New life, new hope, new security

Sermon: Sunday, 31st March, 2024
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3-5

1. Praise God for new birth

‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth…’ (1 Peter 1:3) This new birth is new spiritual life. As we welcome Pete and Stewart into membership as relatively new Christians, it is God we have to thank for the change which taken place inside their hearts. The same goes for our other new members. Of course, for all of us who are born-again Christians, before God changed us, giving us new hearts, our hearts were against God. Who gave us this spiritual life? God! ‘He has given us new birth’. God has caused us to be born again. Were it not for him, we would still be in the darkness of unbelief. As we celebrate Easter, let’s thank God for gifting us spiritual life, and giving it to the others in our church.

When we are born as babies, it wasn’t our doing – it was through our parents, and ultimately the power of God knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs. It is the same spiritually. God is the life-giver. He is the one who gives us our physical life. He is the one who supernaturally, gives us spiritual life. God is doing this all over the place. Today, up in a Montrose, there’s an adult baptism, and a new man whom God has changed. We praise him for this too. As we look ahead to the Leven plant, we look ahead in faith, because God is the one able to create new spiritual life, in places where before it was totally absent. The Kingdom of God is growing, because the King is changing hearts.

Why does God give us this new birth? It’s not because we were good people. It’s not because we were religious. It’s not because we deserved it or earned it somehow. ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth…’ (1 Peter 1:3) It is a matter of God’s mercy. God’s mercy is far more than him looking sentimentally at humans in all our mess and rebellion. His mercy propels him into action; that action is the sending of his Son into the world to live for us and to die for us. His mercy is great indeed. It is costly and it is transformative.

What has this new birth, this new spiritual life, got to do with Easter? Well, Jesus rose from the dead, and because we are united to him by faith, spiritually speaking, we have also been raised with him. It’s like Jesus is the world’s best rock climber, and Christians who trust in him are clipped onto his rope. That means what happens to him, happens to us. We are attached to him. He conquers death in the resurrection and we are joined to him, so we share in that victory too.

Edmund Clowney: ‘By the resurrection of Christ, God has given life not only to him, but to us.’

All Christians in this room have this everlasting power at work in us, because we are attached to Christ. Praise God!

Westminster Larger Catechism.
Q. 75: What is sanctification?
A. 75: Sanctification is a work of God’s grace by which those whom God has chosen to be holy before the foundation of the world are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ to them, are renewed in their whole person after the image of God. The seeds of repentance that leads to life and all the other saving graces are put into their hearts, and those graces are stirred up, increased, and strengthened, so that they more and more die to sin, and rise to newness of life.

When you look at Christians, there’s something inside them invisible to the human eye, but which is very real. The power of God is at work in us. That doesn’t mean we are perfect yet, or stop sinning, or that we aren’t hypocritical sometimes. We are. But the power of God, like yeast in a dough, is at work in us, giving us new desires and new inclinations- ones which seek to please God and follow him. This life-giving power is resurrection power. Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection.

2. Praise God for new hope

‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (1 Peter 1:3)

Hope is an enormously important word. I want us to remind ourselves the difference between how we normally use the word ‘hope’ and how the Bible uses this word, which is completely different. In normal usage, hope means: ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope it happens.’ I hope the summer holidays will be hot, but I’ve no certainty about that. I hope Rangers win the league, but I’ve got even less certainty about that. I hope the drugs problem in Kirkcaldy lessens but there is no guarantee that it won’t get worse. When we use the word ‘hope’ in this way, we don’t always expect to receive what we hope for. We might hope our children grow up to be healthy and happy, but there is no certainty about that.

Christian hope is so different that we have to see it as a whole new concept. Christian hope is never wishful thinking.

John Piper: ‘Christian hope is when God has promised that something is going to happen and you put your trust in that promise. Christian hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass.’

So, when Peter speaks in verse 3 of the ‘living hope’ which Christians enjoy, he is speaking about the certain promise Christians have of receiving God’s forgiveness and eternal life in Heaven for ever and ever. One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is this: we can look at the present and look into the future and know that not only is everything going to be ok, but everything is going to be breathtakingly good, both in this life, and especially in the life to come in Heaven.

Sadly, most people don’t have this kind of hope for life after death. The daughter of one of my friends asked her mother: ‘What happens when we die?’ The mother was not a Christian and so gave a hopeless answer, saying that death is really painful and hard, and we just need to get on with trying to have positive experiences in life to distract ourselves from the fact that it will all end one day. That’s extremely sad. She had no hope for life after death. She is openly and sincerely distracting herself from the thought of death.

One of my friend’s lost her mother, and a few of us began speaking about what happens when you die – it wasn’t me who brought the topic up! One person said they thought that whatever we believed was going to happen would happen! This is an extreme form of wishful thinking. So, if I wish that after death, I’d be playing golf, or fishing, or be reunited with a loved one or be walking in a lush meadow, that’s true for me, based on what I wish for. Or if you believe you will be reincarnated, then that’s what will happen to you. Of course, this doesn’t make any sense. I said, the only hope for life after death is to trust in Jesus, because he’s the only one to have died, and to come back to life again, demonstrating he is God and stronger than death. It is tragic that so many people ignore God for their whole lives, and yet have a false hope that they will be in Heaven.

This morning, I don’t want us to have a false hope. I don’t want us to have just wishful thinking. I don’t want us to have hopelessness or dead hope. The Apostle Paul thinks back to what we were like before we became Christians and says: ‘… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.’ (Ephesians 2:12) Friends, without Jesus there is no hope. There is no hope of forgiveness from God and there is no hope of eternal life. The opposite is also true. When we trust in Jesus, we become people who have cast-iron hope. Today is Easter Sunday; let’s praise our great God for the hope he has bestowed to us.

All hope without God is just temporary and fleeting. We might hope for a good retirement, but we don’t know how long we will live for, and might lose our health, spoiling our retirement. And eventually, we will die, and ours hopes for retirement also die.

Warren Wiersbe: ‘Time destroys most hopes; they fade and then die. But the passing of time only makes a Christian’s hope that much more glorious.’

We have a living hope that doesn’t vanish with death. It’s a living hope with the strongest of foundations – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, because he rose from the dead, when we die, we will also rise to eternal life one day. ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’ (1 Corinthians 15:20-22) Hope is only good if it is solid and real. Easter hope is solid and real.

Jesus truly rose from the grave. Had you been there at the time, you could have looked into the empty tomb. This means that God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. And it also means that united to Jesus, we will rise again one day. The resurrection is the foundation of our hope.

3. Praise God for new security

Many things in life have little or no security. For example, many people have paid into their pensions in good faith, only to find out that their pension fund has dropped so dramatically that they have far less money to retire with. I remember booking a youth hostel in Budapest and received my reservation. However, on arrival I discovered I had no room, as 10,000 Jehovah Witnesses were on a mission in Budapest and the youth hostel had given them all their reservations. I was doubly upset. One of my friends from South Africa left the country because of the lack of security there. He was burgled again and again, in spite of an elaborate security system.

But we have ‘Easter security’ in this passage. God says that we have an inheritance which (verse 4) is ‘kept in Heaven’ for us. Our everlasting inheritance is safe and secure because God is watching it for us. He never cancels a reservation. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us and that’s a promise. We’re told it is an inheritance that can never: ‘perish, spoil or fade’.

All human inheritances will eventually run out or be destroyed, but not our heavenly one. No sin will be able to spoil being part of the new creation, because all sin will have been banished. The joys and experiences of this eternal life will never fade in beauty or lose their wonder. And it is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead which secures his people both new spiritual bodies in the life to come, and new spiritual life in our souls, which has already begun. The inheritance of the Israelites was the Promised Land; however, through their sin and eventual exile from the land, it did not last. In contrast, our inheritance is reserved for us by God himself.

There’s something else. Not only does God keep our inheritance for us, he keeps us for our inheritance. ‘This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.’ (1 Peter 1:4-5) In other words, God is continually guarding his people. He is stopping us from leaving him, when we are tempted to do so. And he is protecting us from the attacks of the evil one.

Imagine you had a cheque for 10 million which was post-dated and could be cashed 10 years from now. Would it make a difference to your life now? Of course, it would. You’d have a spring in your step knowing what was ahead. It would keep you going when times were tough. The promise of the Promised Land kept the Israelites going in the wilderness. Friends, we have something much better that any large cheque or even the Promised Land. We have the new earth to look forward to, with Christ and all his people, ready to be revealed at the ‘last time’ (verse 5).

I was reading 2 articles on hope.

Jason Helopoulos: ‘I think much of the apathy and immaturity of Christians today stems from a lack of hope. Hope doesn’t shape our theology and life enough. Our minds remain caught up with things here because they aren’t caught up with things there. Maybe it’s because we think our heavenly hope is only possible or even probable, but not assured.’

John Piper: ‘… hope is the birthplace of Christian self-sacrificing love. That’s because we just let God take care of us and aren’t preoccupied with having to work to take care of ourselves. We say, “Lord, I just want to be there for other people tomorrow, because you’re going to be there for me.” If we don’t have the hope that Christ is for us then we will be engaged in self-preservation and self-enhancement. But if we let ourselves be taken care of by God for the future – whether five minutes or five centuries from now — then we can be free to love others.’

That’s fascinating. Christian hope gives birth to love. Paul write in Colossians, ‘We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people – the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven…’ (Colossians 1:4-5) This Easter, let’s grip onto this fact: Jesus has died for us and has been raised for us. This gives us a living hope. We don’t have to live grasping, selfish lives. We have a glorious inheritance to look forward to. May this set us free to live for others, and ultimately to live for God himself.

‘And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Corinthians 5:15)