Ligon Duncan / Nov 22, 2015 / 1 Peter 1:3-1:5
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s open the Word of God and look at 1 Peter 1:3-5. I want you to see several things in this passage as we study it. First, notice that there’s a doxology (a word of praise to God) in the very first sentence of verse 3. Peter begins this section (vv. 3-5) with a word of praise to God. Everything else in this section is really a recounting of God’s blessings to you. So the first sentence has you blessing God, and the next several sentences are Peter recounting God’s blessings to you.
By the way, that’s a perfect picture of what happens in worship. Have you ever thought about that? You bless God, and then God’s blessings to you are recounted through the Word as it is read, preached, prayed, and sung. Then you bless Him again—and then you are blessed more. That’s the rhythm of worship: blessing God, and then receiving God’s blessings. That’s what happens in this passage.
First, Peter gives a doxology. Then he gives this account of God’s blessings to you. I’d like you to see three parts of that account before we even read the passage. The first thing that we see is a focus on God’s mercy. Peter says, “According to his great mercy,” reminding us that God’s mercy is fundamental to all of His other blessings. Then he points you to the new birth as the gift of God’s mercy. We’ll think about that as the great gift of God to us. Then he lists three gifts that flow from and come along with that new birth in the Christian life: a living hope, an inheritance that will never fade, and your protected salvation. He mentions the living hope in verse 3. Then he mentions the inheritance that will never fade in verse 4. Then he mentions the protected salvation in verse 5. That’s the shape of the passage we’re going to read.
Remember what Peter is doing here. He is writing to Christians who are under duress. You may have come here this morning feeling under duress in your Christian life. There may be a family problem or a job problem that you’re facing. There may be something that you’re dealing with in your own heart that’s discouraging you. Peter is speaking to Christians that are under duress. In fact, these Christians are going to face the persecution that flowed out of the Emperor Nero’s malicious acts in Rome. There will be repercussions for these Christians in Asia Minor because of Nero. Many of them will be persecuted and exiled. They’ll lose their jobs. They’ll be separated from family. Some of them will be martyred, and Peter is preparing them for this.
If you’re here today, you’re probably not under the kind of duress that they were under—but if you’re under any kind of duress, and you feel discouraged and hopeless, then Peter’s words are especially appropriate for you. He wants to encourage Christians and help them know how to go on in these kinds of situations of duress. Here are Peter’s words for you.
Before we read the word of God, let’s pray and ask for His help and blessing as we study it. Heavenly Father, this is Your Word, breathed out of Your very mouth. We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that is breathed out from the mouth of God, and all Scripture is God-breathed. And it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that we may be equipped for every good work. Heavenly Father, the grass withers and the flowers fade and fall, but Your Word stands forever. Help us to believe that right now as we hear Your Word read, and help us to base our lives on the truth of Your Word. Open our eyes by Your Spirit to behold wonderful things in Your Word, O Lord. We ask all of these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is the Word of God:
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 a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(1 Peter 1:3-5)
Amen. This is the Word of God: inspired, inerrant, and profitable. May He add His blessing to it. John Calvin, in his commentary on 1 Peter, says:
“This is why Peter wrote this letter. The main object of this letter is to raise us above the world, in order that we may be prepared and encouraged for the battle of our spiritual warfare.”
The Christian life is a fight. It’s not easy. Hard things happen. Discouraging things happen. We need to realize that we are not being invited to a tea party, but to a war. So, how are you prepared for that war? That’s what Peter is saying. Calvin goes on to say this:
“For this purpose [so that we’ll be prepared for that spiritual battle], the knowledge of God’s benefits is of great help.”
In other words, if you’re going to fight the fight of the Christian life, you need to know the benefits of God. You need to know the blessings that He has bestowed on you, or you won’t be able to fight the fight of the Christian life.
“For this purpose, the knowledge of God’s benefits is of great help, for when we appreciate their value, all other things will become worthless.”
When we realize what God has given us—when we understand His benefits—we won’t be scrounging around like paupers, hoping that somebody will give us a blessing. We’ll realize how much blessing God has given us. When we especially consider what Christ and His blessings are, everything without Him will seem but dross, he says. Jesus will be such a blessing to us that anything in this world that we enjoy that He is not all in and through will seem like nothing to us.
What a wonderful summary of what Peter is doing in this letter! It’s as if Calvin has already given us our application of this particular passage. That’s exactly what Peter is doing. He wants to make sure that you understand exactly what God has bestowed on you. It makes a difference in the Christian life.
There was a Scottish pastor named William Guthrie who wrote a book called The Christian’s Great Interest. In that book, he says this about Jesus Christ:
“Less would not satisfy. More is not to be desired.”
Do you see what he’s saying about Jesus? He’s saying that anything less than Jesus Christ could not satisfy us for eternity. Once you have Jesus, you’ll never say, “Well, I’d like more of something else,” because He is capable of supplying satisfaction for your soul forever. Nothing less than Him would satisfy, but nothing more than Him is necessary for you to be satisfied.
In this passage, Peter is pointing you to something that you have in Jesus Christ that is meant to supply what you need to fight the fight of faith, to live the Christian life, and to face the various duresses of Christian life—whether it’s persecution or some other sort of problem.
Starting with Praise
When you have a big problem, you’re tempted to be caught up with that problem. It dominates your mind. You start obsessing about it and thinking that it is the worst thing that you’ve ever encountered. It seems so big! Over and over, what does the Bible encourage us to do? Put our problems in comparison to our God. Don’t deny that our problems are great, but put them in perspective by comparing them to our God.
Here’s Peter talking to Christians under duress, and he says, “The first thing that we need to do together is praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, Peter starts with doxology. That reminds us that it’s always time to give praise to God. There’s never a time when a Christian can’t give praise to God, even when in deep distress.
Think of Job. Job gets word that his children have been killed, his houses have been lost, and much of his wealth has been dispersed—and what is his response?
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away…
And he fell down and worshipped Him.
There’s a reason why we quote that verse so often at funerals and at gravesides. When we have lost someone that we deeply love, and have born that wound of bereavement, we need to remind ourselves that God is still worthy to be praised. Even in our deepest sorrow, He is worthy of praise. These Christians are going to be persecuted, yet Peter says, “Let’s pause right now, before we say another word, and bless God. Let’s praise God.” It’s always time to praise the Lord.
It’s singularly instructive that a letter written to help Christians coping with persecution would begin with a doxology. In a day when so many people respond to personal pain and suffering by questioning the existence, sovereignty, or kindness of God, isn’t it interesting that Peter responds to those kinds of challenges by praising God?
So often, when you find skeptics that are denying parts of Christianity, you’ll find that their problems aren’t really rooted in intellectual issues, but in a wrong response to the trials of life. Many of you have heard the name Bart Ehrman. He is a liberal New Testament scholar who teaches at the University of North Carolina, and who denies the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture. That denial was rooted in his belief that the Bible did not supply a persuasive answer to human pain and suffering. Isn’t that interesting? Human pain and suffering led him to deny the Bible and the God of the Bible. But Peter’s experience of pain and suffering pressed him back into praise to God. Isn’t that interesting? That tells us something very important about the Christian life.
So the first thing that I want you to see is this: it’s always time to praise our God. No circumstance in our life can undercut the worthiness of God to be praised in the least. That’s the beauty of it. Our circumstances will change, but our God is unchangeable. No matter what’s happening in your life, our God is still worthy to be praised. That’s why Job could say what he said.
I’ve been blessed my whole life to be exposed to Christians who are facing great trials and yet still praise God. I’ll never forget Margaret DuBois, holding her dead two-year-old boy in her arms, saying to me, “Ligon, would you lead us in singing the doxology?” I’ll never forget Bob and Amanda Bailey, after their niece and nephew had died in an automobile accident. When I said, “How are you, Bob and Amanda?”, they said to me, “The Lord is good in all He does.” I’ll never forget Paul Stephenson, when his son had taken his own life, leading us in prayer. Normally the pastors would lead us in prayer as we went into the funeral service, but Paul turned and said, “I’d like to lead us all in prayer.” He gave praise to God, even at the funeral service of his son. The privilege of being with Christians that face trials like that and trust and praise God—I can’t tell you what a blessing that has been to me.
My friends, when you face duress, troubles, and hardship, don’t forget to praise God, because our praise is not circumstantially rooted. It’s rooted in who our God is, and that never changes. That’s why He’s a rock to us in all those circumstances of life.
The Roots of Praise
Look again at verse 3. Notice that as soon as the doxology is given, he now focuses on God’s mercy. “According to his great mercy”. The praise that he lifts up to God is rooted in God’s mercy shown to us. Biblical praise, Biblical doxology, is never rooted in our circumstances. If it were, it would ebb and flow, right? Sometimes things are good and sometimes things are not. If we only praise when things are good, then our praise is going to ebb and flow. What is our praise rooted in? It’s rooted in who God is and in what He has done for us. Here, Peter focuses on God’s great mercy. Christian praise is supernaturally grounded in the gift of great mercy to us by the triune God. Therefore, our praise is really always a response to what God is and does for us.
How can a Christian praise a sovereign God in the face of trial, persecution, and suffering? The answer is, “Only if you have seen His mercy. Only if you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.” Samuel Rutherford has this amazing phrase. He asks:
“How do you learn to kiss the hand of a striking Lord?”
That’s an interesting picture, isn’t it? I’m sure the image probably comes from the discipline of children. Parents have to discipline their children. Well, how do you learn to love your parents when they are disciplining you? When you realize that what they are doing is for your good. They really love you. They really care about your best interest.
So how does faith learn to kiss the hand of a striking Lord? By seeing His love, mercy, and goodness to us. Peter is saying, “According to His great mercy, He has given us gifts.” So Peter is drawing our attention to the gift of mercy’s as the ground of praise.
This is so important, by the way, in the way that we sing. If you’ve paid attention to the lyrics that you’ve sang today, all of the praises that you gave to God were rooted in truths about Him and His salvation. That’s exactly the way that the Psalms operate. They never ask you to praise God without giving you a reason. They always tell you why it is that you ought to praise the Lord. When we are singing Psalm 100 (to the Scottish Metropol version)…
“All people that on earth do dwell,
sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell.
Come ye before him and rejoice.”
What does it say when you get to that fourth stanza?
“For why? The Lord our God is good…”
The reason that we’re going to come before Him with singing and praise Him with cheerful voice is because the Lord is good, His mercies endure forever, and His truth shall stand at all times. All of these reasons are piled up as to why we ought to praise the Lord. Watch that in singing.
Often times, the difference between a good song and a bad song in worship is that a good song will call you praise the Lord, tell you why, and give you biblical reasons for it; and a bad worship song will call you to worship, but never tell you why.
The Psalmist always tells you why, and Peter’s telling you: “Why should you give praise to God in the midst of your troubles? Because of His great mercy. He’s been merciful to you. Mercy is God’s goodness toward His people, with a view toward our miserable condition. To praise God in every circumstance, you have to have tasted of that mercy. You have to have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. To do that, you have to look at the cross. You can’t know this kind of praise unless you have seen the mercy of God, shown to you at the cross in the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ.
In this passage, Peter will emphasize the resurrection of Christ. But you can’t know this mercy if you haven’t seen the mercy of God to you in Jesus at the cross, haven’t trusted in Him, haven’t believed in Him, and haven’t rested in Him for salvation.
But there’s the second thing we see. The focus is God’s mercy: that’s the grounds of our praise. That’s what enables us to praise God in every circumstance. Then what is the gift of that mercy? What is the thing that Peter wants to draw our attention to? What’s that mercy given to you? Look at the language: “According to His great mercy, He has caused you to be born again.”
Mercy’s Gift: New Birth
God has given you a new life. He’s made you alive. You were dead in trespasses and sins, to use Paul’s language from Ephesians 2. What has He done? He’s raised you to newness of life. Or, to change the picture to Ezekiel 37, you were a valley of dry bones, and what has He done? He’s spoken the word, the Spirit has brought the bones together, put sinews and muscles on you, and brought you back to life and back into the land. Or again, Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus: you can’t see the kingdom of God unless you are born again. That’s the gift that God has given.
Notice that he speaks of this new birth, this new life, this being born again, not as something that you do, but as something that God has given. A lot of people approach Christianity as if it’s a way to make a new start in life. “I’m going to do better than I’ve done before. I’m going to turn over a new leaf. I’m going to stop doing the bad things that I did, and I’m going to resolve to do better.” But Peter is talking about something far more profound than that.
I was recently with a man (who is not a believer) who had lost his wife. He had been ministered to by the church in a very kind and loving way, and he said, “I’m going to be a new man.” I thought, “Well, we’ve got a gospel opportunity there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he understands the gospel yet.” The gospel isn’t something that makes us able to save ourselves. The gospel is the announcement of what God has done to save us. The new birth is not something we do. It’s something that God gives to us. I love the way John Blanchard puts it:
“Christianity is not making a new start in life. It’s receiving a new life to start with.”
The new birth that’s being talked about here is a gift from God to us from His mercy. Peter wants us to realize that God has given that to us. Our new life flows from the heart of a merciful Father, and our new birth is effected by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
When Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, all those who trust in Him alone for salvation as He has offered in the gospel are also raised to newness of life through what Jesus did in His resurrection, and Peter wants us to understand that. That is the grand gift of God’s mercy: new birth. You are a new creation. It’s as if you were a person in a coma who was woken up, or a person who had literally been buried who was brought back out of the tomb more alive than ever before. That’s the picture of what it means to be a believer and that’s the gift of God’s mercy.
Peter knows you need to understand that if you are going to live the Christian life. That has a determinative effect on a Christian life. You have been given the new birth by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power that raised Him from the dead is at work in your life. Now, you have to accept that by faith sometimes. Sometimes you look at your own life and you say, “You know, it doesn’t feel like the power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in my life.” But it is, believer. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, that power is at work in your life.
New Birth: the Gift of Living Hope
According to the mercy of God, you’ve been given the new birth ‘through’ the resurrection of Jesus Christ but ‘to’ or ‘toward’ three other things. The first is a living hope. You’ve been born again through the resurrection of Christ to a living hope. That is, when you were saved, when you were regenerated, you were given a living hope.
Now you may not feel like you have a lot of hope right now. There may be something going on in your life that doesn’t make you feel very hopeful this morning. But guess what? If you’re a believer, you have a living hope, whether you like it or not. You’ve got one. This is not a subjective feeling. Peter is saying, “Believers, you may feel hopeless, but you are never without hope. Jesus died and was raised again so that you may never be without a hope. You have a living hope. It’s not just wishful thinking. It’s alive.”
One of the mottos of the state of South Carolina is “Dum spiro spero”. It’s a Latin phrase that just means, “While I breathe, I hope.” I’ve often thought, “I wonder if a Christian came up with that motto,” because that’s a really good motto. I’ve even seen it in Scotland—it’s a family motto for the Lindsey family in Scotland. It’s almost like it comes out of 1 Peter 1:3-5. It’s true for the believer: while we breathe, we always have hope. There’s never a time when those lungs are pumping air and that heart is beating that we’re without hope. That’s part of the gift of God to us. Even when we feel hopeless, you know what our job is? Our job is to line up our attitudes, feelings, emotions, and desires with the truth of the reality of the objective hope that we already have. This has been given to us by God, and what we need to do is to work to really believe it.
New Birth: the Gift of an Unfading Inheritance
You were given inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. You know that that’s like nothing in this life, because things in this life are perishable. They can be corrupted or messed up, and they can fade away or be taken away. It kind of reminds you of Jesus talking about where the moth corrupts and thieves break in or rust comes about. It’s a lot like that language. You wonder if Peter’s thinking about Jesus’ words when he says these things. He’s given you an inheritance that nobody in this world can take away, and it will never corrupt in this world.
When I was in Scotland, the book shop that I liked to go to the most was the Free Church of Scotland Book Shop on the Mound in Edinburgh. The lady that ran the book shop was Mrs. Brand. She was very kind to me, and I got be friends with her because I love books and I was always in that book shop. Her daughter lived in Kuwait with her husband. I think he was working with the British Foreign Service, and so they were stationed in Kuwait for a period of time in the 1980’s. Mrs. Brand and her husband went to visit her daughter one time, and they were in Kuwait for a couple of weeks. When they came back, they discovered that their house had been broken into, the family silver, the family china, her jewelry, and some of his medals from the Second World War had been stolen. He had been a soldier in the British Army and had gotten the Victoria Cross, which is sort of like the Congressional Medal of Honor.
All of that had been stolen. She was telling me about this one day in the bookstore, and I said, “Oh, Mrs. Brand. I’m so, so sorry. I know these things meant so much to you. They weren’t just of material value. They were of sentimental value. I’m so sorry you’ve lost these things.” And Mrs. Brand said, “Oh, Ligon. They’re just baubles.” Understand this: she was not one of those super spiritual people that you couldn’t have a real conversation with. I mean, she was a really normal, nice, wonderful, Christian lady and if she had been hurting about that, she would have told me.
So when she said that, I felt about that big, because I knew that if that had happened to me, I would have really been missing the things that I lost. I realized this Christian woman was really, genuinely saying to me, “You know what? My husband and I are alive. We’ve got wonderful children. We’ve got the Lord. I’m sorry I lost those things, but they’re baubles in comparison to what we have in Christ.” That’s exactly what Peter is saying here. He’s saying, “You can go through tremendous losses in this life—but the inheritance that God gives you? Nobody can take it away.”
There’s a play on the word ‘inheritance’ in the Old and New Testaments, by the way. Paul, in Ephesians, will talk about God’s inheritance and our inheritance: the inheritance that God has given us—that’s the inheritance that’s being spoken of right here—and also the inheritance that God gets out of redemption. Do you know what the inheritance that God gets is? You. Over and over He says, “You are my inheritance.” Have you ever asked the question, “What is it exactly that God gets out of redemption? I know what I get out of redemption. I don’t go to hell. I don’t get the condemnation that I deserve. I get Heaven forever with the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. What is it that You get, God?” The answer is you. You are His inheritance. You are what He wants.
Well what you do get out of it? The ultimate thing that you get out of it is fellowship with God—what you were made for. You were made to fellowship with the living God. You were made in His image, to commune with Him forever. You get that as your inheritance. That’s the inheritance that God has given to His people. When He made you alive with Christ Jesus in the resurrection, He gave you that inheritance, and nobody can take it away from you.
He’s just reminding you of something that nothing can touch or take away in this life. Why? Again, as Calvin says, so that He can raise you up from this world—so that you can fight the fight of faith, because you’re going to lose a lot of things in this world. When you lose them, are you going to think of them as, “Oh, I’ve lost my greatest treasure,” or are you going to think, “They’re just baubles. Nothing can take away the inheritance of God from me”?
New Birth: the Gift of Protected Salvation
[This] inheritance [is] kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(1 Peter 1:4b-5)
Nobody can steal your salvation from you. Nobody can snatch you out of His hands. This is a strong word about assurance. You sang one of my favorite Augustus Toplady songs this morning. Another favorite among his songs is A Debtor to Mercy Alone. Do you know that hymn? That’s a good hymn worth memorizing. In that hymn, there’s a line that goes:
“More happy, but not more secured, the glorified spirits in Heav’n.”
You see what Toplady is saying in that line? He’s saying that when we are glorified in Heaven, after the coming of Jesus Christ, the final supper, and the marriage feast of the Lamb—as we’re living with Him forever!—we will more happy, but no more secure than we are right now. You will never be more secure than you are right now. That’s exactly what Peter is talking about. God’s got ahold of you, Christian, and He’s not going to let go. You are secure. Nothing can take away the salvation that is yours in Christ Jesus. No one can take it away. You are secure.
Peter wants you to know that you have those things. Why? So that you can face the trials that you’re going to face in this life. One of the sad things is that so many Christians go through life without fully appreciating all of these benefits that God has given to them. Sometimes we even forget about them, and other times we find it hard to believe that we really have these benefits.
I’ve seen a particular story told in a variety of ways that makes me kind of suspicious about it, but it’s such a good illustration at this point that I’ll share it. It’s a story of a man who was living somewhere in the plains of the Ohio Valley. He was not doing well in his business there. So he decided, “I’m going to make a new start in life. I’m going to move to New Orleans and find a new profession.” So he got together all of his possessions, sold them, and was able to buy one one-way river-boat ticket from somewhere on the shores of the Ohio—maybe around Kentucky. He was going to make his way to the Mississippi, go all the way down to New Orleans on that river-boat, and make a new start in life.
After he sold everything, he got together a little bag of food, because it was going to be a several-day journey on the river-boat to get to New Orleans. He got on the boat, and when it came time to have the dining hall times—when everybody else on the boat was going to the dining-hall and eating these nice meals that were prepared for them in the dining hall—he would slink off into the corner, open up his little bag of cheese, crackers, and apples (and whatever he had in his little bag), and eat that while everybody else was in the dining hall. One day, a person said, “Why aren’t you coming to the dining hall to eat with us?” And he said, “Well, I don’t have any money to pay for the food that’s in the dining hall, so I have my own food here and I just go off somewhere and eat it on my own.” And they said, “Well, have you looked at your ticket?” And he said, “No.” And they said, “Take your ticket out and look at it.” So he pulled his ticket out. On the bottom of the ticket, it said, “All meals included.” So for two days, he had been eating moldy cheese, crackers, apples, and other things in his little bag, when, in fact, all of those benefits of those wonderful meals were his. He just didn’t know it.
That’s the way a lot of Christians live. You don’t realize the benefits that come along with your salvation in this life. Those things are there to help you fight the fight of faith in the Christian life. So study them until you believe them, and then praise God in every circumstance.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, thank You for this time in Your word. We pray that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment. Receive our thanks and praise, all in Jesus’ Name. Amen.