First Peter 1:1-9
To Be Ready For Salvation
1. Today, the first Lord's Day in November is called "All Saint's Day." On this day we observe worship by commemorating those who have gone on before. This worship service which takes place annually is called "The Commemorative Worship Service For Persons At Eternal Rest."
2. In saying it's a Commemorative Worship Service For Persons At Eternal Rest, nothing extra special is said at this service. Usually on this day, the Bible as the Word of God is explained. The Bible says to us, "The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8) Things seen by the eye pass away. Even this world passes on. Our lives also pass on, and surely the end is coming. Apart from God nothing is eternal. By means of our weekly services we stand on that unshakeable truth and all the more we face towards the Eternal One. So, we are focusing our attention on the word of God which is said to stand forever. Then, what is being done in today's service is in essence not different in anything done in a usual service. However, in this service which is commemorating the dead we could say it is a time when we make the truth, which we have been assuming, more distinct in our awareness. For, the people we are thus commemorating existed with a specific name in a point in history and we knew them. And, the unambiguous truth we have right in front of us is that their lives in this temporal world certainly came to an end.
3. They lived while looking towards their end and generations of people have lived while looking towards their end. We know that we ourselves will never be an exception to what everyone else has had to face. Therefore, we are looking towards the Eternal One today as well. Although we are remembering the deceased and we are holding a service in which we continue to recall them in our thoughts, we are by no means worshipping the dead. We are worshipping God. In a service like we have, where we commemorate those who have gone on before, as we recall their lives we are making preparations for the end that pertains to us as well.
The God Who Causes Us To Be Born* Anew
4. What we read together today was Peter's epistle. The words from Isaiah which I just gave to you earlier in this epistle are quoted in I Peter 1:24. Today I would like you to read the first portion of that letter. I would like to direct your hearts especially beginning with verse three onwards.
5. It is written at the start of this letter how this very letter is addressed to various particular churches in several places called Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. We should view it as a type of circular letter. This was written at a time period when persecution had long ago broke out heavily against the church. The Christians who were the recipients of this letter not only had to endure the scorn and sneers from the populace, but for a time were branded as villains or forced to suffer unjustly. These distresses and hardships increased more and more in intensity. This letter was written to encourage and exhort those Christians living in the midst of such increasing misery. They even say it was probably written based on a sermon during a baptismal ceremony, especially from chapter one verse three to chapter four verse eleven. We could certainly detect such a trait in this composition. If that's so, we can understand that the message from verse three onwards was spoken to persons who had resolved to face persecution and/or hardships and then dared to receive baptism and become Christians.
6. In any event, I find it valuable to notice how that the first message spoken to the people who faced suffering or were experiencing suffering was "May God who is the father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised." Peter first speaks here a message of divine praise. This matter of divine praise means not pointing your eyes on anything else and is an act born from the place where you point your eyes just on God alone. He is inviting these readers to such praise for God. In order to praise God together he invites them to point their eyes on God together. First, Peter himself cried out "You ought to praise him!," so that those persons in the midst of hardships wouldn't be ensnared by the darkness but that they might be able to turn their eyes in the direction of the streak of light which had already begun to illuminate them.
7. So Peter continues saying, "God has begotten* us anew according to his mercy," (verse three). Peter begins to relate the kind of person God deals with us as and the kind of salvation God gives to the church. God is the one who bestows the new birth. He begot us again or caused us to be born again. And even now he is inviting persons to himself and making people born anew. Our faith in Christ, that was given by God and by which we started to live, is not just some accessory [that is nice to have but not necessary]. God is not attempting to do a kind of patch up job on our old stuff. As for us who exist rotting in sin, God is not hoping to dress us up temporarily. He is begetting us again to an eternal existence in a relationship with the eternal God.
8. About the new life which God has given us, Peter has recorded two points in particular. First number one, God has begotten us again and given us a hope that is full of life. God has brought us forth anew into a living hope [which makes us live].
9. The hope which we have by nature is not typically a hope that "is alive and living." This natural hope is like seeing a little bit beyond the problem that is right in front of a person and is a hope which hopes to live as good a life as possible within life's boundaries and limitations. The hope, which we humans talk about, never was powerful enough to go beyond the grave or go past death. It was not, so to speak, a hope that was alive like water where a spring exists gushing forth in a flowing rush. This hope was stagnant and deadly water in a human built cistern and was sure to soon dry up. As we draw near to the unavoidable end, everyone of us knows the truth that in the long run we can't help but lose those dead end hopes.
10. But, God gives to us a living hope and he reproduces us as new creatures who live in such hope. That hope is born from the heart and thoughts of a person and is not merely a soothing message with no basis. God has physically shown his compassion in this world. "According to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," he has given us this hope. Through a Person who appeared in the actual space and time of history, God has made apparent to us the glory of the world to come. God has given to us a new birth by which we live in the certain hope whereby we look to the glory of that world to come.
11. In addition, Peter declares, "Again, he made you inheritors of a fortune that is being stored up for you in heaven that does not decay, become defiled, or wither." What he is speaking about here is "inherited property." Many people show too much interest in property that is inherited in this world. However, even if we have inherited such things, in a real sense these things do not become possessions under our "ownership." The things which belong to this temporal world do not become our owned possessions. This is obvious from the people who are remembered here when they had left everything behind and departed this world. Inherited things are soon inherited by someone else. And in that process the inheritance decays, becomes defiled, and withers. It is not anything that is eternal.
12. For us what we can truly inherit and possess is only the inheritance in the world to come. That inheritance is already "being stored up in heaven" for us. That inheritance is not what we have amassed on our own. The metaphor of inherited property expresses this point well. It is not that we had possessed the qualification to receive things based on personal achievement. Our receiving an inheritance is just through the compassion and mercy of God. God has begotten us to new life as inheritors.
13. So, Peter further states, "You ...are being kept." You have been given an eternal hope and have been made persons who inherit the kingdom of God. But, what he gives in that salvation is in a previous story. That is when they were rowing across to the other shore through the storm on the sea of Galilee. They felt like it was all over as they were sinking during their journey. When they were thinking about me, myself and I the walk of their faith looked very uncertain. But Peter says, "It's quite all right. God will keep us!" We are kept alive "by the power of God." In looking at the ultimate fulfilment of salvation we are kept alive. "Faith" is what becomes the passage way for the power of God. So, the text says "by faith (literally translated as 'through faith')." In short, it is still not a turning our eye on ourselves at this point but a continuing to look upon God. He relies on God, continues to look unto God, and prepares himself by turning to the end of his days.
Trials In The Life Of Faith
14. Peter begins to write like this from the place where he first turns his eyes on God. However, the turning of his eyes on God does not mean he deceives himself by simply purging his gaze from the harshness of reality. Rather, from looking towards God he is enabled to properly respond to the true state of things. Peter says, "Now for a little while, though you may have to suffer various trials..." One should not be impressed by a message of deception that says if you have become a believer bad things won't happen to you and your sorrows and troubles will be resolved at once. Although God has already won a decisive victory in Christ, sin, death, and the forces of hell which seek to destroy and alienate humanity from God currently still extend their powers and rule on the face of the earth. As we persist as temporary residents in this temporal world, we do not have here on earth a place of eternal rest. While we are burdened under troubles and sorrows as persons of this temporary world we have to live looking towards the grave, plus as persons who belong to God even as pilgrims looking towards the eternal city, we have to experience "various trials."
15. But, here he says "now for a little while." It is not forever. If we think of the world to come in which God rules forever, the trials which we experience would not last one hour. And there is meaning in those short trials. They are not meaningless. What did Peter say about it? "As for your faith, it's true character is being proven by those trials, while being refined by fire it is so much more valuable than even gold which tarnishes, and when Jesus Christ is revealed, it will bring honor, glory, and praise," (verse 7).
16. Here the text is not merely talking about "inevitable suffering," what is being talked about regarding "trials" is how wonderful they could be. The word "trial" means "test" and is related to the refinement of metals. Suppose you have a chunk of pure solid gold. This chunk was not originally solid gold. It was clearly made when the gold ore was splintered off, pulverized, concentrated into ore, refined at last by fire, the impurities removed and having passed through the test there was pure gold. In following these steps, it shows up or is revealed as an object of purity to people. Now though I said "to be revealed as an object of purity," a different phrase translating this quite ably is being used here. This phrase was translated also as "to prove its true nature." Although gold was refined after this manner and made pure, it would soon decay. God was trying to build something very precious and sacred. That is, he was trying to build a pure faith. If we think of it as something comparable to refined gold, we could say a trial is at the same time a test of faith and is also a process to remove impurities and to give it purity. If we give it some thought, what we often call faith is full of impurities or foreign substances. These impurities must be removed. To do that it requires the process of passing through the fire. However, the process, though long and hard to get passed, will not last forever. The purpose of God is what follows next. In the end God will give honor, glory, and praise.
17. "Though you have never seen Christ, you love him; even though you don't see him, you believe and you are filled with a joy that can never be fully described in words; for, you are receiving as the fruit of your faith your soul's salvation," (vv. 8-9).
18. A person, made by God to live in the hope of eternity and made an inheritor of the kingdom of God and kept under God is one who begins living with trials for the refinement process, could say that he or she is already "receiving his or her salvation" even though the complete realization of that salvation is still in the future. Because it is being called "the soul's salvation," this salvation should not be mistaken as merely "a mental salvation." As we say along with them "we are saved by your encouraging word," we [Japanese] use the word "salvation" lightly [tending as a culture to refer to a temporary transitory relief of the soul, mind, or heart], but as we have already seen, the salvation which the Bible speaks of is not that kind of thing. Since what the "soul" points to is the entire being and existence of an individual, it says that such an individual personal salvation is already given. To put it in an alternative biblical expression, we should think of it as equivalent to saying "eternal life." Since that salvation has already been given, it makes it possible to live filled with "a wonderful joy that cannot be described in words."
19. So, when we worship God while commemorating those who have finished their lives already, we still feel the austerity of the time we are given and made to use in this world. We are living in this period of time as persons who have already received salvation. Receiving joy from God, accepting any kind of process that God gives us, and looking towards salvation which is ready to be revealed on the last day, let us go on to ready ourselves in preparation; because before long that time will surely be here.
*To Cause To Be Born: This is a really awkward word in English. A mother gives birth to a child. A father begets the child. We hardly use this corresponding male term for child birth, except in biblical genealogy and here to describe the Heavenly Father's role in the new birth process. God begets or gives birth to us, he causes us to be born.