Refresh & Restore – 7/23/2020

1 Peter 1:1-5 —

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,    2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for the obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

            Greetings, reader! I would like to start today’s devotion off with a question: have you ever felt hopeless and isolated? I think it is safe to say that everyone has felt that way from time to time, and – if you had not prior to 2020, you most likely have experienced it this year.

The people that Peter wrote to in his first letter were the poster children for hopeless and isolated. These exiles of the “Dispersion” saw a different kind of pandemic in their day, but, rather than a virus, they saw an outbreak of persecution in their home country. Acts 8:1-3 gives us some context:

And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

In the early chapters of the book of Acts, the Church was flourishing and growing. This is the very beginning of the Church, and the honeymoon period did not last long at all. In fact, this illustrates something important about the Church: if she reflects her Savior, she will be treated like He was. We often get caught up in terrible nature of their situation, but I want to draw your attention to the last verse quoted above: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word”.

If that strikes you as odd, you are not alone. Firstly, the church in America has never experienced persecution like this.[i] While many of our brothers and sisters around the world still face the same persecution and vastly more dangerous, we have yet to have to endure such things. Second, our fear of such persecution drives us to focus on the experience of those believers in Acts rather than their response. The believers in Acts continued to share their faith as they were scattered because their faith was genuine. And, out of that genuine faith, they found hope.

That hope is what I want us to look at and study today and over the coming weeks. 1 Peter is a book of hope for the scattered, isolated, and hopeless. So, we will dive into all the passages in this letter that talk about hope to see what the Lord offered the original audience through Peter – and thereby to us!

This first passage of hope is one of my favorites and one that I find myself quoting – to others and to myself – more and more often. As I quote it, I find myself laughing because, as an English teacher, this passage should drive me crazy because it is one, very long run-on sentence. Usually, run-ons drive me crazy, but, oddly enough, this one soothes me. It reminds me that the hope of God through Christ is overflowing and continual.

If you did not read the Scripture prior to my comments, please read it now. (If you only read one thing in what I post, your time and soul would be better served with the Scripture at the beginning than anything I offer.) We will dive in bit-by-bit and take up next week where we leave off.

The first phrase we see – “according to His great mercy” – is quite a big deal for us. You see, church-folks throw around words like grace and mercy, but that does not mean that we understand them. Grace (undeserved favor) often gets most of our focus. It is easily seen in Christ giving his life for us because the eternal life gained from such a gift is clearly not deserved by any sinner. Mercy is different, and it is a little bit less comfortable for us because it recognizes the reality and consequence of our sin.

If grace is God giving us something good that we do not deserve, mercy is God withholding punishment that we do deserve. Mercy is “divine forbearance” (Romans 3:25) where God holds off the penalty for our sin. Mercy is Jesus taking our punishment on Himself instead of it falling rightly on us. So, when Peter says that our being “born again” is according to God’s “great mercy”, we need to realize how big of a deal it truly is!

The term “born again” is especially important as well. Jesus talked to Nicodemus about it at length in John 3, going so far as to tell him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). To talk about being born again means we need to understand what happened after our first birth.

The Bible is clear that all human beings are sinners (Romans 3:10, 23). It also makes it abundantly clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Because of our sin, we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-2) and effectively have earned a death penalty against a holy, righteous, and perfect God. Usually, death is a pretty permanent thing. There is no continue after the game over, that is, without Jesus.

You see, Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” – those dead in their sin (Luke 19:10). Jesus died on behalf of lost sinners, giving opportunity for those sinners to put their trust and faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those who put their trust in Him are born again. Ephesians 2:4-5 illustrates this well using similar language to 1 Peter 1:3: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” (“saved” and “born again” are both phrases that talk about people who have trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord).

I know that is a lot to process, so let me bring it all back together. God – in his vast riches of mercy and grace – gives us the opportunity to have life instead of death by putting our trust and believing in Jesus. It is just that simple. He even clearly shows us how to go about doing it in His Word: “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

This is good news! This is news that gives hope! And it seems like hope is in short supply in the world today. Because it is such a rare thing, I think it would do us well to define it. Hope is “confident optimism”. Confidence and optimism both seem to be in short supply as well. But we can be confident in Jesus and what He has done on our behalf.

The hope that we see here in 1 Peter 1:3 is a special kind of hope indeed. What little hope that can be found in the world is fleeting, but hope in Jesus is “living”. And hope in Him is living because He is alive! “According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” Amen.

As I type this, I am praying for you, reader. I do not know whether or not you are “born again”. I pray that, if you are not, you would cry out to God and ask Him to save you. The Romans 10 verse from above continues beyond the instructions on how to be saved; it also contains a promise: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). So, you do not have to remain hopeless. There is grace and mercy for you.

If you are reading this and are “born again”, I am praying for you also. I am praying that you will be reminded of the hope that you are re-born into. I am praying that when trials come – and they will if they have not already – you will not look horizontally at the world for help but vertically to Christ for the “living hope” promised here.

Either way, know that you have been prayed for. Feel free to reach out if you need a listening ear. Whether or not you want to talk to me or someone else, know that there is One greater than me Who would love to hear from you. Call on Him any time.

[i] I am immensely thankful that we have not had to endure persecution like many of our brothers and sisters around the world. We are blessed to live in a country where we still have the opportunity to be free to worship the Lord as He commands in His Word. However, I would like to give you two things to ponder on here: 1) 2 Timothy 3:12-13 tell us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived”; and 2) we need to ask ourselves this startling question, “Are we using our religious freedom in our country to truly do what Jesus commanded – to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), or are we busy with other things instead?

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