First Peter 1:3-5
1. Today we read The Epistle Of Peter together. As it has it in the opening section, this is a circular letter addressed to the several churches in each area of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia. As it has it in verse six, "For a long time now, you may have had to suffer various trials," we see that the readers of this epistle were in the midst of many hardships. [More] specifically, they were in the midst of the suffering of persecution. Just for being a Christian, they may have had to endure criticism, slander, and unfair treatment. This epistle was written in order to encourage these people and to give them adequate instructions. From chapter one verse three to chapter four verse eleven in particular, [scholars] also say it was probably written as the basis for a baptismal sermon. If that is the case, then the words in verse three and following could be a speech addressed not just to people already baptized, but to people still wanting to become Christians and willing to receive baptism with the full awareness that they were to experience trials and tribulations.
2. So, first of all what did Peter try to tell the people of those churches? Following his greeting, he began writing this next: "May God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised!," (verse three). Writing praise to God after the salutation was the general letterwriting style back in that time. But, when we think that this was written to churches in [their] suffering, in the final analysis we cannot just simply read the first words as a merely stylistic form. Before starting to speak on the trials they were experiencing, first, he spoke on God's [glorious] work. Not what others have done in the suffering you have, but "What has God done for you? -- Doesn't it seem we ought to focus on that first? And shouldn't we praise God together?!" It sounds to me like [Peter] is speaking like that here.
3. Well, what is it that "God has done for us?" As a centerpiece, Peter speaks here on the following point. "By his abundant mercies, God has made us born anew!," (verse three).
4. What does it mean for a human being to be born anew? Along the journey of life, many times, people wish, "I want to be new. I want to turn over a brand new leaf." Then we venture out into our new way of living with our different resolutions. But, yet we soon notice that nothing has changed in our fundamental natures. We might be able to alter our day to day environment. It is very hard to change our daily habits, but it is not impossible. But, to be a new person at root doesn't come through those [methods], it comes by changing our relationship with God. A new person will begin in a true sense after one's relationship with God is new.
5. Also, the new relationship with God is not built by human resolve or efforts. Just as a baby is not born by its own efforts, our being born again comes from God. As it is written here in the text, it comes by God's "mercies."
6. Why does it come by [God's] "mercies?" In order to understand it, I would like for us to read one more passage of scripture. Please look at The Epistle To The Ephesian Disciples in chapter two and verse four. "But, [our] abundantly merciful God has loved us with the highest love, and through that love, though we were dead in sin, he has made us alive with Christ, -- It is through grace that you were saved -- You have been resurrected together through Christ Jesus, and have been seated in the heavenly throne together," (Ephesians 2:4-6).
7. We're the ones who "were dead in sin." We might be physically alive. We might be healthy. However, when people live with their backs to God, they are dead in their relationship with God. Changing this relationship between God and a person is not accomplished on the part of the person. Only when God forgives the person's sin can this relationship be changed. Therefore, it comes through the mercy and the compassion of God.
8. As a matter of fact, Paul says that this relationship is changed once for all through a God so full of mercy. God loves us, God has given us Christ, God has forgiven our sin, God has revived us in a relationship with him. [Paul] expresses this with "Though we were dead in sin, he has made us alive with Christ ... You have been resurrected together through Christ Jesus, and have been seated in the heavenly throne together." And as he calls our attention to that, he states, "It is through grace that you were saved."
A Lively Hope
9. It is in this way that "being born again" by God's mercy means those who were dead in sin take part in God's forgiveness, and are granted a new life in a relationship with God. Then, Peter goes on to speak on two things that go with this.
10. First, Peter tells us that [God] is giving [us] "a lively hope." The Bible says, "Through his abundant mercy, God has made us born again, he has given us a lively hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," (verse three).
11. In saying "a lively hope," it is the phrase "a living hope." It is a very pleasant way of putting it. When the Bible deliberately says [there is] "a living hope," it is on the other hand also about the fact that there is "a hope that is not living," "a dead hope." Even though they look the same, a living flower and a cut flower are different. One has life, the other does not have life. Even with [this matter of] hope, it seems there is a hope that has life and a hope that does not have life. Unless hope includes true life, it will soon wither and vanish. This kind of hope that ends up withering away so soon is all around us too much. I would have to say this, that if all a person knows is a life that will end with death, or a world that will end with destruction, whatever hope [they had] would only be a withering hope when all is said and done.
12. If true hope is "a living hope," one must not be a person pushing for death and destruction. This kind of hope is given through a brand new relationship with God and his making you alive; for, God alone is eternal and because God is not controlled by death. Therefore, when a new relationship with God is given, who governs over death, a person is also given a lively hope. God has already shown this lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ was the end of every sort of hope which would vanish with death. But, the resurrection of Christ does not end with death, it is the beginning of true hope. As persons who have now been created into that hope, we are granted life in that hope.
Inheritors Of The Kingdom of God
13. Then second, to be born again, says Peter, is to be made "inheritors of properties that will never wither, dry up and wilt."
14. Most people pay great attention to the properties one inherits in this temporary world. But, even though we inherit them, they do not become our "possessions" in a true sense. The things that belong to this world do not in essence become our possessions. The fact that everything and anything is lost against our will proves this. They are no more than entrusted to us temporarily. Even if for the time being we have never lost any assets during our life so far, in the end we will definitely be pulled apart by death from all we have.
15. But, if I may dare to say, it is not really true that there is nothing that belongs to us. [What we actually do possess for ever] is the debt of our sin. It never vanishes away, so it never goes away. Even though it may vanish from our memories, the fact of the sin doesn't vanish. Therefore, you might say we have just [one big] I.O.U. Jesus compared our sin to a loan of ten thousand talents, (Matthew 18:24). When you consider the ten thousand talents, because it is equivalent to six hundred million days worth of pay, it is so much money that one can never pay it back.
16. But, God has forgiven our sin that is like that. We no longer carry the loan for sin on our backs. Going even further with this, we are born as completely new beings into a new relationship with the Eternal One, and become inheritors of the blessings of the kingdom of God as God's children. Our eyes haven't seen it yet. Since we only know what withers, what is soiled, what wilts, we can't even imagine about what we will inherit. But, it is surely being set up. It is being "stored up in heaven." Since it is being stored up in heaven, no one on earth can lay one finger on it. It will never be stolen or lost. It is being safely kept.
17. More than that, it is not only what is to be given that is being kept and preserved. Peter says, "In order for you to receive the salvation which is being prepared so that it will be revealed on the last hour, you are being kept by the power of God, by faith," (verse five).
18. The taking part in the complete salvation that is being made ready for us will be totally at the last hour. We may "have to suffer various trials" until then, (verse six). We're like a single ship heading for the harbor while being tossed about by a storm. There will be many times it feels like we've already sunk. But, God is not telling us, "As I wait at the harbor, give it all you got and keep struggling along." That's not how it is. Instead, God himself is involved in the journey, and preserves us with his power. In this way then, if our being born again comes by the mercy of God, then even our taking part in the complete salvation comes just from the mercy of God. All that is required of us and all we can do is to believe. We are to rely on God to the end.
19. So, this is how Peter started to write to the believers in their trials on what God has done for them first of all. I would like for us to start out again, but keeping our attention on God's works from here on. We have no need to be controlled by suffering and to live always complaining any longer. When we turn our eyes on God's work, we should be able to live with praises with Peter for the Lord. "May God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised!"