October 22, 2023. Sermon Title: Born Into a Living Hope

First Mennonite Church

October 22, 2023

Born into a Living Hope

Text: 1Peter 1:3-9

In Acts of the Apostles, chapter two, verse nine, we are told that among those who witnessed the events on Pentecost Day were Jews from Pontus, Cappadocia, and Asia. The one who addressed the crowds, explaining to them the source and significance of the strange events was Peter. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon those 120 believers gathered in that upper room and empowered them to speak the good news of Christ in languages native to the people of Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia, and many other places. Interestingly, it is to Christian communities in those regions and two others, Galatia and Bithynia, to whom Peter writes his two letters. Some scholars believe that the Christian communities to whom Peter addresses his letters were born as the result of those who witnessed the Pentecost Day event who share their newfound faith.

The letter is believed to have been read during the baptismal services for new believers. There, Peter reassures the new believers of their chosenness by God, their cleansing by Jesus’ sacrificial offering, and the future hope they have been given. But there are also warnings about the likelihood of suffering because of their faith in Jesus. We will explore these themes as we move through the two letters in the following Sundays.

In the opening words, Peter addresses his audience as “exiles” scattered in those five regions. The term “exiles” could be both a reference to the Jewish communities living outside of Palestine, but also because these Christian communities lived in a world in which they no longer fit, due to their faith in Jesus Christ. As we will see later in this series, the last definition of the term (exiles) seems prominent throughout the letter.     

So, again, Peter reminds these believers that although they felt like exiles and strangers, they had been chosen according to God’s foreknowledge. In other words, and here borrowing from Paul, Peter is telling them that they had been predestined to respond to the Gospel.

This is what Paul says in Romans eight, verses 28-30:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Peter’s words about God’s foreknowledge regarding those who will be saved and especially Paul’s words here in Romans have often been misunderstood. They have been taken to mean that God has already determined who will be saved and who will not be saved. The main problem with this interpretation is that people are left with no responsibility before God. That would mean that people’s choices in life have been predetermined by God. Therefore, some will respond to the gospel message, while others will not because God predestined it that way. Predestination would mean that we are simply automatons/robots responding according to a preordained or preprogrammed design. It would mean that humans only respond to what has been predetermined for them. That would also mean that God is unjust, and unfair to call people for an account of their lives when they had no choice or control over their actions. That interpretation would mean that human freedom, responsibility, obedience, and love itself are after all a sham!

But that is not what either Paul or Peter is saying. Paul’s use of the word “foreknowledge,” as something belonging to God, is not simply God’s ability to see into the future or to know things in advance. God’s foreknowledge has a deeper meaning than just the mere apprehension of information beforehand. Remember the words of God to the prophet Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Or the words found in Isaiah 49, verse one:

Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb, he has spoken my name.

God’s foreknowledge about our calling to salvation reveals God’s eternal plan of redemption, even before the world was ever created, even before we were born, and even before we had ever thought about what we would do in life. God’s foreknowledge is a form of love or grace, which is the very essence of the Divine Being, in reaching out to us before we ever make the decision to respond or not to this love. The Greek word, proorisen, often translated as “predestined” would be best translated as “foreordained.” It is God’s eternal plan to reach out to us in love, coupled with the God-given potential given to us to respond to his love. But even the ability we have to respond to God’s initiative is also the work of the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace. A. W. Tozer calls this, God’s prevenient[1]  grace that pulls of us to himself.

It would be useless or even a lie if Peter believed that God had already predetermined who would be saved and who will not when he says:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2Peter 3:9).

Therefore, Peter says that all who respond to God’s calling experience the “new birth.” The experience of everyone who comes to faith in Jesus is like having a new birth. This new beginning is magnified by the fact that the believer enters into a living hope brought by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

When a person accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, the first realization that comes to them is the new life they are given. They come to realize that they were dead or living without hope and are suddenly brought into life and into a living hope. It is a living hope because Christ died and was raised from the dead and he now lives forever and ever. It is a living hope because, since Jesus’ resurrection, death has no longer the last word. It is a living hope because even in the face of tribulations, the believer does not back down nor grow weary. It is a living hope because it breathes life and life abundant into everyone who has experienced the new birth.

Thus, for you and I who have been born into this living hope, it means God has reached out to us and taken hold of us out of his pure love. We suddenly came to the realization of a new life which makes us co-heirs of God’s promises. Co-heir means we share in the inheritance of Jesus. And Peter says this “inheritance (is) kept for us in heaven.” 

[The other day, I had a conversation with Bobby. He is 10 or 12, but recently while studying science he discovered that the universe is actually a vast and endless space within which Earth is only a tiny planet among many. So, his question to me was, “Pastor, where is heaven, if what is out there is the infinite expansion of the universe?” So, I explained to him the ancient Israel’s cosmology and what heaven is understood to mean—the dwelling place of God or the presence of God.]

Peter acknowledges the implications there are of coming to Christ. There is great joy and rejoicing. However, along with that joy, there is the likelihood that trials will come. Remember, Peter calls the believers “aliens and exiles”. The drastic changes that take place by becoming a Christ-follower truly made these communities look like aliens and strangers to their neighbors, friends, and even to their relatives. They no longer attended the imperial cultic gatherings. They could no longer go “eye for an eye” when they were abused. They gathered together to worshipped Christ, with complete devotion and joy.

They loved the Lord, who Peter says,

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

These communities rejoiced in the Lord, although they never got to see Jesus in the flesh. These communities loved the Lord, despite the suffering they endured for his sake.

We should remember that God has always been reaching out to us. But the will of God to save requires our participation. We need to respond to his call. When we respond to God’s call, we are given a new birth, which also introduces us to a living hope, a hope that trials cannot overcome. On the contrary, we rejoice with true joy at the knowledge that we now share with Christ a place in the presence of God.

But in the meantime, being in Christ means that we no longer fit well where we are. The changes Christ makes in our lives and the values we now hold because of our commitment to him, make us obviously different from those around us. Oftentimes, those differences—differences in our priorities, differences in our approach to life’s issues, differences as to whom we pledge our allegiance, make us look like aliens and strangers in this world. We should remember, however, that our true citizenship is as the apostle Paul says, “It is in heaven from where we await the coming of the Lord.” Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] A. W. Tozer. The Pursuit of God, Christian Publication Inc. Harrisburg 1948. p.11