Hope. Sometimes this is a difficult concept to grasp. It’s one of those words that we say often, but when asked to define, it can be difficult to pin down.
I found it especially hard to focus on a season of hope this week as I watched the news reports of the devastating tornadoes that swept through the south. With wars, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, fighting in our homes, how can we talk about hope?
I suppose if you think of it another way, there isn’t a better time to talk about hope than a time like this. Don’t you think we could all use a fresh dose of hope right about now? I know I could.
So, what does hope look like? Where does it come from?
Maybe you heard about the man who came late to a little league baseball game. He asked one of the boys what the score was. The boy cheerfully said, “Oh, we’re down 18 to nothing.”
The man was shocked, and he asked, “why are you so cheerful, shouldn’t you be down, or something.”
“oh no,” the boy said, “we haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”
is that hope? Just blind optimism?
Maybe you remember this poster from the last election. Obama as hope. It caught a lot of controversy and parody. I’m not here to either promote or berate Obama. Regardless of your opinion of him, there is one thing that is hard to deny. From the perspective of the civil rights movement, his campaign was an icon of hope.
To think that a civilization could move from a perspective where it believed that a particular race of people was sub-human and deserved to be owned and treated as cattle to – in only 150 years – a place where that same civilization would elect a member of that same race into the most powerful position in the world, that is hopeful. His inauguration was truly a moving moment. It was a picture of hope that society can change.
Now, nearly three years later, what have we learned? He’s just a man, like every other president. It is dangerous to place hope in political parties and agendas.
So, what is hope?
If there was ever a man who understood hope, it was Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. Peter was quite a guy. I always picture him with a thick neck and lots of hair all over his body. I’m not sure why. He was one of those guys who seemed to have only two gears: all or nothing.
When Jesus walked on the water, who jumped out of the boat to meet him? Peter. He even got to walk on the water for a minute, and then he sank like…a rock.
When he and James and John saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain top, what did Peter do? “Jesus, this is amazing. We need to build booths, right here, and live here forever.”
At the last supper, when Jesus wanted to wash Peter’s feet, what did he say? “No way, Jesus.”
“Fine, but if you’re going to wash my feet, then wash my whole body, too!”
“Calm your body, Peter. I just want to wash your feet.”
And then, his famous last words. “Jesus, I would never deny you. I would die before I denied you.”
“Really? Before the dawn breaks and that rooster crows, you’ll deny me three times.”
Sure enough, at the first sign of pressure, Peter throws Jesus under the bus. “I don’t know what the blankety blank you’re talking about. I don’t even know that guy. With God as my witness, I don’t.”
Bam. He did it. He betrayed his best friend. His master.
Peter went out and wept bitterly. Everything he had worked for over the past three and a half years, gone. All hope was lost.
One night, after the resurrection, while the disciples were still trying to sort things out, Peter and the boys went for a midnight fishing run. This is found in John 21. Jesus is on the shore and he cooks Peter breakfast.
“Peter, do you love me?”
I can only imagine the torment that Peter went through as Jesus asked him that question. It reminds me of the scene from The Chronicles of Narnia the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan helps Eustace tear away the dragon skin from his body. He clawed and tore into the scaly flesh until he dug all the way down to the pure boy underneath. It was painful, but it was the pain of purification.
“Peter, do you love me?”
Rip, tear. Guilt and shame are peeled away.
“Peter, do you love me?”
“Yes, Jesus, you know I love you.”
And then the most amazing thing happened. Jesus gave Peter another chance. Even though he had completed abandoned him and betrayed him, Jesus not only forgave Peter, but he put him in charge and entrusted the whole deal to him.
If anyone knows hope it’s Peter.
During this Easter season we are going to look at Peter’s words to the first church. During this season of resurrection, we are going to hear what the man who was given hope from Jesus himself has to say to a group of Jewish Christians who found themselves in, what some might consider, a hopeless situation.
The church was being persecuted. They were taking heat from their former Jews for following the blasphemer and heretic named Jesus, and they were taking heat from the Roman Empire because they would not bow the knee to Caesar as the Son of God. Their very lives were at stake.
You might say they were facing their own share of economic turmoil, earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes.
So, what does Peter have to say about hope?
In our text today he really lays the foundation for the whole letter and sets the trajectory for the weeks to come as we study this book. I can summarize it in one sentence.
We can hope because salvation is intense.
Salvation is in the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense.
Look what he says in verse 3,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, ”
The bedrock of hope is found in this verse. He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. He has given. Past tense. Done. Finished. It’s a gift. In the waters of baptism, God has given us a new life. We are justified by grace through faith. There is nothing we can do to earn this. It’s a gift. God loves us and gives us new life.
Without this gift in the past tense, we would have no hope. If my salvation was based upon my ability to perform, or to keep up an act of righteousness, then I would be lost and a quivering mess on the floor. I could never measure up.
That’s the point. God loves us and gives us the gift of new life through the resurrection. That’s why we make such a big deal out of Lent and Holy Week and saying Alleluia once again. We are so grateful for God’s gracious gift, because without his mercy we would be lost and without hope.
Our hope is also in the fact that salvation is in the future tense. In verses 4-5 he continues
“and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ”
In the words of the worst movie ending of all time, “tomorrow is another day.” Like It says in Proverbs 29:18, “where there is no vision, the people perish.”
As any runner knows, sometimes the only way to put one foot in front of the other is the knowledge that there is a finish line.
Jesus promised us that He would return. God has promised that all things would be made right some day. I’ll tell you right now. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how that is all going to work out. And frankly, I don’t think we’re supposed to know. But this I do know. I trust that God has our best interest in mind and that there is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.
You see, these words were very significant to Peter’s people. As Jews, they had always believed that the plot of real estate called Canaan was their inheritance. Jesus came to tell them, and all of us, that our inheritance is far more than land or gold. It is a pure heart and a right relationship with God. That’s pretty awesome, and no one can take that away from us.
Now the past is behind us, and salvation is a gift that we can’t do anything to improve upon. The future is not yet, and we can’t do anything about that either. So what are we left with? We are left with a very special gift. That’s why it’s called the present.
“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”
Today is really all we have. Our hope is found in the fact that today, no matter what happens, no matter how hard the wind blows, or how nasty the gossip rages, or how low the housing market crashes, or how deep the cancer digs, we know that God is working in us and for us and through us to bring about goodness in the world.
We are daily being refined by the fires of life. They burn, but they also purify. We can either resist them and burn up, or embrace them and become stronger.
We have a gift of hope: past, future, and present.