“Born Again to a Living Hope” (Sermon on 1 Peter 1:3-9, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
“Born Again to a Living Hope” (1 Peter 1:3-9)
Our reading today from 1 Peter 1 says a lot about your past, your present, and your future, and we can sum it up in this phrase from our text: “Born Again to a Living Hope.”
“Born again to a living hope.” The apostle Peter uses this phrase right at the beginning of his epistle. By the way, passages from 1 Peter will be the Epistle readings for the rest of this Easter season, starting today and going for the next five Sundays. And to go along with that, we’ll be starting a new Bible class on 1 Peter this Wednesday. I encourage you all to come.
So here we are at the start of Peter’s epistle, and he begins by saying: “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,” and so on. There’s that phrase, “born again to a living hope.”
And first of all it tells us something about our past. By saying that we have been “born again,” Peter is implying that we were born before, born a first time. And so we were. Only, our first birth was not enough. And here Peter is simply following what he learned from his Master, Jesus Christ. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
You see, you had a first birth, but that was not enough. That was your birth according to the flesh, your physical birth. But that will not be enough for you to enter the kingdom of God. According to our first birth, you and I were trapped in our sins–indeed, in our sinful condition, our fallen sinful nature, which we inherited from our father Adam. That birth will only end in death. You need a second birth, a whole new life, in order to enter the kingdom of God and live forever. You must be born again.
That’s what Peter is getting at when he says that we Christians have been “born again.” He’s talking about our spiritual rebirth. Again, this is right in line with what Jesus said. Jesus said you need to be born of water and the Spirit. And dear friends, that’s what happened in your baptism. You were born again, born of water and the Spirit, the Spirit working through the creative and powerful word of God in and with the water.
Think of what Peter has just said here. He said that it was God who has caused us to be born again. We didn’t do it. God did. It wasn’t what you did by “making your decision for Jesus,” as though you could cause yourself to be born again. No, God caused us to be born again, and he did it through his life-giving word. Later in this same chapter, Peter will write: “You have been born again through the living and abiding word of God. And this word is the good news that has been preached to you.” And in chapter 3, Peter will say, “Baptism now saves you.” So it is the gospel word, the good news of Jesus Christ that was preached to you, the name of the triune God that gives baptism its saving power–this is the gospel word, the means that God uses to cause us to be born again, born again to a living hope.
So this past act in your life, when God caused you to be born again–this has had a profound effect in your life, giving you a living hope. But this act of God in your life is itself based on, and connected to, a previous act of God in history, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter says just that. He says that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Christ was dead, and now he is risen. And therein lies the decisive act in all of history. Christ’s resurrection from the dead gives substance to the good news, it connects us to Christ in Holy Baptism, and it forms the basis for the hope of our own resurrection.
“Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Why did Jesus have to die? Surely he had no sins of his own for which he deserved to die. No, none at all. But Christ, the Son of God, willingly took on our sins and our guilt before God. He died the death each one of us deserves. Jesus suffered that punishment in our place on the cross. This is why he died, so that our sins would be forgiven, his sacrifice atoning for our sins.
And with that barrier of sin removed and his gift of righteousness conferred, the power of death was overthrown. Nothing to block us from God anymore. Things have been put right, peace with God restored. Death has been overthrown. Christ’s resurrection betokens ours. Jesus shares his victory with us. We are connected to Christ and the power of his resurrection in our baptism. This is the Easter life we have. It is new life now, with the promise of everlasting life to come. The grave will not hold us, just as it could not hold Christ. Resurrection, eternal life, is coming. Here is real hope for sinners like you and me!
“Born again to a living hope.” This tells us something about our present and our future. It means we have a future to look forward to–a solid, secure future–and this in turn gives joy and strength to our present. Let me explain.
“A living hope.” Hope, biblically speaking, always has reference to the future. Hope looks forward to a bright future, a good future–no, a great future, a glorious future! And this hope is more than merely a mild wish. No, it is a firm and sure hope, anchored in the promises of God, and there is nothing more certain than the word of God.
St. Peter tells us about this future in our text. He says we have been born again to a living hope, that is, “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” “Inheritance”–that is what you are in line to receive. God bequeaths it to you as a gift. An “imperishable” inheritance–it doesn’t have an expiration date. An “undefiled” inheritance–nobody can mess with it. An “unfading” inheritance–it’s not getting any weaker or watered down. And this inheritance is being “kept in heaven for you,” where it will remain safe and secure. Bank accounts can go up and down, investments can fluctuate, but you have an inheritance you can count on.
Meanwhile, as we wait for that day when we will receive our inheritance, God is active keeping us safe and secure in the faith, so that we will make it to that day, strong and unshaken in the midst of many things that would tear down our faith. Peter tells us that by God’s power we “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.”
God is guarding us. He’s keeping our faith strong. We need him to do this, because we live in the midst of many trials that would otherwise tear down our faith and rip us apart from Christ. The trials that Peter’s readers were being grieved with included severe persecution for the Christian faith, even to the extent of imprisonment or death. We’re not to that point yet in our country–although Christians now are increasingly being faced with ridicule or legal battles for standing up for what they believe.
The trials we more often face, though, are more common things. They are the setbacks that all people face, things that might cause us to doubt God’s goodness or drive us to despair. The rough going in life, when we wonder if God is watching out for us: Physical maladies, illnesses, the aches and pains of the body. Heavy sadnesses and anxieties weighing on our minds: Bad things happening to our loved ones, and we pray for them, and they’re not getting better. Financial uncertainty; we wonder if we’re going to make it. Conflict and tension in our relationships, in our family. All these things can be trials to our faith, grieving us, causing us to waver and doubt. Have you experienced these things? I’m sure you have.
But because God is guarding us and working to keep us strong, these trials can serve as tests, actually purifying our faith and making us stronger Christians in the process. Peter compares our faith to gold refined in the fire. The fire acts to burn away the dross, leaving the gold more pure as a result. So it is with our faith. The fire is painful at the time, but when we come through it, our faith has become stronger, with a more tested quality.
And as we go through these various trials, we have our hope to hold onto. We know we have a better future in front of us. Our future is secure in Christ. Our eternal inheritance is awaiting us, and nothing can take that away from us. We are being guarded through faith “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” That will happen “at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” on the day when he returns. This is the Christian’s great hope, and it gives us great joy. This hope is so great, we can rejoice even in the midst of difficulties.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord Jesus has risen from the dead, having won our forgiveness on the cross and having assured our resurrection on the last day. God has joined us to Christ in our baptism; we have been born again to a living hope. This hope gives us strength and joy in the midst of all sorts of trials. This is the sure hope of eternal life that we have in Christ Jesus our Savior. As St. Peter says: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Yes, dear friends, how we thank God that we have been born again to a living hope!