“A Living Hope” (I Peter 1:3 sermon)

(Preached at First Baptist Church, Angleton, TX Easter 2019)

One of my privileges as a pastor over the last 35 years of ministry, has been to be able to hear the last words and testimonies of my church members who knew they were facing death. People who went to the grave with confidence and joy, because they had a “living hope” in Jesus that was stronger than the grave. One of the last services I did in North Carolina was for a senior adult man by the name of Jimmy Duckworth. He was a faithful man, who had just spent months tending to his wife Faye in the nursing home rehab, and who thought he was just tired from caring for her — when in fact unbeknownst to him he was developing cancer. When they found it, it was too late to do anything about it. And when I heard, I went to their house again — I’d been there just a few days before, when they had finally gotten home from the rehab, but this time it was to see him in light of this news. I wondered: “How is he going to feel? What is his outlook going to be?” I wondered if he would be crushed and devastated. But the man was a rock. He just sat there and in a very plainspoken manner told me what his condition was, and that he had a short time to live. But he said, “Pastor, I have lived a good life, and I know where I am going. I am ready to go.” He had an amazing peace. He did not fear the grave. Jimmy Duckworth had “a living hope” — and he had that hope because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

That is what our verse in I Peter 1:3 talks about this morning:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
I. The mercy that made hope POSSIBLE

“Who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope …”.

This verse tells us that it is God’s mercy that gave us any basis of a hope of salvation. Had God not been merciful to us, we would have had no hope at all. We certainly did not earn or deserve God’s mercy.

Ephesians 2:1+ sketches out one of the saddest pictures of all mankind:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
The Bible says there that we were ALL dead in our sins; we went our own way in the world — what we THOUGHT was “our own way,” but we were really following “the prince of the power of the air” — the devil! We lived in the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the mind — and we ALL deserved the punishment of God that was coming upon us because of our sin. No doubt about it! We were all guilty before God.

But :4 that follows is one of the greatest in all the word of God: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved).”
It says we were indeed all condemned sinners — “BUT GOD – being rich in mercy.” The only reason any of us have any hope of salvation or a home in heaven, is because of the mercy of God.

Mercy means you don’t get what you deserved — but you get something much better instead: which you did NOT deserve. And that is what God does for us.

And God shows us that mercy, JUST because He is merciful. He said in Exodus 33, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” God isn’t merciful because we are worthy of mercy. God is merciful just because He is a merciful God.

If you think we all deserve to be shown mercy, and to be saved, it shows that you don’t really have a basic understanding of the truth according to the Bible. You don’t understand the holiness of God, and the depth of your sin, and how offensive our sin is to God. We are all sinners, by nature and by choice. We have all deliberately disobeyed the commands of God, and we all deserve the wrath of God for our sins.

Let me tell you something — and this may sound harsh, but it is true — IF God had sat up in heaven, and watched us rebel against His Lordship, and disobey His word, and spit in His face, and live our own way, and reap our own consequences, and die and go to hell — and if He did absolutely nothing about it — He would have been absolutely JUST to do so. God was under no “obligation” to do anything to save us. The only reason He did was because of His amazing mercy. He is just a God of mercy, who gives to us better than we deserve.

I read this week the real story of a man who deserted from the Union Army during the Civil War, and he was about to be shot, when his case came before President Abraham Lincoln in Washington. This man was clearly guilty. He HAD, indeed, deserted. By all rights, by all the law, he deserved to be shot as a deserter. That is what they did with deserters in those days. His generals had admonished President Lincoln: do not let these men off; if you do, it will only encourage more deserters. But when they presented this man’s case to Lincoln, he wrote out a note: he was going to show him mercy. The man was absolutely guilty; he wasn’t let off because he deserved it in any way; he was let off just because Abraham Lincoln was merciful.

And the same thing is true with us. The fact that God had mercy on us is not a reflection or credit to US in any way. It certainly does NOT mean: “oh we aren’t really that bad anyway.” No, the Bible makes it clear: we are absolutely guilty; that is who we are. But God is absolutely merciful; that is who HE is. It is His mercy that makes the hope of salvation even a possibility for any of us. “According to His great mercy”, He has given us a living hope.
II. The life that made hope VIABLE

But here’s the thing: God is not ONLY a merciful God; He is also a holy and just God. Sin cannot abide in His presence, and cannot go unpunished. So God couldn’t just “wave His hand” and give mercy to everyone in the universe. Because He is holy, justice had to be done. Sin had to be paid for. And unatoned sinners cannot live in God’s holy presence.

This is why Jesus had to come: Romans 3:26 says He came so that God could be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God couldn’t be a just God, and merely “let us off” without doing anything about our sin. But He could be just, AND justify us, if He paid for our sins in Jesus’ death on the cross, and cleansed us from them with His blood. And that is what He did. In God the Father’s plan, God the Son, Jesus Christ came to earth:
— He lived the perfect life we couldn’t live
— He died on the cross and paid for our sins. As Isaiah 53 says, “the iniquities of us all fell upon Him” and our sins were paid for.
— And then He rose from the dead to prove who He was, and that our forgiveness was truly paid for.

So the resurrection of Jesus from the dead makes hope viable for us in two ways:

First of all, it demonstrated that Jesus really was Who He claimed to be.
Listen, even back in those days, there were all kinds of men claiming to be the Messiah. In Acts 5 the teacher Gamaliel that there was a man named Theudas who “claimed to be somebody” and about 400 people followed him. And then Judas of Galilee had a bunch of people follow him. So there have always been, and are still, all these false religions and false Christs. How can you know who the real one was? Romans 1:4 says Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection proved that of all these so-called prophets and teachers, Jesus was the one true Christ.

Now I know you people around here know of David Koresh, who made national headlines with his Branch Davidians back in the 1990’s. Sadly, Koresh and some of his followers were killed in a raid on their compound in 1993. But at least some of Koresh’s followers said, hey, David is the Messiah. He said he is going to rise from the dead in 3 days. But the 3 days came and went — and nothing happened. He was still in his grave. And now over 25 years have gone by, and you can still go to see David Koresh’s grave in Memorial Park cemetery in Tyler, Texas!

And so all these false teachers, and false prophets, and false Messiahs, come and go. How do you know, out of all these, which one was the true way to God? Easy: because only ONE did God raise from the dead! As Romans 1:4 says, “(Jesus) was declared the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.” Of all the prophets, and all the teachers, and all the religions, and all the supposed “sons of god,” of only ONE did God give His “seal of approval” and say “This is My Beloved Son” by raising Him up from the dead! And that One was Jesus Christ. On the 3rd day, “up from the grave He arose” — and as I Corinthians 15 says, He was seen alive not only by Peter, and John, but by 500 people at one time. And history tells us that these people went to their graves, many of them under torture, testifying that they had seen Jesus Christ alive. Jesus was declared the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.
So first, the resurrection makes hope viable because it showed that Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be.

But secondly, the resurrection of Jesus also makes hope viable, because it shows us that He does indeed have eternal life to give us. What kind of promise of “eternal life” could Jesus give us, if He Himself hadn’t risen from the grave? That wouldn’t be much of a promise! But because HE lived, it shows that He does indeed have eternal life to give us. Because He lives; we can know that we can live too.

For most of human history, the smallpox virus has been one of the great plagues of the earth. During the last 100 years of its existence, smallpox killed 500 million people.
But the beginning of the end for smallpox came when physician Edward Jenner in England developed a vaccine to immunize people against smallpox. After much study and testing, he decided to try it on a little 8 year-old boy, named James Phipps. Dr. Jenner injected James with the vaccine. And then three weeks later, he decided to try it out: he exposed little James to smallpox. Days went by — and he showed no symptoms. No fever; no rash; no scars — and most importantly: no death!
Because that boy lived, Jenner knew that there was hope for all of us, and that everyone who took that vaccine could live, without fear of smallpox. And now as a result, of course, smallpox has been eliminated from the earth.

Because that little boy lived, it gave hope to the world that smallpox was defeated, and we could all live. And even better: when Jesus rose from the grave, it gave us all hope that we too could all live eternally through faith in Him! Sin was defeated; The Savior lived who could give us the same Eternal Life that He Himself has. Jesus isn’t promising us anything He can’t deliver. He Himself rose from the dead — and He promises to give us the same eternal life that He showed He already has.

Because He lives, we can live. Jesus’ resurrection is the life that makes hope viable.
III. The birth that makes hope PERSONAL

This is very important: the resurrection hope that is found in Jesus is not just “automatically” given to everyone. As we said a few minutes ago, we are all sinners, by nature and by choice. We are all “dead in sin,” like Ephesians 2 says. Something has to happen in your life, to give that forgiveness and eternal life to you.

Jesus put it this way in John 3; He said, “You must be born again.” He explained to Nicodemus that you must “born” by the Spirit of God coming into your life — and that this happens when you realize that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” And when you really turn from your sin, and put your trust in Jesus like that verse says, the Spirit of God comes into your life, and washes you from your sin, and puts God’s “seal of ownership” on your life, and helps you grow in Him, until the day that He calls you to heaven to be with Him forever.

That is what it means to be “born again to a living hope” like Peter 1:3 says here. You were going one way with your life, but God touches you through His Holy Spirit, and you are “born again”, and now you follow Jesus. If you are going to have a home in heaven, and the hope of eternal life like this passage talks about, You must come to a time in your life when this happens to you. You must be “born again” to have this “living hope” in Jesus Christ.

I’m sorry to tell you, but you are NOT going go to heaven just because you went to church on Easter Sunday!
In fact, you could go to church every time the doors were open all year long and it wouldn’t earn you a place in heaven. Jesus said it very clearly in John 3: “You must be born again”! You must have this new “birth that makes hope personal.” You’ve got to personally receive it.

It’s just like the immunization we talked about a few minutes ago. Just like with smallpox, when there is a dread illness and a cure has been developed, then there is the possibility of hope that the people who take it can live — but the fact that there is a vaccine does not save YOU unless YOU decide to personally TAKE that vaccine! The hope is there; it is available — but it has to individually received if it is going to benefit you!

And that’s just how it is with the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ, too.
The hope is there! Jesus rose from the dead. “They Could Not” stop Him! He bought us forgiveness of sins, a relationship with God; a home in heaven — all that has been bought and paid for by Him on the cross with His blood, and it was proven by His resurrection from the dead.

But just like with an immunization, all that is not going to help YOU unless YOU choose to individually receive it!

So the big question of the day today is NOT just “are you in church on Easter Sunday?” I’m very glad you’re here — thank you for coming; I hope you’ll come back next week — but you’ve got to understand that going to church doesn’t save you. The question is NOT “are you a good person.” We’ve already seen; none of us are “good people;” we’re all sinners. The question is: “Have you been born again?” Have you had that “birth that makes hope personal?” Have you made it so personal, that like my friend Jimmy in North Carolina, you can face death with confidence, and know that because He lives, you too will live forever? Like God’s word says here: Have you been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”?

If you haven’t, you can, right now!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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