right’. ‘I hope I win the raffle’. There is very little confidence or expectancy expressed in that sort of hope. Well that is certainly not the sort of hope we see in the Scriptures. ‘Thou art my hope, O Lord’ says the psalmist (Ps 71.5). ‘The hope of the righteous ends in gladness, but the expectation of the wicked comes to nought’ says the writer in Proverbs (Pr 10.28). And more profoundly he writes ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life’ (Pr 13.12). As Christians we are called to a living hope – a hope which brings life, not a hope deferred which makes us sick in heart. The writer to the Hebrews takes this further when he writes ‘And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realising the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’(Heb 6.11-12). So when we speak of hope in Christian terms we speak in the same breath of confidence, of expectancy, of trust, and of assurance – not of doubt and uncertainty. Our trust is in a living Saviour and a loving heavenly Father.
What is this Christian hope in which we have confidence? Well it starts at the foot of the cross, the place at which all our Christian faith begins; the place where God’s love for us was made so evident: Calvary – the place where Jesus’ blood was poured out so that we might be set free from our sins; the place where faith begins. As the writer to the Hebrews says ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (Heb 11.1). Faith does not stay there for it proceeds to the resurrection, to Pentecost and to all the great things that God has done. But it is through the eyes of faith that we can begin to describe that hope. In our New Testament lesson Peter speaks of the inheritance in Christ when he says ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled…'(1 Pet 1.3-4); a living hope and an inheritance. If ‘hope’ seems a little distant perhaps ‘inheritance’ seems more tangible. We often speak of GRACE, and when we seek to describe it we use the mnemonic God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. The inheritance which Jesus bought for us with his blood – the benefits of his passion. Let’s try and identify some parts of that inheritance which we have today.
We are set free from our guilt. Christ paid the price of our sin; we are redeemed. We are assured that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. What a weight off our mind! What a wonderful sense of freedom that brings!
Paul tells us that we are chosen and that we should be holy and blameless before God; not because of what we have done but because of our faith in Jesus.
We are assured that God loves us. And that is not a distant love but the love of a heavenly Father who we can address as Abba – which simply means Daddy. What a privilege! We are assured that not only is God with us but that his Holy Spirit can be in us. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ in us. We in Christ and Christ in us. The power of God in our lives!
Through his Holy Spirit God reveals his will to us. He guides us – he leads us forth in the paths of righteousness. He provides for our needs, He lifts us up when we are down. He is the Lord our Healer.
All these things and many more are part of our inheritance, part of that living hope which is in us; an inheritance which we hold individually and share as the body of Christ. They are things which are not so easily tangible but still we know that they are there and we feel them at special moments in our lives. But it is because they are not tangible that we need one another to add that human assurance of faith to God’s promises which we have in His Word. Here is part of our Christian hope, our expectation, and our confidence which we have now. But our hope is much more.
We have a real and living hope that one day we shall dwell with God and live with him for ever. In fact Scripture speaks of us reigning with Him. We are called to be Sons and Daughters entering into our inheritance; a life where the burdens and the sorrows and the tears of this world are swept away. Jesus never promised us freedom from the sorrows of our life on earth but our hope is in a glorious future with him.
But while we keep our eyes on that glorious hope, never let us forget that our inheritance in Christ begins on earth and that God’s blessings; God’s grace is for each one of us today.