This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:1-9
Purpose: To encourage Christians when they face hard times by giving them truths that sustain.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes trouble comes in batches? Life can go on smoothly for a while and then all of sudden Bang! – things go wrong – not just one thing, but several things at once. And you wonder what hit you.
Somebody once had three flat tires in two weeks. He never gets flat tires. But suddenly he had three in two weeks. And two of them happened at the same time!
A flat tire is really no big deal. Having two at the same time was a real annoyance, but nothing more. But what if those flat tires were real crises and three of them all of a sudden came all at once in life?
Do you remember Charlie Brown of cartoon fame? Charlie Brown once said, “It always looks darkest just before it gets totally black!” Things don't always go as planned. The truth is, no one sails through life without storms.
Trouble is something we all have to deal with.
A military chaplain has a sign on his door. It says, “If you HAVE troubles, come and tell me about them. If you DON’T, come in and tell me how you do it!” Good point!
Now listen to 1 Peter 1:6 (nlt): “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.”
I want you to notice the phrase “you have to endure many trials.” What kind of hardship was Peter talking about?
Peter is writing to believers who were going through very hard times. And those hard times were caused in large part because they were Christians. Peter is writing from Rome probably only a few months before the emperor Nero burned Rome to the ground and blamed the Christians. Paul was martyred during the aftermath of Rome’s burning. Followers of Jesus already were beginning to be singled for persecution. Persecution was not universal and it was not that every Christian got thrown to the lions. But some were, and at increasing frequency.
Christians were harassed. You could think of this period as resembling Nazi Germany of the 1930s. Jews were being ostracized. Their businesses began to be boycotted and vandalized with impunity. And there was something ominous in the air about terrible things to come.
Such were the times at which Peter was writing.
But it really doesn’t matter what kinds of trials make life tough. No matter where our tough times come from, Peter’s message offers insights to all who are facing hardship.
I mean, what do you do when you are faced with cancer? How do you respond when your spouse walks out on you after he or she has betrayed you for so long? How do you handle the reversal of nature and you go through the excruciating time of losing a child? How do you deal with a habit that is messing up your life, but you can’t break its grip on your life?
And so, when Peter begins his letter he does not express how sorry he is that life can be so hard for them. Instead, he gives praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And then he adds, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.”
Notice how Peter talks about being truly glad and about wonderful joy in the midst of serious hardship!
And so, the question I want to answer today is what reasons does Peter give to back up such gladness and joy? Why can Christ-followers still find reason for joy when times are tough?
From 1 Peter 1:1-9, I want us to notice 5 insights for joy beyond tough times.
1. THE FIRST INSIGHT TO CAPTURE JOY IN TOUGH TIMES IS THAT GOD REMINDS ME I AM ONLY PASSING THROUGH.
Peter writes to encourage you and me. And his encouragement is based on this premise: Folks, we are only passing through. This world is not our home.
Notice verse 1, “To God's chosen people who are temporary residents in the world.” Folks, when the heat is on, we need to have a long view of life.
There is a story about Dr. Richard Mouw, the President of Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr Richard Mouw had been an ordained minister in the CRC and one of the noted Reformed-evangelical voices today. When Dr. Mouw arrived for the first time in his new office as the president of the seminary, he felt pretty good about himself having arrived as president of the largest evangelical seminary in North America.
Then he noticed a stack of mail on his desk. He picked it up and noticed that the very first letter was addressed to “Resident.” And he thought, that’s wrong, it should be President, not Resident! And then in a moment of humility he caught himself and Dr. Mouw said, No, it is not supposed to be President, but Resident. I am just passing through. *
Folks, this life as we know it will not last forever. We and this world will pass. And there is going to come a time when you and I, as followers of Jesus, will be coming home, because we are not home yet.
Aren’t you glad about that?
Hebrews 11:16 (nlt) says what kind of home it is: “They were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. … God … has prepared a heavenly city for them.” It is talking here about the heroes of faith. One day, you and I will be fully alive in a heavenly homeland, in that heavenly city.
You see, it is great to be a Christian on this side of eternity. It is great to be a Christian now because you know that you have been forgiven. You do not have to live with regrets. And you know that your life is significant. God has given your life meaning and purpose. And it is great to be a Christian because God is with you and He has adopted you and loves you.
But the final homecoming outweighs any earthly benefit. 1 Corinthians 15:19 says in the Message paraphrase: “If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot.”
Jesus wasn’t a merely good teacher who provided us with some inspiration on how to live life. He came to give you everlasting life forever. He came to bring us home. And when life gets tough, you and I we need to remember that.
Folks, no matter how hard the slugging today, we’re only passing through.
2. THE SECOND INSIGHT TO CAPTURE JOY IN TOUGH TIMES IS THAT GOD REASSURES ME WITH A LIVING HOPE.
Would you agree with me that on this side of eternity we all need massive doses of hope?
Imagine a neighborhood in town that was advised that all the houses would be bought up – expropriated – by the city to make way for a new highway. And the city decided to give the residents a year’s notice so that they could cash out and find another house to make their home. What do you think would happen to those yards? They would be neglected! Fences would not be repaired or repainted. Renovations that were long planned would be canceled. Leaky roofs would be patched rather than replaced. And of course the city would no longer be interested in the upkeep of the neighborhood. Cracks in the sidewalks would be left. Playgrounds would suffer neglect. And any stores would be long gone by the year was up.
And soon, long before the bulldozers came, the neighborhood looked uncared for, shabby and even abandoned. **
That’s the cost of a lack of hope.
Peter says in verse 3 (niv): “God … has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”God’s wants your life to be immersed in hope. Circle that word living. The Christian hope is a living hope.
What is the opposite of a living hope? The opposite of a living hope is a FALSE hope. Is there false hope people cling to? Folks, false hope is everywhere. Every time someone buys a lottery ticket, there is the false hope that they will win. And even when they do win, they cling to the false hope that it will be the answer to their unhappiness.
But every time we say, “I hope to see you” or when we make plans and we say, “This is what I am going to do tomorrow and next week,” we are really not sure whether our plans will succeed because we do not control everything. Even our most hopeful plans are tentative.
But the living hope that you have because you are a believer is based not on wishful plans. The hope of which Peter speaks is anchored in an event in history. Your hope and my hope is based on Jesus’ resurrection! That is why Peter calls it a living hope. And since no one can undo history, no one can steal our living hope!
Our hope is anchored in the resurrection of Christ! This is why one of the symbols of the Christian faith is the anchor. The anchor symbolizes not wishful thinking, but a hope that is rooted, accomplished and guaranteed in history.
Truths that sustain us are that, first, I am only passing through this life. And second, I am born into a resolute hope.
3. THE THIRD INSIGHT TO CAPTURE JOY IN TOUGH TIMES IS THAT GOD REDEEMS ME FOR INCORRUPTIBLE GLORY.
Decima Research reports that over a trillion dollars is going to be transferred from this generation to the next.*** This Canadian generation will inherit more than any generation before it. Over a trillion. Maybe a trillion dollars isn’t worth what it used to, but it still is a lot of cash.
But folks, it is only cash and stuff. It will be taxed. It will be spent – much of it on lawyers and accountants. Some of it will be fought over and divide families. Much will be squandered. And even if the inheritance is invested in the world’s most secure investments, these investments in the end won’t last. There is no guarantee that today’s fortune will still be there tomorrow. And we know that well from the economic ups and downs we’ve experienced in our time.
The things that are bought
will rust through
or wear out
or burn up
or waste away
or be stolen
or get out of fashion
or is simply cast aside.
Such is the nature of our perishable, temporary world.
But notice verse 4, “God … has given us … an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.” Your inheritance in Christ is glory. And it is a glory that can never perish, spoil or fade.
What does that mean? It means that your inheritance in the city whose Maker and Builder is God is incorruptible.
And Peter uses three descriptions of incorruptibility to make the point that what is in store for Christ followers is absolutely secure.
- First, my inheritance won’t be damaged – it says that it can “never perish.” Your inheritance as a child of God will never be threatened by hurricanes. It will never be broken into. No foreign army will come and blow it away or take possession of it. No lawyer can sue it away. It is fully secure of external damage.
- Second, my inheritance won’t rot. In your condo of heaven, there is no such thing as a condo problem where things rot from the inside out. It says it will “never spoil.” You will never be surprised when you go into the attic that there are structural problems that are going to add years to your mortgage payments. In fact, you will never have a mortgage, because it is all paid for. And no mortgage can ever be taken out on it. You will be debt free, because Jesus has paid the price in full.
- Third, my inheritance won’t wear out – it says that it can “never fade.”
Do you remember from the Bible how in Exodus a remarkable thing happened? The shoes and the clothes of the Israelites never wore out during their 40 years in the wilderness. God knew that during their journey through the desert people couldn’t stop at the local mall to pick up a new pair of jeans or a dress. So He made it so that the clothes they wore and the sandals on their feet did not wear out. God so cared for His people that He even preserved their clothes for the journey!
As God preserved even the clothes and sandals of His people, so your eternal inheritance will
never grow dull and
never lose its shine.
And you might think, Well, doesn’t that make heaven dull? You know, after a while same old, same old. I am sure the Israelites were grateful that they didn’t have to buy new clothes. But it didn’t do much for fashion statements to wear the same clothes for 40 years.
A fellow may have said, “Honey, I think I’ll get a new suit for the office.” And the wife could have said, “Why buy a new suit when the old one is still good as new?”
But we forget that our heavenly inheritance is not like our earthly inheritance. On earth you may inherit things. In heaven you inherit the fullness of a LOVE relationship.
And a LOVE relationship is never dull. Have you discovered that? I mean, have you ever seen two people in love who are bored with each other? People in love are never bored with each other! In fact, they can’t have enough of each other!
Think of your incorruptible, unspoiled inheritance as one long, enduring love relationship with God. You will know Him like you never knew Him before, and you will know yourself like you never have known yourself before. And you will not be afraid. Instead, you will be uninhibited in your love! It will be an everlasting spiritual honeymoon!
4. THE FOURTH INSIGHT TO CAPTURE JOY IN TOUGH TIMES IS THAT GOD REFINES ME FOR GENUINE FAITH.
Notice the first part of verse 7, “These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and your faith is much more precious to God than gold.”
Notice what Peter says: When trails come, it is an occasion for us to reflect on how we can trust God more in it and through it. God refines you. Why? So you can make a million bucks? No! So you can become famous and everybody admires you? No! God uses trouble in your life to build authentic faith which God values more than your bank account.
You know, it is a general piece of human wisdom to realize that hardship either embitters you or helps you become a better person. Tough times make people either BITTER or BETTER.
Folks, in most instances in life, what is most important in life is not what trials you face, but how you face them. Will you become better or bitter? One of the most important lessons in life is to realize that God has given us the ability to choose how to respond to tough times.
You see, we don’t always follow God’s will. But even when God’s will is not done, we can respond according to God’s will. That is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Because God’s will is often not done here on earth.
God says, “Even though this is not my original plan for this world, I want to use this trouble now to draw you closer to myself. You can still respond in a way that honors me and that honors my good, pleasing and perfect will. And I will draw you to myself.”
Notice the second part of verse 7b from the Message: “When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of His victory.”
You see, all of us leave behind our things when we die. There is no forwarding address in heaven at which you can leave your inheritance. You leave it all behind. You can rent a U-Haul one-way to Nova Scotia. But you cannot rent one for one way to heaven. I have never seen a U-Haul trailer towed by a hearse!
What you will take along is your relationship with God. And that relationship is founded on faith. And God says, “During those tough times when you learned to trust me more; those events that were so difficult to endure, but to which you responded to by trusting me deeper, will be put on display. Your instances of faith are going to be show-cased.”
Folks, your faith will be displayed as your life’s greatest trophy. Think of other believers cheering you. They applaud and shout their approval when they see how you responded in hard times. And they give glory and thanks to God for the victory in your life.
And it keeps getting better. There is one more terrific insight for tough times:
5. THE FIFTH INSIGHT TO CAPTURE JOY IN TOUGH TIMES IS THAT GOD REPLENISHES ME WITH INEXPRESSIBLE JOY.
Verse 8 (nlt) “ … even now you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy.” I want you to circle “even now.” That means today. THIS day, THIS date on THIS moment in your life. “ … even NOW you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”
God wants to remind you that joy is not something that is reserved for heaven. Joy is something that is reserved for TODAY for ALL who have been born again into a living hope.
Now, remember, Peter was writing to those who were persecuted, whose jobs were on the line because they were believers, and some of whom were to be arrested and martyred, like Paul and later on Peter himself.
And Peter tells them, EVEN NOW you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. EVEN NOW!
Now, folks, look up here: understand that Peter wasn’t writing to spiritual giants. There were mature and immature believers among those to whom he was writing. And God does not expect you to have reached the stratosphere of spiritual maturity before you can be joyful in hard times. All you need is Christ to have inexpressible joy. All you need to know is Christ in your situation and you can be happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. Even now! Even now, capture the joy of belonging to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
Notice the final verse, verse 6 (nlt), “So be truly glad! … even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while.” You see, God will always be with you. And He is bigger than your tough times.
Remember, God always honors faith!
Folks, this coming week will bring good times. And it will bring challenges. Here is what I want you to do. Choose joy! Even now! Even now! Amen!
Prayer of response
Father in heaven, we thank you for your word. May it encourage our hearts even today as it strengthens us for the challenges we face every day. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Order of Service
WE GATHER IN GOD'S PRESENCE
Welcome and announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 95: 6, 7
Silent Prayer concluded with “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH# 625
Votum: “Our help is in the name of the LORD who made the heavens and the earth.”
Prayer for God’s Greeting, “May God’s grace, mercy and peace be ours in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Opening hymn: “Now with Joyful Exaltation” PsH# 95: 1-3
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Prayer of Confession: Since we have confidence
to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,
by the new and living way that he opened for us
through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),
and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed with pure water.
In humility and faith let us confess our sin to God.
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 130: 7-8
Hymn: “Not What My Hands Have Done” PsH#260
God’s Will for our Lives: Exodus 20: 1-17
WE HEAR THE WORD
Hymn: “Break Now the Bread of Life” PsH#282
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Sermon: “Capture Joy in Tough Times”
Prayer of Response
Hymn: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” PsH#469
WE DEPART WITH GOD'S BLESSING
Prayer for God’s Blessing, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”
Doxology: “By the Sea of Crystal” PsH#620
* Story told to author of this sermon by Dr. Archibald Hart during a Doctor of Ministry seminar at Fuller Theological Seminary, September 1999.
** Imaginary story created by author of this sermon.
*** Decima Research cited in Hull & Hull llp, “Majority of Canadians Expect Inheritance,” February 14, 2012.