We are hearing increasing reports of Christians being persecuted in Sudan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Belarus, India, and elsewhere. Even in North America, what seems to be incipient persecution has increased of late, possibly a sign of more to come. In light of that, let us consider the “living hope” of 1 Peter 1:3-7 (ESV).
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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There is a hinge point in this passage: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while … you have been grieved by various trials.” Another translation uses “distressed” as an alternate for “grieved.” The author (Peter, a disciple of Christ when Jesus walked on the earth) wanted his readers to know that no matter how bad it may get, believers in Christ can still rejoice. Jesus himself said (e.g., Matthew 5:10-12) that we can be glad in him even if it is our belief in him that increases our difficulties, that is, even if we are persecuted for following him.
Following Jesus Christ may (for some people) cost a lot, but the cost will always be more than worth it. The living hope that we have in Christ makes it worthwhile.
Hope, in New Testament usage, is rarely (if ever) of the maybe-but-I-don’t know sort, as for example, “I hope Michigan State wins the football game against Penn State next Saturday.” It is rather a confident expectation of a good future. It is the emotional encouragement provided by faith, the inner heart uplift that enables one to keep going.
It has been said that the greatest single predictor of suicide is hopelessness. I went through a rather profound period of depression once, lasting somewhere between six months and a year. There were times I dreaded getting up and facing the day. Yet by the grace of God I knew there was hope, and that it would get better. I cannot imagine the blackness of depression for those who have lost hope as well as joy. For that period I was certainly hindered by the depression, but I was able to keep on going. That’s the emotional power of hope.
Without some sort of solid grounding, the hope of which Peter speaks would be no better than my hope that my college will win the game next week. The resurrection of Jesus Christ provides that assurance. The game has already been played; the fight has already been fought. Life wins, and death is defeated.
This is reality. Resting in that reality is a matter of faith. The reality is not dependent on our faith; but our confidence, our joy, our rejoicing (why is that word so out of place in today’s culture?) are. Peter speaks of faith’s “tested genuineness.” Most of us reading here have faced tests of one kind or another; if not persecution (of which nothing approaching the real thing has yet reached the Western world), then health problems, economic struggles, conflict, crime, separations, war, injustice. To the extent that we continue to have joy in Christ, to that extent our faith has “tested genuineness.”
We can imagine genuine persecution, the sort that really tests us with a choice: follow Christ and face death (or death of a family member, which to me would be far worse); renounce him and “all will be well for you.” Peter is saying that the former is better than the latter. Trials and distress in Christ are better than apparent peace apart from him.
For many in history this has been a real decision to be made. For many today it still is.
Let us focus a moment on that word “real.” People are really choosing pain, separation from family, imprisonment, economic loss, and death, because they believe the living hope of Christ’s resurrection is real. Peter himself, who had first-hand opportunity to know whether that hope was real, made the same choice.
This is not virtual-world stuff, and (a reminder for all of us bloggers!) it’s not just an intellectual game to play. The living hope of Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the real world, in good times and in distress. For followers of Christ, there is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” We can count on it; we can live by it; we can stand firm in that good hope.
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